Photo Culture..2

As I mentioned in my earlier post, there are many changes happening in the world that I am just not able to fully grasp. Continuing on the trend of talking about photos, I wanted to share some thoughts and see whether my friends can share their experiences to help me learn more on this topic.

In today’s maddening photo culture, life seems to revolve around the camera. If you wear something nice, eat something good, go to a beautiful place, meet friends, celebrate an occasion or simply go to work, the first instinct is often to take a picture.

It commonly seems that if you go somewhere or do something without taking a picture, you have not been there or have not done it.

This and the innumerable selfies that people take worries me that this is a sign that society is moving towards more self-centredness.

I wonder — what are the unintended consequences of this phenomenon?

We have taken many technologies for granted without fully understanding their broader social impacts. In this case too, I fear that the easy access to taking countless photos, and the way this is promoted in the media and popular culture, is leading to society falling prey to the natural human tendency of narcissism, in some cases perhaps even bordering on a diagnosis of NPD (Narcissist Personality Disorder).

What do you think?

Do you think our photo culture enables/promotes narcissism?

Is this a problem? If so, how can we solve it?



Deadly Nyama Choma..

This memory ruminated back early this week after I met some of my long lost friends from my time working at the IRC in Kenya, two decades ago. A quickly arranged reunion at our new home in Nairobi turned out to be such a pleasant afternoon catching up with everyone. It was great to see the same old faces with a new look — more mature, yet holding the same expressions, nuances and  innocence of twenty years ago. We talked and chuckled about all the time we spent together as colleagues. One memory from 1998 that we all fondly recalled and could not stop laughing about was when I had suggested hosting a small house warming party at our new home in Nairobi. This was going to be the first get together with just my finance colleagues. Reacting to my proposal, Gabriel instantly came up with the idea that we should have a nyama choma evening — a traditional Kenyan barbeque. It seemed like a good idea to me to do something that would introduce me to the local culture.

I was new to Nairobi so I asked them where to get the meat for nyama choma, Gabriel readily offered to arrange for it. I was relieved that I just had to make some Indian food to compliment the main dish. It was agreed that the meat would be sent to my home and I would marinate it to be roasted in the evening.

On the day of the party, I was busy cleaning and getting the house ready when I saw somebody coming in through the gate. They were accompanied by a hopping, healthy, breathing and very much alive 3-foot-tall goat!

Seeing the live and kicking mammal, it did not occur to me even once that this could be the meat that Gabriel had promised to arrange. I was in a shock. I could not visualize this live goat lying in tiny pieces in the evening on the small outdoor griller we had. I called him and shared my sentiments as best as I could without sounding too distressed or tousled. I asked how he could possibly help in the situation and what to expect next. To my respite he offered to arrange for the meat to be made available in the form that we are used to see it. Soon enough there was somebody who took the live goat behind the house and came back with a torso of the goat without the head. It was again a sight that I had not expected. So I asked for it to be cut into a size and form that could be roasted. It took a couple of hours and the sacrifice of two chopping knives to get the meat to be ready. I once again cringed when I saw the quantity of meat we had on hand, considering that we would have a maximum of ten people that night for the get together. I recall mentioning to Manoj that we needed at least 50 people to tackle this much meat. Nevertheless, we had a great evening and all of the meat was polished off.

We not only created some treasured memories, we got acquainted to the local custom of nyama choma in the best of company we could have had.

Tandoori Naan in Toaster

thumb_img_3032_1024 SERVES: 3-4

Quick Light Fresh Baked Bread

COOKING TIME: 5-7 minutes

400 grams all purpose flour
400 ml plain yogurt
5-10 drops of oil

thumb_img_3033_1024STEP 1.  Add yogurt to the flour, make dough soft enough that is not sticking to your hands. Take oil on your hand and roll the dough with greased palm to finish. Wrap the dough in wet cloth napkin (water squeezed). Rest the dough for at least 30 minutes before rolling into naan.
STEP 2.  Make balls of dough for the size and thickness that you want the naan to be. Roll the balls with pastry roller to make naan.
STEP 3.  Place rolled naan on to heated non-stick pan, turn it around when you see brown dots on one side.
thumb_img_3031_1024Step 4.  Once both sides of the roti have been on the heated pan once, move the naan into the toaster on high setting. Fluffed and crisp tandoori naan will pop out of the toaster.

1. Keep rolling the dough balls into naan while one is cooking on the pan so that next one is ready as soon as you move the first one into the toaster.
2. Usually a tennis ball size of roll would make a 6-8 inch diameter naan.
3. Due to elasticity of all purpose flour the dough may not be able to be rolled in round shaped naan, they usually come out oblong shaped. This shape fits well into toaster slots.
4. Depending on the size of the slot of your toaster you may want to cut the naan in half before sliding it into the toaster so that all of it bakes well.


There goes my precious betel vine!

paanLet me start by telling you what a betel plant is.The betel plant is an evergreen perennial, with glossy heart-shaped leaves. A sheaf of betel leaves is traditionally offered as a mark of respect at auspicious beginnings, and to greet elders for their blessings at wedding ceremonies. Fresh crushed betel leaves can be used as an antiseptic for cuts and wounds. It is also good for the respiratory system and is used in treatments of bronchitis, cough, and cold. Betel chewing increases digestive capacity when used with lime. It also neutralizes acidity and acts as a blood purifier. Along with all the medicinal benefits this leaf has to offer, it is most commonly served as a digestive and mouth freshener after meals. In this form it is commonly known as PaanPaan is made by wrapping cardamon, rose petal jam, fennel seeds, areca nut and other condiments into a betel leaf.

So considering all of these great features of betel leaves combined with my love for growing herbs at home, I felt quite lucky when I came across a very good variety of betel vine to grow while we were living in Ghana. The weather was perfect and the vine flourished into a glossy bed of shiny green hearts. There were so many leaves on the vine that I had a standing offer extended to all my friends to take as many leaves as they wanted for their house parties.

Now before I tell the interesting part of the story, I have to lay the backdrop. We were living in a house that had a guard at all times, their duty changing every 8 hours. Most of these guards were staffed by a security company and did not understand much of English. However they were very nice, smiling all the time and nodding their heads to every conversation and question as if they have understood everything.

So, one of my friends called to ask if she could get some betel leaves for a party at her house, I gladly said yes. As I was not going to be home when her driver was to come to pick up the leaves, I showed the vine to the guard on duty.  I told him that a driver will come to get these leaves and let him take as many as he wants. Though it was a simple instruction, still I repeated it twice and the guard nodded his head and confirmed with saying “Yes, I understand”.

When I got back after a couple of hours, I just got into the house without thinking much about whether the betel leaves were picked up or not. Later in the evening when I was taking a stroll inside the compound of the house, I felt that the kitchen garden area was looking really neat and groomed. Soon I realized what had happened. I got the shock of my life. There was NO betel vine any more. The entire area had been cleared. I could not trace even the uprooted vine or roots anywhere. And that guard I had spoken with earlier had gone off duty. I was so upset and simply assumed that it was possible that my friend’s driver might have taken the entire vine instead of only a few leaves. I hesitatingly called my friend to check and to my disbelief I got to know that she could not send the driver for some reason and had changed her mind about using betel leaves for the party. Now, I was having a hard time understanding what actually happened to my beloved vine. it was a difficult night to pass by waiting for the guard to turn up next morning.

When he came I asked him what happened to the vine, he was still smiling and saying “Yes, yes, I understand” and actually had a sparkle in his eyes as if waiting for me to say “job well done”. I was feeling really troubled but could not express it as he was all smiles and I could now see that he actually did not understand English at all and just knew the few words: “Yes, yes, I understand”. Later I had to get his supervisor (who came on daily rounds) to explain to him what I wanted him to do and what he did. The supervisor told me that when I showed him the vine, he presumed he had to uproot it and was proud of the great job he had done!

And so, that is the sad tale of the betel vine that became victim to language barriers! I still miss the distinct flavour of that particularly rare variety, but on the bright side I now have a great story to tell at parties!