Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Aromas of Train Journeys

Veining the great Indian landscape, Indian Railways has connected places, homes, families, dreams, careers and more. Many a romantic relationship has sprouted  in the rhythmic sway of the cabins as students travel frequently across the country. With low fare airlines, this may have reduced , but trains in India are a journey by itself.

One of the things I always remember about train journeys is the food.  The tryst with food starts from lobbies in buildings, or cabs and rickshaws, where, sitting proudly on top of suitcases, is the tiffin carrier. A steel or plastic or any other metal container packed with cases and compartments of food.

This is usually opened at the first meal hour inside the train, with aromas of aloo parathas ( potato stuffed Indian breads), mango and mixed pickles, oil kissed and smothered potato dry fry, sweetmeats. Newspapers are thoughtfully folded and become make shift mats and trays.

In between meals are the savouries which emerge and are shared liberally with fellow travellers. These savouries  carry the aromas of the region and are absolutely addictive.

The train meals which are carried on trays by the waiters are also quite a delight. So are the hawkers peddling peanuts and fruits and tea in clay pots which can be smashed after the tea- making it very eco friendly.

Each station, or most stations in India are also known for their food specialities. Like puri and aloo ( puffed breads and potato curry) served in dry leaf plates in Jadavpur in West Bengal, pethas of Agra , the lunches at Nagpur station etc.

But what these food boxes carry with them are much more than just meals.
They carry love and the grief of separation, in a nation where families still come first, even amongst youth. Where every departure from home is an occasion for the family, with relatives and friends bidding goodbyes and wishing well. Every journey stands for a moment in life, a purpose- careers, aspirations, home coming- where often one is torn between love and comfort zones and the zeal to go out there and make one's life.

Train journeys also stand for vacations. With the family looking forward to sights and sounds of new places in the country, local tours, shopping, eating and being together.

The meals packed and consumed in the trains add to the celebrations or  act as good consolation or pepping up for emotions of separation, if any.

That is why, rich in emotions, the food in trains always taste like nothing on earth.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ma, I am going to the pub

One of the most spontaneous and unprompted responses in most youth groups across small and big town India on what they like doing after college or work is Going Drinking.

Quite a transition in India where for most families, anything remotely connected to alcohol is bad and taboo and " does not drink " is a great brownie point for a propective groom. And as for girls, even stating this is, or rather, was, taboo.

Wanted to dive deeper into this trend.

As far as the families are concerned, there is an increasing permission for the youngsters to drink.

a. Demystifying the "drunk"

For most of the younger generation, they are the first drinkers in the family.They walk into the house after a pub hangout, and go on with normal life. For the elders of the household with vivid imageries of real life drunken uncles , relatives and maybe even fathers and husbands walking in sloshed, loud decibels, even extremes like wife beating, hugely popularised as a stereotype by Bollywood as well, this is a complete reversal and also a great reassurance.

b. Lifestyle quotient

Pubbing is a lifestyle. Late night parties are the order of the day. Much more in metroes. But creeping into smaller towns as well. Earlier non drinking parents themselves may, in all probability, have taken to sipping a glass of wine in parties. Carrying a wine bottle instead of a box of sweets is also a trend nowadays. Wine has in a way erased the earlier taboos of heavy drinking and aftermaths that created the fear of "being drunk".

c. Parent child dynamics

The relationship between parents and children are also undergoing a huge transition. More permissiveness, friends rather than elders, sharing clothes and passions are the new order. With conversations freely flowing, parents today make an effort to understand the perspective of their teenage or twenty something offspring and not make blind rules that will only result in distancing them further.

When it comes to youth themselves, drinking is not the end but the means to an end.

a. Freedom

Being able to drink with buddies is a sign of freedom. From early strict societal norms, parental pressure and also from their own inhibitions. Today they have exercised relative freedom on various fronts... career choice, relationships, personal grooming, choice of gadgets etc. Being free has brought in a sense of responsibility as well, like freedom always does. Which has largely removed the self inhibitions of guzzling a beer after work at the cafe.

b. Great Hangout

With curfew hours relaxed at home and more money in the wallet than before, pubs , cafes are the new hangouts.A place to meet friends, friends of friends, a place where relationships form and break, where conversations flow.It is a great break, a good fun dose and a social life booster.

c. A stress reliever

The pressures the young face today are big. Yes, every generation had pressures of growing up. But the pace of change, the options before us, the desire to achieve in a much shorter time span has added up to the stress of the first jobber. We see younger faces at work every day, as trainees, sometimes yet to sit for their final papers. The evening hangout over a drink with ex college buddies or friends at work is a stress reliever. Even a time when fresh ideas germinate over laughter and cheer.

d. Be with it

This is more for young girls, where the inhibitions and lack of permissiveness is stronger.
But applicable to everyone in general. Being with it and not being leftout is important. So in a lot of drinking and pubbing groups, there will the Coke, Pepsi, Juice ones as well.

The Drinking Eco System

This has become much more open and hence at its flamboyant best. From happy hour deals, to crooners and rock stars jamming on weekends, to wine and meal combo offers on e commerce sites and wine shops lined with cocktail mixes and everything else, it is never been so good. This has dragged boozing out from undercover to being part of social life. Good boys drink on the silver and small screen... actually there are no good boys and girls, just smart and cool ones.

This does not mean that we are turning into a nation of alcoholics! It just signals change.
In attitude.
Emanating in behaviour.
It is about being confident.
Being responsible.
And being bold.

So there we go.
India has finally uncorked.
And pubbing is the new popular hangout and past time for young India.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Kebabs and KFC- The Indian Palate Transition

Our treat, usually on birthdays, was a meal at the local South Indian joint called Malabar.
Or , at Ming Room, a chinese restaurant.

Chinese cuisine had tickles Indian palates for decades.
So much so that noodles, or chow chow as my mother said, was dished up quite often at home.
Now the way it was cooked was simply stir frying sliced carrots, cabbage, onions and green peppers, dousing it in some soya sauce and tomato ketchup and then adding the boiled noodles wobbling in the colander, as the water seeped out through the holes. Served with more tomato ketchup.

Chilli chicken or paneer was the other dish made at home. Occasionally.

Then entered Maggi with instant noodles and our childhood changed.

The Ming rooms and Malabars holding fort in small towns were shaken out of their reverie by a new breed of fast food chains serving burgers and coffees and pizzas, with logos people had only seen in english movies and a promise of fun within the budget.

Soon this food made its appearance on the dining table.
Home cooked pizzas, grilled sandwiches, pastas are often sunday dinners served with pride by housewives to husbands and in laws. Who relish it with equal pride.

There is a sense of celebration over these non Indian origin meals.
A sense of casualness... the steel dishes may have given way to the melamine ones, forks replaced bare fingers, ketchup made its appearance again.

Grihashobha and Women's Era recipe sections now boasts of grilled aubergine and lettuce, paneer dumplings in white sauce and exotic desserts.

TV shows have shows with chefs dishing up such " conti" dishes.

Truly, our palates are changing.
Like we are.

Embracing cuisines so comfortably reflect a mindset which is open and liberal.
Signals confidence and security to move along the journey instead of staying rooted.

The fact that this change is being led by the woman of the house is also reflective of how women are equally welcoming change and donning global aprons wth elan.

As for me, I enjoy both my kebabs and KFCs .
Like most Indian families.

Shows that even when we are rooted, we can still fly.