Berry-n-Pigment Elixir

I love to go on my weekly fruits and vegetables shopping expeditions to the Kotla market. This is one job I refuse to outsource simply because just the sight of fresh produce gives me an absolute high. Variety of berries, good source of Vitamin C and anti-oxidants, on the carts these days. Though usually called vegetables, tomatoes and cucumbers too are botanical berries. So are grapes. Carrots and beats, like all other colourful fruits and vegetables, have pigments like carotene which boost Vitamin A assimilation in our system. Make a morning drink out of these for a healthy start of the day. It’s not a ‘dil-mange-more’ tasty drink, but an agreeable way to put good stuff in.

Ingredients:

  • Goose berry
  • Cape gooseberry
  • Tomato
  • Black grapes
  • Cucumber
  • Lemon juice
  • Carrot
  • Beat

Preparation:

Dunk them all, or any of these you can find in your fridge, in a blender with some water and run on frappe. Strain in a soup strainer. You can drink it without straining too, if you mind a grainy and pulpy texture in your drink. Just takes care of your roughage daily intake too. Add some tang of lemon juice and zing of mint leaves. Customize your drink with salt, honey or chat masala.

What’s shown in the picture above gives you a small jugful to serve a family of 4-5.

Screwvirus

I have come up with a new cocktail of mine to celebrate this beautiful March afternoon. It’s a whole new experience of drinking keenu/orange juice and lemon juice and stocking up on your dose of vitamin C to boost immunity. Also I suggest we use tonic in place of soda as tonic has quinone. Hydroquinone is being tested as a possible defense against the virus. Won’t harm using some. I juiced a few kilos of Keenu and froze it in ice trays for better space management in the fridge. We plan to finish these off in a couple of weeks, no long-term storage plans. Here’s the prep. Enjoy the drink and screw the virus!

Things you need:

  • 4-5 large cubes of freshly frozen keenu/orange juice
  • 1 small measure of gin/Cointreau
  • tonic water/soda to top up
  • sprig of mint
  • salt crystals

Preparation:

  • Moisten the rim of a high ball glass. Lace it with salt crystals.
  • Drop 4-5 cubes of orange juice in the glass. Be carefull not to brush off the salt crystals.
  • Pour small measure, 30 ml of gin if the juice is too sweet. Else you can use cointreau.
  • Top up with tonic water if used gin. Else top with soda if you used cointreau.
  • Mixing cointreau and tonic to keenu juice will make it too sweet. You could balance the sweetness by adding a dash of lemon juice for tang. You trade off some of the the flavour and freshness of orange juice for some tang and extra dose of vitamin C.
  • Throw some crushed fresh mint leaves on top. You are good to go!

Rice Peetha

Rice peetha is what you see in the picture on the first page of this tab. Steamed rice flour dumplings stuffed with Bengal gram dal

This is a light, healthy and wholesome, yet filling snack for guilt free munching. It’s much liked by my colleagues and I promised to share the recipe. It’s really been long overdue. At long last….cook and eat.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup rice flour or ground poha
  • ½ cup chana dal soaked for 3-4 hours 

Seasoning:

  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 green chili
  • Fistful of green coriander leaves
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Coarsely grind the soaked chana dal along with garlic, green chilli and as little water as possible. The stuffing shouldn’t be runny. Hang it in a fine mesh – tea strainer – for excess water to drain off. Recycle this run off to make the rice flour dough. Add lots of finely chopped green coriander leaves. Add salt just before using it for filling.
  2. Set up a double boiler and turn the heat on. To make a double boiler, you can use a steel sieve on a larger vessel filled with water so that a steam chamber is created. Alternatively, you can boil the peetha in water.
  3. To make the dough use rice flour or poha. Grind poha in the dry mixer to a coarse powder. Make soft but pliable dough using warm water. 
  4. Take a large ball of dough and roll it into a 1/2 cm thick oblong the size of a small chapati. Roll it between two layers of thick poly bag (rice packet).
  5. Place the chana dal stuffing along the center of the oblong along shorter diameter. Fold it and press the edges to shape it like a well stuffed roll. When you cut this roll into slices later the layer of rice and dal should be equal in proportion. This is your guide to how much of filling to stuff in.
  6. Place the stuffed rolls, a few at a time on the steamer, cover and steam for 15-20 minutes. Alternatively, carefully drop these rolls into boiling water and let them cook for 15-20 minutes. They will float up when they are done. 
  7. Drain and leave them to cool for 10 minutes.
  8. Cut them into thick slices along the girth of the roll. They will look like slices of boiled egg. 
  9. Heat half a tablespoon of oil in a pan or wok, crackle mustard seeds, steep curry leaves and red chillies in. Quickly turn off the heat and add the slices of peetha to it. Toss them and take out. Ready to eat with a green chutney. Enjoy!

Victims of Law

I wrote this open letter, with my husband, to the Chief Justice of India some years ago. No news paper was willing to publish it. So I decided to publish it on my own. This website was borne out of that need for catharsis at that time. Setting up the website was taking time, as I was learning by doing it myself. So, I posted this letter on a WhatsApp group of aggrieved people like me, from where it found it’s way to other social media and then many more readers. I am posting it here and giving it the place long due to it. So many questions we raised back then, sadly though not surprisingly, still remain unanswered.

Victims of Law 

An Open Letter to The Custodian of not just Law but Justice and Sanity too  

To 

The Chief Justice Of India

Supreme Court

New Delhi, India

Sir, 

It’s with a very heavy heart and as a last resort that I am writing this letter to you on behalf of not just those Jaypee Wish Town Home buyers who are shocked and anguished beyond belief, but also all the future home buyers too, who are working their way through school and college and will slog throughout their youth to save enough or will mortgage their future income to home loans, to buy their dream homes.

With one stroke of a pen, the NCLT has shaken our faith in the legal system of the country by passing an order that has set wheels in motion for a legal process that leads to a possible liquidation of the assets where the money of home buyers is invested. This almost absolves the company involved, namely, Jaypee Infratech Ltd from the need to account for what it did with the money collected from the buyers. It’s like extending a helping hand to those who have defrauded tens of thousands of hapless buyers in the elusive Jaypee Wish Town project. The Law, as evidenced in this case, is definitely blind. How could the esteemed judge not see the obvious? Jaypee Associates Limited JAL (hereinafter referred to as Jack), JIL (hereinafter referred to as Jill) and the banks, they all had a commitment to serve their respective customers who trusted them with their hard earned money. The land for the project was free from encumbrances to begin with. There was no ‘act of god’ in this period of 2010-present to change anything adversely. A substantial amount, ranging between 50-100% of the total cost of the promised home, had been collected from almost all the buyers between 2012-14. Now RERA rules that 70% of the collected funds from buyers are required to be put in an escrow account and can’t be diverted for anything other than the promised purpose of construction. Even without this rule being in force back then, it’s a reasonable expectation that the same principle would have been applied and caution exercised in managing our funds. With all the conditions being favorable, why couldn’t the company complete and deliver? Where did the money go? Clearly it was misappropriated or misused or mismanaged. Shouldn’t somebody take responsibility for this and pay for it? 

Did the esteemed judge, before passing this highly distressing order initiating Jill’s insolvency process, delve deep into the accounts of the company to see how it had spent all the money it had collected from the buyers and the banks? It is easy to comprehend if a builder is unable to deliver 5-10 per cent of the units on time. Did it not appear suspicious to the Judge that a company is filing for insolvency after completing less than 10-20 per cent of the project? I mean, seriously, a robbery of humongous proportions is taking place right under the nose of the Judge and it doesn’t raise suspicion? I have no doubt that he admitted the insolvency plea within the letter of the law. What he missed was the spirit. That his decision was impacting the lives of thousands of innocent people, was probably not considered. So an order is passed that prohibits those being robbed from even seeking justice. Sadly, for the nation, when the law becomes an inadvertent facilitator to criminals, citizens become victims not just of the criminals but also of ‘the law’. 

As far as the criminals are concerned, the less said the better. Jack and Jill, always were hand in gloves, right from the days of the nursery rhyme! But they forget that when Jill fell down, Jack came tumbling after (or was it the other way round?). They issued allotment letters signed by Jack and co-signed by Jill. Funnily enough, they even sent a letter from Jack saying the project cannot be completed on time. And now they are liquidating Jill. I’m sure their highly paid lawyers would have created enough safeguards and fine print to hoodwink not just the buyers but also “the law”. So buyers who were made to believe that Jack and Jill were in this together, are now left scratching their heads as to why liquidation of Jill should require them to file claims with some bloke who refuses to even clarify what forms should be filled and keeps changing his mind about the need for the same. But this takes the cake – unsolicited advice from a section of lawyers and media alike suggests that we all file our claims or else following liquidation, we may not get anything! I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry. Why are buyers being asked to fill out a form whose implications neither Jack, Jill, IRP or the Court have bothered to explicitly state? Why should we listen to them? It sounds like a very high pressure sales pitch of a dubious product. And shouldn’t they be asking the very fundamental million-dollar question – where did the millions go? Why aren’t they putting their heads together to find an answer to that? We all know about Jack and Jill being in this together. It’s there in our allotment letters and on the bank loan papers. It’s the same set of people. Information collated from open sources like their annual reports alone suggests how intertwined they are. Why wasn’t Jack enjoined in the lawsuit? Even a child knows that Jack and Jill are inseparable, that’s why Jill came tumbling after. 

And the bank, the bank!  Now why did it go only after Jill? Does it want its money back or not? It must be absurdly insane to believe that 34,000 people will allow it to take away what rightfully belongs to the them. Something they have paid for in crossed cheques. If the bank has lost so much money as bad debt, someone in the bank must be held responsible for poor decisions. Is the bank trying to collude with Jack and Jill here, to spare them the fate of the Mallayas and Subroto Roys? And if this is the government’s plan to recapitalize the bank, with tax paid money stolen from home buyers, then God save us all !

Now, what exactly was the bank thinking here? Even if we talk about just a little over half of the buyers, then 20,000 buyers have already paid an average of Rs 50 lacs, by very conservative estimates, to Jack and Jill, which adds up to Rs10,000 crores before interest/penalties against the Rs 526 crores owed to IDBI before interest. The double whammy is that the buyers have paid an additional nearly a third of the loaned amount in interest to banks on home loans against a property that doesn’t even exist in some cases. If, just 5000 buyers with loans decide to stop paying EMIs on an average loan of Rs 20 lacs, you are looking at an NPA of a Rs 1000 crores within three months. How smart is jumping from one NPA into another twice its size? Who are the banks protecting? Not even the banks’ interests it seems. Even these back of the envelope calculations make one dizzy, how could it escape the notice of the honorable Judge? Does it not merit scrutiny by those investigating financial crimes? 

The perpetrators of this fraud of historic proportions have banked upon the desperation and the disorganization of the public whose instinctive response would be to make the best of a bad situation. They are law-abiding, mostly salaried, mostly tax paying citizens being taken for a ride by “the law”. So they will end up filing their claims and eventually take whatever they are dished out. By the time they get their apartments or refund, they would be ready to cut their losses, lick their wounds, or whatever it is that they do. Buyers will be driven into such desperation that they’ll feel lucky to just get their flats without even the penalties and other dues. Will anybody be held accountable for the money lost in interest, EMI’s paid for a property that doesn’t even exist in some cases, delayed possession, erosion of capital, etc? 

Sir, we have often been made to feel proud by the judicial activism of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Once again we expect that this esteemed institution will take cognizance of the human tragedy and take matters in its hands. The Law is not intended to embroil people in legalese and technicalities, it is expected to serve the people and provide them relief. We appeal to your esteemed office to intervene on behalf of “the people” and quash the NCLT’s decision. It not only absolves JIL of its need to be accountable, but also pushes us home buyers into a hopeless situation. We expect a full-fledged criminal investigation with forensic audit to find out where thousands of crores of rupees has disappeared. We urge you to tell the world that the law cannot be used or abused to provide relief to wrong doers. Jack and Jill have all the records of the payments made by buyers and now IRP also has all our claims duly filled and notarized. This itself is testimony to the quantum of defaults committed by the company in question. We have already lost a lot of time and money to these cheats, please spare us from spending more on lawyers and lawsuits. Don’t let these thugs threaten the victims with possible loss of their hard earned money to make them comply with something whose implications are not clear even to lawyers. This landmark case isn’t about just more than 30000 home buyers at Jaypee, it will affect our children, the future home buyers and the industry alike. If thousands of people lose money and the criminals go scot free, inadvertently aided and abetted by law, no Indian would ever make any advance payment for a home, bringing down even the honest builders (if there are any left after this case). Only criminal charges of fraud against the owners of Jack and Jill and potential jail time will make them cough up the money. If you allow this builder to cheat us out of our flats and penalties due to us, you’ll be opening flood gates for multitude of bad practices that our children in a few years, the youth and the retiring couples will be paying for when they go out house shopping. 

Sir, rhetoric aside, all of us aggrieved people, beg you to take required actions to get us our homes with the penalties and other dues, to get us relief and justice and to restore our faith in the system. This is the ‘union carbide’ of the housing sector in India. Sincerely believe you’ll ensure that it ends differently and won’t destroy the lives of the common, vulnerable and unprotected people this time.

A very harassed and frustrated Jaypee victim.

I wish…..

Wishes have a way of coming true…… 

For some years, I have been getting this feeling that we, as a civilization, are rushing past our own dreams and lives at a breakneck speed, leaving behind so much we have little time to appreciate, much less enjoy. I am a technology proud person. I do admire our scientific feats and marvel at all that we humans have created. Yet I wished we slowed down. My original proposed plan was that we switch to a four-day working week world over. Work for two days, a day off, then work for two days and two days off. Everybody collectively slows down. Nobody gets any advantage, nobody feels left behind. To my teacher’s brain committed to the ‘no child left behind’ policy, this reasoning sounded neat, fair and square and just. Who would have imagined that even this bizarre wish of mine could come true one day! Albeit in such a twisted way.

Fast forward five years and what do we have! Lock down. Worldwide. I didn’t wish it this slow!  It’s not slow, it’s still. The stillness was so palpable all day today with the janta curfew in force. The only sounds coming through the windows were chirping of birds and cooing of cuckoos. Peacocks’ and cats’ mating calls too. No traffic, no pedestrians on the streets. The only thing on the move, a rather speedy one, and I wish with all my heart not, was probably the virus. Despite warnings by doctors, three incidences of mini pandemics in the last couple of decades and many apocalyptic sci-fi novels and movies later, here we are – quarantined in our homes, sitting on a ticking viral time bomb wondering whether to consume the nice whiskeys and wines, that we have saved up, now or keep them to celebrate our survival later. 

We as a family worked out a protocol in case one of us gets infected. We even drew out verbal wills. My husband willed his vintage whiskeys to me. That’s generous of him. He really must love me! This ‘will’ business sounds sinister, yet part of me is glad that we are taking this pause. We have nowhere to go, nothing urgent to do, no guests are expected. Just sit, talk and reflect. No rush. This is going to be long haul, if we want to make it through. Get used to this stillness for a bit. 

I am a diehard optimist and don’t want to sign off on a sad note. So here’s a peppy bit. Not all wishes have a screwed up punchline. Most are happy. Many moons ago we drove from Tezpur in Assam to Tawang, a border town in Arunachal Pradesh. On the way, there’s a stretch of about 21 kms drive between Bhalukpong and Sessa which has thick fog round the day, round the year. Very low visibility, you drive mostly by instinct. It was romantic and adventurous as hell and I wished with all my heart we lived in a foggy place like that. A decade later we got posted to San Francisco and our house was on a forested hill, about four miles from the coast of Pacific ocean. From that height, we could see the ocean standing at the end of our boulevard. The mornings were mostly bright and sunny but around four in the afternoon, just about every day of the year, bales of thick fog would come rolling in from the ocean enveloping our boulevard with the romantic fog that I so loved and wished for that day many years ago. I would sit by the large picture window with my dog, taking in the spectacle and feel it infuse my senses. Wishes do have a good way of coming true too. Don’t stop wishing…….with a pure heart!

Dubai Skyline

Dubai Skyline from Burj Khalifa At the Top Sky

Sun, Sand and Sky Scrapers – that’s Dubai for you. Standing on the 148th floor of Burj Khalifa in Dubai at 555m or 1821 ft, looking down upon the skyline-ful of skyscrapers, man made creeks and water bodies, it fills one with an exhilarating pride in our technological prowess that can tame any landscape, even the most hostile ones. The city is very clean and well maintained. I had heard people say the buildings stick out of sand like sore thumb. Buildings, particularly the new ones, are aesthetically designed and look pretty good. In fact the downtown Dubai looks a bit like spread out small Manhattan. The only exception is Dubai Frame. Looks awful. really sticks out like a sore whatever.

But the inevitable question that comes to one’s mind – how sustainable are these castles in sand? Well, at first glance, all looks pretty good. If they are sustaining a busy city like Dubai which was just a few far apart villages in oases supporting few thousand strong nomadic population till just a few decades ago, it’s pinnacle of success. But one wonders how long this energy guzzling city will last! Longer than I imagine may be. Abu Dhabi, the only one of the seven emirates, does have largest oil and natural gas reserves and the Emirates are committed to sustainable development. They are harnessing solar energy as well which they have in abundance. Water remains a problem, duh!. Despite the scarcity of water, their per capita water consumption is one of the highest in the world. Too bad.

No Dubai trip can be complete without the mandatory visit to the Gold Souk and Meena bazaar for Indian wear, spices and knock off designer handbags. I made mine beating the 51 deg Celsius peak heat of mid day. Too much gold, can make you sick if you aren’t buying. If you really are crazy about owning a Chanel, LV, YSL hand bag without having to sell your kidney for it, you could settle for these replicas. Haggle shamelessly to your heart’s content. Everything goes. Offer one fifth of what they quote, just hold your ground and be prepared to walk off, they will come after you.

At the airport you will be pleasantly surprised to hear Arab airport officials wearing the white robes and the black gutrah around their heads giving instructions in Hindi. Just about everybody knows a little bit of Hindi in Dubai. This was a short sweet trip to Dubai, my first to an Arab country.

Howzaat…..

                  Time for some cheer folks!  India has won the third one dayer against Sri Lanka in the series.  As I was watching, I was wondering how the batsmen  must they feel when they get ‘out’ and walk back to the pavilion.

I’m sure their personal feeling of satisfactory performance largely depends on how long and fruitfully they’ve played their innings. Once the self set target is achieved  they generally walk back like a hero regardless of how they were dismissed. Spectators also have no problem with that. But if they loose their wicket before finishing their stipulated job, God save them from Indian spectators’ fury.

Even in that indignity of premature dismissal, in my scheme of things, there’s a gradation of humiliation for the batsmen based, largely, on spectator outrage. It’s a continuum of emotional reactions ranging from just plain  sympathetic disappointment through extreme disdain questioning the batsmen’s cricketing skills, trashing them and demanding they be dropped from the team, right up to convicting them for treason. In my personal limited knowledge of cricket, in some measure, it’s based on how they are dismissed.

I think the most heroic way of getting out is ‘run out’. That’s tops on my list. Oh how I love it!  The sweat soaked bodies running like maniacs to squeeze in an extra run in the final overs. The determined single minded expression on their faces as they dash with the longest strides possible to throw in their bat inside the crease with an over stretched arm. We sit on the edge of our seats with our tension stiffened bodies tilted forward, hoping to somehow transfer that thrust to speed up the runners enough to push them inside the crease. But despite the summation of our energies and hopes the ball hits the wicket before the batsman throws himself in. Oooh, we all go in a collective slump of disappointment. This is that ultimate heroic act of the batsman which screams “I tried, I tried hard with all I had, I went down fighting, took the bullet on my chest”. It has bravery written all over it.

But hold on, this glory of martyrdom doesn’t come easy. It has to be a clearly visible-to-the-naked-eye, beyond-doubt kind of run out. It’s that moment of dropping dead in action still holding the gun with your finger on the trigger that has the power to move millions into instantaneous mourning and teen aged girls into crushes on cricketers. It did to me. Referring to the third umpire, action replay, blinking message ‘decision pending’ on the digital board, camera frame shifting to the umpire and huddled together fielders, totally juices it out of the punch. It makes it look like one dying on a hospital bed, hooked to machines with blinking lights while everybody is watching and waiting with bated breath. It gives us time to accept and recover from the loss. The blood has dried, that moment of pain has passed. Nah, not the same thing.

Also, to get this coveted gallantry distinction one has to be just short of getting in to the crease. You can’t be a mile away from the crease. That would be seen as a colossal error of judgement. Nah, you don’t even qualify for a citation, much less get the medal. You threw your wicket. Everybody knew there wasn’t an extra run there.  How couldn’t you?

And then there’s another run out which makes you look galactically stupid and enrages the spectators no end. It’s when one batsman runs and the other doesn’t. Whoa, are you guys on the same page, in this case crease, or not?!  Or when both batsmen run after some hesitation and decide midway to turn back looking crazy confused. That’s an ignoble death. Looks like you got confused and panicked at the sight of advancing tanks.

Next up is getting ‘caught’ at the ropes by an extra tall fielder who jumped real hard to lop up the ball which was surely destined to be a six. A crazy-helluva-lucky-kinda Pollard catch. Well, this is heroic enough. The batsmen standing tall, confidently tracing the trajectory of the ball he has hit satisfactorily hard – another crush-inducing moment – and then the unbelievable catch happens, easily attributable to ‘badluck’. This is like you hurled a grenade on delayed fuse but it, for a strange reason, got deflected back and detonated closer than expected. Bravo. You are a martyr too.

Getting caught behind or otherwise gets one from neutral to mad responses. ‘Gave an easy catch – ‘wicket phenk diya, saale in paise liye honge’. Other catches are ‘ambush’. The bowler gives some covert indication to the fielders, batsman hits as anticipated and is caught by pre-positioned fielders. That’s an ambush. You should’ve seen it, been wiser.

Most humiliating way to go is getting ‘bowled’. Particularly if it’s at the middle stump. It happens too quickly. You completely misjudged, just didn’t see the ball coming, didn’t know where it was going, swung the bat at nothing. Seriously? Swung it even before the ball reached you?! That’s what I do. Don’t expect from you. It’s like holding a gun you didn’t even know how to fire. Must be the toughest walk back from the ground. Head hung down in frustration.  And God save you if you were the top order batsman and you got ‘Bowled for duck’. Nightmare for every batsman. Crush crusher situation. Previous crushes may get undone here. Tch tch tch….. ‘Hit wicket’ also falls in the same category. Makes the batsman look stupid. ‘Oh, I just pulled the trigger, didn’t know the barrel was pointed at me’ kind of a situation

Stumped is self-explanatory. The batsman is stumped.  So is everyone. ‘Oh, where the hell did this stray bullet came from!’  Mate, you’re down anyway. I would say, a rather funny way to go. It even brings a chuckle. That is, if it doesn’t happen at a crucial stage.

Now comes the most dubious way of getting out. LBW. It totally reflects the culture and ethos of most of the countries cricket is played in. I, and many like me,  can never make an LBW out without the computer generated graphics. Most times we have the fielding side going ballistic in making the appeal with wild screams or the dissatisfied batsmen asking for a review of the umpire’s decision. If the services of the digital third umpire are summoned, its fine. Otherwise, we’ve both sides giving menacing looks to each other and doubting the integrity of the umpire. Sometimes tension lingers a bit longer which may or may not culminate into abusive exchange between the batsman and the wicket keeper. All smacks of the power struggle, use of aggression, racism or bias on part of the umpire, allusion to bungling and incompetence, lack of transparency in decision making and dissatisfied consumers to bear the brunt. That’s totally us. It’s more like everyday life than cricket. LBW just doesn’t have the code or honor of the battlefield. It brings us back to our lives and the communities we live in.

Other than this minor grey area of LBW, there is glory and heroism in playing cricket itself. No matter how you are dismissed, there’s honor in just stepping on to the cricket field and playing for your country. Weather you come back with a win or defeat, dead, wounded or alive, there’s still honor and gallant in just going to the battlefield that deserves and commands the love and respect of the public for the fighters. Long live our gladiators, weather on the cricket field or battlefield!

Disclaimer : written only with the intention of providing some comic relief to the people struggling through everyday burdens of life.  With pure love and respect for the game and its fans.