5. Blessings and Curses
6. The Alpha Male
7. Goa Magic
I HAVE BEEN cooking for over a year now and am on the verge of quitting it completely because it is highly stressful for me and also a fucking waste of my time. I am to be served and fed, not to lose my jet-black hair over how much salt to add. “Add salt to taste” tells me nothing, so I’ve almost always added either too little (that was easily fixed) or too much.
What I’m sharing is a recipe of the most comforting food I’ve eaten: tameta nu shaak. My mother and grandmothers used to make this at least once a week and I’d always shown my appreciation by wolfing it down with several chapatis (rotlis in Gujarati, 13 is my record) slathered with ghee, followed by a bowl of rice with dollops of ghee on it. I would then drink several glasses of cold salted buttermilk.
Ghee is not vegan; I can’t even stand the smell of it anymore and it comes from tortured, enslaved, exploited cows and buffaloes, so don’t eat it. Ghee is also extremely unhealthy as is dairy in general, and just look around at all the “pure vegetarians” sick, fat and crippled by disease caused by their own eating habits. Buttermilk is not vegan either and is a byproduct of animal exploitation, but I still love buttermilk, so I make dairy-free buttermilk (I’ll post the recipe someday) when I’m really in the mood for it.
So here’s how to make this tangy tomato curry:
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a kadhai, add ½ teaspoon of cumin seeds and ½ teaspoon of mustard seeds and let them crackle. Then add ¼ teaspoon hing (asafoetida) and stir for 30 seconds because you have nothing better to do, and then throw in ½ kg of diced tomatoes, add ½ teaspoon turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon coriander powder and ½ teaspoon cumin powder. Now add a few small chunks of jaggery, exactly 1 teaspoon of salt (not “to taste”, motherfucker – exactly one teaspoon) and let this whole business simmer for a while. When the tomatoes are soft and the aroma is in the air, you’ll know this shit is ready, but stir it about for a bit if you want to feel important.
There’s no need to top it with sev because there’s no need to make things crunchy and you’re no Tarla Dalal, so shut the fuck up and keep stirring.
Now serve it hot with chapatis or rice to four people or give them the finger and eat it all yourself. Fuck them. You’re vegan and you deserve a tall glass of cold salted vegan masala chhaas with this vegan/vegetarian/Jain/halal/kosher soul food.
Is Metallica back? We won’t know until we hear the full album because the title-track of Hardwired… To Self-Destruct is the band doing everything that made them great, but like Death Magnetic it does sound like they’re trying too hard to invoke the fire that was doused long ago.
Of course the ‘Tallica can write amazing songs; they have a whole bunch of them even in Load and Reload but surely we don’t expect a group of men who have already achieved everything they wanted and a lot more to have anything other than personal pain to make songs about. Hey, what kind of angst about what’s wrong with the world would you write about if you had a fucking big house with vintage cars and spent a lot of time in your swimming pool with fancy cigars and the finest alcohol and everything else money can buy?
I don’t grudge Metallica their success; I fucking love them more than anybody else I know, but I also recognize soulless music when I hear it. It’s not hard to tell when a band is pretending to be affected by or even concerned about problems that’ll never touch them. I catch Indian metal bands bullshitting all the time, and hell, even Slayer has written some laughable lyrics. Kerry King concerned about oil wars, really? Even Megadeth gets tiring with Dave Mustaine singing way too much about politics than he should, and he’s another dude who really needs to go vegan.
So what does Hardwired have? The riffing from Kill ‘Em All with the sound Metallica is now known for. They’ve pumped themselves up and Kirk Hammett has been made to play a solo that makes me wonder if it was Megadeth’s latest album that made these four want to see if their old fans would come back if they did this. The lyrics are terrible, as if they were written by James Hetfield’s clone in Mumbai who doesn’t deserve more of a mention than this. Read the lyrics and you’ll see them pissing on Fight Fire with Fire, perhaps trying to extinguish that as well.
I’ll take Low Man’s Lyric over Hardwired (and Lords of Summer – ha!) any day, but I look forward to the new album anyway; if nothing else it’ll make for a few more conversations about the Big 3 (Anthrax has no place in a discussion about great bands) over several glasses of whatever you drink.
NEVER HAVING EATEN BENGALI FOOD anywhere except The Calcutta Club, one has nothing to compare this quaint little restaurant in Oshiwara with, but what one can tell you is that Bengali cuisine is now one of the few one can seek comfort in without having to think. There aren’t many restaurants in Andheri that offer a soothing dining (or lunching) experience, and you know when you walk into the small place that you immediately want to be seated; the framed black-and-white pictures of old Calcutta are there to make Bengalis homesick, but they also charm you, the non-Bengali person, and as you wonder what it must be like to have been there, lived there, known that world, your eyes fall on Satyajit Ray smoking a pipe while playing a piano and on a poster of one of his movies starring Uttam Kumar and on a still from an Utpal Dutt film and suddenly it is no longer just about the food.
BUT IT IS THE FOOD for which you go back to The Calcutta Club, either to try a spicy gravy with the laccha paratha because you decided last time that next time you’d steer clear of mustard-based curries, or to eat the shukto (the delightful mixed vegetable curry) with a luchi (puri in Hindi and Gujarati) or four, or to wash down the vegetarian starters with countless glasses of aam poro shorbot (aam panna in Hindi, baflo in Gujarati) or to avoid the overrated alu posto (cooked with poppy seeds, they say, but it’s puri bhaji and that’s all it is). Yeah, most of the vegetarian dishes are vegan, and the loochees (poorees) are fried in oil and Bengalis use a lot of mustard, so you can have a cruelty-free heart attack at the age of 40. Everything about The Calcutta Club feels authentic, and one is amazed to sense it without knowing anything about the food or the culture beyond that much space, and the restaurant is adored by Bengalis who are amused at how much you appreciate it and by other non-Bengalis who never seem to mind going back to “that nice Bengali place.”
IT ISN’T UNTIL YOU GO VEGAN that you realize how dependent on nonhuman animals we humans are. How much we take from them – everything; how we exploit them – in every way; and how we don’t even think about how many lives are taken because we can’t (or don’t want to) look beyond meat, eggs and dairy – as if those are the ‘food’ items that we really want to taste and “can’t live without”.
It so happens that the first not-so-cheap restaurant you visit after going vegan is one you’ve been to quite a few times before, but as an unawakened non-vegan who wasn’t concerned at all what went into your food, as long as it was tasty, not too unhealthy; you considered yourself not a herbivore, not an omnivore, not a carnivore, but a vore – an eater. An eater of all… an eater of everything.
And now you’re looking at the menu, and you’re halfway through the pitcher of beer but you still haven’t been able to decide on what you’d like to eat. There’s absolutely nothing for you. So you order a vegetarian burger and you ask them to veganize it: cheese nahi chahiye, paneer nahi chahiye, butter nahi chahiye… The burger that comes is a shit patty between two buns. You can’t have it with the mayonnaise because it isn’t fucking vegan. The pitcher of beer is now over.
Let’s have the bruschetta, you say. Veganized. “Cheese nahi chahiye.” It arrives stillborn. It’s a fucking flop, and you’re disappointed but not surprised. See, there’s nothing to do in a situation like this, so you call for another pitcher and wonder if you should have whisky as the main course. But you’re with friends – vegetarians – who are forgoing cheese and other dairy items because you’re with them. How sweet of them.
Let’s call for pasta, someone says. They veganize it for you. “Inn ko cheese nahi pasand,” or “Inn ko dairy se allergy hai,” they tell the waiter, who isn’t surprised anymore. But the pudfucker returns grinning with parmesan on the fucking pasta as if he’s done you a huge fucking favour.
This happens every time. There’s a Mexican restaurant, and there’s one that serves finger-licking good north Indian food, and there’s a place famous for its Gujarati thali. The restaurant changes, the food changes, but the story remains the same.
BEFORE YOU GO VEGAN you’re filled with anxiety: how will you not have ghee on the roti and in your rice, how will you live without butter in a lot of things, what about dahi, buttermilk, paneer, lassi, and honey (which you never really cared much about) – all those things that always seemed harmless. The worry is mainly about the diet, because you’ll give those leather shoes away, you won’t buy leather belts again, you’ll throw the wallet away, who wears silk anyway… but how are you not going to eat a fucking pizza? What about your morning chai? Ice cream? Fuck.
And we haven’t even started talking about not eating animals, but “meat, fish and poultry” were forbidden for some of us, and that’s what makes it even worse. You thought you were an ethical vegetarian, but it hits you like a ton of bricks that there’s nothing ethical about vegetarianism; you cease to be an ‘ethical’ vegetarian when you become aware of what happens to the animals we don’t love as pets, the ones we don’t think of as ‘cute.’ This is when you see the light and awaken.
That’s when your anxiety and sense of loss turn into disgust and hatred for mankind. That’s when you stop thinking of veganism as giving up things you’ve always loved and couldn’t imagine living without, and start seeing it as boycotting animal products completely. That’s when you make a promise to yourself that you will never again pay another human to cause pain and suffering to any being that wants nothing to do with you. That’s when you go from being the person posing with the leg of an animal to one who tells others “What the fuck are you doing?” That’s when you know that Jainism isn’t a cruelty-free lifestyle, and that being a vegetarian isn’t enough. Egg whites are used to give your naan and others breads their firmness; your potato fries have natural beef flavouring. Breads aren’t Jain, fries aren’t vegetarian.
But if the nicest, kindest and most amazing of us refuse to end this cycle and continue to participate in unnecessary violence against animals for the sake of our own pleasure or convenience, you certainly can’t expect an establishment that exists solely to make profit to know how to cook food that doesn’t involve the exploitation of animals or was made without making someone who never knew what it’s like to be happy and free cry and suffer and die helplessly.