Monday, 24 January 2011

Nested Lists

My critics have on occasion accused me of being obsessed with making lists. Much as I would like to deny it, there are times when I am forced to acknowledge that the allegation is not wholly without basis.

Of late I have been making more lists than usual because I am going on a long holiday and there are twenty million things I need to take care of before I leave. On Sunday I was running through a list I had made last week: Things to do over the weekend. And two of the items were:
• Make a list of things to take to India
• Make a list of transactions to be handed over

I had made a list of what lists I had to make!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Sunday Comfort Food

Scarborough Fair potatoes, seasoned with (what else?) parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

The parsley is from Morocco, the rosemary is from Israel, the sage and thyme are from Spain, but they were all bought at Waitrose Canary Wharf. I love the food section of Waitrose.

I must admit the recipe is not an original one; I found it online. (Without the internet I am nothing.) My only improvisations were adding caramelised onions and grated cheddar.

Sunday, 16 January 2011


I now know enough Japanese to make smalltalk (on limited topics) with my teacher. The other day we were talking about our hometowns (Kōbe and Calcutta) and she asked me, “Karukatta wa kireina machi desu ka?” (Is Calcutta a kireina city?)

What do you say to that? The Japanese word kireina means both ‘beautiful’ and ‘clean’. Calcutta is a beautiful city, but even its greatest admirers would not call it clean.

It is not uncommon to hear negative comments about Calcutta and Bombay, often from people who have never visited these cities or bothered to look under the surface. Calcutta is my favourite city in the world, but when people speak ill of it, I usually adopt a superior, condescending attitude, rarely bothering to contradict them, much less launch a passionate defence. Perhaps this is because Calcutta is my hometown; perhaps it is because I am cool like that. But sometime back a classmate from college said negative things about Bombay, and I got uncharacteristically worked up and made some rather caustic remarks. I must have been in a bad mood that day because usually, when someone criticises Bombay, I tell them my favourite Bombay story.

When Sarbajeet was interning at a law firm in the summer of 2007, he had to go to a company’s office for a due diligence. The firm gave him the taxi fare, but in those days we were poor and a taxi ride was a lot of money. Sarbajeet naturally opted to keep the fare and take the local train.

Sarbajeet was carrying a laptop which belonged to the firm. When he was boarding the train at VT, in the crush of people trying to get on the train, the laptop bag slipped from his shoulder and fell on the platform. Sarbajeet himself was swept into the compartment by the crowds, and with throngs of people behind him fighting their way into the train, it was impossible for him to get off. He watched helplessly as the laptop lay where it had fallen and the train started to move.

At this point, someone picked up the laptop and started to run alongside the train, shouting, “Yeh kiska laptop hai?” Sarbajeet frantically shouted that it was his, and this man, this complete stranger, running full tilt to keep up with the train, threw the laptop into the compartment where it was passed over people’s heads to a shaken but deeply grateful Sarbajeet.

Ask anyone who has stayed in Bombay for an appreciable period of time, and they will always have a story to tell. Because Bombay is like that – an unpredictable city, a crazy city... I’ll say it then: a great city.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Ferry Cross the Mersey

Last Saturday I happened to be on a large bus full of people – some young and some old, speaking different languages, hailing from different parts of the world. But this was the Magical Mystery Tour bus in Liverpool, so our motley crowd had one thing in common – we had roughly similar tastes in music.

As we were passing the River Mersey, our guide mentioned that the river had a prominent place in pop music. He said, “Besides giving its name to Merseybeat, the river is also mentioned in a number of songs, notably Ferry Cross the Mersey, made famous by...?”

“Gerry and the Pacemakers,” fifty-two voices answered in chorus, and I knew I was among friends.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The 59th Street Bridge Song

I just spent a three-day weekend at Oxford and Cambridge. Oxford and Cambridge are cool places. People cycle around town and punt on the river and park Austin Sevens on the Senate House roof. They wear T-shirts which say, “Do NOT ask me about my thesis.” But what struck me most was how quiet these places are compared to London, just as – when I first moved to London – I was struck by how quiet it is compared to Calcutta.

The thing about a fast city is that, well, it is fast. And if you work in a law firm, the pace is positively frenetic. It is almost an experiment in practical philosophy – when you frequently work fifteen-hour days, you learn surprising things about yourself. You learn a little more about what makes you happy, what makes you sad. In a particularly busy week, when free time means a half-hour interval after you return from work and before you go to sleep, you learn what your priorities are. You learn about the incredible awesomeness of weekends.

You also make interesting adaptations in behaviour, and pick up new skills. I can now carry out a credit card transaction while talking on the phone, I can read a book while walking and step onto a moving escalator without taking my eyes off the page. I no longer behave like a complete idiot at supermarkets and airport security. One day, in the course of an hour-long lunch break, I managed to buy a sandwich, sushi and an overcoat, eat the first two, and still have half an hour to sit in the park and watch people go by. Of course, the desirability of being in a situation where you have to pick up skills like this is debatable.

When I was small, I would read whilst eating, and this was a perpetual bone of contention with my parents. They argued that it was unsocial, that it was an injustice to the food (and to the book), and that, on a more practical level, I would spill gravy on the pages. Now I have a better appreciation for what a luxury it is to do just one thing at a time.