Sunday, November 19, 2006

Southern Sweet Tea

Sweet tea is a very popular beverage, at least in the southern states. This is my statistically inadequate study of the sweet tea drinking community and its significance in everyday life. I hope you all liked reading about Indian you can wait to read about the sweet tea that Americans use to cool down their mouth, tongue, throat and stomach after a hearty meal of Indian food.

Just returned from a nice thanks giving weekend from West Palm Beach and have to many things to think about. Don't get me wrong, I am fine. Just meeting new people and driving 700 miles opened my eyes to other important matters in life. This also makes me not so interested in writing about sweet tea though I had sweet tea with almost every single meal I had in restaurants and I quite enjoyed it. For more information about sweet tea please visit "History" and "The Wikipedia definition"

Southerners swear by their sweet tea and the Yankees have no ideas about it. My good friend while driving down from Chicago found sweet tea an alien concept till he entered the borders of Kentucky.

I will just be happy with my Limbu-Pani (freshly squeezed lemonade) and if I had my way, would have it at every Mc Donalds, Moes, Sticky Fingers and Outbacks. So, you all southerners, limbu-pani is what we Indians drink.

For the record, the best limbu-pani that I have ever had was the Rs. 2.50 full glass after the Rs. 5/- "Vada Pav" from Kunj Vihar outside the Thane Railway Station. This worked out perfect as it saved me just enough bus fare to go home. A Rs. 10 well spent. I would give the world to have those days back.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How the Indian Masala is perceived in The-Land-of-Opportunities!

Cilantro (Dhania) is to Sven what Parmesan is to me. I can’t stand the taste and hate the smell. Only that I can not escape Parmesan because every American person true to his country bathes his pizza with parmesan while all Sven has to do is stay away from the Indian Restaurant. So, he hates cilantro but fears “Masala”.

Now, I don’t meant to pick on you Sven, and if you are reading this, no apologies as always. It is perceived here, in America, that Masala is a spice. It is referred to more as a proper noun than a collective noun. I tried at first, that the Chicken Handi Masala has a blend of many different spices that add more to flavour and aroma than anything else. The hotness is from something else. That scared them even more. The word “Curry” shares a similar status (not the scary part, just the collective noun part) in London’s Brick Lane but we will talk about that some other day.

Realising the popularity of the word “Masala”, I set out on a venture to the local Indian Store, the House of Spices. Indian stores and restaurants are mostly called one of three: Taste of India, India Gate, Taj India. This one is an exception to the rule, but the difference stop at that. Everything inside is the same, including the absurd prices. A packet of 12 kachoris - $2.99 (Rs. 134/-); Mothers Recipe mango pickle - $3.99(Rs. 179.55); Parampara Masala packet of Egg Curry - $3.99(Rs. 179.55) and so on. So, I look for all the items displayed and pretty much everything has Masala written on it. The khakra, frozen parathas probably send on their cryogenic journey years before they can see a tawa, the pickles, everything.

Now, if my friends happen to venture into this store, they see masala-this and masala-that, they will think all Indian food is masala. This implies that Indian food is no longer the subtle art of blending spices with carefully chopped and marinated food items coupled with a balanced diet. It is a spicy blend of Masala that will get you running for the super-bowl, if you know what I mean ;-). This is true to an extent. In the Indian restaurants, you will find food that you normally find in restaurants in India: Tikka Masalas, Biriyanis and Koftas. The food that makes Indian culture, that we grow up on, the Shukto, Aalu Bhate, Dal Tadka, aalu bhaja, Saguti Wade, pomfret fry and finish everything off with kokam kadi is not available in restaurants. Southern American cuisine, however, is available in restaurants just like they are at home. Of course, they lack the Mother’s touch, but they are at least available.

I wish the local Indian restaurant would serve shukto and saguti wade. That’s the Masala I want. That will be a good portrayal of the Indian Culture. For the time being, I settle for Cajun stuff and country fried chicken. That is a good southern American meal. Give me some pumpkin bread and butter with the country fried chicken and mashed potatoes and I will eat till my buttons pop out.

Most Indians do a mean thing when they come into this country; they think and believe that Americans have no culture. That is downright unfair. If you want to know a culture, start with the food. I believe culture influences food to a great extent and if you start with the food, not only will you have a good time, but will also find a culture that you didn’t think existed.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Dont you have one of those days that you can not sleep. This is the second time this year that I am just not able to sleep. The mind is too preoccupied. Preoccupied enough to not rest at all. I close my eyes but nothing. The mind is breaking speed records at the salt lakes of Utah. I just lay down and think. Think about the day that lies ahead and about all that has gone by.

I have a busy day ahead. I start by taking Laya to the vet by 7 am. Then an early start at work. I have a deliverable by 10 am, then a meeting with one of the Directors and my boss. Back to the vet at lunch to pick up Laya..she is having her fleas treated. Drop her home and back to work to crunch numbers and bring costs down. This time, we are talking in millions.

Dont get me wrong. I enjoy my work. It is just that the day I needed Nidradevi to co-operate, she doesn't. The last time I could not sleep, I took a drive to the beach. The beach was empty. The sky was dark. The sea was dark. The waves crashed invisibly. They sound more intimidating when you are by yourself and all you can hear is the sound of the breaking waves. Those waves rule the beach at that time of the night. Before the joggers and walkers with their dogs can arrive to claim the beach one last time, the waves rule. It was like the waves were talking to me. Weighing in their power over me. I had run to the beach because I couldn't sleep that night. I could not sleep because I was upset and pondered over a matter of great concern. An event in my life at that time that was important to me. I was seeking recluse at the beach beneath the pitch black sky. The waves were like God's voice saying that he had his power over me, instantly making me feel better.

I went home that night to catch a few winks before showing up for work. That morning, the Sun looked bright and warm as ever.

Tonight's lack of sleep is not for any mental agony. I am just thinking of too many things and my mind is traveling all over the place. I think I need that sunshine today. says sunrise at 6:50 am today. I will be at the beach with Laya to catch the first rays of warmth.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


I have finally solved the mystery of what my dog’s name is. She is a retired racing greyhound. I adopted her from the racing kennels. Now, if you have been to the greyhound racing kennels in the United States, you would know that the dogs have funny names: Potrs Rachel, Gsi Susan, Oliver Cromwell, DG’s U Too, Pat C Thanks etc. My dog was named Zelaya. So, you can guess that behind every weird name is a nicer name…like Rachel, Susan, Oli, DG, Pat and Laya. For some reason, the adoption people called her as Layla. Now only if I knew where Majnu was!

I was moderately satisfied with the name thinking that she lived with it for three years that there is no point in changing it now. If you are thinking why she is retired at 3 yrs of age, well, greyhounds only race till about four years of age. Then they are either bred after that or left to be adopted. Two months into her adoption, I have finally received all her papers, birth certificates, names of her parents and both sets of grand parents and a CD with her racing videos. All have her named Zelaya. So, as of today, 12 November 2006, I name her Laya for all practical purposes. My friends that live by the Jedi code love that name as it rhymes with Princess Leia.

There are other reasons for me to revert to Laya from Layla. The image I get from the name Layla for a dog is some show dog like a Pomeranian or a Poodle that’s dainty and showy. My dog is downright lazy. Lays down on her favourite spot on the couch all day. That’s Laya. Don’t think that she is not a good dog to be lazing around like that all day. That is how greyhounds are. They are sprinters and then they relax for the rest of the day. I wanted a laid back dog because I am laid back too. I did not want a Labrador or a Beagle who are on play-mode all the time. And frankly, Laya gives me some competition in being laid back. She used to follow me around the house before, if I went to the kitchen or my bedroom. Now, she just watches me, maybe props her head up a little. I can almost hear her say,” Where did you go? Is there any point in following you? I guess not. I will be right here if you need me.”

So, coming to the point of why I wanted a dog in the first place. I never had a dog in my family ever and was downright afraid of dogs. What changed? Well, I got too cold in the heart and wanted some warmth back. Got cold in the heart trying to get to where I am today. My one and a half years at the University of Florida was very challenging. My father paid for my tuition fees but I lived by myself, worked twenty hours a week in the middle of ten credits of gruelling master’s courses. I made less money than what I needed to live on. I worked at the Taco Bell frying nachos, empanadas and tacos, and then graduated to making pizzas and pastas as a cook for Gator Dining. They eventually saw potential and gave me a 20 cent raise and let me handle the grill. Now, I was cooking salmon, pork and chicken filets. Next, I was a lab assistant to work in the corn fields for two months. The research eventually ran out of funds and I was laid off in the middle of the semester when every other part-time job on campus is full. Then came summer and being unable to secure an internship at what I do best – Industrial Engineering – I resorted to being a student assistant for $6.50 and hour. The icing was that I could work 40 hours for summer. Having made some savings, I blew it up on medical insurance for fall 05 and the numerous car rentals for job interviews. You see where this is all going? To add on that, I haven’t been to India in over two years. Come December, I finally managed to secure a full time job position as a Logistics Engineer in a firm with an international presence.

This was my first time with a stable and high paying job after the numerous hits and misses as cooks and lab assistants while a student. Not every job was bad. Fall 2005, I worked as a student assistant with the Map and Imagery library. To any UFL student that reads this blog, it is, by far, the coolest place to work at. I had the nicest supervisor at the library and to this day and I visit the library and her any time I go to Gainesville.

None the less, this whole experience of living on a tight budget had made me quite cold and I needed the warmth back. That’s where greyhounds came in. My buddy got Streaker and two months later, I got Laya. That’s the time it took me to overcome my fear of dogs and get one myself.

Now, I do sometimes think if it was wise of me to get into a binding with the dog because when you get a dog, you pretty much reconfigure your schedule around your dog. Wake up at 6:15 am and walk the dog, come home for lunch and walk the dog, come back from work and walk the dog, walk the dog before bed time. It is almost like being a single daddy. Hats off to all the single moms out there! Laya has brought the warmth back to my heart. She is my family now, at least here. She gets all happy and excited when I come home, runs around me, tries to play with me, then I take her for a walk. Back from the walk, she just lays on the sofa watching me. She sits by the kitchen when I cook and outside the bathroom when I shower. When I sit by her, she just puts her head on my lap acknowledging me as her friend and companion. After all, I gave her a home and lots of love. Dogs understand love easier than we humans do. They have a beacon for affection. They get pulled towards warmth and happiness like a magnet and in my case, Laya brought warmth and happiness to me.


Born in Chandernagore, WB...grew up in Bombay. That makes me probashi. Never understood why there should be a distinction between bengali's in West Bengal and those that migrated to greener pastures. To the uninitiated, 'Probashi' is a term in Bengali that means that a person/persons is/are not living in the home state and are Bengali's, but in another part of the country.

I grew up in a bengali rich family. My parents had always been big into Bengali literature and Bengali music. Always attended Durga pujas in the various pandals in Bombay. Then moved to Thane and had our own little community, and our own Durga pujas, Saraswati pujas etc. Helped around with the festivities. Distributed Bhog after the puja. Still wondered what the difference was between the non-probashi's and the probashis. Other than the fact that every calcutta trip reaffirmed constantly: people there are lazy and the life is real slow, I did not quite grasp the reason to call us probashi's probashi. Speaking of my trips to calcutta, my cousins and friends always thought that I see Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachhan on a regular basis. Do you other probashi's living in Bombay get that when you visit Kolkatta.

Three years later in a cool Fall night in Florida, I decided to find a 'Mukherjee' group on Orkut. Orkut is today's more popular net-friend-finder site. Though everybody wants to convert me to GAZZAG. Already a failed member of Facebook and Hi5, a dormant member of MySpace and a somewhat active member of Orkut, I think it is enough for me now. Back to the Mukherjee group. It was happy to see that some mukherjee had decided to form a group on Orkut. I later found out that there were two more groups. So, I joined the one that looked most popular. This is another funny thing about joining groups on Orkut. Your groups tell more about you than your profile does. And all groups do is send you a bundle of emails that you delete anyway. Alright, so I am browsing through this group and all my thoughts about being Probashi comes back at me. This group spoke in a language that I am not aware of. It might be the case that I have been away from India for a while now..2 yrs and counting...and probably the same amount of time away from Bengalis and the Bengali culture. Now, I can not even identify myself to this group.

There is someone asking what surname goes well with she is considering it for marriage. Here is the introduction to the discussion topic:

ideal match...
tomader ki mone hoy..kon surname amader shonge shobtheke bhalo match kore..maane biyer byapaare....
Translation: What surname according to you matches best with our (mukherjees) surname with respect to marriage! Alright...some one with too much time and hopefully too many choices for marriage is trying to choose one person like choosing earings to match with a saree.

Another post. Ghoti na Bangal.
What is Ghoti, what is bangal. I almost called up my mom 10.5 hours and 6000 miles away. What did you forget to mention about me ma? What am I? Ghoti or Bangal? Apparently it is important as every member decided to declare what they were and there is an active count going on.

Correction. I just called up my mom. She is a bangal, dad is a ghoti, me born in west bengal that makes me a ghoti. What a relief!! I was lost for a moment. Lost enough to start this blog. What if I was born in bombay? What would that make me? This is getting too complicated. So, I am a ghoti first, then a probashi, then an NRI now. I flip through the forums on that site and all those people (most based in and around Kolkatta) speak this lingo that I am unaware of. This culture that I am distant from. It is these forums that make me understand what probashi means.

But why the distinction? Havent we had enough? Men - Women, Gay - Straight, Hindu - Muslim, Black - White, Yankee - Southern. Now, we want to take it to another level of Probashi - Non-probashi. Not satisfied yet....Ghoti or Bangal? But I see hope in our generation. I see more people recognising these distinctions and working with them instead of building bigger walls.