Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Junk Food

I hate the word 'hiatus' so I won't use it to describe the past inactivity. I hate it because every other blog has a post which
Jai Jai Shiv Shankar: One of those divine eateries
has the word in the first paragraph. The blog owners hardly write anything for long and then use the word in their comeback sentence. The blogs and their titles also generally have words like 'rants',''rambling', 'disturbed' usually describing the owner's mind. Most of the stuff on the blog goes well with the nomenclature. I hate those words too.

And those blogs. And those people. I've never met them but I know I'll hate them when I do meet them. I'm wishing that I don't so that I have lesser people (and this is not supposed to be a pun) to hate. This blog is also guilty on some counts on which I've charged others. But I'm hoping the guilt goes away with the acceptance.

This post wasn't supposed to be about things I hate. It gets very difficult to write about things that I don't hate because they don't usually instill the same passion, zeal and enthusiasm that need to be channelised to compose a blog post. Today, after so many days, things are beginning to look different. After a walk back among the familiar streets, eating Alu Bonda from the same old thela, red hot, juicy jalebis form the roadside shack, golgappas from the same old street corner, I'm indebted to write something about the abundant yet entirely palatable delights that for me are an integral part of the city experience.

The easy and round the clock availability is more out of necessity than an unusual appetite. Jamshedpur being an industrial town has a whole set of industries. The large ones are the largest ones (Tata Steel, Tata Motors et al) which work in multiple shifts, the small ones are too many to talk about. In simple ergonomical terms, this means a huge amount of food is required all round the clock, all across the city. Everyone doesn't have a loving dedicated wife who would wake at 5 AM and make breakfast for her husband and then pack lunch. Unmarried people can forget even that hypothetical luxury. So, out of this rather pressing need is born a network of junk food stalls, majority of them being on wheels so that the mobility doesn't take a hit. It becomes easier to shift from one company to another, one shift to the other, a place in the chilling sun to a place in the shade under a tree.

It serves very well for those not in such immediate need too. Very well in fact. My brother and I virtually lived off junk food. Mornings saw thelas selling dosas or bicycles loaded with idlis, sambhar and chutney in containers dangling precariously on the sides cross our street, and make a long pause near our house. Breakfast call. After a certain age tiffins became redundant too, and a rupee or two bought us samosas from the stall outside school. The evening cricket session with friends often ended with a post match analysis session near the golgappa stall. The stillness of nights was filled with near musical sounds ('sweeter than Lata Mangeshkar's voice' to borrow my bro's description) of dosa wallah beating his cooking stick (whatever it is called) on his pan. 'Ting..ting...ting..' the sound went, sending us kids into a trance and making us follow this enchanting music and chase the modern pied piper, street after street, house after house. Sorry, these things get the poet out of me, however inept he may be. There was provision for dessert too, for the bells of the matka kulfi wallah and the loud local music blaring out of loudspeakers from the chuski (catchy name isn't it) wallah were well attended too. Some days those were.

Bombay had the vada pav and samosa pav and mysore masala dosas that played their part in keeping me alive. But, I'll come back to my hometown junk any day. Also, the golgappas in metros are a disgrace to the name. Come here golgappa lovers, for they are much bigger, juicer, spicy, bulky than where you come from. And much, much cheaper, though that is never an issue.

This is not all. There the weirdest of things like murga achaar (still trying to figure out what that could be). Globalisation has hit junk too, for there are there are numerous roadside stalls selling their version of Chinese Food (with innovative spellings like 'Chainese' or 'Cheeneess' , who can deny these delicacies). Egg rolls, chaat and my very favourite Litti (made of Sattu:the fast food of bihar; to be eaten to be believed) can be found aplenty. Juices you might have tasted, but surely not 'bel' (pronounced bail or bale whatever suits you) juice, a fruit I haven't seen elsewhere (haven't looked is an entirely different matter.) You got to love this place.

Talking of places to eat, people from out of town, the sophisticated big town types, find it very difficult to get a good place. That's because the idea here is eat, pay and leave. Quick. Not hang around till eternity, order from menus decorated like fairy tale books, wait till you die for the food and then lose more weight of money than the weight of food taken in. I'll hate when it comes to that here.

There, the post begins and ends with hate. Thankfully there is a lot of love in between. Love that makes me crave to come back home. Like Warney craved for his baked beans and spaghetti when he was beaten around by Sachin, I too want to sink my teeth into the most delicious bondas and stuff my mouth with golgappas the size of cricket balls when I am beat. For that matter even when I am not. Ah gluttony, is it a sin anymore?

The best part is that all this is a symbiotic relationship. We feed on them, they feed on us. The balance of nature. Beautiful.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Second Hand,First Class

The Second hand book stalls,commonly called the 'old book stores' line the back roads of the Main Sakchi market in Jamshedpur.

[Photo: courtesy oxytoxic]

Before I came to Bombay and heard of Flora fountains,this was the only place of such kind I was familiar with.After my visit to Flora fountain,I realised that the collection back home wasn't bad afterall.Infact it was much more relevant for me as there is little I can do with books like '50 best interior home decorations' or 'How to dress up you dog (bitch if you are a feminist)' or 'Catalogue for spring/summer collection by Stella McCartney' and the likes in hard bound cover.A bigger,higher society has it's interests to keep.

I can't even recall when my association with these people began.The earliest I can think of is when my dad brought a really old,used version of Robinson Crusoe which itself looked like having weathered and survived the many storms and sea travels that the protagonist had.It was a hard bound copy and when I came to know that such a thick,antique,hard bounded book cost all of 8 bucks to read,I fell in love with that place.Almost everytime we went to the market I made it a point to visit this place and buy Enid Blytons and Hardy Boys and read them to keep pace with my visits.They even had a subscription policy like the libraries where you could rent a book for 50 paise and read and return.What more could a cash starved 10 year old school boy want?

As I grew older,needs grew and the 'old book stalls' didn't disappoint.The adventurous few bought copies of Hustlers and glossy zines of that sort which beacme hot circulation items in the class.The will-do-anything-for-cash sort of people also got an alternate source of income by stealing school books and selling them off to these people.Once my friends who had lost his Atlas went to buy another one from the SH people and to his surprise,and our non-surprise,he was offered a copy which on brown cover had his own name label pasted on top.That was when those tiny locks you see on school bags came into vogue and were pretty useful too.

SH book stores were the lifeline of our school projects.The topics of Geography projects hardly differed from volcanoes and earthquakes those days.We happily bought numerous copies of Nat Geo magazine at some 2-3 bucks apiece and mercilessly tore those amazing pics and pasted them on our project sheets.Since everyone was doing that,the standard of projects was pretty high and the probablity of getting high marks depended on the number of nat-geos you had torn.I won easily,but I had an interest in geography too,something I can't do anything about now.Same held true for the History projects where we would buy reference books by sacrifcing a day's worth of junk food and then tear them apart and proudly display in the projects.

Once interests starting developing,I found myself buying Wisden almanacks,still wonder how they got there.The qualty of novels was not pretty good but still there was a lot of good material I could never finish and never did.I started buying old copies of Reader's Digest at some 5 bucks apiece and it was the most value for money purchase you could ever imagine.With RD,the date on the issue hardly mattered and I exploited that fact to the full.It was in one of those issues that I came across the poem 'If' and it's one of the very few that I can recall lines from.Not the literary bend of mind you see,my favourite column still remained 'Drama in real life'.Probably still does.But since we had already begun buying books other than 'Belorussian Folk Tales' in the Annual Book Fair,the charm of the place slightly died down.

During 10th and beyond these people were like God sent angels.Be it ICSE/ISC test papers,course books,reference books,IIT guides,correspondence course materials-these guys had everything,and at a price that didn't burn a hole in the pocket.Again the fact that edition didn't matter as long as it was quite recent was exploited to the full.The best part was the fact that we could sell off all the books and course materials after JEE at half the prices which gave enough money to celebrate the success so to speak.If I,or anyone from Jsr. had to make an acknowledgement speech after acing the 10th/12th exam or getting through Eng./Med. entrance exams,these folks will hold a pretty high place in the list.

And now,as an essential part of evolution,when I go back home this summer,I will scout this place for any CAT/GRE stuff (who knows maybe UPSC too,nahiiiiiiiiiii) and I'm pretty sure I'll get loads of material.

Lifeline of academia in the city,knowingly or unknowingly.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Chhat Puja

The Chhat puja takes place every year,around one week after Diwali.Devotees pray near river banks and pay their regards to the Sun God.

One of my personal favorite times of the year is undoubtebly the Diwali-Chhat week.After the whole euphoria of Diwali,this makes sure that the excitement does not die down immediately,there is a lot to look forward to.So the streets are lined with long sugarcane sticks and fruits and other essential paraphernalia and we are all set to celebrate,once again.

The puja is usually done by one member in the family and all the relatives gather at there to help her out.So it's a great get together,with the girls helping the female members in preparing the offerings and singing enchanting devotional songs while the guys take care that the entire paraphernalia is transferred to the river bank on time.And mind you,getting a spot on the bank isn't easy.What looks like infinite strecth of river bank on a normal day is filled to the very brink,with 2-3 layers of devotees waiting behind the ones who have the spots to touch down on the river.

The first evening of the puja is when the offerings are made on the setting sun.Perhaps the only example when a setting sun is worshipped.The things that are taken to the ghat are very heavy and it usually requires a strong built man,or one with great resolve to do that.Some walk barefoot to the ghat,stepping over the steep stones,without wincing.I tried to do that once,without the weight on my head.I was stubborn enough to complete the feat,but later realised that religious penance has a limit in my case,and I was pretty close to that.

Anyway the evening offerings being made,people head back,only to come back in the morning to worship the rising sun.This is the better part for me.Waking up at 3 am in the morning and shifting the stuff to the bank and waiting for the people to join in.The morning air has it's own chill,but the warmth of excitement counters that.By 4.30 am everyone is ready to make offerings.

The most beautiful and spiritually rousing part comes when thousands of earthen lamps,one from each devotee,are released into the river.The lamps float into the dusky dawn light,shimmering and getting reflected by the river.All the separate lamps join together before they vanish into the horizon.And almost symbolically the sun comes up right then,rising slowly from the same place where the lights had just disappered.Breathtakingly beautiful.

If I were Wordsworth,I would have wrtten an epic on it.But all I can manage is 'Twinkle Twinkle little lamps' which sounds vaguely familiar so I let go my effort.Maybe someday I will write something better.

Meanwhile the offerings all made,it's time to head back to home.Not without having some water splashing fun in the river though.All wet and hungry we pounce upon the sweet prasad offerings and eat them the entire day.Fulfilling day in all respects.

The get together ends,everyone takes back their share of offerings,blessings,paraphernalia.And takes back a lot of memories too.I miss this here,maybe I'll go down to the Juhu beach this time to see how it's celebrated on the sea-side.Any invites?. Not that I need one :D


The Book Fair

The Annual Book fair is held at Rabindra Bhawan during the Children's Day week in November.

I loved going to the book fair ever since I was a kid.Infact now I can trace my literary and book reading evolution with the kind of stalls I used to visit.Never really bought anything in the later stages but I guess that's what everyone else did.And not buying anything was another link in the chain of evolution.

As a kid I used to go to the places where Archies,Tintins,Enid Blytons,Hardy Boys etc. were kept.Then try and finish as many of them as possible in the usual 4-5 hour stay.And of course had a whole week to do that.Then as I grew slightly older interests switched to the Agatha Christies,Alistair McLeans,and out of natural interests quiz books and cricket biographies.When it came to buying books though,the Vostok Russian stall was the best buy.Hardbound,colorful books for less than 50 bucks.And the content was not that bad.Then I brought Chekhov,Solzenysthin unknowingly going by the price and later was happy that I did that.

Nearing 9th std. the interests shifted to course books.And a pseudo interest in science.So down came A Brief History of Time,a few ICSE papers and the usual stuff.Literature did not die though,had the short stories of O.Henry,Wilde,Maupassant and the occassional classic like Three Men in a Boat,Siddhartha and some sci-fi books.After 10th it was all IIT.Everyone just flocked there to have a look and buy different books that all said the same thing.Though most of my time was spent near the Penguin stalls,looking at the back covers of every possible book and reading excerpts.Purchasing them was out of the question.But still did manage to read Seth and Arundhati Roy courtesy some friends I coaxed.Novels improved English I told them,never mind mine,and got them to buy some books I wanted to read.Selfish maybe,but they won't be losers either.

There was more to the book fair though.Observing people is always a nice pastime,all the more here.The pious crowd in the Geeta Press stores,some of whom thought that the salvation could be reached by amassing as many religious scriptures as possible.The high end crowd at the Penguin stalls,who paid their bills by credit cards,which I thought was a big deal then (typical middle class mentality).The obviously bored people who ran more often to the junk food stall arrangements than book stalls.The curious students looking for that elusive insightful book.The mothers,aunties flocking in the cooking,weaving,painting sections.The mystic crowd in the Osho and Vivekanand stalls.Everyone.

The sounds along with the sights add to the effect.The soothing Rabindra Sangeet which I don't hear anytime,anyplace else has a spiritual effect so to speak.The music only interrupted by request from some gentleman who is looking for a particular book,but no one minds that.The other sense,that of smell is also aroused once I enter the Vishwa Bharti stall.Infact the major reason my mom wants me to go to the book fair is to bring a year long stock of the intoxicating incense they sell there!

Running into acquaintances was another thing I looked forward too.School friends,cousins,neighbours,teachers everyone just seemed to converge there.Another hugely enjoyable social gathering.It was one of the best weeks of the year for me,I went there as often as I could.And never was disappointed.

It all changed the last time I went after a break of 2 years.My first visit since coming here.And somehow it all changed.The stalls were the same.The people going in were the same.Even most of the books were the same.But I felt like an alien there.I stood there,looking for a familiar face and there was none.I was alone in the crowd.Although I did manage to go through some of the books I had been looking forward to,most of which I found in the library here anyway.Still there was something missing,and it was then I realised I was looking for my past there.An over enthusiastic kid running from stall to stall,spending 5 hours lost in books.And I knew I couldn't find him,times do change.

I came back,spooked.I don't know if I will ever manage to go again.Maybe with a different perspective I will.With that hollow feeling.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Durga Puja:The God of all things

The onset of autumn signifies the homecoming of the Mother Goddess and brings with it the aura of festivity and celebration.

The entire town beomes one that week.Pious or agnostic,rich or poor,young or old,animate or inanimate;it just doesn't matter.There are puja pandals enclosing majestic idols at every nook and corner,smetimes more than one,and there are people who make sure they don't miss any of them.Be it the
super flashy Adityapur pandal or just the muhalla's 'Young Boy's Assc.(estd. 1994)' simple ensemble of canvas and bamboos.It doesn't matter,the Goddess resides in each and every one of them.

You know it's that time of year when young men come knocking at the door with colorful receipts in hand,anticipating a generous donation,when every open sapce fathomable is filled with hordes of bamboo sticks which slowly and methodically begin to take shape,when there is a loudspeaker playing in every direction you look and you ears hear the potpourri of so many songs (not necessarily religious) at once,when everyone rushes to the market to get the newest clothes with the bonus money.You just know and feel all excited.I know I do.

Come the day and the festivities begin.All pandal patrons put in huge efforts to make theirs the most noticeable ones.There even being some sort of competition to judge the best one.So every year we see some innovative ideas.Someone thought of making a 'Titanic' shaped pandal which looked anything but a ship.And what was Devi Durga doing in Titanic,such questions are not asked.Another one thought of re-enacting the 9/11 disaster (but why?).So we had wire running overhead and mechanical toy planes collided with the mock tower and there was fireworks.People stood and clapped.Still another one where they announced that the pandal was made of some million ice cream sticks.I went there half imagining an ice cream cup shaped pandal,but of course I was proven wrong.People are never short of ideas.

The city at night resembles a big social gathering.Everyone in their best clothes,smiling,nodding in acknowledgement and sometimes finding time to go inside and pay their reagrds to the Devi.One of the prime attractions is the mela that usually centers around a pandal.All those junk food stalls,curio shops,handicrafts,the merry-go-rounds and merry go-ups,the atmosphere is fun filled and exciting.My personal favorite is the so called 'maut-ka-kuan' though.Never fail to miss that.How they perform all those high speed tricks with almost no saftey measures is quite amazing.Something F-1 should learn from maybe.

The party continues all night,all day.People just wander from here to there to everywhere.The roads are choked with people walking at a leisurely pace,trafiic being stopped obviously.Group of young men (women too),yours truly included,form groups and camp from pandal to pandal,laughing,joking,watching,having fun.Small children hold the fingers of the guardians as tightly as their little fingers can,intimidated by the huge din and falshing lights,still contented within.For older people it's the Devi that matters the most.They just rush inside and close the eyes and clasp their hands and transcend into the devotee's world,where nothing else matters.Everyone gets something out of this.

It all ends on Dashmi,when with huge celebration the idols are hoisted into trucks with devotees dancing and singing along as the trucks beeline for the river.A site not to be missed again,a bit like the republic day parade,where every pandal has it's time to showcase what it had got.All roads converge to river,where amidst a sea of people,Devi is immersed into the river with moist eyes looking and following till the tip of her crown is subsumed by the waters.People head back home with heavy hearts,but already having plans for the next year.

I miss DP the most.The crowds,the pandal hopping,the awesome bhog,the atmosphere..I can't go on,it would leave a lump in my throat.How I wish,how I wish I was there.


My first attempt to doing this kind of thing.So overlook all the mistakes and exaggerate all the good things,which intentionally or unintentionally I might have written.Anyway here is what you should keep in mind before reading and then taking things too seriously-

1.All humor is hyperbole.So to make things funny there has to be an exaggeration which might or might not have something to do with reality.I will be trying to do that.

2.After preparing for 3 years and then spending 3 years here in IIT I maybe forgiven to have a skewed outlook on things.Just a passing phase.

3.There isn't much seriousness and sentiment involved in whatever I usually write.So take things that way.

4.Been brought up in a typical middle class background.So most of my judgments would be mediocre medium class.Which can be offensive sometimes :) .Just kidding.

So much preaching.Hope you find things worthwhile.