What I don’t like about US of A

Travelling to US is always a matter of pleasure. I love being driven around in limos, friends making time to take you out in their shining cars and helping you shop (though they may never do that with their wives, but when you land in US, they consider it their sacred duty to show you all the local attractions), no need to clean and cook, and the flights with free booze.

But there are a few things I am totally pissed with. And someone with yellow hair and a grumpy face should listen and act upon it.

I can’t figure out why they must use tissues. I mean, wastage of paper, environment and all that shit apart, you hate the feel of it, butt. In fact, it feels shit hole hard! (pun intended) There is water everywhere, in the taps, shower, tub, bottles, fountains, but not a drop to jet wash the most vulnerable part of your anatomy. Being a जुगाड़ू Indian, water bottles come to the rescue, somehow reminding me of the times of toilet an old katha.

Why does everything have to be in dollars? In the world of Uber, Google maps and Amazon delivery, data is a basic necessity. But being the बनिया that you are, you don’t turn it on as every time you do, you can hear the meter turning nickels into quarters. and quickly turn it off again. And how do you shop? I mean everything gets totally multiplied by the cheap Indian mind-set and then you expostulate, 30$ (in disbelief), you mean 2000 Rs, soooo expensive, and refuse to buy it, (But then go to India and pay 5000 Rs for something worse). It is called misplaced patriotism.

Breakfast not included! Any self-respecting Indian always desires to chooses a hotel that provides free wifi and breakfast while paying no more than 120$ per night and if he finds one, Eureka! I mean, who on earth would pay 12$ (plus taxes plus gratuity) for toast and cornflakes and potatoes which is what a typical vegetarian ends up eating. Hence you skip breakfast (unless of course the company is paying for it).

These long flights are so cramped. Normally everything long is good, long legs, long.. oops, change the topic. but flights – when in cattle class, isn’t the best for your back and your legs, specially in your late forties. You can’t catch a wink; it is smelly all around with people releasing odours and socks which have no means to get out of the aircraft pores, and it is cold, the thin blanket is mostly useless. Your neck keeps rolling off, literally, and the foot starts swelling. So, though you intended to work, you end up watching worthless movies fiddling with earphones that don’t work very well and a screen that needs you to tap thrice to achieve any result (much like are you sure, are you very sure of the Microsoft fame). The only saving grace are when she asks you “and what would you like to drink, madam”.

This is followed by the lag of the jet. Sleepy in Seattle at 3 in the afternoon bang in the middle of a meeting doesn’t send the right message though everyone is looking at you in amazement, you survived 10+10 hours of flight, you are a hero. Interestingly you will find, for most folks here, Hawaii is the biggest adventure of their life. You drink some water, doesn’t work, and you hardly listen to the discussion around, focussing on fighting the deadly sleep, which finally you get rid of as soon as the meeting is over. Phew! By that time sleep is so upset with you, she refuses to come back when you need her. So, you are wide awake watching whatever it is ABC is telecasting at midnight. After a lot of cajoling, you manage to land into a slumber only to feel roaring awake at 3 am.

Who imagined getting a nice warm cuppa tea can be such a pain in the same body part discussed above. One would tend to believe that chai latte is the easiest thing to make other than Maggi. But you know, these guys have no bloody idea. They think dipping a porous bag in warm water and pointing you towards sugar sachet is the definition of making tea. And they charge you bloody 3$ (and some cents) for something which is barely lukewarm. So, in mutiny, I carry my own tea bags from desh. But my hotel refuses to provide milk powder (or creamer as they call it here, Americans are probably the ones who would call Rose by the name of crimson and get away with it). Since I have not developed the taste for black tea so far. I called and asked for it, and the girl refused to understand me, maybe it is my hinglish, i was tempted to resort to साली, दूध माँगा था, but resisted. So, black tea it is. Next time I resolved to carry my own Nestle dairy whitener.

And the food. I love the cuisines, trying various veggies and fruits and breads and chutneys and salads. But why do we say only Gujjus make food that is sweet, everything here is either cheesy or sweet, sometimes both. After a week, I am so missing, दाल चावल, curries and the spices. I almost salivate when I check out the Indian food available online, but I take one look at the price and realise that delivery charge is more than the cost of the dish, so swallow my saliva and pride and survive on my cold storage पूरीs. Yeah, पूरी and भुजिया is heaven when in the Americas.

The next time you travel to this part of the world, all fellow desi travellers are advised to add as a necessary part of their survival kit

  • A mug (or spare water bottles)
  • Tea bags and creamer
  • पूरी and भुजिया

And definitely leave behind your mental calculator.

But what happens only in America is having an ex-marine, future SeattlePD, muscular, tanned, girl in shorts driving your cab.

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Food Food

My relationship with food started when I was very young. Even as a kid, I loved the warmth of the place, the aromas and the dishes my parents cooked up. I vaguely remember sitting on the kitchen floor (our kitchen was huge, you could put a double bed and sleep), my mom making hot chapatis and my bro and I would hog like anything on simple  रोटी and भिंडी की सब्ज़ी. My dad also loved to cook, so when it was a question of specialty dishes, he would shoo mom out of the kitchen, turn his lungi into lambda/2, curse everyone around, and get going. Every couple of weeks, we would have family friends over, my parents would spend the day cooking and those coming would also bring some variety, and we would have a feast. I never knew how eating all that food never fattened me up (in contrast to even water being fattening these days).

So, was it surprising that I wanted to cook too? And my mom would not let me. See, in very early days, we had a kerosene stove, and she was not comfortable with me going close to it. When I was in about class VII, we got our first gas stove and suddenly I had access.. Still she would not let me. “You worry about your studies, you have your whole life ahead, ज़िन्दगी भर खाना तो बनाना ही है”. So what would a persistent brat like me do? I would wait for her to leave home and then I would do whatever the hell I wanted. The first vegetable I ever made was आलू की सब्ज़ी, when my parents were not at home. And it turned out to be somewhat edible, my parents ate it, with complaints, but finished it. And then there was no more stopping me.

Unlike a lot of educated girls in my generation, I knew the basic art and science of Indian cooking, all my spices and oils and what goes with what, several years before marriage. Yet, when I got married, my first kitchen experience with traditional “पापड़ सेकना आता है?”, was as tough as it goes. I passed, but barely. See, the papad turned out, not 100% flat, a little too much burnt in a few places, some pieces chipped off as I used a चिमटा and held it too tight. (I still do that, I can’t hold a papad with my bare fingers near the flames). Even after 20 odd years, I have only marginally improved. My bong food experience of yesteryear’s did not teach me “how to  सेकोfy a papad perfectly and impress your mil”.

Cooking after a full work day was not something to look forward to, but early days, I had the enthusiasm. And with practice, the daily bread churned out in one hr flat, with one curry, daal, rice and chapatis, thanks to the great invention called the pressure cooker and its separators. And once in awhile, we had friends over and I figured out quite a few things to cook, that wasn’t time consuming and went well with folks, including reusing leftovers.

These days, the biggest bottleneck with cooking is, the fellow who eats it. He will not have anything to do with pastas, but he loves Pizza; any kind of noodles is completely no, no. So most non-indian cuisines are ruled out. And he has a hate hate relationship with the most coveted spices like cloves and cinnamon. Any whiff of that and.. You end up hearing remarks like “ दाल में आज कुछ problem है” ,“सब्ज़ी hostel वाली लग रही है”, “इसमें गरम मसाला डाला है”. Talk of paranoia. The spice is not there in the house, and he can smell it. So, working with such restrictions, it is best to let the maid handle it and pass on the comments to her. In my home, you eat what the maid cooks up, or starve. Maybe he will be happy the day he can download food.

The interesting fact about cooking, my cooking, is that when I put a lot of effort into this art, the dish is typically a flop and I have had the pleasure to throw away stone cakes (cakes as hard as the adjective) which even insects refused to touch, creating food that people could barely eat and I had to finish it across three days.

The day I know my maid is going to be missing in action for the next seven (unbelievable) days, my temper starts soaring higher at the thought of being made to cook by maid. It doesn’t matter that I love cooking and it hardly takes me an hour to cook up an interesting meal from scratch (or a story like this one). My husband is content with खिचड़ी also, but when I decide to get worked up, I really work at it.

So day 1 is really, oh well, just दाल चावल. Excuse me, it does qualify as meal. And I have excuses, several of them eg, coming home tired after a hard day’s work (can you hear the dripping पसीना), followed by multiple calls and a long 3 ½ km brisk walk. Day 2 is more normal (the undying guilt of feeding दाल चावल to hubby) with रोटी and my special culinary delight called पत्तागोभी मटर (ugh, even I could barely ingest it).

Third day I decide to go experimental with अचारी दही वाली भिण्डी and when I hopefully look at my dear husband for an encouraging feedback, all I get was “ये कड़वी क्यों है?” How do I know, ask Sanjeev Kapoor. Embittered but emboldened, relentless search on the internet for the next designer dish from my exclusive boutique results in पनीर पुदीने काली मिर्च the next day (except that I forget the kalimirch part of it), but it is still a hit. Again my hopeful look (why don’t husbands get it, you are supposed to say it is awesome, to get something edible next day), and this time I got “अच्छी है”. Mere 2 words for an hours work! Wonder what I’ll try the next day? With all the encouragement I get, I would probably stick to safe खिचडी.