Why are men scared of vaginas?

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Let me tell you something, men are scared of vaginas. True fact. Ask any man about vaginas and they’ll tell you how many they have been in. Put them in front of one, and a thousand thoughts come into their head.

Here are three scenarios based on just one parameter – Hair. Down there.

Too much hair

Does that mean she is not hygienic? Will she have germs? Should I eat pussy? Maybe not. But does she want me to eat pussy? Let’s not get into that, no eating pussy. Is she wet yet? What if she is not wet yet? Do I need to eat pussy then? Thik hai, chalo, thoda sa. But wait. What if it is one of those days? Yuck. Yuck. Yuck. No pussy eating. Decided. Why on earth could she not shave, man? I have to use a condom…do I have a condom?

Too little or no hair

How does she shave that close? That is quite a clean shave. I want a shave like that. What razor does she use? Can I ask her that? Maybe later. But this is too clean a shave. Looks like a little girl’s pussy. A little more hair would have been better. Wait…how old did she say she was? What if she is young? What if she hasn’t been, you know, de-flowered yet? Am I her first? Can I ask her? But she’ll lie. They always lie. I am her first time. I have to be really really good then. What if I am not that good? What if she doesn’t like it? What if I hurt her? But what if I am very good? What if she gets emotionally attached to me? What if she wants to date me? Marry me? Have babies?

Just the right kind of hair AND/OR a professionally trimmed landing strip

Ooh la la. That looks perfect. But wait, does she watch porn? Women watch porn? Look at that, she must watch porn. She’ll have ‘big’ expectations then. Am I big enough? Yeah, I’m big enough. Am I? I have never compared it to anyone. And she watches porn. She looks all experienced and stuff. She must be fucking around a lot. Slut. She’ll compare me to all the guys she has been with. Am I good in bed? What if I am not good enough? What if I can’t make her cum? What if I cum too early? What if she gets bored? What if she falls asleep? What if I can’t get it up? What if she wants to do a position I don’t know about? Wait, is it up yet?

See what I was talking about? The thing is, men don’t understand what a vagina is thinking. It is not like the penis. When a penis likes something, it finds it hard to hide its approval. It is like a switch. You know when it is on and when it is off. The vagina is a socket. The switch is nowhere to be seen. We have no bloody idea what is going on inside.

I have spoken to men who tell me that the vagina’s ability to multi-task is a turn off. So, you have sex with it, which is all hot and fine and stuff, but babies also come out of it. And being men, we have absolutely no clue what getting a baby out of a vagina is all about. But after the baby is out, we are expected to pull our pants down and get back to having sex with it. AND, to top it all, that happens from there too. Now, babies are fine. But men are absolutely, most definitely, earth-shatteringly confused about periods. They find it gross, disgusting, don’t-want-to-talk-about-it-during-meals, wrap-the-packet-of-Stayfree-in-newspaper-so-that-they-don’t-see-it…What is this aversion to periods? I have no idea.

I spoke to a few women recently and asked them to describe their monthly girl time to me. As a woman, how would you describe your periods to a guy? Here are some valiant (and colourful) efforts:

“Imagine a bunch of fat gnomes hanging from your nuts. For five days straight.”

“I could kickbox your crotch for a few days.  First hand experience.”

“Imagine pain. Now multiply that by a 1000.”

“It’s like having oatmeal porridge stuffed in you knickers. Even at night, while you sleep.”

I don’t think it is possible for men to understand what it is all about, but if you have a vivid imagination, you might have a picture by now.

Honestly, straight men have an almost homosexual aversion for the vagina. It is not as well-loved as the breasts or the ass. How many times have you come across guys discussing “she has such an amazing pussy”? Boobs? Yes. Ass? Yes. Legs? Yes. Vagina? No. It is hidden away, covered in hair mostly, not a pretty thing; there is absolutely nothing sexy about a vagina.

But, even after all this dislike, disgust, disconnect with it, men believe they have a sense of ownership over the vagina. As if, it belonged to them. What does a woman have to do with a vagina, anyway? We want to “believe” that Indian women don’t touch themselves. We also “believe” that after a few children, mothers are too busy to bother about their vaginas. What use does a working mother of two have of a vagina? Men have to use them, right?

This displaced sense of ownership over vaginas is what gives men a delusional sense of power. The vagina is nothing but a representation of all that is woman. And the belief that the most important part of your body belongs to me more than you is the foundation of sexual abuse. I, the MAN, have the right to judge a vagina and decide how I would like it to be. You will trim if I do not like hair. You will go through surgery if I don’t think you are tight enough. Or, you will buy and use vaginal tightening creams to feel “like a virgin” again, because, even though I make it seem like it is for your pleasure, all along, I need to feel like I am fucking one. Even if you are horny, I will not fuck you during your periods. I proclaim you ‘Dirty’, ‘Unclean’, ‘Not in the state to perform religious rituals’ even though you are going through a natural, physiological process in preparation of bearing my offspring.

Let’s stop telling women what to do with their vaginas. If the vagina approves of you, it will come to you, embrace you, let you inside its heart and soul.

Also, by the way, cunt is a beautiful word. Stop using it as an abuse. Just like pussy. It means cat and cats are not exactly weak or stupid.

Here’s to all your vaginas, you beautiful gorgeous women. Salud!

No, Aamir Khan wasn’t right at all

Are we really such an insecure society that we cannot tell the difference between an insult and a joke? All around me, various posts keep mushrooming about how the All India Bakchod ‪#‎AIBroast‬ was violent or racist or sexist or insensitive. People are sitting on high stools, passing judgments, talking about how it is not correct for the current situation and context of India.

Why did these people not rise up with such fervour when santa-banta jokes started doing the rounds? Or when Bharti became every household’s darling? Or when Comedy Nights with Kapil Sharma became the country’s most popular show? Or when Ekta Kapoor’s numerous regressive shows were floating around?

Why are a bunch of stand-up comedians being made an example of? Stand-up comedians have been cracking this country up for years now. And their content has been much more insulting that the Roast’s at times. But we laughed. We laughed because we knew it was in humour or satire. Like Charlie Hebdo. Like RK Laxman. Like Miranda. Like Tagore’s Tasher Desh. Like Ray’s Hirok Rajar Deshe. Humour and satire deserve the space, freedom and respect to function as an independent and democratic medium of critique.

I stand by Freedom of Expression. BUT, one should be well aware of what one is saying. Freedom of Expression is tricky business. The AIB Roast had multiple disclaimers (unlike Aamir Khan’s supposed ‘warning’ ad for Delhi Belly which is actually a promo in disguise). It was posted on YouTube, which requires you to be above 18 to watch mature content. It was the video version of a live event which was ticketed AND was for 18 year olds and above. Now, when someone like Aamir Khan criticizes this event and calls it ‘violent’ (there was a bunch of adults laughing at each other on an adult show meant for adults. No, not for kids, who can be scarred for life. But adults. That is ‘violent’ for the man who made Ghajini?), I have a problem with his Freedom of Expression. Like I have a problem with Praveen Togadia’s Freedom of Expression. Or everyone who spoke against Rushdie and Nasreen and Lars Von Trier and Kashyap and Rajkumar Hirani’s sensitive-but-abysmally made PK.

As for whether the content was funny or un-funny, that is for each of us to decide according to our preferences. I found the Ayesha Takia joke funny. You might say that it is not. But if you twist it around and say that it is an insult to large-breasted women, I WILL tell you to shut the fuck up.

Play that same fucking tirade in your head when you use ‘bhenchod’ to greet your best friend.

The Best Indian Film at MAMI 2014: Nirbashito (Banished)

 

Every MAMI I diligently make it a point to watch all the Indian films being screened during the festival. Most of the good international films are available for download by the time MAMI is held (having travelled major international film festivals already) and it makes more sense to watch regional Indian films, mostly debuts of young hard working film makers, whose films, unfortunately, do not see the light of day due to the lack of distributors and financiers. So, yes, while people get into long queues to catch Boyhood, you will find my watching a Malayali film with just 5-6 people in the theatre for company.

Every year, one film shines the brightest for me. Last year, it was Devashish Makhija’s Oonga, an absolutely delightful cinematic experience. Anyone who has known me for more than a day, will have heard me gushing about that film. Unfortunately, Oonga will never be released. These independent films do not find interest, money or publicity even if they have well-known indie actors in their cast. Oonga holds a special place in my heart and the film maker – an engaging and extremely talented storyteller – is a dear friend today.

This year, the standout film for me is Nirbashito (Banished) by Churni Ganguly. I sat for the film’s premiere this evening, not expecting to be blown away two hours later. Sitting right next to film maker-artist mother-daughter duo, Lalita and Kalpana Lajmi and listening to them chatter about renowned film veterans, I watched a demure Churni Ganguly walk down the aisle and take a seat in the row right in front of me. I have watched all of Churni’s performances as an actor – mostly in Kaushik Ganguly’s films – and I must add that I am not a fan of hers. I have always felt that she lacks variety as an actor and often falls into the rut of set mannerisms. Therefore, while I did not know what to expect from her film, I was definitely curious to see what she had made.

Nirbashito tells the story of a poetess unceremoniously deported from her country for angering religious extremists with her writings. She pines for her country, friends and family in a far off land, living amongst people who speak an alien language and grapple to understand her angst. Most importantly, her only companion, a Persian cat, is all alone at home. The idiosyncrasies surrounding the cat and how everyone – from the Police Commissioner to the Embassies – try to pack the cat, aptly named Baaghini or Tigress, off to her owner forms the metaphor for a feisty woman’s indomitable spirit in a society that finds it easier to cower than stand by its beliefs. The poetess’s name is never mentioned in the film. The film is dedicated to MF Husain. Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is used in a shot to make a pivotal point. So, who is this poetess on whom the film is based? Her books have been banned, she has been abused and maligned for years, every time you utter her name, an uncomfortable silence descends…It has been 20 years since she was forced to leave her own country. Who is this poetess?

The film is based on true events from the lives of Taslima Nasreen and her cat, Minu.

The storyline is quite simple and Ganguly masterfully maneuvers the film away from the common pitfalls of drummed up sympathy and over-exaggerated melodrama. She does not force you to feel sorry for the poetess, but ensures that you are emotionally affected by the narrative. The hero of the film is the script – beautifully written, crisply edited, the dialogues are smart and steer clear of unnecessary sob fests, intelligent comic timing and witty repartee make the film’s screenplay an absolute treat. Exquisitely shot, the cinematography drives home a sense of loss, helplessness and fatigue. The commotion of Calcutta contrasts the Spartan monochromatic settings of Stockholm. Well-tailored and snipped of unnecessary flab, a tip of my hat to the editing department too. The background score supports the visual narrative, being a balancing act and not an overbearing presence.

As a director, this is a fantastic debut by Ganguly. And like I most childishly demanded of her after the film, you want film makers like her to make films more often. She has an independent voice, a strong vision and a confident hold of her text. More importantly, she is fearless about what she has to say. Not many directors would be comfortable discussing women’s orgasms on screen. Also, her innate humanity shines through in the film, making her the ideal film maker to deal with a subject like this. In a poignant scene, when her Swedish hosts try to gift a kitten to take her mind off her own pet, she beautifully explains every individual’s – human and animal – birthright to a mother and a home and how no political or religious authority has the right to decide otherwise. Such sensitive artists and such sensitive messages are the need of the day in our country today.

Ganguly brings together a host of talented actors who play their parts well. While the Bengali cast led by Saswata Chatterjee is a wonderful bunch of dim-witted buffoons, the Swedish actors are stoic and controlled, as demanded of their roles. Unfortunately, Raima Sen is increasingly getting reduced to the classically good-looking posh Bengali housewife in every film. I wish she chose films that offered her some variety. The cat is a lead character and if she could understand I’d tell her that she is a gorgeously talented piece of feline. Like Ganguly mentioned, the cat ‘acted’ every shot in the film as no computer graphics was used.

And finally, Ganguly as the poetess was a revelation. For someone who never enjoyed her performances, I was wowed by her controlled angst and burning fury that glowed like embers in the wind, not rising into flames but not beaten out completely either. Strong, expressive and measured – this is Churni Ganguly’s best performance till date. Not to mention her haunting voice reading Nasreen’s poems…When she says, she will be back, you shudder a little, you notice you have goosebumps…As if from a far away land a hot blast of wind suddenly made a prophesy.

My best wishes to Nirbashito and its wonderful cast and crew. May the film travel around the globe and be applauded, lauded and appreciated.

 

Image courtesy: Google Images

EXCLUSIVE: William Shakespeare discusses Haider and Vishal Bhardwaj

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Kaku (noun) – a term of endearment used for your father’s younger brothers AND any close acquaintance who is too young to be a Jethu (another avuncular term used for male members older to your father) but too old to be a Dada (older brother).

“So, did you watch Haider?”

He raised an eyebrow. I knew I was disturbing him. Willy kaku was bent over reams of paper, scribbling away on this new play he is working on these days. He refuses to tell me what it is about, lest I use the plot for my next play. He does not trust me at all. I don’t blame him. These days, people don’t believe he wrote all those plays and sonnets. They don’t believe he is a genius. How does a man feel when his hard work and outstanding creativity is butchered for the sake of just another conspiracy theory? Thus, his secrecy is understandable.

I remember watching Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool with Willy kaku. The man did not say a word, but I remember a smile, an approving smile that lingered on his mouth for hours after the film was over. He wasn’t quite impressed with Omkara, so, when he heard me gush uncontrollably about Bhardwaj’s latest adaptation of Willy kaku’s famous tragedy, Hamlet, he frowned. I urged him to go for the film. He looked pensive.

“To watch or not to watch is the question…” He finally sighed.

“Okay, cut out the drama. Go. Watch.”

“What if I don’t like it?” His cockiness is seething.

“Well, no one cares.” I walked out of the room, leaving him in his high back armchair, sheets of paper strewn everywhere, a never-leaving rusty smell of black ink and a smoky haze of the best cannabis.

So, when I saw him trod out for the film, I was elated. And also a tad scared. What if he did not like Haider?

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“So, did you watch Haider?”

He realized I wasn’t going anywhere without an answer.

“Yes.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“And thoughts?” Why was he acting so pricey?

Willy kaku smiled. He peered over his pince-nez and looked straight into my eyes.

“What did you think?” He asked. I breathed in. So he is opening a conversation. That is always a good thing.

“I think it was a fine adaptation. I am glad VB took the story out of an aristocratic setup and narrated a story of common people in the times of pain and despair.”

Willy kaku nodded. “Yes. The socio-political situation of Kashmir was a fantastic foil for the story.”

“And I feel, a contemporary re-telling of Hamlet would require a complex society, a complex background.”

“Why so?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Because, very frankly, the murder of a king, albeit by his brother, is no big deal today.” Okay, I don’t think I put it politely.

“No. Big. Deal.” He looked at me pointedly.

“You know what I am talking about,” I said. I did not want him to think that I was taking his plot lightly. “A regicide AND a fratricide was unthinkable back then, but that is not enough to shock the audience today. So, he killed his brother and married his sis-in-law after wooing her for a long time. Big deal.”

“Big. Deal.”

“I thought you agreed that the Kashmiri problem was a good backdrop?”

“Yes, but did it become more powerful than the plot? Was it too overbearing?” He was smiling again.

I nodded. Now that is a valid point. In Haider, VB simplifies all the sub-plots so that the political situation of Kashmir in 1995 and Haider’s bloodlust takes precedence. His relationship with Arshi (Ophelia) and its unfortunate deterioration is not dealt with. The role Ophelia’s father and brother (Polonius and Laertes) play in the downfall of Hamlet is non-existent. Ophelia’s death and its disastrous effect on Hamlet is not given enough screen time. Like VB mentions in an interview, Kashmir was his Hamlet. The dilemma that the people of the valley faced back then and even today is akin to the dilemma of Hamlet – whom do I trust? Should I take up arms and fight my own battle? Claudius or his father, whom should Hamlet believe? Years of confusion and broken promises make Kashmir an apt metaphor for Hamlet. But, is that a sufficient excuse to boil the narrative down to a one-plot one-mean one-end storyline?

I look up at Willy kaku. He is busy smoking. He finally notices me staring at him, helplessly.

“There, there. Do not be so disappointed. I know you love this Vishal fellow.”

I smiled.

“What else?” I asked.

“The girl who played Ophelia was hopeless.”

“So was Kay Kay. The actor who played Claudius, the brother.” I added.

Willy kaku nodded. “Yes, it seemed as if he was trying too hard…to act. And who is that charming fellow who played Roohdar?”

“Irrfan!” I gushed. “He was Macbeth in Maqbool, remember?”

“Ah yes! And I must commend Vishal. Roohdar! I am sure you young people would not find a ghost believable.”

The strength of VB’s adaptation lies in his ability to interpret the play’s dramatic and creative elements in a modern setting. No one would believe Haider’s resolution to kill his uncle if his father’s ghost appeared, telling him to avenge his death (like it happens in the original play). Therefore, Roohdar, a mysterious figure, who is supposed to have been in the same detention centre as Haider’s father becomes the bearer of his father’s will. Do we believe Roohdar? Is Roohdar trying to fulfill some ulterior motive of his own? Does Haider eventually become a pawn in a larger ploy? Instead of being supernatural, Roohdar remains a mystery who is introduced and shot delectably like a rockstar, but is never completely revealed to the audience. Like Willy kaku’s earlier commentators, even today’s audience asks that crucial question – Should Haider have trusted Roohdar?

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Similarly, the way VB treats the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is pure genius. They are die-hard Salman Khan fans who, even before killing a man, find pleasure in doing a pelvic thrust and mouthing bhai’s dialogue. They bring in the right amount of comic relief and tomfoolery that all Shakespearean tragedies have.

While I would have loved Arshi to have jumped into the river to kill herself (remember how Rishi Kapoor’s body was found in Fanaa, floating in the river, under a transparent sheet of ice? I wish that is how Arshi’s body was found by her brother Liyaqat. Maybe this has to do with my obsession with Millais’s painting “Ophelia”) rather than shooting her head, her psychological breakdown after her father’s murder was beautifully portrayed by the unraveling of the red muffler she had gifted him.

The scene where Haider chances upon Khurram confessing to his brother’s arrest during dua and then decides to not kill him because those killed during prayer go straight to heaven, is an adaptation masterclass. It is a crucial scene which emphasizes on Hamlet’s innate goodness and principles. He could have stabbed Claudius right then but chooses not to. Haider holds the gun squarely on the back of Khurram’s head and is prepared to pull the trigger but chooses not to. The power and palpable energy of the scene make it so memorable.

“The film looked like a painting, didn’t it?” I shake myself back to reality. Willy kaku takes a long drag of his joint and looks at me.

“The cinematography, yes. It was magnificent.” I said. “It was stark and yet, engaging. But again, you can never go wrong with blood on snow. It is a time-tested combination.”

Willy kaku laughed out loud. “You are right. There is a kind of romance in the way a bleeding dead body looks when it lays on show. You feel sorrow, but you also appreciate the beauty of the contrasting colours.”

“Like washing your blood stained hands in a pool of water and watching it turn red?” I mischievously grinned. He knew I was referring to that famous monologue from Macbeth. He knows how besotted I am with that play.

Also, after a long time, a film actually has a commendable literary quality. The dialogues are beautifully written in Hindi and Urdu with strong Pashtu influences. Even segments that have been adapted – Hamlet’s famous ‘to be or not to be’ monologue – acquire an individual quality. This adds another layer to the adaptation, creating individuality and strong cinematic identity in spite of being based on an existing text. And this is achieved even while adapting the characters. While Haider might be a simplistic Hamlet, Ghazala is a wonderful Gertrude. Ghazala is primal, emotional and instinctive. She is a mother who seems to be ruled by a sweet sixteen’s hormones. She is dangerous. It is this characteristic of hers that enriches the sexual tension between her and Haider. VB establishes it early in the film when a young Haider dabs his mother’s neck with ittar and then kisses it. Later, before the film’s climax, a sexually charged moment is created when Ghazala kisses Haider for the last time. When she holds his gaze, the audience holds their breath – Will she kiss him on the mouth? The relationship is emotionally charged with moments of intense love (swinging between maternal and sexual) and fiery hate. A sure shot – and unfortunate – recipe for disaster. None of the other relationships in the film are paid as much attention as Haider-Ghazala’s.

“And what a Gertrude she was! She was a better Gertrude than a Lady Macbeth.” Willy kaku exclaimed. I smiled. Haider might be one of Tabu’s top five performances. The woman allows herself to be engulfed by such animalistic passion and fervour that she scares you. When she holds the revolver to her temple, blackmailing her son to admit to her decision, her eyes express emotions that require a certain depth of human understanding and acting prowess that only the greats can deliver. Tabu is bewitching in Haider and her witch-like evil beauty is haunting. Is she good or bad? Is she the predator or the prey? The criminal or the victim? Tabu’s Ghazala swings between these extremities.

“What do you think about the music?” Willy kaku asked.

“Please, with all due respect and stuff, that’s not your area.” I joked.

“I enjoy music too. I thought Vishal did a fantastic job.”

“The songs had such beautiful Kashmiri and Middle-Eastern influences. Especially Ao Na and Bismil.” I agreed.

“Yes, that gravediggers scene was beautifully executed. I love the way they were introduced. Who knew someone could be so good at dark humour.” He chuckled.

“Are you complimenting VB or yourself, Willy kaku?”

Other than my infatuation with the film’s adept adaptation, I have – yet again – fallen in love with Shahid Kapoor. I have always believed that he is a talented actor who needs a director accomplished and intelligent enough to harness his acting prowess. VB did that successfully with Kaminey. But with Haider, Shahid delivers a performance that should make him proud. It is important for an actor to deliver at least one performance that satisfies him. Haider will do that for Shahid. Shahid creates both method and mania with his madness. He oscillates between suppressed passion bursting at its seams and angry outbursts that lack coherence and pragmatism. He is both thoughtful and careless. Calculative and spontaneous. The prayer scene in which he stands behind Khurram with a revolver in his hand, to shoot or not to shoot, is an example of Shahid’s growth as an actor and his painstaking involvement with the character.

“So, do you like VB?” I asked him.

“He is a brave man, son,” Willy kaku sighs. “He has faith in his content, he does not fall for the usual traps of commerce, he points fingers…He is unafraid to accuse.”

“He changed the ending completely though.”

Willy kaku smiled.

“And that shows how well he understands the need of these times. Like the good ol’ man said, an eye for an eye…”

A Hot Spanish Affair: Castellon and Valencia (and a very kinky night at Zurich)

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Gracias. Buenos noches. Buenos dias. Buenos tardes. Arriva! Hola! Cuento. Pan. Blanco. Negro. That’s all the Spanish I know. And of course, I can call out “sexy chica!” and wolf-whistle, but we’re not counting that, now are we?

Spain – Hot. Burnished. Sexy. To tell you the truth, it is all of that and so much more. There is a languid pace, an appreciation for life, stopping and letting the hair down and there is a lot of chilling. A. Lot. Of. Chilling.

I had quite a bumpy ride to Frankfurt (my seat was right next to a really broad man who was carrying a village’s ration of khakras and dhoklas on which he perpetually snacked. He actually fell asleep with an uneaten piece of dhokla in his hand *I am putting on a very non-judgmental expression on my face right now*) and while Frankfurt was chilly and damp, two hours later when I landed in Castellon, it was like Goa in May. The sun really rode our asses, if you know what I mean. We were quite a bouncy bunch of giggly chicas and naughty chicos and lunch was a fine ice-breaker. Really good red wine, a delicious cucumber and red pumpkin gazpacho (cold soup starter), a light and colourful apple-walnut-rhubarb cheese salad in an olive oil dressing, broccoli and flat bean paella and butterscotch sandwich ice cream with dollops of chocolate sauce. I polished it all clean (I also had our PR hostess’s portion of dessert). Silky smooth espresso followed and the caffeine and company drove my drowsy away.

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Castellon is an adorable hamlet of beautiful people and pastel-coloured old buildings. Streets are empty, cyclists whirr by, lazy strollers walk their furry Pomeranians, hefty bikers ride to the lilting rhythm of the town…there seems to be a casual swag about everyone. Dinner was at a fancy beachside hotel. We were dressed in casual evening wear – baubles and glitter – sipping sangria which the handsome waiter, Paco, served for us in gigantic glass goblets. Assorted cheese and nuts lay decorated on the table while bruschetta and tiny meat tarts and lamb quiches were passed around. Single portions of vegetable cream soup and salsa salad in mayo dressing followed. Shrimps on a stick, bite-sized hummus and pita bread, exotic fruits, moist chocolate pastries…and did I mention sagria? Lots and lots of sangria?

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That night, moi new homies and moi partied at a university bar called Wallaby’s Street. It was cramped and sweaty, the hardwood floor squelchy and sticky, but the booze was cheap, the crowd was young and boisterous and the music allowed freestyle boogie. We met the ravishing Salma there. Salma is of Belgian-Tunisian roots, studying translations at the University of Castellon and has quite a knack for languages. One of my homies fell in love with her instantly (I mean deep till-death-do-us-part kinda love). We were all quite happy to share drinks and smokes with her and walk her home. It was a beautiful night and I walked shoeless on the streets. We also found another group of Spaniards, lost, trying to find their way back to their hotel, and hit up on a feisty conversation with them. We taught them how to say ‘aapka naam kya hai?’ and I fell in love with an adorable little man in the group who reminded me of Peter Dinklage. We got back to the hotel at dawn. Yes, love was (a lot) in the air.

Day two was all about press conferences and quick interviews which we all breezed through. I was looking forward to lunch because a sneak peek at the restaurant’s wine wall had left me greedily salivating. Red and white wines flowed during lunch. We started with braised eggs and mushrooms bruschetta followed by a salty-tangy summer salad in Toscana dressing. Main course was a royal seafood affair of vermicelli paella with shrimps, squid, prawns, mussels and oysters. While I generally refrain from seafood, the aroma was inviting and I did take some small bites of a flavoursome and very savoury dish. Dessert was a gigantic scoop of chocolate ice cream with choco chips, nuts, chocolate sauce and mango puree. It was quite child-like a dessert, not that I’m complaining though.

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We packed our bags and were off to Valencia, reaching the city late evening. The sun was kind, the breeze stormy and smelled of the sea. We wanted to take a walk to the beach but landed up at the port and danced to Shakira tracks on a pier instead. It was the most random thing I have ever done in my life. A three-storey cruise ship was anchored at the port, crowded with party-goers and blasting Spanish pop. Suddenly, Shakira’s ‘whenever wherever’ started playing. The three of us (yes, I have a knack of finding similar minded loose nuts) started dancing on a pier close by, trying out our fanciest belly dancing moves. Nope, our hips didn’t lie either.

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Dinner was at Restaurante L’azud. It is a charming place with roadside seating under canvas canopies. The owner’s son, Hector, was manning the bar. He is a dashing 21-year old, and can stir up some badass sangrias. No, I do not enjoy sangria myself (he was quite taken aback at that) but we had quite a long chat in between drinks (red wine for me, please) and dinner. We started off with cured ham (the exquisite Jamon Iberico) and smoked shrimps followed by the most amazing stuff that has been in my mouth – grilled cream cheese with caramelized shallots and savoury blueberry jam with a mushroom risotto. The cheese was firm but galawati, the shallots sweet and textured and the jam had a smoky kick to it. When paired with the mellow risotto, an outstanding creamy and flavoursome combination came forth. Paired with Spanish vineyards’ best red, I was in gastronomical heaven. I actually didn’t care much about the beef cheek steak and fries that followed. I. Beef cheek steak. Didn’t care much. Let that sink in. Dessert was wonderful too – coffee caramel custard, fig mousse with white chocolate cream and triple chocolate flan with chocolate sauce. Do I need to elaborate at all?

The night got wild at Las Animas del Puertos. It is a massive stadium-sized party hub with clubs, discs and pubs all huddled together. We walked into – obviously – a club called Bombay. I don’t know why it is called Bombay though. There was nothing Indian about it. Bombay is an open-air club, cramped to the hilt on a Friday night. Small elevated podiums stuck out in intervals on the dance floor for anyone to get up on it and do a ‘Hungama ho gaya’ a la Queen Kangana. Karishma, one of moi homies and queen of propah, actually did it and, for some reason, a waiter hollered her to get off. The music blasted from every direction, the lights dazzled your eyes and the stars twinkled above our heads. It was a heady affair.

After the madness, we headed for the beach close by and lazed near the sea. It was six in the morning, the sun wouldn’t rise for another two hours and a squealing bunch of young fellows were thrashing around in the water. Then I heard someone playing the trumpet far away. It was a magical moment, a haunting tune, beckoning me, wanting me to come closer…I walked towards the music, not knowing who was playing it…When I reached the trumpet man, he had started playing a different tune. In the darkness, his frame silhouetted by the far away street lights on the boulevard, I could not see his face. But his music made me dance. I danced to his tune, freestyle, waving and whirling on the sand, enjoying a kind of freedom I have not felt in a long time. He increased the tempo, almost coaxing me to dance faster. At that moment, a complete stranger and I moved to the same rhythm…how many times do we try to find similar wavelengths with people we have known for years? In that freedom, that non-judgmental space, I felt pure happiness. When he finally finished, I was out of breath. I asked his name and where he was from. Christopher from Ghana, he said. I still couldn’t see his face. I thanked him and slowly walked away. Sharing a beautiful memory with someone I’ll never meet again – now that was not on the list.

On a second thought, what if I do meet him some day? What a wonderful story that’ll make!

Day three was about roaming around Valencia and enjoying the people, food and vibe of the city. Karishma, Ritika and I went old school. We took the public bus and got off at the city centre and started walking around with a road map. Old school swag. No Google maps, nothing. We kept asking shop owners for directions in French and Spanish-accented English and kept going around in circles with absolutely no idea where we were – or where we were going. The map we had was hopeless (the cartographer had placed landmarks at his own whim and fancy. Museums were placed on water bodies and libraries inside metro stations) and people were not of much help either. For some reason, most Spaniards speak only Spanish. Why they do not speak English, I wonder. We walked through alleys and narrow lanes, clicking selfies, trying out street food and window shopping (okay, actual shopping too).

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We got back, tired feet, at seven in the evening, and decided to rest. After some Zara time and mall hopping, we went back to the hotel and I tuned into the best of Spanish pop on a random radio channel and drew a lavish bath. Bliss.

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Dinner was a tapas spread of spicy calamari rings, deep fried fish fillets, medium-rare steak and crispy potatoes and a lot of alcohol and cigarettes. That night, we decided to pub hop. And some crazy ass pub hopping it was. We started with a Latin Rock bar called Wah Wah! at Blanco Ibanez where this nutcase of a band was growling to glory. And we did some bhangra and jive just to lighten the moment. Next up was a lucky free entry to Rumba 144. Done up in reflecting surfaces, smoke machines and laser lights, it was the most glamourous club we had been to on our trip. The night ended at Deseo 54. Google Deseo 54 Valencia. You’ll have a good idea about how the night ended. <Insert wicked grin here>

We got back to the hotel at 7 30 AM.

After a long snooze (the longest since I had left Bombay), we had a quick salad lunch (and a delicious Danish bun) and were packed and ready for Zurich.

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We landed at Zurich at 11 PM. A long drive from our hotel got us on Langstrasse. But, unfortunately, Sunday night meant no crowd, just hookers and pimps. We walked past dimly lit pick up spots and shady bars, bought 12% alcohol beers, 80% pure red vodka and doner kebaps and walked around, drinking and eating on the streets like a bunch of hostel kids on a night out. The Roland theatre (The O replaced by a pair of naked buttocks) was playing The Rocky Horror Horny Show, a porno parody of the original musical. The Lugano Bar, decorated with red rice lights, was filled with cigarette smoke and aging prostitutes. Grocery stores stocked combo packs of syringes and a tourniquet for two Swiss Francs. If you were buying candy, it would be best to check what their alcohol content was. We ended the night, sitting by a lake, drinking beer out off cans and vodka in plastic glasses. I felt like I was in college again, chilling at Chowpatty with friends (only in this case, they were not friends but editors of magazines and fashion columnists). Not too exciting, no.

The flight back was uneventful and lazy as we spread over empty seats and pretended to be kings. The chicken curry Swiss Air served was pathetic. Wes Anderson’s The Great Budapest Hotel on in-flight entertainment – albeit a criminally tiny screen – was a delight.

A FAM trip that didn’t feel like work. Making new friends in less than a week. Finding out that age knows no bar when it comes to dancing and drinking miles away from home. Some of the few things I learned in Spain. And yeah, a little bit of Spanish too.

Poetry in Protest – Lojja kore na? (Are you not ashamed?) #hokkolorob

Protest Against Molestation And Police Crackdown On Students In Jadavpur University

Aaj onekdin pore, khub raag hochhey.

Bhool bujhben na. Ei raag baamponthi noy, Maobaadi noy.

Kothay kothay, rege gele, gaalagaal diley, aapnara bhaben aami Opposition.

Khoma korben, Aami eka!

Shei Satyajit er Gobeshok aami – Aami Eka!

Aamar raag ke aapni ‘enemy of the state’ boley uriye ditey paaren na.

Aami State. Aamar moto haajar haajar manushjon, aamra State.

(Aar bhodrobhaabe kotha bolte paarchi na)

Shon haaraamjada!

Tokey chair tay boshiyechilam aamra. State.

Tokey aamader raasta-ghat sharanor kaaj diyechilam.

Chakri dibi, gram-gonjer dekhashona korbi, lekha-pora shekhabi…

Unnoti bujhish? Unnoti?

Paarli unnoti aantey?

London banabi? Aagey ekta bhodro-shobbho Kolkata bana!

Je Kolkatay chele-meyera thaktey chaye. Thakar karon khunje paye.

Kar bhorshay thakbe? Tor?

Chakri nei, porashona’r haal behaal, university tey police dhoke,

Aalo nibhiye chhatro petaye,

Gunda pathiye dholai kore,

Meyeder gaaye haath toley,

Haath toley? Aamader gaaye haath toley?

Eto shaahosh holo ki kore?

Tui jokhon ‘Opposition’ chhili,

Tor haajar natok-meeting-michhil dekhechi.

Tokhon tokeo jodi, gherao kore, police diye maar khaiye jail ey purto,

Tui ki kortish?

Mone kore dekh –

Tui o toh maar kheyechili.

Jail ey gechili.

Onekei toh bolechilo – ‘nongra maiya’

Tor kemon legechilo?

Bhalo legechilo?

Tui raagishni?

Shei raag money porey?

Shei raag kintu komeni tor.

Lorechili, bochhorer por bochhor.

Tarpor aamra – Aamra – tokey jitiyechilam.

Aaj chair tay gordhobder maajhe boshey,

Tui shei shob bhooley geli?

Aamra kintu khub rege gechi.

Tor raag jemon komeni, aamadero kombe na.

Buddho-Biman er gaaye-o jokhon Hitleri rong dhorechilo,

Aamra onek shojjo kore, tarpor ulto-haather chor koshiye,

Ghaar dhakka diye baar kore diyechilam.

Money aachey toh?

Bottirish bochhor koshe boshe chhilo.

Ore idiot, tor kota bochhor hoyeche re?

Aamra ektu olosh, shojjo shokti osheem.

Kintu bhool koreo eta bhebona je khediye door korte jaani na.

Hawa boddo gorom, rokto phutchhey boddo.

Aaj onekdin pore, khub raag hochhey.

Hok kolorob.

#hokkolorob

Photo courtesy: Google Images

Things That Went Wrong With Masterchef Australia Season 6

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There’s something Matt Preston said in season 6 of Masterchef Australia that I will never forget – the chicken is so juicy, it’s almost like it’s weeping in my mouth. Season 6 was pure gastronomical poetry. Cooking was treated like a dramatic art form, with contestants mentored by some of the world’s best culinary artists delivering food that was aesthetic, flavoursome and theatrical in presentation. What was most satisfying was the fact that the challenges had gotten more brutal than ever before and that can only be credited to the skill sets the talented bunch of amateur chefs possessed. You ask a dog to leap through a higher loop because you know he can.

Personally, I don’t think Brent deserved the top award. His growth curve is bumpy which neither showed improvement nor a mastering of techniques. The man was just good at prepping lamb racks – and that’s all he did for all the team challenges in the latter half of the show. He did not master desserts nor did he get a hang of pan-searing and sous-viding meats. He did read books and copied plating styles though. But his obsession with negative space came across as thrifty. Yes, his D-day performance might have been impressive but that cannot be compared to Laura’s, Emelia’s or Jamie’s. While many might complain that all Laura cooked was Italian, let’s understand the facts – She’s eighteen and can cook Italian cuisine good enough to win an immunity pin (you compete against a pro for that). Her prepping techniques are exquisite. She can work with meats and seafood and makes some badass pasta. I will let all those facts sink in now. Jamie displayed growth that was fascinating to watch. He had his share of pitfalls but the fellow nailed it during the top ten challenges. Yeah, he’s a little cocky and does bite off more than he can chew sometimes, but give the guy some credit. He wants to have fun and try new stuff. No one has gone as bat shit crazy with tools and techniques in the kitchen as he. And I’ll say the same for Emelia. Her craft is spectacular. Let me share another fact – Jamie is 25. Emelia is 24. Jamie now works as the head chef of a property in Sydney.

But more than anything else, this season was about trends that will, in probability, continue in the next seasons. Unfortunately, most of these trends are, well, unfortunate.

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Squid ink – Let’s face it: it looks like black food colour paste and it works like black food colour paste. And I like black food colour paste only if I have a Phantom of the Opera themed birthday cake. In general, black is a negative element to have on a plate of food. We connect black with ‘rotten’, ‘burnt’, ‘disgusting’ or just plain ‘what the fuck is that’. Black pasta might work out (just like cocoa pasta. Risqué, very risqué), but caking bell peppers in an inky goop and frying them? No. That is the kind of experimenting that created Frankenstein’s monster.

Lesson for season 7: Don’t get carried away. Some ingredients are just not meant to be mainstream.

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Sous vide – Let’s first understand what sous-viding is: It is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times—72 hours in some cases—at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 60 °C for meats and higher for vegetables. Yes, I picked that from Wikipedia. So, much like the Indian dum pukht or the Afghani underground tandoor technique, it is a slow cooking process. Now, explain to me, why the kangaroo, would you try to sous vide meats when you have just 45 minutes to cook an elaborate meat dish with multiple elements? Not once was the sous-viding successful on the show (understandably, given that it is meant for longer cooking time) and every contestant had to pan-sear their meats afterwards, leading to overcooked or undercooked meat.

Lesson for season 7: When you need things evenly cooked and cooked fast, take a leaf out of the Indian mother’s handbook – pressure cook it. If you think you’re too cool for that, try something else.

Meat cooking techniques – That brings me to the next point. Meat was grilled, pan-seared or sous-vided. There was just one effort at trying something offbeat – Colin’s duck neck sausage. And the number of episodes featuring fish filleting (particularly snapper and salmon) was mind numbing. Is there nothing else you can do with proteins? What also confuses me is the stress on prepping proteins. I understand that can be a good challenge to put the contestants through during the first few weeks, but forcing amateurs to fillet and de-bone a snapper when you give them 30 minutes to cook? Facts: A) You’ve tested them. They know how to do it. B) You know it takes bloody long to fillet those effing monsters. Why then (just a thought), can you not have fresh cuts and fillets available in the pantry?

Lesson for season 7: Prep less, cook more.

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Liquid nitrogen and foam cans – Boys love their toys. Masterchef loves its foam cans and liquid nitrogen. Freezing a gin and tonic into a palate cleanser with liquid nitrogen – Heston, darling, it’s oh-so-fancy but not exactly ‘cooking’, now is it? There was so much of flash freezing this season! Yeah, Jamie enjoyed his heart out (it was fun watching him dragon breathing) but how necessary was it? They have blast chillers, now don’t they? Also, when Amy tried to flash freeze her chocolate lollipops, they didn’t work. Tut-tut.

Lesson for season 7: We don’t find liquid nitrogen in our kitchen cabinets at the drop of our hats. Get the hint.  

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Indian cuisine – Indian flavours have started influencing Aussie cuisine – this season of Masterchef was more than proof of that. While watching contestants rustle up Vikas Khanna’s avant-garde chicken tikka masala was a treat, most of the Indian attempts were major misses. For starters, Khanna made a boo-boo himself. A rice papad with tikka masala? Are you trying to make a dish fancy just for the heck of it? Because you think Indian cuisine is not intricate and complicated enough? You try making shukto like our grandmothers make in your first try, Khanna babu, and we’ll discuss complicated cooking. Or a plate of sorpotel. Or roganjosh. The Indian contestant didn’t help much either. Deepali, a dentist, can’t cook. She made aloo masala, chapattis and dhokla for her Top 24 selection. I will give you a moment to re-read that. And she got through too. Re-read that too. And she made a Gujarati chicken curry. What on earth is that? Was Deepali there in the competition because Australia has realized that Indians are a vast section of their population AND India is lapping up the show for the last 2 seasons? I wonder. More so, all the other Indian attempts by the contestants were vegetarian. A lot of aloo. A whole lot of blah.

Lesson for season 7: Indian cuisine can beat your broiling and baking asses. And like George, if you ain’t got the stomach for it (not that we are all about spicy curries and chilli powder), don’t bother.

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Fresh produce obsession – See, I love the motto “the more you do to food, the more you take away from it” and don’t mind that for my dinners. But honestly, has anyone realized that not once was a marinade used in the whole season? Meats were mostly just seasoned. Fish was served raw thrice. Salt-pepper-thyme-sage-kale is all that the proteins got treated to. Only lamb racks got spice rubs. There was some baking during the egg episode. Other than the theme episodes and Laura’s dishes, it was all about protien+fancy veggies+jus.

Lesson for season 7: Good food is fresh ingredients cooked well. Let’s see some variety.  

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Reality TV – Sample this: During the risotto challenge, Tash was leading the brood. She had finished her stock and had put in the rice with almost 20 minutes to spare. Everyone got worried that she had put in the rice ‘before time’. Even Tash got worked up. She tried to slow-cook her risotto till the last second, adding water often, hoping the flavours and aromas of the stock will not burn off and the rice won’t overcook and run dry. So, every contestant HAS to race against time because it makes for an exciting episode? That got me wondering. Never, in all six seasons, has any contestant finished plating a dish before the final bell. Now, come to think of it, isn’t that a tad fishy?

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Tear jerking melodrama – Which brings me to the last point – What was with the waterworks?! There was so much of sobbing-weeping-crying-sniffling. Contestants broke into tears at the drop of an apron. They talked about how much this opportunity meant to them over and over again, there were intercuts of them playing with their children and their spouses, a single mother’s trials and tribulations were discussed, a gay couple’s favourite dish, an Aussie girl making her Indian mom-in-law proud, fathers missing daughters, sons missing mothers, grandchildren missing grandparents, grandma’s recipes, nona’s mentoring…So. Much. Duh-rama. And the show’s script was consciously constructed to include these sob fests. Even if the contestants have discussed their sorrows in detail, the judges would make it a point to ask leading questions so that the contestant could narrate his/her story all over again, with tears and group hugs. George will ask the first question – “A little emotional there, Tracy?” Tracy says yes. Gary – “And why’s that?” Who the fafda cares? And these two tear-squeezers gang up, you know. They make you cry and then take you aside and offer pep talks – which the camera films. And the pep talks are impeccably scripted too. They even broke down the stoic Emelia. That girl powered through every single challenge, cooking beautifully, not allowing the stress or homesickness affect her. But no, the tear-squeezers weren’t satisfied. They finally hit bingo and made her weep uncontrollably in Finals week. And no, they weren’t happy doing it just once. Even after Emelia tells us E V E R Y T H I N G about her emotional relationship with her granny during the cook, they make her go through that AGAIN during tasting. AND in the episode after that. For Chrissakes!

Lesson for season 7: Masterchef is not a soap opera. Cut the bullshit about family sob stories and focus on the cooking. It’s a reality TV competition. People with dreams land up. They try to win. Not all of them can. Hopes are shattered. Been there, seen that.  

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Photo courtesy: Google Images