Three Weekends of Chaos

January 24, 2007

Two weekends ago, Amit and I had a long and serious conversation, at the end of which we decided…. Wait for this… that we really, really needed a second workstation at home. The reason was that, when we both work from home (whether working hours or evenings or weekends) one of us gets the workstation and the other gets the dining table and unadorned laptop. So far, I had been the “other” and hadn’t really minded. But now, I decided I needed the monitor to work on photographs (because the definition of “working from home” includes doing personal computer work using the home laptop and laptop screens don’t show true colors) and so Amit got to use the dining table. This was ergonomically so highly unsuitable for his build, that a new monitor was immediately purchased.

If you’ve stopped blinking at that brilliant non-sequitur, you’ll realize that this was just Amit’s way of getting us to buy a slim, flat, no-butt, BIG, sexy monitor, purportedly for me to use. This new monitor would sit on the dining table, and so would I (at, that is, not on) and I would use VNC (which it took him all day to configure on my office laptop – DON”T ask me why) over wireless to use the home laptop for photo-work. Amit, as before, would sit in the study, with the old (please note, the old) monitor at the old workstation.

That was the plan.

It didn’t last long. A few hours after the new monitor arrived, it had been firmly installed in place of the old monitor, and the old monitor had been firmly dumped in the guest bedroom cupboard (DON”T ask me why), where it was entirely inaccessible to me.

Thereafter, we spent that entire weekend trying to come up with a plan for how a second workstation could be concocted with the furniture we currently had in the house, because I could certainly not be expected to move the heavy, old, fat, ugly CRT monitor onto and off of the dining table every time I needed to use it. Amit enthusiastically set about dismantling a trolley that had always been part of our dining room furniture, intent on turning it into a workstation. After struggling at re-engineering it for one-and-a-half days, he was reluctantly forced to the conclusion that it was eminently unsuitable for workstation use. By that time, we had already purchased a replacement for the dining room, which I had spent roughly eighteen hours screwing together. It was a great example of totally unskilled carpentry, but it served the purpose and was a little more elegant than the trolley it had replaced.

So now we had a spare trolley, a spare monitor (not to mention a keyboard and mouse that had somehow slipped into the shopping cart along with the monitor), even a spare power strip, and still no second workstation.

Finally, last Sunday, after much discussion and experimentation we realized that none of the furniture we had at home could be adapted to workstation use, and we’d have to bite the bullet and go buy a ready-made workstation. So, like fools venturing where angels fear to tread, we hopped into the car and headed for Central Street. This, as many of you know, is stone’s throw from Shivajinagar – and that day, there were plenty of stones being thrown in the neighborhood of Shivajinagar, but of this small matter we were blissfully unaware. Pleasantly surprised to find little traffic and easy parking, we walked into the nearest shop, stated our requirements and were informed that the workstation would be manufactured and sent to us the next day, Monday. Of course, in the event, no workstation reached us on Monday, as Central Street closed down less than an hour later and did not reopen till Tuesday.

Now, the reason that it becomes really critical to get that big, fat, old monitor out of the cupboard in the guest bedroom and decently housed in the second workstation is that my parents and sister are visiting this weekend. And this weekend begins on Thursday!

My parents will not be staying with us due to various reasons too complicated to go in to here, but my sister will. And I can’t very well have her open the door of her cupboard and find the backside of a hulking big monitor staring her in the face. Well, I suppose I can, but I’d rather not.

The advent of parents and sister has also made a lot of other activity necessary. For starters, cleaning up the house, an activity which is usually only undertaken under threat of death or in-law visitations; since neither situation had threatened for several months now, the house had returned to its customary state of being, namely subdued chaos. The guest bedroom has a tendency to become a junk yard in a very short time, so enormous amounts of junk need to be unearthed and shifted out (to the study) whenever visitations are impending. The cupboard has to be emptied, the carpet has to be laid out, and the bed has to be re-discovered and made. Making the bed in a proper “western” style (bottom sheet, top sheet, with blanket laid on top and sheet turned over the blanket-top, bed-cover tucked under and over pillows with pillow-cases matching the bed-sheets) is exhausting at the best of times and doubly so when the bed in question is a 40kg cotton mattress spread on the ground adjacent to the wall and needs to be hefted this way and that in order to tuck in all the spare miles of sheet.

Additionally, I have the delightful tasks of cleaning bathrooms, tidying the study, and changing all the covers and runners in the living room.

As if all that weren’t enough, I found that my house-cleaning maid has been shirking work in a big way (what’s new about that) and that the balcony attached to the guest bedroom had about 25 kg of dirt in the far corner, and, what’s worse, some horrible weed had begun growing in it!!! I got so mad that I managed to scrape my thumb and cut my finger (and will probably develop tetanus) trying to clean all that.

Naturally, whenever I’m doing all this activity, Amit is busy watching tennis on TV, which leads in short order to an extremely volatile situation (him shouting at the television set and me shouting at him).

Once I had the house looking almost respectable (but for the monitor in the cupboard, where skeletons should be), Amit mentioned that the car could do with a bit of a clean-up as well. I told him to send it for servicing, and guess what? He did. Instead of fixing the problems with the zip-zap-zoom locking (no, that’s not the brand name, but you know what I mean) they made it worse, and now the back door will neither lock nor unlock centrally. But at least it looks clean and smells nice.

On our last trip to Metro (stocking up on liquor for the parents), we had made a monumental error. We sampled the cold meat cuts by the meat counter and enjoyed them so much that we picked up a roast leg of lamb, and a roast turkey leg and breast. Total cost: ~Rs 1200! Since we hadn’t bothered to check prices when picking up the cold meat, we almost swooned on the spot when we saw the bill at the checkout counter. How could we have spent Rs 1200 on 2 kilos of non-veg?

Our fridge being too tiny to accommodate 1200-bucks worth of non-veg, we sent the turkey home with some friends (hoping they’d eat it and we could then charge them for it) and stuffed the lamb leg into our freezer. Somewhere during the following two weeks, the shock of the price tag wore off and we braced ourselves to thaw and taste the lamb. It was quite nice… it’d do nicely for the impending family visit. I thawed it overnight and sliced it into sandwich-size chunks for our lunches.

Now it’s Wednesday and I’ve almost caught up with the laundry overflow from last weekend’s cleaning spree, and the car servicing has set us back and extra 800 bucks spent on getting the upholstery spruced up (a first!). This is time for me to catch my breath before my family lands on Thursday evening. After that, it’s going to be a long weekend of food, booze, shopping (my mother’s all-time favourite activity), talking nonsense and stuff like that. I’m looking forward to this.

Looking Forward

January 2, 2007

Sigh. End of the year. Start of the year. Time to look back. Time to look ahead. Time to make resolutions… and to break them. Most importantly, time to make nonsensical lists, like those that follow.

Things I Want To Do in 2007

  • Get pregnant

If not, then ALL of the following (in any order):

  • Lose weight
  • Improve at tennis – specially backhand!
  • Go back to playing the violin
  • Take the next level of German course
  • Stop doing dull, boring, meaningless work and get involved in something meaningful – or at least exciting
  • Make at least one new friend
  • Read at least a book a month
  • Watch at least two movies a month (at a movie hall)
  • Travel
  • Get a publisher for my travel book
  • Create a photo book

Things I LIKED About 2006

  • Work (specifically, the lack of it)
  • Colleagues (specifically one or two)
  • My boss (former)
  • Friends (all)
  • Husband (most of the time)
  • Health (apart from the odd dose of antibiotics)
  • My bike
  • German class (97%)
  • E61 (features!)
  • Travel (Ladakh, Ranthambhore)
  • Money (income)

Things I DIDN’T Like About 2006

  • Work (specifically, the lack of it)
  • Colleagues (specifically one or two)
  • My boss (current)
  • Health (gynecologists!)
  • German class (eight months of weekends)
  • E61 (bugs!)
  • Travel (Rain! Relatives!)
  • Money (wealth)

And here’s why I’ll never be a poet… I just can’t get it out of my head that poetry should involve metre and rhyme.

…Looking Back

Same desk, same laptop, same old work,
An older boss, a smaller team.
Different projects, all the same,
Sheer boredom makes me want to scream.

A year gone by at the tennis courts,
Struggling with backhand and serve
Slipping, falling, holding on,
Coach says: “She’s got a nerve.”

My book is still a manuscript,
The way it was a year ago.
At least one publisher took a look,
I waited, prayed, hoped… they said “no.”

Go here! Go there! Do this! Get that!
So many ways to fill the days.
Trying too hard, thinking too little,
Question marks lost in the haze.

Eating, drinking, living well,
Gaining weight! It’s a shame.
Some clothes still fit, some don’t, not quite,
At least the shoes are still the same.

The hair is longer, wilder, but,
Just as thin and just as black.
The face in the mirror looks just the same,
Me looking forward, me looking back.

You’ve Gotta Have Faith

December 28, 2006
A couple of good things have happened to me of late.

First, I got my passport today. By Speed Post. You know what an experience it was applying for it, what with it having expired, having been issued from a different state, and requiring a change of address to boot. I had been expecting a Police Verification and I don’t know if this was ever done or not. I was half expecting (dreading, really) being asked for a handout when that happened, but that never happened. I had been expecting a certain amount of follow-up (which I had been stoutly refusing to do) and some glitches along the way and that never happened either.

All that happened was that I got a note saying I should collect my Speed Post from the Post Office. Hardly daring to believe it could be my passport, I went along at the appointed hour and there it was. The post man first obtained my signature for the parcel, then he tore open the envelope, drew out the passport and stared really hard at the signature there. Then he saw the photograph and realized that it had to be me, so he handed it to me and I was done. Simple.

I felt really pleased that this whole thing went through painlessly, just the way it should. I have long held the belief that it is possible to get some routine things done through government agencies in the normal way, without bribing or using any influence. I have held this belief in the face of mocking laughter, out-of-hand dismissal, and some pretty stiff evidence to the contrary. In my experience, the people who most assertively dismiss this contention are those who have never tried, who have just assumed that bribing or using influence is the only way to get things done in India. Some things in India do work. But people don’t want to believe this. Everyone wants to get their work through, any old how, without bothering too much about ethics and suchlike, and then complain about the corrupt bureaucracy. But, whenever we have tried to get stuff done the straightforward way, it has always worked, from obtaining a BSNL telephone, to registering our apartment.

In my limited experience, the Bangalore cops, much maligned though they are, are not all that bad. The other day I was out on my bike and I was pulled over by the cops for a routine check. They wanted licence and insurance papers. I had everything, but was still worried that they would want a bribe. They didn’t. They glanced at my licence and waved me away. That’s all.

The other good thing that happened to me is a little more complicated.

As you know if you read my previous blog, I had gone on this trek last weekend. The trek was long enough, and the other trekkers inexperienced enough, that I suggested hiring a vehicle to take our equipment to the top by road, while we walked up through the forest. I had hoped that some less enthusiastic member might offer to accompany the luggage, but, after a good deal of hemming and hawing, nobody came through on that. So the driver would have to take our luggage and go on ahead of us on good faith. We would meet him at the top and collect the luggage and pay him.

When I got to the top and discharged the jeep at 5 p.m. I realized that I would have to go back down and look for the others. There were some who would certainly be struggling, and I was the only experienced trekker in the group. Moreover, I had the emergency supplies: pain-killers, crepe bandages, and Glucose.

I stacked the luggage in a corner of the guest house at the top, told the chap in charge that I would be back soon, and set off to find the rest of my group.

Telling the chap was more a matter of courtesy than anything else; he had no moral or other obligation to look after our stuff. But I had no qualms about leaving the luggage unattended. I felt the place and the people were trustworthy. And, in general, I have the optimistic (if rather foolish?) belief that if you put your trust in someone and ask for help, *mostly* people will not betray you, especially not the friendly rural people or people of the trekking community. (This is closely linked to the belief that the majority of the thieves and scoundrels of the world lurk in the cities.)

So I was fairly distraught when I got back more than an hour later, to find that my white foam mat had disappeared. How could this be? Who would flick a sleeping mat? And why just the sleeping mat, when there was mountains of other stuff lying about as well? I looked all over the guest house, but there was no trace of it. I asked the chap in charge, but he said he knew nothing of it. And really, why should he?

What about the jeep driver, then?

The jeep driver was a young chap, a rascal at bargaining, but a cheerful, likeable fellow for all that. I had chatted a bit with him during the drive. I wouldn’t have thought he’d be a petty thief, but in any case I had counted the items we loaded into the jeep when we left and the items we unloaded later. I had taken a thorough look in the jeep to check that it was truly empty. I thought I had noticed him take this mat out and I thought I remembered him bringing it into the hall where everything was stacked. I did not think that he had stolen it.

Nevertheless, it was gone. We managed with nine mats.

The next day, we returned to the town and there met up with Bindu, who had taken a jeep back. She, much to my delight, handed me back my white foam sleeping mat, intact.

Here’s what had happened: Apparently the mat had flown away in the wind and rolled downhill (plausible, because it was quite windy up there). The driver, on his way down, spotted it and recognized it. He knew we were planning to spend the night at Kodachadri, so when he came up to the top the next day with another party, he kept an eye open for someone from our party and handed it to them. Simple.

I was so, so pleased. The sleeping mat is not an expensive item, and it has almost zero sentimental value. What had really hurt me about the entire episode was the sad realization that even here, even with such small things, people could not be trusted. Now, my fond belief was thoroughly vindicated: not only had nobody stolen it, the person who had found it (and who could have “stolen” it by the “finders-keepers” logic) had even gone to some lengths to return it.

So, I continue to have faith: The world is not essentially a bad place, and sometimes good things happen to good people.

The Private Lives of Domestic Help

November 6, 2006
My mother used to say, “Never get involved in the private lives of domestic help.”

My first domestic help was  a cook. Shaheena was a young muslim girl, tall, slim, pleasant looking, cheerful and clean. Also honest – I never noticed the slightest suspicious dwindling of kitchen supplies. Shaheena could read Hindi and Urdu, and a bit of English as well. She was keen on improving her spoken English and very soon I started speaking to her only in English – much to the amazement of visitors and guests. Initially she was regular as clockwork; then she got married. Almost at once, the trouble started. She was unwell; her husband didn’t want her to work; at least he didn’t want her to work late; she needed money (hitherto she had never asked for an advance and it wasn’t a habit I was keen to encourage); and eventually, of course, she was pregnant. She sent her sister in her stead and I saw little of her after that.

Her sister, Noor Jehan, was much older and had three boys from 9 to 16 years of age. She was less educated than Shaheena, and with fewer aspirations, but just as clean and just as honest; and she was an easier employee, more obedient in the kitchen, and the food she dished up was less bad and sometimes even good. But Noor Jehan was not as regular and very soon Amit was up in arms against her. At last I took matters in hand and over a period of several months took to cutting her pay for unplanned days of absence exceeding a day a month. Over the last year or so, this strategy greatly paid off. She learned to announce leave in advance, and offered to cook extra in advance or make up by working Sundays, rather than having her pay docked.

I usually don’t make too much trivial conversation with my servants. Not for any other reason but only because I’m usually too busy with something else, such as reading, writing, working, or watching TV. But every so often Noor Jehan decides to talk to me. She doesn’t gossip, but usually talks about herself, her sons, and occasionally her husband. When she decided to send the two younger sons to a religious educational institute outside Bangalore, she was very sad. “But they don’t study,” she explained to me earnestly. “I have to send them away.” When they came to visit, she would be quietly pleased; when they went back, bereft. The youngest son hated going away from her, and would howl every time. It broke her heart, but she was convinced it was the right thing to do.

When her eldest son took to coming home late and after long, unexplained absences, she was worried. “He gets into bad company,” she said sadly. She had recently heard of a bunch of teenagers who went to a picnic spot outside Bangalore and drowned while playing in the water.

Sometimes, she talked of her health – backache, fever. She asked for medicine, but added that she never felt comfortable swallowing pills. Once she confided in me that she had a searing pain in her abdomen. Someone had told her that it could be kidney stones. I told her to drink lots of water. She added, unasked, that she had pain while passing urine and also during intercourse, which, she said, was not very often. A little taken aback at this unsought confidence, I advised her to see a doctor. She did, but nothing came of it apart from a BP check.

Meanwhile, she kept me up to date on Shaheena’s life. The first baby had died soon after birth. There had been some minor birth defect and a minor bout of fever. More worryingly, Shaheena had developed a psychosis – complete with visual hallucinations and a total disconnect from reality – shortly after giving birth. Their mother had had a similar psychosis after Shaheena’s birth, and had never recovered. She was on medication even today. Shaheena’s psychosis lasted several weeks. She was sometimes violent, always irrational, ignored the child altogether, and often did not recognize family members. After several episodes when she ran away from home, the family was compelled to admit her to NIMHANS, where they treated her with sedatives, anti-convulsants, and electric shock.

Several months later, I met Shaheena in passing. She was healthy, happy, and pregnant again. And a couple of months later, I heard from Noor Jehan again: another boy, healthy and normal this time, but more psychotic episodes and hospitalization for Shaheena.

One day, Noor Jehan asked me about a loan she was considering taking. It was a sort of collaborative loan, from a loan shark, not a bank, and the rate of interest was quite high. She didn’t really want to take the loan, but the terms were such that ten families needed to take the loan together, and she was under pressure from the other nine.

Another time, she showed me a piece of paper saying that she had won a week-long holiday at a resort, all expenses paid for two adults and two children. She was already planning where and when to go – when she realized that there were several things (meals and suchlike) that were not included. It would work out too expensive – so she was forced to drop the idea.

Then, one day, her husband fell ill. He had aggravated his piles and was in excruciating pain. “He drinks,” she said to me despairingly. “Even when he’s so unwell, he just doesn’t stop.” He stayed home for several days, in intense pain, and she did the rounds of the hospitals again. The symptoms she described had sounded more like ulcers or appendicitis to me, but apparently the doctors agreed that it was just piles. According to a brief search on the Internet, there’s no interaction between alcohol and piles, but Noor Jehan didn’t want to hear this. She had tears in her eyes one day. It was a Sunday, and she had spent the entire day at home. Usually she worked at another house on Sundays, but this Sunday they had given her off and she’d had to be home. This alone had driven her to distraction. She couldn’t stand the company of her husband, and Sunday was his day off, and so he spent the entire day drinking, instead of just the evening.  “In sixteen years of marriage, we have been to a movie hall just once,” she said. “We never go out together. He was sober only for a year or two after marriage. After that, he’s just been drinking and drinking. I can’t leave him, I can only wait for death to end this marriage, but I have got a really worthless man.”

I might have suspected a con if she had laid it on too thick. I might have suspected a con if the tears had been followed by a demand, spoken or otherwise, for money. But Noor Jehan is not the self-pitying type and when she does discuss her troubles with me, it is with no great excess of emotion. And as for money, she does not hesitate to ask for what is her due, but has almost never asked for any extra or any advance. One day I offered her a piece of sweet that I had just made in her presence. She refused it steadfastly. “I only want my earnings, I don’t want anything extra, not even a cup of tea, not at any of the places I work,” she said. Yet, she said it with a smile, so that it was not offensive.

I see her life, I see her troubles, I see her small joys and how much they mean to her and how easily they are taken away; and I see her keeping on going, mostly smiling, mostly strong. She’s an unlikely heroine, but – in my opinion – she really is a Woman of Substance.

Fish in Tamarind, Tomato, and Coconut Gravy

October 13, 2006
That’s what I’ve made for dinner – an attempt to redeem myself in the aunt’s eyes in terms of specifically my fishy culinary skills. I think there should be a Mallu name for this dish, cos it tastes like something I’ve eaten in a restaurant (and just as good, though I say so myself) – but if there is, I’m not aware of it. It was orignially intended to be a plain fish curry. Then I added the tamarind – but it was waaaaaaaaaay too much. What to do? The choices were sugar, potato (supposed to absorb flavors and can then be chucked out; but I didn’t have any at home) or dessicated coconut. I opted for the coconut and voila – it turned Malabar! Hopefully this concoction with some wonderful basmati rice should do the trick.

Any which way, we’re off to Darjeeling and Peling tomorrow! Happy Diwali All!

In Flying Colours

October 8, 2006
The weekend is almost over and the pending invitation to the distant rellies is conspicuous by its absence. What a relief! Meanwhile, I’ve been working hard to rectify extremely negative first impressions generated by the disastrous welcome meal. Since Friday evening, the kitchen has been my domain and I have churned out masterpieces one after the other, starting with chicken soup from a packet improved by adding real chicken stock and scraps of chicken, and progressing in gradual stages through fried arbi, to prawn in coconut curry.

Yesterday evening was torture, though, because it involved making a bong horror story called Shukto, which consists of many inedible ingredients such as egg plant, bitter gourd, raw banana, flat beans, white radish (or whatever Mooli is called in english) and drumsticks. While my trusty cook and I were in the midst of putting together this nightmare dish under instruction from the aunt, three other items were also in the frying pan, namely, slimy dal (urad dal made slimy – don’t ask me how, I’m still trying to figure it out), malpooa (a sweet – something of a cross between shahi tukra and gulab jamun), and chicken curry. At least I was the sole owner of the last named… but with four people crowded into my tiny kitchen putting together four items in parallel, the evening could best be described as chaotic.

This morning, we of course had enough food left over to feed a small army, but I was feeling done out. Last evening having been spent receiving instruction, I needed to do something to redeem my reputation – or perhaps to establish one – as a capable cook. Mutton curry, I felt, would do the trick. Not to be unduly modest, mutton curry is one of the things – apart from cakes – that I do know how to make and make well.

So, Sunday being a lazy sort of day, mutton was ordered home by phone and at 10.30 I disappeared into the kitchen with it. In my opinion, cooking is best done in a slow, leisurely fashion. So it was 12.30 before the mutton was ensconced in the defective pressure cooker, and 1.3o before it was declared done. Meanwhile I had been busy filing my nails, oiling and washing my hair, and making polite conversation on the phone and fending off intrusive personal questions from another bunch of distant rellies.

Needless to say, the mutton curry was a hit. It went down so well, that I’m sure the aunt ate more than she should have from a red-meat and blood pressure perspective, and less than she would have liked. She asked searching questions about the preparation, which I answered openly as I have no culinary secrets from her (except for the small matter of sambar powder, which, had I told her, might have shocked her to the core). From the tenor of the conversation I gathered that this mutton curry was about to go down in the extended family history as my culinary masterpiece – being the head of the family and a discerning gourmet to boot, her opinion counts for a lot. She even invited me to repeat the dish at Amit’s birthday party, at which 20 plus of the family’s most important members would be present. I wormed my way out of that one…  while I do make a pretty scrumptious mutton curry, what if just due to performance anxiety I were not able to pull it off in those circumstances? It would not be my own kitchen, after all, nor my own defunct pressure cooker. And besides, where would I get sambar powder???

Anyway, only a dinner to go and then we’re done… and there is a little bit of mutton curry left, to reinforce the impression made at lunch. Everything going well, I might pass the culinary test in – to borrow a phrase from a comment to the previous blog – flying colours.

In-law Update

October 5, 2006
Despite what some of my friends may think, I do not fare well in a crowd, specially if it is a crowd of strangers, or not-very-well-known people. Throw in a communication barrier such as a heavy dose of Bengali, which, contrary to expectations is not my mother tongue (though it could possibly be considered my “father tongue”), and I’m at my quiet best. I have been “acquiring” the language for the past eight years, but beyond some stock phrases and a limited “daily-use” vocabulary, my powers of expression have not progressed.

So most of my interactions with my extended circle of in-laws have been brief and superficial. Since I usually meet about two dozen of them at a time for a period of not more than two days at a time, communication by way of a smile and a nod worked just fine on most occasions.

This time with Amit’s aunt, the head of the family, it’s been different. I’ve actually been trying to hold regular conversations on advanced subject matters such as trekking – and though I’m sure my pidgin Bengali is a pain to any sensitive ears, at least we are communicating. It’s quite nice!

After spending one short day with us, she went off to stay with another branch of the family. The exchange was carried out over a family lunch. This other branch of the family stays quite nearby but we haven’t met them more than once in all the years we have been in Bangalore. The reason: family politics. Somebody’s father insulted somebody’s brother several decades ago.  Since this aunt is closely related to both branches of the family, meeting them was inevitable. We went over there for lunch and were subjected to exquisite formality and polite interest in our lives and vocations (and, for that matter, vacations). Everything was warm and friendly and nice. Their apartment was lavish, posh, extravagant, huge (there was a living-room-sized verandah adjacent to the ballroom-sized living room) and pristine. The lunch was scrumptious and handmade by the two women of the house. As we left (minus the aunt) promises to meet again were sincerely exchanged by all.

Now social convention demands that we invite this lot (ten people and two kids!) to our place for a lunch and soon. But Amit has very little intention of obliging this particular social convention. Today he will stop by at their place to his way home from work, to pick up the aunt, but unless she holds a gun to his head, he doesn’t intend to invite them over this weekend (or any other weekend for that matter).

This suits me fine. You see, I welcomed the aunt last weekend with a meal that was a complete disaster. The traditional potato preparation was anything but traditional, and the fish curry was only just short of poisonous. Bengali cuisine just does not run in my veins. If we had to entertain them to a meal, what would I serve? Non-bengali food is not likely to find favor with this lot. To make matters worse, my mutton curry, which I consider my strong point in my culinary skills, would be totally put to shame by the dry mutton masala preparation that they had served. Of course I can make cakes like nobody else can, but one can hardly just serve cake for lunch.

So now it’s Friday morning and the aunt arrives this evening for dinner. Instead of concentrating on work – of which I have plenty, for a change – I’m only worrying about what to do for the next five major meals of the weekend (breakfasts don’t count). Any advice?

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