Desi Girl

Sketch

Besides the occasional doodle, the last time I diligently drew something was a human heart for my high-school biology class (or was that a map of Pakistan for Pakistan Studies?). Honestly, I have never given sketching a second thought, until a few days back, when sitting idle with a pencil and a sketch pad, I had this weird itch to draw something. The first thing that came to mind was a version of a simple Pakistani girl, her hair tightly braided into a traditional pigtail, looking out towards the horizon at endless possibilities, wondering what the future may hold for her.

I know it’s amateurish and lacks any finesse, but I am proud of it nonetheless. Enjoy!

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The Singaporean Rice Saga

Karachi wedding receptions are very different from those in any other region of Pakistan, as even though the bride and groom are (supposed to be) the main attraction, it’s the food that takes the limelight. A menu can either make or break a wedding, and you’d be darned if you selected something the guests end up hating; and don’t even get me started on the menu-bashing uncles and aunties who’ll torture you for weeks (and even months) to come!

Keeping in view the Karachiite’s mindsets, caterers try adding new and exciting dishes to their portfolios, giving the gossip-mongers something positive to talk about. ‘Fish with lemon sauce’ and ‘Chimichangas’ are two such recent inductions, but what really took the wedding world by storm a few years back was the in(ter)vention of Singaporean Rice (a.k.a. SR). Till today, seven out of ten weddings you go to will have this dish.

Since this dish is not available in mainstream restaurants, you either have to wait for the next SR wedding or make a batch at home; and then you turn to Google! Ever wondered why your Google search for a top-notch Singaporean Rice recipe always returns results from Pakistan? It’s because technically, there is not such thing as Singaporean Rice, at least not in Singapore! However during the course of my research, I did stumble upon a recipe for Hainanese Chicken Rice, a popular Singaporean staple dish that is miles apart, in taste as well as in presentation, from what we are led to believe is ‘Singaporean’ Rice.

Our caterers know that associating the word ‘Singaporean’ with a dish gives it an exotic, oriental twist, no matter how mundane it really may be. But origins aside, this is one mean rice platter, with each aromatic and creamy spoonful resulting in a taste blast, a wave of pure unadulterated pleasure, leaving your heart wanting more even if your stomach’s had had enough. Being an SR connoisseur, you have to take my word for it; this recipe that I’m about to share with you is perhaps the best SR recipe around and I’m sure you’ll believe me once you give it a try.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg rice
  • 1 bowl macaroni
  • 4-5 boneless chicken breasts (cut in ¾ inch cubes)
  • 1 tbsp ginger/garlic paste
  • 6 tomatoes (ripe and medium-sized)
  • 3 carrots (medium-sized)
  • 3 capsicums (large)
  • 14 kg cabbage
  • 7 stalks of spring onion
  • 20 cloves of garlic (thinly sliced)
  • 3 onions (medium-sized and chopped)
  • 3-4 green chilies (thinly sliced vertically – remove seeds)
  • 8 tbsp chili sauce
  • 10 tbsp soy sauce
  • 8 tbsp chili garlic sauce (only Knorr works best)
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 8 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp Chinese salt (msg/ajinomoto)
  • 1 tbsp red chili powder
  • 1 tbsp ground red chilies
  • salt to taste
  • cooking oil (for frying and cooking)

Method

  • Fry thinly sliced garlic in oil on medium flame till golden; set aside on a plate with a tissue to absorb excess oil
  • Fry sliced green chilies in oil till they have a nice and crispy coat; keep it with the fried garlic – let’s call this component A
  • Put 4 tbsp oil in a pan and fry the chopped onions till it becomes translucent
  • Add cubed tomatoes to the onions, along with the ginger/garlic paste
  • Add in 3/4 of the soy sauce, the chili sauce, 2 tbsp chili garlic sauce, red chili powder, ground red chilies, Worcestershire sauce, Chinese salt, and some salt to the mixture
  • Cook this mixture until oil surfaces
  • Add all the chicken to this mix and cook till the chicken is tender
  • Add in diced carrots, capsicum, cabbage, and spring onions and cook till the vegetables are slightly tender; this is now ready – this, we’ll call component B
  • Boil the rice and strain it
  • Put 3 tbsp oil in a utensil and add the boiled rice to it
  • Add the black pepper and some salt, the remaining soy sauce and a dash of Chinese salt to the rice, and mix well; take it off the stove once ready – we’ll call this C
  • Boil macaroni and set it aside in a bowl – let’s call this D
  • In a separate bowl, add the remaining chili garlic sauce to the mayonnaise – we’ll call it E
  • Once you have all the components from A to E ready, take a deep serving dish and add a layer of the rice (component C) at the base
  • Cover this rice layer with the gravy (component B)
  • Add a generous amount of macaroni on top of the gravy (component D)
  • The mayo-sauce comes next (component E)
  • To finally bring the dish together, sprinkle some crispy garlic flakes and some fried green chilies on top of the sauce (component A)

Your Singaporean rice is ready to serve! As always, I hope you try this dish at home and enjoy it thoroughly. Also, it does have a slightly high chili content so you may adjust the spices according to your taste.

Ciao!

Royally Yours

My love, my soul mate
How sweet, thy scent
Come live in my heart
And pay no rent

No gold, nor money
Can help me survive
It’s thee, my darling
That keeps me alive

For thee, O! honey
I’ll give up my dreams
’tis my goal, my ambition
To make you my queen

– Yousuf Bawany

The Peace of Paper

Floral Kirigami Ball

Look around you: there’s despair everywhere. Entertainment just isn’t what it used to be back in the good old days. Watching television is like taking a depressant; a pill that drags you down into the abyss of melancholy, draining out all your optimism and leaving you with a sense of hopelessness. Same is the situation with other entertainment media; be it a viral Youtube video of two brothers being mercilessly beaten by a heartless mob or a newspaper article tallying the number of buses burned in the previous night’s riots. Sure, there are a few avenues promoting light entertainment, but invariably, you end up tuning into one of the news channels to verify whether there’s a strike tomorrow or not, or how many lives were extinguished in the city of lights today. We are so wrapped up in this entertainment (seriously?!) revolution that we fail to recognize a multitude of activities that can help nurture our constructive side and even introduce a degree of calmness in our otherwise chaotic existence.

Paper is perhaps one of the most readily available materials on earth and believe it or not, can be used to make beautiful creations. The various sizes, colors, thicknesses, and textures of paper make it a unique medium to work with. As kids, most of us would have folded a boat using a sheet of square paper; that’s Origami! Origami (meaning ‘paper folding’) is an ancient Japanese art-form that can be traced back to 17th Century AD, but was popularized outside of Japan in the mid 1900s [1]. The main idea behind Origami is to take a flat sheet of paper and fold it into a finished sculpture using basic folding techniques. The use of any glue, threads or scissors to create/stabilize the sculpture is a taboo for Origami practitioners. A variation of Origami called Kirigami (meaning ‘paper cutting’) allows the use of scissors to create your sculptures [2].

Origami is universally associated with peace. An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand Origami cranes shall be granted a wish by the crane. A little girl named Sadako Sasaki (January 7, 1943 – October 25, 1955) contracted leukemia after being exposed to the radiations from the Hiroshima bombing on August 6, 1945 [3]. She was only 12 when her disease progressed to a terminal stage. It’s an age where you still haven’t let go of the possibility of a miracle, so on the insistence of a close friend, Sadako started folding paper cranes with whatever paper she could get her hands on. Unfortunately, Sadako could only make 644 before meeting her maker. Her friends and classmates finished folding the remaining cranes after her death. Now every year on August 6, while Hiroshima conducts a Peace Memorial Ceremony, people from around the world send paper cranes in batches of 1000 to commemorate the child’s tragic death and her words:

“I will write ‘Peace’ on your wings and you will fly all over the world”

I started practicing Origami in1998, but went on hiatus from 1999 to 2007.  It all changed in 2008 when I was inspired to fold a single paper crane after watching a TV show; and I haven’t looked back since. I started working on more complex and challenging designs and in most cases, finished off the models. Once I start working on a model, I lose all track of time. An unnatural calm surrounds me; the only thing I focus on are the folds, taking each step carefully, making sure I don’t make any mistakes. I’ve made stars and center pieces, cubes and cranes, dodecahedrons and icosahedrons, arabesques and florals; I just can’t seem to get enough. Sparing free time gets increasingly difficult but I find an hour here, a minute there to work on my latest project. The video below shows images of some of the models I’ve made:

Origami’s many positive attributes have been researched for quite some time now. A brief list follows [4]:

  1. Nurtures creative, inventive and constructive abilities
  2. Develops motor skills
  3. Helps your visual and spatial co-ordination
  4. Explains geometric and angular relationships elegantly
  5. Makes you more patient and attentive
  6. Instills a sense of pride and joy when you finish a model

In this uber-destructive world we live in, we should promote constructive concepts. Origami is just one road that can lead to inner peace and tranquility; there are other art forms that help take your mind off the current state of affairs. I think it is high-time we started talking about something other than all the bad things happening around us. I don’t want my daughter to come up to me one day and say, “Papa! I want a gun that goes bang-bang-bang”; I’d rather want her to walk up to me and say, “Papa! I’m out of paper.”

Note: ‘Peace’ in this article refers to peace within as well as peace in general, because we cannot attain global peace unless we have inner peace. 

References:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origami
[2] 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirigami
[
3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadako_Sasaki
[
4] http://factoidz.com/why-you-should-adopt-origami-for-skill-development-among-children/

Origamized Crime

A Modular Kusudama Ball made with 30 units

I wonder why, but every time I pick a piece of paper, I hear someone shriek, begging me to go-no-further. “If you make one more fold, I’ll shoot you”, says my mum. Reflecting on this reaction people have, I think maybe it’s because once I get to folding, I lose all sense of time and space for hours, even days (depending on how complicated the model I’m working on is) at a stretch. A more profound understanding of this peculiar behavior hit me later, in a rare moment of clarity in my otherwise insane existence; people really do not understand how satisfying and soothing Origami can be.

These methodical series of folds require focus and attention, and have a strangely calming affect on your nerves. Life seems to slow down a bit as you tread down the valleys and mountains (refer to the folding techniques), taking each step carefully, holding on, knowing one false move will lead you astray. I have been practicing origami for more than 10 years now, but I still think of myself as an amateur.

These days, I get less and less time to retreat into Origami’s soothing embrace. The one consolation I have is that my wife appreciates creativity and is eager to learn this age-old art-form; one eager student is better than none. In this post, I present some of the models that I have created over the years. Lately, I haven’t created anything new but I intend to change that soon, thanks to my one-woman fan-club.

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