A Childhood Curiosity

His mother always told him that boys seldom paid attention to their appearance. That, the dressing table was only meant for the ladies in the house while the men were occasional visitors who came to put a bit of moisturiser or comb their hair, whenever necessary. Men looked good the way they naturally were and didn’t spend time in front of the dressing table like women did, she remarked. It somehow created an air of mystery for our boy Philip here. The more his mother told him about the dressing table, the more he was intrigued to open all the individual drawers and peer into the secrets that they held. But alas, all the drawers were kept locked in the only wooden dressing table his house had. Apart from the regular cold creams, perfumes and combs that were kept outside, he couldn’t see the rest which were locked away safely. Fortunately, he went to his relatives’ house quite often. Thus, a childhood curiosity was born.

People usually do not pay attention to kids when they are drinking a cup of tea and munching on snacks. Usually, this was the time when Philip used to sneak into the bedrooms of his relatives’ house. Every bedroom had a dressing table by default, their appearances and configurations varied. Some were tall and made out of dark brown wood while others had a combination of wood and sun mica or even metal. Some had few drawers while others had many; all of them had one mirror which was the only similarity. Philip used to quietly open the drawers and marvel at the belongings inside. It had everything ranging from combs, cheap plastic bangles, kumkum and bindis, buttons and earrings, needles and threads, strands of hair to cotton balls, tablets and cough syrups, kajal, ear cleaning swabs.

There was a certain sweet smell which used to emanate from all these drawers. It was more of a damp, woody smell mixed with varnish that lined the walls of the drawer. Somehow, the contents inside lost their individual smells and got mixed with this smell giving the entire drawer one single, collective smell. Philip never took anything from all the drawers that he opened, he just used to look and poke around with the contents inside. Sure, he used to open the moisturizer bottles and perfumes to check what they smelt like, maybe use the perfume or deodrant once in a while if it was really good, but that was it. Sometimes, there were moisturisers having ingredients like Shea butter which smelt so good that Philip felt like eating a bit to see if they were actually sweet. But, he never did that because they were never sweet to taste. He was never caught during any of his inspections and always made sure that he kept things the way they were after he was done with everything.

There was always one drawer that was locked in every dressing table. When Philip was young and new in the vocation of opening drawers, he felt that the locked drawer had the most valuable secrets. He didn’t know what but he was very curious to know. At one time, he even felt that his mother hid all the cream biscuits in that drawer, considering the way in which he pillaged biscuits in the household. He still does though. But when he grew up a bit more, he got glimpses of that drawer’s contents whenever his mother used to get dressed to go out for occasions. Philip eventually came to know that the locked drawer contained jewellery which were precious and could not be kept out in the open or in unlocked drawers. As he grew older a bit more, he started to inspect the drawer’s contents in detail. It wasn’t a surprise for him that the drawer smelt the same like every other. It was just that the contents inside were of higher importance and demanded to be handle with care. Philip was conscious about this and always held everything with the utmost concentration. Sometimes, he used to put on his mother’s golden bangles which dangled awkwardly on his wrists. He used to feel the texture of those velvety red and purple square boxes inside which lay necklaces and other pendants.

Eventually, Philip grew up to become a young man and this childhood curiosity eventually got lost but what stayed with him was that woody smell. A close synonym for that smell would be musk probably.

 

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In VV Puram, all you do is eat and eat and eat

We reached early, it was around 6.30 PM and the road was already filled with a sea of people. I and my roommate decided to take a walk as we waited for M and D to arrive. The small stalls selling boiled corn in an assortment of flavours was eye-catching. One can try these out as a form of starters but we decided to keep them for another day. Walking through Food Street, as it is famously known, the smell of the air changed and like a gust of wind blowing at your face, different aromas came to me at once. With every step that I took, it changed from the smell of fried bajjis, the tangy smell of curd in what seemed like dahi puri being made somewhere, the sweet, spicy and nose-tingling smell of potato twisters, samosa and the buttery smell of pav bhaji culminating with freshly brewed coffee as we reached the other side, after a bit of a struggle walking amidst so many people and cars. Cars shouldn’t be allowed to ply on this road because they look menacing and you are always in the fear of being hit from behind. I don’t understand how people can drive on this road; it wouldn’t make them feel hungry with all their windows rolled up. How can one not smell all that?

We reached the other end and decided to wait for our two other friends to arrive. In a few minutes, M came towards us with what looked like vada pav, only that the vada was missing. It was a bun with peanuts topped over a layering of masala with coriander leaves, onion and grated carrots. As I took a bite, I could sense that there was some butter inside too and the entire thing was one explosion of a nutty and spicy feeling. M told me that this was the Congress Bun from the famous VB Bakery, situated at the end of Food Street. The peanuts used in it are a special type known as Congress Kadlekai (peanuts). But why Congress though? Upon some research I came to know that it has many urban legends, one of them being that Congress netas during the British rule used to write messages in chits and pass them between one another in boxes and snacks of peanuts, hidden from the British officials. We went inside VB Bakery where M told us that it was essential to try the Rum Ball (Rs. 30). Divided into four parts, it had a soft chocolaty texture on top while the inside had a surprise of cherry pieces, raisins and cake infused with a bit of rum. The smell was strong and the taste, equally that which managed to stay in my mouth for quite some time.

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Rum ball from VB Bakery

Right opposite to VB Bakery is Sri Vasavi Vaisista Thindi, a place selling South-Indian street food amidst the usual offerings of Button Idly Sambar and Sagu Masala Dosa. Thindi is the Kannada word for breakfast. M suggested that we have to try Aambode (Rs. 40 for two pieces), which is apparently a Kannada funeral food. It is idli shaped although the taste is nothing like a normal idli. It’s made out of tur daal and has peas, onions, coriander leaves, chili and spices in it. Its taste resembled that of a litti that you get in the north, although this was a more spiced up version of that. I wanted to try the button idli but that too was saved for the next time. We decided to try something sweet and jamoon seemed like a nice idea. The buttery soft ball of dripping sweetness glided through with a spoon like a hot knife through butter.

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Dahi kachori in its full glory

Next up, we reached a small shop selling jalebis and a variety of chaats. Dahi kachodi (Rs. 40) caught my eye and we decided to try that out. The place was also selling Obattu, Akki Roti, and Paddu among other things. The dahi kachodi was like sev puri but had kachodi instead of puri, garnished with onion rings, coriander leaves, a dollop of curd, some tamarind chutney, lots of sev and crushed kachori beneath all of that. Sweet, tangy and wholesome are the words to describe it. Just beside this place was Chandni Chowk Hot Honey Jilebi. Although we just had something sweet, it was too tempting to avoid it and move forward. Something sweet right after something tangy and spicy would not be encouraged by many but we were on a hogging spree so what the heck. That is the power of these sweet smelling sugar concoctions. We decided to eat less and got one for each of us. Jalebi never disappoints but more than eating it, what fascinated me more was how it is poured onto the oil in circular, rapid yet calculated movements.

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And this is how jalebis are made

If you think that Food Street is all about food, then you are mistaken. Sitting alongside the road are people selling toys, balloons and bracelets made out of small squares with alphabets written on them. We also found an uncle selling peas on the middle of it all and a few stalls selling fruits. Moving on, M said that Boti Masale is something we ought to try it out. It is made out of a long, cylindrical finger chips. Inside, there is masala consisting of fried chana dal, sev, pineapple pieces, peanuts, moong dal, chopped onions, and chopped chili. The entire thing is garnished with puffed rice and coriander leaves. A light snack compared to everything we have had till now.

Going to VV Puram and not taking a stop at The Chaat Shop would be a mistake you cannot afford to commit. This place has the craziest chaat combinations I have seen till date. Some of them were Jalebi Chaat, Basket Chaat Tikki Rasgulla Chaat and Nachos Chaat. But, the potato twisters right beside seemed more enticing to us and considering the fact that D loved them, we decided to buy it. The twisted potato slices were spicy and got us looking for our water bottles with our tongues flaring out. The slices were crunchier than any other potato twister I have had till date. This made us frantically look for something to cool ourselves down and kulfi seemed like a good idea. Situated right across the street was Mumbai Badam Milk Lassi Center, advertising all form of faloodas, milk shakes, baadam milk and kulfis. Every name had Mumbai in front of them, which made us all the more confused as to what to buy. Finally, we decided with Gulkand Kulfi which sounded a bit simple. Nothing exceptional about the kulfi though, it had a nice proportion of dry fruits inside of it and thankfully wasn’t melting all over our hands.

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These potato twisters will spice up your life

After our engines cooled down, we decided to continue the hogging spree. By now, it was nearing 9PM, and the crowd had thinned down a bit. We huddled in front of Shri Vasavi Thindi Mane and all around us was a crowd of hungry, peering population. I concluded that this is one of those hit places in VV Puram. We glanced through the menu and among Paneer Roll, Veg Roll and Roomali Roti, pizza caught my eye. Pineapple Cheese Chilli Pizza (Rs. 70) was what caught my eye. It seems blasphemous to have pizza from such a place but after thinking it through, we decided that an experience of a pineapple pizza from a non-pizza place should not be missed. The order took around 20 minutes to arrive. And all that time, we were fixated on the guy who was making the Roomali Rotis. His hand movements and the way he flipped the roti multiple times before putting it on the inverted kadhai, prompted all of us to use Instagram’s boomerang feature to its fullest. D told us that maybe we should have reconsidered our order. Well, it was too late for that. The pizza arrived and it was smaller than what we expected. Garnished with yellow and red capsicums with green bell peppers and pineapple pieces, it looked cute. I was having pineapple pizza for the first time and to many people, I was committing blasphemy. We have all seen the memes but after having the first bite, I mentally said screw you to all those memes. The cheesy taste mingled with the sour and sweetness from the pineapple, until the bell peppers hit you. The cheese was evenly melted and the crust was properly cooked. All in all, it was nothing like what the Internet suggested it to be. The Roomali Roti was saved for the future visit. We were almost at the end of the street and it was time to try the famous bajji that Food Street was famous for. Sri Swamy Bajji Centre is the place to be which was again crowded with hungry bajji eaters. We decided to go with Mangaluru Bajji (Rs. 10 for 3 pieces), as suggested by M yet again. Opposite to the road was a shop selling Obattu and I knew that this had to be consumed. I have a soft corner for Obattu, one of the few Kannada dishes that I really like. I have forgotten what the name of the establishment was but it is situated opposite to the bajji shop. It sold Obattu, Puliyogre, Rava Idly and different types of Baath. Dal Obbatu it was! For those of you who don’t know, Obattu is a sweet dish, which looks like a paratha of sorts. Dal Obattu is made by putting a dollop of the paste of dal inside a ball made out of dough from flour, rolled out like a chappati and fried on a tawa with ghee. It is quite sweet and might not appeal everyone but for me, it was definitely the highlight of the day. Somehow, it went really well with the Mangaluru Bajji.

Nothing ends without a cup of kaapi and to mark the end of this frenzy filled food fiesta, we decided to go to By2 Coffee to fulfill our caffeine needs. VV Puram is indeed a place to eat and eat. There is a lot more to explore in this place which would ideally take two or maybe more visits. We missed out on a lot of places and a lot of food but all of that has been noted down for the next visit. Food Street is definitely one of the must-go places in Bengaluru and is bound to take out the foodie within you. If you are not fond of the food, just go and observe the crowd. You won’t be disappointed.

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Filter coffee to end the day

 

 

This Malayalam Film Will Enrage You For All The Right Reasons

I vividly remember the end scene of the film “Ka Bodyscapes” that was being shown at the Bangalore Queer Film Festival (BQFF) 2016. Just as I entered the dark auditorium at Alliance Française de Bangalore,  the screen showed a man walking gradually towards the sea before disappearing out of sight as the sound of crashing waves resounded the room and the screen turned black. I checked the pamphlet that I had in my hand and looked for a name. “Ka Bodyscapes, Malayalam, 1h 30 mins,” it read. For some reason, I wanted to know what the film was about. But I couldn’t at that time.

Now that I have watched the movie, I tend to believe that I was meant to watch it. Call it fate or give it some other name, I am glad I got the chance. This film by Jayan K. Cheriyan has been fighting for a certification without any cuts from the CBFC for the past two and a half years. The movie has been screened privately in film festivals and has won immense praise and accolades, but hasn’t seen a formal release in this country.

One of the things that I loved in this movie is the absence of background music of any sort, except in the final scene before the credits roll out. It has comparatively few dialogues as well and is presented in a very raw, almost amateurish form when it comes to camera panning and the shift in scenes. Due to the content and ideology of the film, a prior statutory announcement was made before the screening, informing everyone that certain people with certain ideologies might find the film awkward or disturbing and that they can leave any moment they want to. Fortunately, nobody left.

“Ka Bodyscapes” is based in god’s own country, Kerala, in the town of Kozhikode. It primarily focuses on the life of Haris who is an aspiring gay painter, played by actor Jason Chacko and Vishnu, the subject of Haris’ paintings and his lover, played by Kannan Rajan. Along with them are stories revolving the life of Sia, played by Nasreena, who works for a footwear manufacturing company and is a vocal feminist. The film encapsulates a lot of subjects ranging from homophobia to violence against women and the ever infecting patriarchal and right-wing society.

Kerala, as far as I know, is ahead of many states in this country, in terms of education, equal rights for people belonging to different sexualities and everything in between. But the film showcases the conservative side of Kerala, the side which roots for Ghar Wapsi and the need for women to be home before the sun sets. It is a society where cribbing grandmothers with rosary beads wince at the sight of girls washing their feet and do not hesitate from calling them a wench. It is a society where fathers beat up their daughters when they raise their voices against patriarchy and the subjugation and degradation of the female body that it brings with itself. In short, it is a society where love and equality lie at opposite poles.

Haris brings Vishnu to Kozhikode where the latter gets a job as a graphics assistant in his uncle’s right-leaning newspaper Bharatbhoomi. His uncle believes that it is his duty to uphold and save his traditions from going to the dogs and disapproves the idea of Haris and Vishnu living together under one roof. The idea of Vishnu posing as a model for all of Haris’ “naked” paintings ignites him even more. Haris’s place has scores of paintings which he wants to showcase as a part of an art exhibition and he gets a chance to do the same.

A still from the film ‘Ka Bodyscapes’

Sia, his friend who goes by the name of ‘Sia Rational’ on Facebook is a strong advocate of female body rights but is subjected to daily criticism from her conservative Muslim family. She works under a misogynist, condescending boss. Things get bad when this repulsive boss finds bloodied pads in the factory washrooms and tells the female supervisor to take care of the culprit. The supervisor questions all of the workers but to no avail. This is when she grabs one of Sia’s friends and drags her to the washroom for a strip search. The ordeal ends with Sia coming to the girl’s rescue and resorts to calling the police. The police do not take any action, obviously.

Sia along with Haris and a few of their friends decide to stage a protest while Vishnu decides to stay out of it due to its risky nature. Sia Rational ends up putting a Facebook profile picture of her bloodied sanitary pad after which they organise a roadside protest with slogans of “My body, my choice”. While some goons wait on the other side of the road with batons and swords, the police intervene. This entire incident is based on a real-life. What happens next should be discovered by watching the film.

The film is supposed to enrage you and it is successful in doing so. If you do not feel angry for the right reasons, you are not thinking rationally. Amidst all of that, you feel a certain form of helplessness, a very weak state of mind as you begin to realise how inconsiderate and close minded we are as a society and as people in general. You would feel the need to shout as you absorb the frustration and anger that the characters in the film go through while their worlds crash down, frame after frame. And this is reality, simple and unadulterated.

Many of us choose to be inside our cubicles, we don’t want to look at things and get our mind “dirty”. Many of us talk about same-sex marriages and equality but I think all of that is too distant for us. We live in times when misogynists feel disgusted at the sight of bloodied sanitary pads and when freedom of expression in the form of art is abhorred. We live in times when religious intolerance is met with death and centres to cure homosexuality operate in full bloom.

The despair that follows after watching a film like “Ka Bodyscapes” lives on for a long time, not because of what happens in the end of the movie but because of how there can never be a world where the need to make a film like this would ever arise.

P.S. If you want to catch a screening of Ka Bodyscapes, there is a screening on 5th August, 2017 at the same venue. Do follow Urban Solace on Facebook for more info.