Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Friendships II: The college years

It is purely my opinion that the linking years between ones childhood/ early teen years and adulthood are the college years. And that these are distinct from what lies on either side. By this point of joiing college we have more than an inkling about how relationships are formed. We have been trying, with any luck, to convert our parents into our friends. We are learning, sometimes the hard way, about who our friends are, what it is to be loyal and dependable person, where the line crosses over from nice to nasty, what pettiness and greed can do and which of our inherent skills in the field of making and keeping friends will stand the test of time. And while we think we know all this it will surely be tested in college, when we discover that actually we know nothing, of life of friendships. We are yearning to become our own person, to break the shackles of dependence on our parents and siblings, while yet holding them close, for comfort in times of need. We are on the threshold (to put it vaguely poetically) of wanting the best of being independent and dependent, where our own choices must matter more than any others.

And then comes college, that zenith of what it means to be a grown up, a nearly adult. We’ve made that first choice about what to study and now, with only the gravity of a young person, can expound on how this will help us reach our career goals. This is a question oft asked - “beta, what are you going to do after class XII?”, to which you resist rolling your eyes and explain v e r y s l o w l y that you are going to study X at Y and then go on to rule the world/ become the CEO of your destiny/ get married and have a bakers dozen of children.

Once through that admission process it actual collegetime and a whole new gamut of people and fashion statements to pick and choose from. Some people may have been classmates in school but depending on how far you venture from home and how specialized your studies get this becomes a progressively smaller list. For some their whole school clique is on the same campus or at least the same U-special bus. For others they are far away from home, in a hostel (possibly for the first time) with not a familiar face for miles. Either ways there is a degree of ragging to be endured, new friendships to be sought and a degree of peaceful relations to be forged with seniors.

Over the 3 to 5 college years cliques will be formed, multiple movies watched, numerous cups of tea and coffee consumed, pocket money evaporation pondered over, cheap meals hunted down, culinary expertise in making Maggie over a hotplate mastered, study notes shared, parties organised and attended, mess food complained about, jokes about professors cracked, alcohol imbibed, day trips and getaways planned, boyfriends/ girlfriends found, rumours started, all-nighter study groups pulled, exams taken, birthdays celebrated, jokes shared, tears shared and confidences built, kept and lost. The years go by in slow motion and fast forward all at once. You join with some trepidation about what the years will bring and before you know it you are full-fledged adult making life choices like you’ve been making them, well, all your life.

On the flip side you learn about nastiness, pettiness and the world of the ‘popular’ more forcefully than ever before. Traits that are a mirror reflection of the real world sadly. You will live on one or the other side of that line and with any luck you will learn compassion and leave behind shallow thoughts like ‘we should be friends because your dad is…./ or you have a big house…/ money….’.

By the time you need to step into the big bad world, with luck you will have formed deep, enduring bonds of friendship with classmates and hostel mates. Sorted the wheat from the chaff, as it were. Friendships from childhood might now strike one as shallow, lame, innocent and child-ish but the passage of time will bring some of those to the forefront as having stood the test of time. The ones that do are meaningful. And added to this wonderful college gang of ‘undying’ friendships’ will draw your circle of friends out wider and bigger and better than ever before.

Friendships I: The bedrock

3 points before we begin:
1. This is based on my experience of 33.9 years. Even though I use the greater ‘us’, ‘you’ and ‘we’ – this just makes it easier to write – this is from my life, make no mistake
2. Any similarity to your life is purely coincidental and there are no apologies
3. As it is pure opinion and not fact, your contradictory life experience needs to get its own blog

This is the start of my diatribe (lately all my writing) about friendships. Something I have written about before and will no doubt reflect upon repeatedly as I grow older and many of my more materialistic pursuits fall short of the joy that friendships bring. This is just the first installment of all the thoughts swirling around my head.

Today I am writing about that great passage of childhood and how we all get to adult life with the aid of people, with any luck, not singular in any way. Parents, siblings, extended family of cousins, aunts and uncles, school friend, college friends, colony friends.

Some of these you are born into (parents, siblings, cousins etc) and often people make difficult choices or are hard pressed to connect with some or all of their families. For the lucky lot however this family is the basis for values, our role models and perpetual advice givers. You learn to love and respect people and their choices and every little argument and fight along the way only builds upon that ‘blood is thicker than water’ adage. Or not.

Friends, whether it’s the next door neighbours kid or your college roommate, these are choices, the weighing of what you need at that point in your life. Childhood and the teen years are often also fraught with indecision, bullying and the games that the young play. There are cliques and fights and the inevitable attempts at humour, bribery and subtle means to belong to the cool popular lot. There are the loners, the nerds, the cocktail children, the sporty and the achievers. Everyone, no matter who they are, finds ways and methods to work around or through these – to find even that illusive one friend that is theirs, who will stand with them, at lunch break, laugh at their not so funny jokes, share their homework and listen to their secrets with the gravity only a child can muster.

From all these connections appear the rock-bed of life, the support system of early adulthood, people you can call at 3am when you think you might be having a heart attack; the people who will listen to you whinge about nothing and everything for hours with only wise comments, useful advice and humour; or travel across town with lasagna from your favourite little eatery when you are unwell and then entertain you with anecdotes till you just have to smile; drink with you following heartbreak or celebrate promotions.

This rock is a hard wearing platform, and many many childhood friends and even faraway but once close relatives fall off it with the passage of time. It’s the ones that stick into your twenties that have passed the test of the time-space continuum. These are usually the people you will keep in touch with even when you move across the seas and before the advent of email. Standing in line at the phone booth to wish someone happy birthday, or posting a long hand written letter about hostel food, the small things that connect you with the foundation no matter what the distance or time. With any luck this bedrock will always be there, the basis of your start to a good, happy, well rounded life.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Churning of the demented mind

Or things that make me mad with sadness/ grief/ anger. Take your pick.

1. Levels of respect: Behaviour of a certain family member who has not the time to attend a small family function (in spite of this having happened before and it being discussed to death last time and with me thinking that some gyan had been learnt) instead choosing to stay home and play cards with friends. The genius reasoning ‘I don’t know these people and I will never have to meet them’. Which is/ was not the point at all. Having bothered to swing by for even 30 minutes under false pretences of another function, or something, would have greatly pleased another family member. And to me that counts for a lot more.

2. Growing-up: The inability of someone to do things on their own. To break free of the confines of a protective upbringing. Missing out on the opportunity to explore something of the world and be their own individual person and instead dragging the person they love along under the pretense of inability to travel alone. Or pressure. I am not sure which. From experience of both traveling alone and with someone I love, I know that both these are equally fantastic experiences – each beautiful and empowering in a different way. And in my opinion this is the age and ideal circumstances to experience the first. But this is not my life and everyone has to make their own decisions/ mistakes. Sadly I have to be the bystander that watches them.

3. Neediness: I believe that everyone needs someone. Or rather people. Some need more, giant circles of people surrounding the. Others need fewer, a chosen few to sound out their lives. But the ways of getting to either point of people in ones life are varied and fraught with cliques, dislikes, likes, interests, shallowness, neediness and many many pit falls. I find that this topic is an often uncomfortable one. To talk about. Write about. And most of all, to be in. This is something a future, possibly my next post, will explore. It will reflect the unpleasant side of life in gaining people and I will not be gentle. Consider yourselves warned.

4. Of the 610 times that this blog was viewed since I last wrote what I thought was an interesting and informative and interactive post on gifts and minimalist gift wrapping, only 6 people bothered to leave a comment. And I know 3 of them. Even if I discount repeat viewers who stalk my blog each day because without it and a cup of coffee their day would not begin, mistaken viewers who came looking for information about Sachin Tendulkar (still my top viewed post!), and myself (let’s say that itself is 50%) looking to see who was looking/ commenting, that would leave us with about 100 individuals who either never give gifts, or get gifts, don’t believe in minimalism, don’t think the ideas were innovative, don’t like my blog, are too lazy, or just lurk and never de-lurk no matter what. And here I was, hoping that at the very least people who came to my blog were different people from the morons who agree with every word that comes out of certain bloggers mouths. And who leave 392 comments for drivel writing and simple photographs that are neither great nor scintillating yet elicit comments that make you wonder where all the good words and pictures went to die. (This is not jealousy - I wouldn’t want to be any of those bloggers if you paid me all the money in the world AND threw in a book deal). Up till this point I was thankful that I don’t live in the same world as the morons. Now I realise I just live in the world of lazy and uninspired. It makes me wonder why I am still blogging? And brings home how self-absorbed I am.

As you can tell I am in a bad mood.

Friday, April 17, 2009

No wrapping required

I am terrible at wrapping things. It stems from the dreaded school notebook wrapping of my childhood when I would mess up so much brown paper that my mum would give up in exasperation and do it herself. Gifts were the same story. I would botch it up big time; crooked cuts in the paper, uneven bulges and the crushed look reminiscent of having opened a gift and re-wrapped it to give away. My mother, on the other hand, had a bag of ribbon, a selection of tissue and coloured, patterned paper and would craft beautiful bows and frills and every gift ever given would be admired for its packaging in equal measure to the gift itself.

The wrapping of things is not a skill I can even pretend to have. As a result I spend too much time looking for innovative gifts to give that involve minimal or no packaging. And in an attempt to re-stock my idea cupboard with gifts for the next year I am sharing the 10 things I am proudest of giving – in the hope that my 5 readers will leave me a comment each on what their most innovative gift ideas with minimal wrapping are.

Here are my top 10 minimalist-wrapping ideas:

1. Plants (& the odd Balloon): For his 30th birthday I woke V up to the smell of freshly baked chocolate cake, a chilli plant in a terracotta pot and a ‘happy 30th birthday’ helium balloon. Have subsequently given and received potted plants that have thrived (mostly!) – and this can be done fairly economically. I try and get mine from our local nursery or Columbia road market and then re-pot in an inexpensive terracotta/ flea market pot, tie a ribbon around the lip of the pot and viola!

2. Baby blankets: To friends with newborn child. Gift-wrapped in 4 sheets of tissue and twisted at the ends to resemble a giant toffee. This toffee wrapper trick is easy and works every time as ribbon at either end can take care of disastrous tears/ unsightly tape.

3. Jewelry, knick knacks and books: To nieces, little girls. Can be disguised in Princess themed knapsacks. Or young charges can be taken to shops and allowed to choose (under some guidance and supervision) their own gifts. This involves no gift-wrapping.

4. Desk Calendars: Make excellent New Years gifts. Small, snazzy and easily bought and shipped off a designer at Etsy, this has been my top gift to give my close girl friends for the past two years. And since they come in snazzy CD cover cases they need no additional wrapping.

5. Tickets to a musical: Can be slipped in with a card. Or else left in ones wallet (seeing as you have gifted yourself the accompanying seat) and accompanied with a meal makes a great gift. This is a rather expensive option though…

6. Cooking class voucher: Given as a Christmas gift to a friend, in a card - which finally last night she redeemed by attending an hour long class of her choice at L’Atelier des chefs. She was gushing about it via text last night and then all this morning. Says she hasn’t had such a good time in a long long while. I might use this one again.

7. Baked goodies: A small basket of home baked muffins or brownies or slices of cake. Inexpensive basket lined with parchment paper usually works a treat. Although to be fair I have only done this twice because the other few times we ate the goodies before we could leave to gift them away.

8. Wine: Needs no wrapping. Or else a fancy £1-2 paper bag from any supermarket which fits the bottle and has handles for ease of carrying it. I’m not a huge fan of this gift but have resorted to it when less than organised.

9. Jewelry: When on holiday in India I buy a lot of inexpensive jewelry, beads and silver and random materials crafted into bracelets, earrings and necklaces. My favourite haunts for these are SilverLine, Dilli Haat, the emporiums and now Fab India. I gift these away to friends in little silk cloth bags, a steady stash of which I get from India (usually free with the jewelry) or little coloured boxes from Ikea which cost about 20p.

10. Time: I have often offered my services as a babysitter by way of coupons to new mothers. I have only rarely been taken up on the offer. I have offered wandering days and evenings to friends as gifts – helping them hunt for things, wander new areas of London, organising something they need or paying for some element of a day out. These have always been accepted generously. And this is my favourite gift to give.

Now tell me your favourite gifts to give/ receive – specifically those which require minimal or no gift wrapping. Please.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dust Mountain

The bulk of last week was spent amidst billowing dust and the teeth crunching sound of saws. The first caused sneezing but more importantly the second precluded one from watching any meaningful daytime TV under volume notch 1000. Which is a health hazard and may cause burst ear drums when the sawing suddenly stops. yes, we had the carpenter in to remedy the sorry excuse for shells that we call cupboards.

The services of the carpenter were stolen off the back of the work that this Polish crew did for a friend of mine. So this one giant 7ft something man arrived each morning at 7am with his car full of cut up MDF and all his tools. Cheery fellow alright but language was a huge problem between us and a lot of our explanations had to be drawn on paper and vocalized slowly and indicated with pointing. But plied with black, sugar laden coffee he was happy to go with the flow and make changes where serious misinterpretation had taken place.

The sawing, hammering and violent application of adhesive meant that the stuff from our cupboards had to be draped across the living room furniture, packed into our 3 Samsonites, piled on beds in both rooms and covered with bedcovers. This rendered us fit for living room camping – a sport that both of us love – with me on the day bed and V on a single mattress being tortured (just me) by late night cricket watching.

In 3 short days he had put up shelves and inserted sparkling white drawers to replace the sorry MDF chests of drawers that V had slaved over and stuck onto the floor of the shells. The chests of drawers that V so diligently made have been relegated to living under the windows of the second room, storage for summer visitors. And in their place we have floor to ceiling shelves and drawers, much desired.

With the man and his materials duly paid off we spent all of Friday dusting, wiping down cupboards, vacuuming, wiping floors and doors. Then it was time to roll back the bedcovers and sort things out (read: neatly fold instead of crumple into small balls) before putting them back in SHELVES in categories. The one good thing that came from the exercise was a huge de-cluttering and 4 giant bags of clothes for the charity shop. Sadly this included jackets that I have been holding on to for too many years out of sentimental reasons and if I’m not careful might pull out of the bags (if V is not watching me like a hawk). There was a whole bag of bags that are worn to the thin, comfortable but oh-so unattractive. I also put aside a whole bunch of clothes and junk that I am sure my mother will adopt. It also turns out that V has no clothes while I own too many to any longer use the sentence “but I have nothing to wear!?” effectively to gain sympathy.

So there’s now a place for everything and everything is in its place. The floor is relatively clean and dust free. Our camping days are over.

But before I go you should torture you with what I have been tortured with all week: V’s favourite joke of the moment: “We have carpenters working in our house this week”. To which some unsuspecting person from the public or friends (who might disown us on this basis) will say “Really? What are they doing?” To which witty V will reply, “I don’t know. We don’t even have a car!” And then burst into giggles. Pliss to laugh.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Tapas anyone?

If comparisons must be made then tapas is the chaat of India. The difference is that after a few plates of tapas the Spaniards call it a meal whereas after a few plates of chaat the Indians go on to a meal. It shows in the average waistline of the countries, of this I have no doubt. Also tapas is usually at a bar or in a restaurant whereas chaat is traditionally on the side of the road at a thela/ cart although Indian ‘Sweet Houses’ now count this as part of their main businesses.

I was introduced to the idea of tapas only after I moved here. Years later on holiday to Madrid I did full justice to the idea by indulging to the fullest, visiting tapas bars around the city and imbibing like the best of them. But as a novice lover of Spanish cuisine in my first days in London I often made the mistake of ordering a range of small bites, treating them like starters and then ordering a large dish of paella to follow. I soon knew this was a mistake, heck my waistline instantly knew it was a mistake. But over the years I have learnt, or rather trained myself, on how to deal with new cuisines, what kind of thing to order, what courses work with what culture etc.

On a cold cold February evening we wrapped up work and warmly ensconced in our overcoats made a beeline for our booking at Dehesa. The last time we had traipsed around central London with friends hoping to eat there we had been told that they now took bookings, a fact not reflected by their website. So a booking was duly made and now all four of us were here to commit ourselves wholly to the experience.

The interiors of Dehesa are all wood and leather and soft yellow lighting. Even on this weekday evening it is completely filled to the brim. Our table is a tiny semi-circle near the door and we sit quite squashed together on our leather sofa. The noise levels are quite high but the four of us are chatting away, catching up on world news, life events, the economy, news of friends and acquaintances.

The menu is two simply printed sides of an off-white A4 sheet. We order drinks and then, after some discussion, a whole selection of tapas to share: Salt Cod Croquetas with Romesco Sauce, Chorizo a la Plancha, Spanish Style Meatballs with Olive Oil Mash, Turnip Tops and Chanterelles, Pan Fried Scamorza with Semi Dried Plum Tomato, Pesto and Marcona Almonds, Patatas Fritas with Romesco Sauce and Alioli among other small dishes of almonds, freshly baked bread and olives. The dishes, as is traditional, are small, but large enough for everyone to taste and possibly go back for a second bite. Each ‘small bite’ is a beautifully presented dish and they come marching along like soldiers, in small clusters, to be savoured hot or cold as intended.

You wouldn’t think that a few small plates of food shared amongst four would fill our stomachs. But it does and by the time a few hours have passed we are full and filled. It is my contention that there are few things in life as cheering as good meals and good friends. Especially on cold cheerless winter days.

Dehesa: 25 Ganton Street, London W1F 9BP. Tel: 0207494 4170. E-mail: