Of Whims, fancies and hunger

Fresh from an exhausting week, leading up to a moderately successful exhibition of photography, I am engulfed with a craving for the Far East. Perhaps it has something to do with my itch to scratch off the cabin fever that winter has gifted us with. It has been a long, harsh winter and it’s been below freezing since October of last year. But the groundhogs have promised us an early spring and it does seem just suitably far away. For now the windows outside are still frosted up, snow on the ground and my stomach would like nothing better than a spicy far eastern hug. From satisfying chilli fish to beef rendang, my mind in conjecture with my stomach, which so whole heartedly seems to be taking over every thought right now, is conjuring up steaming bowls of Malaysian, Vietnamese, Indonesian and ,absurdly tangential enough, Korean food. It is such a yearning that I had to run out in 4 layers of clothes to get a bottle of gochuchung, a good half a foot of galangal and a bunch of lemon grass. I blame multiple viewings of Kimchi Chronicles and Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey, because it would be sacrilege to just blame hunger for such monstrous hankerings? Let me for one moment wander away from this and plug Rick Stein’s programs – he is a seafood crazy chef from Padstow, England and has these shows on BBC UK, you can watch his programs on youtube though. If you are a foodie or a food writer of any caliber, watch his stuff, I don’t think anyone quite describes or articulates about food quite as well as he does, in this modern era of texting. He has a sort of transcendent way of making travel and food synonymous with the exploration of new cultures.

I digress, as I walk the aisles of a local H-Mart, the only recurring thought is a Beef Rendang lunch, made from scratch. So here I go this morning, toasting coconut or rather making kerisik and grinding together shallots, chillies, galangal, lemongrass, ginger and garlic to concoct this spicy and fragrant paste that the beef will slow cook in, along with a can of coconut milk, until the beef has drunk in every last drop of the heavenly gravy and is fork tender. I wish photographs had a way of conveying smells, it’s a sensory explosion that has gratification etched into it. There are certain smells in cooking that are deeply arousing and I don’t mean that in a sexual connotation. If you are like me an overwhelming joy can envelope you, at the smell of garlic and onions hitting hot olive oil or the smell of a slow cooked rendang, wafting slowly through the air in a gentle dance of seduction. There is a reason why warm, freshly baked cookies are made by realtors when they want to sell a house, the sense of smell is exceedingly powerful in eliciting an emotional response to things we see and hear.

For those curious souls who want to replicate this, there is a caveat – unless you like the strong taste of toasted coconuts this is not a dish you must attempt. I come from a country and region, where it is consumed atleast once a day, so its a taste that is reminiscent of my childhood. Also this is my interpretation of something that sorely lacks one of its key ingredients – Kaffir Lime leaves….I couldn’t find these at the asian stores close by and I didn’t want to risk the chance of frost bite just for a few leaves! Besides I had lemongrass and galangal – two things that are supremely versatile, exceedingly effluvious and generously divine. These two, have an irrevocable place in the spice cabinets of South east asians everywhere.

Without much more ado, read, look, weep and enjoy! Today’s whims, fancies and hunger have all been pleasingly allayed!


Spice mix

Beef Rendang

Beef Rendang

500 gms beef chuck or cuts used for stews

3 cloves

3 black cardamoms

2 star anise

2 inch stick cinnamon

3/4 cup toasted coconut (or kirisik is toasted to golden brown)

1 cup water

1 can coconut milk

1 tbsp sugar

2 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

Salt to taste

Spice Paste

4 large shallots

12 dried red chillies soaked in water

4 cloves garlic

1 inch piece of ginger

1 inch piece of galangal

3 stalks of lemongrass, white part only

Grind all the ingredients for the spice paste in a blender until its fine, use some of the water the chillies are soaked in, if necessary.

Heat oil in a dutch oven, add the cinnamon, cloves, star anise and cardamom. Add the spice paste and fry until the raw smell of onions dissipates.

Add the turmeric and coriander powders and sautee for another 2 mins. Add the beef, the coconut milk, water and sugar. Cook for about 30-40 mins until the beef is half to 3/4 way done. Add salt to taste, cover the pot and allow to simmer on medium heat for about an hour to hour and a half, until the gravy has dwindled down to less than half. Check for seasonings and serve hot with rice.

On a side note, I wish I could change my camera with immediate effect and get some new lenses to replace the broken ones….feel like I am missing a couple of limbs with a broken camera and lenses. Please do not reproduce or reprint these pictures or writing in any form without the author’s permission.


Of Whims, fancies and hunger

Change is the only constant

My life for the last 9 years has definitely been an in-depth study on Change. In retrospect, it has actually proved that everything happens for a reason and a lot of these changes have been incredibly good to me. But change, while its happening, is chaotic and draining. So after one and a half years am back living in the US, close to the city I tearfully bid adieu to on this very blog. A city, I have come to love, unabashedly. It’s like meeting a loved one after years of separation, there is an excitement combined with the fear of awkwardness. Has the separation been too long? Would she still be able to hang with me? Will she recognize me? Do we still have things in common?

So it was only fitting to go back to the very same spot where we said our goodbye’s and where I pledged to return soon. On a warm spring night with the desperate hope of trying to recreate magic, after one and a half years,we met again. She dressed up in her absolute best and glistened all over. Just like I remembered her, party boats floating down the East river decked out with little fairy lights, barges tugging out the city’s refuse, lesbians in love stealing little kisses under the twinkling lights of the Brooklyn Bridge, dog walkers and late night joggers, the sound of slow moving traffic on FDR Drive, and the city itself – all aglow! Beautiful! Some of the names on the doors have changed but the streets are the same. There is change all around and still it is extremely familiar. The giant hole where the Twin Towers once stood, is now where the tallest building in New York City is – One , World Trade Center.  The city stands – resilient and proud. Just like I left her, she returns to me looking like herself and definitely feeling like herself – exuberant, irrepressible and electric.

Arthur Schopenhauer sums its up best right now – “Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal.”

Meanwhile, if you are interested in reading about the city of Chennai – where I was born and is the birth place of Modern India in many ways – do pick up ‘Tamarind City’ by Bishwanath Ghosh on Flipkart or Amazon or in book stores in India. Lovely book about the city I am from and the pictures in the book are by yours truly. If you are in Delhi then do try to go for one of these meet and greets with the author – http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150962433810519.472811.654300518&type=1

Change is the only constant

Nostalgia and the loss of Innocence

Nostalgia is the unending gift that childhood leaves behind. Memories of events that are so trivial in the big picture – but the joy of which, lasts a lifetime.  One such memory is of going to the Industrial and Tourist Fair in Chennai.  An annual event that spans 90 days and begins during the month of Jan and goes on till April. As a child, I remember hopping onto the front of my father’s scooter and spending entire evenings at the fair. The adults used to shop, and we rode the train and the Ferris wheel – fear permitting! We were a small family of four then, with a small income but a lot of joy.

Twenty years later the fair has been scaled down from what it used to be and I am a far more snootier adult, who sees the rusting age of the Ferris Wheel and the copious amounts of garbage on the grounds rather than wondering what I would be able to see if I got to the top of the Ferris Wheel. Now as I stand in front of those rides with a camera and tripod in hand, it’s a different kind of magic that permeates my soul. The wonders of something called a “slow shutter speed”! The world around me is spinning slowly at the rate of a 3-5 second exposure, blurring motion into a beautifully symmetric concoction of lights. Even the smells of the city’s open drains are quickly being pushed to the back of my mind. The maddening crowds that I abhor are now moving slowly in a blur to form a picture of fuzzy crowds at a fair ground. The gleeful faces of children who can’t wait for their turn on the tea cup, unmindful of the fact that those rides are a few decades old and have never been cleaned, are stirring up memories of a 7 year old girl in a sleeveless polka dotted frock and a pair of brown sandals, hopping along those same grounds a few decades ago, hand in hand with her parents, begging to be taken on the toy train. It is funny – that the same sight can induce so much joy in the same person across decades, for so many different reasons. I suppose there is always some wonderment to be had, irrespective of the loss of innocence.

From things that make you wonder to things that make you think – this blog post has run the gamut, and I surely hope that it makes up for the long absence. There have been a few projects that have been completed and come to fruition in the meanwhile and I am putting it up here for those who follow this blog and more importantly for me to blow my own trumpet, if I don’t do it on my own blog then where else eh? It’s also to document that I have been ignoring the blog for a while for good reason! Soon I am hoping that there will be some changes to this blog itself….but that’s for another blog post! In the meanwhile …..let me get to the part where I explain my tardiness with posting. This seems to be a pattern with this blog – I always come back to explain my delinquency with good news – so I guess it all works out well??

1. A friend of mine(Bishwanath Ghosh) who happens to be a top selling author in India (and a travel/City Editor for The Hindu newspaper) is releasing his second book in April about the City of Chennai. The book is called “Tamarind City” and will be available in bookstores and online in April. The pictures on the front and back cover of the book is mine, perhaps some inside as well ( not sure about this part yet). His first book is called “Chai, Chai – Travel in places where you stop but Never Get Off”, for those of you who are interested or have ever traveled through junctions such as Itarsi, Jolarpet, Shoranur, Jhansi, Mughal Sarai and the likes.

2. The magazine that I edit is for a community of photographers on Facebook called Wide Angle Academy (http://www.facebook.com/groups/prabhagraphy/) and it is an online quarterly publication and the second issue was released in January with the theme of colors. The next issue is due out in april and I just finished drawing up my line up of writers in mid-Feb. But here is the link to the second issue –  http://www.waclicks.com/showthread.php?135-Flash-Magazine-Jan-2012-Edition and here is a sneak peek at the cover.

All of these writers are incredibly talented photographers or post – processing geniuses and are definitely worth taking note of.

3. Its been a lovely year considering I began the year traveling to Bangkok and followed it up with a quick road trip to my favorite haunt – the Nilgiris. This place never fails to inspire. I got to shoot some amazing landscapes for a calendar- which is in the works for next year. The only glitch here is that right now I have some issues dealing with .CR2 files which is Canon’s RAW format and am a thoroughbred Nikonian…so dealing with that is taking some getting used to on my laptop, hence its taking a while to process these pictures. But as a teaser I have a couple of shots from the D90 and a couple from the 5D MkII, enjoy.

The whole series is in Black and white and one delves into landscapes and the other into flora. It helped that the mountains were constantly covered in a shroud of mist, makes for some interesting and dramatic Black and white photos.

All images and everything on this blog are copyright and cannot be used without the permission of the author. For information on prints, please leave me a message and I will get back to you.

Nostalgia and the loss of Innocence

An Appraisal

Consider this to be a much longer Facebook update! Twice in the last month, I had begun to write out a post and ran out of juice trying to complete it. I am hoping that the third time is a charm! As usual much has happened and all for the good. In between a couple of charming festivals have come and gone, a few experiments and forays were made and some major milestones achieved.

In October, Diwali made its yearly grand appearance. I was hoping to shoot some fireworks  with multiple bursts in one frame, but ended with something like this instead ….

One of the major reasons for this being dull were that, it was at one spot and truly just one spot! Not spread out over a small distance at one location like the Manhattan Fourth of July fireworks! And god imagine the backdrop the city of Manhattan provides to the entire show, all I got here were the tops of some absolutely boring apartments! So…dejection aside, Diwali is the best time to play with fireworks – so I figured why not try light painting with fireworks and this is what I came up with…

It is simplistic, given that it is my first attempt at this. As an experiment, I definitely bit off more than I could chew. Not for a moment did I consider that I will have to write this as a mirror reflection, or that the haze would be more than I had given allowance for, or that we had to wear dark clothes to not be seen in the photograph! Or that I needed to have experimented first with a flashlight before wasting expensive fireworks on experiments, oh well – what are learning curves for? These are so much easier to do with flashlights that don’t have hot centers. All it really needs is some imagination, practice and meticulous planning. The two shots below are composites of separate paintings done with a flashlight.

At the beginning of this year, I was talking about setting goals -photographic and otherwise – to achieve by the end of this year. Here I am sitting – on a beautifully breezy day with overcast sky, perfect for strolling the city streets and just being outside – in front of my computer, working and contemplating if I have stacked up well against those goals. So let me just say that if I were sitting at my own appraisal today, I am darn sure to rack up a neat bonus. Blowing my own trumpet, you ask? Heck yeah! Wouldn’t you, if you just got published in National Geographic Magazine? Or were part of a really nice exhibition called ‘Portraits of India’? Or if your photograph were to make it into a coffee table book? None of these were even part of the objectives and goals for the year, all I wanted was a little recognition and a sign that I was going in the right direction by following my passion. 2011 is a year I won’t forget! Here is a shot of the page as it appears in the magazine – my shot is that of the Carousel, which you would have seen on this blog before!

I will also , shortly, be part of an exhibition called ‘Portraits of India’ with 40 other photographers and will be exhibiting for a week at a gallery in Chennai, India. Here is the poster for the exhibition, so if you are in Chennai around that time do come by and support us.

A book will be released with all the photographs on the day of inauguration and will be up for sale on www.waclicks.com. Part of the proceeds will be given to select charities, after covering cost of printing etc. So, please support the exhibition and book that showcases up and coming photographers and amateurs, who otherwise will never be able to display their work on a stage like this.

I am looking forward to the year end and to the next year with bated breathe. If this year has been any sort of indication of things to come, then there is a whole horizon of things waiting to be explored and I can’t wait to!

An Appraisal

Somewhere over the rainbow…

This post doesn’t have pictures by me or isn’t about something I did or learnt about through my photography course. This post is about something that inspires me, that moves me, that makes me truly wonder how big the earth is, that makes me wonder if dreams should ever just remain just that – dreams?

Have you ever heard this song written by E.Y.Harburg, composed for the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and sung by Judy Garland? This song haunts me, in a very good way! I forget if I have mentioned it before, but I can’t help but think of this because of an article I read recently in the National Geographic Magazine. An article by Andrew Evans called the ‘Bus2Antartica’ – an epic journey by the author who travelled by bus from Washington DC to the very tip of South America, before boarding a ship to Antartica through the Drake Passage. He tweeted and blogged his way through the trip for Nat Geo. This is the stuff that dreams are made of isn’t it? The journey we all want to make but never do for a billion reasons. From financial commitments to plain fear, there is a whole range.

Photo: Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia

Photograph by Andrew Evans as it appears on nationalgeographic.com.

I am in awe and envy at the same time, that someone could convince Nat Geo to sponsor them on a trip of their lifetime. I would love to get my sea legs back and make a journey from Cape Horn to Antartica via the South Georgia Islands. Stopping by those beautiful and picturesque group of islands that king penguins tend to call their home. Back to Andrew Evans, his is a riveting little article and blog for the inner explorer in you. The whole article wreaks of the fact that dreams can be achieved, in the authors own words – “..What I do know is that my trip to Antarctica is no longer a dream. It’s now a vivid memory.” I could not have said it better!

Somewhere over the rainbow…