Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Musings on Human Tragedies

"Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment

In a bid to keep ourselves sane, we make a few sacrifices. We make ourselves immune to what is going on around us. We think tragedies can only happen to others only- the sick, the vulnerable, the old or those in the 'danger zone'. We mistakenly assume that innocent people who define success as living each day as it comes and those who harbour ambitions as innocent as doing the day's work are not at risk. However, the definitions of how safe we are changing each day. How paranoid can we be? We have learned to be paranoid at the edges...getting used to a vastly dangerous world full of wars, genocide and murders.  Or have we? 

Like yesterday I was saddened about the attack at a cafe in Sydney- where normal people were going to a cafe, not expecting to be held hostage. But they were held under siege by a person suspected to be anti- social. And I could identify with these cafe- goers greatly-  they were like me and the fear grew larger. And today I woke up to the news of 130 children killed in Peshawar school. I thought of Malala- how she lived to face the Taliban to tell us about the conditions she faced in her school but the 130 children couldn't.  Something as routine to go to school can be life- threatening. I tune into the papers, and I see the investigations of why a teenager opened a fire in high school or a family killed themselves.  We cannot draw boundaries to any specific danger zone anymore. It fails to be about religion or state of mind or any thing that divides us. The grief is shared across the world and is real. When the world gets up again and gets ready for another day- another round of news, it feels we are brave but it also feels we are stupid. The problem is the illusion that we live in times of peace.

Yet, have we have learned to take killings, should I say lightly?  We can tolerate the live stream of a video showing massacres or collective human slaughters, or read them about in coffee table books, some of us can play violent video games and see violent films. Since  I can too, I know that we consume all this passively-  as if we are not in that moment and it happens on a different level of consciousness, as if it is trapped in the screen or in a  past moment that cannot come back. Sadly, and very sadly, fiction gains its potency from reality, and reality is rooted in the minds of individuals as ideas.  The ideas of violence are ripe in all of us- a primal remnant and as evolutionary biologists may point out- our edge to survival instinct.

I am not afraid to admit that I am faint-hearted realist- I am certain that there is nothing unreal about what happens around us and that we have cleverly adapted our faculties to duck the impact. We collectively consume death like dead- people in cinema halls and in news print. We have learned use words like "I'll kill you" kindheartedly.

As I grow older, I am trying to grasp the facts about life, death and what comes in between, so my understanding is very crude and I don't have a conclusion on how much gore is normal...but I do sense as humanity we are getting used to the concept of killing humanity- if we weren't getting used to it, we'd stop. We'd use our survival instinct to creative purposes. We have embraced the violence-accepting science and role of state–especially in the view of the Weberian political science.

When I was a child and heard about my grandfather's death my mother was sick -worried about how it would be like when the kids see a dead body. It is not easy to explain the concept of death to anyone. Of course, they did not let us kids see the dead body of my grand father.  We were too young to grasp death but old enough to sense the fear around death.  When I was about nine, I feared my parents are going to die in an accident- I faced the fear of death and wanted to be around them all the time.  This were maybe the first recollections of any kind of a real threat to my own self and identity. I still fear the sight of death- and even dealing with death of pets has been an inconsolable sorrow. Death left holes in our hearts and minds as kids and adults alike. But I feel that death due to natural reasons is relatively easy to cope with. Several years down the line- one looks at it as part of being a mortal.  There's something uglier and inane about humans killing humans. If you hate someone, leave them, drop them, do not meet them...but people choose to kill. Or kill themselves. These are the inanest thing we do as humans.

I think we should admit that it's difficult to accept humans killing humans, and just out an end to it. That it is unnatural and unwanted. I do not know how this notion will gather strength because we have seen enough as humanity, even in the past century. I have come across the non- killing view- the concept refers to the absence of killing, threats to kill, and conditions conducive to killing in human society. I am trying to learn more about it but to the "rational" mind, it seems a utopia as of now.  

I also think we should celebrate peace and those who support peace. Wanting peace, tackling conflict non- violently and keeping peace and not killing someone are not really something we celebrate as families and societies.  I know this will fall into further debates like what about soldiers who keep peace and peace keeping forces, but all I can hope that they are not the only way to keep peace.  It's tough be a Gandhian, but why not start small and discuss ways where we increase the might of good samaritans and lessen the influence of the destructive and mis- led elements. I am also inspired by Ashoka's renunciation after the Kalinga war and Alfred Nobel's remorse.   Maybe we can recognize those who reformed, and shaped their lives differently. I know a lot of people are good, and we are just left out to defend ourselves.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Roadtrip to Portland

This post is jointly authored by oBelIX and nixkina. They like to ramble at various lengths on certain topics and hence the post contains sections of their views. That also makes the post a bit lengthy but fun- ner to read!

Part 0: Planning for Portland: 

nixkina: On a rainy Seattle afternoon, I received an email from oBelIX which had things planned out by the hour. Very oBelIX. It is very characteristic of oBelIX to be ‘Sufficiently Planned’. He will have the navigator set to the correct route (as opposed to my style of consulting maps after I ‘feel lost’), buy his Frappuccino supplies in advance, he will have the miles and gallons calculated for his car…and of course, he will have figured out lunch time.  It may seem to the reader that he is calibrating too much, but when you travel with him the spontaneity and joi de vivre remain intact. Very oBelIX again. Beauty is in balance, I can see him say!

Sufficiently planned, is how one should travel: Stay open to the possibilities but have a plan to cover the most controllable, likeliest and severest risks. An exception risk was weather. Washington was slated for snowy / rainy weekend. Neither of us could control the weather so we decided to head out anyways. We carried EVERY thing that would cover for the bad weather, including an extra pair of clothes and a box of pizza- flavored chips. A road trip was long due, and it was worth the spontaneity of this journey.

We were ready to go early morning on the Saturday with his vehicle checks and GPS jing-bang. oBelIX took the customary picture of the meter and we were off. 

The Meter Reading

Part I: Getting To Portland

oBelIX: The direct route to Portland from Seattle is fairly straightforward. In a nutshell, expect:

-        A three hour drive

-        The ugliness of the Tacoma Dome about 40 minutes into the drive

-        The built-up area of Joint Base Louis McChord

-        Olympia with its wide sweeping turn overlooking a building with a dome on top

-        The speed limit going up to 70

-        The outlet malls

-        The three laned interstate over many hills

-        The industrial areas of Kelso

-        Vancouver which is full of police with radar guns trying to write out tickets

-        Portland

There is not much scope for drama on this drive. However … pause for effect … we were in for a surprise on Saturday morning. After a good breakfast, we got on the road at 10, ignoring all the warnings of 35 Fahrenheit and chances of snow near Portland. Somewhere past Federal Way, as we go over a hill, there’s a microclimate – a small snowstorm. It was the sheer unexpectedness of it that was surprising.

Part 2: Bombay Chaat

Don’t Judge a Food truck by its looks

                                                                          Garam Chai Ki Pyali ho

And Delectable Pani Puri!

oBelIX: The best Indian food in the Pacific Northwest. Copying shamelessly from my yelp review: “If Travelers Thali house is the best Indian food in Seattle then this is the best Indian food in the Pacific Northwest.” Stop for some chaat, it will be the best thing you do the whole day. Oh and after, should you need a pee break, the Multnomah County Library is a couple of blocks away. 

nixkina: We had lunch at one of those places which is so unsuspecting but so worth the effort. It is a small, green food cart, a van to be precise, run by a Punjabi aunty at Yamhill Street. I hear for 6.5 USD you can taste their thali, which is an Indian- style buffet plate. What I needed was chai and chaat. We had Malai kofta and Rice for the mains. It was too breezy to eat without blowing off our Styrofoam containers so we sat in the car and in oBelIX’s words, we belted (hogged).

Part 3: The Japanese Gardens

oBelIX : The Japanese Gardens at Portland are quiet, tranquil and peaceful. They are situated atop a hill and the drive up to the gardens introduces this quiet, peaceful tranquility in small bursts. The hustle and bustle of downtown Portland mellows. The weirdness subsides. The houses look more Scandinavian. The world starts to slow down even further. oBelIX and nixkina arrived on a cold winter day to a nearly deserted entrance.

nixkina: After we drove in the city, we stopped at the very delightful Japanese Garden. The garden is landscaped, Japanese style. It is a peaceful place where you can experience the calming effect of green and see some vistas of the city.

The board telling you that you are there

The entrance to the gardens

The path leading upto the main tea room

The garden outside the tea room

The Doll Exhibition

oBelIX: The doll exhibition was the special exhibit for the month of February. While the idea of a traveling exhibit is very cool, this Doll Exhibit failed to impress. It was miniature, the sum totality of it is contained in this photograph. There was very little to read about and it seemed like, “Well, we’ve got to put up something, here’s some dolls.”

The Quiet Lake

The winding bridge

The grazing herons

The Stream

oBelIX: These pictures highlight the true purpose and nature of the Japanese Gardens. They are for quiet, peaceful contemplation. They are for introspection. They are for not thinking. They are for carrying on a conversation in soft tones. This part of the Japanese Gardens is enjoyable only if there are no other random people about.

Part 4: The International Rose Test Garden

oBelIX: The International Rose Test Garden at Portland, proudly shows off Portland’s history in having cultivated at grown roses. The roses are unfortunately not in bloom in February so better to give this place a miss. 

nixkina: Portland is also called the “City of Roses” and it was just befitting to visit the International Rose Test Garden established in 1917. Though there were supposed to be 7000 roses in the 4.5 acre garden, we saw none, as it is still winters.  The most amazing part of the garden here is the amphitheater, venue of several cultural events. It is such a good idea to utilize the garden’s aesthetics and make it more accessible to people of the city. 

The Rose Garden

The Theatre at the Rose Garden

Part 5: Multnomah Falls

oBelIX: Multnomah falls are located at about a forty minute drive from Portland and are a very pleasant side trip. The drive there, on I-84 is one of the more scenic Interstate drives with the Columbia river on one side and the mountains on the other. On a clear day Mount Hood looms tall on the horizon. The round trip usually takes a nice three hours and makes for an enjoyable break. It was a snowy, blustery day as we neared the falls and the trail to the upper falls was closed due to ice. Nevertheless, we got some good pictures of the falls.

nixkina: We then drove off to one of the most scenic drives along the Columbia River to reach Multnomah Falls. By then, the weather was snowy and rainy. The sights were still very beautiful.  You can see below in the picture that the road is just alongside the river. This entire area is called the Gorge National Scenic Area. 

Columbia River 

The Drive

Multnomah Falls

It was snowy!


Part 6: Out and About Portland in the evening

nixkina: We strolled around to see the buildings and the shops. We went to a fancy paper shop- which sold expensive and handmade stationery. We also went to Powell’s: the largest independent bookstore in the world. We browsed through books end enjoyed the cook book section. oBelIX brought back the world map, which we plan to put up in our home. We also got back a funky pair of socks for me, and “I love lunch” bag for him.
After a fun discussion (about which serves the most fanciful desserts) and comparison of Yelp and other ratings, we reserved at Oba. Oba was a lively Caribbean restaurant which lived-up to our culinary expectation. We had a relaxed dinner. 

                                                  Oba is a fun, irreverent place serving good food!

My Mahi Mahi!

Post-dinner, oBelIX also suggested a dozen full of Voodoo donuts. And I never thought that this fried snack could be dressed up so wackily with everything one can find: cereals, jelly, cream, nuts, fruits, confections and what not. Portland style, VD even served gluten free doughnuts. It was even a dinner for a family of four.  

                                                                              Doughnut buy so many!

If you are not into doughnuts (ha! Freudian slip not intended), you could buy Voodoo merchandise: underwear, T-shirts, bags, toys, guns (Ok! I didn’t see that one!). Voodoo is open 24x7. 

After our Voodoo magic, we headed back, where I tried to understand from obelIX about how to best drive at night on freeways. I also tried to expose some flaws in great Hindi hit songs of our time, but I realized I need to rewind it too often to get his attention. We replayed the names of cities and towns we had crossed earlier and the day. It is worth remembering the route to Portland.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Brady Bunch Invades Korea, in Delhi

It took all of us weeks to decide on the next eatery to explore in New Delhi. Until one of suggested Gung for sampling Korean fare. And I do recall seeing this place while walking down Green Park several times but I did not pay heed to the detailed sign board (maybe my Korean is not that good! :)). They also have a branch in Gurgaon, but I really do not get a hang of that area, so we decided to go to the Delhi one on a Tuesday, coinciding with every one 's availability and NK's birthday. And no, none of us are those "Aaj-mangalwaar- hai, aaj-toh-anda-bhi-nahi khayenge types" as it will be evident later on in the post. Warning for pure vegetarians ahead, you may see disturbing (food) pictures. Though as a general advice, Gung has lots to offer vegetarians who are okay with eggs or tofu.  

Our awareness about Korean food started and ended with kimchi (pickled, fermented vegetables often cabbage). That is before visiting Gung. Now we know a bit more. Also, Gung means a palace. 

Note the address in case you plan to visit em.

The interiors were done up like a typical Korean household, with apparently Korean staff (none of us could tell, the Orient is a mystery, I tell you). We climbed up two floors to arrive at our seating area which was very comfortable and rather private. We got one right next to the kitchen, which we mildly protested about since the kitchen was noisy and the smell of fish was prominent. But since we had made a reservation and it was that sort of place where others had too, we did not create a fuss to move to another seating area. I really liked the dolls and the lamps there. 

The photo appears wider, and the dolls seem plumper. Camera usually adds 5 kgs. Video camera would have added 10. 

Dig those hanging lotus lamps!
A Tiny Witch Hung in Gung
I like!

We were frank with the hostess about the ignorance about the cuisine or the culture. We were surprised to see metal chopsticks. It is usual for Koreans to have spoons and chopsticks, both made of stainless steel. 
I am equally bad at using spoons, forks and/or chopsticks. I would flunk those table manners classes. We all would if we pretended like walruses (walrusii raises an error in MS Word!). 

Only focus on the metal chopsticks and the custom table mats, ignore the tit-bits of food!

Now to the food!

We were greeted with Barley tea...which was well, Barely Tea. It did not have any aroma or color or distinctive taste. As we read the elaborate menu, we got confused and decided to ask our hostess about which appetizers she would suggest first timers. I thought Beef is usually main course. I did not know about any Beef appetizers except stuff like Empanadas which primary beef eaters like Argentines preferred.  

As we discovered, Beef is also important to Koreans. In my view, besides beef, Koreans are gung-ho about a few ingredients: grains (rice, barley, etc.), sesame, fish, pepper, radishes and ginger. We had all of this on our table in a few minutes. 

A cook came to our table and grilled the beef on a crystal dish. I never thought of a crystal dish. Well, mysteries of the Orient strike again. 

Crystal Grilled Beef

While she did that, we had plenty of Banchan on our tables. Banchan are side dishes.  I liked the spicy anchovies (myulchi bokkum). I did not risk tasting the radish and fish starter. The egg dish with pancakes and some khimchi tasted good too. Some of us found the kimchi too pungent for daily consumption (Opinions!). Funnily, they had pasta for the uninitiated and un-adventurous (read: boring). There was a bean and pepper sauce, which definitely had more than a dash of alcohol. What I figured that either food was too bland or too pungent or umami if tasted individually, so you had to mix and match from the smorgasbord to suit your palate. 


We also ordered sea weed rolls or Gimbap, which were decent. I liked it with the pink ginger vinaigrette or Gari. Pink ginger is another of those very Asian ingredients, often used in sushi and such. 
Seaweed roll or Gimbap

Another one of those random things on the table (Iceberg lettuce, green peppers, cucumber and carrot) in-case any one wanted to shift to vegetarian fare before the main course arrived!

To be honest, I was too full for mains (Beef is mains, no? Holy cow!).  All of the others were Gung-ho about ordering main course. NK suggested crabs and I suggested prawns, we could not reach a solution so we ordered a Seafood casserole (it had a Korean name which I forgot). P&P were fine with the proposition since somehow it reminded them of their recent sojourn to Goa. We could choose what we wanted in a well, rather a sea of food. We expected a baked dish. We were surprised again. We had another stove on our table, this time with seafood broth simmering over fire. 

You can see octopus and crabs clearly

I am leaving with you some pictures of what happens next to this. I of course cannot playback all the funny conversations we had.

Did we ever mention table manners?

We were to full for desserts (did you know Stressed spelled backwards is Desserts?). The images of cake waiting for us back in the car were too tempting.

The wonderfully yummy cake by PC/Jules, shot like it's an electric one!
On a random note, in case you feel like having kimchi (and they sell it by the kilo) you know where to go in Delhi. 
We paid the bills and thanked the friendly, apparently Korean staff. I leave, full & proud, Delhi is slowly changing, into a more vibrant capital. If you are the kinds who wouldn't mind trying new flavors and enjoy cultural immersion (okay, you can have Chole Bhature too, later), Gung should be a box in your checklist. It is a palace to try!