Friday, December 31, 2010

Mallu Maniac at work!

The Mallu Maniac was at the top of his bowling run up. He looked at the ground. All around. His eyes in permanent disarray. Then he did the boom barrier opening gesture with both his forearms raising to his head and down, in a focus gesture. He stood erect and focused on the batsman who was now as antsy as the wicket keeper behind. The mid off, Zakkan, had already started waddling ahead in the hope of stopping that single that might be routed his way. The gully, Najafgarh Nero, in his crouch slumped as he was prone to routine disinterest if he saw too much of too little happening. The Very Special Man bent down to prise out an offending twig from the grass and mutter under his breath. God, at midwicket, was immobile, but smiling.

The Mallu Maniac started running. The umpire straightened. He was happy, a ball was being bowled. He heard the furiously pedaling steps coming towards him as he started to focus on the running crease. Suddenly the steps slowed down. The umpire looked back in dismay along with the more dismayed non-striker ABCD, who really wanted to bat and was stranded for hours at the non striker's end as the striker Amladas was equally exacting a batsman as the Maniac, now going towards his bowling mark.

What had caused this abrupt return to the bowling mark. A man in a black shirt sitting at the far end had moved a quarter of an inch in his seat. The Maniac did not like black moving. So, he did not play in one dayers where they moved the black screens. He had voiced this in a team meeting and Kaku, the coach had thrown him out of that team. So, now he was on his way back. Zakkan decided to take things into his hands as the skipper behind the wickets was pretty much cut up with what the maniac was upto. He came across, and simply said. Mallu, bowl man, the way you are bowling there shall be girls in your room tonight waiting for you to finish your pooja, just go on and give that Amlaman the best outside off and one that can come into him at a rapid pace. Nothing will happen, no one shall throw you out of the team.

Mallu kept nodding while Goatie in covers looked on murderously. Mallu ignored him, no one, and to repeat that, no one was going to take away his chances of bowling a wicket taking ball. He again did his gestures, prodded himself adequately, while God kept smiling. Then, the run up started. The umpire heaved a sigh of relief. The clouds parted as the Maniac came running in and bowled. The batsman in half sleep, put out his bat, and realized that he had committed the error of the morning as the skipper behind went up in a frenzy. The Maniac came rushing towards with ferocious faces rapidly changing colour and mouthing unintelligible phrases that sounded like "f%%& addi" or something.

Amlaman departed. The fielding team heaved a sigh of relief, not because Amlaman was out but because the maniac had bowled something, they rejoiced. The Nero from gully mentioned, "Chalo, ek ghantey ab chutti ho gayi, Sardar tu aglaa jhaapad isko kab dega??"

We saw Sreesanth taking a wicket, as bland as that!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Of Chicken, Oranges, Smartphones, Chefs from 1988 and acute trauma!

Oranges?! She exclaimed.

I nodded. She had a gaping look on her face. "You're sure, right?" I nodded again. She did her most meaningful sway towards the kitchen. The sway that told me "you are as crazy as a Shreesanth on the dance floor without the stabilizing slap from Harbhajan". But I was stuck. The words were out of my mouth. Now I had to do the dish – Chicken with Oranges! That too, on my daughter's birthday. It was not "Izzat ka sawaal" as frankly in all these years the "Izzat" has gone for a royale toss, without the help of Saif's colours! It was more a sense of belonging to a very illustrious batch of chefs that had streamed out of a dilapidated campus in Hyderabad back in 1988. Not many know that I, the Omelette peddler, had Sandeep Kachroo, Rakesh Upadhyay, Srinath Sambandhan, Padmanabhan, Shantanu Mukherjee and the likes as classmates, chefs who have been featured in mags, channels and posts for their expertise with knives and pans. So, it was their arses on the line, not mine.

That was that and I had to ungainly move on. A couple of days passed by. The thought planted at the edge of my pituitary, I do not think through my thyroids, but probably that is where the recipe nested and grew as I plodded through my motions at Badminton, morning papers, office and the pyrotechnics at Durban. It gained hydra kinds of abilities while I conversed with smartphone pals over Facebook and twitter. It stayed right through my entreaties to my new chauffeur to go straight on Palm Beach Road! Readers should know that it is not humanly possible to make an error in going straight on Palm Beach Road in Navi Mumbai. Only my chauffeur can do it consistently. He deserves applause right now. Oh yes, the recipe. Yeah, it stayed right through all these minor quibbles of life, as it were.

On the Saturday evening, the Christmas evening for more believers and guzzlers, I reached the hallowed halls of Big Bad Bazaar to buy stuff that would make my effort a reality. I entered through with a bus, er..a big neanderthal trolley that could may be hold a full size Shane Warne frolicking with fuller sized Liz Hurley. One second later I found a mound that had sacks of Oranges neatly packed and displayed. I grabbed at the nearest sack. Finito! I had the ingredients for the recipe that had built up in my mind. So what was I doing there with that blasted bus in front of me! I had no clue. What had the denizens at home sent me in for? No idea! This was very embarrassing. I had smart women all around me shopping as if Big Bad Bazaar was about to close down to make way for a synagogue. I had to think of some more ingredients fast enough. Nothing came to mind. So, as they say in every boardroom, when in trouble, fish out your Blackberry. I did just that. Also, they say, when in more trouble, call up the grand lady at home. So did just that. The daughter was on line. I asked her to politely ask if her mom needed anything at home as I was in Big Bad Bazaar. She conferred and conveyed that I was to buy some veggies and nothing else. There, I was stuck. I did not know if the right worthy ingredients were at home, ingredients that were presently lost in the arid Saharan landscapes of the thalamus. And I was not to buy anything other than veggies. So, I had to browse. I cannot browse anything other than books and DVDs. So, I was in very unfamiliar surroundings. I started loading the bus with biscuits, noodles, pasta, Haldiram tidbits and other assorted munchies, in the hope that the recipe shall come back to me in full blown Fujicolor! It did not. So, ultimately after a lot of soul and shop searching, I landed up at the Veggies archive where I decided to buy up all the museum pieces from that morning's mandi heist. The bus was rapidly full. I fished out my small black card that magically wrote up Rs. 1475 against my name and I was through. The boys there wanted to give me a "High Five" for my assorted foolishness at shopping but they desisted and calmly left me with five bags at their doorstep. I made my way back home. I had one ingredient for my recipe. Oranges!!

The Birthday arrived. The Grand Lady had made a cake for a minor morning celebration and that was cut, some photographs taken of absurdly grinning individuals for immediate dispatch to Facebook. The lady had asked me the previous night as to how I wanted my chicken to be marinated. I rapidly said Lime, salt and pepper and quietly waited for the dam to burst. It would if the lime was missing in action. It didn't and I figured the lime was in place. So, I ate cake and left for office. Quietly.

Late afternoon at office. I was trying to multiply 8 * 21 by hand, by pencil and then by the calculator when the phone buzzed. The Grand Lady was on line. The heart started hammering. I knew what would be asked. I still did not have any answer to any of that. The question came over the waves.

"What would be the ingredients that you require for your whatever chicken dish?"

It was like Abhishek Bachchan being asked what kind of preparation he would require to Act. The premise itself was incorrect. The objective itself needed a change. He and Act? Never. He shall swivel, smirk and shuffle, but Act. Nope! Never!!

So I had to improvise. Like I do with many a powerpoint. "Chopped Onions, Ginger Garlic Paste, Soya Sauce, Vinegar, Sugar, Salt, Chilli Powder, Orange juice – about 1.5 glasses". Also, that I would be back home by 8 pm and if possible, could she just do the onions and keep? Polite request, it was. The airwaves became silent. I looked at my smartphone. It looked pretty unsmart and dark. The air smelt of mystery and deceit. Then the crackle, "Yes, OK". Hallelujah! Balle Balle! Sicilia! Shakira!! The second phase of recipe making was achieved. The Mis-en-place achieved over the Blackberry. I joyfully opened the browser to crank up and seek to understand why Laxman did not take up Tennis when he was as good with the Forehand cross court volley as Federer! The 7 pm coffee tasted good.

Home. 8.15 pm. On the way back as I chatted with an ex-colleague over the smartphone, I realized I have two very senior citizens who also matter in terms of taste and skillets, my mom and my mom-in-law. They were vegetarians and so my work had to be further sub-divided into Chicken and Paneer. So, a pack of Amul Paneer was also pulled out from its forgotten corner in the ramparts of the freezer. And so it started, my "bull in a china mall" effort!

The pan had been helpfully kept out on the gas range for me. I decided to do the sauce first and then divide it for both the dishes. I pulled out my favorite wooden ladle to do the sauce. I felt like Saina Nehwal. I could do two cool sets of Badminton right away with that misshapen ladle. The lady was standing by. She knew I could even pull out the water tap over festering frustration sometimes and she would not have me doing that in her kitchen. But I was taken up. The olive oil was hunted down and some normal simple homely refined oil was added to burn up in the pan. I put in all the asymmetrically chopped onions into the pan. I daren't complain about the sizes of the chopped ones as my recipe had been brought thus far by Blackberry and not my hands. The Ginger Garlic paste pack was jailed between the Jeera powder and the Custard powder on the third rack below the eggs in the refrigerator. It was duly rescued. It breathed, looked up at me in obvious deference to the lord and the mighty and got deflated as I pressed out all the remnants in the pack onto the pan. The sautéing was in full swing. The onions paled and were on their way to browning when I added three pinches of sugar, two pinches of salt and some baleful stares at the slurry. I wanted to anger it. I added some chilli powder that I found at hand, I added lots of it. It was like Jai and Gabbar rivalry between me and the slurry, the more evil it looked, the more I added. Then, I opened up the soya sauce and proceeded to add about three spoons of the dark and quirky sauce to the slurry. It frothed and kicked like those creatures in District 9. I calmed the dark mass with some vinegar. I cannot remember how much I put in but it looked about another three spoonfuls. The slurry had some bite now. It needed respite. I provided. The Orange juice was poured in and the sauce went into a simmer. The flame became drowsy. I took a small teaspoon and tried the slush, it felt nice. The salt, I needed to see if the salt was going to hold up, the sauce simmered. The lady ventured to taste at the second go, and she concurred that it was fine. Never before I looked for so much approval from the lady, not even when I went to show her our apartment in Narendrapur five years go. OK, maybe that was a long shot. The sauce making was done without much ado thereafter. I needed to keep it aside while I did the chicken. I wanted a bowl. I hunted all over the kitchen for one. The cupboards were full of bowls but I wanted a very specific looking one. But I did not know what it would have to look like. Trouble. Fits. Rescued just in time by the lady with a simple bowl and a ladle that simply transfers the sauce into that bowl. Clean. Decorous. Done.

The chicken was airlifted from its terminal decline and the paneer was steamed in the microwave. The chicken was loaded into the pan while the paneer was fished out of the steaming water. The chicken sizzled with some oil in the hot pan for a few minutes from all sides as the sauce was poured onto the paneer and let be for some cooking at a later date. The chicken had started to brown. This time the decision was to have big neat cuts of legs and breasts and not butchered into nothing cuts by the street side butcher. So, the browning was even, nice and serene. It reminded me of "Daffodils" by Wordsworth and "Karma" by Subhash Ghai all at once. So nice it was!

The water was duly poured into the pan for the chicken chunks to simmer into oblivion. I relaxed. The lady had in the meanwhile, started on her flavored rice concept. So, I yielded some space to her. It was Ying and Yang. Only the Yang was not yanked into danger zone. All of a sudden, pandemonium.

The flames drowsed and blew out. I stared at it, non comprehension writ large on my face. The lady acted with more alacrity. She trotted off to where we keep a spare cylinder and brought it over. I pulled out the older cylinder and grimly kept pulling at the regulator. Miraculously, it came off. She commanded me to get the regulator onto the new cylinder while she moved the older one out of the way. I did. I did. The knobs turned. The flames came on. Peace was restored. The Al Qaeda moved back into the hills, the North Koreans put back their missiles and Ponting's frown was back in place.

The chicken simmered. The clock turned and after twenty minutes of me walking in and out of the kitchen the chicken appeared ready to go. I poured the sauce with deliberation. The dark orange hue spread out. My ego inflated. This was coming out just as I had visioned. It was just like that vision of 72 cabaret dancers that Kasab had before he set out on his journey to Mumbai with only a few AK 47s. Only the Cabaret dancers wanted me to stick around on earth for some more time before allocating space in their women's hostel up there.

The paneer dish was to be finished. So, the bowl with the paneer and the sauce went into the microwave with a 5 minute time set. It came out bawling. So, had to feed it with some crushed almonds to bring it back to sanity. The Almonds lent it some grit and fibre. It tasted, well, orangey!

Dinnertime. The items were served. The denizens poked at the dishes tentatively. The morsels went into the mouths. The check lists were ticked off just fine. The hunger took over. The chomp chomp and the mastication were the only sounds, would have fitted well with the Sound Design of "Bhoot". The dining table in the end was just left with some empty pans, bones and bay leaves from the flavored rice.

Braised Chicken in Orange Sauce & Nutty Orange Paneer.

Mission accomplished! Pigs can fly!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A slice of life - Band Bajaa Baaraat

I am probably late with this longish note on a fabulous film “Band Bajaa Baaraat”. Or am I?
I have read some of the noted critiques and some other sundry articles that have been generally complimentary about this dazzler of a film. Gosh, I have already stated my increasing affection for this YRF sleeper hit that has struck a chord amongst all that I know.
Is it the honesty of the creative people, Maneesh and Habib, director and writer respectively? Or is it the astounding other Delhi milieu that does away with all flash and cranks out all the oddities of a fellow hard working Delhite we all know? Or is it the slice of life moments that make it for us in the dark Cineplex harking back to our more innocent “just out of college” days of struggle?
Let me recreate some very emphatic moments from the film:
“Plate rakh!” yells Shruti and Bittoo retorts “Nahin rakkhunga ji, kya kar lengi!”. He then goes and brings the poor Videographer whom he knows to vouch for his employment to the uncleji who is the host. The uncleji who has a tough day does not want to create a fuss over anyone that day and allows Bittoo a dinner while Shruti grimly looks on, Bittoo is explaining why he needs to have the dinner then. Superb. Respects.
The flower supplier turns around and says “phool toh yehi lagengey bibi, jo marzi kar lo, issi ke daam diye hain tumharey Chandra madam ne” and we see the innocent bravado of Shruti collapsing under the reality of Chandra Narang’s underhand deals. The collapse leads logically to the next scene where she and Bittoo stand up to the double dealing by Chandra. They take off in their business. Intelligent. Respects.
Silently, the buffoon Bittoo makes the first tea in their office of ‘Shaadi Mubarak’ and it is cool gently reversing gender roles at work. Simple but astounding statement. Respects.
The kissing scene. The BG score peters away. Two tired souls are holding onto each other and their new found success at work. Then, the emotions kick in. They are looking at each other. The silence starts to speak. We, the viewers start to live the moment with them. Then, the kiss, the exploratory kiss that leads to bed. More silence as they ruminate on the road travelled that day. More introspection. A treat. Respects.
Bittoo goes to leave Shruti after their shared night. She is happy, blissful and already dreaming of a future with Bittoo. Bittoo is perturbed as he does not want to disturb a good working equation. He wants to get away fast from her door with the bike. Her father is just leaving for work. Bittoo spots a way out, he rushes on with the bike and offers a lift to Mr. Kakkar who is grossly overweight and cannot sit on the bike with his legs around the bike. So, in a ungainly decision, as Shruti blissfully looks on, he sits “ladies style” and murmurs away through the whole silence between Shruti and Bittoo, completely unaware of their circumstances. Just the next scene, Shruti turns towards her mom and asks about Bittoo and her mom knows in a flash. This combo scene about the whole dynamic in the family is possibly the best scene in the film. Many Respects!!
The wall painter needs to write the name of Bittoo’s fledgling enterprise. Surprise, even Bittoo has not thought of it. His anger has not permitted him to even think logically about his business, an anger born out of love and longing, a feeling that he has ignored just to go by Shruti’s book, Shruti, the mentor, his guide. So, he anchors himself in her company’s name leading to some hilarity and settles happily for the translation of Shaadi Mubarak – Happy Weddings. Admirable scene. Respects.
The confession scene. Bittoo has his simplicity, she admires that. She realizes that it is necessary for her to give in. She speaks of her decision to her suitor over the phone while he is trying to prompt her through some frantic hand waving. She is calm, controlled and keeps looking at him. Then, the shock and awe for Bittoo. He is rooted to the spot. She has to lead him into the embrace. We wait expectantly as he finally does so. It brings a smile to our lips as they kiss.
All is well with this topsy turvy world!
The leads, Anoushka and Ranveer just immerse themselves in what many senior actors may fail at and come out trumps. Ranveer has the impishness of the earlier Salman. But it is the other actors that carry the film on their shoulders to make it a sleeper hit! Mr Kakkar, the Flower supplier, the caterer, the DJ, Bittoo’s friends, Shruti’s mom. All of them are truly classic. They breathe the Delhi that is notably absent in many other Delhi films.
Of course, I remember another forgotten film “Ahista Ahista”!!