The un-rounding of the round roti

The inevitable has happened. My full-time help has left, and I have been shoved into the role of cook-cleaner-washer. (This job was called ‘being a housewife’ in one era, but I hear these days it’s politically incorrect to call it like it is.) And it is in the first role – that of the cook – where I end up getting cooked. The bone of contention? The humble chapati.

For the few who have never attempted making a chapati, here’s a quick lowdown: Make the dough. (Never mind the technicalities of getting that right.) Make small roundels of the dough and roll the roundels into a flat, even, round shape. Roast on a flat griddle. Easy? Sure is, except when it comes to rolling the roti into a round shape. Not oval, not oblong, definitely not rectangular, or like a quadrilateral, but ROUND. My mom (or other expert geometricians) are probably rolling their eyes at this: Isn’t it the simplest form for the chapati which starts off as a round ball of dough? The answer is a resounding no.

Defying all rules of shape, the chapati, which indeed does start off as a round ball of dough, takes on myriad shapes on the rolling platform. I start off with this round ball of dough and place it on my rolling platform. Focused on turning it into its famous shape, I gently nudge the dough into a round shape with my rolling pin. And before my very eyes, it magically turns into a neat square, or well-formed oval. The symmetry is perfect, but it isn’t round.

World over, people who have tried making round chapatis will testify to the fact that the chapati does not become round (as it should, guided by its round-shaped dough ball) in the first instance. There is a fair bit of coaxing and prodding with the rolling pin after which it takes on (or should take on) a round shape. So who was the genius who came up with the widely accepted round-shaped chapati? My theory is it was a man with a nagging wife. To keep her occupied (more in the kitchen than with him), he challenged her to make round chapatis if she truly loved him. The wife must’ve bragged to her friends about how she was showing her love in this unique way and flipping a heap of round rotis for the beloved. You know the rest – when women talk, it all goes viral.

And now, the chapati-making world suffers in quiet distress. My mom proposed a solution to end my woes: practice (the one in the cliché, practice makes perfect). But the cliché does not specify if it would be a perfect round, or continue to be a perfect rectangle. So, I hired help with practice – of the round-chapati making, that is. But since she left, life has been all about different shapes.

I have never been the artistic sorts. I can’t draw a straight line even with a ruler. For Biology class in school, I remember we had to draw really complicated cross sections and life systems of organisms. I somehow managed some representations (I use the word loosely here, and hope my Bio teacher isn’t a reader of this blog) of those, but the one thing I didn’t loathe to draw, and even enjoyed drawing, was the amoeba – it required no straight lines; just curvy lines connected in any way possible to create an organism.

How can you expect round rotis from someone like that? I’m a creative, free-flowing, amoeba-drawing cook-cleaner-washer. Creativity is usually a trait much appreciated; however, not so much in the roti-making business where uniformity and standardization seem to be more appealing. And until such a time when I can either change these standards or toss out round chapatis, I have to do that thing in the cliché – practice.

The former is the easier option – changing round roti standards. These days, I announce to H that his lunch box has square chapatis, or chapatis of a shape that hasn’t been named yet. With no option but to eat them, he responds with a smile. Behind the smile, he perhaps dreams of a time when creativity was damned, and geometry was more popular. But that was a time much, much in the past, and since then, they say, life has come to a full circle.

My roti is still to get there.

Xavier Beach Resort: Home of the Challenger Kebab

I stared hard at the spattered chicken mince on my plate. Then I stared at Prem. I picked my fork, poked at the mince, and ate some. I tried to imitate the palate tasting action of people who have sensitive palates and can identify the pinch of salt in sugar cookies. Then I started at the mince again, and then back at Prem.

I was at the Tandoori Festival at Xavier Beach Resort’sTop Chef Restaurant. We were five minutes away from Goa’s Candolim Beach, but at the Tandoori Fest, swamped in a smoky aromatic haze of marinated meats, it felt as if rustic Punjab had descended upon us. The tandoor was manned by Chef Raj, who was expertly swirling flat bread dough in the air. I had just been challenged by Prem Kohli, the owner of Xavier Beach Resort, to guess what was in the giant kebab on my plate, now reduced to chicken mince.

The Challenger Kebab

I was no expert in deciphering ingredients – I was content polishing off the plate of assorted fish and chicken kebabs without knowing what it contained. All that mattered was that each item tasted nothing like I’d ever had before.

Brandon Mendes, the Head Chef at Xavier Beach Resort’s restaurant, Top Chef, had promised me just that – kebabs unlike any others I’d ever eaten. He served up a platter with Bagaani Bahar – succulent, green, chicken nuggets, Fish Seekh – tender Kingfish kebabs, and Malai Chicken – silken, creamy, chicken nuggets. Alongside was a basket of kulchas and naans. All grilled and charred to perfection by Chef Raj.

Then came the challenger kebab – a whole chicken leg, stuffed with what seemed like chicken mince. Prem and Brandon guffawed as I took wild guesses at what it was. Chicken? (D-uh!) Red meat? (No.) Uhhh… Lentils? (No way!) I gave up – the effort of guessing was making me hungrier, and I had to stop so I could leave some food for the other guests, who had begun filling up the restaurant in abundant numbers.

Despite its hidden location – in a small bylane on the street that leads to Candolim Beach – Xavier Beach Resort seems to attract a fair number of guests. I’m not surprised. Brandon whips up a solid English breakfast, and flavorful Italian and Indian food for his guests at very affordable prices. Prem, who is a world traveler, and knows his food, is an affable companion at these meals, as he regales you with tales from distant lands. If, however, you’d rather have a silent partner, there’s Spikey, the gentle giant – the resort’s pet Alsatian, who’ll sit by you as you wolf through Brandon’s masterpieces.

Chefs Brandon and Raj

If food isn’t on your mind (possibly likely only if you were dropped on your head as a baby, or survived a lightning bolt), Xavier Beach Resort offers some decent accommodation as well. Basic, but clean rooms for a very good price this side of Goa and so close to the beach are hard to come by. And, since you have to eat some time, Top Chef is right in the garden.

As I was settling my bill (rather hurriedly, since I half expected the staff to realize they made a serious calculation error and hike my bill), Prem walked over to check that I’d had a good time. Unable to contain myself, I asked him what was in the challenger kebab. The answer? Well, you’ll have to visit Xavier Beach Resort’s Top Chef restaurant and ask for Prem’s favorite kebab to find out for yourself! Trust me, you’ll be blown away!

The details:

Xavier Beach Resort

Fort Aguada Road

Vaddy, Candolim, Bardez

Goa 403515

Ph: +91-832-2479911

Find Xavier Beach Resort on Facebook:

Goa: Beyond the sun and sand

This is my view at breakfast every day. Yes, I am a lucky bugger indeed!

We’ve done it – moved to vacation land. Been in Goa for the last three months, and these have been nothing like vacationing here. The first lesson we learned here: there are two Goas – always. One, the perennial vacation spot, and the other, where people go to work every day and holiday elsewhere. One, which is in “season”, and the other which isn’t. One, the isolated island in the rains, and the other, the party haven in winter. One, where we live, and the other, where our guests call us lucky buggers.

When we were moving here, I searched high and low for some info on living in Goa. I mostly got directed towards sites that had information on living and partying (courtesy, the hippies), or living here temporarily like a hippie. The others were probably too busy having real jobs to blog about their life. So, I hope through this page, I can provide some info on what it is like to really be living and working (seriously and normally) in Goa. After three months, though I’m no expert on the way of life here, I sure can help you find your feet, if you have moved, or help you decide whether or not to move at all, if you are considering moving here. You can help me add content by suggesting topics or asking questions on the comment page. You can also help me keep in check if I begin to rant or rave too much! Watch this space for more!

Back from internet hibernation

The internet freezer has left my building, folks, and I’m back in the warm, sunny cyber world. For those  of you who are still subscribed to my blog, a big thank you hug for your patience. I haven’t been writing since February, and these have been trying times.

These past months, when I didn’t have the internet, I had to find solace in real interactions with real people. As a result, I know the school times of the neighbour’s kid and meal times of the dogs downstairs. I also had to find ways to keep myself entertained and busy. I’ve unwittingly been a witness to a spat between the caretaker couple, and then lingered around to know how it ends. I’ve watched people walk to the beach, and guessed whether they were tourists (people wearing clothes shorter than they normally would wear, newly-wed brides wearing bangles up to their elbows with mini skirts and tank tops, and men in underwear with towels draped around their shoulders), or locals (all of the others). All this – and no status to update anywhere! Being in a world where everyone knows you – i.e., the real world – is frustrating and daunting. The virtual world shields you from so much, and lets you be comfortably anonymous.

So, I’m thrilled to be back online, behind my laptop’s screen, typing, instead of talking. And I hope you’re still here, reading!

I’m going to put up a page on living in vacation land, a.k.a. Goa, soon. Watch this space for more!

H for…

It’s February! Well, what’s left of it anyway. I always look forward to the fag end of this month as that’s when I celebrate my wedding anniversary. That’s right – I did indeed write “I celebrate…” for it is mostly I who makes a big deal about the day, and H having taken the dreaded vow a few years ago, humours me. We have both streamlined our expectations over the years, though. So much so that this year, I may actually be the only one celebrating, as H grapples with his last term at school, things like weddings and anniversaries far from his mind.

Last year in February, I was mentally preparing myself for our year-long separation; this February, I sigh my way through the days (which just don’t seem to pass as fast as my sighs), as I await our reunion next month. Having said that, the last year wasn’t as difficult as I’d thought it would be. After almost being attached at the hip with H for a couple of years, living on my own again seemed like a daunting task. I still remember the day I walked into my local mobile phone provider’s office to get my new phone connection. As the lady at the counter rattled off different phone plans (1 paise per second, 100 SMSes free, night-time talk free, 199 minutes free per month, free chat…), I looked into the space behind her head, and wished with all my might that H was here now, making these painfully calculative decisions for me. Obviously, he didn’t appear, and I was reduced to doing an eenie-meenie-miney-moe and picking a plan. Times that I definitely can do without – and that was just the beginning of the year.

As the separation year continued, I began to get used to H’s absence. After a weekend visit once, when it was time for H to leave, I voluntarily made a call to the cab company to book a taxi to take him to the airport. For people who know me, you know what a big step this was. Talking to strangers, placing orders on the phone, explaining addresses – these were H’s responsibilities, and now, despite him being around, I did it anyway. The separation was beginning to work. I also began to hang out with my friends more often, spent more time with my parents, did stuff I enjoyed like watching plays or attending art festivals, and never once felt guilty that I had H waiting at home for me!

As the year draws to a close, I have relearned the alphabet. Of course, H still stands for what it did earlier, but now it also stands for having-a-good-time-without-H! And I’ve added a few other letters: A for attachment (to things other than H’s hip), B for blithe, revamped me, C for the consideration I promise to have when H goes on a rampage with his friends, or has to work late hours, and D for the damsel-in-distress who’ll always need an H in her life!

Happy anniversary, H – this year, may you find more P for patience to deal with me, and give me more of your L for long-lasting love!

The Greener Pastures (and the in-between pink, blue, and yellow ones)

January 5, 2009. Monday, 8:45 a.m. As I stood at the coffee machine spewing its awful tasting contents (the management called it “coffee”) into my mug, I dreamed of a life where I could write all day about the things that mattered to me, and be paid good money for it.

This was about two years ago when I was working at a 9 to 6 (plus a one way commute time of two hours) corporate job. My resume boasted of big words – Communications Manager, Instructional Designer – and I had a befitting pay check to show for it, too. But somehow, despite the good life, I wasn’t truly happy.

So, I decided I had had enough of the bad coffee and quit my job. (Not on the same Monday, but many Mondays later.) I spent the following year whiling away my time (I called it “learning by observing”), enrolling in a creative writing course, studying the freelance market, sending articles to publications, and being repeatedly rejected.

I even worked for free for a major publication just to see my name in print (when I asked for a fee two articles later, the Editor said she didn’t want my style of articles any more), and worked on ghost writing projects. In the meantime, I took feedback earnestly. My creative writing course tutor helped immensely, as did some writer chaps I met through an online forum. And I wrote something every day, regardless of its sale value or even publish-worthiness. Finally, well into my second year of doing everything but making money from writing, I managed to sell my first article – with a byline and a fee. Since then, there’s been no looking back.

So what’s the one lesson that I learned through the course of this journey? To get to the greener pastures, you have to pass the in-between pink, blue, and yellow ones, too. And today, I’m going to reveal how to do just that. Here’s how to find those writing jobs and make money off your writing.

The Green Pasture: Getting a byline

The Other-colored Pastures: Writing without getting one

Yeah, I know: You’re probably thinking, why would anyone write without getting a byline? I did, and you would do too, if you eventually want to get your name published under an article. Just like with all other jobs, experience counts in the writing business too. And how do you get experience as a writer? Work on projects that suit your style, even if they initially don’t offer good money and a byline. When you have a dozen or so such articles, approach the publications that offer a byline and boast of the work you’ve done. Get client recommendations, if necessary, to vouch for your professionalism, work ethic and writing style.

A word of caution: Some of the glossies may not offer a payment to new writers – if you think you must get a byline and be paid for the article as well, tell the Editor so. It could mean losing out on the job, but you know what you’re worth. And now, the Editor does too.

The Green Pasture: Getting paid to write 

The Other-colored Pastures: Writing for nondescript publications

I’ll make it short: Never say never to any market, and you’ll never fall short of paid work. This may seem like daunting advice if you’ve been freelancing in a niche area, or think you’re good at writing for only so many markets. However, as a writer, you should be able to write – anything! And unless you attempt a genre, how will you know how good or bad you are at it?

Markets that remain unexplored, and thus underutilized, need freelance contributions all the time. So your chances at getting published and paid for your effort are very high. Think in-flight magazines, travel brochures in hotels, or trade magazines in exhibitions. And while you wait for these magazines to respond to your query letter, hunt for content management companies that require an article here and there. No long term commitment required – you work when you have the time, and only take up projects that interest you. On the flip side, no byline, but there is good money.

Some newspapers and magazines also pay for their readers’ letters – there hasn’t been an easier way to make some cash!

The Green Pasture: Writing assignments flooding to your inbox

The Other-colored Pastures: Finding writing jobs and selling your craft shamelessly

In an ideal world, chocolate would grow on trees and writing assignments would flood your inbox. Wait a minute… Chocolate – or some form of it – does grow on trees (shrubs, plants, whatever)! So writing jobs also must flood your inbox? Yes, they do. But to get to that green pasture, you must pass through the in-between pink, blue, and yellow pastures.

No matter how big a celebrity your dogs think you are, the world at large still needs to know about your writing talent. To do that, first, you must find writing jobs. Apart from the sources stated above, google for websites that offer a chance to advertise your skills for free. Submitting content on websites that are run purely on a contribution-basis are a great place to start. Look for,,,, – read each website’s submission guidelines and copyright information carefully before you submit your article.

Once you have an expanding directory of work online, use social media such as Twitter and Facebook to divert traffic to your specific URLs. (Tip: Twitter is a great place to find jobs too! Just use the hash tag (#) before phrases such as “writingjobs” or “editing” and hit Search.) Putting up a link to your blog or other such place through which people can reach you ensures that you get writing offers delivered to your inbox!

In conclusion, don’t be shy of crossing the other-colored pastures, or even staying on them for a while. They are the ones that led me from my bad coffee days to the ones where I choose not just my coffee type (black for Mondays and Wednesdays, latte for Tuesdays, and mocha for Thursdays and Fridays), but also what I do while I drink it. It’s a life you don’t want to miss!

All I want for Christmas…

Dear Santa,

I know it’s a little late sending you my Christmas wish list, but as you may already know, I’ve been snowed under piles of work all this while. I do hope you consider me working so sincerely as a “good girl” trait, and will bring me my gifts. Delivery of the below-mentioned items is acceptable any time during the next year; I know you have tight deadlines, too, and last minute client requests can totally ruin the holiday season. So, here is my wish list: All I want for Christmas is…

  • Increased traffic to my blog: What sucks more than zero comments on a post that I slave to write? Why, zero people visiting the post, of course. Last year, I had days when there were only two visitors to my blog, Santa – just two – and one of them was my mom! It cuts deep, you know, to realize you’re a celebrity only in your family. (It’s a bit like, being immensely popular only with kids aged 2-10, and then them growing older and questioning your existence – you know what I mean.) I do hope that next year, I can write stuff that appeals to more people, but a little push from your side would just seal the deal for me. And, if you can’t even do this, then could you please stop by my blog once in a while (after the holiday rush, naturally) and comment on a couple of my posts? Or just Tweet them, even?
  • A better version of the Mac: Don’t get me wrong; I love my Mac. However, since I need to write so much more next year, I need a faster Macbook. One that starts up as fast as it shuts down, one that is as merrily compatible with other software products as it is with the Apple ones, one that has real battery backup, and one that comes with better compatibility with MS Office. (Alternately, could you please convert a large chunk of the Office users into Apple software users? Whatever is more convenient for you, Santa.)
  • More people who believe writing and freelancing is a real job: It is easier to convince people that I’m one of Santa’s reindeer than it is to convince them that freelance writer is a real job title. Most folks think it’s just my way of killing time. What I’d really like to kill is them. (No, that’s not my Christmas wish. Not for this year at least.)
  • The power to change TV channels without a remote: Santa, you may already know that next year I’ll be living with H. And this naturally means I’ll have little control of the TV remote, especially when there are cricket matches being telecast. Could you please give me the power to switch channels without having to touch the remote? Maybe by thinking, “I hate cricket!” thrice, or by swinging an imaginary bat at H? (I leave the logistics to you.) I promise to use this power only in extreme situations, and will bear the sports as much as possible. I also promise to use the power to only change channels, and nothing else!
  • More family time: It is so difficult to get together with the extended family without an occasion these days. We need better planning abilities, a little bit of risk-taking, and more importantly, the feeling that no matter how much time you spend with family, it just isn’t enough. Though everyone seems to know this, not everyone seems to do much about it. I hope next year is different.
  • The burning desire to be better each day: I have tried and tried and tried to make resolutions each New Year, but failed with alarming results. Though I can safely say at the end of each year that I’ve grown as a person, I do need to focus on my life goals and come nearer to at least a few each year. This cannot be achieved without concentrated efforts and tons of patience to see through the days when nothing goes my way. So, a couple of sackfuls of these, please.
  • World peace: I didn’t want to sound selfish, and ask everything for myself.

Thank you for being so kind as you are, and always giving me a fabulous year to look forward to. But I thought I’d tell you exactly what I want this year – makes life so much more simple for you, doesn’t it?

Until next year then.

With lots of warm hugs,

The hardworking-serious-professional-freelancing good girl

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