Monday, February 21, 2011

The Love-Letter

It was another four days to Valentines Day and I was thinking up ways to impress the ol' gal. That's when I had this idea of writing a love-letter. I had long since wanted to write one but never really went about the business. So it was with a new found vigour that I approached the writing of said letter.


I thought “I am doing this thing anyway. Lemme do it properly". So I bought myself a glitter-ink ball-pen(red). Believe me I have never used one before and I have always felt that it was silly to use one. I still stand by that . But what the hell. You atleast have to make it sparkle, if not have a scented letter. Since the only perfume I have is one I wouldn’t care to put on myself let alone on the letter, I decided to go with the ‘sparkle- pen’.


I thought of making the envelope colourful. But then after lot of thinking about how I was gonna smuggle a colourful envelope, in these days of email, past my highly suspicious friends around valentines day, I dropped the plan. Instead I had to decide between a white envelope and the usual, brown, 'official', boring envelope. The white envelope looked smart and I thought of how she would find it fresh and close her eyes and smell it like those gals in Nescafe ads. But that’s when the plan went awry. You see I have seen how letters are carried about in trains and sorting offices. And as I thought of how dirty my white envelope was going to get and crumpled, I had second thoughts.The scene repeated itself(the letter delivery one), and this time I saw a dirty, smudged envelope, white in places. And how she accepted the letter at arm’s length and sniffed at it as if trying to guess where it had been.


That’s how the brown, 'official-looking', 'boring', sturdy envelope won the race over colourful and smarter rivals. The shopkeeper in the stationary must have wondered why this guy was taking one envelope, looking at it and then putting it back . Then taking the other holding it against the sunlight, then putting it back. And then with a heavy sigh taking the brown envelope and asking him how much it was. “For an envelope of one rupee of which I get 50 paise profit, and this idiot checks as if he were buying the wife jewellery. What a jack-ass. Hmmpf" -is probably what the shopkeeper thought when I handed over the one rupee.


So I take this brown envelope and glitter-pen and I look around at the other shops . My mind was swimming. Trying to think if I had forgotten anything. Nothing came to it however. What with this being my first love letter and all; the concept of love itself is enough to make the mind go swimming and a love letter was over-kill. Asking the mind to work when it had gone on a holiday is a futile task. So it was that I took my prized possessions and cycled my way to the hostel, all the while thinking about what I was going to write.


In case you are thinking "what about the paper?" Ha! way ahead of you. I had already thought about the paper. I had seen my cousins get letters from abroad written in ruled sheets where there were flowers on the border. Right when the idea of a love letter had registered itself, the mind had already selected the 'flowery paper'. But looking around the stationery I couldn’t spy any. And I felt it would be wise not to ask for coloured paper with 'flowers on the border' when I had already bought a glitter-pen and a brown envelope with a friend standing mere feet away looking for a pen. So I thought I should let the flowery paper pass for this time. Surely there must be some level on which to improve on the next time shouldn’t there? I had heard from a ‘learned friend’ that girls always look for improvement. And I thought it would be highly wise to leave room for the same. So it was glitter-pen,brown envelope and ahh...the plain white A4 size paper I had bought in a stack earlier-to write assignments which the profs here give by the truckloads. Those were my aids to inform the love-of-my-heart of my intentions...


I sat down to write. "My dear.." oh no! I hadn't given her any cute name so far and it seemed stupid to call her by her formal name. I could come back to that later; so I skipped to the 'main part'. The trick was in describing your lady-love and comparing her to the wind,the stars,the clouds, and the like. This much I knew from my English poetry in primary classes and Bollywood numbers. I decided to have a go with the stars in the sky first. "Your eyes are like the stars in the sky.." "What?!" It felt weird saying that 'cos it sounded-that's right-dumb. Try as I might I could never picture her with eyes other than what she had-normal black ones and no, not a wee bit of starlight. Done with stars I moved on to clouds, wind, and rain with no success. I just couldn't fathom as to how I could relate her to any of these. She didn't move like the wind, more like a normal person, even I could beat her at her pace.And woe be to me if I compared her hair to the clouds. That would be harakiri for sure. If anything respect the lady's hair Iam told. It comes next only to the "Am I fat?" query in the list of things-to-be-vary-of for men who want to keep a steady girl-friend. And me not wanting to test those waters decided to skip the cloud-comparison. It was then that I thought of man's best friend-internet. So I Googled 'funny love-letters' and recieved lots of inspiring rib-ticklers. But as I was not a 'software professional' proposing to his girl-friend, or the 'sailor' proposing to his gal and feeling that most of it was already well known, felt let down by the internet.


It was then, out of desperation perhaps, that I was hit by a spot of imagination, not unlike but never quite in the same category as Kekule when he fell asleep thinking about Benzene. But get me going it did. Before long I had compared my gal to the forces of nature without any discredit to her being and also to the forces in question. I finished the letter and noted that the glitter-pen literally drank ink. Writing with it also felt akin to writing with a quill(it scratches the paper) and I enjoyed that sensation. Someday I have to write with a quill I should say. With that in mind I licked my envelope shut. I then cycled down to the post-office and enquired to the guy-"How much for stamps for normal post to Noida?"(yeah I wanted to send it the normal, slow way). The guy at the counter tired at having had to answer similar questions everyday of his working existence looks up at me. He proceeds to scratch his brow,adjust his spectacles and rotate his pen. And yet manages to stare blankly at me. Perhaps he has not heard me. I repeat my question. The look is replaced with a look of irritation. Not very different from the one I got from a prof during my interview to get into IIT. I retried the same strategy I had tried at my interview-shut up and wait for him to talk. The creases in his forehead deepened to produce a scowl on his face(ditto with the interview). So keen was I in hearing what he had to say that I noticed the entire process of scowl-forming. Since it was the second time in my life that I was witness to the above phenomenon I am already becoming an expert in the details of the process. After the scowl was perfected he asks "usmein kya dikkath he?paanch rupaye ka stamp daldho aur bahar dibbe mein dal dho"(What's the problem in that?stick a five rupee stamp and put it in the box outside). I evaded his condescending look and did as was told.


Only there were two post-boxes there. Both similar in all respects. Now why would they want to create this confusion I don't understand. And one of them was freshly painted. I said a quiet prayer and dropped my letter into the one just outside the doorway-the 'older one'. I had to summon all my will to drop it as there was so much of hesitation regarding the 'right post-box'. It was thus with a battle of sorts raging on in my brain that my involuntary section commanded my hand to drop it. I have always had this weird feeling while dropping letters into the letter-box as though I had no control over them again and would never know what happened to them again. So it was that I trusted the tale of my love with the imaginary vagaries in the Indian Postal Service.


Its been six days with a national holiday and a Sunday included and the letter hasn't resurfaced yet. So much for my wanting to send it the traditional 'normal' way rather than speed-post. But hey she will know it for sure, maybe tomorrow or the day after that. And no the pleasure is not in the waiting.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mirinda!

We have our half-fries(a.k.a bulls-eye) and our full-fries(half-fry fried on both sides) in our mess here at IITK. These are the things which keep us going apart from ahem-the need to excel and think ahead. As is always the case with these things the mess-menu soon seemed boring. So in a fit of insanity bordering on harakiri we asked the waiters in the mess to surprise us with a special. And they said "sir aap mirinda khayenge?" We were like "bhaiyya lunch ke beech mein soft-drink?" To which he profusely explains that we hadn't heard him wrong and he hasn't heard us wrong and that it was a dish made from egg and yes, from the same kind that got sacrificed to make half-fry and full-fry.

He grins at our surprised and apprehensive looks and returns with a dish which is neither a full-fry nor a half-fry, but somethin 'beech mein'. As I explained earlier, he would not divulge the secrets of the chef's special. Given our keen understanding of the stuff eggs are made of and the way they are cooked ,we did come to the conclusion-oh wait...I havent told you how it looks; it had the base of a half fry, the top of a full fry and yolk in the middle. The top not that burnt. Anyway continuing from where I left off-we came to the conclusion that no hen would lay its egg like this and it had to be the workings of the chef.

After long observations and several helpings of mirinda, it was concluded that there was a possibility that the chef was probably taking a part of that which is floating on the top when it is a half fry and pour it seperately and then lay the yolk inside and then flip the remanants of the egg to make a sort of sandwich that is mirinda. There is high level  research going on in our gathering as to the minute details in the process and also the possibilities of another way that has yet eluded us completely, and is yet to drop on us like the apple which felll on Newton's head.

That the chef remains tight-lipped and the waiters no less, the secrets to the art of mirinda-making are yet to be thrown open to the outside world.. The situation is akin to Stalin's Russia and the kitchen though thrown open to inspection of the quality of food processing, has yet to be charted for  the location of the chef when he makes the fabled and mysterious mirinda. No amount of aroma-tracing and trained espionage has revealed the location where this strange process goes on. In stark similarity to the happpenings of the erstwhile Soviet Union ,the kitchen though open to 'inspection' gives the would-be inspectors the kind of welcome Stalin's state gave snooping western reporters. Every cook and helper seems to be looking at you and you feel their eyes bore into your head and there is a smirk which vanishes the moment you have seen it , telling you that they dare you to try and find out.

And the consumate power of the outside world and the big purse that it wields has had no effect on the cook and he has shown no signs of  wanting to defect and share the secret. There really seems to be good money that the chef's been paid by the mess-manager to keep his secret intact, even when approached by a 'friend' from the outside world with a bulging pocket. The reply is always the same "ande sab teek hi bana rahein he na?aap enjoy keejiye".


There has been views in our community that it might also be a matter of pride. The chef might be the descendent of a great line of chefs who had, among many other varieties, that were lost over time- the mirinda. Well anywho, since our ploy with the chef and constant espionage had drawn a dead-end, we decided that the only way ahead was to go back in time. We wanted to find out the origins of mirinda and how it had found its way into our kitchen. Though eyebrows were raised and scratched when the cook's esteemed lineage was brought up for discussion, there really was no denying it, 'cos we had never seen the likes of the mirinda elsewhere. And the cook was therefore thought to be 'ispecial'. The question was wherefrom? Theories abounded as to the anscestors of the cook and the means by which he had found his way into our midst. 

Now that the anscestory of the cook ws brought into question, arguements raged and the dining hall was the scene of spirited discussion as was never seen in any of our theory classes. The Indian cooking castes were all brought up and discussed and discarded. There was high speculation then, that the cook's genes could have found their way here from across the borders. There was sense in the arguement that together with their marauding armies the Mughals or any of the Persians who set up tent here, would also have brought their cuisine and with it their cooks. They did bring over their tandoori biriyani didn't they? which(sniggering) the Scots think is their own. There was also the possibility that the mirinda was a part of the family chain of Persian delicacies. The matter was thought to have reached some level of sense when a compatriot who until now had been diggin into his roti and dal remarked that the word mirinda hardly sounded Persian or Arabic or Urdu or any of those languages under the same family tree "Infact if anything, it sounds Italian"said our hero as he stopped to check a drop of dal dripping down to his lap. Yeah it sounded right, along with pasta and pizza, mirinda too sounded soo Italian. You have to believe me when this scoundrel still digging into his roti and dal, drawls on "guys you know, I did this interniship in Italy last year and did pick up some Italian"(pauses) where his roti and dal safely found their way into his mouth. "And the Italian word for afternoon-snack is-merenda". "AND U ARE TELLING US NOW?" Curses were showered abundantly at the man-of-wisdom who protested unsuccessfully. There was a mad scramble to finish up lunch and head to Chachan's room and onto the comp. For that's what the twenty-first century does; when in doubt-GOOGLE. Italian cuisine was looked up and there lying smack under the heading 'afternoon snack': 
Mid-afternoon snack

Most Italians, notably children, have what is called a mid-afternoon snack or in Italian merenda just after school, from about 3.00 pm to 5.00 pm. This can be anything, from fruit, yogurts, ice cream, nuts, brioches, cookies and biscuits, cake, raisins or mousses.
courtsey: Wikipedia

That the egg found no mention in the list of items was hardly of concern. Now who couldn't have wanted a snack made of egg? Perfectly possible. So with the air of champions who had solved their way out of the labyrinth in the Colosseum we looked at each other. We had solved the first step on a path of many steps that was the riddle of  mirinda. Thus was the scheme of things when we gathered in the volleyball court behind the mess after tea. The chef was sitting under the shade of the guava tree behind the mess and was talking to a fellow worker  " arre hum batha rahe the...na koyi thi madhuri dixit jaisi or na ayegi.."(chaste Lucknowi Hindi). He pauses to make a guttural noise and spit a clean dump of red paan three feet ahead of him. He proceeded to clear his throat and chews "aur hum batha rahe hein..un dinom mein ithni beed hua karthi thi...." We looked at one another. That had to be as far off from an Italian cook as there possibly was. No amount of Indianisation could have reduced a once Italian family to the heavily Lucknow-Hindi  accented, betel chewing specimen that lay ahead of us. So much for the Italian exodus to India which we had been trying to figure out.

Some discoveries are the result of hours of turmoil infront of crazy mathematical symbols and wierd diagrams, others still are brought on by chance such as the discovery of Pencillin, or Colombus's 'discovery' of America. To say that our next step on the path of the mirinda was anythin in comparison to the latter would be highly preposterous, but it was possibly in the same spirit. Anyways having drawn a dead-end again and having to see the waiters sly grin when he brought us the mirinda, it was painful to eat it notwithstanding its good effect on our taste-buds."Yeh leejiye sir, aapka mir anda". As one many a head looked up including the chap who got the 'mir anda'. "Kya bola aapne?" The fellow who got the mirinda wanted to know,his hands still frozen in mid-air. The waiter who brought it was puzzled and was in a hurry-he had another dozen orders to serve. "mir anda sir". In his puzzled nature the man spoke clearly, lost his local slang and for the first time we heard the word as it probably was actually. Mir anda not mirinda -eureka! that was it. That was probably the actual pronunciation of the word and to know the significance of this discovery, it has to be understood that it stopped our untiring search for the mystic egg on the shores of the Meditteranean and brought it closer to home. With the desi touch to the name, the search down narrowed by thousands of kilometres-it is 8135 kms from New Delhi to Napoli in Italy(ahh yes thanks to Google Maps we could figure out the exact routes taken, had the egg been brought to this land via the modern motorways).

So you can trust me when I say the search was practically cut-short when the area included India and its neighbouring lands in Asia. Why Asia? because the word mir-anda had mir which again sounded Persian like those Mir Qasams and the Mir Khayyams and the like which one hears about, and also Mongolian(according to another wise chap). The reason was 'cos the mongols had rulers like Chengiz Khan and Kuble Khan and all those Arabic sounding names and I can almost see Chengiz Khan roaring "hamein mir anda CHAHIYE!" to his frightnened cooks..I can almost feel the fiery baritone. So could the Chinese with their slashing knives have invented the mir anda along with ketchup? Would they, inspite of all the crap they feed us with in the name of fast-food, have given us something as delicious and as thought inspiring as the mir anda? The debates still rage on around the lunch table broken only by helpings of-mir-anda. All in all, it seems we have found our answer to KFC's chicken recipe.They say that they have carried around a secret for 70 odd years,ha! compare that to the centuries-old secret that is mir anda.. Rest assured though that IIT brains will find a way around this one too as they always have. Any information however, regarding this episode is requested to be unfailingly forwarded to IIT K.