A big bite of 'slightly better'

On low days, do you eat a particular dish to feel better? Soup interviewed nine people about comfort food and what makes it so comforting.

Someone I know once told me, that when he moved to Mumbai, he took a taxi from Lower Parel every day, for three months, to a dingy, little-known Kerala cuisine restaurant in Mahim. And every day, for those three months, he would order a plate of their beef fry. According to him, that beef fry made him feel just a little more at home, in a city full of strangers.  

While one man's beef fry might be another man's Maggi noodles, it's quite beautiful that comfort food is in that twilight zone which evades judgement from even the most exacting food critic. It is a hedonistic, self-involved ritual and its primary purpose is to provide you a sense of well-being, in dollops and globs and generous second helpings. Rich food to drown yourself in, simple food to prepare you for the worst.

Each person's choice of comfort food is also an interesting glimpse into themselves. Some find peace in nostalgia; mushy childhood food and the fragrance of flavours from a less complicated time. Others find pleasure in method, the immersive rituals of making food they love to eat. 

In a country like ours, comfort food takes on a social context. As a South Indian, a hot plate of 'milagu rasam' and rice, fragrant with freshly chopped coriander and peppery enough to make my ears burn a little, is exactly what soothes me. But what does a chef from Kolkata like? Would his food be dictated by geography or economic background? For instance, what would someone who grew up rich seek in their food as opposed to someone else for whom food isn't a luxury? 

To get a deeper perspective on the subject, Soup interviewed a few people to understand how we depend on food to dispel the blues. 

Kani Kusruti, Actress.

Kani Kusruti, Actress.

When I’m not completely OK, I eat a typical Kerala meal with ayla curry. The meal includes rice, pulisseri, thenga chammanthi (coconut chutney), payaru thoran, meen varuthatu. I don’t know else to say this, but this entire meal is my first preference.
Meredith Starkman, Actress based in New York, currently in Mumbai on a fellowship program.

Meredith Starkman, Actress based in New York, currently in Mumbai on a fellowship program.

When I’m at home, I eat noodle kugel, a traditional Jewish dish or tuna noodle casserole. My mom never cooked much, but she would make these two dishes for me and she would make them well.
Anish Sarai, Photographer

Anish Sarai, Photographer

So the thing is when I’m sad and lonely, what I really like to do is cook. And the best thing I make is pasta. I like to do everything on my own, cut the vegetables, boil the pasta and make the sauce from scratch. Doing all of this makes me feel a little better about life.
Carmeline Fernandes, Cook

Carmeline Fernandes, Cook

I like eating a ‘khatta-meetha’ (sweet and sour) combination that my mother use to make. She always made me rice congee and served it with coconut chutney and one piece of onion. When I am sad or tired, the rice congee reminds me of her and the smells of my childhood.
Auroni Mookerjee, Chef

Auroni Mookerjee, Chef

Comfort food to me has always been Mangsho. Being Bengali, mutton was always the preferred meat at our dining table, even over maach or fish, and the person who made it the best was my dad’s mom, fondly known as Manni. Unlike most, Manni, wasn’t too elaborate about her Mangsho. Neither was she too unorthodox like my parents who liked to experiment with different cuisines, cuts and offal. Manni made her Mangsho like it’s made in most Bengali households every Sunday - as a jhol - a flavour packed curry that’s soupy and usually has potatoes. And, her only secret ingredient would be a a few extra pieces of bone marrow, so that the jhol had that extra meaty punch and also so that my dad, sister and I never had to fight over who got the marrow bone.

Till date and over all these years, it’s the one dish I keep going back to for inspiration whenever I want to eat well. It’s what I make after a hard week at work, what I rustle up when there’s an impromptu gang of house guests and what even went on to become one the of signature dishes on our menu. It’s also what I’d request as my last supper.
Ayesha Kapadia, Artist

Ayesha Kapadia, Artist

Peanut butter. But only the crunchy sort.
Gautam Thanki, Exporter

Gautam Thanki, Exporter

I like to have Lindt dark chocolate, the one with 80% cocoa. It’s not good for me and it tends to give me ulcers the next day but I still have it because I need it.
Barbie Rajput, Singer/Actress

Barbie Rajput, Singer/Actress

Normally I indulge in a Maharaja Mac burger. You know I’m very tiny and the burger is huge, so tackling the burger and making my way through eating it usually takes my mind off my troubles, which helps. But as a little girl, I preferred something tangy. Sometimes ‘imli’ (tamarind) but mostly this drink called ‘khatta’. It’s a Himachali recipe and made out of this particular tangy melon. You have to grind and blend mint leaves into it along with sugar and green chilli. My naani would make it for me. But now that there’s no access to it, I eat the Maharaja Mac.
Garima Sharma, writer and poet

Garima Sharma, writer and poet

I’m living in a tiny and dilapidated but sort of charming house with beautiful light in Versova. I have no gas for 11 months now and I’ve been staying here on and off. There is an induction cooker though. And the thing I make most of the time here is batches of green tea. I don’t know how to cook actually. But the green tea bit is serious business because it’s the kind of stuff that keeps me alive on bad days with a cigarette to lighten the weight of the world. Side note- I eat the tea bags. Please don’t judge me.

Story: Meera Ganapathi, Photography: Jimmy Granger

The Nightie Is Upon Us

Q: How many aloo parathas can one woman make before she puts on a sari to catch the 7:45 AM school bus?

A: None.

Probably explains why large groups of mothers can be found flocking around schools in pastel coloured nighties. 

From the swimming pools of three-star hotels to a PTA meeting, the nightie has invaded every realm of existence. Worn with a protective towel or dupatta around the shoulders and a thick cotton petticoat under it, the outfit has been repurposed to meet India's standards of 'decency'. And so, what is hidden away in bedrooms in the West is proudly worn as the bastion of moral values in Kandivali East.

Research shows that nighties or maxis, came to India in the '70s. I can't help but wonder about the first rebellious Mrs Sharma/Padmanabhan who stepped out in her nightie to haggle with the sabji waala. I'd like to congratulate her for being as important to women's empowerment as the first woman to wear pants. Unknowingly, that Mrs Sharma/Padmanabhan created a sartorial trend that has overcome class barriers and social stigma. I have seen my cook in a nightie just as I have seen my neighbour aunty in one. (Incidentally they’re both baby pink with a delicate floral pattern, covered by a dupatta and accessorized with a grocery bag). 

Personally, I love the nightie.  If you were to leave your conditioning aside and reimagine the nightie with it's loose comfortable design, pretty pastel patterns and thoughtful pockets, it isn't too different from a European summer dress or minimal Japanese designer piece. Moreover, it's functional design makes it perfect for Indian weather and house work (who doesn't love pockets!). We may not like it but the nightie has become an unacknowledged fashion trend in India, one paisley pattern at a time. 

The model wears a soft mauve nightie with a delicately sprinkled tulip pattern and mother-of-pearl buttons, accessorized with a lemon yellow plastic lunch basket. 

The model wears a soft mauve nightie with a delicately sprinkled tulip pattern and mother-of-pearl buttons, accessorized with a lemon yellow plastic lunch basket. 

This newfound interest in nightwear made me go looking for nighties on Hill Road. The variety was astounding. Appliqué work and lace detailing aside, the nightie industry has exploded with options. There are Whatsapp nighties, denim nighties, embroidered ones with smocking, kaftans, seductive satin numbers and my personal favourite; dupatta nighties (ones with pre-attached dupattas because there’s always time to save). 

Block-printed patterns dominate this pretty summer nightie made of 100% cotton. A soft organza dupatta with floral French-knot embroidery provides modesty and completes the ensemble.

Block-printed patterns dominate this pretty summer nightie made of 100% cotton. A soft organza dupatta with floral French-knot embroidery provides modesty and completes the ensemble.

My recent travels on the internet tell me that the ‘night gown’ as it was once known, came about in Victorian times. It was prudishly worn in the dark of bedrooms but when coupled with a chiffon peignoir and matching house coat, it became acceptable home wear. My travels on the internet also tell me that today, the nightie has its own dedicated section of porn. In India, this section is filed under ‘decent ladies in nightie’. This was enough to make me understand the nightie’s flowery power. It was also enough to make me understand that some fetishes will never be understood by me.

'A Botanical Delight', giddy blue flowers and muted yellow daisies dance all over this soft cotton nightie. A cotton head towel is worn to keep the model's hair dry.

'A Botanical Delight', giddy blue flowers and muted yellow daisies dance all over this soft cotton nightie. A cotton head towel is worn to keep the model's hair dry.

Porn might try and objectify it, but the nightie is in fact an outfit of empowerment. In the West, busy mothers jump into hastily worn track pants to save time but back home this isn’t an option. Which is why, I feel that the nightie is a subtle statement of rebellion. A woman saddled with work, family and responsibility chooses comfort over modesty. Hence, the easy-to-slip-into nightie makes much more sense than a tedious ten minute drape or a three-piece salwar kameez. And let’s face it, we live in a very hot country. Most ‘appropriate’ female clothing isn’t appropriate at all.  A quote from old Archie in Harry Potter And The Goblet Of fire, is perhaps the best argument for the nightie so far. When ridiculed for choosing a flowery nightie over a pair of trousers, Archie defends the nightie saying, "I like a healthy breeze ‘round my privates, thanks."

The patron saint of middle class aspiration, Karan Johar may not have made a ‘Knightie’ yet, but recent developments indicate that the garment is here to stay. Controversy, being one of the indicators. A few busybodies in Navi Mumbai called for a ban on what they feel is an ‘indecent’ garment. Elsewhere in Bangalore, a school requested mothers to stop coming out in nighties ‘for their own protection’. A temple in Kerala banned nighties from their premises for being impure with the scent of recently cooked non-vegetarian food. But despite earning the wrath of traditionalists and misogynists, the nightie persists.

It made me wonder what does the real Indian nightie lover really feel about her sartorial choices. Online discussion forums feature heated debates between Indian women. Some claim to be embarrassed by it, others agree that although it isn't appropriate day wear, they're unable to give it up. One lady in particular compares her nighties to drugs, arguing that although she has tried, she is unable to kick the habit. And as the nightie ventures into foreign terrain, becoming casual garb for Indian women in Singapore and Abu Dhabi, I realise that we are addicted to the outfit. It would seem that the courage of one nightie lover fuels the nightie wearing aspirations of another. An excerpt from a famous Kerala based website, N’style nightwear, accurately describes the situation, “...N’Style nighties is contagious and renowned famous in field of night wears fabrics,” (sic). The point being, nighties are contagious and a revolution is upon us. Because, as long as there are tiffin boxes full of aloo paratha there will have to be bus stops full of nightie. 

 

 

Meera Ganapathi

Photography: Vijit Gupta

Model: Arshia Ahuja

Street Reviews Of Bombay's Street Art

The grey, ageing walls of Bombay have had a fresh coat of street art from across the globe. Seepage stains have now given way to three-eyed mutant men, opinionated momos, nerdy Monalisas and powerful social messages. But since street art is not restricted to galleries and meant for the people, I was curious to know, how do people interpret the quirky art on their walls. Do they love it? Do they hate it? Does it move and challenge them? Or do they want the seepage stains back?

I asked people on the street to review the art around them and their responses were everything from hilarious to heartwarming.

Jagganath Gaekwad, Watchman

Me: What do you think this is?

Jagganath: Cake? 

Nupur, student

"I like cats. I want this all over Bandra" 

Sandesh, Does Odd Jobs

Me: What would you change about this?

Sandesh: If I try to explain what I want to change about this, knowledge will pour out of my brain. But I'll try. I would paint more on the right side. And I wouldn't use green on the face. That's really wrong.

Natasha, Retired Insurance Specialist

Me: Do you like this?

Natasha: No. It's demonic. 

Sunita Kerkata, Domestic Help

"The colours make me happy"

Devraj, Garage Owner

Me: Do you think street art has any positive effect on the world? 

Devraj: It impacts people. It interests them and makes them notice unimportant things, like walls.

Harilal Yadav, Auto Driver

Me: Do you like this particular piece of art?

Harilal: I like only 80% of it.

Me: Why don't you like 20%?

Harilal: It doesn't glitter. 

Afzal Ahamed Shaikh, Retd. Government Employee

"Most people love it but those who don't like it probably don't understand art"

Lakshmi, Cook

"I like drawing, I use to come first in drawing classes in school. So I really like the street art everywhere." 

Paru, Garbage Collector

Me: What impact does this have on you?

Paru: It seems like this girl is happy and looking at her makes my day better. 

Athar Alam, Chief Marketing Manager

Me: What do you think this represents?

Athar: I think it says, women like jewellery. 

Tarannum Afridi, Homemaker

Me: What is the message behind this piece?

Tarannum: Women are tough. Don't mess with them. 

Photography:

Jayant Ugra, Aashim Tyagi, Sanju Ayappa