Fish curry makes me happy!

I recently met a lady in a high-pressure job. Looking at me, she said, “Boy, choose very early on in life whether you want to be flustered or not. Life keeps throwing up huge challenges whether or not you are flustered.”

“Do I look flustered?” I shot back, surprised.

“Use the word rattled if you have something against flustered,” prompt came her measured reply.

I smiled, breaking into a mild laugh.

“Learn to laugh at yourself. That helps.”

“By the way, are you a good cook?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Then cook good, healthy food … cooking helps you unwind and healthy food keeps you healthy and happy … I call it kitchen therapy.”

“I will call it cooking therapy,” I said, funnily.

“Well, as you please … I got to go now. Bye.” She said that and left.

The meeting was brief and sweet.

Now, after trying a lot of other preparations, I have finally settled on Kerala fish curry.

Cooking is a great therapy. And fish has all those omega-3 fatty acids that protect you against many things that you fear.

Let me come to the highlight: last night, I served a friend fish curry at my place. He, a well-travelled foodie, simply loved it. “Man this is the best Kerala fish curry I have had in my life. You really are a fabulous cook … you got to have it in your blood to be able to serve the perfect dish … you require what they call the precision for perfection.”

Well, I am happy in multiple ways!

Mafia of the spiritual kind. Are you trapped? Maybe you are.

I have this feeling that the biggest and the most powerful mafia group in this country is the mafia that has grown like plague bacillus, in the name of spirituality. Even if the prime minister of this country goes to jail over corruption charges, self-styled god men such as the one from Puttapparthi won’t, over murders of students on the campus inside his impenetrable fortress of an ashram. Well, they (the students) were those blood-sucking mosquitoes that flew around when he clapped. Phew! Were they?

You and I have our birth certificates, parents, ancestral homes, relatives, childhood buddies, ration/voter ID cards, school-leaving certificates, but most god men and god women in this country don’t. Their past is as unclear as it is hidden.

Just try a Google search, even Jagatguru Adi Shankaracharya, the Buddha, Durvasa, Vishwamitra, and all saints of yore had a name for their father or mother. We know of their places of birth and their early life (not to talk of the later life and works which are in history textbooks).

Now, look at the pantheon of gods in our epics: Lord Krishna had parents and we know of his childhood, teenage, adulthood, and death. Can you imagine an Indian god without a father or mother or siblings? Can you name me a god whose childhood we don’t know of? … When the gods have no qualms about revealing their past (murky or otherwise) and other coordinates, why not god men who come out of the woodwork every other hour in this country where there are more so-called temples of worship than schools?

Don’t be mistaken. There are really sophisticated ones as well. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, whom I saw for the first time in 1996 at a function inside Kerala University’s Senate Hall, has put up his Dad’s name on his website. My first impression of this man with a broad grin (lifeless and cold) was that he could be nothing else, a god man, but a false one. He kept craning his neck to gift his pseudo-smile (an imposter’s smile) to all divinity-seeking souls assembled there in saris, baring their midriff!

The first thing that struck me about him was not exactly about him, but about me: I had instant contempt for him. Next, fraud is the word that crossed my mind. Mind you, I am not a city-bred sonofabitch not to have seen faces that are really spiritual, faces that heal, faces that exude benign grace. For all my political hostility towards the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, I think its second Sarsanghachalak Guruji Golwalker had a face that was infectiously graceful.

Well, hundreds of less-sophisticated Ravi Sankars keep crawling out from nowhere and foist themselves of god-fearing men and women of this country, the gullible ones, ones that seek heaven on earth through spirituality after having failed on many other counts. This has become an everyday occurrence, a curse, in this emerging nation.

I don’t want to start off repeating the tales of the Chandraswamis and Nityanandas and Santosh Madhavans of the world. We all know about them and are disgusted. All that I want to say is that it is the (burden) responsibility of the government to protect the people of this country from the designs of these cantankerous god men around us. They are worse than epidemics, they are silent killers of a nation’s soul, they betray your faith, they leave you sapped, they leave you impotent, they leave you mad and very often they leave you blind with faith in them (which is the worst thing to happen). The government, I must say, has to bring in rules and regulations to keep a tab on funds that flow in to these ashrams, most of which are infernal pits of crime and sin.

To go a little off the track I have been taking, temples across the country have become places of loot, deception and infighting (were they always like that?). One of the strongest voices against this flagrant commercialisation came from Mahatma Gandhi himself who used to say “never trust the pandas who perform pujas for you at temples. Always bargain with them because they are out to cheat you. They will curse you, with little impact”.

It is time the government (most of whose top guys are at the feet of one or the other god men or women whose businesses over the years have become conglomerates) steps in to flush out these wolves in sheep’s clothing and protect the citizens.

I am not joking, but I expect at least some of these mafia enterprises run in the name of top spiritual gurus (matas and dadas and mahatmas) to give conglomerates such as GE a run for its money! For, from healthcare to finance to insurance to education to condoms, they also sell faith, bottled and intact.

There’s a mad rush to buy this poison because besides being gullible and looney, some of us are also selfish giants!

If consumer giants cheat you, you can go to consumer courts. Where will you go when they cheat you over “spiritual products”?

We must have a policy in place to contain this scourge!

Sorry Marx, dough won’t disappear!

I thought I will review a book today.

Here you go.

Niall Ferguson had the guts to hammer out at Nobel laureate Paul Krugman in a public debate last year on macro-economics. Whether the rising bond yields were good for the US economy or not, that was the question. Krugman said yes and Ferguson no. And like in most arguments, there was no clear winner. Not losing was victory, said his supporters. Ferguson shouldn’t have got into a technical argument with an expert of Krugman’s repute, some others said.
Well, that argument may go on, but nobody ever disputes that Ferguson is one of the finest living financial historians in the world. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World proves just that, yet again.
His stellar work traces the rise of money and credit from ancient Mesopotamia to modern times. He writes about the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire, which was moneyless, the emergence of metal as money and then about Italy’s loan sharks, the evolution of banking and so on. The book, which has been adapted into a TV documentary, also delves into the growth of bond markets from the 13th century, role of some of the biggest market manipulators such as Nathan Rothschild who used wars to make unbounded wealth. The rest of the book focuses on the emergence of stock markets from the 17th century, growth sectors such as insurance, real estate and international finance over the next couple of centuries. He draws extensively from newspapers and centuries-old documents and his own previous works such as The House of Rothschild and Empire to offer a comprehensive read of the evolution of money, which, he says “has been one of the driving forces behind human progress”.
As money keeps reinventing itself over time, old empires topple and give way to new centres of power, he argues, citing the rise and fall of the Spaniards in Latin America to the latest power centre, what he calls the “dual country of Chimerica-China plus America”.
He writes that today’s financial world is the result of four millennia of economic evolution, and economies that have combined institutional innovations—banks, bond markets, stocks markets, insurance and property-owning democracy—have performed better than those that did not. “Yet the ascent of money has not been, and can never be, a smooth one … it is a roller-coaster ride of ups and down, bubbles and busts, manias and panics, shocks and crashes,” he says.
The book, which starts off by taking a dig at the Marxian forecast that “money will disappear”, concludes by saying that if financial markets are the mirror of mankind, “it is not the fault of the mirror if it reflects our blemishes as clearly as our beauty”.
It is timely, and as readable as it is informative because in writing history as entertainment, Ferguson is a master.

Penguin India; Rs 399

Magic, black magic

I have a few dark, partially torn books with several dog-eared pages in the semi-forbidden corners of my home in Delhi.

Most of them are on black magic, written in Malayalam, my first language.

I have begun to dust them (I pay the maid, so in practical as well as cosmic sense, I am the one who gets the work done; she just does the dusting).

There are a few books on Yoga as well (Yoga can wait).  

 I am determined to try black magic to ward off those evil forces that are out to destroy me 🙂

Did anyone ask Fatima about Zardari’s half-shaved moustache?

Fatima Bhutto, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s granddaughter (inheritor of a legacy the hallmark of which was to manipulate the country’s army to batter political adversaries) , is making waves in India with her book Songs of Blood and Sword, reading and talking about her “angelised-by-the-media” aunt Benazir and her “demonic” husband and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, whom she alleges had a hand in the murder of her father Murtaza (after many attempts to bribe him failed).

Zardari is a rascal, a thug, and Murtaza Bhutto, according to Fatima’s own confession, was “no male equivalent of Aung San Suuki”. Whatever. Family feuds, power struggles, murders, vendetta … all these are as old or older than empires, but what comes to my mind immediately when she talks of Murtaza, Benazir’s brother, is one rumour that was finally confirmed by Tariq Ali in one of his books as the “trigger” (for the killing of Murtaza).

Was Fatima asked that question about Zardari’s half-moustache that cost her Dad his life? I didn’t see (read) it anywhere (I am a poor reader of newspapers anyway. So correct me if I am wrong).

Ali’s book in question is Daughter of the West (I still remember reading Daughter of the East by Benazir many summers ago while I was in school, my Sainik School).

Here’s what Ali had written:

“He (Murtaza) rang Zardari and invited him round for an informal chat sans bodyguards to try and settle the problems within the family. Zardari agreed. As the two men were pacing the garden, Murtaza’s retainers appeared and grabbed Zardari. Someone brought out a cut-throat razor and some warm water and Murtaza shaved off half of Zardari’s moustache to the delight of the retainers, then told him to get lost. A fuming Zardari, who had probably feared much worse, was compelled to shave off the other half at home. The media, bemused, were informed that the new clean-shaven consort had accepted intelligence advice that the moustache made him too recognisable a target. In which case why did he allow it to sprout again immediately afterwards? Some months later, in September 1996, as Murtaza and his entourage were returning home from a political meeting, they were ambushed, just outside their house, by some seventy armed policemen accompanied by four senior officers. A number of snipers were positioned in surrounding trees. The street lights had been switched off. Murtaza clearly understood what was happening and got out of his car with his hands raised; his bodyguards were instructed not to open fire. The police opened fire instead and seven men were killed, Murtaza among them. The fatal bullet had been fired at close range.”

He died like a dog for no good reason (in a country where moustache stands for honour and great pride). So did Benazir (gender changed).

This vicious cycle of death, which started many years ago (perhaps) with the assassination of Pakistan’s first prime minister Liaqat Ali Khan, must end. Fatima has a point there (not so much in the so-called re-writing of recent history to justify herself as her father’s daughter). She is brilliant, pretty and she talks really well (I like the pauses). After all, she’s a Gemini (born on 29th May … a day here and a day there) 🙂

Pingala the Scholar

Why is it that I come to know about a lot of things a little late?

But I am glad I DID know about it, finally.

The Fibonacci sequence, which appears in the Da Vinci Code (which is why a lot of people have heard about it), first appeared in a work by Indian (Sanskrit grammarian) scholar Pingala, and this sequence was earlier called matrameru (mountain of cadence).

In this sequence, each successive number is the sum of the previous two (0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13, 21 …), and it is named after Italian mathematician Fibonacci who had picked it up from Vedic mathematics; Fibonacci is widely credited with introducing Hindu-Arabic numerals to the rest of the world among many other Eastern mathematical ideas.

I am suddenly excited because a friend had offered to teach me Vedic math for free (it was last month, but we didn’t take the conversation forward then). My life is all of a sudden full of surprises, good and bad.

Today I call him, and he says yes he will teach me Indian math, but there is no such thing as free lunch. I have to pay him a decent sum (of money), he insists. He cannot volunteer his time any longer (unless he gets what he deserves). His logic: otherwise I won’t value what he does.

Well, hell, I am going to pay him anyway! Pingala Pingala!

You always return!

One night some time back, I deleted all the 55 posts in my blog, http://www.caviarandcoffee.wordpress.com. It was a stupid night which didn’t look like a stupid night at all, as is always the case with stupid nights.

It is a strange bout of nostalgia, much more than any spiritual vacuum that makes me sit down and start a new blog. So I am back! I am back!

Those old posts won’t even go down into the dustbin of history because they are lost beyond retrieval, redemption. I miss them, but I don’t regret the action of destroying even the last trace of evidence of “caviar and coffee”.

Yes, there is a reason to that: someone I respect a lot used to tell me that the sense of guilt is a useless feeling. Guilty feelings, as we all know, are very close to pangs of regret both in theory and practice, maybe a few notches up in the ladder of sense of loss. Let go of them all!

I am calm, happy and excited like a kid returning from school!

I want to believe that I have a clean slate once again.… There’s faith, on formidable display.

In fact, I am back with some sort of subdued euphoria which could come from nothing else—these days I often find myself doing what I haven’t done after age 10: reading for more than 5-6 hours a day. Well, it is not as cleansing as it is liberating.

Now I have a shining slate before me (and I am going to record each word I am going to write on it).

Wish me best of luck!