Posts Tagged

food

Malayalam Hymns

I am going to pause in my journey of scheduling posts and jump straight to the now. The clock has just passed 12 here and it is officially Christmas Day in Kerala. Merry Christmas! It is the first time that I have spent Christmas abroad and we could not have picked a more diverse place to celebrate it than here. If you are reading this from any Western country, then you will probably already have your plans laid out and your Christmas tree stacked. The only trees that exist here are of the palm variety and it is actually hot outside…it doesn’t feel like a traditional festive season at all.

Knowing that the day is about to come, let’s have a chat about Christmas Eve. I should say that as a family we do not celebrate Christmas in the form of gift-giving or eating a large meal that means you fall asleep at 4pm. However, we have been going to Midnight Mass since I was 6 and we always try to read a bit of the Bible or learn a bit more about Jesus – yes, we are weird enough to celebrate it as Christ’s birthday and try to open our minds a bit.

The picture of a church and hymns has been etched in my memory ever since I can remember. My Dad has always had respect for Christ and believes that the levels of his sacrifice transcends religion – it is something that we can all take something from. Therefore the agenda was to find somewhere where we could attend Mass. What transpired was finding a church in the town that we have just arrived in, Thekkady (I will get to how we got here later on), and working out when it was a good time to come to the Church.

It turns out that they don’t really do Midnight Mass here. It came as a surprise considering 50 percent of the population of Kerala is Christian, which is possibly the highest proportion of the faith across India. If we were going to celebrate Christmas, then it was probably going to be best to do it here. However, the service consisted of a number of plastic chairs in the courtyard of the church, with the service starting at 9:30 and finishing before midnight (I don’t understand why) and it consisted of a number of hymns completely in Malayalam with a homage to Santa Claus on a banner in the background. We lasted about 45 minutes before we realised that our seats were probably best left to those who actually understood what was going on.

Having said that, it was not a complete washout. The hotel/heaven we are staying in at the moment, Greenwoods, is a small village in the middle of the bustling town covered in greenery and blessed with tranquillity. It reminds me very much of the university in Mumbai. I will get back to the hotel situation in the post on Boxing Day, but for now let’s focus on this resort. For the festive season, they had put on a full Christmas dinner combined with a cultural show to highlight the fantastic talent that existed in Thekkady.

Everything was utterly marvellous. From a beautiful ensemble of classical South India music to the pounding passion of the local drum band and tribal dance, it was a real insight into the reality of Kerala. There was no commercialisation (other than a creepy Santa costume) and it was all outside in the open, surrounded by the beautiful ecosystem of trees and flowers that they had created for guests. It was nothing like we had every experienced before, but we felt comfortable in our skins and Christmas jumpers. It felt much more like a celebration than at home.

When you do the same thing every year, it is easy to lose the excitement. Hell, if I was sitting in my living room watching Shrek 3 for the seventeenth time after a big Christmas meal, then I imagine I wouldn’t feel inspired to open my laptop, let alone write anything down. But I guess that is a missed opportunity even if you don’t celebrate the festive period in the same way that everyone else does. Maybe doing something different might open your eyes to what else is out there.

I am not saying you can jump on a flight here tomorrow (or today – the timezones are still a mystery to me) but maybe there is something back home you can do to get in the Christmas spirit. Maybe it starts with Jesus, I don’t know.

However you are celebrating, all of us are wishing you a warm holiday season from South India! I only hope the weather where you are is as gorgeous as it is out here.

12404392_10153165989451651_1463117344_n

A Dozen Or So Lanterns

There are many things about the British influence in India that I find abhorrent. The way that the old Maharaja were treated is one such circumstance that makes me feel sick. The loss of wealth, the pandering, the lack of respect, but most of all, the idea that everything should be made into a theme park. Suprisingly, the Laxmi Vilas Palace in Baroda, the venue dedicated for the reception did not live up to any of my preconceptions. It was still lived in (albeit as a hotel – you can’t win them all!), but it was understated, elegant and absolutely beautiful.

Four times the size of Buckingham Palace, it was unmistakably one of the biggest residences I had ever seen. Considering the temple yesterday had absolutely overwhelmed me, I was starting to realise why people choose to get married in India. You don’t need to hire any decorators because every venue is furnished as if it were welcoming royalty. We were dressed like kings and queens when we arrived in the early evening – everyone else seemed to have gone for smart casual – and we went for this-is-the-only-Indian-wedding-we-are-going-to-so-let’s-turn-up outfits. I was told that the suit I was wearing was supposed to be for a lagna; I smiled politely before quickly scurrying away and taking a seat. There is still plenty of time to arrange my marriage. Not today please.

It was the first time that I saw Pooja, the bride and my cousin, at ease. She was spending time with her new husband, walking through the grounds before everyone started to arrive, and it seems like she could finally relax and enjoy herself. The culmination of three weddings in one week had obviously taken their toll. When we bumped into each other during dinner, it was so bizarre to see her as a fully-fledged adult when only a year ago we were traipsing around Mumbai in the early hours, looking for a café that would serve us. She made one of the busiest cities in the world so manageable (and now writing this in retrospect in Mumbai, I am so grateful I got to spend that time with her).

The garden banquet took most of the crowd’s attention. When we were stood outside, there was everything from a live pasta station to a coffee bar being replenished constantly under the lights of a dozen or so lanterns. You can see a glimpse of how it looked in the picture above. My stomach was still recovering so it was a case of window shopping when it came to most of the food. Like the famous Goodness Gracious Me sketch, I ended up with the blandest thing on the menu and a free reign on the desserts. I wasn’t complaining.

As the night started to draw to a close, our Indian wedding seemed to be drawing to an end. I had missed half of the festivities due to illness, had made the most of the wedding and now stood in a groom’s suit at the reception – it was fair to say that it hadn’t been the conventional way to do things. Nevertheless, it was a wedding that I wouldn’t forget soon. It was probably going to be the last time I saw Pooja for a while as she was moving to Malaysia, probably the last Indian wedding I would attend in India, and most probably one of the last that we would attend as a family (that wasn’t hosted by us). A sobering experience in a state that has banned alcohol.

I thought back to the amount of weddings that must have taken place here. The lavish receptions and bountiful food. For over a hundred years, these walls and gardens were the boundaries of so much happiness and hope. I have noted before how assumable marriage is an institution of progression and prosperity – in fact, someone noted that on these occasions that big weddings are inevitably worth it.

Although, finally the confetti hits the floor and it is time to start the rest of your life. Pooja and Eldan will be walking around Paris now enjoying the first steps of theirs, as our own journey continues. The wedding, the reason for our coming, is now over – but this is the start of a new chapter.

This is the start of our holiday.

Five Minutes on your Birthday

We were up until about 1 o’clock this morning. However, we were not excited in the run up to ripping wrapping paper off gifts or preparing ourselves for a day of constant consumption, we were contemplating. My dad, brother and I, in the absence of being well enough to go to Church this year found ourselves sitting and watching Midnight Mass on the television; one of the few times we have not actually made it in person in my life.

My father made it a tradition well before I was born. That on the eve of Jesus’ birth, we would go to Church and be a part of a tradition that has spanned for over a thousand years. We are not Christians, but it would not be Christmas without hymns, carols, prayer and a sense of peace. Although that is lost on many this year and in the last few.

The holiday has changed – it has become many different things to many people now. I actually think it is great that people spend this time with their families and even if we need to spend lots of money, buy into a consumerist culture and do all of these things as pretence, then at least it is a start. Festivals are supposed to be about remembrance and if that enables you to stop and think, then you can only take the positives from that.

But don’t lose the meaning. It is like going to someone’s birthday party, eating all of their food, enjoying their hospitality and then forgetting to say “Happy Birthday!” to the host. The reason why you all turned up in the first place. Enjoy the festivities, and make the most of your time with your loved ones but realise the sacrifice that one man made, whether you believe in the story or not.

It is not about being pedantic, neither it is about being critical nor mocking the beliefs of others. There are days where we can put our arguments to the side and understand how important sacrifice is and how one individual personified this. I usually use Christmas to read the Bible, or to learn another story about a man that is so revered around the world. It is a shame that when we subscribe to so many fantastic characters, we forget Jesus Christ because Christianity becomes a barrier.

A Prophet in Islam, an Avatar in Hinduism and the Saviour in Christianity; there are very few individuals that many of the most prevalent religions have reverence for. Take some time to understand why he was so special, even if it just for a minute in between the Eastenders special and that movie you have been looking forward to seeing. Because when you tuck in to your dinner, there was someone who broke bread and wine for your salvation, whether you followed him or not, because he believed that you would be the answer.

He believed in man. In you. I don’t think 5 minutes out of your year on his birthday is too much to ask.

Confessions of a Curious Vegetarian

As seen in The Boar (The University of Warwick’s student newspaper):

There has only been one ongoing debate in my kitchen. How can you be vegetarian? It seems that from the people I have spoken to, it is puzzling how I can walk past a pan of fried bacon without being tempted to promptly shovel it into my mouth with a huge smile on my face. Incredibly, it isn’t that difficult.

Considering I am of Indian descent, I can understand why people think that I am vegetarian because of religious reasons. And it is true that my whole family are vegetarian and we are influenced by Hinduism. The belief is that no animal should be harmed as one living thing has no right to harm another for pleasure. However, this is only a side issue for me…the real reasons are far more practical which I will discuss in a moment.

Before that, I’ll break down some myths about vegetarianism. First of all, we are not grass eaters. For those of you quizzically looking at your paper right now, I was asked this seriously by someone in my first week at Warwick… very awkward.

Secondly, we don’t only eat vegetables…we also gorge down on bread, milk and cheese (excessively in my case).

Thirdly, we don’t eat fish like some people commonly believe, those are actually pescetarians.

Fourthly, despite not eating meat, we get ready sources of protein from lentils, nuts and pulses which are actually better sources as they aid digestion.

Lastly, despite what my friends think, vegetarians don’t have less fun that omnivores. I just thought I’d point that out.

Now, joking aside, let’s get onto the real issue here. Recently, I watched a fly on the wall documentary called‘The Fried Chicken Shop’ (still available on 4oD) about a fast food outlet based in Clapham, London. There were some facts about the consumption of chicken that shocked me: “Chicken used to be a luxury. We used to eat the equivalent of just one a year. Now we slaughter 2.5 million a day.

We eat it more than any other meat and it has changed our high streets. It’s the front line and bread line of Britain” The average price of a piece of chicken was no more than £2, which accounting for profit margins, franchise and distribution costs means that the unit cost could be as little as 50p. This is the cheapest that meat has ever been, how is it possible to get it down to this price?

Well, it isn’t pretty. A prior warning before I reveal this, the link I am going to give you is not for the squeamish. If you watch “Possibly the Most Eye Opening 6 Minutes Ever on Film” (the video above) you will be able to see the impact of the cheap meat market.

I first watched it I was disturbed by the fact that you could see chickens literally being sucked up by a machine before being slaughtered. It would anyone feel sick.

The frightening truth is that it just isn’t sustainable for us to be consuming meat in this way. If we are happy to buy this cheap meat, now knowing where it has come from, can we really say that we are enjoying it? Does it not taste a little bitter? Some would now argue that eating organic and free range produce would combat this problem, but the truth is that our collective appetite seems to be insatiable.

All around the world, arable land for crops is being given up to raise livestock, which is actually reducing the absolute amount of food in weight that can be taken from the same surface area of land. It means that by continuing to pursue meaty motives, we are actually worsening the problem and reducing the efficiency of the production of other food.

Let me be clear, I am not expecting you to drop your turkey sandwiches and devote your life to munching cucumbers. But I do want you to think about the implications of what you might be putting in your mouth and the story of how it got onto your plate. Just by refusing to eat cheap meat, or by having a veggie day of the week, you can start to make a serious dent in this issue.