Friday, September 21, 2012

The Story Of A Book

I believe a book holds more stories than is told by its pages. It holds the lives and times of readers whose world had shrunk, even if for a few hours, to fit into the pages of the book whilst their imaginations soared over with an unmatched brilliance. It holds glimpses of the lives of hitherto unknown people in the notes by the borders. And some books, rarely so, hold within them a moment of history, a piece of mankind’s eternal search for order in this universe where in chaos has always been the way of life.

Books happen to be my first love. I should’ve been quite young when it happened and I have very little memory of when reading had become as natural as breathing to me. It opened a new world for me, a world I could inhabit when I chose to, and a world where everything fitted my moods. Some would call it dreamy; I prefer to call it imagination.

So there I am, in love with books and a few spare coins in my pockets.
“I am going to buy all the Poirot’s. I have all the Miss Marple’s!” I declared one evening to the husband. He looked up quizzically from his TV-trance. “You know Agatha Christie’s little Belgian detective” I added in case he thought I was talking about some spice brands!

“Really, what good is it to buy books? Why don’t you borrow from library and read it on your kindle?”He smiled congenially and went back to his trance.

I refused to rise to the bait. After all a successful marriage is not just about understanding one's partner but also keeping one's mouth zipped when a bait disguised as an innocent remark comes your way. The husband had mastered the art of ignoring baits of any size and intensity long back. I am still trying to learn the ropes of the above mentioned art form, an essential module in the “Art of happy married life!”

From that evening I have scourged the second hand shops in the city for Poirot’s. Some I found in the racks, some under the racks, and some in the boxes behind the shops. I even know the day of the week each book shop gets a fresh stock.

When I started partnering with a local charity shop to create a book corner I kept my eyes open for Poirot’s.A lovely lady with snow white hair and a laugh like tinkling of bells, Gwen my shop manager soon found out my panache for Poirot’s.
 I was sorting out books with Gwen. Keeping only the books in mint condition and sending back the others when we found a Poirot.
“Ah! Here comes your lover” Gwen said.
It was a yellowed copy of The Clocks.

“The Clocks .Gwen, in this one our little Belgian sits in the comfort of his chair and employs his little grey cells to solve the crime. Neither does he visit the crime scene nor does he speak to any witnesses.” I gibbered on nonstop. I know my Poirots’s. “It was first published in 1963 but this one was not the first edition. Which means it is not a collector’s item. This one is a mere reprint in 1965!”
 “Do you have a copy of this one my dear?”Gwen enquired.
“No darling, I wish I had!”I said flipping the pages and inhaling the scent of old paper.
“Gwen, can I buy this one from you? You won’t be putting this up on sale. It’s far too old.”
“You can take it for free if you want. Even if we return this to the centre, they might just recycle this one.”
I convinced Gwen that I did not want to take the book without paying and made her accept a payment before leaving the shop.

I leafed through the book. The first page stated boldly,
 “John Christopher Cornwell, Feb 1965, W.H Smith, London”

“Wow, this book came all the way from London. The book has travelled more than I have!” It was an amusing thought...

That evening I had to add the edition of the book to Good reads. I was unable to find the book based on the ISBN number behind the book. This was not surprising as most of the old books got published by several publishers and in multiple editions over the years. All this was two weeks ago.

Yesterday I received a very strange call, “Madam, we are calling from Christie’s, United Kingdom. It has come to our attention that you hold a title of interest to the Christie’s.Hmm...It is SBN number '1 332 978 31'!

I strained to get words out of the strange accent, “You mean ISBN number, and could you let me know the title?”

The operator continued,”Madam, it is The Clocks by Agatha Christie. I am talking about the one with is SBN number '1 332 978 31'!”

“ISBN-SBN, all the same. I have it. What is so important about it? It is not a first edition. It’s just a reprint anyway!”  I said trying to sound knowledgeable about book market.

The operator said, “It being an SBN makes all the difference. I hope you know that SBN was the first coding for books before ISBN became the accepted norm.”

“Yes, I know the story.  Gordon Foster, Emeritus Professor at Trinity College, Dublin created the 9-digit code for the booksellers and stationers W. H. Smith in 1965.This was later adopted by ISO into a 10 digit code and more recently in to a 13 digit code to make it compatible with the Bookland EAN-13s.” A silly girl from UK was not going to take me for a ride. We do have internet out here and we do know how to access Wikipedia.

The silly girl continued, “I am impressed. Let me give you the background of our interest. Gordon Foster’s SBN code was first introduced to the publishers William Collins Sons & Co Ltd. They printed about 100 copies each for a few titles. The books were then sent to the warehouse of W.H Smith group of stores in East London. Unfortunately before the h books could reach the retail outlets they perished in a fire in the warehouse. The fire was controlled before lives were lost and W.H Smith was insured for the loss of books in fire. What you have with you is one of the books from the original lot.”

“How is it possible? If all the books perished in the fire…You must be mistaken.” I said trying to curb my rising heart beats.

“It is possible. We have proofs from warehouse records which ascertain that a warehouse manager, one hmmm Mr. Cornwell, had bought the book from the warehouse itself. Employees bought goods off the warehouse as it was cheaper than from retails outlets. Talk about employee welfare in 1960’s”

Cornwell, John Christopher Cornwell. My head was whirling. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. The silly girl was going on and on.

“Mr. Cornwell moved out of UK in late 70s and we were unable to trace him. Madam, are you there?”

“I am listening, it’s just overwhelming, all this information...”

“I know Madam, now listen to me carefully. What you hold is the only remaining book which contains the first SBN code of the world. It is in every right a patriarch of all ISBN books. You are now responsible for a piece of history. We are sending a team to authenticate the book .It is just a procedure although everyone in rare books section here is convinced of its authenticity. Christie’s is ready to pay you for this book.”

She named a price that silenced me with its enormity while my mind made plans,” A chunk would be mine, chunk Gwen’s and a chunk the charity’s!”

“Off course, this is only an initial judgement.Once it goes under the hammer it is all speculation.” She said before hanging up.

Did I not tell you in the beginning that every book holds within itself more stories than the one under the title? I grinned, heady with happiness, “What good did ever come from buying books? Celebrate a retirement party before you hit thirty in a villa in Spain?”

Attention readers!
This is the "story" of a book.All a figment of my imagination.Nevertheless, I do hope something nice like this would happen in my life as well.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Megh Malhar From Kerala

Megh Malhar-The Hindustani raga when sung by Tansen lured the rains from up above. Megh Malhar -the soulful late night raga that instils the skies to shed their adornment of dark clouds and soak the warm earth with shower of nectar. Ah the lovely Megh Malhar!!!

Now you must be wondering about the connection between this thoroughly north Indian Raga and the very south Indian state of Kerala. In Kerala when it rains, it rains. Period. Drizzle is only a forerunner of a heavy rain, soak-to-bone showers!
Whenever it rains in some corner of the world ,there would a malayali watching this rain he can never identify himself with. He would  reminiscence about the Edava pathi back home; big rain drops pouring down and palm fronds swinging violently in the winds. He would say, "Oru chai-yum Parippuvada-yum!" and let out a deep sigh leaving his foreigner colleague wondering what the heck does this man chant every time it rains!

Yes, parippuvada-chai the constant companion of a malayali when it rains. It's like Calvin and Hobbes, Like Tom and Jerry, Like Laurel and Hardy- Parippuvada-chai and the rains. For me it works the other way round, whenever I make parippuvada it rains. Parippuvada happens to be what Megh Malhar was to Tansen.
Today ,Parippuvada it is.


1.   Muttar Dal (Yellow Split peas) - 2 Cups
2.   Onion - 3/4 cup cut into small pieces
3.   Green chilli - 2-3 sliced in to small circlets of fire
4.   Curry Leaves
5.   Dry chilli - 2-3
6.   Ginger - 1 tsp finely chopped (optional)
7.   Asafoetida - 1 tsp
8.   Turmeric  powder - A pinch
9.   Salt
10.Oil for frying


Wash the dal and soak in water for 2 hours. Drain the excess water before cooking.

Cooking Procedure:
  •  Grind all the ingredients in a mixer into a coarse mixture. Please take care not to make a paste.
  • Shape the mixture into small cutlet shaped balls.
  •  Deep fry in oil until the vada turns a golden brown uniformly.
  • Wait till it cools down a bit and sink your teeth into the crispy crust of the parippu vada. Yummm
 Cheat Code:

You may use Tuvar Dal,Masoor dal or a mixture.It is dal of your choice.
We cooked piping hot Parippuvadas last evening. And it rained in Perth.

P:S: My friend bought a cycle and we took turns riding it around the park. I was riding a cycle after a very long time. The feeling of cool wind flowing through your hair, knowing that cycling was something you taught yourself after the balance wheels broke one by one and remembering those carefree days of childhood - After many a day I finally felt quite young and not the grown up aunty I picture myself to be.

P:P:S:As I mentioned in the last post, I went for the volunteer job for "Save The Children". I had to do was set up their young adult and kids section of books in their shop. And I found this.

Sometime in 1983 a Steve proclaimed his love for a Katie by gifting her a book. N'est-ce pas romantique?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A pickled mind and some pickled Gooseberries...

With the prolific nature of postings on the blog, you must have guessed the state of my mind. I am bored. I never thought I would say this. I miss working. I miss the deadlines and stale office coffees. I miss bitching over silly people in office and I miss taking a day off just because I thought I am stressing myself out. I think more than that, I miss shopping. You know the guilt free unapologetic shelling out of money for things I believe I need.

Since I really do not have anything to do I have turned into pickling! Here is a simple recipe for gooseberry pickle. It is tasty and uses much less oil than the ones you buy from outside. If it were not easy, I would not even recommend. You can whole-heartedly trust me on that. Oh yes, for a change, it is my own recipe.


  1. Gooseberry – 250 grams
  2. Salt         -1-2 tbsp
  3. Chilly Powder- 2-3 tbsp
  4. Turmeric Powder – ½ -1 tsp
  5. Fenugreek – 1 table spoon
  6. Asafoetida   - ½ -1 tsp
  7. Oil               3-4 tbsp

Cooking Procedure:

  1. In a heavy bottomed pan, boil water (just enough cover the berried) with salt and gooseberry. Lesser the water the better it is.
  2. Allow the gooseberries to become tender.
  3. In a wok heat the oil and add Fenugreek. Wait until Fenugreek turns brown.
  4. Add Gooseberry, Chilly Powder, Turmeric Powder, and Asafoetida.
  5. Once the mixture boils, lower the heat and wait till mixture thickens and oil separates

Cheat Code:

You may use Fenugreek powder instead of the seeds. 

If you get bored after Steps 1 and 2.Do not worry. Transfer the salted Gooseberry in to an airtight container and keep it aside. When you feel like it continue with rest of the steps. Please resist the temptation of gobbling the salted berries else, you will not be able to pickle it. Happened to me couple of times!

Today I had a very interesting conversation with the better half. After moving to Perth, the husband deposits money into my bank account every month so that I get to be independent. So today, I asked him if he had transferred money to my account.
“Why don’t you first spend the money I deposited last month? “ pat came the reply.
For a moment, I thought I was in never-never land. When was the last time a husband asked a wife to spend some money on shopping?
Grinning I said,” Your wish is my command!”

P: S: From tomorrow, I start my volunteer work with “Save the Children”. My first assignment is assisting in the setting up of a children’s bookshop. Fingers crossed!

P: P: S: This post was a real potpourri. Sorry about that!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Nadan Chammanthi Podi and other ramblings

Dear Reader,

Do not worry.This is not another short story. It is not that sea of my stories has dried up but I am giving people a break. I am a very understanding person. I understand the concept of “Threshold Of Patience”. Now read on.


Some dishes are extra yummy when a particular person makes it. It could be that extra spice or the omitted spice or it could be the additional frying one need to do or the post-cooking garnishing that makes all the difference. In effect, everyone has a signature dish to his or her credit. Like Ammomma’s Sambhar with a hint of jaggery, Valliyamma’s Coffee, Amma’s kada-chakka thoran and the list goes on. Some dishes, ordinary by itself, transforms into culinary delights when they are made by certain people.

Yes, Nadan Chammanthi Podi. It’s a spicy mix made of predominantly coconut (yes, thank you, my malayali genes) and eaten with dosa, idli, rice etc. Considering my utmost infatuation with Chammanthi Podi, I can have it with anything. Once I had it with Maggi Noodles. (Maggi kind of spoilt the taste of my Chammanthi Podi) .

When I had to move to Australia, with a terrible heartache, I realized that none of these Podi’s are allowed in the baggage by the customs rules. After having lived on the grace of Amma’s sambhar and dosa podi for years (even in Singapore), this news was a shock.

Amma smirked. She was happy that her prodigal daughter was finally off her apron string albeit a little late. Undaunted I told her Eastern and Double Horse makes Sambhar and Dosa podi’s. Amma did not reply. She mentioned something about the Chammanthi Podi Valliyamma had made.
Oo La La. Nobody makes Chammanthi Podi in the market. That is how I asked Valliyamma about her recipe (The one she makes fits my palate). A sweet heart she is she wrote down the recipe for me.

Today, another jobless boring day dawned. I decided to try Valliyamma’s Recipe.

Nadan Chammanthi Podi

  1. Shredded Cocunut  - 2 cups
  2. Urad Dal            - 5 table spoons      
  3. Coriander Seeds     - 2 table spoons
  4. Dry Chilli               - 6-8 nos
  5. Tamarind                -Size of a lemon
  6. Jaggery              - 2-3 table spoons
  7. Curry Leaves         -a few sprigs
  8. Salt                    -to taste        
  9. Asafoetida            - 1/2 teaspoon

Cooking Procedure:
  1. Fry the all the ingredients in a thick bottomed vessel till it turns a dark brown
  2. Allow it to cool and powder it using a mixer
  3. Store in a dry container.
 Cheat Code:
It is not mandatory that you should use the quantities as given.Add more chilli if you want it spicy.A tad more tamarind for the tangy taste.A bit more jaggery for a sweet one if you have kids at home.

C'est simple, n'est-ce pas? And it turned out be yummy.