The super fruit of our Hearts

Our jack fruit tree stands in the pretty little corner of our much loved and much tended-to lawn. It exists, with no pretension of being the best jack fruit tree in the neighbourhood, branching and jutting out to the sun, over the fence.

Journeys of the sweet fruit

For years I have watched this one garner heartfelt phone calls of happiness and appreciation of its treacly sweet jack fruits that are parceled to our friends in the city, in the backseat of a car, perched carefully between the legs on a rickety scooty or exchanged for a 12 pack of garden-fresh eggs. Yes, the barter system still exists, it’s awesome, I don’t know why we had to drag currency in it!

 The most common beneficiaries of our chakka(jack fruit in Malayalam) are the next door aunties who would eye the fruit as they walk past our gate and walk in to claim their’s the next day. Since the best of them hang from the highest branches, if you need the chakka, you probably will have to pluck it with the pole yourself, under the supervision of amma,(planter, caregiver and benevolent distributor of the goodies)of course. 

Our neighbours and my family love their chakka. Any form, size, shape, ripe or unripe, none goes to waste. Chakka season, usually the peak of summer will see a plethora of dishes styled from this bad boy. Myself, on the other hand, shies from it, I may have one or two of the fleshy petals for the whole season.

I fall for the jackfruit

But this year it was different. I can’t say if it was the lockdown and a sense of contingency that had me more interested in this fruit. Whenever a chakka was ripe, we would man the plucker, aim for the slender stem and it drops to the grass with a thump. The hefty fruit is then axed down to reveal the golden petals tucked in the emerald-green-spiked-fortress outside.

“Aishwaryam” of the golden jackfruit arils

It’s quite a sight really and mom, who always has a sparkle in her eye when plucking chakka, remarks, when I ask her about this obsession, “It looks so prosperous. Its so inviting  and full of the fruit.” The sweet ones are picked, cleaned and sorted into large boxes that go into the fridge.

The ripe fruit is my favourite which makes for a sweet snack to munch on as you walk past the kitchen all day. It makes for a delicious treat that beats Häagen-Dazs, post a spicy Kerala lunch as well.

One fruit, Unending list of dishes

 The unripe ones go into making some of the most delicious dinner servings. The much-adored chakka puzhukku(steamed jackfruit garnished with fresh birds eye chilli, shredded coconut, turmeric powder and a dash of cold-pressed coconut oil), a dish so simple yet the aroma can have you rushing to the kadai for a spoonful.

Then comes the chakka thoran(stir fried jackfruit) in an inviting sunset yellow garnished with mustards. Chakka avial is yet another crowd-pleaser dish with the young jack fruit, aburst of flavour that can’t be put to words. 

The sweet and mature jackfruits go into making the finest sweetmeat. The chakka ada(jackfruit steam cakes) and the chakka varatiyadu,(a blend of overripe jackfruit and jaggery slow-cooked in a large bronze uruli or heavy vessel over wood fire) are the classics in this category.

It’s such a satisfying sight to watch the jackfruit-jaggery mixture crackle to the raging fire as the golden chakra saturates down to a dark brown tint. The young jackfruits are also split into fine pieces then fried to crisp making the chakka varuthadu(jackfruit crackers). 

The jackfruit seeds are a whole other category. Taking up almost half the volume of the jackfruit itself, these were traditionally roasted in the wood fire to make tasty evening treats for the starved 7-8 kids at home to munch on. Since there are not as many mouths to feed in modern homes, we experimented with finer things.

Renaissance of the Superfruit-Thanks to Lockdown

The lockdown was also a period of renaissance for the Jackfruit seeds. The possibilities were jackfruit seed cutlets, unda(a ball of ground jack seed, jaggery and powdered rice), and even jack seed shake and jack seed brownies, the last two, very millennial choices. 

The jack seed shake truly blew my mind. It made an entrance with being shared in the family WhatsApp group and was lauded as the bomb! We couldn’t do without giving it a try and I have to say, it was a winner. Thick and flavorful, I have now found a new way to get my share of protein for the day. 

Rewinding back in time

The quarantine surely has us confused and uncertain, but I would like to reiterate the cliché phrase with more conviction today.”Take life one day at a time.” I have a newfound appreciation for everything that grows in my garden,of homemade and doing things that take time.

Life is NOT a race, savour, like you would our jackfruit!

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How real is compulsive shopping?

I am not one, yet sometimes my thoughts drift down that lane and I see myself asking ‘Am I’?

As women, we are assumed to have a love for clothing, shoes, bags and oh, the almighty makeup. Do we love them or are just conditioned to do so, that’s a question for a whole other discussion.

The occasional splurge

Clearly I love all things above mentioned so much so that I never fret in buying them if I I fancy it and is within budget. But yesterday, a tiny package from an online store arrived with an even tinier bottle inside, the bill(already paid by yours truly) blared Rs 5000. I could’ve bought a shoe box for less, which we desperately needed at home but I chose this luxe skin treatment solution, which surprisingly isn’t something that I don’t really need so bad but now its perched on my shelf and making its way into my daily routine. I call these my  ‘splurges’, since I recognize it, it shouldn’t be that bad, right?

Not new clothes, but same clothes styled differently

In my effort to keep my sanity and borderline OCD for shopping under control, I vowed to finish off products that I own before I cave and buy another. The same drill translates to my clothes, a mighty harder arena to let go off, but now my clothes go in circles of mix and match to keep my looks fresh and crisp without carting more. As one who finds a good share of her confidence stemming from clothing, this is a challenge both as a task as well as an exciting chore to look forward to in the morning.

Re-purposing is an understated art

One thing I do give myself most credit for is making my own clothes from scratch which gives me liberty to wear my favorite designs without costing me a fortune.I also do this awesome hack, where I use Amma’s beautiful sarees after they have done their time to make kurthis, or tops or even designer replicas for myself.

The (other) love of my life

I find incredible joy in doing this and it is easily one of my favorite pastimes that also extends the lifetime of the fabric. I have met a couple of designers who do the same reusing and repurposing clothes that they have grown out of for themselves, how cool is that!  Especially today, when fashion is so fluid and individualistic, it is easy to find ways to make the most of your clothing if you really put your heart in.

Of course, I could do so effortlessly because I have a flair for the fashion and I can tailor my own clothes(your tailor isn’t going to be super excited about redoing clothes, understandably). We all have our vices, but it is always a step in the right direction if we can initiate change, even in the slightest possible way.

Sustainability is easier said than done, but if you won’t try you never know, will you?

I still falter when I see a pretty saree or shoe, but a good benchmark is to think back at the number of them sitting still, in your closet. Price over sustainability is a battle very often lost for the middle class. I found my happy medium in organic fibers like cotton and linen that are good for the body and isn’t toxic in its afterlife.

You can do it too!

One of the most enlightening conversations I had with a designer revealed that synthetics aren’t all that bad if they are investment pieces, i.e., you wear it to tatters, then it’s not so bad. On a side note, let me also stress that giving up hoarding does not translate to burning clothes you don’t like anymore, but to buy less, buy good and keep them running long. Pass on the clothes you have grown out of but still in good condition to people who will accept.

I remember I used to wear clothes handed down for generations for a very long time. Most of us have, it wasn’t embarrassing, it was carefree, usual and the comfort of worn in clothes. It’s high time to give up the barriers of singularity and mingle, mix and merge. It’s good for everybody! 

Quit the Smoke and Burn some Incense

Today was a trigger morning and for one who had recently found a little tranquil in her life, this was pushing the boundaries. This is how I tried to achieved mental health goals in my everyday.

The scene is no different than at any other metros, buses hissing dust monsters as they raved on to onlookers, and if you aren’t eyeing it’s every move, there is a fair chance of losing a limb or two. 

I have loved Kerala, and have gone to length defending the state in arguments for its great living atmosphere. 

It’s so nasty to live here!

But when my expat aunt walked in and casually mentioned in conversation that the state wasn’t such a dream to settle blissfully, although I doused her claim with Malayali fire, it got me thinking.

Why? The traffic sucks. Not the stuck in traffic for hours kinda terrible but the reckless version F1 driving that bus drivers do, that can send your adrenaline rushing from a mile away. You thought private buses were bad? Think again.

Public transport is more of gymnastics

Even if you are travelling by car, the KSRTC buses are a straight threat, and if you feel all Jason Stathom to drive in the vicinity of the Aanavandi(the elephant bus), be prepared as it could take a sharp turn out of the blue and  gaily graze past you, leaving a blaring dent on your car and not even blink an eye(it’s like a toxic relationship really). 


More interesting was the bus I took, packed to the door, the driver had been honking all the way through that I had to assume it’s his power music because car in front or no, He will honk through. Even through the bottleneck of traffic is trying to squeeze through the metro corridor, he would push through the sidewalk, scaring away pedestrians as a stone would a crow. Because who cares for safety? Let’s race.

Chill pill?

The driver in the black dhoti and shirt sped on with the door chettan shouting praises at his skill to rummage through the mess. I wanted to walk up to the driver and offer him a lesson in meditation because he clearly needed it, but I’m yet to reach the peaks of peace so maybe I should hold on. Whenever I am on the road, my first thought is when is this bus going to falter and cause danger to a pedestrian or a bike rider.

So I guess Kerala isn’t the safest place to travel after all. And definitely not a haven if you are looking for a stable mental health. People, which includes yours truly are frantic, vexed and in a constant run, the faces are stress-ridden and the rush is unending. It’s important to take a step back and look at life.

Mental health comes first

Take that perspective, look at what you are doing, where you are headed, is this for you/ Is it good for you? Evaluate, slow down, sit down with a cup of chai on an evening by the lawn, read a book (this is cliché but it is such an immersive experience your body will thank you for it) and take a slow bath. Really if you take the time to get treat your body, get a massage or just take your time in the shower with a scented body wash or bath bomb if you are posh enough to own a bathtub in India! Kudos to celebrating you!

P.S: I still adore my state, but don’t go mad sweetheart!

Agents of Shhhh….

Sex and taboo are found together too often in a sentence that you have already lost interest in this piece, but sex should keep you reading. This is a piece on one of my finds on Instagram, @agentsofishq who have made the uncomfortable topic relatable and out there.

A topic that is quite the shocker

Something as fundamental as breathing, or okay, let’s tune it down, like eating is un-discuss-able, hushed and shoved under the carpets bringing up a generation of clueless and therefore irresponsible citizens for an act that calls for a great deal of responsibility. And even when the Hindusthan put out the book of love, we still cannot mention it in conversation lest you arouse a googly eye, a heave of shock from aunties and shy giggles from anyone else. 

While the whole world breeds through magical stokes and gift hampers from heaven, some Mumbaikars have taken it to themselves to break the barrier and discuss sex as it is, stark, playful and graphic. The name of the Instagram handle is @agentsofishq, how much more filmy can it get. And I love the style they have taken which would appeal well to the masses as well as the sophisticated sentinels of the internet. 

Taking us back to comic books and chithrakatha for sex-ed

The page is a collage of colours, illustrations and instructional stories very akin to Tinkle or Balarama, the adorable storyboard format in place to tell the tale of Ishq. Everything from Bollywood to Ramayana is portrayed with the same hint of hilarious zing in their interactive stories.

Open for discussion

Everything is on discussion and debate in a very senile, sensible manner here, throwing the occasional satire here and there, the page delves into love, sexuality, sexual pleasures, orientation, positions, protection, privacy, sanskar and sankriti too. And a true patriotic site too, switching gaily between Hindi and English because accessibility is important and so is the swag. 

It is particularly interesting how they portray childhood issues and trauma through illustrations that are healing for many people and it is amazing how people relate to and respond to these because everyone has been there some time or another. The crowdsourced material is so real and showcases real people, vulnerabilities, mistakes that are learning curves and realisations. 

As entertaining as informative

This page is exactly what sex education would be to the young Indian, who otherwise gets his classes in coitus from all the wrong places. This page broadens you, makes sex look so effortless and beautiful, you will come back for more!

And if you happen to browse, do check out their Q&A which is up and running on different topics on a daily, with cheeky answers and graphics that will send waves of warmth and giggle storms your way. Also there is no hate here, no judgement, no nasties, its simply talking about the best bits of love. It’s erotica in its true sense at times while at other times it is WebMD for those delicate questions which are answered in the most creative way possible, no sugar coating but well said. 

When Biennale comes to town.

Disclaimer: The writer becomes an art enthusiast every two years!
The Muziris Biennale, an extravagant, global event happening at Fort Kochi is sensational. This contemporary art show brings high drama and sophistication to a meek town, but the event has so much more to offer. For an average Malayalee, art shows are not our thing, we would rather watch a Mohanlal movie. For such an audience, would I recommend something of this sort? Not really. But set in this shadow town, I can vouch for the experience, for it’s amalgamation of the cosmopolitan and the basic. The contrast between the art displayed, which would probably find it’s place in Art galleries or auctions to the hub of the common man, a city that boasts ancient Portugese and British colonies, unglamorous buildings with a vintage vibe yet so ready to fall apart.
Enter from the outskirts of Kochi, you know you are approaching the place, as the landscape of modern houses and skyhigh towers make way for humble homes, streets lined with huge droopy trees, a couple ancient relics, in rubble but with glorious wooden verandahs, the double storey offices with foot thick walls and curved accents done to perfection and still standing. The streets get narrower, every street leads to every other, you would be lost in a loop, even a pro.
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On a shutdown Sunday, these streets beam a lost city, padlocked doors and grills of paint faded, sun burnt buildings may come off as sealed off for reconstruction. Come Monday morning, the same roads are stuffed with trucks unloading commodities, shops well oiled in business, an array of bikes jutting into narrow lanes and autorickshaws, (you can talk Kerala without them), blurting out of every corner and you have to horn your way through, hoping not to bump into anyone.
The view is incredible though; luxurious silk and precious gem stores neighbouring commodity merchants, the steady waft of spices accompany, exporters of sculptures, renovated English buildings now housing luxury diners, shining in glory of varnished wooden floors and brass doorknobs. In this scenery, you can’t miss the mundu clad folk intermingled with tourists, reddened by sun, taking a stroll in heavy backpacks.
The Biennale showcase starts at the historic Aspinwall house, which couldn’t have been a more fitting venue. Overlooking the Arabian sea and the beautiful Vembanad lake, a glorious picture, the building is hued in perfect white with pitch black windows and doors. A sight to behold, the spaces are reimagined to the artists’ taste. The winding stairs with carvings and filigree partition walls are a dream alongside the swaying letter flags by one of the artist.
As you make way from one room to another, new worlds open up. Behind the heavy velvet curtains is a dark room with a square bench, perch on it and take in a surreal and shocking tour of the experience of nuclear bomb detonation, as it hits and dispels life in the blink of a second. The solitary humongous tire suspended in an encasing drew blank on all onlookers till we read about it representing the devastating floods of Kerala, attributing widespread developmental projects and quarrying to the same. Powerful in its minimalism, that image will last.

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If it gets too much, relax at the vast open grounds central to the building, the branching tree both a shade and a seat, the light breeze from the waters gentling cooling you down, and behold! a glass enclave at the centre, bustling with life. As you enter, it is an enclosed glass wall where you can draw on with water, lasting a few seconds before it mists away. Crowd interaction with the art is delightful, you can scribble, draw or just watch. From kids to adults, this is an indulging experience. For a moment you drift away from the emotionally charged art and loosen up. There are giggles smiles, selfies and adoration. Tiny tots with brushes in hand were at home and so are you, transported back to childhood and the graffiti age that cannot find its place in modern well manicured homes. This is just the story of a single venue, a couple shots to speak of its pulse, each venue is a different story on a different heritage.
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