Sunday, March 30, 2008

A New-Found Love

"It's therapeutic for me," a friend had once remarked, referring to the daily chore of cooking. In Mumbai, more than in Delhi, cooking is largely an outsourced task. Breakfast is on the run, if it is more than a cup of tea or coffee, that is. Lunch is usually provided by the famed dabbawalas, the school or office catering service, or ordered from the zillion Udupi-like joints dotting the city's landscape. For dinner, most working couples rely on a cook, who will make a full meal of sabzi, dal, roti and rice.

I sometimes wonder at the big fuss we humans make of our meals. We need each ingredient prepared in a certain way--fried, boiled, steamed, microwaved; flavored with specific spices, whole or ground. Each component then has to be ideally paired with another--garlic bread with baked veggies; pita bread with hummus; pasta with wine; roti with sabzi; sambar or avial with rice; puri with chhole.... And then we come to dessert, which is the main course for many people. While we spend ages stocking up on ingredients and planning and preparing our meals; in the animal kingdom, and in much of the human world, the fight is for getting a meal at all. Sometimes, the food aspect of our lives seems an obscene waste of time to me.

At other times, the art of cooking is completely fascinating. How the same vegetable is cooked in different ways in different regions; how certain ingredients are combined to provide unforgettable flavours; how all the senses are tantalized through the act of cooking are all extremely interesting. The learning process of trying out and perfecting a new recipe is endlessly exciting.

Feeding a hungry person was supposed to be one of the biggest acts of punya in our ancient literature. I think it was not because of just filling the stomach; it was about providing a sense of peace and satiation that can only come from a good meal. There's always a little bit of the cook in a well-prepared dish; that's what lifts a meal above the level of food.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I want to write

That's a common refrain of many aspirants who want to become journalists. A subset of these also believe that they're award-winning material. Which is all good, except for the sad fact that a very large subset of these don't know the first thing about writing.

Apart from being extremely personal and subjective, the art and technique of writing cannot be easily defined. At the very least, good writing needs to convey information without confusing the reader. At its best, a well-written piece touches a chord with the readers.

Good writing is not merely stringing together grammatically correct sentences or using big words. Journalists, particularly, are also afflicted with the desire to sound knowledgeable about their subject. Most cannot resist the temptation of either sounding pedantic or cynical, to show that they're above the subjects of their writing. Slowly, this attitude seeps into life as well; which is why many senior journalists are pretty unbearable human beings.

Copy editing or reviewing a piece of information almost always holds the same dilemma for the editor--how much to rewrite and how much to let be, especially if the writer in question is obviously awful, but has too big an ego to see that. Of course, the writer could say the same thing about the editor's ego. And so, after a tough mental debate, I try to carve out a fine piece from the rough copy handed to me, and make it appear as if it was the writer's intention to do so. If I succeed, the finished product becomes my object of joy; if I don't, well, it's still better than what it was. And as you can see from this blog, I want to write too.