The Social Network of Taste

Day in and day out, we are sharing what is happening in our lives with the outside world. Sharing personal stuff such as photos, videos and audio has become a strong and silent force in the world. Why isn’t this extended to smell and taste?
Being away from home and becoming the self-proclaimed chef that I am, I’d love to share these two traits of the food that I cook with my Mom and my friends back home. But my audience is restricted to my roomies only. The poor creatures consider themselves as guinea pigs in my lab 😉 But I think they are fine with those experiments as long as the taste buds come calling.
So, what I want is this: A Social Network of Taste. Somewhere I could share the joy of making delicious food and be able to share them with people, not just as pictures or recipes, but, as taste and smell. Unlike the abstract human senses audio and video, I understand that recreating taste and smell requires considerable hacking of nature to make it a reality. But before then, I am afraid my culinary passion will fade and I might not enjoy cooking/eating delicious food as much as I do now.

PS: Being an Indian, “delicious” for me includes variations and combinations in intensities of spicy, tangy, salty and a myriad other spices. I do enjoy the occasional sweet or a dessert, but they seldom incite the bit of the brain that is trapped in my taste buds.

USA

This post was supposed to come out long back. Anyway, better late than never.

It has been 4 weeks ~4 months since I’ve come here, to Tucson, Arizona. This place is was astonishingly hot! Landing in the peak of Fall, I should probably not be expecting this place to be like Bangalore, least of all, when I knew this was a valley city, surrounded by hills and having very low humidity. Lot of people have said that this is the worst part of the year and it gets surprisingly pleasant in a month or so. I sure am looking forward to it. [It did become pleasant. I’m loving the weather now]

First week of Grad school has passed smoothly. There was hardly anything to make it a bumpy ride. Barely into the first week, we were looking at a long weekend, thanks to Labor Day. It gets warmed up pretty quickly after this, they say. Well, it better get warmed up. That’s the whole point of coming here in the first place! [It did warm up, revved up my brain more than it was used in a long time, and thankfully so!]

Experiencing this (higher) education system firsthand has really been a new awakening. It is amazing how the “one-size-fits-all” system of education is desisted here. Each student has the choice of learning what he wants as per what his long-term goals are. If there are no goals, they say that going by the tried and tested path laid out by a few seniors is a safe one to follow. After all, who cares what kinda job one lands into as long as it keeps you contented and pays you well. [Well, being in an education system that decides what is good for you didn’t do any good to my decision-making abilities. I’m still confused about my career plan, even though if not as worse as earlier in life]

Things that are both good, and bad, at the same time happen a lot. Almost immediately after we land here, we fall into the habit of being judgmental about many things here. Specifically, the people. We brand them as Chinese are like this, Mexicans are like this, Indians are like this and so on. It really spoils the mood of being in an International setting, where we have the chances of our lives to find things about the big wide world firsthand. [This mindset is slowly receding.]

We become stereotypical and ask for directions. Right from streets, to food joints, to courses, to professors, to research activities, to job referrals etc. I hope that everyone realize that one size doesn’t fit all and the future is not far off when we come out of the needy shells and get ready to embrace things at their face value. I am happy that a few of my colleagues here are embracing that attitude already.

One of the best things that has happened after being here is an initiative called International Friends. American families in Tucson have come forward with this initiative to get to know students of different countries, thereby hoping to know more about how cultures are. I had been invited to a dinner like that and had a good time talking to my hosts.

[Added on the day of posting from here on.]

As it has been quite a while since the first draft of this post went into a slumber, I am delighted to update a few things here.

I got a research position in the university and I’m happy being an “employee” as well as a student at the same time. I’m not missing my days at Samsung/KPIT anymore. Feels awesome to experience and share it.
I had a wonderful Halloween and a tummy-licious Thanksgiving, thanks to my International Friends hosts Louise and Pam.
My cooking skills have improved. Oh damn, that would be an understatement!! I cook great enough to keep my easily bored taste buds on their nerves. 😉
Semester is getting to an end and it is unbelievable that time flies so fast. Lots of activities lined up for the last few weeks, right from term papers, lab assignments, home works, projects and final exams. The ride is about to get adventurous!

Wish me Luck.

Empty Vessels are filled with Ghosts

Italo Calvino said: The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts.

There are ghosts all around. One ghost which frequents me is the one that says, “What will people think of you?” as in, “Hey, you are going to eat with your hands?? Oh, the typical Indian that you are! What will people think of you? They will be grossed out and think that you lack the basic table manners!” Yeah, right! Talk of table manners when you are dining in India among a group of 200 people.

Oh, there are other ghosts too. Like this one, which appears every once in a while and says, “Do you really wanna do that now?” as in, “Oh, your boss has asked you to fill out a report about this year’s metrics on procrastination index of employees? Do you really wanna do that now? Come on, it is midday, you just had lunch and it is a perrrfect time for a siesta!” How can ever deny that!

There is another one. It is the law of induction ghost. “If p(x) is true for all x that you have see so far, then p(you) is true too!” This one is inherited from the typical Indian in me. “Oh, Mr. Sharma’s son studied in College ABC and he got placed in company XYZ!! What a lucky man! Son settled and all! Now, my Son will also study in College ABC. He is also a bright student. He’ll also crack it into companies like XYZ, without. any. problem!!”

Mr. Italo Calvino could not have been truer about the line that he said above. The more of the world we see, the more stereotypical we are becoming, and that breeds a lot of ghosts.

Image credit: “love Don’t live here anymore…” – © 2009 Robb North – made available under Attribution 2.0 Generic

Of friends, love, and marriage

There he is! Shows up now, after this half-an-hour of agonizing wait. But, why is he ducking behind the flower pots! Oh, I guess he’ll play his usual Surprise! trick on one of us. Silently, I told this to the others and we were waiting to see what happens. As usual, he targets the well-pampered, innocent-looking, but not-so-innocent girl of our group. 3 years since we all met and he is into his old shoes already. Within no time, the old-time chit-chat starts and continues into animated banter. People taking about jobs, companies, and future plans. And, suddenly starting to tease the married guys and gals about their marriage and kids. It was all so lively and fun. I thought we would take sometime to get comfy after all the ups and downs we’ve had in life. I mean, once upon a time, we were thick friends and came to each other during trying situations. But, a long gap can pull people apart. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the case now and God! I was glad for that!

“So, how come you haven’t married yet? I thought you would have had 2 kids by now!” he started his usual mockery. Hadn’t it been for my engineering, I’d have got married at 18; and hadn’t it been for my MBA, I’d have got married at 22! Now, being 25 and still living free as per my will was something that didn’t go down well with my family. But still, if not now, when could I ever be so independent? This discussion seemed to have enlightened to him that I am no longer the daddy-says-marry-this-guy kinda gal. There was a sudden swell of appreciation in his eye and I kinda felt proud that it came from him. This guy was my closest friend in engineering. He dropped me home, gave me advice, enquired about my crushes, settled fights between me and my boyfriend. Heck, he had the audacity to challenge me to take up an MBA and convince my dad against marrying me off. So much for being independent for a small time in my life!

Soon, other stories started coming out. None of us who were committed in college continued to be so. After listening to 2 marriages, 3 break-ups and this guy’s ever-growing list of could-be-lovers, we headed out for lunch. I felt we were no longer our daily selves of well-groomed, well-behaved 24-25 old employees. It was college days again. Everyone was elated at being together. The food session began: after some glass clanking, fork scratching, and spoon fighting, we were on our fingers. I bet that hanging out with college buddies over a morsel of good food is 10000 times more satisfying than team lunches with colleagues. The sense of belonging to a group and still being able to become kids in a matter of few seconds has a nostalgic, yet heartening feeling to it.

Soon, the married guys had to leave and we were making fun of them that their mistresses were not too pleased with them hanging out for so long. Gradually, each one of us were put into that situation and others gave the verdict as to how each would react. People told that coupla years earlier, I’d have been my husband’s permanent unpaid chef.But seeing me now, they were convinced that I’d rather make him cook for me before giving in. I tell you, it was a secret pleasure listening to that! 😉 Some time later, this guy’s verdict is passed and people told that he’d be his wife’s yes man! I knew him very closely and knew he was a romantic and that he’d love his wife a lot more than she’d expect. But my friends thinking that, it would make him a yes man shook me a bit. For a second, I thought if it was gonna be true. I despised the thought that he could become like that. My close friend, in fact, my best friend becoming his wife’s yes man was unsettling.

I argued against it and took people by surprise. Even he was giving me questioning glances and I told them in strong words that he’d treat his wife as an equal. Sensing that the situation would become serious, he cleverly deviated the topic and all was forgotten. But something had stung me. It was neither small enough to be ignored nor strong enough to be termed ‘love’. Or, was it? His part in my life flashed before me like a movie. For some part in my life he was the cynosure, and arguably, they were the best days! I could be a princess in his world and I had the feeling that he’d never let me be unhappy. OMG! The seeds of love are planting themselves in my head and I’m drifting away from reality. Suddenly I turned crimson and started blushing whenever I glanced at him. I couldn’t meet his gaze. Oh damn! that was too fast for me to handle. I was in sweet trauma, revelling in the feeling of new-found love and the inability to express it! Restlessness and excitement seeped through every part of me and I was dying to vent them all out!

I was so engrossed in keeping my emotions under control that I missed something that was being said. I was sure it was about some person out of this group. I listened a little more intently and realised a bitter truth.

He was about to get engaged to the love of his life.

It was late!

In Hunger, We Live…

You see me now as bare bones and skin

And shrug away my misery, as it ain’t yours

My zeal for survival beats that of all your kin

Because I stay hungry for days, not just hours

Bare Bones

Bare Bones

I look to the land searching for a hint of grain

Don’t you assume it is because I am a farmer

I look to the sky welcoming a sprinkle of rain

On a summer day, if it is too much warmer

Between sky and land

Between sky and land

How you wonder that I could survive

Despite the misdemeanors of Nature on me

With no food to eat and a ‘long‘ life to live

I cant to afford to call it anyone’s felony

Contemplation

Contemplation

I hate to hold out my hands, Oh giveable one

To ask for a morsel of food just to be existent

Of all the charitable deeds that could be done

Just give me some hope and make me jubiliant

Helping Hand

Helping Hand

There are channels to reach me in a way better

Than simply showing an ounce of compassion

For, in this material world, only materials matter

To support my being from eventual extinction

Support the Cause!

Click on the image to support the Cause.

Akshaya Patra is a foundation for midday meal program. It is a Non-Governmental Organization in India. It runs the world’s largest NGO midday meal program for underprivileged school children.

(Images courtesy : Please click on the respective thumbnails)

The cause is being projected elsewhere too. Kindly promote it there as well.