Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Tudors

Period dramas have always held a great fascination for me. Through my growing up years, I remember enjoying the Ramayana and Mahabharata, Vikram and Betal, Chandrakanta, Sword of Tipu Sultan – however, all that was a long time ago. None of the new ones on TV have caught my fancy in the recent years, except of course for the English movies based on period dramas, that I have watched awe-struck!

So when Vish suggested watching The Tudors (on Netflix) – a historical fiction television series spanning the rule of King Henry VIII of England – I was all for it. We finished the entire series – spread across four seasons in a little less than 3 weeks. It was very engrossing, almost addictive. (An aside: King Henry VIII is played by the same guy who was the football coach in Bend it Like Beckham :))

I felt that the series was shot wonderfully – the English landscape complete with the castles and the old European architecture – the costumes, the opulence, the diction of the characters, the old world courtesy, charm and language, the politics of the empire – all tiny details had been intricately woven to give a picture of an honest and truthful depiction. I did some reading of the period too, on the side. And realized, as in any work of fiction, though much has been drawn from documented history, there are deviations – perhaps to make plots and characters less confusing and retell a story that spanned so many years in just a few episodes.

If you get the time, you must watch the series (a small word of caution though – the episodes get quite graphic when it comes to scenes of beheading, burning, torture and other forms of harassment) and also read about this fascinating lineage of the Tudors. It is very interesting to observe how the King – the sovereign leader – is just another insecure man – who needs to many a times, unnecessarily, assert his powers in order to prove his potency, and at the same time needs constant affirmation from others around him that he is indeed a just and fair king. 

King Henry VIII is apparently the most exciting of all the English kings – his never ending squabbles with the Roman Emperor, his love-hate relationship with France, his confused loyalties with Catholicism, his support for the Reformation, his insatiable appetite for women and wives, his paranoia of not being able to have a son and then not being able to protect him adequately, his orders of execution in fury and then heart wrenching regrets later, his megalomaniac belief that he is invincible and can command death out of the way, his deep rooted fear of not being able to live upto that larger than life size he expected of himself, and his final resignation to the acceptance of the reality of death.

For those interested in further historic reference of King Henry VIII, he is the father of the Queen Mary, also known as Bloody Mary for all the heretics she executed during her reign, and of the very notable Queen Elizabeth I, whose rule on England is often referred to as the golden age. Since she was a sworn virgin, with her ended the Tudor Dynasty.

[Image source: Google Images]

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Marriage Plot

Now, this novel by a one-time Pulitzer Prize winner American author, Jeffrey Eugenides, caught my attention in the public library in town for one simple reason – I had not heard about the author or the book at all; it fell in the attractive “new and un-recommended” (as against recommended or not recommended) category :P.

The verdict? The Marriage Plot makes a very interesting read - interesting not in the sense that it cannot be understood (:D) - but interesting in the sense that it challenges your own intellectual background and reading.

Set in the early 1980s, in the context of the global economic recession, the novel traces the lives, during the one year after school, of three undergraduates at the Brown University, the then emerging hot bed for post modernism. 
Interestingly, the female protagonist is an English major who finds it tough to make the leap from outdated Victorian sentimentalism to the ragingly fashionable semiotics РCaught in the times when Jane Austen had become pass̩, and Derrida had come to be in vogue.

As an English Lit grad myself, I found myself empathizing with Madeleine, every time she exasperated on discourses on deconstruction and post structuralism. I remember sitting in my literary theory classes trying to decipher Foucault and wondering where had gone all the texts that could be understood in one simple reading!

In this ‘semiotically’ charged backdrop, the two male protagonists – Leonard, a charming Darwinist, and Mitchell, a religious scholar, court careers, confusion, existential crisis, undergrad life, dope, mental and emotional extremes, and Madeleine. To call this a love triangle, would be not only overly simplistic but against the very grain of the novel.

The Marriage Plot is about the death of the 'marriage plot' as existed in the seemingly romantic and uncomplicated times of the nineteenth century. Through the novel, and the so many failed marriage plots inherent in it, the author seems to ask the retrospective question – faced with the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenuptials and divorces - are we in an age sans of any great majestic love stories? 

Through the three characters, Eugenides brings out the intellectual angst representative of the world we live in today. Madeleine is devastated as Barthes deconstructs the very notion of love and even more so when Leonard quotes from the very book to respond to her declaration of love. 
Leonard has a complex layer of grey matter that plays hide and seek with him and in a way writes the destiny of all three of them. 
Mitchell is confused about most things – his love and the lack of it, religious mysticism, Nietzsche, his true calling and the meaning of life. His anti-proposal is a crucial aspect to the marriage plot – concealing its fate completely. 

In its commentary of the coming of the new age – as confused and as angst ridden it may be – Eugenides does a fantastic job – And I feel there is also exactly where the book fails as a work of pure fiction. Maybe it was never intended to be so. 
The characters, seemingly real, fail to appeal to you as people in flesh and blood. I failed to emotionally connect with any of them, as usually would be the case in a typical novel. At least, the two male leads show some kind of progression or regression – but in the case of Madeleine, there does not seem to be a movement – no journey – and apparently no growth – in that sense, the characters are not well carved. 

The scholarly didacticism takes over the story telling – the focus is on literary commentary, and the lives of the protagonists a context to experiment with and prove the theories. 

I would recommend this book to people who keenly follow literary theories and emerging philosophies – for the pure genius of contextuality that the author weaves in a highly readable and fast paced novel. This one’s not for those looking for a tale with vivid characterization and a plot that binds and progresses.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's Official - The Break Up!

Yes, I am making this public knowledge now. We are over. The Cullens and I, that is. That we did not have a future together was evident from the beginning, but we would part ways so suddenly, is alas god's will.

After going ga-ga over the white faced, well mannered, animal-blood sucking angels in my blog posts here and here, and having sincerely read the Stephenie Meyer's books and diligently followed the movie series, Breaking Dawn - Part 1 comes like a hard-hitting slap on the face! 

First, it is incredibly slow-paced - both parts could have been made into a crisp 2-hour movie, and I bet my life, it would have done better. There's hardly any content in the movie - now c'mon, don't scoff at me that I went to a Twilight movie for content - but there has to be something happening, right? 

I would have consoled myself a little had they given Edward and Bella more screen space, but no! This one's dedicated to close shots of the growing pregnant belly, ultrasounds, scans, molecular movement, ingestion of RBCs, blood all over - in the body, in the veins, in the hands, in the cup, on the baby, on the floor - one bloody boring fest - quite literally!

And yes, none of the cast are great actors but it seemed they were dull and bored too - except for a few wise cracks here and there, primarily by Jacob's character, there is hardly any real conversation. 

So, while I yawned and aarghed my time through Breaking Dawn, I could already hear the "last laughs" of all those who hadn't fallen for the gentlemanly immortals in the first place, and had made their opinions aptly clear to me. Cheers to you - seems like I am one of those who learn only by mistakes :D.

[Image Source: Google Images]

Friday, November 18, 2011

Winter is here!

The sun’s in a hurry these days
There’s barely time for leisurely hellos
And warm, gentle good byes

The mittens are out, and so are
All the snuggly woolens forced to
Wake up from their long slumber.

Evening tea with warm brownies
And wine with roasted peanuts n cashews
Preferably, over cozy bonfires…

The leaves have begun to fall
And the birds are migrating
Summer clothes shall soon hibernate

Foggy breaths and the festive cheer
Early Christmas lights and decorations galore
Yep, looks like Winter is finally here!

Monday, November 14, 2011

NYC: Up, Close, and Personal

A red eye flight from Phoenix ensured we woke up in the morning to the city that never sleeps – Wading through the jam-packed gates of JFK, and trying to steal a keen look at the price list for boot polishing (10 USD for a deluxe one, just in case you are interested), we hopped onto the air train and reached the local subway station.
While we were buying our metro cards, I thought I was transported back to a local UP roadways bus adda (bust station) in India – a very old, cheesy bollywood number was playing in one of the trillion small shops owned by Indians in NYC (I even noted down the lyrics, click here for the song :P)

The ride in the local metro to our hotel in downtown Manhattan was as we had been forewarned – At 6:30 AM, people were out there already in commute - as we approached our destination we were crammed to a one-leg room space – so it was actually delightful to ascend the stinky and dirty subway pass and “arise” to the heart of the big apple. Yes, New York sub way stations, streets and roads are not only always crowded but very very filthy. Another thing, I must warn you – be it the airport or any tourist attraction – NYC is the city with the dirtiest toilets. Sorry, for the gory details, but you need to know this, don’t you?

And then commenced, what my husband quite endearingly (;)) refers to as tourist hell. Armed with a long laundry list of must-do’s, New York City Passes and a hop on – hop off bus tour package, I dragged Vish mercilessly for three days around the city from 7:30 AM to 11:00 PM, till, according to him, we ran out of all the hell holes). Aah, the satisfaction of having EVERYTHING on my list checked off! What all was on my list? Just search for Things to Do in NYC, and pretty much everything that pops up in the results was there – tadaah :D!!!

Here are the highlights of our NYC experience…

The Manhattan skyline is gorgeous from any view – you don’t have to go to Empire State and Rockefeller - we did both and did not find it worth the money, the long queues and the airport-like security). Instead, you HAVE to walk down the Brooklyn Bridge and get the most awesome views of the Manhattan Bridge and the skyline – this along with a night tour of Brooklyn via the Manhattan Bridge is a MUST.

The Statue of Liberty is a must-do. Many will tell you it’s overrated but you have to take the ferry around the island and see this French gift first-hand – and up-close.

The neon and the glamour of Times Square is quite a disappointment - apparently the most visited place in the world is just an overly crowded space with skyscrapers all around you – take a walk around – the Broadway theater district is so culturally rich – catch a musical there. The Bryant Park with its beer garden, small shops and a lot of food options is a much more enjoyable and cozy place to relax and soak the city in. 

The financial district, complete with the raging bull, NYSE and the Occupy Wall Street protests was an interesting experience too. 

All those top honchos in tuxedos walking out at lunch time and eating from the zillions of street food stalls gives you a fascinating insight into the life of a New Yorker – Being vegetarians we could not indulge wholeheartedly in the street food revelry all around us – however, we did binge on the so many kinds of pretzels, falafels – and American pizzas! 
The gourmet scene is the best ever – what with all the little worlds that have come together – little India, little Italy, little China, little Korea, little Africa – this is NYC for you – a potpourri of countries, cultures, peoples and even religions. 
Apparently, every religion in this world is practiced in New York City – you have hindu temples, gurudwaras, mosques, synagogues, churches, Buddhist temples among many others.

What you definitely need to do in the city is, leave the concrete, wax and the up-scale snobbish neighborhoods behind, and head straight to Central Park – a man-made park but a wonder in every right – This two and a half mile majestic garden in the heart of the city cannot disappoint you. We spent a few hours every single day that we were in New York strolling here. With the fall colors thrown in, this was the most enjoyable and breathtaking part of our trip.

I could go on and on, but would rather stop on this scenic note, BUT the next time you are planning a trip to NYC, you know who to contact :D.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tom and Jerry: Just a cat and mouse game?

These two eternal iconic enemies need no introduction! Yes, I have enjoyed the Tom and Jerry cartoon series for as long as I can remember. Lately, these two have been my constant companions when I am on the treadmill in the gym (yeah yeah, didn’t I tell you I have been meaning to bounce off the calories that keep finding way to my kitchen – somehow the Cartoon Network schedule and my routine fits in perfectly well. 

You can call it lack of having anything better to do or an over imaginative mind -  however, in the last fortnight I seem to be noticing aspects – relationships, stereotypes, political impropriety – in the cartoon series that I have never consciously been aware of earlier. And since I have been spending a good number of waking hours doing so much thinking, I thought I might as well spoil the fun for you guys too…

Gender stereotyping and the lack of it…

Tom and Jerry are obviously two male names. Isn’t Tom the epitome of the confused male – brash, unthinking, more use of brawn than the brain?

Isn’t Jerry the witty guy who often wins against Tom inspite of his little size because he is more intelligent? What about the episodes where he cross dresses and flutters his eye lashes – he is effeminate but endearingly so – yet he is not convincingly homosexual because he is inevitably attracted to the female mice ! Metrosexual, perhaps :D?

So while a good many socially rendered gender stereotypes are evidently flouted in the character portrayals of Tom and Jerry, there is a considerable allegiance to “the norm” in the depiction of most other supporting cast.


There are not so subtle hints at racism too – the maid is shown as poor and “black”; and there are a lot of blackface gags that drip of racial slur. 
I guess the time period during which the cartoon series evolved, did not have this acute awareness of what is classified as being racist and what is not, that we have today.

Meaningless violence – Sadism

The more I re-watch Tom and Jerry, the more irked I am by this aspect. Comedic fights are funny only if you are thick skinned and insensitive
The fantasy violence is bone chilling – slicing and cutting, chopping off body parts, mangling, explosives – none of which would qualify as innocent slapstick humor – hardly deserving the TV-Y (All ages 0 and older) certificate it got from the censor board initially – The current TV-G (General Audience) rating is much more appropriate. Like so many other programs on Cartoon Network, this one too doesn’t seem very appropriate for kids.

The sadistic pleasure exhibited by Tom and Jerry towards each other, the meanness quotient, and the levels of aggression and goriness, even if only comical, is highly disturbing. 

Relationship dynamics

This is the most interesting aspect of the Tom and Jerry series – their love-hate relationship, to put it very simplistically.
Ofcourse you know, the “chase” is pointless. Tom never ever intends to eat up Jerry, even if he happens to catch him. Infact, if either of them crosses a certain line, they are seen nursing each other! Then why the hyper violent chase? The meaningless irony of so many frivolous ambitions in life?

And, have you noticed, only these two are allowed to hate each other. They unite against a common enemy or if the other is in mortal danger.  A third person – not even a love interest is allowed in between. There is jealousy and there is a strong need to keep this bond intact and exclusive. No, I don’t want to go back to the gay debate :P. 

Another worthy observation would be that the relationship is very physical. There is hardly any real conversation between Tom and Jerry – you could mute your TV and understand every single thing that’s going on.

So, what does this convoluted relationship stand for? It is definitely not purely feline-murine, not that of innocent friendship, not one of eternal love – so you really cannot categorize the relationship – Is it then a kind of theatrical comment on the angst ridden, insignificant and futile relationships that we share at some point or the other – or at how callous and reckless we can be in our own relationships?

What is this cat and mouse game?

[Image source (for all images used): Google Images]

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tricking and Treating!

So, my culinary skills have not been much to boast about. However over the years, I swear I have been getting undeniably better (Here's an earlier post on how I have been faring :)). I have up my sleeve a few sure shot hits that can be unfolded without any mitigation strategies in place, and thank god for that!

With all the time in hand that I now seem to have, I have decided to further upgrade my competency - and therefore, the past fortnight has seen me battling it out in a not-so-familiar realm - la cuisine! I have tried to go beyond my comfort zone, experiment - and all this with quite a bit of success, and so here is the brag post :D.

I learnt two very important lessons that I will take to my deathbed (oops, that came out a little over dramatic but never mind) - One, for most recipes - especially Indian ones, you need to know basic tricks and tips - so google or ask expert friends if you are stuck. Second, for every meal that you experiment, have a quick roll back option or one safe net menu item available - always!

Here go the stories of my conquests and forfeits...

Everyday Experiments
Chhola Bhatura
I am quite a pro at making chholas (chick peas/garbanzo beans) - This time around, the advancement was the tea bags I used while boiling the chholas to give it a nice dark color; and for the gravy, I roasted the dry spices (cinnamon, cloves, cumin, red chilli, cardamom) and then used the powder - the result was expectedly delicious.

I had never attempted bhaturas (a kind of Indian bread) ever before. I used the instant bhatura recipe here, and voila it was a super success (call it beginner's luck, if you will)! I did not have baking soda on me, and on a friend's advice I used Eno instead. The trick is to use eno equal to one and a half times the amount of baking soda prescribed in the recipe. 

Dahi Rajma
This scrumptious recipe was a chance discovery as I googled the search phrase 'rajma (kidney beans) recipe without tomatoes' (you guessed it right, I had run out of tomatoes and had the beans already soaked over night. Followed the recipe to the T and loved the creamy texture the dahi (yogurt) gives to the gravy.

Diwali Delicacies
I had never tried making Indian sweets/deserts apart from kheers and payasams (which I must tell you I do a fine job with). This time, I kept a very safe main course menu - puris with matar paneer (cottage cheese and peas) and fried arbi (colocasia) and decided to attempt gulab jamuns and rava ladoos.

Gulab Jamuns
Ofcourse I used the popular Gits mix - it is quite an effort in itself and I consider that as cooking from scratch :D. I thought I did everything right - used milk to knead the flour instead of water, added saffron and cardamom to the sugar syrup - but when I soaked the fried jamuns in the sugar syrup - lo, behold they multiplied in size. Couldn;t they have given the diameter of which the flour balls should be :(. Vish exclaimed at the sight, "yeh gulab jamun hai yaa gulab jamun ka baap!" (loosely translated as - are these gulab jamuns or their dads - taking a dig at the humongous size). Anyways, though they were a little softer than ideal, I swear they tasted yummy. Here's the pic of the baaps...

Rava (Semolina/Suji) Ladoo
This was an almost-disaster. And I don't want to be the bad work woman who blames her tools - but I think the recipe I followed was flawed - here it is. It seemed so simplistic but the mixture was too wet to qualify for a ladoo - i tried my best to dry it out but with little success - so my ladoos were midway between halwa and a proper ladoo :(. I was shocked when Vish said he loves them and he proved it by finsihing most of the lot all by himself  :) :). (P.S. Tips and links to better recipes would be appreciated).

Halloween Specials
Considering the festival inspired the blog title, I owe some allegiance to it, don't I? To get into the spirit, we bought the little fella up there (the first pic in this post) and painted it a little :).
I made pumpkin rice (recipe) and pumpkin raita (recipe) - both were a super hit and super easy to make. Considering the nutrition factor, I plan to do these more often! (Except that I cut myself twice trying to slice the raw pumpkin - next time I around  I plan to bake it before cutting - to make it easier on my fingers :()

And then comes my favorite part - Halloween Style Cup Cakes. I enjoy baking for one simple reason that if you measure and follow the step-by-step procedure - you can never go wrong - atleast not in the simple recipes - unlike Indian cooking that requires a considerable amount of adept skill. 
I made chocolate cup cakes with butter cream frosting following the recipe here. (The only minor variation being the color of the frosting in-keeping with the occasion.

Here are my cupcakes fresh from the oven...

And here they are, complete with all the festive regalia...

Wow, this has been a very long post - and if you are with me till now, kudos :). And wait, before you chide me on all the calories, apart from the desserts, I try to keep the food low on oil and fat but nevertheless, I can already feel the need to hit it at the gym MORE regularly.

Happy Tricking and Treating!


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