When I started this here Ole’ Blogwati Devi, I was very clear that this wasn’t going to be a journal, a stream of self-indulgent word-vomit punctuated with Instagrammed selfies. I’ve spent enough time drawing up brand keys and marketing briefs to know that no one’s interested in your drivel unless, to filch Google’s pithy brand essence, it’s ‘Cool And Useful’. Coolth I’m hopeless at- I still find clunky Nokia mobiles, Bata shoes, the Bombay Vikings and Roohafza cool- and I’m told that this disqualifies my application to the Club of With Its. But Useful- that I work hard at. I work hard at putting stuff out that (should) make you go, “Wow.” Or. “Bwahahahah!” Or “Bitch, who does she think she’s scamming?!” I don’t want you to be a passive recipient of my writing. I don’t want a glassy-eyed person stroking the mouse listlessly as she scrolls, mouth crumpled sardonically at the Disappointment that is the Internets. No. I want you to squirm in your seat and pee a little in your pants. I want you to make mental notes, even if they go ‘Note To Self- troll this godawful woman till she sees sense.’ I want your mouth to pucker with distaste or disapproval so it looks, like the mouth of George’s witchy granny in Dahl’s George’s Marvellous medicine, like ‘a dog’s bottom.’ I want you to wring your hands at my ineptitude and tell a friend or colleague, ‘This is bullshit! I could do better!’ Yes, I’d love you to do that. I don’t want you to cruise along comfortably. I want your grey cells jarred into a caffeine-grade thinkfest. Especially if you’re a woman. Because the best of us allow others to do the thinking for us. We allow our fathers to tell us who we should marry, our brothers to snitch on clandestine boyfriends, our mothers to tell us what good girls do, our lovers to hold our bodies up to unreal standards, our husbands to make Wife Jokes that reduce us to conniving harridans, and our bosses to present our ideas at meetings. We apologise and we uptalk, we step back and we doubt, we titter when we should slam someone and when we do slam someone, we regret it immediately. At home, especially if we’re Indian, we negotiate a powerful and deeply entrenched tradition of casual chauvinism and risk censure if we challenge it. The next time your dad tells your mum to shut up when he’s speaking, or laughs with his friends at how little she understands his work, take note, devi. This is Casual Chauvinism at its best worst (worst best?). At work, we negotiate male territory with all the grace of a clubfooted ballerina. Our challenges become grist for magazine features that tell us how to ‘Dress For Office’ and inevitably recommend Pinstripes, Glasses, Pulled-back Hair, Modest Pencil Skirt, Muted Lipstick, Pearls, and a Serious Leather Accessory That Says ‘I’m a Businessy Person That Means Business’. Some mags call it ‘Librarian Chic’, because that’s what Librarians do- perch with a single hip on their vast mahogany desks, bite their Mont Blanc’s seductively and give us the Come Hithers through lowered glasses as their formerly tight chignons come undone by sheer force of suggestion.
I guess the point of all this is – Death to Pencil Skirts! Have you worn one? If you’re planning to, prepare to walk in mincing little steps like those poor Chinese women with bound feet. Also, pray very hard that you don’t meet your two enemies, Stairs and Salted Snacks. My own struggle to fit into a pencil skirt is not different from trying to squeeze an anaconda through a straw. There is Swearing, there are Lumps, and it is Not Pleasant For The Parties Involved, Especially Onlookers. But no, that is NOT the point. Pencil skirts are evil, but the point is that I hope, with all of my heart, that you find this useful. That my writing is, in the smallest, gentlest way, making a difference. That I am making you think and question. My stats, which I visit with an unhealthy frequency, suggest that a frighteningly large lot of you swing by, which is immensely gratifying but also terrifying. There’s a lot of performance pressure, and I can only hope that I make it worth your while.
That said, I apologise for not having written for a little over three months. Those of you that I count among friends know that I’ve been a hot mess these past two years, and that the following are involved- forced unemployment, exams, and vast amounts of potato chips of the Uncle variety. The exam involved maniacal studying, but I managed to throw in some Instagrammin’- all of it academically oriented, of course. For those of you on my Instagram, I’m sorry for burning your eyeballs with pictures of my ballpoint pen, Chapter 1 of my Polity book, exam watch, and pre-exam rituals, i.e. a Legally Blondesque mani-pedi. Those toes look ugly, in retrospect.The problem is, I’m now gearing up for another exam, which means that this too will peter out in the coming weeks. Death to exams!
So to say thank you for believing in me, for visiting me secretly right in the middle of a meeting or from the comfort of your grubby little den at home, and for squinting at your glitchy Samsung screens as Ole Blogwati refuses to adjust viewing ratios and remains at a frustrating Size 3 font, I have something Cool and Useful to offer.
Those on my Facebook know that a mere 48 hours post-exam, I raced to my granny’s home in the Himalayas for some much-needed R&R. There, I behaved in an abominably touristy way- dipping my feet in a cold river and squealing, furiously clicking away on the phone camera at Cloud and Mountain and Stream, going ‘Look! Tea Garden!’ and plucking-crushing-sniffing, embarrassing the locals with my rusty, city-infused Pahaari, popping hot momos with my backpack on, turning the prayer wheels at the monastery in Dharamshala with misplaced aggression, and buying sackfuls of woollen goodies I don’t technically need. It was brilliant.
As was my grandmother’s decision to air her ancient mortar and pestle by making- in a day- two whole kilos of salt, when I told her about the Blog. At first, she was suspicious. Why, she wanted to know, were all these people reading what I had to say if I wasn’t paying them? Dear God, that hurt! I explained as best as I could. “Okay,” she said simply, “You must pay back this kindness of free reading. I’ll make something for the people who live in your computer.” So off went my Good Witch of The Woods to hunt for herbs among the many speckled toadstools and wild grasses that run the land over in the Monsoons, inviting snakes, scorpions and assorted creepy-crawlies into their bright green depths. For three days, she would return, rubber wellies muddied (they call them Gum Boots there), wrinkled arms laden with cloth-lined bamboo baskets bearing mysterious smelling herbs, hair a wild grey birds’ nest, droplets of rain shining in them like the remnants of a diamond tiara that’s exploded on her head. The kitchen was a mess, but an organised mess. At one time, I counted at least six different shades of green in her baskets. Another time, I stumbled sleepily into the kitchen only to be stopped by a small white mountain of pearly garlic bulbs at my feet, reaching my knees. She was quiet and very committed these three days, and the result was two kilos of a gloriously fragrant salt, green-and-black from the herbs and ground spices. A salt that, rubbed on a slice of fruit, or mixed into a cool citrusy beverage, or sprinkled over a salad, will make your tongue orgasm. This is what my childhood tasted like, the happy mingling of herbed salt and raw plum plucked right off Naani Ma’s trees. There’s really nothing that herbed salt can’t better, including a foul day.
Here are some pictures of the process. They capture only about a hundredth fraction of the complexity involved, but I hope you will enjoy them.
Crushed herbs on a thin bed of rock salt teaching us Geography. Behold Africa!
Crushed homegrown spices join in on the partay.
The Granster mixes it all in nicely.
And mixes some more..
..till the wet paste turns a uniform green. At this point, I can’t get Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham out of my head.
Then she slow-roasts it over high heat in an old kadhai lined with desi ghee from a very nice Jersey Cow she happens to be friends with. This particular Jersey is a textbook-cow, well-mannered, bountiful and very respectful of Boundaries, while the local cows are assholes who trample people’s lawns, munch on their roses and leave fat, smelly presents in their driveways. The slow roasting ensures that the flavours are sealed in.
This is how I like my hara pahaadi namak, or herbed salt from the mountains- dusted over keenu, nibbled at in a verandah warmed by the afternoon sun.
I’ve bottled the dark green magic into 50 ml & 100 ml jars* , and despite my Grandmother’s protestations, intend to charge a small fee for these. The 50 ml will last you 3-4 weeks and costs Rs 150. The 100 ml should last 5-6 weeks, and costs Rs 290. It will go a long way in helping an old lady with bad knees and fuzzy vision supplement her meagre pension, and hopefully encourage her to make more of this and not fall by the wayside into the loneliness and terrible senility of most people her age, while the rest of the world rushes brutally by. I have a lump in my throat. Go away, stupid lump! Arrrgh!
If you’d like to know some more about the Granster, click here. For those of you who want to know more about the salt and how to buy it, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop in a line on Facebook. For now, I can mail it (sadly) to residents of India only. When you say, “Yes! I want me some o’ that witchy magical powder that will help me achieve World Domination”, I will ship you your quantity of choice within 24 hours, subject to payment via online transfer.
* Plotting the grammage is tricky, hence the ‘ml’. The salt is made with fresh herbs, plucked probably right in the middle of some botanical mating ritual, so it’s moist. So expect it to ‘sweat’ in its jar, which is perfectly okay.
** Very, very little of the salt is needed for impact, so small quantities last longer than ordinary rock salt.
*** If it’s reached your plate, I’d love to hear your thoughts, once you can unscramble them after your first hit. I hope you can taste the love and the hard work and the Mountains and the awesomeness.
Thank you again for being so wonderful and patient. As far as salt goes, I hope you will cross over to the Dark (Green) Side. I promise that it’ll be worth it. Later, ‘gator!