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Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Vol 4 Issue t| April 2013

05 April 2013 Hello there! As summer sets in with full force, we are delighted to bring you an issue that we are sure will make you salivate - presenting, Spark's April issue 'Celebrating Food'! Through a series of fiction, nonfiction, poetry and art, we explore the various sides of food: cooking, fond memories and longing for certain kinds of food, and some thought-provoking incidents that surround the most vital component to a healthy life, food. Our special feature focuses on an interesting topic - food photography. We hope you enjoy this edition, it's a special one for us because this is the 40th issue of Spark - putting it together certainly was fun for us. As always, send us your comments at Till we see you again in May, good luck surviving the scorching sun! - Editorial Team

Contributors Anu Karthik Anupama Krishnakumar Arun Anantharaman Deepa Venkatraghvan Jessu John Priya Sreeram Rajlakshmi Pillai Sandhya Ramachandran Sudha Nair Vani Viswanathan Vibha Sharma Vinita Agrawal

All rights of print edition reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the Spark editorial team.

Viswanathan Subramanian

Spark April 2013 © Spark 2013

Soma Rathore

Special Feature Chinmayie Bhat Divya Yadava

Individual contributions © Author

Cover Page Design

CC licensed pictures attribution available at Published by Viswanathan


Harish V Concept, Editing and Design


Anupama Krishnakumar Powered by 2

Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Inside this Issue POETRY Chilling Prospects by Arun Anantharaman Sweet Memories by Vinita Agrawal FICTION Kerosene by Vinita Agrawal A Reason for Cheer by Sudha Nair Sugar from the Ration Shop by Vani Viswanathan Nine Food Moments by Anupama Krishnakumar NON-FICTION Let’s Get Cooking! by Priya Sreeram Palakkad on a Platter! by Deepa Venkatraghvan Beat the Summer Heat by Anu Karthik My Tryst with Cooking and Food by Rajlakshmi Pillai SPECIAL FEATURE When Food Strikes a Pose by Anupama Krishnakumar THE LOUNGE TURN OF THE PAGE | ‘What I Talk When I Talk About Running’: A Review by Vibha Sharma THE INNER JOURNEY | Illusion of Death by Viswanathan Subramanian THE MUSIC CAFÉ| The Twins That Battle Within Me by Jessu John ART Fish Curry by Sandhya Ramachandran


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Poetry Chilling Prospects by Arun Anantharaman A die-hard fan of the fiery spice, chilli, Arun Anantharaman is forced to slow down and reconsider his cravings for consuming the spice in varied forms. He tells what exactly went wrong and what the sudden turn of events means to him through a poem.

Two weeks ago, I discovered unexpectedly, My Pharaonic appetite for a fiery red spice Had received its biological comeuppance, Six months of recurring cough were not down To the air, water or my daughter's school infections It was just the humble chilli avenging decades Of intemperate use in my vegetarian diet Ěś Sambar, rasam, chutney, podi dosa, curd rice, Mangoes, pickled and raw, and flavoured snacks In unbranded packets from tin sheds in Bommasandra Or puffy branded ones from automated factories, FAO accredited, no trans-fat and zero cholesterol.

Nanogram by nanogram, this most inexpensive Of spices had whittled some unknown capacity In my physical body to tolerate its fire 4

Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Even as I delighted in its mystical splendour, And it's as if a tragedy has befallen me, For, what else can it be when I can no more Transcend the pain of love, loss and betrayal With a slice of chilli cheese toast than I can imagine life without the prospect Of these emotions; it is, after all, the enduring Dramas in our life that make it all worthwhile And while some turn to beer, whisky or rum To navigate the twists and turns, it was To the accommodating chilli that I turned to, Time and again, to consume the fires within.

To be allergic to something so essential To my very existence, no, it is not a tragedy, Maybe it is a farce, maybe it is a challenge To my spirit, or maybe a sly God mocking me – So what if you can play three sets of tennis Or run a half marathon or work through the night, This moment on, that thin crust pizza you hold Will have to do with just six little red flakes, Two for every slice, while you lustfully eye The other half of the plate where your wife Liberally sprinkles her slices with sixty six, And while I don’t really count, it is an omen, Of a sort anyway, I am beginning to think.


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

This is all a bit too much for me, I know now The reverberations in the heart of an addict And decide I won’t spend the rest of my life Eyeing someone else’s masala puri plate or Pondering the excesses of my self-indulgent past, What’s done is done, and what’s to come will come, But what is inconceivable is that I foreswear This most noblest of spices, the lasting legacy Of those intrepid and barbarous men who came Searching for a different spice, and unbeknown Redefined the passion and temper of a billion Like me. Allergy be damned, get me my pickle.

Arun Anantharaman works with a management consulting firm in Bangalore. He’s always wanted to write a novel, but it’s taken him a while to figure out that it takes more than just wanting, to actually write one. Start with several short stories, for instance. And put it out there. So, that’s where he is at now – trying hard to dedicate enough time every week to write, rewrite, shred, write, rewrite. So on and so forth. He is inspired by Jamil Ahmad, the Pakistani author who wrote his first novel at 79. While he certainly hopes it won’t take him that long, it is nevertheless, a possibility.


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Fiction Kerosene by Vinita Agrawal Norbu, a shy but nevertheless celebrated cook at the army mess in Dharamshala, has a task at hand today for which he needs to reach McLeod Ganj by noon. Vinita Agrawal pens a story. The mountains dawned orange gold that morn- By eleven his tasks were over. He went to the ing. They looked immaculate and they took office premises and knocked at the door of the Norbu’s breath away. He smiled to himself and mess-in-charge. bowed to them. “Ah! Norbu!” the Lieutenant greeted him joviNorbu worked as a cook at the army mess in ally, “The guys have been asking for your momos. Dharamshala. He was a quiet man. The army No one makes them quite the way you do!” officers often teased him saying that one did not “I’ll make them for tea.” Norbu promised. He hear or see Norbu... one only tasted him and he shifted his feet and asked the Lieutenant for a tasted bloody darned good! And Norbu would ride up to the square. blush a bright red at that. “You are in luck! I was actually just going up Today’s menu was clear in his mind – omelettes there. I’ll take you. We’ll leave in half an hour.” and toasts for breakfast, and fish curry, crisp potato wedges, chappattis and rice for lunch. He “Thank you, Sir!” Norbu bowed. would make lunch as soon as soon as he had His mind was working quickly. He dashed back cleared away the breakfast because he wanted to to the kitchen and worked at breakneck speed. be at the main square in McLeod Ganj by 12 Then he sprinted to his own shack behind the noon. It took an hour to walk to McLeod Ganj kitchen. He lifted the corner of his mattress and but today he would hitch-hike a ride in the army carefully picked up a dog eared photo of the jeep with one of the officers. Dalai Lama that he put inside his sweater close He bathed quickly, donned his usual blue sweat- to his chest. He also reverently put his country’s er and faded blue jeans. As blue as the skies, he flag – no bigger than a handkerchief– in his thought – and as free! The pristine Dhauladhars jeans pocket. twinkled at him as he set about his chores. 7

Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

He extracted a 500 rupee note from under the mattress and stuffed that in his pocket as well. Half an hour later he was at the gate waiting for the jeep. The blue and yellow rays etched on the flag filled his heart with so much energy that he thought it would burst.

and the flag sky high. By 12:30, it was all over. The Dhauladhars looked snow white and pale. They blew cold mists over Norbu’s charred body. It seemed as though they were his abettors. The main square looked completely ravaged. Exile does that to main squares – and to dark alleys, to hearts and to minds, to thoughts and to dreams. Exile excruciates.

The officer arrived shortly and eyed the jerry can dangling in Norbu’s hand. “You are going to buy kerosene? Do you have money to buy it?”

The Tibetan community did not hand over Norbu’s blackened remains to the army, saying Norbu was their martyr now.

Norbu nodded yes.

They reached the square by twelve. Norbu jumped out lithely and saluted That afternoon none of the officers sat down to the officer. lunch. The Lieutenant found a huge covered “I’ll be going back by two,” the Lieutenant told plate resting on the tea table. He lifted the cover. him kindly. “Wait for me – that can will be They were momos. heavy to carry, I’ll give you a ride back.” Notes “OK, Sir!” Norbu nodded and saluted again. 1.Chapattis – A flat Indian bread After the jeep had departed Norbu hastened to 2. Dhauladhar - Name of the Himalayan Mounthe ration store that sold Kerosene to the army tain Range in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. base at concessional rates. He paid Rs.400 for it and asked the cashier to keep the balance as 3. Momos – A savoury snack and a popular oriencredit against the next purchase. The cashier tal delicacy. shrugged and made a note of it in his ledger. (While this story is based on real life incidents, the events and characters depicted are purely a product of the author’s imagination. Any

Norbu walked back briskly to the centre of the similarity to any person living or dead is purely coincidental.) busy McLeod Ganj square. He doused himself with 20 litres of kerosene, took out the Tibetan flag and caught a corner of it between his teeth. Vinita Agrawal is a DelhiHe took out Dalai Lama’s photo and tucked it based writer and poet and has under his arm. Next, he drew out a match box been published in and set himself aflame. In an instant Norbu had international print and online become a horrendous inferno; in an instant that journals. horrendous inferno had the raised the photo 8

Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Special Feature When Food Strikes a Pose by Anupama Krishnakumar A picture can speak a thousand words, we have heard, and when the subject of the photograph is something that is most fundamental for life to sustain and thrive, it gets all the more interesting. For, when a photograph is that of food, it just doesn’t stop with telling the world about the dish’s existence but stirs in its audience a range of diverse emotions – from being enticed to smitten to feeling the hunger pangs. Anupama Krishnakumar attempts to demystify the charming world of food photography by speaking to food bloggers, Soma Rathore ( and Chinmayie Bhat ( and Divya Yadava, food photographer and culinary consultant ( In the process, she discovers the art and technical sides of food photography and other important aspects such as planning, a photographer’s unique style and the challenges. 9

Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

A picture can speak a thousand words, we have heard, and when the subject of the photograph is something that is most fundamental for life to sustain and thrive, it gets all the more interesting. For, when a photograph is that of food, it just doesn’t stop with telling the world about the dish’s existence but stirs in its audience a range of diverse emotions – from being enticed to smitten to feeling the hunger pangs. Gastronomic desires inevitably plague the stomach and the soul, as eyes become the windows to a magical world of culinary pleasures. Well-taken food photographs eventually send a helpless you scurrying with a gnawing stomach to the kitchen or to a restaurant to do some ‘paet puja’. It could push you to irresistibly pick up a packet of chips or biscuits or chocolates or a pack of instant noodles or readymade mixes at a departmental store. Such is the overpowering nature of a good food photograph and mind you, these photographs belong to a world that works on its own set of rules and methods. Welcome to the world of food photography! Food Photography – An Art “Food photography, like any other form of art, is a means to communicate and share,” says Soma Rathore, food blogger, who authors the popular f oo d b lo g e Cur r y ( According to her, the primary focus of food photogSoma Rathore raphy is to capture the beauty and sensual appeal of food. “The photographs also need to talk and tell you a story,”

she adds. Chinmayie Bhat, the author and photographer behind the well-maintained and delectable food blog Love Food Eat (, agrees that food photography is an art. Chinmayie, who has a background in fine art and design explains: “From almost two years of shooting food, what I have learnt is that food photography is all about making the food look appetizChinmayie Bhat ing. It’s important to get the details right to get the viewer salivating.” Divya Yadava, a Canada-based culinary consultant and professional food photographer ( maintains that she was drawn to food photography when she started her food first food blog. “I realised how important good photographs are for catching people’s attention, especially when it comes to Divya Yadava food. I actually found that shooting photos of food is much harder than shooting photos of other subjects, and this made me understand that I had a lot to learn,” she elaborates. The more she explored food photography, the more Divya was drawn towards the art. Intrigued and wanting to explore how creatively she could handle the art and technical aspects of photographing food, she


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

eventually went on to set up her own freelance nal dish shots. If I feel a certain step of the recibusiness focusing on food photography and pe is very important then I cover that as well,” other areas of culinary consulting, such as food she responds. styling and recipe development among others. Soma also follows quite an elaborate process to Planning is the Key plan out what she wishes to showcase through photographs for a particular recipe. In the end, Chinmayie holds that food photography was food photography for her is, to a good extent, one of the first things that she fell in love with about planning. “The decision on composition when she started out as a food blogger. As and style of the shoot depends on what kind of someone who was attracted to food blogs that food it is, how it looks and what I want to confeatured good photographs even before she vey to the audience. Sometimes I make a few turned to blogging, food pictures play a prominotes, or draw a couple of pictures too,” she nent role in Chinmayie’s blog now. She carefully explains. Some of the things she plans out beselects and displays pictures in her posts, weavfore a food shoot include the style, composition ing them in along with little stories around the and the props. A lot of experimentation also dish and the actual recipe itself. So how exactly happens as she tries out a few shots with differdoes she plan the sequence of shots and decide ent settings, before eventually settling down for what needs to be finally featured on the site? “I what appeals to her the most. “Even after a usually do a few ingredients shots and a few fi‘plan ahead’, a lot of the elements change while I

Showing Ingredient and Final Shots: Chinmayie’s photographs for preparing South Indian Red Bell Pepper Chutney. Picture © Chinmayie Bhat ( 11

Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

am actually photographing,” she confesses, which results in her changing the style, composition and the props. In the end, the most relevant of the pictures she shoots go up on the site after a bit of photo processing. “I try to coordinate the sequence of photographs with the theme and the story of the post,” says Soma.

plate the dish immediately and start shooting once the dish is done. “I have found that spending a bit more time upfront in the planning stage greatly improves the final outcome,” opines Divya. The Technical Side of the Story

Food photography is no doubt a creative art but it is not without a technical side. Many technical factors play an important role in the life of a food photograph from conception to the final execution. Like Divya points out, “Planning apart, using the right camera settings for the moment you are trying to capture is critical. This includes white balance, aperture i.e. shallow vs. deep depth of field, exposure compensation, etc.” She uses a canon Rebel T3i DSLR camera, with a Canon EF 50mm 1.8 camera lens. According to her, following the right camera settings is crucial because it helps a lot in reducing the amount of time that one may have to spend Choosing the relevant on post processing. Lighting too is a crucial aspictures: A picture showing pect and Divya insists that she prefers natural a key step in the making of pleated momos. Picture © lighting as opposed to artificial lighting. S o m a R a t h o r e “Artificial light has the potential to create harsh ( shadows and flat lighting, thus making the food look unappetizing in certain situations,” she reDivya too insists that planning is “one of the veals. most important elements” when photographing Soma, who uses a Sony SLT A55V camera with food. “It involves a number of steps, including a 50mm lens, reiterates the importance of lightselection of props such as the cutlery, napkins, ing in food photography. “Like in any other background and so on, lighting set up and direc- photography the principles of light, composition tion, placement of main dish and garnishes, and styling applies in food photography too,” camera equipment setup, and more,” she ex- she shares, adding that “Light is crucial in food plains. Additionally, she draws out what she has photography; probably the only thing that in mind as the final outcome of the photo shoot makes or breaks a picture. While shooting I have and keeps the entire setup ready before she be- to see that the light is kind I want or I see how I gins cooking. This, she maintains, helps her can manipulate it.” 12

Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Preferring Natural Lighting Over Artificial Lighting : Divya Yadava captures the vibrant colours of Noodle Soup. Picture © Divya Yadava (

Evolving a Unique Style Chinmayie, who uses a Canon 550D with a 50mm 1.8 lens, shares that she starts off her photo shoot with a “blank mind”. “I love focusing on light and colours,” she says. Chinmayie admits that she doesn’t even do elaborate food styling and just starts clicking away depending on the colours, forms and textures in the food and the lighting around. “My photos are very minimal, uncluttered and most of the time, dark and moody. I like hard shadows and rustic styling,” she says, when quizzed about what characterises her unique style, adding that she can never click bright, white, neatly styled food photographs without shadows.

Divya, “Prop styling which includes choice of cutlery, cloths, etc., and food styling which includes garnishes, placement of food and so on, when properly styled can really make an image pop off the page or screen!” Further, she describes her style of food photography as “fresh and airy”, something she has realised over different attempts of shooting food. “Over time, you will realise that there are certain elements you like more than others, and these will help define your style. Originally my style was to use a lot of colour, especially in backgrounds; but lately I have realised that it is better to let the food shine. I therefore keep the styling simple, but at the same time give the image a fresh look,” she adds.

Divya focuses on using fresh ingredients and is Soma makes an interesting point when it comes keen on prop styling as well as food styling. Says to what a food photograph should focus on. 13

Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

“Taste and aroma are the two most important things that we all associate with food. However, neither of these sensations can be captured in photographs. So the elements of colours and textures in a food photograph are very important,” she elaborates. According to her, photographing food is similar to a planned and staged photo shoot and her style is something

that is constantly evolving with experimentation and therefore “fluid”. “What I generally have in mind is how I can make the food delectable and communicate with the audience so they want to eat when they see the photographs,” she shares, adding that since her focus is on Indian recipes, her photographs tend to reflect Indian traditions and her own memories related to those recipes. Divya describes her style as “fresh and airy”. She tries to give the image a fresh look, while keeping the styling simple. Picture © Divya Yadava

Chinamyie’s photographs are usually dark and moody. They are minimal and uncluttered. Picture © Chinmayie Bhat Soma’s photographs tend to reflect Indian traditions and her own memories related to those recipes. © Soma Rathore


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Not Without Challenges Food photography, like any other field, is not without its own set of challenges. According to Chinmayie, the challenge tends to change with each recipe she works on. She feels that it is easier to shoot food that is naturally full of beautiful colours and forms. “I find it hard to shoot certain Indian dishes, which taste fantastic but are not very photogenic. It’s easy to make a curry, chutney or dosa look very unappetizing,” she opines. Divya feels that capturing the food within a particular timeframe in order to retain the freshness is a challenge. “Since food tends to remain fresh for only a limited period of time, your window of opportunity to capture that ’perfect’ moment is very short – you cannot ask your food to pose again for you as a model!” she says. This is all the more important because according to her, given the close-up range of food photographs, flaws if any will be visible and can distract people from what you want them to appreciate. Soma holds that shooting Indian curries is something she finds difficult even though that’s the focus of her blog. “The general brownish or orangish shade that they carry and the runny texture of the sauce which tends to hide every ingredient is the most difficult thing to plate and shoot. The challenge is always to describe these dishes clearly,” she elaborates. Further, while shooting food that is familiar to the audience could be relatively easy, if it is something the viewer hasn’t encountered before, Soma feels that she has to put in a lot of thought into the pictures because she has to make the audience perceive and taste that dish through the photographs. Additionally, shooting frozen food in

summer and unsuitable light conditions are other challenges that she highlights. Praise and Critique Come Together One of the common features in food blogs is the feedback the authors receive with respect to their food photographs. “I think the most common compliment I receive is that my photographs are different from other food blogs. A lot of people feel that the photographs look ‘real’ and ‘approachable’,” shares Chinmayie. Soma too says she receives appreciation from her blog readers for her food photographs. However, she shares that sometimes, attempts to move away from traditional settings and experimenting with a shoot, are met with some resistance. For instance, one of her readers described her attempt to have a photograph of a real ice cream painted on a board in one of her posts as “unrealistic”. Soma says she often interacts with fellow bloggers and food photographers on social networking sites seeking honest feedback on her photographs in a bid to improve and evolve.


The strawberr y basil ice cream picture that was termed “unrealisti c”. © Soma Rathore

Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Food Photography as a Profession Undoubtedly, soliciting honest feedback is a practice that becomes all the more important in case you choose to pursue food photography as a profession. So how are the opportunities in case you want to move beyond blogging and step into the professional world of food photography? Divya believes that there are indeed lot of professional opportunities. “Typically, clients for food photography include print magazines, online magazines, restaurants, hotels, food manufacturers, and more. Another avenue for food photographers is to license their images through stock photography websites,” she points out. At the same time, it is not an easy industry, warns Divya, especially when you are making a

fresh start. “You need to be quite patient, as you have to not only develop and refine your own skills, but also have to build a network around you so that you get noticed,” she says. On a positive note though, the Internet has made it quite easy for good food photography to be discovered online. “I think it is very important to develop your own unique style. This will help you differentiate yourself, get noticed and be remembered,” suggests Divya. Further, one needs to continuously work on updating skills and learning new techniques. In the end, it’s all about patience, perseverance and commitment. “While the going can be tough in the beginning, you have to keep yourself motivated and strive to be the best that you can be,” she concludes.

Anupama Krishnakumar loves Physics and English and sort of managed to get degrees in both – studying Engineering and then Journalism. Yet, as she discovered a few years ago, it is the written word that delights her soul and so here she is, doing what she loves to do – spinning tales for her small audience and for her little son, bringing together a lovely team of creative people and spearheading Spark. She loves books, music, notebooks and colour pens and truly admires simplicity in anything!


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Non-fiction Let’s Get Cooking! by Priya Sreeram Many of us find cooking a chore – Priya Sreeram was one of us too, until she took her time to find that it can be a therapeutic, fulfilling experience that can also make the family bond better. Read on for some tips from her!

'A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, gested that I learn all these ‘girlie’ things. must bring soul to the recipe' Let me share a few lessons that I learnt from my -Thomas Keller hearth adventures. This is particularly for all you people who are afraid to step into the kitchen to The above quote sums up my kitchen chronicook. cles. For me cooking is neither an art nor a science; it is in fact very personal, mostly therapeu- I vividly remember a harrowing tea gulping extic and immensely satisfying. Like many other perience that a few unsuspecting victims of mine girls my age I grew up listening to the oft- had many years back. Little did the three workrepeated "The way to a man’s heart is through ers who had come home for a plumbing job, his stomach" from all and sundry, especially my know that they were to be served a grainy, weird mother, who had a faint hope that I would take -tasting beverage that would shake them for life to donning the apron and get cracking in the and almost swear them off tea. The problem kitchen. The more I heard such statements, the with the tea was that instead of milk I had more I stayed away from the hearth. My mom tipped into the boiling tea water a white-looking would patiently listen to my vents as I spewed liquid, which I later learnt from my mom was questions like “Why should the kitchen be the milk that was set to curd. It goes without saying sole domain of a woman? Why can't a man don that the tea tasted awful – the workers did not the apron more regularly?” Her enigmatic Mona complain but it did put me off the hearth for a Lisa smile and practical suggestion to cook for good while. The good news was that the workmyself as it was a skill worth knowing would ers who had this beverage reported for work the soothe me. But it did nothing to shake me off next day. The bad news was that they refused the utmost repulsion whenever somebody sug- everything except water from then on. 17

Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Lesson 1: Identify your ingredients before you start cooking. You may be a novice but it does not excuse you from not putting the right ingredients together.

There are days when I feel too worked out and don't want to enter the kitchen. Though many gadgets have come to ease our jobs and we don’t really spend as much time in the kitchen as women from the past have, don't stress yourself Spending time in the kitchen certainly brings out too much if you don't want to cook. It is okay to the best in you as it teaches you skills that come have these days too. What are dining out and from your natural instincts. You may not be a take away counters for? master-chef but you will be the best chef ever for your loved one. Before I learnt this well into Lesson 3: Be open with your family. It is my married life, I had convinced myself that I okay to let them know that you don’t want to would marry someone who would do the cook- spend the day in the kitchen. It is better ing chore after marthan cribbing the whole riage. Yes, cooking time in the kitchen. looked like a huge Go with the flow and enjoy chore that was to be whatever you do. Cultivate dispensed with. And the joy of cooking as it is the kitchen in my intensely gratifying to see a dictionary was only smile on a loved one's face. meant for sitting on Let your family join you in the counter and dishing out yummies, it is tucking unabashedly double the fun. Also, it’s into the delights time we let our kids spend quickly churned out time in the kitchen. It is imby my mom who portant that we expose them worked as a teacher. to the smells and sounds The only thing I from the kitchen. My two obliged her with was chopping the veggies and children, aged 9 and 4, love spending time in the even then I would constantly balk at the prokitchen. The little one especially enjoys his kitchspect of cooking three meals a day for the rest en time. Of course, it requires oodles of patience of my life. and means messy counters, but it is worth the Lesson 2: Through sitting in the counter I effort. Not only will they appreciate the value of learnt, You need not spend all your free time food better but will also wipe the plate clean in the kitchen or cook jaw-dropping dishes since it is their creation. every time you don the apron but whenever Lesson 4: Spending time with family in the you are in the kitchen make sure to ooze kitchen is a sure-fire way of bonding. Go love; like someone once said, "Cooking is create and spread love from the kitchen. indeed love made visible". 18

Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

I married a hotelier who not only loves his time in the kitchen but also churns out tasty dishes at regular intervals. It amused him no end to see my weirdly-shaped rotis, burnt cabbage and lumpy rice during the early days of my cooking. I would regularly howl my heart out after each disaster.

and a generous pinch of love. This sure fire recipe is enough to transform a dish from ordinary to gourmet.

Lesson 5: Enter the kitchen with a "what the hell" attitude similar to what Julia Child preached. The worst that may happen is the dish may fail, but let that not deter you from Fortunately he stood by me, encouraged me and making dishes with gay abandon. bore the brunt of my misadventures with a smilFinally, it is not that I have become an awesome ing face, especially because I would wake him chef but it is only that I have learnt to love what from his sleep to rectify the various dishes that I I do and my husband, these days, tells his family would have specially killed...oops, cooked. Slowand friends that I cook much better than he ly and steadily I truly learnt that cooking is a does. fiery mix of oodles of passion, a dollop of vision, heartfelt execution, a certain sense of taste Have fun in the kitchen. Cheers!

Priya Sreeram is a stay-at-home mother to two children (whom she calls her dumplings!), with a loving, wonderful and supportive spouse who is her back-bone. A voracious reader and travel enthusiast, her travel footprints and musings find voice in her blog Straight from my Heart!! Also a passionate foodie, she chronicles her hearth & heart adventures in the food blog BON APPETIT.


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Art Fish Curry by Sandhya Ramachandran Being a vegetarian, nonvegetarian cooking has always seemed so interesting to Sandhya Ramachandran. Here's her ode to fish curry painted using coffee decoction with a spoon, fork and a knife and inked over.

Sandhya Ramachandran is an independent short filmmaker, illustrator and writer.


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Fiction A Reason For Cheer by Sudha Nair Food plays a poignant role in Mira's life, symbolising the love, comfort and security of home. When a new chapter in her life causes upheaval and threatens to cast a shadow of gloom over her happiness, will she be able to provide nourishment to her soul? Sudha Nair’s story has the answer. It was a dull, overcast Saturday morning. Mira woke up early out of habit. Her sparse and tiny rented studio in downtown New York was much smaller than her parents' home in Mumbai. The kitchenette stood against one wall, a small bed was tucked near the other, and a work table laden with a pile of books, design sketches, a canvas board and artwork crowded the rest of the space that she now called her new home. There was one window by the bed with no curtains yet. She had stuck newspaper on the frame—now rolled up and glued with tape to let in some light. It was still partly dark with the streets and cars covered with snow. A blizzard warning was issued this weekend. She'd stocked up on bread, cornflakes and other essentials ahead of the storm that could force her to be stuck indoors.

of her mother's extra sweet filter coffee. She missed home badly. She had come to New York to do a masters course in fashion design; it was her dream of many years to open her own boutique. She idolised her father, a self-made textile businessman, and hoped that one day she would start a successful venture too. It had been a rather rigorous process of filling admission forms and visa procedures. She was lucky to find referrals from friends for a place to stay. But after all the trouble, here she was, finally in the place of her dreams, feeling terribly lonely and homesick. The ironical turn of events shocked her so much that it drove her to a point of despair at times, when she wished she could give up this whole idea of New York in simple exchange for the rather cosy and less challenging life she had lived back home.

A cup of instant coffee in hand, she walked up Mira's life had changed so much in New York, it to sit at the window sill, looked across the empty was so different from back home. She missed street below, and sighed. She yearned for a cup the daily chit chats and outings with her friends 21

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of many years—the difference in time zone making it almost impossible to talk to them every day, when she wished to fill them in on daily happenings. Yes, technology did help bridge the gap but nothing, she felt, could replace the joy of being in the company of one’s friends in person. Strangely enough, she was also finding it quite tough to fit into a crowd of foreigners. She al-

home. The mere thought of the mouth-watering crispy, deep-fried flour pockets filled with mashed potatoes, and a sweet, sour and spicy concoction of tamarind water, mint and chilli, shooting spurts of assorted flavours through her salivating mouth, was spinning a delightful cocoon of memories and images in her head.

And she suddenly went down a trail of food memories! How she missed her mother's upma and coffee for breakfast, and the hot and spicy bhajjis with ginger tea on cold evenings! Mira's lunch box used to be the envy of her classmates; fresh and flaky samosas or hot puris were a treat when she came back from college. Her mother's rich cinnamon carrot cake worked wonders on her frayed exam-time nerves. Malathi, her mother, was really excited and proud about her cooking. She was like a seductress, a temptress, and Mira's father, Bhaskar, was an eager victim of her culinary charm—his weakness lay in Malathi's hot, puffy phulkas and zaphrani pulav. Their home was forever abuzz with neighbours, classmates, kitty groups, business associates and friends—the tempting fare enticing guests to ways had anticipated adapting in a foreign place keep coming back for more. could be a challenge but she had felt that with Mira's reverie ended when her thoughts flitted time she would overcome her loneliness. Only back to her present situation. Meals at her camthat she hadn't realised how tough it really was. pus cafeteria were so monotonous and boring. Picture by kkalyan

She had just begun to make friends here, but hardly anyone dropped in home. There were no Hindi movies to go to, or friends to go out with, no shopping at Fashion Street where you could buy chappals in so many different colours, and no occasions to wear colourful duppattas and bangles or bindis to match them. Mira missed the roadside pani-puri haunt outside her Mumbai

Most days she ate peanut butter sandwiches for dinner if her classes or assignments made her stay back late. Weekend outings with friends always meant pizza, the thought of the stringy cheese on the crust filling her with revolt lately, unlike the pav-bhaji, her all-time favourite, laced with ghee and topped with crunchy, raw onions and sprinkled green coriander bits.


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She didn't look forward to food anymore like she did when her father brought home jalebis if business had been excellent that day, or when her mother made ragada pattice if they were going to the movies. Everything she ate now seemed so bland, even the Thali meal at the Indian joint was a pathetic excuse for authentic Indian. The Chinese take-out paled in comparison to rasam rice and alu palya. Bagels and cream cheese for breakfast seemed like a hollow substitute for soft idlis dunked in spicy sambar and topped with with thick coconut chutney. Haste cuisine was soon turning into hate cuisine. Days had passed into a month, and now three! It was then that Mira realised that food was probably what she missed the most in her life away from home. She craved for a home-cooked meal so much that it pervaded her thoughts at all times. Just give me one meal that tastes like my mother's or even close, she pleaded to the universe. If only she could cook, she groaned. She had never seriously ventured into the kitchen before, except to help or watch her mother cook. Cooking had seemed a little daunting then, and there had hardly been any need for her to cook until now. Food had always been taken for granted with her mother around. Even when Malathi coaxed Mira to try a few recipes before leaving for New York, Mira had been so busy and in a way indifferent about the whole thing that learning to cook had been the least of her concerns. Little had she anticipated her current distress! At the window sill, Mira sighed wistfully, thinking of everything she missed about home, particularly the food. The depressing thought of consuming bread or cornflakes alternately for the

long, gloomy and trapped weekend made her remember the box that her mother had packed in with her baggage to New York. Mira's hectic schedule, her apprehension about cooking and the inertia to spend her free time in the kitchen, had caused her to almost forget the untouched box. If it weren't for the fact that she couldn't go out or order any food this entire weekend, the box would have slipped her mind altogether; she wouldn't have finally opened what her mother had so carefully packed for her. She pulled out its contents one by one: medium-size packets of rice and yellow dal, tiny packets of Indian spices, a small plastic bottle of ghee, spoons, a couple of plates, a notebook, some pans, and the rice cooker, her mother had implored her to take. "I'm packing only basic kitchen things to help you settle in," her mother had said. Mira held out the small notebook with recipes her mother had written down, and looked for an easy recipe to start. She drooled on spotting the recipe for khichdi, a blend of slightly overcooked white rice and yellow dal, the memories of her favourite comforting meal taking her back to happier times. Khichdi it is, she decided. It felt like it was time now to face the mighty task, to assert her confidence, to bring the tickle back to her taste buds. She was fed up of wishing and wanting. It was deprivation pitted against longing, anguish against gratification, feeling-sorryfor-herself against resolve. Without further ado, she got to work, gathering up the ingredients, and setting up the rice cooker and pan. She read the recipe instructions meticulously, and followed them, word for word, step by step, slowly and steadily.


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She washed the rice and yellow dal and put into the rice cooker with measured cups of water, a dash of turmeric and salt, and set it to cook. When the rice and dal were cooked, she melted a spoon of ghee in a hot pan, and scattered a few cumin and mustard seeds in it. The spice duo kicked up a fuss and set off into sputters. She gently lifted the pan with the aromatic ghee and spices swimming in it, and poured it into the rice and dal, mixing it all in to let the rice absorb the flavour and aroma of the ghee. Voila, her khichdi was ready; she had finally cooked her first meal.

ing the aroma of the steaming dish. She imagined the look of pride on her mother's face knowing that her daughter had finally taken the first step to cook. The sight of the gleaming khichdi glazed with ghee, misted her eyes and brought a lump to her throat. She said a little prayer for the glorious meal that was before her. As she tasted the first spoonful of khichdi and felt its melting softness in her mouth, her heart swelled with pride. Umm. Ummm‌she went. She couldn't stop. Victory was finally served; it was feeding her soul. It was love at food sight. The months of melancholy gave way to contentment. Her spirit felt rejuvenated. She felt ready She took out the beautiful plate her mother had to embrace life with renewed passion. Life bepacked in, served the khichdi onto it, placed it at gan to feel so much better. her work table, and sat down to admire it, inhal-

Sudha, a mother of two, is constantly trying to pursue new avenues to push her creative boundaries. A chronic daydreamer, she is in awe of people who have followed their heart. Sudha is passionate about music, fitness, her family, and most recently, writing. She aspires to inspire through her writing and thanks her family for putting up with all her idiosyncrasies while she channels the writer in her!


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Non-fiction Palakkad On a Platter! by Deepa Venkatraghvan If you think Kerala is a land of sea food, think again, says Deepa Venkatraghvan, as she gives you a sneak peek into all the exciting vegetarian fare that Palakkad cuisine boasts of. Here is a write-up that’s sure to have your mouth watering and craving for some delicious Palakkad vegetarian food!

Give a Malayali a banana tree and he’ll make the proverbial ‘roti, kapda and makaan’ out of it. You’ve probably seen thatched roof houses in Kerala made out of banana leaves. I’ve seen saris made out of banana fiber. And most parts of the banana tree can be used to cook up something tasty. In fact, it’s not just the banana tree. Malayalis can dish up something creative out of a variety of tropical greens and in combinations you would never have imagined, particularly when it comes to cooking. I

will tell you why. If you’re a non-vegetarian who wonders how we vegetarians get by, you’ve probably never tasted Kerala’s vegetarian cuisine. I’ve been a vegetarian all my life and I don’t think my taste buds have missed a thing. And I can credit that entirely to my exposure to the finest vegetarian dishes from God’s own country.


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My father’s side of the family comes from Tiru- cious combination is served with rice. nelveli in Tamil Nadu. My paternal grand mom Kaalan: A classic vegetarian dish, Kaalan is a is a great cook but must-have on most the fare does not go big feasts. The gravy beyond the regular is made with yogurt rasam, sambar, usand coconut. Typical silis and kuzhambus. vegetables that are My mom’s side of added include yam the family comes and raw banana. from Palakkad in Kaalan tastes wonKerala. Many perderful when it is ceive Kerala as the served with rice. land of sea food. But Olan: Another feast for me, Kerala is the must-have, the key epitome of vegetarii n g r ed i e n ts ar e an food. Some of Ishtoo. Picture by Melange pumpkin and blackthe dishes, like aviyal, moru kuzhambu and beans thoran, for instance, eyed beans made in coconut milk gravy. Eaten have made their way into urban specialty restau- by itself, this dish can be a little bland. So its rants. But a large part of the cuisine remains best served with rice and another spice gravy hidden, only to be passed on through the family. dish. That’s perhaps why they also retain that ‘to-die- Mambazha kootan: Mambazha kootan is a for’ characteristic. delectable curry made with ripe mangoes But good things must be shared, so I’m going to (mambazham) cooked in a gravy of coconut, tell you about some vegetarian classics from my cumin and green chillies. A summer specialty served with rice and clearly my all-timemom’s kitchen. favourite.

Curries and Thorans

Ishtoo: Ishtoo is a heavenly combination of boiled potatoes, ginger, green chilies and coconut milk brewed to a perfect stew. Ishtoo goes best with appams and idiappams. Pulunkari: Pulankari is a dish that is sweet, spicy and sour all at the same time. The sweetness comes from red pumpkin, the spice from red chillies and the sourness from tamarind, all cooked with fenugreek seeds powder. This deli-

Vazhai tandu thoran and vazhai poo thoran: Thoran is a broad term for a dry stir-fried curry made out of a variety of vegetables. Vazhai means banana and these two thorans are made out of different parts of the banana tree. Tandu, the stem and poo, the flower. The effort that goes into making these two dishes is extraordinary; yet you will find Palakkad homes diligently making them. To make the vazhai tandu curry, the outer rind of the stem must be removed and


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the inner portion must be cut after removing the fiber. To make the vazhai poo curry, the banana flower must be opened up and the florets separated. The hard stigma of the florets must be removed and then the florets are ready to use. Interestingly, on a trip to Sri Lanka, banana flower curry was the first dish presented to us when we asked for a vegetarian option. Idichakkai thoran: Another one that needs a lot of effort, this thoran is made from green jackfruit pounded and stirred with a touch of coconut. Arachukalaki: This is not exactly a curry. It is more of a chutney that is served with rice. Traditionally made with pickled raw mangoes, arachukalaki emerges in winter. In summer, raw mangoes are pickled and by winter they are perfect for arachukalakis. The pickled mangoes are ground with coconut and chillies. This is best served with steamed rice but it also makes a great accompaniment for idlis and dosas. This chutney is also made with gooseberries.

Sweet dishes

Chakka Pradhaman. Pic : Google Images

Nombu adai: Nombu is the south Indian equivalent of Karva Chauth. In fact, in the movie Ra.One, Kareena Kapoor should have observed Nombu instead of Karva Chauth. But what does Karan Johar know! Anyway, Nombu adai is the highlight of this festival for me. Little flat cakes made with rice flour and jaggery, the adais taste best with soft white butter. Nei payasam: A payasam made by mixing cooked rice in ghee (nei) and jaggery.

Elai adai: Elai adai is a delicacy where a flat steamed rice crepe is stuffed with ripe jackfruit Okkarai: My all-time favourite, Okkarai is a Diwali special dish. It is made by mixing powpreserve and steamed in banana leaves. dered Bengal gram dal and jaggery to just the Ada pradhaman: A type of payasam made with right consistency and garnishing with roasted coconut milk, jaggery and flavoured with cardacashew. mom. Different variations are made with jackfruit, bananas, milk or lentils. The version which Sarkara uperi: Banana chips coated in jaggery is made with ripe jackfruit preserve and coconut syrup, this is an addictive snack. milk abd garnished with chopped coconut piec- So that’s my stock of extraordinary vegetarian es fried in ghee is known as chakka pradhaman. foods from Palakkad. Most of these dishes Ada pradhaman is one of the main favourites won’t be on restaurant menus. But you are sure served in the Onam feast. to find the recipes on blogs (just hit a Google 27

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search for ‘Palakkad Dishes Recipes’). All the some quick fulfillment, your best option is to same, as with all things culinary, the magic of befriend a Palakkad family and make your way flavours comes primarily from years of practice into their kitchen or wedding feast! and that dash of experience. So if you want

Deepa Venkatraghvan, a chartered accountant, loves to write. She works in the media and when she is not writing about smart investing, she pens her thoughts about life’s experiences. You can check out her personal finance blog at http://

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Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Poetry Sweet Memories by Vinita Agrawal In a poem that evokes nostalgia and brings in fragrances of the past, Vinita Agrawal describes a beautiful experience of how a little girl and her grandmother walk up to a kiln with all the key ingredients to get some tasty biscuits baked from the bakers.

She would tuck my small hand into her own And in the other, carry a 10 kg square tin Of flour, sugar, ghee and a few large cardamoms.

Every summer holidays, grandma and I Would walk to the kiln just around the corner of our house, Me wearing a faded frock and rubber slippers

She in a cotton sari. Sheets of dust would rise like sheer curtains in the noon-time heat Coat our faces, get into our mouths, leave them gritty

But nothing deferred the sweet anticipation Of the taste of freshly baked biscuits, straight from the bakers. At the kiln, she would let go of my hand,


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Loop the border of her sari behind her ears Because it was too hot and Standing before the furnace made us feel hotter.

We would hand our rusty tin and its contents To the baker. Grandma would also give him a few grubby rolled notes I would give him a shy, happy smile,

For he knew how I loved these wheat-flour biscuits And that I accompanied my grandma every year to watch them being freshly prepared -

Creamed, kneaded, rolled, garnished, baked. Perhaps I knew then that the aroma wafting Out of the process would make its way across years,

Across time. That it would wrap my childhood - Keep it warm against my pillows at night A memory to cherish, where grandma, cookies and love

Became one. Now, years later, I walk down to the same corner Where the kiln once stood. A footwear shop stands in its place.

Neon lights have replaced its blazing fires Uniformed staff strut across its polished floor. The smell of leather overrides the air. 30

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But if I close my eyes, if I surrender to my senses, The aroma of freshly prepared biscuits wafts right in; Tender and indulgent, a treasure of memories, thoroughly baked in the furnace of time.

Vinita Agrawal is a Delhi-based writer and poet and has been published in international print and online journals.


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Fiction Ration by Vani Viswanathan Young Jillu was once taken to the ration shop by her mother to buy sugar. This got her thinking and questioning her mother on a number of things. Vani Viswanathan tells the story. I was around nine or ten then. It was a scorching summer afternoon, and I was moving from room to room in the house, bored, following my mother around as she shuffled between chores. My cotton chemise – it was all I was wearing, even a frock seemed like a burden – fluttered in the hot wind the fan churned out. Eventually, she asked if I would accompany her to some shop. It was her day off – a rarity, she was the headmistress of a school, and I was desperate to spend any time I could with her. So I put on a thin yellow cotton frock, a pair of flowery canvas pumps (or cut shoes, as they were know then!) and walked hand-in-hand with mother. We walked through the shaded street and took a right turn when we reached the end. The road perpendicular to our street, at the back, was lined with huts. The one perpendicular on the front side was one of the city’s busiest roads. I was surprised we’d come to the ‘other’ side. “Where are we going, Amma?”

“To buy some sugar.” This was strange. We usually bought everything for the kitchen from the fancy supermarket on this busy road. I loved it when my father took me along to that supermarket – it was something to see rows of chocolates, chips and biscuits of all kinds lined up. Supermarkets were still pretty new then, most people were still buying from the annaachi kadai (local mom-andpop stores), so I was proud of the fact that my family shopped at a supermarket. “We’re not going to KG Supermarket?” “No, we’re going to the ration shop.” Ah. I knew about this, they showed them in movies: people I thought were villagers queuing and fighting with each other and the man selling the stuff. “But isn’t it only for people who live in villages?” “No, they have them here too.”


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We had reached the ration shop. There was a queue of people. Bright coloured sarees, pale yellow veshtis, patchy shirts. Sack bags, yellow cloth bags with bright red letters in Tamil. Jerry cans. Mother had brought a bag too. We joined the queue, and I stood on tiptoe and craned my neck to see how long the Picture by antwelm queue was – it was long. Five minutes later, I was wiping sweat off my forehead with the back of my palm and getting restless. My mother pulled the pallu of her cotton saree and wiped her sweating neck and sighed loudly. I looked around for something to do, and found a few stones that I tried juggling – unsuccessfully, for I ended dropping them on the feet of an old lady standing before us in the queue. “Jillu! Stop doing that right now!” my mother chided. The old lady only smiled, though. She had two shiny nose studs on both sides of her nose, and her hair was silver and curly. A few paces ahead I saw a board with things written in Tamil. I walked up to it and started reading. “Arisi. Roo three” Rice, rupees three. “Thu dot Paruppu. Roo two”

“Thuvaram paruppu…” she called back. “Oo dot Paruppu?” ”Ulutham paruppu… now, Jillu, will you please stop shouting and get back here?” I wandered up to the front of the counter and saw sacks of food grains. Rice, big yellow dal, a smaller kind of dal. Some white grainy powder. Some other sacks, one of which I recognised had sugar. A man went in and brought liquid in a blackened kettle-like vessel that he poured into a jerry can. The liquid smelled nice, like petrol. I drew a deep breath and took the smell in. Like petrol, I somehow knew smelling this was forbidden too. A good few minutes later, mother came to the front of the line, and I stood beside her. She asked for three kilos of sugar. I saw her run her hand on the rice, pick up a few grains and drop them back into the sack. I did the same. White powder stayed on my hands. I felt bolder and did the same with one of the yellow grains. It was dusty too, and I found a few specks of black. A few tiny bugs were crawling in the white powder in another sack. That can’t be good, my mind reasoned. Why were we buying sugar from this place? I asked mother.

“Amma!” I yelled out from where I was. “What “It’s not for us, I’m buying it for Meena,” she is thu dot paruppu?” said. Our maid. 33

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“You mean she has to eat this stuff? With the penses she has to handle!” dust and the bugs?” I stopped asking questions. My mother claimed “They are poor, they can’t afford to buy what she was doing a good thing by getting the maid we buy at supermarkets…” sugar from this dirty shop. That meant things were wrong in ways I couldn’t fathom. After “What if they fall sick eating this?” that day I noticed that every once in a while “They won’t, they have better resistance…” Meena did get her sugar from the ration shop “You mean even Chitra has better resistance with money my mother gave her. Soon, we than me?” Chitra was the maid’s five-year-old to moved to another city, and I forgot all about the whom my clothes and toys went after I had got- grains in the ration shop. Until over a decade later, one evening after work, I happened to ten bored with them. stroll into a ration shop while waiting to meet a Mother didn’t say anything. friend. I was unhappy. I understood poverty – I saw Things looked the same, although the food didbeggars, children in tattered clothes and people n’t look as dusty or dirty. There were still as walking barefoot in the scorching sun. And I many or more people queuing up to buy food knew hunger too, but there was something grains at heavily subsidised prices. I didn’t know deeply disturbing if one had to eat bad food just whether to be happy that there was at least an because they couldn’t afford to buy cleaner option for them to buy these grains given their food. It was another thing if they couldn’t cook poor incomes, or sad that things were still so clean food in a good way, but starting out with bad that they couldn’t afford to buy it at seembad raw materials was not nice. ingly better places, or feel disturbed that there “Ok, we can afford to buy the clean food from was still much that one could take for granted the supermarket. Why don’t you buy that for because one had more money than others. That money was so intricately linked with something Meena?” like food still continued to disturb me. What did “We already pay her a salary! Do you even know I do about it? Nothing much, except asking my how much grains cost in the market?? At least old cook to prepare a little extra, for her to take this way Meena is getting some sugar. She can’t home everyday. even afford it otherwise, with all the other exVani Viswanathan is often lost in her world of books and A R Rahman, churning out lines in her head or humming a song. Her world is one of frivolity, optimism, quietude and general chilled-ness, where there is always place for outbursts of laughter, bouts of silence, chocolate, ice cream and lots of books and endless iTunes playlists from all over the world. Vani was a Public Relations consultant in Singapore and decided to come back to homeland after seven years away. Vani blogs at http:// 34

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Non-fiction Beat the Summer Heat by Anu Karthik Summer is here and we are sure you are looking desperately for thirst quenchers to give you some relief from the heat Anu Karthik shares three simple recipes that are special to summer, weaving them in along with her own personal memories about the season. Here are three simple and healthy ways to beat the summer heat!

Think ‘Summer’ and what does that one word bring to my mind, to your mind? I am sure one of the first things that will possibly strike most of us is "summer vacation" - the coveted time off from school. Personally, as someone who grew up in Chennai, it also brings to my mind a couple of other things, namely the refreshing nongu, delicious mangoes and the legendary Chennai summer heat, "Agni Natchathiram".

months, not wanting to waste the precious sunshine.. And this year, after nearly a decade, I have had the chance to experience the summers of both my home and of my home away from home. As someone who enjoys cooking, at this juncture of experiencing summers in two different parts of the world in the same year, I am tempted to share three simple recipes that are special to summer and are a great way to beat the heat wherever you are. Trying these out will, Back then and even today, we always wait for I am sure, kindle your own fond memories of summer to end in Chennai, the land where there summer. has never been a dearth of sunshine. Thinking back, I realise that I spent the first 18 years of Mango Lassi my life never checking what the weather was The first drink is "Mango Lassi". It is not simply going to be like every single day. It was a taken that the mango is called the king of fruits, and for granted fact that it would be hot almost eveuntil you have bitten into a ripe, juicy, tasty one ry other day and summers were times when the with juice drooling down your hand to your elheat spiked unbelievably! What a contrast it is to bow, you cannot truly understand why. For a now when I live in the Pacific Northwest waitdelicious lassi that will have everyone asking for ing eagerly for every single day in the summer a second helping, combine one measure of 35

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mango pulp or peeled and cubed mangoes, 1/2 a measure of yogurt and 2-3 measures of milk and blend in a blender. Add sugar and ice if needed and serve immediately. You can bring about a dash of change to this simple yet tasty drink by adding a dollop of vanilla ice cream for those who desire it. If you have young ones who love popsicles, just pour this into popsicle moulds and their mango popsicle can be ready very easily!

The consistency of this can be varied as per liking and can be anywhere to as thin as a fruit juice or as thick as a milkshake. Sambaram tastes best when served cold.

Sambaram Pic courtesy :

Mango Lassi. Picture by Purple Foodie

Sambaram The second drink is called "Sambaram" and is nothing but spiced chilled buttermilk. This one is dear to my heart especially because of my love for yogurt, having grown up on thayir sadam or curd rice. No Indian meal is complete for me without a cup of yogurt. And there is nothing to quench one's thirst in the heat like a glass of buttermilk. To make this, combine an inch or more of ginger, a bunch of cilantro, some hing or asafoetida, one green chilli and some curry leaves. Blend this into a smooth paste. Then add a measure of yogurt and a measure of water and blend together. Add some ice and salt as needed.

Lime Juice The last drink is something my mother makes every year. We have a wonderful lime tree at home. When the lime is ripe and she brings the plucked ones in, our whole house smells so citrusy. Making this lime juice at home is not only extremely easy and tasty but also really good for our health in this fast or processed food addicted times that we all belong to. Another benefit of this juice concentrate is that it is always ready in the refrigerator to serve thirsty guests who visit us during summer. To make this concentrate, squeeze and make ready a measure of fresh lime juice and keep aside. Prepare sugar


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syrup with three measures of sugar and just add er concentrate you take and lo, wonderful fresh the juice of one lime to this syrup to prevent lime juice is ready! crystallization. After the syrup cools down, add the squeezed lime juice, mix well and refrigerate. To make lime juice anytime, just add water, approximately about thrice the quantity of whatev-

Lime Juice. Picture courtesy :

Anu Karthik is a passionate person with a strong sense of will. She blogs at http://


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Fiction Nine Food Moments by Anupama Krishnakumar Food and daily life happenings that center around food can evoke a diverse range of emotions in humans. Anupama Krishnakumar explores nine important emotions or the navarasas that food can invoke in people. These are Bhayānakam (Horror/Fear)Kāruṇyam (Compassion/Tragedy) Vīram (Courage) Hāsyam (Humour) Adbhutam (Wonder) Bībhatsam (Disgust) Śāntam (Peace) Sringāram (Love) Raudram (Fury). Here are nine little stories with food as the central theme. Hāsyam (Happiness)

could they even think of taking such liberties, even though they were only eight and ten respectively? In their rather dreary life that turned drearier with the onset of summer, the only thing the girls looked forward to with all earnestness was the ‘gola ice’ wala who poured onto frozen ice supported on a frail wooden stick, deliciously flavoured syrups of bright and alluring colours from bottles. Ah, what contrast those colours were to the dullness that pervaded their lives. The old man visited every day usually at half past four in the evening, announcing his arrival with a little brass bell tied to his wooden cart laden with all the bottles and a thermocole box filled with ice.

Sujju and Radha sat at the first of the three steps leading into their humble home. It really was unbearable to sit inside their house at this hour – even though it was four in the evening. The blazing summer sun coupled with the asbestos roofing ensured that it sucked out every bit of energy from the inmates. They drank cups and cups of water from the matka but nothing quenched the burning thirst that latched itself onto their ever-parched tiny throats and no amount of air from the ever-spinning fan could chase away the perspiration that bathed their fragile bodies. Sometimes, Sujju wished she could walk around shirtless like her dad and Radha wished she could get rid of her long hair, The children in the locality flocked around him oiled and plaited only to stink and turn perenni- buzzing with excitement, for, he told them funally damp due to sweat. But girls they were, how ny stories from faraway lands that made them 38

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laugh till their stomachs ached even as they licked away in sheer delight the coloured ice dripping with happiness. Today was a particularly lucky day for Sujju and Radha because their uncle who worked in the city had visited, giving them 25 rupees each as a parting gift. And the girls couldn’t hold back their excitement as this meant they could each have a gola ice a day for five days! What a luxury that was! But even with 50 rupees between them, frugality overruled desire in their little hearts. Their father would shoo them away everytime they asked for just five rupees, promising that both of them would share one gola ice to soothe their dry mouths and throats. Now with 50 rupees between them, they wanted to extend the prospect of eating gola ice to ten days, sharing one each day. So with this mathematically calculated move that they obviously were proud of, they earnestly looked forward to the brass bell that defined mirth and in all that excitement in this hour of truth that they could indeed afford that object of desire, the minutes seemed to tick away even more slowly. Finally though, the bell sounded, and the two little girls jumped in joy, opened the gates and ran to the street and giggled and swayed excitedly, and along with other eager children, surrounded the magical cart as the gola wala listened patiently to each of their requests that they shouted over one another’s voice in total glee, too eager to be heard first. The old man never made a mistake and in each tiny palm that stretched out landed the exact gola ice flavour that they asked for. After waiting with bated breath for what seemed like hours, Sujju and Radha got their orange ice and both stuck out their parched tongues coated with desire and shivered ecstatically as the tip of their tongues

caressed the magical ice. In the background, laughter filled the air as the old man told the story of a donkey that chewed an elephant’s ear thinking it was paper, in some far away land.

Bhayānakam (Horror/Fear) It all started with a strange, sour belch that left him feeling utterly sick. And suddenly a weird acidic burn began to accompany a series of regular belches and he felt as though someone has set his food-pipe, stomach and heart on fire, a fire that could not be doused even after gulping glasses and glasses of chilled water. He sweated, he squirmed, his stomach churned, his tongue went bizarrely dry, his breathing became shallow and his eyesight blurred. He clutched his stomach, dragged his faltering feet to the washroom even as the fear of the inevitable end marched deftly into his soul. He sat on the commode and groaned painfully as beads of sweat turned his face into a white pool of fear and his hands went damp while his shirt was dripping wet. He prayed, cried, yelled and hoped against hope that his stomach would clean out but it only pained and pained and his heart burned and burned and his vision blurred and blurred.


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Suddenly, as if the heavens heard his frantic calls, he burped painfully again and in a fit of anxiety, he took his place near the washbasin and puked mindlessly – food and gooey water rushing out and choking the tiny holes that led to the drain. When his senses finally returned, he saw the gory form that the well-laid and alluring food of the previous night had taken today – staring at him wickedly from the sink. Out came everything that he had consumed with so much delight at a party, literally stuffing himself as if it were his last day on earth. And it almost came true – this little irony. An hour later, the doctor asked him what he had consumed – “prawn pickle and biryani,” he muttered faintly. ‘Watch it bro,” the doctor said, “an acute case of food poisoning.” Oh, the horror of how delectable food could turn a devil.

unnecessarily taken charge of my brain (Only that I will thank it with all my heart later). I stood at the counter and told Chachu as we fondly called the man who scribbled the bills that only regulars and Pappuji at the delivery counter would understand, “Chachu, Ek Sam, Ek Chai”. “Ram, Ram, bijju,” he greeted me, the regular at the cafeteria from year I. “Same for me,” I heard a girl’s voice from behind and I turned to see who it was only to realise that here stood the woman who made my heart flutter.

Sringāram (Love) I somehow want to believe that the way you meet your sweetheart is an interesting twist of destiny – a carefully chosen mini-plot written only for you and your beloved; scripted in a way that you share a situation that involves that one thing that you bond over flawlessly. For me and Anindita, it was the extremely high-on-demand sam-chai at the college cafeteria. A heavenly combination that cost just ten bucks. Sam for spicy, rich, aromatic Samosa, rejoiced by many a student over the years. Chai, well, piping hot ginger tea in a tiny ceramic cup held by many a student hand over years. My love story saw its beginning in my second year at college when one winter afternoon, I headed to the cafeteria , bunking a particularly sleep-inducing lecture hour, in a bid to stir myself out of the fuzziness that had quite effortlessly and needless to say,

It doesn’t take long to discover details about the girl you heart beats after when in college. All you need is four friends who would pledge their lives for the success of a friend’s ‘Love’. So, as the months rolled by, I synced my visits around the time she came for sam-chai and she timed it thus too, consciously or unconsciously I know not, but I would like to believe she did it knowingly. The samosa and chai were an inevitable presence around which we spun a cocoon of love – stealing glances through every bite and every sip. We let the common love for sam and chai do all talking until one day when Chachu didn’t realise that the delivery counter had run out of samosas and there was just one left and he made bills for both of us for one sam and one tea each. Pappuji screeched from the coun-


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ter had run out of samosas and there was just one left and he made bills for both of us for one sam and one tea each. Pappuji screeched from the counter and placed the only samosa on a white ceramic plate in front of us, clearly indicating his dilemma and his unwillingness to decide between two die-hard sam-chai lovers. I was quick enough to put to use my lessons on chivalry and offered the plate to her – please you take it. “Thank you,” she muttered and walked away to her table. After two minutes, quite unexpectedly, I saw her standing in front of me with a ceramic plate in hand. In it was half a samosa and she gently pushed the plate towards me. And thus began our story of sharing that would last a lifetime. Kāruṇyam (Compassion) They are a daily sight. Well, almost. Those ten children dressed in rags. They would wait eagerly by the compound wall that surrounded the huge wedding hall opposite my house. I can clearly see them from my bedroom window as they eagerly eye the street dustbin into which all the waste food from the wedding would be dumped. The food would usually be served in ‘pandhis’ or rounds where about fifty people would feast on the wedding food in each round. At the end of a pandhi that would probably last half an hour, there would be a rain of green banana leaves on which the guests would have feasted, relished, cursed and wasted food without an iota of regret and the leaves would all fill the bin and also remain scattered around it in piles. The kids will wait round the corner and rush in when they hear the hustle of banana leaves being emptied from a wooden basket. They would fight for space and access with stray

dogs, cows and crows, for, in the race to satisfy hunger, it always has to be the survival of the fittest, be it food in a trash bin or otherwise. And so initially, I watched these children through eyes that grew moist out of disbelief and pathos, as they braved harm from the competitors – biting dogs, angry cows that could mow them down with their fierce horns or clever crows that could peck, to test their luck to the maximum limits in spotting a vada or an idli or a delicious sweet or some coloured rice, or a few chips, or perhaps a papad or a paper cup in which half the kheer is still left behind or some bits of rotis or some plain kichdi – the list is endless. Sometimes they run into the remnants of an exotic feast and they would fight like mad dogs between themselves forgetting the friendship that was fostered between them by the very fate called poverty that they shared. Well, you can’t be human if you watch such instances that define the unbelievable limits of human despair when it comes to something as basic as food that is required for sustenance of life, and do nothing about it. So, with my meagre student budget, I would buy some biscuits and chips and sometimes vadas from the corner teashop and give it to them. I never would give them money for I know that it would be wasted on something else. Today, I see from my vantage point that there is someone else who is watching those children too as they wait for a fresh set of trash banana leaves to be emptied into the bin. It’s a lady, who is probably in her late 40s, with greying hair. She wears a pair of black rimmed, retro spectacles and is clad in a gentle blue Bengal cotton saree. Suddenly, she claps her hands and


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as the children turn, she signals them to come over to where she is standing. I see that she has two big bags by her side. The children look puzzled and curious and when they come near, she orders them to stand in a line. She then opens the bags and pulls out big boxes and hands over two boxes to each of the kids. The recipients look delighted and they grin wide, showing stained and broken teeth as they wrap their dirty fingers tight around the sides of the boxes that look too big for their little hands. They hold the boxes close to their chests - their bare and bony chests demonstrate this condition called poverty, , the protruding ribs only accentuating the image. They squeal in delight as they smell fresh food from the boxes and run excitedly to their mobile homes. I see the lady smiling and I smile too from where I sit and thank God for an emotion called compassion that still finds home in some human hearts.

powering smell himself. “Dad,” he called out in a husky voice. “Sudhir, did you drink?” pat came the question from the burly, middle-aged man sitting on a couch in the lawn. And the conversation flowed, albeit not so smoothly. First there was stern questioning, then a sterner warning and finally a slap on Sudhir’s moist face.

Vīram (Courage) By the time Sudhir went to face his father who was sitting and smoking leisurely in the lawn, he had downed half a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. It wasn’t really his first time – he had done occasional rounds of drinking ever since he started interning during his final year at college. And that was nearly two years ago. Yet, this was the first time he was facing his extremely strict father who spoke nothing but rules and discipline to him through all the years. Sudhir was surprised at his own temerity – his decision to down whiskey and go face his father. But he had to do it. There was no other way he could muster courage to question his father. Sudhir knew that the smell was all that was needed to get the conversation started. He could feel the over-

Sudhir stood unperturbed and looked his father in the eye. The drunk son’s eyes were blazing. The father took a step back, fumbled. His son hadn’t spoken a word so far. But now he had a question for his father. “How could you do it, Dad?” “Do what?” the father stammered slightly, even as he was fuming at his son’s guts to question him. “You think I drank for fun. No, Dad. I didn’t. I drank because I wanted to muster courage. The courage to do something I have never done before. The courage to question you. Tell me, how did you have the heart to do it?” The fuming father now looked confused. He stared. “I saw you, Dad,” continued the son,


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“yesterday evening…” he spoke slowly not taking his eyes off the man he feared and respected, “How could you do that to the young girl – the cook’s daughter? I saw you corner her. I saw you brush your body against her fragile frame. I saw you clutch her waist and slowly fondle her breasts. I saw you breathe down her neck as she shivered in fright and helplessness. I saw her plead too with tears in her eyes and I saw you let her go with a warning not to tell anyone. I saw it, Dad, only that you didn’t see me seeing you. I quivered with shame at your act, at your cheap desire, at your high-handedness, at your overbearing attitude. And today I wanted to tell you that I won’t spare you for what you did. I could have never got this initial courage unless I drank. The alcohol is what I needed,” he said boldly. The father looked stumped, he stood speechless. For once, he hung his head in shame in front of his son’s courage and discovery. He lowered his eyes in defeat. Adbhutam (Wonder) To begin with, when my daughter came into this world, I was taken over by a sense of wonder and I wondered even more if she shared my sense of wonder! For instance, I was curious to know if she found any taste in the milk when I breast fed her. It was her one and only means of sustenance for the first six months of her life and every time I took her close to my bosom and she latched on, I would wonder if she could taste the rasam, the palak, the milk, the curd, the dal and the pickles I ate with great relish in the liquid she consumed off me. It’s perhaps one of the big ironies of life that some of the most blissful times of our lives as humans are the days when we stay a carefree infant and yet those are

the times we have absolutely no memories of. And so try how much ever, we can’t recall from our own conscious mind, the many things we followed with wonder as a new born. Seriously, a blank slate. Of course, when you become a parent, you know that one of the first things a child expresses wonder about is the way a fan moves. Infants can stare for minutes together at the ceiling as a fan comes to a gentle halt, and smile and kick their legs in sheer delight. But food? I am not really sure. So when my daughter was about five months, my doubts on the levels of my child’s wonder about the sense of taste began to find some answers or at least so I thought. Certain times, she would drink just a bit, pull out, look thoughtful and get back to filling her stomach with the life-propelling milk and I would see that she was enjoying what she was consuming, from the ‘mm…’ sound she would make. At other times, she would drink just a bit, pull out, look thoughtful and decide to not drink further. That brief moment of staying thoughtful is what I would call the tiny period of wonder – in her own small way, perhaps, she was trying to make a decision to accept or reject food by wondering what made it taste one way or the other. Of course, as she grew older, the very journey of discovering the sense of taste was achieved with a sense of wonder – every little thing, edible or otherwise, was put to test by her curious tongue and in a way she discovered the world thus. But the real joy of discovering food came when I introduced her to the gastronomic delights of the world like chocolates and icecream and gastronomic necessities of the world such as bittergourd and beetroot. With wonder-filled eyes and a spirit to discover, she would hold the edible object


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between her tiny fingers and taste them patiently. The first time the chocolate brushed her taste buds and the icecream tingled the little, pink tongue, she squealed in delight – could there ever be anything tastier? But beetroot and bittergourd met with a different fate when wonder ended in disappointment and tears of dislike. In the end, it was all about drawing one’s own conclusions about food with a sense of awe and open-mindedness working quietly in the background.

extremely sensitive stomach would understand why she felt so annoyed and why she was filled with bitter despair. She couldn’t risk eating the railway food for she wasn’t sure how her system would react to the fare from the pantry car. But she couldn’t starve either – that would prove even more detrimental.

Bībhatsam (Disgust) Savitha considered herself lucky that she managed to get a second class train ticket at least. Given the urgency of the situation that required her to be back home down south within two days, she had to leave Mumbai, her city of employment the same day. She hurriedly packed her bags, dumping in three sets of clothes, a book and her mobile charger and rushed out of her apartment to hire a taxi. Once she reached the station, boarded her train and the train lurched forward, she heaved a sigh of relief – delighted that she was spared the trauma of travelling in the unreserved compartment and in a brief moment of pride, patted herself for managing to plan things out in such short notice. But her happiness wasn’t meant to last long when she realised that in all the hurry to leave, she had conveniently left behind on the dining table, the two boxes of curd rice with pickle and lemon rice and chips that she had managed to get packed from the south Indian mess near her apartment. She felt like banging her head on the wall for this grave error she believed she had committed. If you thought she was acting pricey, well, someone going through a phase of and

She decided that there was no point breaking her head over what was now rotting on her table back at her apartment. She decided she would carefully choose what she would eat. When the tomato soup guy walked past, Savitha convinced herself to buy a bowl of soup. She took the first spoonful with great reluctance and was greatly relieved to learn that although it was a bit runny, it didn’t taste very bad. But the real horror arrived with dinner. The plate had the regular fare. She had opted for a vegetarian meal hoping that it would be the safest bet. She carefully examined the rolled up rotis that had in the moisture turned as damp as a wet handkerchief; the papad had turned so flimsy that it could be torn apart like a water-soaked paper. The rice, as she felt with her fingers, still could have done with a bit more cooking. Disgust was beginning to slowly creep up her heart. Savitha looked around. Surely, she wasn’t the only one feeling thus? She wanted to gauge the reaction on her


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co-passengers’ faces. The family that sat opposite to her was blissfully engaged in consuming packets and packets of planned and packed home food. She sighed wistfully. She tried to see if someone else was also consuming the fare she had bought for herself. In the next bay, a middle -aged man was gorging on a piece of chicken (or so she thought) delightfully indulging in the exotic non-vegetarian meal. Savitha knew this disgust had to do with her own inhibitions to accept what was ‘norm’ by other people’s standards. She turned her attention back to the food in hand and slowly opened the aluminium foil that was already open on one of the sides and had patches of yellow water on top of it. Savita guessed it had to be dal. When she opened it, she saw yellow water that somehow disgustingly reminded her of a pool of stagnant water by the roadside, the not-so-pleasant piece of imagination accentuated by the little bits of dry and bleak looking coriander pieces floating on top. She summoned some courage and fighting the demons of disgusting imagination, dipped a piece of roti into the pool. Her long fingers encountered a soft object and when it surfaced, she realised it was a piece of tomato. Savitha put the red angular piece into her mouth. To her utter horror, disgust turned into nausea as she realised that a rotten tomato had just touched the surface of her tongue. In a moment she rushed to the washbasin as she thought the contents in her stomach literally spiralled up her food pipe waiting to burst out of her mouth. It was hardly 30 seconds before she finally puked in disgust.

sleep through the night and the next morning and the entire day without looking at Nikhil’s face even for a minute. She didn’t want to see him – it was part embarrassment and part anger that made her feel thus. A simple argument had turned into a nightmare the previous night and she had partly been responsible for all hell that broke loose in the night. She somehow had a feeling that once they went their ways and spent time at their office environments, things would be back to normal. After all, it had happened that way all the time they had such fights. Ego was yet another reason she didn’t want to wake up ahead of him and make coffee. Why should she? She thought. In fact, he had told her in a fit of rage that he wouldn’t touch anything prepared by her henceforth. Yes, they did say these nasty little things to each other often and time as the mighty healer, repaired all the bad words spewed out in total rage. She knew he didn’t mean it this time too and that she also spun out of control in a fit of anger; yet, she didn’t feel like looking at him and handing him his morning cup of coffee. But routine was routine and life had to go on. So in a temporary moment of realising what reality is, she woke up, kept an angry, disinterested face and after brushing her teeth, went into the kitchen and switched the coffee maker on. She boiled the milk and as she waited for the milk to rise up, she felt bitterness clogging her throat. The aftereffect of a rather nasty fight – something which sort of overstepped the line of control. As the milk hissed and rose up, she turned off the gas and prepared the coffee.

Raudram (Fury)

Since she didn’t want to have any sort of encounter with her husband, she placed the coffee Nithya was upset. She really wished she could on the dining table and went about her business. 45

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By the time Nikhil was out after brushing (he brushed for 20 minutes usually) he saw that his coffee was ready and up on the table. He picked the coffee mug up, put it to his lips and drew a sip. First, the coffee had gone cold. He hated it. Like crazy. Second, there was a thin film of the cream of milk that had formed irritably and was floating on top. He hated that even more. And he fumed. He hated it when the morning coffee went wrong – it more or less defined his morning mood. And as Nithya stood watching, he raced past her, across the dining room, into the washroom and emptied the full mug of freshly prepared coffee into the washbasin. He stared wildly at his wife and as tears of shock streamed down her face, he threw the coffee mug into the kitchen sink. While the first victim of his uncontrollable rage, the coffee, went down the drain, the second victim, the mug, shattered into a dozen pieces in the sink, much like Nithya’s deeply pained heart. Śāntam (Peace) When 63-year-old Rasappa came out of his house for his morning walk, he saw that his usual companion that time, a tender brown, female cat hadn’t made her appearance yet. She usually visited Rasappa’s house thrice – once in the morning when he stepped out for his morning walk, once in the afternoon when he had just about finished lunch and once in the night, when he came out to lock the front gates of the house. Not surprisingly, she timed her visits in such a fashion because Rasappa, the lonely old man in the house, usually fed the cat its breakfast, lunch and dinner when she arrived. He usually fed her hot milk and a biscuit or two in the morning, some curd rice in the afternoon and a

bowl of rice mixed with milk in the night. She too, it appeared, had taken a certain fondness to the old man who was gentle, non-fussy (unlike neighbours who always shoo-ed street cats away), and very caring because he often stroked her behind her ears as she purred back on the show of affection. When the cat first came visiting, she was small, a kitten shivering in fear, having escaped from some street mongers. And that was almost seven years back. So this morning, when Rasappa saw that his feline companion had not come, he wondered what happened. After all, animals, the grateful and friendly ones, never skipped routine. Somehow, Rasappa felt like giving his morning walk a miss and watch out for his friendly cat. He had this strong feeling that she would indeed come. And she did. Only that when she came, she didn’t jump over the wall and land at his feet like everyday. She waited, puffing and panting, looking drained out, for Rasappa to open the gate. Rasappa’s mouth went dry when he realised that the cat was not her usual self. He opened the gate and lifted her and put her down near the tall coconut tree that grew near the gate. She looked at him through her green eyes that screamed in pain, despair and helplessness. Surely, she was not well. Should he take her to the vet? Was she alright? Rasappa grew tense as if his own child had encountered a serious health problem. The cat’s breathing also was considerably slow. Rasappa quickly rushed in and came back with a bowl of warm milk and placed it before the cat. he brown furry animal slowly inched forward, put her tongue out and lapped up a little bit of the milk. She then looked up at Rasappa with earnest and pleading eyes before throwing up whatever she had con-


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sumed just then. Suddenly, Rasappa realised that warmth and the lifeless cat that lay by its side. the soft furry belly was no longer moving and His silent tears testified his helplessness about the eyes looked glazed, immobile. Life had the transient nature of life on earth. ebbed out of his dear cat’s body and the helpless and harmless animal had found the final peace and salvation, concluding its journey on earth with a few drops of milk that the old man had given her. Tears stung Rasappa’s eyes as he looked at the milk that was still to lose its

Anupama Krishnakumar loves Physics and English and sort of managed to get degrees in both – studying Engineering and then Journalism. Yet, as she discovered a few years ago, it is the written word that delights her soul and so here she is, doing what she loves to do – spinning tales for her small audience and for her little son, bringing together a lovely team of creative people and spearheading Spark. She loves books, music, notebooks and colour pens and truly admires simplicity in anything!


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Non-fiction My Tryst with Cooking and Food by Rajlakshmi Pillai Rajlakshmi has a rather odd relationship with food and cooking. She doesn’t love cooking, but she grew from hating it to managing to cook up something and even experimenting thanks to Google and YouTube once in a while. Read on for the story of the woman who used to frown whenever she thought of food!

Food – the word conjures up so many images! When I think of food today, what I remember is the process that goes into making what it is – cooking. I was never a foodie and perhaps that is why my earliest memories of food are associated with verbs such as ‘frown’, ‘disappoint’ and dislike’. It must have had something to do with the ‘fat girl’ tag attached to me while in school. This is a tag that I am still fighting against – well, that is another story.

but extended to my mother. Poor thing! Since as a family we didn’t eat out too often, food, to me, meant what my mother prepared. So, if I had a problem with what was on the table, then it graduated to a squabble with my mother. Either I was angry that her fish curry was too spicy or I disliked the way the beans were cooked. My mother, of course, did get angry at my outbursts but would cool down and have tears in her eyes if I refused to eat. Her pleading made me more proud and I think that added to my stubbornness, both with regard to food and my mother. This is perhaps the reason why I disliked entering the kitchen and is definitely the reason I never learnt to cook... well... at least till I got married.

Once I realised that I was fat or rather that others considered me fat, I started fearing food, adding to my mother’s woes. I remember how she would plead with me to drink a glass of milk. I would protest, ‘No! That will make me fat.’ This antagonism with food continued Marriage for an Indian girl comes with many through tough teenage years to college days. demands, the main one being whether she And the resentment did not stop with just food 48

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knows how to cook. My husband knew I could not cook and his mother too came to know about it eventually. Few mothers-in-law can be at peace with a daughter-in-law who cannot cook. Mine wasn’t. Though she never showed any obvious bitterness, I still get to hear comments on my lack of expertise in cooking. Once my marital life started, there was no escape from cooking. Tea was the first thing I learnt to prepare which slowly grew to a proper meal. Having a patient and calm husband helped in my trials and tribulations in cooking. He would never say anything even if the meal was half cooked, burnt or bland (though I love him for this demeanour, I should say that it has not helped me in bettering my cooking skills!). For all my resentment against my mother’s cooking, when I sit helplessly today surrounded by burnt vegetables, overcooked rice and tasteless sambhar, I long for her delicious food that I once neglected with disdain. How I wish I could go back and taste what amma prepared! I am sure I will say a ‘thank you’ for every morsel of food that would go into my mouth. Today, even after eight years of ‘kitchen experiments’, I am still a novice when it comes to preparing a good sumptuous meal. But yes, I have improved... well, a bit. I am no longer hesitant or afraid to try recipes that I keep collecting from magazines, ‘Google uncle’ and even my colleagues. It is another matter that only a few lucky recipes get a practical form on my kitchen table, so much so that my colleagues’ immediate reaction to my query on any recipe is ‘so adding to your collection, ha?’

Though I may not be that attached to cooking, I am a huge fan of cooking videos on YouTube. I like the way simple ‘raw materials’ just turn into the most delicious dish that not only satiates your hunger but even your taste buds. I have come to realise that cooking needn’t be an art or ‘rocket science’ as the celebrity cook on TV would say, but can be developed with patience and passion. I have zero patience and my passion lies in other things. So I guess I will never be a good cook but then I am happy with my ‘average’ tag. My husband doesn’t complain; as he puts it so lovingly, ‘You are at least preparing something and that is enough for me.’ As for my mother, she is still to accept what I cook but nevertheless, I am happy that she knows that I am trying hard!


Stuck in a ‘9-5’ job, Rajlakshmi Pillai writes and reads whatever she can to satiate her creative hunger.

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The Lounge

April 2013 50

Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Turn of the Page

Haruki Murakami’s ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’: A Review by Vibha Sharma

'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' by Haruki Murkamai is a wonderful reflective memoir which gives a feeling of a wide colourful spread on the platter – ranging from reflective and philosophical to vivacious and spirited, says Vibha Sharma in her review of the book.

'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' is a glimpse into Murukami's tryst with writing and running and how these two vocations converged in 1982 when he was thirtythree years old. To bring semblance and routine in his life, Murukami decided to call it quits at his own night bar where he had to spend long night hours. He resolved to devote all his energies to writing to give it a fair chance. Running began as a means to stay fit and it suited his temperament completely. A year later he was running solo on the original Marathon course (Marathon to Athens) in Greece – but from Athens to Marathon. Eventually, running became much more than fitness for him, influencing many other facets of his life: "Most of what

I know about writing I've learned through running every day." That was just the beginning and many such races ensued (more than 25 marathons and one ultramarathon of 60 odd miles) and it is indeed laudable that in each one of them he always stuck to his guns to cover every single step by running and not by walking. Murukami shares his introspections on writing and running and the influence that one had on another through the book. There is a lot to take away from this book: runners can identify with many technical details that the 'running novelist' shares – subtle instructions on how to harness the body muscles for long distance runs, sincerely following a regimen, preparing a schedule, personal goals


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and much more. For non-runners, this passionately written piece exquisitely brings home the importance of sheer determination and perseverance in taking an individual to accomplish what he sets out for – the need of the hour is to be ready to put in whatever it takes to get it done. There are times when a goal far away should stay in sight to bring the much-needed impetus to the feet while at other times what must get precedence over everything else is simply putting one foot ahead of another.

has substance and at the same time doesn't. And we merely accept that vast expanse and drink it. “ Title : What I Talk About When I Talk About Running Author : Haruki Murukami Publisher: Vintage

The book is abound with many interesting details on the art of running which could be of interest to seasoned as well as amateurs runners. Murukami, who has penned more than 15 novels, is adept in the art of writing and that is evident from the way he lets the readers peek into his treasure of wisdom, which is filled with numerous milestones and life experiences. The overall result is a wonderful reflective memoir which gives a feeling of a wide colourful spread on the platter – ranging from reflective and philosophical to vivacious and spirited. Murukami has an impressive way of expressing himself and some of his analogies are really worth mentioning: sample "The thoughts that occur to me while I am running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and go, while the sky remains the same sky as always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky. The sky both exists and doesn't exist. It

Vibha Sharma regularly reviews books in her blog http://


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

The Inner Journey The Illusion of Death

by Viswanathan Subramanian Death is an idea which has gained most prominence because of the reality status allotted to things that are perceived by us as individuals. Viswanathan Subramanian examines the reason behind our fear of death.

There is a wail early in the morning – a distant (physically) is the abrupt stop to the tangible link cry that woke me up from the blurred awareness we had all these years to that personality, that between sleep and wakefulness. somebody. An ambulance van arrives and leaves. Soon after, another one carrying paraphernalia of tent. A few minutes later, a tent gets erected duly encroaching the public road.

Death, however, simply implies the continuation of the past into the present and future. It is an ideation of the concept of time. When time itself is an imagination existing only in consciousness, where is the reality of death?

Supreme chairs are in place to seat the visitors trickling in. Death has solidly arrived. Chrono- Jiddu Krishnamurthy used to raise the question logically, a 70 year old with one-year history of “Can you die every minute?” kidney ailment and continual hospitalization. Here comes the beauty and subtlety of the proThe body has arrived and is still and chill! cess called dying. It is dying which rejuvenates. The process has now begun. Death – why is it It is dying which energises. All the miseries we numb, shocking, depriving, scary? Is it the un- talk about are the result of not dying to the past welcome ending of all that we have known? and carrying it over in memory. There is neither past nor present or future. So, Jiddu was referThe brain, which spews out thoughts, creates a ring to living with due perception of the concept web of expectation, possessiveness, past, present called death – which of course, when taken as and future notions. Death of somebody 53

Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

real, creates a barrier to being. Death stagnates life if it is imagined to be real. But when this reality is correctly perceived and understood as a play of memory, it is a part of being – like leaves and ripe fruits of a tree falling to the ground on their own, even while the tree lives.

clearly the perception of the unreality of what is around us, that these are but transient. There is only incontrovertible, indisputable, undying, everlasting consciousness which is ever pure and blemish-less and peaceful!

Death is an idea which has gained most prominence because of the reality status allotted to things that are perceived by us as individuals. Yes, I see so many individuals, multiple things around me. You, me and they. Built on these are ideas, desires, expectations, disappointments, every other quality you can imagine. There comes the edifice of an idea of prominence for attachments and possession of things and people. Thus, multifarious tiers of things get imagined around ‘me. ‘Me’ is scared of losing all this paraphernalia. Hence, this is what death is. A big unknown leap into the dark. Then what is transcendence of death? Well, it is

Viswanathan Subramanian was a banker for over 35 years. In his new retired life, he loves poring over business newspapers and journals and making notes. Spirituality also interests him, and so a good number of Sri Ramana Maharishi’s and Jiddu Krishnamurthy’s books find space in his bookshelf. He is extremely passionate about movies and music too. You are sure to find some good old English movie DVDs and an enormous collection of old mp3 Hindi and Tamil songs at his place!


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

The Music Café

The Twins That Battle Within Me by Jessu John

“Music and literature are like twins warring for attention in an artist’s mind,” says Jessu John, as she traces a phase of the relationship that music and writing had with each other in her life.

A few months ago, my piece here ‘Taking Music for a Walk’ explored how music shapes writing. As a writer, I like to appreciate a variety of art forms that may inspire and influence my art. At the same time, I always have a choice as to what I allow to influence me as an individual. So, I listen to all sorts of music and sometimes a tune somewhere gets me writing. I feel I need an expansive, accommodating spirit as a writer or I won’t stretch myself. I can’t claim I like jazz, but if I don’t ever try it, there may be a story that will never get written. The best writers, in my view, allow certain influences in their writing without copying anyone or anything, and tell an original story with the help of creative twists and turns and pure inspiration from something they have seen or heard. Music, for example, has always been a popular source of inspiration to the most acclaimed writ-

ers we know. In April 1999, Vikram Seth and Salman Rushdie, two novelists a lot of us writers revere for the forces they are, published their novels that had foundational links to music. At the time, I could not get beyond two pages of ‘Ground Beneath Her Feet’. It really wasn’t Rushdie’s fault. I was in a weirdly, passive phase of disinterest in everything possible – so much so that it’s all a blur now – and that defined Rushdie for me as a writer who I admired but would never have me hooked. I take full responsibility for this. Shortly after failing with ‘Ground Beneath Her Feet’, I attempted to labour through ‘An Equal Music’. I managed to get through most of it. But I will not attribute that to anything except it being a shorter book. Even so, I abandoned the book at the time just a few pages short of its end. These are my favourite men. Even if I could not spend


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

too much time with them then. It gets even bet- the bin after about ten days. But I always played ter (or worse). my guitar. On good days and bad days. I always wrote songs, on good days and bad days. Never I met Vikram Seth at a book launch years later mind what I subjected those sheets of paper to and of course, as all polite writers would do at a after being proud of them for a while. I always book signing event, he wanted to know my wrote poetry. But sometime after I stopped name. When I told him, he generously complaying the guitar, I tore up a whole folder of mented that he was sure he would not meet anpoems (handwritten ones) and told myself to other pretty face with the very same name. He just focus on my career. A ruthless pragmatism then dipped the tip of his finger in the glass of took over for a variety of reasons and I never champagne placed beside him and brushed the looked back until a few years ago. page of ‘Two Lives’ lovingly before autographing it with a Now all I can flourish of his imagine is writing beautiful ink pen. and listening to I came away feelmusic and telling ing guilty that I Seth and Rushdie wasn’t excited by one day that my ‘An Equal Music’. lack of zeal with I was so guilty their novels was that for years I really just a testakept ‘Two Lives’ ment of my perat my bedside. I sonal struggle still haven’t read with hard reality. it. But I have on And most likely, a many occasions touched it and caressed it. And passionate writer’s giving up of an equal love – when his gentle voice still rings in my head, music. “What a lovely name you have!” I always feel Today, it makes me wonder if my running away bad. from music stripped me of the desire to write If I were to have coffee with Rushdie and Seth, for a while. Imagine this. Because what happens and they had the heart to listen, I would tell my when we lose a soulmate? Do we not also lose story. How at the time I eagerly bought ‘The desire? Do we not also walk through the wilderGround Beneath Her Feet’ and ‘An Equal Mu- ness for a while, unsure of ourselves and wonsic’, I had just given up playing music myself. dering if we are even all that good at what we Even if I was largely self-taught, for a few years claim to love? The tendency to introspect too I was disciplined about practising on my guitar much, the inclination to be overly self-critical, every day. So, as I continued to get better at the the fight to stay sane and engage in a little guitar, I wrote songs. Usually they landed up in healthy madness, the predisposition to waves of 56

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some depression and some giant bubbles of happiness (too much of this would mean you’re manic depressive and require treatment, of course – but some very sane artists engage in this without ever being in danger of being abnormal), the longing to be normal but also perfect at our craft – you will only find writers and other artists trying to straddle two frames of mind at one time. Because writers are human enough to feel despondent and yet there is a spirit inside them that is always looking for an opportunity to rise, speak and be heard. The loss of desire, the lonely walks through dry periods where inspiration seems a far-fetched concept, the giving up of activities we love are all the stages of life that prepare artists for their best times. As a young writer full of dreams, walking away from music stripped me of joy – the only essential foundation for good writing. Because writing can always be honed if there is talent. But streams of inspiration run dry on joyless soil. I find it hard to imagine that talent without joy makes an unforgettable impact. Opening up to music again, even if I only listen and may never play again, made a difference to my writing. But the dry years weren’t wasted. If I took anything from ‘An Equal Music’ in my joyless time, it was this – Seth was incredibly

authentic in the way he explored the nuances and technicalities of European classical music. Although I read the book without pleasure, I learned the power of being true, authentic and passionate enough to know enough. You see, even if I had never learned the violin myself, I was blown away by the power and vastness of the knowledge Seth displayed of a single instrument. And while working with all that detail, he never compromised on the story – the love affair between professional violinist, Michael and Julia, a pianist who is slowly turning deaf. I did not speak to Seth long enough at the launch of ‘Two Lives’ to ask him if he actually played the violin. I read ‘An Equal Music’ without elation, skimming over the terminologies, but I could swear I heard violins play. I still hear them sometimes when my brain isn’t whirring. Those days I can write and feel good about writing. The greatest part of a writer’s life is the number of things that become an inspiration to him, the number of opportunities he gets to learn and feel something new. In my personal experience, music and literature are like twins warring for attention in an artist’s mind. Music as a medium is so powerful that it can influence a few lines that turn into a piece of poetry, and as we have seen in the case of some accomplished writers, translate into entire novels. And any kind of


Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

music can do this. Dig deeper into any art form, even one that we may not practice ourselves as writers, and we can be sure we’re on our way to telling beautiful stories and stories from the heart.

all over again; I can’t disappoint the man who loved my name. I can’t do injustice to the other, who even if we’ve never met, stands as one of the most solid literary forces in our time. Do you think there is a perfect time for some novels? Perhaps, my perfect time with both novels I like rock and roll. I adore the sounds of a viois just around the corner? Because these twins lin. Do you think I could now attempt to read that battle within me seem to think so. both ‘Ground Beneath Her Feet’ and ‘An Equal Music’ and feel differently about them? I’m hesitant – purely because I don’t want to feel guilty

Jessu John is a branding & communications professional from Bangalore, India and has a postgraduate degree in Journalism from the UK. Currently a digital marketing consultant with an advertising firm, she also writes for mainstream Indian daily 'The Hindu'. Her column in The Hindu Business Line kicks off soon. She enjoys long distance running and is a lover of most activities suited to the introvert. If you like the sound of it all, you may follow her on Facebook and on Twitter.

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Spark—April 2013 | Celebrating Food

Spark - April 2013 Issue  

April 2013 Issue of Spark

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