Wednesday, 19 August 2015

It's own timbre

Yesterday, the sky was a flat-packed grey. Under it, wet roofs, wet roads, damp brick walls, damp people in damp socks, the neighbour's cat with a sweet squirrel in his mouth. Bleak stuff. It's August, the prime of summer, but the sky is British you see, it can't comment on summer. So what if the rest of Europe is laid out on their beach towels like strips of bacon in a frying pan? We'll just take the old umbrella out for a walk.

Still, the weather doesn't irk me like it used to.  Maybe it has something to do with a little girl who goes 'Yay, rain!' every time it rains. I mean, who says 'Yay, rain!' in this country?! She can be positive about anything, this one. A couple of days ago, she hopped and grinned and danced around me saying "Ma, I'm really, really excited about nothing!" So yeah, it could be her; she makes me notice the grey less.

There's something else I like about days like these. The silver light. Like a snail's trail that has dried on the ground in slow, shiny loops. This light, even through a bare window, is diffused, discreet. It's incredible how a land's people mirror its weather.

I was writing this post when I looked up and saw Chotto-ma engrossed in her book, and realised how utterly quiet the house was. Only the rustle of a page turning, and her foot softly kicking the arm of the sofa, thup thup thup. I picked up my phone quietly and took this photo. Of her and the light and the quiet. There's a special kind of silence on grey days. It's different from the silence of a sunny day. Like the difference between synonyms - each with it's own timbre, its own use.

I've been meaning to share a recipe for weeks. It's for a plum cake that has been baked, eaten, baked in a loop recently. It's beautiful; soft, sweet, tart and almondy. I'd Instagrammed it, just out of the oven, and now here it is. These photographs are off my phone camera too, because I forget to do any better when this cake is sitting on the table making our rainy-day house smell all kinds of wonderful.

Almond, Plum & Brown Sugar Cake


1 cup plain flour
1 cup ground almond
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup coarse demerara (you can use white sugar too, but this gives the cake a rich, roasty flavour)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 heaped tbsp of butter
1/2 cup oil
1/2 - 3/4 cup milk (as needed)
4-5 plums, halved, then sliced (with peel on)

Preheat oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees F).
Grease a rectangular baking dish (or a cake tin of your choice) with butter, keep aside.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl - flour, ground almond, baking powder and sugar.
Make a well in the middle. Crack in the eggs. Add the vanilla essence, the butter and oil.
Start mixing it in a circular motion. Pour the milk a bit at a time as you mix, till you get a nice smooth batter, easy to stir.
Pour batter into cake tin. Top the batter with the sliced plum, laying them on with a gentle hand so they settle into the batter a tiny bit, but not sink in.
Bake for 40 minutes if the baking dish is flat and rectangular, and about 45-50 minutes if it's deep and round. Slide a knife in to check if done.

Monday, 3 August 2015

The smell of old books

I wrote a short, short piece, which was published today on River Teeth, a US-based journal of narrative nonfiction. Only some of you will know the shops in Calcutta I talk about, but all of you will know the smell of old books.

I'd love to know what it makes you think of - leave me your thoughts here, or on the River Teeth website when you get there. I'll give you a bunch of sunflowers and wild leaves in return.