Sunday, April 26, 2009

Do you want to take food as pills ?

Have you ever wondered why food is still not consumed as pills or tablets as shown in numerous sci-fi movies from the 70s ? Because I want a potato to smell like one, feel like one and taste like one and so do millions of other people !

''pasi konda neram thalikum osai sandhosha sangeedham'' - crudely translated, it means when you are hungry the sound of cooking is music ! Yes, I believe food caters to all the five senses and if someone tells me food is just fuel....oh dear God.....i wouldn't even know where to start.

Before I go ahead, let me deal with the well known argument that this is not applicable when you talk abt starvation and famine...true but the same can be said of clothes....for those who have nothing, any leaves or rags would do, so why is everyone talking about fashion and why is it a multi-billion dollar industry? So, for those used to regular meals, Food is not or cannot be just fuel !

Have you ever wondered why its called the art of cooking ? A good cook can make food appetizing at so many levels and when I think ''good cook'', I think ''amma'' (mom).....!! On any festive day, when I come out of the shower the first thing I smell is ''ghee'' (clarified butter) and its amazing how I feel hungry at once and as I wait I hear the frying of cashew nuts, the pounding of cardomom, the hunger slowly builds. And finally, my mom comes out of the kitchen with a spoon fully of glistening-with-ghee chakkara pongal and asks me to taste it. I simply cant find words in the english language to express the feeling I get when I eat the pongal off the spoon (wiping it clean) in one gulp and chew it slowly (since its still hot) and finally when all the saliva has finally settled down I tell amma ''that was amazing'' !!

Growing up in India, where food is an integral part of everything we do, one simply cant (or atleast I cant) think of food as fuel....and am not simply talking about a festival, a wedding, a b' long as more than 3 people meet at a place, there is food and lots of it and its absolutely delicious !!

Food can be
- a wonderful conversation/relationship starter: its how neighbours become friendly with the first samosas or bhajjis
- a way to feel at home: i cant keep count of friends who have come home for amma's vatha kozhambu !
- an excuse to go to the temple: I used to religiously (actually shamelessly :D) visit the temple for Shankatahara Chathurthi just for the kozhakattai !!
- the way to a man's heart :)...ok that was a little dramatic, but trust me, there are ways to do that too :D

There is probably one other point I should clarify for those who are not totally familiar with the indian cuisine. There is a common myth, I reiterate - MYTH, that Indian food is hot. Indian food is not hot, it is spicy and that makes a huge difference. Most restaurants outside India offer food with peppers as the main spice either due to lack of all the needed spices or to cater to the local crowds who are not used to spicy food.

Another argument against food is fuel would be the whole concept of garnishing - Gourmet Chefs and restaurants spend so much time and money in making food as appealing as possible not just to serve the taste buds but also to let the people feast their eyes on it !

How many times have you looked at an icecream ad on the television where they show you huge balls of icecream in different flavours with chocolate syrup poured on it and felt like having one and actually have done so ?? Icecreams, chocolates and many other scrumptious (albeit not so healthy) items wouldn't simply exist if we were satisifed with just our nutrition requirements of the day being appeased with the 4 basic food groups !

I could go on writing and explaining with scores of other examples but I have to take a break now and although I am not hungry, I want to have a snack since all this talk about food has been just too appetizing....oh...well...I rest my case !

Thursday, April 16, 2009

City of Springs and Pensioners

I was all excited when of our 3-day offsite meetings was scheduled to take place in Marienbad - the city of natural springs in Czech Republic. It was a wellness and spa place that all europeans frequented until the big war destroyed it. The city came back to life in the 1980s and is slowly gaining popularity again.

Although the meeting was in the end of March, supposedly the beginning of spring, temperatures were nowhere above zero but my spirits soared as soon as I checked into the hotel which was built probably in the early 1900s and still retained its antiquity in terms of the carved ceilings and exquisite furniture. I got all the more excited when I saw the analog telephone in the room. Remember the round dial with the numbers and you put your forefinger into the holes and move it in a circle to actually dial a number ?? I havent done that in years and so I simply called the reception (which had a 4-digit number much to my delight :D) 4 times for no (or silly-made-up :D) reason !

As I went searching for the conference room, the receptionist directed me to a hall with huge arched windows decorated with pink and red curtains and in one corner, there was a small stage built for a band. I was pretty sure that she had directed me to a ballroom instead of a conference room by mistake and as I was leaving, I noticed a small projector. I went much further into the room and took a left to find numerous laptops and coffee cups (on the exquisite furniture) was in the right place ! Turns out that it was the largest room they had avaiable for our was sure fun to discuss budget and product strategy in a room where probably Viennese Walz was danced only a few hours ago !

There was a walking tour planned for the evening as a group activity with a local guide (when the event was planned, everyone had hoped for spring !) and although the city looked beautiful like a fairyland, walking at sub zero temperatures with the snow falling on your face was not very funny ! The guide showed us where Goethe had stayed after his lady love from Marienbad had turned him down and wrote his best work (Love and Pain always bring out the best in everyone !). Then we took a walk in the promenade and went to the most awaited part - tasting the natural springs. One had to be really careful with how much tasting one wanted to do since the water has a laxative effect :D. A few sips were enough of me since it smelt like something you use in the chemistry lab and the taste was'nt any better when one of my colleagues complained ''why is it that everything that is healthy tastes like ----??''....i was thinking not totally true and in my mind was amma's home made delicious and as-healthy-as-it-can-get keerai (spinach) kootu :D

Facts I learnt from the guide (aka the reason she feels bored living there):
- The place has 15000 residents
- Residents are either tourist guides or in the hotel business or pensioners

I realised that I was better off speaking German than English (since I couldn't speak Czech anyway) since the hotel staff seem to understand and speak German fairly well. I figured out the reason much later in the day. It was also the reason why meals were served at the rate of half an hr per course with lunch being 2 hrs long ! It was also the reason why I hadn't used the elevator even once during my stay there although my room was on the fourth floor - the average age of the guests in the hotel was 60 (and I am being polite !) and they were all Germans or rather German pensioners (apparently the place was too expensive for Czech pensioners!) and the sad part was that even after waiting that long you got served soup that tasted like nothing and what was even more difficult was making them understand the concept of vegetarianism - I got salad with bacon, rice with bacon and vegetable soup with chicken broth and when I told them i was a vegetarian, they just stared at me uncomprehendingly ''isn't that why we gave you vegetarian food''...ROFL !

At the end of the meal, while having what was supposedly tiramisu, I got into an argument with a russian colleague who said that there was much ado abt nothing since food is simply fuel....I was almost can food be just fuel ?! well, thats going to be the topic for my next blog...i have a whole lot to pour out abt that !

Getting back to Marienbad, its a fairytale worth visiting but only if you carry a picnic basket with you or if you are a food-is-fuel person !

Monday, April 6, 2009

What would Sherlock Holmes do today ?!

''Have you read anything else in this email, Mr. Holmes?”

“There are one or two indications, and yet the utmost pains have been taken to remove all clues. The domain name server address, you observe, is registered with the IEEE. But the IEEE is an organization which is seldom used by anyone but the highly educated. We may take it, therefore, that the email was composed by an educated man who wished to pose as an uneducated one, and his effort to conceal his own IP address suggests that that the network might be known, or come to be known, by you. Again, you will observe that the words are not typed in the same font and that there are typos. ‘Life,’ for example, is spelt ''Lufe''. That may point to carelessness or it may point to agitation and hurry upon the part of the writer. On the whole I incline to the latter view, since the matter was evidently important, and it is unlikely that the composer of such a letter would be careless''

Every time I read a Sherlock Holmes story (ironically online and not from a bound book), I cannot help but wonder how he would have coped with technology and all the information we have today (this would totally stump you - The Holmes I know would have probably used this to his advantage to hone those special skills and talents that makes him the one and only online private consulting detective !

It is difficult to picture such a genius today without wondering about domian name servers, IP addresses, routers, internet protocols and all the lot ! Would he probably have been invited to assist in a die-hard-4-like situation ?? Instead of his magnifying glass, would it simply be a digicam and then the shot moves on to a room where Holmes sits amidst all the latest image processing and recognition software and state-of-the-art equipment, something perhaps that he has developed of his own ?!

Would he have all the James Bond tools in his burgling kit instead of diamond-tipped glass cutter and nickel-pointed jemmy ? What about all the means of transport we have today ? How would have the chase between Professor Moriarty and Holmes taken shape - Would a hollywood-like helicopter chase have actually made the story better ??

As I keep typing these questions, I get pictures of Bruce Willis, Pierce Brosnan (and Q :D), Tom Cruise....would I want Holmes to be one of them ? Never.....this is becoming a case of mistaken identity !!

Can we actually imagine our very own dear Holmes without his magnifying glass, long coat, checked cap (God knows how much this will bother the fashion mongers of today !). This makes me wonder if the antique value of the Sherlock Holmes collection - the simplicity, Holmes's triumph inspite of the lack of information and resources and the inexplicable human nature (seen in crimes and their motives) that was hardly any different even if the surrounding world was - makes it more special and different from the numerous other detective stories of today !

Somewhere, someone is probably writing a story right now that reads ''Go, then, my dear Watson, and if my humble counsel can ever be valued at so extravagant a rate as 1 pound an sms, it waits your disposal night and day.”
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