Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I don’t really have a sweet tooth and I haven’t had much of an opinion about the pumpkin either. So it must have been quite a strange coincidence that among a plethora of dessert options I picked up the pumpkin pie at a recent office lunch, let alone the fact that I picked up a dessert in the first place. I have heard a lot about the pumpkin pie and its rich and old tradition and history though that did not have any bearing on my decision. Anyways surprise surprise: I really liked it. It had a very unique and distinct taste that kindled my senses.

Now this led to 2 things: I wanted to know more about its history and I wanted to make it on my own. The first one was quite easy. I was able to dig up quite a few articles that provided lots of information about its origins and its entry into popular American culture. So here’s a concerted effort to succinctly present (not bore) you with a brief peek into the life and times of Mr. Pumpkin Pie.

The Pumpkin Pie Culture: The pumpkin has been native to the continent of North America for a long long time. Northeastern Native American tribes grew squash and pumpkins and roasted or boiled them for eating. Historians think that the early American settlers from Europe (in southern New England) were not very impressed by the Indians’ squash and/or pumpkins until they had to survive their first harsh winter when about half of the settlers died from scurvy and exposure. The Native Americans brought pumpkins as gifts to the first settlers, and taught them the many uses for the pumpkin. This is what developed into pumpkin pie about 50 years after the first Thanksgiving in America. And since then the pumpkin and pumpkin pie have been an integral part of Thanksgiving, Haloween and Christmas in America.

Now to the not so easy part! I love cooking and have made many Indian sweets as well before but haven’t done much of baking. (Cakes, pies, cookies etc...) Reason being I have had the company of some wonderful friends who make excellently delicious cakes; so I never ventured into that zone. But nevertheless, making pumpkin pie turned out to be an exciting and delicious affair. So before you start cursing me I will give you my methodology (note that there is nothing really original here as you can find this recipe with slight variations in many places in the web). But I am trying to give you one of the easier ways to do it.

v      2 cups canned pumpkin, mashed or 2 cups of pumpkin pulp puree from a sugar pumpkin
v      1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
v      1/2 cup brown sugar
v      1/3 cup white sugar
v      1/4 teaspoon salt
v      1 egg plus 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
v      1/2 cup half-and-half
v      1/4 cup melted butter
v      1 teaspoon vanilla extract
v      1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
v      1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, optional
v      1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
v      1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
v      1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
v      1 piece pre-made pie dough
v      Whipped cream, for topping
v      Ready made Pie crust

The pie shell (or crust) is a very important part and adds a lot to the taste. You can either make it from scratch or get a ready-made one. I went for the easier option. If you are perfectionist, you can go for the other option too.

The Recipe:
ü       Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
ü       Take the cream cheese in a large bowl and beat it well (a hand mixer would come in handy).
ü       Now add the pumpkin and beat them nicely together until they mix well.
ü       Now mix the sugars, salt and spices and continue the beating.
ü       Add the eggs mixed with the yolks, half-and-half, melted butter and the vanilla extract and beat well for one last time.
ü       Now pour the filling into the ready-made (or self made) pie crust and bake it in the oven for about 50-60 minutes until the center is set.

That is it. Your delicious pumpkin pie should be ready and hopefully edible. Help yourself (and others) generously. The whipped cream goes well with it too.

See you next time. Pie Pie!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


It is a misty morning. The chillness of the breeze penetrates the wooden walls of my bedroom and seeps through the conducting rims of my bed and tickles my spine in a tenderly incessant way. I wake up in incoherent murmur. I mouth a few bickerings to the room heater and lock myself in the bathroom. It clicks and buzzes in anger. I rest my head on the wall and let the shower rip. The hot and cold amalgam of water brings me to my senses. Somewhat! My head hurts. 

I make fresh coffee. Its aroma sends me into a trance. I inhale my coffee twice before I sip it. I hold the mug against my temple. My forehead burns and then attains an equilibrium state. My sinus eases a bit. I skip breakfast to help the coffee linger a little longer in my interiors. My phone buzzes. Should be something important from work. I dial my office number to call in sick. Half way through, I switch off my phone and shove it under the couch. My impulse intrigues me!

The coffee has filled my brain with voodoo. I smell of the wet bark of a chestnut tree and lilacs in full bloom. A reddish brown carpet of early autumn leaves ushers me out of my house. I am filled with delight for no obvious reason. I wander around towards every earthly scent and feel heavenly mirth. It is like a waking dream as I absorb every cell of nature without effort or explanation. Something seems wrong. I pray in companionable silence!

I stare at the acacia tree, richly branched in foliage, its white blossom swaying to the gentle breeze. The veins of its translucent leaves shine against the still shy sun. A dew drop tries hard to cling on to a leaf with all its might. Gravity has the last laugh but its victory too is short-lived. The drop settles on a robin’s forehead, trying to balance gingerly. To no avail: it slides down its orangey neck towards its right wing only to be see-sawed back by its flapping and then flung into space as the bird takes flight. A moth gets a second shower. A squirrel fluffs itself in a burrow of dust-free sand. A sparrow watches on from a distance with muted exhilaration. Their routine life comes to a grinding halt for a millisecond as I enter and exit their little world in as much time. I decide to leave them alone!

A cat crosses my path. I want to be superstitious but fear hurting her sentiments. I walk on. I walk towards the pond. A very artistic water fountain stands at its center and sprays water on the geese and birds. It doesn’t fit the ambience. A fish seems surprised at an unlikely visitor. I wonder if it is feeling cold. The cygnets don’t care. A gull disperses flecks of light and languidly flies down into the murky water. Geese honk. I wonder why everyone wants me to leave!

The road seems to be winding infinitely. Is it taking me out into space? I wouldn’t mind. I don’t see people. I wonder where everyone has gone. Wait a minute: who am I looking for anyways? I cross a church with wisteria wrapped around its iron gate. Its tall blue dome reminds me of something. There is a mild rain on the skylight. The earth smells divine again and a lovely light reflects from the walls of houses. At a distance, clouds seem to get jumbled up neatly into primrose and magnolia. My soul enters the garden first. I follow!

Lilac, acacia, linden, orchids, irises, pink roses and geraniums! Am I in wonderland? The golden laburnums nod in affirmative. A heavenly music fills the air. A statue of a middle-aged man adorns the garden. It seems like an unfinished masterpiece though, as he is shivering. An old man with a grayish beard sits on a rusted bench. He is wearing a long black coat and a grayish English hat. There is something weird about his beard. I notice the fiddle and the symphony emanating out of it. I don’t know if it is Bach or Schubert. Beethoven perhaps! His fingers seem possessed in perfect intonation. Trees listen in attentively. The leaves have stopped rustling. Nightingales stay perched still on their seats atop trees and hum along. He turns in a masterly performance and the ovation is rapture. It’s over and it was perfect. They won’t hear it again. He thanks his audience. I don’t seem to exist. I don’t want to leave!

I stand transfixed. A lark looks into my eyes. My heart melts. It sings for me. I am caught in a quicksand of delight. The old man applauds its performance. It shies away into the infinite sky. I curse him silently. He doesn’t seem to notice. I close my eyes. Rain drops kiss them open. An hour passes; two. I feel the fulfillment of an unrealized dream, an unsensed expectation, an unheard longing. I turn back. I see a man behind the bushes staring at me. He has a cynical laugh intending to mock, dismiss, trivialize everything that I am, that I feel right now. I run towards him. He disappears into the woods!

It is a misty morning. The chillness of the breeze penetrates the wooden walls of my bedroom and seeps  through  the conducting rims of my bed and tickles my spine in a tenderly incessant way. I wake up in incoherent murmur. Rubbing my eyes, I look at the mirror. I see the skeptic from the woods; his eyes more cynical, mine less blind. I remember something about lilacs in bloom very vaguely. My phone buzzes. Should be something important from work. It is snowing outside and I can’t see my car. I look for my shovel!  

Saturday, December 17, 2011


On the occasion of Rajinikanth’s birthday I was watching a talk show on TV. The host asked several people as to when and how did they get attached to him or started liking him. It was a simple question but then I thought about it for a while and could not come up with an answer. I do not remember when I started liking him. It was one of those involuntary things children pick up; like a language or the tune of a song without having any clue of the lyrics. Usually we did not go to theaters to watch movies those days. But we always made an exception for every Rajini movie. Simply put: I just grew up adoring him!

Almost everyone will have his/her own reason for liking him. He has managed to entertain us in every possible way: by his on-screen persona, his off-screen charisma and even through countless Internet jokes. But that one thing that makes him rule the hearts of millions is the fact that he sheds the grease paint the moment he steps out of a studio. He never acts his life out; he lives it. Like any and every one of us. That is what makes him so irresistible. A great man living a simple life; trust me it is not easy. And I am happy that he just is!

It was his birthday this week and as usual people were busy wishing him, fans celebrated his birthday in a grand fashion, internet was abuzz with a full collection of his jokes and celebrities tweeted away to glory. Here are some of the interesting ones.

TomCruise: Happy bday Rajni Sir. I have just completed Mission Impossible 4. I heard you have completed all 99,999 levels. I know you will call me “jujuubii”!

AnnaHazare: Today I am privileged to get the CNN Rajini of the Year Award. I dedicate this award to you on your b’day! And I request you to join our fight. Together we can send corruption to the hospital!

RahulGandhi: @AnnaHazare: Did you see the power of Rajini? He has made you offer him a bribe!

SRK: They tell me I can sell any brand. They also tell me that I sell every other brand. But I always wonder how brand Rajini is worth more than everything else. And you don’t even sell it. Happy b’day Sir!

KSRavikumar: Happy bday Rajini Sir. Hope we can start Rana soon. @JuniorB: I would like to discuss about signing BetiB for a movie with Rajini Sir.

DeepikaPadukone: @KSRavikumar.. I would love to do the role of Rajini’s mother in that film!

RamGopalVarma: Retweet of a retweet: Ra-One: A 2 1/2 hour cameo by SRK in a 2 minute Rajini movie!

SRK: @RamGopalVarma: At least in Twitter, try to be original!

Birthday: Rajni Sir, I am sorry on behalf of all these ignorant people. Happy Rajni to me!

Dhanush: Rajini sir thanks you one and all for your warm wishes.

An ardent fan who doesn’t live out of Twitter sends a birthday note to Rajini’s house.
“Happy bday thalaivaa. Thank you for being a superstar on screen and being yourself off it!”

The fan gets a hand written letter from Rajini: “Thank you for your lovely card. I am touched. May God bless you and your family!”

Well, jokes and tweets apart, he is a phenomenon. And that is not because he does impossible things on screen. It is because he does an impossible thing off it. He keeps himself grounded and real. He is a great man simply because he doesn’t think he is great. And he has touched and inspired so many people in ways even he doesn’t know. I am sure everyone wants to see more and more of him: be it on screen where he bashes 10 goons with ease or a rare off-screen glimpse of him in a cotton kurta-pajama and chappals. Well, as for me, a silent wish goes out from my heart to him which hopes to see many more such birthday Rajinis!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Let me introduce to you: Mr.Raz. He is quite a character. He has decided to run for President. And he believes that his indigenous plan is going to help him trump all his opponents. What exactly is his "Carefully Weighted Plan"? Well.. See for yourself.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


He was recounting their first meeting. It was indeed a rather strange one. It was at “Hair-Cuttery” where he was waiting for his usual haircut. But something unusual happened that day because his usual hair-stylist was not available. He was greeted by a radiant smile that was destined to linger in his thoughts for a long time. It was just that he didn’t know, yet!

“My name is Piyali. How would you like your hair today?” She looked very composed, yet he had a feeling that she was very new and alien to this job.

“A 5 on the sides and scissors on top”, Aakrit ordered his usual menu. And off she was, in a no-nonsense fashion, contouring his head like an expert lawnmower. The lack of pleasantries and a sweet-nothing conversation was a welcome surprise to him and he was thankful that he didn’t have to go through that nervous routine. Within 15 minutes, he had lost one-hundredth of a pound and Piyali got a generous tip for that!

“Your hands are very deft but your heart is not here”, she was surprised at both the sharpness and the accuracy of his comment.

 “Wow.. are you a psychic by any chance! You are right. My heart and soul are in photography. But I can’t say that loud here, can I?”, she winked.

“Well.. it is a shame. You were great today in cutting. Anyways.. good luck with clicking!” He thought that the encounter was pretty entertaining for a haircut.

The next time they met, he had ignored her for an hour. He was busy watching a triangular love story heading towards a cinematic climax at breakneck speed. It had several twists and turns and after several bushes, trees and flowers, the good butterfly had triumphed over the evil one. With the battle for the female settled, it was time for another act which Aakrit decided to give a skip. It was then he noticed Piyali watching him with wide eyes. Of all places, she hadn’t expected to see him again in a butterfly observatory!

“Hello.. What a surprise. sorry.. I hadn’t noticed. I was busy capturing these wonderful creatures. Aren’t they gorgeous?”, he fumbled.

“Yes, they are. That is probably the only reason you are excused for ignoring me”, she winked. He gave her a sheepish smile.

“Didn’t know you loved photography. So are you an amateur..”, she stopped halfway looking at one of his photographs.

It was a serene shot of a jealous male that had sulked on top of a flower, looking lazily at its victorious competitor who was joyously lapping around his lady-love. The dejected male’s complete nonchalance towards the flower was so surreal. She had never known that butterflies’ emotions could be captured so vividly. It was as good a photo as she had ever seen.

“Well, I always consider myself an amateur!”, he said with a calming smile.

“Then I shouldn’t even say that I can take photos”, she was still reeling under the impact of that butterfly.

“Let me take a look!” He browsed through her huge array of butterfly captures.

“Well, to be honest, I liked your cutting more!” He didn’t regret what he said but he felt he could have said it better. “So, what do you do?” was his lame attempt at a change of topic.

“I study at the NYC Institute of Photography. My parents and “Hair-Cuttery” pay my tuition. I am into freelance as well but so far no one seems to be really interested. But that will change!” she said confidently.
“I am no one to advice, but I feel that photography is an art that you have to soak in. It will consume you and may not even give you anything in return. I would suggest you get a real job and make photography as your hobby.”

He expected a reply, a retort, but got nothing but a cold stare. An awkward silence followed and he decided it would be best for him to leave. He bid good bye as she stood there silently. He had walked a few steps then suddenly turned back. “Well.. I think I will take back what I said. I feel you will be much more happy taking mediocre photos for the rest of your life rather than making big bucks on an 8-5 job. Go for it! But you definitely got to do better than this!”

“I am glad you said that. Otherwise this would have been our last meeting”, she smiled.

Photography was the invisible thread that slowly bound them together. She would show him her photographs and he would opine frankly. He would give her a lot of suggestions on camera lenses, how to make better use of shades and angles and how to visualize the photo before actually taking it. Piyali became his new usual hair-stylist and his fondness towards his hair increased. So did his trips to Hair-Cuttery!

“So do you intend to continue as a free-lancer or do you have other plans?” It was his first voluntary venture into small talk.

“I want to work for the TIME magazine. I want to travel the world with a camera and back-pack. I want the world to see the world through my lenses.” She was erupting with enthusiasm.

“And if you somehow never make it, then what?” he knew he was pushing her.

“Be very careful of what you say. Your hair is still in my hands”, she clicked the scissors playfully. “Well, in that case, I would die trying!” Her conviction sent a shudder in him. He knew she was serious about it but he didn’t realize the extent she would go for her ambition. He probably fell in love with her at that very moment!

“Wish me luck! I am participating in TIME’s International Photography contest this year. I know it’s a bit too early. But what the heck?” she beamed.

“It is never too early. All the best!” He meant it more than ever this time.

She was really surprised when he asked her to accompany him on a trip. That was the first time he told her about his job. He worked with several social organizations and took pictures and wrote articles to help them raise funds from various circles. She could see his genius from the suffering he managed to capture in his photos and the impact it left in the heart of the donor. He was on his way to Haiti to help people there who were reeling from a deadly earthquake. She went with him!

It was a trip that she would never forget. They would spend the whole day getting food supplies to the villagers and in the evening they helped in the local hospital. He would click photos all day and would pen articles in the night. It was completely overwhelming for both of them in more than one way. She would sit all night and stare at his photos. One particular photo made her heart bleed every time. It was the photo of a small boy taking a bath outside a broken tent ignorant of a priest bringing him food and his father being carried away for his funeral. Everything about the photo was ominously magical. The afternoon sky spitting fire, the smoke which formed a halo behind the priest, the rooster which broke into a jig perched atop the dead man’s casket and the drops of water dripping from the boy’s soaked body: it was a tragic art that made her knees tremble every time. They returned home after 2 months. “Thank you for giving me the best 2 months ever”, she said.

Aakrit was fiddling the small diamond ring with his fingers. Photography had been his life. He had always been so engrossed in it that he never thought a day would ever come when he had to divide his love. What would she say? He probably knew. He remembered her beautiful eyes and the day he fell for them. He was about to leave when he suddenly remembered that the results of the International Photography competition were to be announced that day. He suddenly felt circumspect. Would this not be a good day to confess my love? What if she cannot take defeat lightly? He put the ring back on the table and sulked in his chair.

Then suddenly he sprang up and opened his laptop. He went to the TIME homepage to check out if the results were out. He checked the names of the top 3 winners were out. None of them was Piyali. A slight tremor struck his heart. Then he noticed at the bottom of the page:

“Special Mention: Piyali Ghosh. Cash award: $1000”

He jumped in the air with uncontrollable ecstasy. He was over the moon. Now nothing could stop him from getting his love today. He took his ring and put his coat on. Then his eyes fell on her award winning photo:

“It was the photo of a small boy taking a bath outside a broken tent ignorant of a priest bringing him food and his father being carried away for his funeral.”

                                                       -       A SHORT STORY BY RAJ

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