Saturday 28 December 2013


And so we rest our year. I'm not one to mull over it, look back on it. No rewinds here, no resolutions. Not this year at least. I might get soppy as I get older and take you on a tear-jerking recap of the year gone. But for now, you're safe.

To me, a year is just lots of days stuck together with a collective glue; and these stuck-together-days are usually patchy. There are rushed days and slow days, used days and wasted days, great days and grim days, beautiful days and bleh days, rainy days and dry days. Patchy, mixed. Not green or blue, but turquoise. Patchy isn't plain, it's interesting. Like a watercolour where the paint have blotched into each other while you weren't looking. And in that blotchy, turquoise year, if you've woken up well most mornings, and gone to sleep in peace most nights, you've done well. And all that's left for you to do is to hug the people who've helped you wake up well and sleep in peace; hug them into the year that's about to begin. I've hugged D and I've hugged Chotto-ma, really, really tight. And I've sent three mighty hugs to my Ma and Baba and my brother. That's all that matters; the rest is just garnish on the side that nobody eats.

I just have one more hug to go. A two-armed, giant squeeze of a thank-you, no half measures, no garnish. It's for you; for coming back here to read what I write. To read me. I can't tell you how enormously grateful I am for that. And for every kind word that you leave behind. You're part of my turquoise. Consider yourself hugged into my new year.

We're starting the year in Rome. We fly tomorrow, at the break of dawn, for ten days in a lovely little rented apartment in Trastevere. I'll bring back bits of Roma, and meet you here after your year has begun. And after your food and wine have settled. I might even have something that will hurry up the settling - a lovely cup of tea, too patchy to be photogenic, but more interesting for it.

Have a wonderful, turquoise 2014, everyone. Love, hugs and home-brewed tea from me, D and Chotto-ma.

Darjeeling tea with orange, rosemary & black pepper


1 1/2 tsp loose leaf Darjeeling tea (1 tea bag if that's what you have)
3 small clementines (oranges), juiced
A generous pinch of freshly, and coarsely, ground black pepper
Fresh sprigs of rosemary

In a teapot, soak the Darjeeling tea,  one sprig of rosemary and pepper in two cups of hot water for 3 minutes. Mix in the orange juice, stir and pour into cups.
Add sugar to taste. Put a fresh sprig of rosemary into each cup to stir the sugar in.
Drink warm, or chilled. I love both.

Monday 23 December 2013

[minute] Waiting in a basket

May, 2009. She was seven months old. I'd plonked her into the laundry basket while I finished cooking dinner so she wouldn't crawl into trouble. Or crawl between my feet while I cooked. She liked feet. Especially D's feet. She'd always crawl up on stealthy knees while he read or worked and she'd lick his toes and make him jump.

Sunday 1 December 2013

He chopping, me stirring

It gets dark by 4 o'clock in the evening, and Venus lights up before the lampposts; she's Chotto-ma's favourite planet. We're hanging between autumn and winter now, like the last leaves. Today, I ran downstairs just before the light died, to take a couple of photographs for you. I owed you autumn.

8.35 pm. D and I are sitting here listening to Mississippi John Hurt's charred voice wafting out of a grainy recording. It's strange how his songs can make the sun beat down on your back even on a cold night like this. "The angels laid him away. They laid him six feet under the clay".

Dinner's done, but there's still some wine left in our glasses. The floorboards above us are creaking; Chotto-ma is pottering about upstairs. (So what if D left her tucked in bed an hour ago?) Her bedtime ritual, like everything else in our home, is split between D and me: Around 7 o'clock, I read her a book and sing her a song. She then goes upstairs with D. He reads her two more books - one in English, another in Bengali - before tucking her in. He then says goodnight and comes downstairs. And she untucks herself and gets on with her evening.

Downstairs, D and I get on with ours. We pour ourselves a glass of wine, cook dinner together, talk. Sometimes, we watch a movie, or read. Chotto-ma knows it's Ma-Ba time, she's known it for as long as she's known anything else.

We don't know what she does with her time, but she loves it as much as we love ours. Sometimes we hear her singing, or reading books to her dinosaurs, or talking to the planets hanging over her bed (they have distinct personalities; they also meet in orbit, marry and have baby moons). By the time we call it a night and go upstairs several hours later, she's fast asleep in her room. She, along with six books and nine stuffed animals, all in a neighbourly heap on her bed

Tonight, our dinner was a garlicky, coconuty broth that I made up many years ago in Calcutta, in the tiny kitchen of our first rented flat in Jodhpur Park; it's a dish that has withstood time, geography and repetition. Even in that shoebox kitchen, D would squeeze in to help me peel, chop and grate. We've been cooking together for so many years that it's one smooth soup of a song. He chopping, me stirring. Me making the marinade, he smudging it on the meat. In tandem, amidst conversation, without a thought; he's my soul-sous-chef. And tonight, as the pot bubbled and we cooked and stirred, Hurt plucked his guitar in the background and poured his sweet country soul into the broth.

Coconut & Garlic Prawn Broth

The broth, like most things from my kitchen, is done in minutes. It has the strong, punchy flavour that comes from raw garlic, and the mellow roundedness of uncooked coconut. In India, I would use fresh coconut, but here, it's the easier-to-get dessicated version. This is also a broth I've cooked with chicken and lamb, instead of prawns, so take your pick.


150 gms large prawns, cleaned and peeled
1 white onion, halved, then thickly sliced, horizontally not vertically (I'm fussy about chopping)
1 tomato, chopped
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped

Coconut - 1 cup freshly grated, or 1/2 cup dessicated (and yes, I keep mine in an old talc tin)
2 large cloves of garlic
1 green chilli

In a food processor, blitz the coconut, garlic and chilli - the magic paste that makes all the difference.
Heat oil in a pan, and throw in the onions. Saute till transparent, but not brown. Add the tomatoes and give it a stir. Add 2 cups of water. When it starts boiling, add salt, and the prawns. Let it bubble for a minute, then take it off the heat. The prawns should be cooked, but still tender.
Transfer to your serving dish, and stir in the coconut paste and coriander. The natural oil from the coconut should rise to the top. Serve hot with steamed rice.

Sunday 24 November 2013

In step

Our heaters are on now. There's one right below our living-room window, behind the brown buttoned sofa. As the heat rises up the radiator and against the glass, it makes the bare branches outside wobble like trees through tears. Hot air, cold glass: and the world dances. It always takes opposites to be in step.

D and I had our first mulled wine of the season yesterday; Chotto-ma had a hot chocolate topped with a mountain of cream and marshmallows. It was in the same old café, only it had twinkly lights hanging from its windows; it's officially winter. I'm not opposed to the cold this year as I was the last. The grey light, cold wind and the shush somehow seems full of possibilities. In the way that silence has the possibility of song and conversation, or the ttup-ttup-ttup of a hammer. We had new windows fitted yesterday to keep the cold out, and now I can't even hear the wind. The outside is playing out like a silent film, and inside, the three of us - she's drawing a fish, D is playing his guitar, I'm writing to you.

We just finished lunch; on Sundays we always have a Bengali lunch. It's my attempt at giving Chotto-ma a taste of our old Sunday afternoons in Calcutta. And we eat with our fingers, because there are some things that can be eaten no other way. You need to feel the texture, mix it with your fingers and bring it to your mouth like a prayer. Eating a Bengali meal with forks is like playing the piano in washing-up gloves. Chotto-ma now has The Art Of Eating By Hand down pat; she leaves her plate scraped spotless.

Today, we had a dal that Ma used to cook whenever she was in a hurry - a quick boil, a chop-chop, a sprinkle, and done. It's perfect for the winter, and simple like most good things are. A combination of soft and crunchy, sharp and buttery, to bring out a flavour that dances just right.

Like I said, it takes opposites to be in step.

Ma's Hurried Dal
A lemony, buttery lentil soup with raw red onions & tomato


1 cup red lentils
1 small red onion, chopped into little cubes
1 tomato, also chopped into little cubes
A generous dollop of butter
A generous squeeze of lemon
1 green chilli, chopped

Boil the lentils in one-and-a-half cups of water till cooked. Add a little more water if needed, but the consistency, when done, should not be too watery.
Take the boiled dal off the heat and throw in the rest of the ingredients.

Monday 18 November 2013

One hour

Between the time I finish work and the time I pick up Chotto-ma from school, I have one hour. An hour, if I'm ruthlessly thrifty with it: if I overtake old ladies on oedemic feet, and brush past sweet children selling cookies for charity. If I soften, I lose a quarter of that hour. A quarter; that's one slice of a four-slice pizza, when all the food you have for the whole day is that, one pizza.

That's all there is to it; it's my hour. Groceries might need buying, but not in that time. A phonecall might need to be returned, answered. But later. It's not that I do much with The Time. I certainly don't use it well; I don't know if I use it at all. I just know that I need it. I need an hour by myself like I need a drink of water.

I usually walk to the same café every day. It has an old, draughty door, through which the clatter of crockery and the clutter of conversation slip out onto the pavement. I take a coffee, go up the rickety stairs, take a table by the large sash windows, face the wall covered in books, and then, and then I do nothing much. Sometimes, I read. Sometimes, I'm too caught up in Nothing to read. Sometimes I just stare at the yellow-orange trees outside. Their leaves are leaving them now.

Do you have an hour like that?

My café smells pungent, of old drapes and spilled wine. There's such comfort in old, imperfect places don't you think? Even in old, imperfect people, for that matter. Doris Lessing died yesterday, at 94. Her books are here, on the bookshelf, at the café; there are some on my bookshelf at home; all filled with her chiselled, articulate thoughts; 94 years of carrying that mind inside her body. Couldn't have been easy.

The leaves have piled up in an hour. They're waiting there for Chotto-ma to crunch on when we walk home from school. What other purpose could they possibly have? Some of the best things in my day serve no purpose at all. Like autumn leaves on street-sides, like my empty hour, like the way I never let D climb stairs without tickling him from behind so he has to run up helter-skelter, with heavy grocery bags in both hands. No purpose other than to keep my day from disappearing.

And from those grocery bags, here's something I cooked this weekend. It came together from what I had at home; unplanned. It serves no real purpose either, apart from tasting very good. And that's all there is to it.

Halloumi, Avocado & Pomegranate Bruschetta
drizzled with Chilli-Aniseed Oil


Slices of halloumi
1 avocado, coarsely mashed, or sliced into slivers
Olive oil
Dry red chillies

Grill the slices of halloumi on a flat pan, with a drizzle of olive oil, till lightly browned. Heat olive oil in a small pan, drop in a few red chillies and a tsp of aniseed. The chillies don't add much heat, just a lovely smokey flavour. When the aniseed is lightly browned, take it off the heat. Cut slices of rustic bread, layer it first with the avocado, then the halloumi and top it with the pomegranate. Drizzle your bruschetta with the aniseed oil, making sure some of the aniseed get in there too.

"Whatever you're meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible" - Doris Lessing


Sunday 3 November 2013

Feeling a face

I made these some time ago.

There was a time when I used to think that the only way I could ever tell a story was with words. It's the only way I knew how, if at all. I didn't see myself drawing them, telling them with scraps of paper and bits of cloth.

But here's one - it's a set of two pieces, commissioned for the Tedder family. It's about Angelina and Matthew, their three young children, and their yellow-door house. It's also about the song they first danced to, the cats they loved, the garden they grew, and the years that grew in between.

On one hand, there's my fiction: stories that I make up about people who don't exist. And then, there are these - stories that I don't make up. But for both, I start out like a blind man feeling a new face.

Saturday 26 October 2013

Enter at your own risk

When I asked her what cake she'd like for her 5th birthday party, her answer was quick, sure: 'Dinosaur'. I admit I tried suggesting other options. I couldn't begin to imagine baking a cake that resembled a Stegosaurus, or any Othersaurus for that matter. But what other options could stand a chance next to earth-stomping, tree-chomping, meat-chewing monsters?

Chotto-ma is a keen follower of all things prehistoric, and a dinosaur party for her fifth birthday was the appropriate rite of passage. So, here we are.

And here's the day in pictures. It was a good, good day.





(* The dino illustration on the favor bags is from a lovely blog called Sugar Beet Press. She also has a beautiful Etsy store.)