Cake Stories: The Christmas Cake has a past.. Part 1

To forgotten friendships, memories, stories and cakes.

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Pic courtesy: Google

The first time I remember (actively, that is) having Christmas cake, was, when I was 10 years old. I was studying in class 5 and a fellow classmate had opened U’s tiffin in the boring Moral Sciences period, half an hour before break time. I was seated, some four rows behind her, and was about to just nod off to sleep, lulled by the cool breeze outside the window. That naughty, warm, spicy, rum filled aroma wafted my way and that was when I fell in love with the plum-cake.

Of course, U was livid with anger because the tiffin was opened without her permission. I came to know later, that the cake was for a boarder friend’s birthday. The girl, U’s desk partner, apparently, couldn’t wait to stuff her face with the cake. If I had tasted the cake before, I would’ve done the same, now that I think about it. 😀

U’s mum was an amazing baker and would whip up delectable delights every day, making us throw tantrums at home, accusing our mothers of never loving us enough. (Sorry Mommy!) U’s mother’s cooking was actually the stuff legends are made of.

I remember the collective sigh the class and the Moral science teacher herself gave as the fragrance overpowered all pretence of ‘dignity and propriety’ that morning. Miss valiantly struggled to keep her composure but in vain. The girls began ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ in delight at the sight of the cake as Miss, a connoisseur of all things delicious, asked U  nicely if she would like to share the cake with the rest  of the class.

U, the good girl, shocked everyone by refusing. Always looking for a bit of drama, she waited till her words had the desired effect and then said that it was for a friend’s birthday and that she will bring a big box of cake the next day for all of us. The shock on Mrs D’s face quickly changed to irritation before she arranged her face into a facade of dignity and said, ‘Hmm, we shall see”.

The bell rang, heralding the beginning of the half an hour short break.

I was the new girl, and even after 6 months of school, I did not have a lunch partner. So I stayed back in class while the other girls giggled and pushed their way to the cafeteria. U stayed behind too, fearing that her greedy desk partner would come back to steal a bite from the cake.

That was how U and I became friends.

I was sitting in one corner, chewing the egg paratha my mother had packed, thinking about the cake, hating U for not letting sharing it with us. Then, suddenly, I could smell it! The aroma getting stronger  second by second until I discovered U standing next to me, asking me if I wanted to go with her to give the cake box to her friend in the hostel. I thought this was my chance to make a new friend and maybe eat the cake too (coz, bro, birthday cakes are meant to be shared, no?) ; and so I nodded my head vigorously and off we went to the hostel.

That was when I first saw the cake. U opened the big blue Tupperware tiffin box and I feasted my eyes on the beautiful, gooey, spicy, dry fruit stuffed heaven, laced with the finest hint of rum.  Yum! The other box consisted of freshly whipped butter cream that U would slather on the cake before serving the neatly cut rectangles to us. It was truly, love at first bite.

I don’t know if my mind has exaggerated the memory of the taste, but I swear I haven’t had anything like it ever since. The flavours rushed inside my mouth, individual spices introducing themselves at first, some, meekly, confidently growing onto you as you ate more of the cake, the others swinging in, surprising and tantalizing the taste buds, dancing smoothly with light creaminess of the butter cream.

Hashtag Happiness. Hashtag Foodgasm. Hashtag Bestfriend. Hashtag Chatori Begins.

U left school a year later. Her father was offered tenure by a University in Switzerland. It was big deal back then. We tried keeping in touch, but I guess, after a few bouts of long distance pen friendship we eventually gave up. I miss her. I do miss the cake too. Her Facebook profile says she is a baker now. Suits her fine.

Before she left, I remember asking her mother how she made the cake so that I could go back home and tell my mother.

Happily, she let me into the secret.

Every year, U’s mother would make the cake a month before Christmas and would keep it upside down in an airtight container. Every day, she would punch holes into the cake and pour some rum into them. This was a family tradition handed down by U’s grandmother who learnt it from her mother in law.  For the children, the rum was used sparingly of course. The raisins were soaked in rum till osmosis made them plump enough to burst at the slightest squeeze.  They were then mixed with the spiced cake batter and set to bake. The cake is baked in the oven for about two hours slowly. Over-heating causes the cake to burn on the outside while the innards are slick and uncooked.  so no too much heat  too soon.The cake is then set to cool and is served with freshly whipped butter cream on top.

Sigh! Imma buy myself a plum cake now.

Ever wondered how the Christmas Cake came into being?

Watch out for the next entry.

Stay Tuned!

Merry Christmas!

P.

Finding Fanny: Reflections on Loneliness

Finding Fanny is a heart-warmingly delightful gem of a movie.

Beautifully rendered on the serene, albeit quirky canvas of the Goan landscape, it is a sensitively handled treatise on loneliness with lies, nostalgia and love seamlessly dovetailing in between as the movie unfolds. When it ends, you don’t want to get up from the seat because you are so enchanted by the simplicity of the narration and the wonderful portrayal of the characters played by Naseeruddin Shah, Pankaj Kapur, Dimple Kapadia,Deepika Padukone , Arjun Kapoor, the cat, the car and the Russian.

I have watched the movie so many times now and it never fails to bring a wide smile. It’s like having warm milk with chocolate and a cinnamon, lemony, cream filled donut. So comforting.

I can’t stop gushing, can I?

The plot is simple and, as a friend said, moves from point A to point B. So much like Sprite no? Bujhaye Pyaas, baaki sab bakwas?

Ferdie, the lonely, adorably bumbling fool of a postmaster straight out of a Marquezian novel receives an undelivered billet doux one night and is immediately transported to a time when he was young and madly in love with the (probably) belle of Pocolim, Stephanie Fernandes. Ferdie or Fernando as she called him, is shocked, and begins to wonder about how things could have been if the letter had in fact, reached its destination. He is in an emotionally masochistic daze  before his young best friend, Angie Eucharistica, a lonely widow still full of the hope and romance commonly associated with youth, coaxes him to get some closure on the Fanny episode by actively looking for news on Fanny. She engineers a plan and ropes in childhood friend/ former love interest, Savio da Gama, a lonely famous painter, Don Pedro(who, by the way,now owns Savio’s car) and her mother in law, Rosalina Eucharistica to go on a fateful road trip to find the woman of Ferdie’s dreams.

It is striking how the undercurrent of loneliness slowly develops a character of its own during the course of the film.

Pocolim is a lonely village where even Time likes to hit the snooze button and relishes its afternoon siestas. Fallen off the map, Pocolimis are content to exist in a make-believe Eden like state. Like Angie says, “things are tough here, but we make the best of what we have”. They have fewer desires and are not too concerned with chasing ambitious projects. Those who did, hardly ever came back.

All the characters are alone and while they have their ways of shunning loneliness, they also embrace it with open arms because it is a state that they are most comfortable in. It is like that blanket you hide under when you are sad and you know that if you cover yourself with it, at least you will be safe for that moment, you will sleep and forget the rest. I think, after a certain period of time, being alone becomes so familiar, that one is unable to see themselves slowly shift towards the realm of loneliness. Unconsciously, they let it pull the strings of their lives.

It is loneliness that drives and sustains Rosalina’s drive to make everyone’s business her own. She craves for appreciation and attention constantly as she meddles in the affairs of others. She is terrified of being alone and so the daughter in law, her virginity, the pampering of the cat Nerys, become the agents that distract her from the hollowness of her life.

Rosalina was abandoned by a cheating husband as a young pregnant woman very early in her marriage. She pretends he was dead at sea in one of his assignments and concocts that story of them being very happy together until the ‘accident’. She is acutely aware of how that has affected her and after the death of her son who choked on the plastic figurines on the wedding cake, she constantly takes recourse in mothering everything and everybody around her. She likes being needed and makes it her duty to meddle in the affairs of others in the name of Christian duty.

Angie, the beautiful orphan and her daughter- in- law, lives with her and while she has lost her husband 15 minutes after her wedding when he choked on the cake, shares the maddening silences and the maddening ramblings caused by lonesomeness in their house.

Observant and mischievous, Angie is also recognizing the vise like grip of  lonesome solitude about to take over her life. Like her mother in law, Angie is also trying to stave off the loneliness in her life. However, she believes that nobody deserves an unfinished love story, a trait that only the young are blessed with as the old become more senile and cynical because of their experiences. She helps Ferdie revive the young lover boy he had forgotten. In fact, while orchestrating the whole plan to help the friend, she is able to help Rosalina shed away the layers of bitterness and take a chance on love, an old emotion carefully folded and stored back in the distant drawers of her mind.

As the movie progresses, the characters become acutely aware of the damages of their lifestyle because they are now in the spotlight they have secretly craved for. The comfortable blanket needs to be stowed away and they do so reluctantly, in turn, becoming aware of the masks falling off, even for themselves.

Rosalina falls for the garishly pretty words that Pedro spouts before getting her to agree to pose for his painting. Her loneliness  causes her to let his cheap flattery attain a high pedestal that leads her to submit to what she feels is taking a leap of faith into the ‘sea of love’. It is interesting how the solitude that she once felt comfortable in, now troubles her and she is gasping for companionship to sustain the years left for her.

Dimple Kapadia handles Rosalina’s character with a dignity that very few possess. She neither lets the character slip into cliches, nor does she let it go into the tangent of caricature it could easily have taken because this movie is also a subtle satire on social norms and public behaviour. I don’t think i can get over the smitten look in her eyes when she submits to Pedro’s gaudy proposal to become his muse.  Nor will I be able to forget the horrified expression etched on her face when she sees the painting.

One can see the gamut of emotions playing Rosalina ‘s mind clearly. She is at once furious at herself for letting go, risking everything for what she thought was a beginning of love, shame at realizing the fact that it was her loneliness after all that made her otherwise, wise self, judge the situation wrongly, terrified of the fact that she would now be judged and shamed the way she herself, once had shamed and bitched about other women earlier, if this painting is unveiled.

Ferdie on the other hand, realizes he is lonely the night the letter arrives. Till then he seems to not have been bothered with his life as a solitary reaper.  This realisation and the discovery of the fact that he was on a wild goose chase leads him to finally find solace with Rosalina.

Both of them look at each other now more clearly and discover that over the years the two have been able to build a dysfunctional bond which can be shared in the future without changing their base elements. Rosalina is able to concentrate on taking care of him while he can  pursue the romantic lover boy again with a woman whose secrets he has guarded all his life.

Naseeruddin Shah is one of my favourite actors and like all the characters he has played in past, his interpretation of Ferdie will set a clear bench mark for all my other favourite actors. He is like an adorable awkward teenager of an era where love letters and the shama parwana style took romances by storm. You want to hug him every time he shyly smiles and is reluctant to get out of the car and confess his love to Fanny. Ferdie is a writer of beautiful words and can easily charm everyone around him with them. One almost feels jealous of Angie when she  gets to read his  letter. At least, I was pretty miffed she didn’t read it out aloud. 😦

Deepika Padukone as Angie is delightful. She has come a long way from Love Aj Kal and that shows in the way she handles her chemistry with all the characters around her. I always had a tiny crush on her but man, this time i really think im in love. 🙂  She gives Angie the grace she requires and is able to effortlessly essay the role of a vulnerable woman who never really knew romantic companionship. She captures the hesitance, the reluctance, the eagerness to know about a former love interest’s relationship status  before making an effort to reconnect with him romantically. Padukone, like her senior co stars, gives her character the sparkling personality,subtly announcing, that she’s way above all the other contemporaries.

Arjun Kapoor as the angsty young man in search of a more comfortable life, more money and everlasting love is great. But  he somewhere gets shadowed in comparison with his senior co stars. I love the way he tries to explain to Angie after they make love that he is not a jerk chasing ‘tail’. The sulk on his face and body language when Angie  tells him that he can be better at it is bang on!

Pankaj Kapur is an institution in acting and he adds the master touch to the film. You just can’t take your eyes of the man! You see Pedro and immediately you are reminded of all a$%^&&* you have come across in life. He is at once the pervert, the disgusting eve teaser, the sexually frustrated insider, the mad artist in search of the perfect muse, the selfish, conniving sweet talker all rolled into one. You begin to hate him and are almost happy when he leaves. Yet, of course, you realise that means that’s the end of Pankaj Kapur in the movie. 😦 But he stays, oh he stays on your mind long after you go back home and sit out reflecting on the film.

There is a thin line between loneliness and solitude. When being alone becomes too comfortable it becomes necessary to re-evaluate the situation and check if we haven’t wandered off to the darker side. Loneliness makes us push a lot of envelopes we did not think we’d ever really push. Finding Fanny is about recognizing the need to re define happiness at some point in life and seek routes that take you there.

Everybody deserves the life they have dreamt of. Even if some dreams have to be revised.

– P.S.

Man! I did like the movie a lot eh? How was your experience? Would love to know all about your thoughts on this film. Let’s start a discussion! I have so much more to gush about  but can’t ‘coz i’ve already written quite a lot above! :-p

To New Beginnings

It took me a very long time to get here. To make up my mind, to overcome my reticence, my insecurities, the narcissism, to get over the complacency that I have willingly let take control my life.

When I turned 25 this year, I had assigned myself with several goals which i had to achieve somehow.

One of them was to begin writing and publishing my thoughts actively.

I have, for long, wanted to write about things that actually matter to me. I shied away however, because I was intimidated by the works of the authors I idolize. I have turned to their works repeatedly to escape, to gain empathy, sympathy and advice. It then, only makes sense that I carry forward their legacy as a young writer. Right?

I have laughed and cried, smiled and felt embarrassed, felt anxious and angry at a character’s conclusions and subsequent choices shaping their course in the book.

When you have read stuff like that you obviously start dreaming about creating worlds like this yourself. That’s when this self-centred need to replicate the magic created by another author creeps in. You want your readers to love your work the way you have loved somebody else’s work.

This, I guess, builds the pressure. At least, I have created that block, that wall of expectations around me.

There have been times when I have been so humbled by the nakedness of simplicity used to describe a character, an event or an emotional turbulence that makes all my romantic notions of writing on complex themes, all my words seem pretentious.

Other times, and that comprises  a major chunk, I have felt too lazy about writing anything at all.

At one point I think, I have been afraid of the thought of replying to the criticism I would receive on my post. Yeah, I do believe that there will be someone reading this when I make all of my writing public.( Itna toh confidence banta hai. : p ) Even if, it is only a future me reflecting on the choices and decisions I made back in 2014.

Which brings me on to the subject of writing and publishing one’s work.

I have felt that all writing and all writers have an audience, even if, it is just our future selves looking back at our lives. I believe writing is an intensely personal activity and that no matter how hard you try, some part of your subconscious creeps in.

All your life you form a certain set of values, based on the people you meet, your experiences, the books you read, some of which contradict the politics that you have been brought up with. When you are writing and creating a world, some of these deep seated fears resulting from the contradictions of values, maturity and knowledge sneak in.

You then have a very Dorian Grayish moment. We all like to believe that we, essentially, are good people, that we , no matter what happens to us in life, have retained the untarnished versions of our younger selves. That changes when we review our work.

It is, as if, that squeaky clean image, that innocence, the youthful vigour that Dorian wanted to preserve all his life, is shattered in this one moment, when you realise that in the creation and development of this character, you have passed on your observations and unconscious judgement of people and situations. And when you have that “abhi, kahin baaki hai tu mujhmein hi” moment, where your fears and trepidations are still holding on to you,  you begin to empathise with poor Dorain Gray, understanding, what he felt when he first saw his portrait reflecting the wrinkles and the haunted expressions, the scars of the experiences of his life.

Yes, all of this from a single decision you take on behalf of the character, and try to pass it of as hers/his.

Then there are other thoughts. What if I really can’t move any body? What if my vision is misinterpreted, what if i really turn out to be a complete loser?

Some more moronic depressed musings like, what if i can’t sustain this? What if i do well once, then tank? What is so and so going to think? I have been pretty judgmental about a lot of people, am i really ready to handle their judgement on my work? Am i mature enough to reply calmly? Will this be like all those relationships i tried to work on but failed?

But then The Bacchanalian Hedonista is infact, all about immersing yourself in the sensuality of pleasures you seek in life.  Writing and reflecting on everything around me is that kind of a hedonistic activity for me.Cheesy as the line seems, it is pretty true. If you can’t be main character of your own life, who else will want to?

So today when P was dancing on my head, telling me to put my insecurities aside, to not think so much  and  just push the publish button, I realised I needed to stop being a sucker for social approval. A, M and R have been coaxing me to  do the same but I guess I wasn’t ready then. Sorry guys! I guess I am ready now. Slowly and steadily “ we shall overcome”.  Here’s a toast to new beginnings!

Love,

P.S.

Hello!

Let thy desire flourish,
In order to let thy heart forget the beatifications for thee.
Follow thy desire, as long as thou shalt live.
Put myrrh upon thy head and clothing of fine linen upon thee,
Being anointed with genuine marvels of the gods’ property.
Set an increase to thy good things;
Let not thy heart flag.
Follow thy desire and thy good.
Fulfill thy needs upon earth, after the command of thy heart,
Until there come for thee that day of mourning.

– some anonymous  Egyptian in 12th century B.C. ( I LOVE YOUR POEM DUDE!)