Monday, February 06, 2012

"Roz, roz,rozy..."

"The more, the better, has always been my motto." Elizabeth Taylor

I admit it. I am a sucker for roses. (And my bet is that most women are.) I know. It’s a bit like saying I love French fries or money, but there’s something about the damn things that is irresistible. Now, I don’t want to throw history at you and defend myself by saying that some of the most gorgeous women that the world has had the pleasure to know and see wouldn’t leave home without their roses. Cleo (Cleopatra to you) used to routinely spray the sails of her barge with rose water and as one story goes, when she was in the process of seducing Mark Antony, she had her palace floors carpeted and her room filled two feet deep with red rose petals. And we all know what happened to that poor Mark….
So women have surrounded themselves with roses in one way or another for centuries. To seduce and be seduced. But what’s the big deal about this relative of the apple? (Yup, members of the rose family number more than 3,400 species of trees, shrubs, and herbs including apples, pears, berries, peaches, apricots, plums, and cherries.) Well, look closely at a rose and you’ll know the answer. Look at the way the petals are arranged in exquisitely complicated whorls, see how even the palest pink or lemon deepens mysteriously inside each whorl, hinting that it is hugging some enchanting secret. And at the centre, even when the rose is in full bloom, there is a core that never unfurls completely, tantalizing you with the promise that inside there might be something even more gorgeous. Something, the petals coyly whisper in their velvety tongues, that will have to be wooed and flattered (not to mention wined and dined) out into the open and even then, you may or may not get the full story. And no two roses are alike. So no rules, please, expect only the unexpected, each rose choosing for itself how many petals to have, how to arrange them and in what manner to bloom and blush. In other words, every lovely blossom a custom made job - the fragrant mascots of Caprice, created by Nature on her day off, probably after a glass or two of honey mead.
Er, did somebody mutter, “just like a woman…”? Absolutely. Just like a woman – a heady, beautiful bafflement that got Adam kicked out of Eden, destroyed the tapasya of even the mighty Vishwamitra, sunk poor Paris’ ships – all 1000 of them, toppled empires and has generally been the reason for managing to squeeze in both Hell and Heaven right here on Earth. Which means that when you send a woman roses, that’s roughly what you are telling her. That she is this gorgeous, irresistible, enchanting, elusive, sexy goddess-siren-nymph-babe whom you will follow to the end of the world, walk on hot coals for and will her your millions. You get my drift? So, when we say we love roses, what we really mean is we like being sent roses. And let me tell you that as an attention grabber, (and we admit that we are easily distracted) it’s foolproof. So fellas, never mind if your idea of an inspired opening line is a grunt that roughly sounds like, “Er, how about it?” or “Wanna hit the sack?” Never mind if your idea of romance is tinkering around together under the hot, stinky, greasy bonnet of your car, swilling beer. Never mind if you think that poetry is for chaps who tweeze their eyebrows and wear lavender coloured underwear. (Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard all about the Metrosexual Male but you’re not falling into that sissy-trap!) And never mind if she’s a dead ringer for Liz Hurley (oh, alright, Heidi Klum, if you must quibble) and the chauffeur of the guy she’s dating probably makes in a week’s overtime what your 6 months’ salary totals up to. Don’t despair. Just send her a few dozens red rose - long-stemmed, naturally. (With roses, I’m afraid it has to be in dozens.) And then see if you don’t get into her little black book, so what if it’s in the “Call only on Emergency” section.
A word of caution. If you are planning to send her anything more than 2 dozen, (anything less than that and you might send her a plastic fly swatter) check to see if they don’t tot up to a number that’s roughly her age. Because even though it’s the Age of the Older Woman - Liz Hurley is 38, Aishwarya Rai is 30, Naomi Campbell is 33 - you don’t want to look like you’re pointing fingers at something that she might be sensitive about. If it is, then just double the dozens. So the 3 dozens you were planning on become 6 and so on and so forth. That way, you’re nowhere near her age (unless of course it’s the other Liz that you had in mind who’s now a lovely 72) and no woman is going to pass up a man who sends her 6 dozen roses without at least a second cup of coffee.
I know what you’re thinking. You’ve heard the whispers. About diamonds. Girl’s best friend, Marilyn breathily cooed (and she should know a thing or two), Liz notched up at least 150 carats of them over 7 husbands (8 if you count the second walk down the aisle with Richard Burton), Oprah wears them all the time and you’ve trying not to notice the way your ol’ lady pointedly clears her throat every time those pesky de Beers and Nakshatra ads come on. (5000 bucks for that tiny speck of coal, just because they polished it up?!) We know what you’re asking. If you send her 60 roses (she’s 35 …or thereabouts) on that dratted anniversary-birthday-who-the-heck-knows-what that’s creeping up on you, will it pass muster? Er, let me put it this way. She won’t be displeased and it will definitely not be the night when she’ll have a headaches.
Roses are roses. And as eternal a paean to our inner goddess they will remain, here’s the thing. Roses wilt. Diamonds, on the other hand, are kinda forever and we women are rather partial to this “forever” business, especially since men aren’t. Which means, we love you and can’t imagine life without you but we trust you only when you put your mouth where your money is. So roses are lovely but when it comes to the crunch, I guess it will have what Dorothy Parker has to say on the subject…

A Perfect Rose

A single flower he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet--
One perfect rose.
I knew the language of the floweret;
"My fragile leaves," it said, "his heart enclose."
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.
Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

Roses and Hindi films go way back. Till showing on-screen kissing became legal in --------, it was the close-up of two roses cozying up together which was the favourite way of signaling a smooch! But the two most beautiful and memorable “roses” in Hindi cinema was played by Waheeda Rehman – first in 1957 as the innocently lovely “Gulabo” in Guru Dutt’s PYASA and then in 1957 as the beautiful Rosie in GUIDE. As legend has it, though R.K. Narayanan, on whose book the film was based, disowned the film, he had no complaints with Waheeda's performance, who won the Filmfare Award for this role!


Napoleon's wife Josephine was so besotted by the benefits of rose water – she also considered it a love potion – that she cultivated 250 different types of roses for her daily beauty regimen!


The Chinese (5th century B.C.), extracted oil of roses from plants grown in the Emperor's garden – the Emperor himself had over 600 books about roses! But this oil could only be used by the aristocracy - a commoner found in possession of this oil was put to death!

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Somehow, I always thought the meaning of the word “sankranti” was something to do with sweetness. Perhaps because the sound of it tinkles and falls so sweetly on the ears. Like drops of water merrily bouncing off a steel vessel. Or if they could speak, like the sound of a million spangles of sunlight trembling ecstatically on the gently breathing skin of a river. Or maybe because the word for sugar in Kannada sounds so similar. “Sakkare”. But apparently the origin of the word “sankranti” is from the Sanskrit word “sankrama” which means journey or change. So the festival of “Sankranti” is thus named because it marks the auspicious moment when the sun moves into its northern sphere and so inaugurates a new solar year.
And to mark this blessed journey, in my part of the world, we have a very special tradition called “yellu beerudu”. Which loosely translated means to “fill with til” or sesame seeds. What happens is that in the evening, after everyone is done with the poojas and the feasting, the women and children toodle off to visit friends and relatives. Where, after the niceties are done, you open your “yellu beerudu” bag and whip out the goodies which you proceed to place in a convenient tray or plate that your hostess has thoughtfully provided. First, you put the “yellu” (Kannada for sesame), which is actually a wonderful mixture of til, roasted gram, peanuts, candied til popcorn and tiny chopped bits of jaggery and desiccated coconut. (These days it’s fashionable to pack your “yellu” in trendy, just-like-Tupperware-but-40-times-cheaper, reusable plastic boxes.) You have now “filled with til” by which, I think, you’ve wished your hostess prosperity and other such nice things. Because til is an ancient symbol of goodness and purity, which is why it is til oil that is always used in pooja lamps and the Sanskrit word “taila” for oil comes from “til”. Then come a few sticks of sugar cane – I guess to sweeten things up a little more. And, finally, what for me as a kid was the highlight of the whole til-fill business. You open a box and carefully take out and place along side the til mixture and the sugarcane, a set of “sakkare acchus”. Literal translation – sugar moulds. Which doesn’t do justice to what they actually are. Tiny, perfect replicas of all kinds of things made by pouring hot sugar syrup into specially carved wooden moulds and left to harden. Parrots, horses, elephants, bananas bunches, gopurams, shankh-chakrams; many joyously lurid green and pink, some just left a creamy sugar-white, the sugar crystals winking softly at you every now and then. My favourite was the miniature traditional tulsi plant pot.
The first task of an avid sakkare acchu aficionado is of course to try and amass as vast a variety of shapes as possible, passing on the boring, the damaged or the triplicates to whiny younger cousins or indiscriminating adults. Once the collection of sakkare acchus is sufficiently impressive in variety, size and dotted with rare shapes, you can now proceed to actually consume some, starting with what you consider to be the most dispensable. The boorish way of the sakkare acchu Philistine is to just scrunch off bits and gobble the whole thing up in a matter of seconds. But a true acchu connoisseur is more leisurely, unhurried, savouring sugary each moment…
You start by gently licking at the acchu, making sure never to disturb the basic shape. Occasionally, and only if you are a brave and skillful practitioner many Sankrantis old, you may even shave off a layer now and then by gently grating the acchu against your lower canines. And thus you carry on till finally, when the acchu has shrunk enough to fit comfortably into you mouth, you gently pop it in. And sink into a sweet, sticky bliss as the acchu disintegrates and the grainy-sugary flood swills around in your mouth.
So, Happy Sankranti dear reader, as I symbolically fill your tray with much prosperity, happiness and joy. But since it is a festival dedicated to the glorious sun without whom neither the til nor the sugarcane nor you or me would be, I also wish you this beautiful suryanamaskara to bless your days and life.

Om Saptaashwarudham, nakshatra malam,
Chaya lolam, chandra palam,
Gagana sanchari
Om Bhaskaraya namaha

He who rides a chariot driven by seven horses,
Garlanded by stars, beloved of Chaya (shadow)
He who rules the moon and rides across the sky
To This Sun, I bow.