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Of Frothy Chocolate Drunk From Crumbling China In A Chocolate House

Melt the cheapest variety of chocolates available over a hot pan of water. Stir till silky and frothy. Add a cup of milk and one spoon of full cream. Two spoons of sugar, if you feel indulgent and if the guests coming, are important and not new money. The nouveau bastards won’t know the difference either way. Serve in the ancestral tea set you preserved after selling off your diamonds. Garnish with the most expensive chunk of chocolate available. Don’t forget to keep a cup aside for him, as a last attempt to stop him from going to the blasted debauched chocolate houses.

In this column, dear reader, as we draw close to an ending, I’d like to go back to the beginning. This beginning is the one of chocolate. Chocolate and the roots of its building into the commodified and much-loved condiment that it is today. What I also look at is an analysis of the significance of chocolate and chocolate houses as reflections of the social processes and change during the Eighteenth Century. Chocolate represents the crumbling of the old aristocracy while indicating the arrival of the industrial age and the revolution for egalitarianism.

On September 14, 1715, Dudley Ryder wrote in his diary:

“Rose between 6 and 7. Got myself ready for my journey to the Hay with Cousin Billio and his wife. At 7 o’clock cousin and his wife came. They would not stay to drink chocolate and so left me to follow them after having drank some chocolate.”

Ryder, Attorney General in 1745 and later Lord Chief Justice, was an uptight man, extremely particular about rules, and the fact that he delayed his trip to drink his chocolate indicates to the careful reader, the obsession of the English citizens of the early Eighteenth Century with this drink, which was very carefully manufactured.

After the first beans of cocoa had hit the European continent in the sixteenth century, the first chocolate drink was sold in a shop called The Coffee Mill & Tobacco Roll. The drink had been earlier sold in Coffee houses, but due to its bitter taste and expensive rates, it was ignored for a cup of coffee that had more caffeine and hence, packed a better punch in a cup.

As Matthew Green notes for Chocolate Houses in London, “For a city with little tradition of hot drinks (coffee had only arrived five years earlier), chocolate was an alien, suspect substance drunk associated with Popery and idleness (i.e. France and Spain)” and, it came from alien lands of the new world for the herb was said to be grown in Central America, giving it a mysterious and sketchy aura for the English elite.

Hence, to generate a demand the market was flooded with a “slew of pamphlets”(Green), posters put up in every nook, diaries and the newspapers carried accounts of chocolate as this wondrous miracle drink that cured hangovers, was preferred by royalty and more popularly, acted as an aphrodisiac.

As William Hughes writes: “[Chocolate] revives drooping spirits and cheers those ready to faint, expelling sorrow, trouble, care & all perturbations of the mind, is an ambrosia … it cannot be too much praised.”

“The public was sold on it” (Green), and soon, multiple Chocolate Houses sprang up across London giving rivalry to the coffee houses and tavern culture. White’s Chocolate House established in St. James’s Street (1699) was one of the most popular. Incidentally, it is also the model for the chocolate house setting for Congreve’s The Way of the World. Its popularity gave the English Government another lucrative opportunity to earn money and so a heavy tax was imposed on it.

The tax ensured that only the wealthy could afford the drink, thereby rendering the Chocolate Houses, spaces for the privileged. The Chocolate Houses also capitalised on the fact that it was aristocracy and the nouveaux rich who were their target audience and hence, introduced an entrance fee of a penny besides the additional cost of chocolate. To cater to every whim of those with the money, the Chocolate Houses transformed into hubs of gambling, political discussion, gossip and all kinds of debauchery the rich and those who aspired to be rich indulged in.

And hence, in “the most fashionable hell” that London was, the Chocolate Houses became the most fashionable and hellish institution around. To be able to afford a drink of chocolate declared one’s status and to frequent the place made one fashionable.

In light of what stood as modish, let’s take a detour to visit the idea of the emergence of London City which ran parallel to the emergence of chocolate Houses in London. What Arthur J. Weitzman notes about the changes in London as it emerges as a city, that “The increase of trade brought wealth to the city and sparked a building boom”, is evident in the fact that multiple stores and institutions started selling chocolate and Chocolate houses opened to cope with the demands.

Also, “there was a steady improvement of civic life as affluence and luxury seeped down through the classes in the city” (Green), and nothing spelt luxury like chocolate did. The drinking of chocolate became a performance that the aristocrats and the new moneyed class (that had earned their wealth through trade; in some cases trade of cocoa itself) indulged in, to establish their status in the society. This ‘performance’ was reflective of a larger anxiety that was prevalent in the society.

The waves of economic change introduced through the opening up of trade marked the cultural transformation from “vestigial feudalism to a new economic order,” one governed by money and not birth or blood. The aristocracy desperately clutching to the power they derived from their status emphasised the performance, and the gentility (the new moneyed classes) indulged in this performance, in turn, to prove their status.

This is also reflected in the first act of The Way of The World (1700) set in a chocolate house. The act has Petulant, the fool and the fop desperate for social ascendance in class, who pays people to call on him in the chocolate house to accord himself importance. If one would look at it in light of Foucault’s discourse on power, this is a clear example of a body made docile by the discourses and institutions of power and then, made to submit to the codes of behavior expected from his aspired-to class.

The relevance of the Chocolate Houses lies in the manner in which Congreve uses it to show the trajectory and irrelevance of the Rake figure in the contemporary times and the New Century. As many critics have noticed, the Restoration rake did become the reformed rake, as morality triumphed and sentimental comedy took over.

Richard Braverman argues that the failure of Fainall – the rake figure in the play, and hence positioned as the villain, lies in the fact that he hadn’t adapted to the changing times unlike Mirabell. Fainall hence represents the old crumbling aristocracy in the face of the new society governed by money.

In an analogy related to the chocolate house, Braverman writes that Fainall’s power has been proven symbolically impotent. His Rakish status is outdated and dead when he asks, “Bring me some Chocolate.”

Braverman writes,“Fainall is himself powerless by the location of his ‘court’. He holds forth in a chocolate house, a venue of new men and social equality, rather than the tavern, where rakes traditionally assemble to restore themselves after a debauch.”

Fainall’s court, representative of royalty and aristocracy, has been replaced by a chocolate house. An institution governed by power and privilege secured through birth and blood has been replaced by an institution governed by money.

In a paradox, the social set up of Chocolate Houses, governed by money, ends up democratising power and debauchery. Debauchery and Rakishness earlier reserved for the elite, are now due to the power of the money, available to all. Hence, to spin the words of a common anecdote to suit the purpose of the argument — when everyone is a debauched rake, no one is a debauched rake.

In another paradox, the chocolate house becomes a symbol is of, in this context, one associated with the spirit of Revolution in the eighteenth century. The spirit of the chocolate in the Chocolate Houses reflects a democratisation of society based on money but also, the debauchery and cruel decadence of the rich and the royal, in sharp contrast with the dying poor, which became a premier cause of the French Revolution itself. One has to but look at the instance of the royal family’s Flight to Varennes in 1791 where Marie Antoinette refused to part with her silver chocolatière, to realise the significance of the chocolate symbolism.

Chocolate Houses, were as Braverman calls them: “A venue of male sociability reserved for news and gossip, wit and especially cards.” The decadence associated with gambling ran so deep as to destroy whole inheritances, fortunes and even kill people. The addiction to gambling and the destructive power of it is evident in the legendary White’s betting book, which archives wagers from 1743 to 1878. It consists of bizarre predictions like:

“Mr Howard bets Colonel Cooke six guineas that six members of White’s Club die between this day of July 1818 and this day of 1819’, reads one typical entry (Colonel Cooke won). Elsewhere there are bets on which celebrities will outlive others; the length of pregnancies; the outcomes of battles; the Madness of George III; the future price of the stock; and whether a politician will turn up to the Commons in a red gown or not.”(Green, 2017)

To return to the cruel underbelly of the cruelty of Chocolate Houses – what chocolate itself was representative of was slavery. Labelled by Carl Linnaeus, the 18th-century scientist as Theobroma cacao — food of the gods – it was a product of the exploitation of the slaves, from the plantation culture in the colonies of Africa to the very trading of cocoa beans as a commodity along with the slaves.

Another insight that further reflection upon the connection of Slavery and Chocolate offers is into the relationship between the Old World and the New World. A chocolate according to James F. Gay was more “American than American Pie.” It was one of the few things, a subset of trade practices that was linking the two worlds together amidst their fraying strands of connection as the New World declared its independence.

Chocolate allowed other products of slavery to flourish, like Sugar. If one were to compare the recipe of Chocolate drink between the two centuries the comparison yields the following result.

In 1692 the following recipe was published by M. St. Disdier of France:

“2 pounds prepared cacao

1 pound fine sugar

1/3 ounce cinnamon

1/24 ounce powdered cloves

1/24 ounce Indian pepper (chile)

1 1/4 ounce vanilla

A paste was made of these dried ingredients on a heated stone, and then it was boiled to make hot chocolate.”

By 1700, Sidney Mintz notes, “Chiles” disappeared completely from the recipes and was replaced with an extra ounce of sugar. He attributes this to the significance of sugar as a luxury product that “embodied the social position of the wealthy and powerful.” He further elaborates “sugar’s usefulness as a mark of rank—to validate one’s social position. To elevate others, or to define them as inferior.”

The aristocracy’s clinging to chocolate to define their status and the increase in the portion of sugar and cocoa which represents the new money culture emphasises how Chocolate became a symbol of the Old and New period. The fact that the bitter cocoa extract of the 1650s which was discarded by all became the envious frothy “food of the gods” liquid of the eighteenth century symbolises the nature of the change that the turn of the eighteenth century brought. It was a change that said loud and clear that the aim was to not destroy the old culture, but in the true essence of its utilitarian economical reasonable ideology, the purpose was to preserve the best parts of the old, while recreating a convenient New.

The seeds of the Industrial Revolution themselves can be seen in the production of cocoa as people discovered newer implements to mass produce chocolate as demand for it increased. In France, 1776 Dorset invents a hydraulic processor to grind cocoa beans into a paste, facilitating the first large-scale production of chocolate. The constant inventions and experimentation with the recipe of the drink and its associated implements hinted at an age obsessed with science and innovation.

To conclude, chocolate and chocolate houses themselves became an emblem of social relations and more importantly a social change in the eighteenth century. The consumption and production peaked and declined with the beginning and ending of the century, connoting the whimsical time of the Eighteenth Century.

The production declined in line with the revolutionary ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity but when chocolate returned in the Nineteenth century as a product of an Industrial mass production rather than, the colonial upper-class decadence, it was here to stay.

As I end my last column of the year, it is but obvious for me to enquire of the reader if you have stayed with us from the basting through the roasting and finally plating?

If yes, I hope that the next time you look at that chunk of chocolate in your hand or read about the picnic of Blyton’s Famous Five, you will think of food as more than just bread and butter that Anne made and Julian ate.


devika_edit4.png

Morsel
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.

Written by Devika
Updates monthly


Column icon by Kanishka
Featured image by Sanna Jain

 

Creating Stories: Because Snapchat is Never Enough

The world had a lot of plans for 2017, but WhatsApp deciding that it needed its own version of Snapchat stories was not one of them.

The merits and demerits of this feature aside (I think we can all agree that while the update was made with good intentions, the removal of the original typed WhatsApp status was a poor decision, one that WhatsApp had to rectify due to the backlash.) – the temporary story making form is a growing trend. Instagram decided it needed it, WhatsApp brought it in, and even Facebook has its own version now.

Everyone is telling a story.

The era of peak TV has brought with it something else – the understanding that someone is always watching. We pose for the invisible camera that is our movie, and with the right filter it starts to look more and more like the epiphanic moment of romantic revelation coming closer. Of course, if one chooses to be part of another movie, the right filter can give you the tortured detective ideal that you need – with the fairy lights making your existence just a little bit more Peter Pan than whatever it had been before.

Democracy in literature has allowed us this right – we design ourselves, we make ourselves, we fashion who we are – and with the right filter, we can make our own movies. The constant storytelling is almost voyeuristic, since the designing of your self is in constant view. Everything, from the caption to the image, to the time limit and the words said – everything goes through a mental screening. And this process entails just one decision: who do you want to be today?

The tools which allow this constant self-fashioning can be examined further. What is the difference between the article you share on Facebook, the picture of your room on Instagram, or the written status you choose for WhatsApp? What does it say when you share a meme about what kind of humour you like, and on which platform it is allowed? How is it that on Snapchat – which is more exclusive, allowing you to decide who sees the story – captions can have swear words? Facebook, on the other hand, works as a more general platform where we avoid putting up anything our parents would disapprove of.

The differences between these platforms bring us to the issue of the performative part of our identity. We make ourselves for other people to see almost constantly, and the way we make ourselves changes with the group we interact with. There’s nothing inherently new about this. Every person changes depending on whom they speak to – but currently, this performance has become more defined, and caters to a larger audience. The way we fashion ourselves has increased with the sheer number of tools we have to do just this – because with every meme we post, we add to what people think of us.

The focus of literature and movies also shows the way this fashioning has changed. The democratisation of media has allowed almost anyone to imagine that they are part of this grand narrative – this movie, one with the right playlist, the right words, the right poetry, is theirs for the taking. We design our lives to look like these movies – the validity of unsaid experiences fades because, as in movies, the most hidden moments of a character’s progression are always part of the scene. Therefore, even moments of peaceful solitude are captured and shared, so that the experience becomes an interesting blend of your own performance and the constant feedback of your audience.

Everything becomes a story to be told. And in that we become stories – constantly read, and constantly needing an audience.

Cheers,

T in a Cup


tanviedit

A Cup of T
‘T’ as in me, ‘Cup’ as in tea, ‘Of’ as in preposition and ‘A’ as in article. Bringing you thoughtful rants on TV, books, society and various other things induced by too many cups of ice tea.

Written by Tanvi
Updates every fortnight


Column icon by Sanna Jain
Featured Image by Stuti Pachisia

Things I’ll Tell My Children about My Childhood Home

When the lights went out, we came to life.
We were always sitting at the edge of shadows,
Waiting for the light to break, ‘Load-shedding’ we called it.
We lit the darkness in little candle flames
And ate from a single plate by a single light.
Even at five, I knew where the candles were kept,
And that darkness meant candles which meant stories.
We laughed and talked without looking at each other
Like we had learnt the maps of each other’s faces by heart.
Even now, when I need a story, I need darkness
To have it come to light.
Load-shedding, we called it.

The houses were always in primary colours.
Every evening, for eleven minutes, the sky would be
Yellow in the middle, pink at the edges, and
We’d wait until the houses would start shining,
Yellow in the middle, pink at the edges.
Every time my mother found a colour pastel scrawl
On the pristine white walls,
I’d blame the sky for seducing children
Into acting the drama of eleven minutes
In eleven untidy seconds.

The pond was marmalade because what else could it be?
The sofa set was a castle because what else could it be?
My mother’s double bed was an archaeological digging site because what else could it be?
And I was the best girl ever,
Because what else could I be?

When it rained, each house turned into a island.
For seven days, we would look down from the verandah and hear
In the crashing of the rain:
Holiday, holiday, holiday.

And on the seventh continuous day,
there would be fishermen, ferrying
Us travellers, explorers, paired animals,
From shore to shore.
We never saw the fishermen except on that seventh day,
And one rainy evening, I read about fish that slept in the soil until rain,
And I wondered as I saw them, the next day, singing, shining in the rain,
If the authors forgot to add ‘-ermen’.

We’d wait until we heard the jingle of their nets;
Little, scurrying fish jumping into their little, scurrying vessels
And sail into the sunset, in this tide of this temporary ocean.
We’d return, world-weary and hagridden,
And state wisely to our parents:
‘He was right, Magellan.’

There’s very little that goes perfectly
Against the backdrop of a purple evening.
I got a boyfriend here once, and he seemed wrong.
I got an almost boyfriend once, and he seemed wrong.
Once I got two kittens home, who played in front
Of a television on static,
And they seemed wrong.
So I cushioned myself into the purple sky and thought to myself,
‘Thank God I cannot be seen.’

There was always a new summer, and always the pond,
Always a litter of puppies, always a lost frog,
Always tadpoles in the stream nearby and
Always dead earthworms in the muggy field,
Always the crow hatchlings on the same telephone pole,
Always a new summer, and brief reminders that the day was circular
And the year was always whole.

This time was the last time I returned.

I found a lane I never visited in my nineteen years.

Because there were other boundaries I was breaking,
I broke into a run
And I found an unexpected wall,
And in its middle,
I found an unexpected sun.

Written by Stuti Pachisia

Image by Sanna Jain

Dear Mornings

Mornings see the crackle of the Bluetooth speaker

It whispers
Because everytime you open another program on the computer
The laptop listens to your commands
And the problem is tackled
The fans overwork
And can’t breathe
So the music crackles

And every morning the curtains have to be drawn
For spring sunlight to filter in
And super moons and skies don’t make a difference
To all the syllabus you have to complete.

And every morning, I walk my dog
In a sleeping world
Of terrified dreamers
Watching as the weather warms
And hearts become colder.

There are so many things I have to say to you, mornings,
About the pink that you gift to me
Everyday
About the birds that you supply
When music starts to crackle on Bluetooth speakers
Everyday
About the way Simon and Garfunkle twinkles
While I open essays
Hoping to find Narnia
Or Hogwarts,
Or magic
Somewhere in the middle of the PDF,
Everyday.

The funny thing is, mornings,
For every spring ode I want to write to the world
About the golden leaves
I can feel you giving me snippets of conversations
Between birds and the sunlight
Conversations that settle on gravel roads
Or on natural tracks
Because every morning I can feel you whispering
In crackles
Always softly writing back.

 

Written by Tanvi Chowdhary

Image by Sanna Jain

Spring, For those Things that Don’t Grow

I’m plenty familiar with spring.
I spring to reach my bookshelf’s topmost row,
Stretch to grasp the overhead metro ring,
Vault sans faith o’er road construction furrows,
And when he dares snigger – the terrible pest,
Leap to smack the back of Little Brother’s head,
He might have sprouted a teensy bit taller than me
But he ain’t getting away with anything else.

Oh, I know you meant the other kind of spring,

But let’s never talk about growing things,
I was tragically spared the gift of growing pains,
The season’s of waxing, and I am perpetually waned.
Now, as I was saying –

I stand, tiptoe, for a glimpse of the concert stage,
Then, tiring, tell myself the music’s so very great,
That it would be a crime to be distracted by Image.

We moved houses.
Mom set me to sorting the garbage pile,
Hung, solo, the pictures, curtains and lights.
(The latter would have, admittedly, taken me a while.)

Spring to get myself spotted in a crowd,
Spring to make it to a group selfie.
Spring to keep up breathing when,
Pool depth climbs a half-hair over five-three.

However.
Here we short ones are, preparing to dance.

When we depict the many-handed Goddess on stage,
Our tall friends behind us consigned to playing Her hands,
We are She – we have dibs on the front of the line,
We are those who slay the demon and we wield the lance.

When we take partners for a ballroom dance,
We swish and swoosh in floating, jazzy gowns,
Our towering mates stuck with dull fancy pants,
And we are the dancers they twirl prettily around.

And then there is contemporary and ballet and jive,
And here when we spring, we needn’t come right down,
You lofty giants have to perform the lifts,
We’ll strike a merry pose up there above you, our mounts.

So, next time don’t ask us how the weather’s down there,
And refrain from your tall-person victory prance,
We know we don’t have much else going for us,
So let us at least have ourselves a ball at the dance.

 

Written by Swathi Gangadharan

Image by Hitashi

Star-crossed Lovers

Romeo was beginning to feel underappreciated. His special talent, of brawling on the streets, was not being particularly well-received in Verona. Having decided to find a place where people would get him, he shifted base with Juliet to Uttar Pradesh in search of #innerpeace, #yoganotyogi, #eatpraylove, and #spirituality. His feelings about UP, for the sake of hastening the narrative, can be summed up through the caption of his Instagram post of a bike with ‘dekho magar pyaar se’ written on the license plate: ‘Indian spring, love and laughter’.

Nevertheless, it was a happy time for the couple, as it was spring, and they sat around basking in the sunshine, singing:

“It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green corn-field did pass,
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.”

Romeo had gone to get some poison juice, and Juliet found herself all alone. The police personnel in the area, seeing an unattended young woman, were hovering around in the interests of the ‘Anti-Romeo squad’, the interests of which they were enforcing with dedicated zeal, despite there being a slight problem: they were unsure about what exactly a Romeo was. And what did one do with a Romeo once they caught one? Most confusing, especially as it was entirely up to them to decide upon the properties of a Romeo, and what they should do when they found one. A logical argument was made and agreed upon; that this species could be identified by “the look in their eyes, their face and the way they stand”. Soon, Juliet called out, “Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?” and Romeo hastened to her side. The police personnel’s ears pricked up. ‘It is a Romeo! We have found it!’ they cried, ran towards the couple, and surrounded them.

Romeo found himself picked up bodily by a police officer and was delighted, for here seemed to be an opportunity for a brawl. “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” he asked heatedly.

‘Don’t talk,’ replied the officer. ‘Go sit on the road, and do push-ups while holding your ears. This is how we punish young loiterers like you.’

‘Punish? But why? What has he done?’ questioned Juliet, who was a bit slow on the uptake.

‘He is harassing you, and we have to protect young women from their hormones and their boyfriends,’ said the officer.

‘But I’m clearly into him!’ cried Juliet. ‘That is to say, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea/ My love as deep; the more I give to thee/ The more I have, for both are infinite.”’

‘It is not up to you to decide that,’ snapped the police officer. ‘It is written in the manifesto that there will be anti-Romeo squads. This is a Romeo, now here is a squad. You are spreading immorality. And besides, “These violent delights have violent ends/And in their triumph die, like fire and powder/ Which, as they kiss, consume”’

“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo,” lamented Romeo, in handcuffs, as he was frogmarched to the police station.

‘No, stop! I trust Romeo! We have a deep level of trust and affection, because we’ve only looked at each other once before falling in love. We share a genuine friendship!’ pleaded Juliet.

All the police personnel exchanged knowing glances, and smiled, used to hearing this. ‘Madam,’ stated one of them, with the air of one who puts down a fundamental truth. ‘A boy and a girl can never be friends.’

Written by Anushmita Mohanty

Image by Stuti Pachisia

ACROSS THE FENCE

A whirlwind of emotions ventilated her striped outfit, as her weak eyesight drank in the picture of daisies smiling in the countryside. She hung from the doorless opening of the carriage chugging off at a snail’s pace. She didn’t want to obscure the few beams of joy lighting up her miserable world by gazing at the sickly faces wearing morose expressions in the train compartment. So she allowed the gloomy wind to caress her matted hair and strained her ears to hear birdsong. Only jarring sounds of machines and unceasing wailing welcomed her into Hamburg.

Hurtful wires and snide comments formed her first unflattering impression of the camp. Stony visages forced her into a large hall where shaved heads and hopeless eyes drowned the canvas in black nothingness. The guards cringed at the sight of her long hair- a source of perpetual lice and disease. As the razor touched her curls, she remembered how her mother expertly braided her chestnut locks, interspersing them with roses, violets and her favourite- daisies. The image of her mamma’s bloodied body being hacked to pieces by the Gestapo as her shrieks resonated in the street, fluidly entered her consciousness. This made her freeze in the queue, with another girl behind her nudging her forward.

Her Papa had been exempted from this tormenting scene as he had been picked up a day before. Her optimism compelled her to believe that he was alive and well. She soon realized that she would prefer to not see her gentlemanly father as an invalid living in nauseating conditions.

A new number was then branded onto her arm. The pain it caused was a minor prick in comparison to the emotional longing she felt for Papa. A laxity in discipline allowed the women to cling to the thorny fence. In the pandemonium that ensued, someone whacked into her. She banged her head against something, and the world went blurry. She imagined that her hoarse cries were met by a weak shout,”Liesel, my baby!” She imagined that she reached out to hold his hands. “Everything is alright, darling. Don’t panic. Papa’s here,” she imagined him saying. She told this to the violets hidden under the wires, their petals torn by metal thorns. At least someone would know her story now.

Was she dreaming up the violets? Huh. Why not daisies, then? She had always found the violets insipid before.

Soon, gunshots echoed in the bloody atmosphere as the inmates refused to be calmed down.

“These bloody rats!” an official shouted, aiming his rifle everywhere and nowhere.

A stray bullet hit her.

“I guess you’ll do then. Is it alright if I call you Vi?” she whispered. Her soul bled out into the earth, watering the plant’s roots.

The wind took a baby breath to convince the violets. They reluctantly shook their heads in acquiescence.

Someone stepped on them before they could tell her their story. Tell her how they refused to die because Lebensraum was too silly. Tell her how they hid in the dirt behind trembling feet that fed them a diet of bright liquid every time a gun coughed a bullet. How their insipidity had let them meet her.

“Hmmph. Bloody daises”, was all they could say.

Liesel and Vi died on the spot, hand in hand, across the fence.

 

Written by Tript Kaur

Image by Kanishka

“CALCUTTA”

Jodhpur Park, 5: 35 p.m.

The burner was rain-splattered. There was a tear in the blue tarpaulin overhead, which went uncared for unless rainwater plopped into the tea that was slowly simmering. Simmering now; it would boil over soon enough. But Bablu da turned down the knob at precisely the right moment, before it did. 8 rupees for a bhaand.

The burner took a break. Calcutta is a city that often seems to be, to the outsider, on an endless break. You’d be envious of its languid vacation. Men women children yellow cabs mini-buses hand-drawn rickshaws sprawled across the asphalt bed, inhaling the tar and the light blue sky all at once. That’s Calcutta for you. The City of Joy, of culture and heritage and music. To her lovers, Calcutta’s cacophony is music. Hot debates over steaming cha-shingara is an orchestra. The dull hum that sets in every night, as the brown oil-soaked paper covering the egg-chicken rolls sticks to the plates, is a lullaby. Calcutta’s lovers are probably among the most possessive. After all, it’s the city with a soul. Argue with that, and you may subtly or not-so-subtly be labelled vapid.

It was all very laughable for a while. A city with her people and their eccentricities. It was cute, almost. But for how long does one laugh at isolation? For how long do you find yourself amused when you’ve walked the entire stretch from Park Street to New Market and felt nothing but empty and alone?

I was always asked why I don’t say ‘Kolkata’. ‘Kolkata’, ‘shohor’- names given to a city by her lovers. Excuse my gendering of it, but Calcutta to me has always been feminine: the bashful beloved, the cruel mistress, or the cool and aloof singer at the downtown bar. Or it could be conditioning. I don’t know. I haven’t bothered to find out. That is how it has been, you see. My romance with Calcutta, however fleeting, has always felt like a hand-me-down raincoat. Friends who had inhabited this metropolis for years had often resembled condescending, elder siblings. The things they own are simply…better. And now that I have them too, I better value them, love them. The lack of romance, however, was more my own. Never felt second-hand. And that bothered me. I struggled to experience Calcutta. I went to College Street, strolled among the lawns of Victoria, sat sipping cha at Princep Ghat as dusk resisted the night. Calcutta did not become shohor.

Coming back to nomenclature. ‘Calcutta’ is endearing, yet foreign. My relationship with the city has been an exhausting and persistent process of inching closer and shrinking away. I was always heavily aware of being on the outside. Calcutta doesn’t belong to anyone, but her people do belong to her. I yearned for the sense of belonging that I never felt, be it in Maidan, in Coffee House, while flicking the ash off a dying cigarette, or in the by-lanes of Shobhabazaar. Park Street remained a blur of neon lights and Chinese food and debates over the steak at Oly Pub. Despite living in the southern part of the city, it never grew into my go-to place for a night-out. Yellow cabs flitted in and out of sight, from my 27th floor balcony. The world down below with a million people, dreams in their veins and coals in their hands, did not have to make sense to me. If only I could get a little closer.

Romance is Bablu da’s steaming bhaand of perfectly coloured tea in rain. But Calcutta and I were locked in a long-term relationship, and there was no love lost between us. We gave each other space, and too much of it. We were respectful to each other, and did not stop its turning into cold civility. I had typed ‘but’ instead of ‘and’ in the previous two sentences, but hit backspace each time. Because I don’t know if there is any regret anymore. I knew regret. I had seen it on the face of the old manager of Paramount, as a twenty-something abused Lenin, and ordered sweet lime juice instead of daab-er shorbot. Regret was Au Bon Pain in place of Music World. Regret could be spelled out.

How do you spell nothing?

I can be apathetic. I can be distasteful. But I can’t refute Calcutta. Every time the air-hostess welcomes me to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, the city and I greet each other like old lovers who neither accept nor reject one another. We are going to spend some time together now. Struggle, to tolerate, if not love.

Image by Deyasini Chatterjee


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Vagabonding ft. Chai
Ramblings from the life of an insomniac Lit major living by Stevenson’s aphorism: “The great affair is to move”, and trying to make sense of life and its squiggles.

Written by Deyasini Chatterjee

Updates monthly

Of English, American Cheeses clubbed with Paneer in the Melting Pot

On a low flame, place the non-stick frying pan of the latest quality. With a little butter, add the hunk of rare English Stilton cheese that Chachaji brought for the family from his last Europe tour. As soon as it starts melting, add about five slices of American processed cheese available in your nearest supermarket. The two melted masses should mix into each other, but don’t be alarmed if bits of the American cheese stick out of the goop. It is an inherent quality of the American cheese, especially when cooked with an English one. To give it an exotic and exciting taste, add turmeric, cumin and red chilli powder.

Serve with a dash of saffron brought straight from the hills in an airtight plastic bag, available at your nearest supermarket.

Spread on English wheat bread or roti, whatever suits your taste.

As identities around the world get further convoluted with the circulation diverse ideas, some embrace the oncoming change, while for others, it becomes important to assert their authenticity through their “Indian-ness” or “American-ness” in the face of the massive ideological onslaught.

Amidst this tumult of the citizens of the world coming to terms with their hybrid-cosmopolitan identities informed by the chaos of politics, circulating ideas, cultural and religious influences, economic conditions, our movements, restriction of these movements and multiple other factors, the space where these play out becomes very important.

Our food obviously embodies this tumultuous state of our identities while reflecting the metaphorical heat these identities are cooked under. Whether it’s the slight bashing of religion or the tadka of politics, our food reflects the space our identities are created and exist in.

The 2006 Man-booker novel of Kiran DesaiThe Inheritance of Loss puts food and its associated imagery to brilliant use by using it as a literary device which paints a raw, heart wrenching and yet, a satirical picture that encompasses multiple ideas. Though Desai’s work does not reek of the excessive “Indian spice” that Indian-English writers often, in their bid to appear exotic, generously sprinkle —pardon, pour— all over their product, her novel does create a coagulated mass which — though an extremely intelligent and well thought-out one—might be hard to digest for a mundane reader.

Publisher’s Weekly writes about it as ‘…alternately comical and contemplative…[Desai] deftly shuttles between first and third worlds, illuminating…the blinding desire for a “better life”.’

Jemubhai Popatlal Patel, usually known as the Judge throughout the novel, inhabits the identity of a colonial servant—the babu, rendered a foreigner in his own country as he disregards his Indian origins to eat even his rotis and puris with a fork and knife. The novel circles around him and his household consisting of his granddaughter Sai, his cook, and the latter’s son Biju.

The cook, his identity consumed by his profession, has no name or identity beyond his kitchen and the house of his employer. But in an attempt to give his son the dignity and independence that he lacks, he sends Biju to the USA. The novel literally jumps between the First and Third world as it captures the experiences of Biju in America. The Judge’s present day household is caught between the Gorkhaland insurgency and the Judge’s own colonial memories.

One of the most important images that make the relationships between most of the characters in the novel painfully clear is that of the Dining table in the house. A dining table, even in an Indian household much like this one, indicates several things. First, it represents a desire to be Western-ised, for eating at a certain time together on a table, bound by rules and etiquettes, is a western experience passed on to the Indian population during the colonial mission. The Judge’s adherence to the rules dictated by the dining table and his insistence on following all the essential rules related to the etiquette of eating in the correct order of the courses indicate a colonial hangover (which we still haven’t found a cure to).

His treatment of people who do or do not adhere to these rules also indicates his relationship with that person. The dining table becomes a site of his relationship with people, beginning with his wife, Nimi who he detests because of her “uncivilised – Indian” mannerism. His treatment of her is forever documented by the table cloth which still carries the stain of the port wine from the time he spilled it while trying to fling the glass at her for “chewing in a way that disgusted him”.

Meanwhile, his beloved dog, Mutt, despite her status as a “kutti” in the eyes of the world, is the closest to him. This is indicated by her seat not only at the dining table, denied to various human beings like the cook, but also in a position of privilege which is right next to him, which is denied to even his family members. In fact, troublesome times emphasise the animal’s position of extreme privilege, when the dog of this upper class family eats better than the human beings of the household. The Judge bars himself and his granddaughter from eating meat (a privilege never accorded to the cook in the first place) so his dog could eat meat in a time of curfew when supplies are limited.

The last person who has the good fortune of finding a place at the dining table is Gyan, Sai’s lover and tutor. Gyan, by virtue of his education and despite him being from a lower class earns a place there, reminding the Judge of his own humble origins (a reminder that the Judge does not enjoy). Gyan’s unfamiliarity with the cutlery and the food – for which he is scorned by the Judge who is “slicing the meat expertly off the bone” – serves as a reminder of the Judge’s own experience in England during his ICS education, which alienated and humiliated him because of the lack of his English manners. His Indian lunch of puri-sabzi packed by his mother, much like his appearance and lineage, became a marker of shame for him abroad. By the time he returns, he has completely overturned this, alienating himself from his culture to such an extent that from his powdered face to his stew, everything is – or at least ardently strives to be – English, making him the butt of jokes for the English and the Indian community, as he fits into neither.

In a parody of the rules of the English dining culture and those looking to emulate it, Desai inserts an incident recalling the hunting tradition wherein the babus emulated their western contemporaries. The Judge returns to the camp empty handed after every six o’clock hunt and in a bid to preserve his respect, the cook roasts a chicken and calls it a ‘Roast Bastard’ “just as in the Englishman’s favourite book of natives using incorrect English. But sometimes, eating that roast bastard, the Judge felt the joke might also be on him. . . Kept eating as if he were eating himself, since he, too, was (was he?) part of the fun…” (Desai 63) The “roast bastard” hence becomes representative of a class of Indians which can be called the bastards of India themselves, an irony not lost upon the Judge.

Sai, his granddaughter herself inherits this sense of alienation. This is indicated in the incident at the beginning of the book where she is unable to serve the intruders Indian tea. Only English tea is made, because her convent education from Dehra Dun taught her “cake is better than laddoos”. This alienation, along with her familial connection to the Judge, is what binds them together and makes her the only family member that he does not hate for she too, is an outsider in her own country.

Finally, we have the cook who, as mentioned above, is not even thought of as being deserving of a place at the table. And it is here that we shift spaces from the dining table to the kitchen, for the kitchen encompasses every aspect of the cook’s life.

This is the place where he began working as a child under his father. The kitchen becomes a space representing the community in the book, as the cook and Sai bond over cooking, while abroad, Biju [his son] shifts from one restaurant kitchen to another like a fugitive who is, still, connected to his father in India, through the experience of serving those above them and through the same medium.

The kitchen for Biju and the cook represents the source of income, but for Biju it also represents alienation. In chapter five, while cataloguing the restaurants that Biju switches from, Desai highlights the nature of the lives of the immigrants residing abroad illegally, torn as they are from their culture and thrown in a “melting bowl” where their identity disappears under that of the majority culture:

“ …Biju at Le Colonial for the authentic colonial experience.

On top, rich colonial, and below, poor native, Colombian, Tunisian, Ecuadorian. . .

On to the Stars and Stripes Diner. All American flag on top, all Guatemalan flag below.

Plus one Indian flag when Biju arrived”

Not only is the immigrant alienated from his culture, but in a bid to keep some of his principles intact he has to choose between jobs and precepts of his culture like Biju does in the form of cooking for a steak house where he comes to terms with his work by making a “holy cow and unholy cow” distinction. Feuds like the India-Pakistan one have also been kept alive in a dingy American kitchen thousands of miles away from the countries.

The kitchen also becomes a space that differentiates between people of different classes and gender. It is acceptable for the cook to be there because of his class, but insulting for the Judge.

This kitchen also becomes a site of violence where not only the chicken “weak with anxiety” is massacred and roasted, but also unwanted housewives over “accidental” choola fires. Nimi Patel, the Judge’s wife suffers the same fate and the Judge “chooses to believe it an accident.”

Food represents nostalgia on one hand when the cook weeps for his village’s roti, and Biju complains of angrezi khaana, but on the other hand, it also is a site for the articulation of favouritism and belief in the superiority of one’s own group.

We have Lolita aka Lola arguing over the superiority of “Her Majesty’s Jam” over the American alternative with Mrs. Singh, both connected to the nations indirectly through their NRI daughters. We also have Father Booty propounding his home-made cheese in the face of a global movement of packaged cheese where he is rivaled by Amul itself. A major part of the Gorkha movement is to deny Western products like whisky. Gyan, influenced by the movement, and as a way of asserting his superiority over Sai, calls her foolish for mimicking the West by eating cheese toast, chocolate cigars and brandy-doused cake for Christmas, a festival of the West. Sai retorts by saying that he didn’t mind it when he was consuming them, i.e., when he was a part of the privileged class.

Desai in her bid to address multiple debates like Westernisation, the immigrant crisis and the refugee crisis, makes this novel timeless by virtue of its ambiguity regarding these issues. The food in the novel also addresses these issues and several more, including class, privilege, love, poverty, hybridity, colonisation, cosmopolitan identities, and so on, thereby emulating Desai’s message [as the author understands] of ambiguity which allows the reader to choose the path they prefer, indicating that there isn’t any right or wrong. They are just ideas, and one can choose whichever one they want, whether it is to eat your roti with a fork and a knife or sprinkle extra red chilli on your Cheese toast.


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Morsel
Yours Truly is an ambitious young adult who writes about the only thing they are accomplished in: eating.

Written by Devika
Updates monthly


Column icon and featured image by Kanishka

SWINDLER’S LIST

“For how long do these two plan to waste my time?” the cranky bookstore owner thought, as he glared at the two men browsing through titles of the same section for the past half an hour. They seemed to be well dressed and conversed in soft whispers, grinning occasionally. He finally heaved a sigh of relief when they walked towards the counter. They nodded at him once and exited the shop, leaving him fuming. He shook his fist at them and turned. Only later would he realize that half of his expensive pen collection was missing.

A cool wind blew past them, spreading earthy fragrance carrying the promise of rain. One of them caught a pamphlet and stared at it until his friend finally cracked and asked.

“Well I’m knackered. This man here looks like you Sanjay, don’t he?” They read and re-read the paper fluttering in their hands and smirked. “Looks like we’ll have some more fun today.”

A light drizzle made them smoothly steal umbrellas from passers-by without a break in their gaits. Soon, they reached their destination. A large tent swayed in the breeze over the trees laden with flowers and fruit. Much of the audience was already seated. The journalists directed their crew hither and thither, arguing with the security guards, trying to secure all angles for the tardy minister. They had a hard time pacifying other dignitaries on stage, most of who claimed to have pollen allergies and grumbled until they received refreshments. The two swindlers adjusted their disguises and delicately coughed at the harried security guards outside the venue.

“Do you realize how long you have made me wait?” Sanjay began his tirade. “I’ve been sitting in my car waiting for God knows who to come receive me. I’ll not tolerate this shabby treatment any longer,” he shouted with an air of unmistakable authority. The organiser profusely apologised for his oversight and led him onto the stage, flattering him all the way until his righteous anger had cooled. As Sanjay delivered a generic speech, peppering it with false promises and unachievable targets, Amar had a field day pocketing purses and accessories. He chuckled when a garland of folded currency was graciously presented to his companion.

The real minister finally arrived with his entourage and shouted at the flustered organiser who was too shocked to apologize. It was almost dusk and tiny stars had already started peeping out of the sky. Sanjay and Amar were long gone. Later when the press reported the incident, one of the people interviewed answered, “What difference does it make?”

 

Written by Tript Kaur
Image by Sanna Jain