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Aadaab, New York! Bollywood Haazir Hai

May 11, 2010

There is some seriously good Urdu cinema coming to Lincoln Centre.

Curated by Richard Allen, chair of cinema studies at the Tisch School of Arts, New York University and Ira Bhaskar, associate professor of cinema studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, a beautiful set of Bollywood films will be screened between May 19 and May 27, under the title Social Dramas and Shimmering Spectacles: Muslim Cultures of Bombay Cinema.

My special recommendations from this stellar lineup are:

1. Garam Hawa (M. S. Sathyu, 1973, 146m)  on May 21 & May 24

2. Mammo (Shyam Benegal, 1994, 124m) on May 22 & May 25

3. Mughal-e-Azam (K. Asif, 1960, 173m) on May 21 & May 24

4. Pakeezah (Kamal Amrohi, 1971, 146m) on May 21 & May 25

5. Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (Saeed Akhtar Mirza, 1989, 111m) on May 21 & May 24


Conquering the Brussel Sprout

May 3, 2010
in memory of Sitalakshmi Viswanathan.

It was an important decision, which is why my mother and I were fighting about it. My room was an unholy mess, stacks of books on my bed and clothes on just about every surface. On the floor were my two gigantic suitcases. When I bought them, they looked big enough to fit provisions for a small army. Now I was finding out that they weren’t big enough for both my ideas of life in a foreign land and my mother’s concerns for her son’s comfort. I was already irritated that my suitcases were too heavy when my mother gave me six kilos of rice, double wrapped and vaccum sealed. I had just squeezed in some spices and lentils that I was sure would be hideously expensive in America. There was no room for the rice. “I am going there to study!” I said a little too loudly, “Not to eat! I am not throwing my books out so I can fit in all this rice!” I had pulled out the trump card. My mother sighed and patted the nearest stack of books, and didn’t say anything when I left four kilos of rice behind. She turned out to be right. Every Indian store in New York carries spices, but that particular kind of rice isn’t easy to find.

Read more…

How the NYT taught me something about India

May 2, 2010

Over the past few months, I have been obsessed with tracking the coverage of India in the New York Times. I constantly compare their coverage with reports in the local media, trying thereby to understand how they view my country and the region.

It is a rewarding exercise. Sometimes, they are keenly interested in India’s response to global issues – with regards to the Roman Catholic Church, for instance. The Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India is taking a tough line on all allegations of abuse, while the rest of the world still dilly-dallies.

I have also taken umbrage at some of their articles. I once found their coverage of Pakistan bordering on the offensive, on their At War Blog.

But never has the New York Times really given me information about my country that I did not already know or expect – until now. This lovely article about eating in New Delhi surprised me, with its real insider information, and understanding of Indian cuisine. I know it isn’t earth-shattering news, but that’s what makes it so special – the intimacy of the information it provides. Kudos, NYT.

The Transposed Heads

May 2, 2010

I almost never judge a book by its cover, but don’t you agree that this one deserves to be an exception?

The book in question is The Transposed Heads by Thomas Mann, and this edition was published by Albert A. Knopf. The Transposed Heads is one of those rare books where the story, the language and the design of the book itself work perfectly in tandem to create a mystic, dreamlike experience that’s immensely pleasurable.

The credit for such beauty must go to three geniuses. Firstly, to the indologist Heinrich Zimmer, who probably first narrated this story to Mann, and to whom the book is dedicated. The story comes from the Indian scripture, the Bhagavat Purana, and is a curious tale of two friends whose heads are exchanged, and the strange events that ensue. The second genius is that of Thomas Mann, who handles this tale with a pithy lightness that is just mesmerising. The language is just quaint enough to convey the sense that this is a very old story indeed, and its magic is certainly not lost in translation. The third genius is Paul Rand, who designed this cover in 1941.

Lance Esplund, in Rand’s biography, writes:

Rand merges three heads, three necks, three sets of shoulders and chests, with three sets of hips, waists and bellies, all into one black, hourglass, figurative form that moves like a Jesse tree. This is placed over a ground made up of an acidic-yellow and orange Indian cloth, with a pattern of tiny headless bodies, and a shocking-pink rectangle; both are separated by a slicing, horizontal white stripe. Pregnancy, the interchangeability and compatibility of forms, the flowing and intermixing of energies and bodily fluids, generational growth and decapitation—all are experienced in this poignant, though oddly anonymous, multi- onion-domed, sexy, Arp-like form.


I’ve paused just long enough to write this review, and now I’m going to read The Transposed Heads for the second time in a single day.

Trader Joe’s Desi Treasures

May 2, 2010

I have long been a Trader Joe’s fan, not least for the extraordinary amount of Desi food available on their shelves. After much sampling and experimentation, I have decided that two items tie for my new award, Trader Joe’s Desi Treasure.

For a mango-starved Desi, Chile Spiced Mango is manna from heaven. Salted and spiced raw mango is a popular Indian street snack, and this Trader Joe’s product is the closest I have found in the USA. However, be warned by the colour: this is dried mango coated in chile powder. Even if you are a spice-hardened desi, it can set your mouth on fire. Literally. My suggestion is to dip it in some full cream yogurt (known as dahi to desis) to take some of the heat off.

There is nothing that compares to Trader Joe’s Vegetable Masala Burger, even in Des. These scrumptious potato patties are studded with little gems of carrot, corn and green beans, and come conveniently frozen. Just slap onto a hot griddle and roast both sides. Then slip it between two slices of bread, and go to Desi Heaven.

Keep it up, Trader Joe’s!

How did I miss this Literary Love Fest?

May 2, 2010

I know I usually write about Desi news in the international news media, but I just can’t afford to pass up this mention of New York in the Desi news media.

My favourite columnist for my favourite paper was in New York this month, and seems to have had a literary orgasm. Pradeep Sebastian has an article in The Hindu‘s Literary Review supplement today, about his visit to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. His reverent account of encountering priceless first editions had me salivating about the smell of old books (which is probably my favourite smell in the whole world.)

I’m kicking myself for having missed the book fair this year, so I am already marking it up in my calendar for next year, as should you.

Pumpkin Chickpea Curry / Soup

April 16, 2010

The real star of my Pumpkin Chickpea curry is Black Cardamom (featured bottom right in the image). Known in India as Badi Ilaichi, this rather ugly spice is related to Cardamom, but tastes warm and woody – more like Cinammon without the sweetness. Don’t judge the spice by the pod, it tastes absolutely heavenly.

Black Cardamom is used in a lot of North Indian and Pakistani cooking. Traditionally, the method is to just crush the pod, and drop it whole into the oil. For this particular curry, though, I like to use just the little black seeds inside, and discard the pod.

The Curry combines the silky smoothness of any yellow-fleshed squash/pumpkin, with the textures of chickpea skins and sesame seeds. If you want to convert this into a soup, leave the dried red chilli out, cook it a little longer and mash it up! The recipe follows: Read more…