Josna Rege

Taking a break: bear with me

In Notes on November 29, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Much as I love writing Tell Me Another, I’ve decided to take a break from it for a while. Many other tasks are pressing themselves forward ever more insistently, and writing a new story on my blog, being the most enjoyable, ends up being the default selection on my To Do, list, trumping (oh no, terrible word choice, given the current array of U.S. Presidential candidates) more urgent items. If TMA weren’t an option, would I turn to these other items more readily? Perhaps I’ll let you know when I find out. Wish me luck!

Thank you, dear readers, for our virtual community. Our conversations have been very important to me these past nearly-six years. Wishing you a peaceful holiday season. Until we meet again, let the storytelling continue!  J

P.S. In case you’re a new reader, I thought I’d leave you with a selection of my current personal favorites:

Lively Up Yourself

Hidden Places

His Master’s Voice

My Grandmother

Grandpa Victor and the Story of the Tomatoes

From a Railway Carriage

Sucking Lemons and Quoting Shaw

The Mango Room


Getting Out of Silver City

October Rains

Feasting or Fasting?

My Uncrowned Queens

Paharganj, January 1984


Slow: Salamander Crossing

Personal Space, Indian-Style

I once was lost (and wish I still were)

The Taste of Home

That Funny Accent

The Yogi of Beals Street

Get Me to the Church on Time

Just Empty your Mind

Watching the River Flow

In the Bleak Midwinter

Con Men, Card Sharks, and Playing a Different Game

Talkin’ ’bout My Generation

The Magic of Found Objects

The Iliad at Bedtime

¡Viva La Literatura!

Darn It!

No, It’s Not Political Incorrectness

Doing it Themselves

Categories or Continuums?

Krishna’s Butterball

All the World’s a Stage

Against the Grain



351. Slow Food from Way Back

In Family, Food, Immigration, India, Inter/Transnational, seasons, Stories, United States on November 25, 2015 at 3:06 am


Dad always eats the food put in front of him without complaining, but the effusiveness of his appreciation when I serve even the most basic Indian meal of rice and dal bespeaks his craving for it. As a painter, he occasionally clips photographs of dancers or other elegant female forms from the New York Times, but three years ago as Thanksgiving approached he cut out a recipe and casually mentioned to me that it looked like a good use of leftover turkey. I glanced at A Dish for Pilgrim or Maharajah, noting mainly that it looked elaborate and time-consuming, but, since it was so unusual for Dad to actually suggest that I make something, took it under advisement. That is, I added it to a pile of papers, where it soon got buried, while Thanksgiving came and went.


A month later, though, when Nikhil’s birthday and Christmas-New Year came around, I happened upon the recipe again, and this time decided to give it a go. It was indeed elaborate, but I made sure I had all the ingredients and decided to give myself over to the task, however long it took. As the house filled with the mingled fragrances of onions, cashews, and raisins fried in pure ghee and basmati rice cooked in spice-seasoned broth, all my earlier reservations were swept away. If leftover turkey is capable of inducing a flow state, I was well into it.

The turkey biryani was such a hit that my double batch was completely devoured before the evening was over, and I made it all over again just two days later by popular demand. That too was polished off in short order. The recipe was posted proudly on the refrigerator door, where it sat until the following Thanksgiving, when I prepared it again. That was two years ago now, and I confess that since then my cooking hasn’t extended much beyond the same old everyday fare, and quick-and-easy frozen dishes. As for anything new or experimental, just thinking about it makes me tired.

Let_s_not_eat_up_our_climate1-350x245During the same period of time my friend Anna has become interested in the Slow Food movement, which emerged in the late 1980s “to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.” She starts from scratch, making nutritious bone broth and simmering the food on very low heat for hours, until it is saturated with goodness. She has drastically reduced the quantity of food that she eats but dramatically increased the quality, buying nothing but the best ingredients and taking great pains—no, tremendous pleasure—in its preparation. Joining her for dinner is always deeply relaxing, as we eat in her kitchen by candlelight from her mother’s old china and savor each precious spoonful.

But of course until only very recently all cooking was slow, of necessity, since everything was made from homegrown ingredients. In our twenties and thirties, before children and when the children were small, we emulated the old ways, growing and canning our own vegetables, buying whole grains and beans in bulk, fresh-grinding the grains, and soaking the beans overnight, then cooking them for hours on the woodstove. Nowadays I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit that I buy my beans in cans, already cooked, and make my cornbread from a mix.

photo: Bill Hogan/TNS /Landov (

photo: Bill Hogan/TNS /Landov (from

My first cookbook was an American one that that my mother found, circa 1962, while we were living in Greece. It was a hardcover children’s cookbook, lavishly illustrated and printed on glossy paper, the likes of which I hadn’t seen before. But when I set out to make some of the recipes, I was completely stymied: all the ingredients were processed foods, and all the steps involved opening a can of this or a packet of that, none of which were available in any of the shops we frequented. The only recipe I was able to make with the ingredients I had available to me was homemade potato chips (crisps), which turned out wonderfully well and made me inordinately proud. I was reminded of that cookbook today while listening to a pre-Thanksgiving radio program which described green bean casserole, a horrible-sounding dish that is apparently a beloved American seasonal staple, made entirely from canned and packaged ingredients.

Indian cooking is slow food from way back. While living on the farm in Winchendon in the 1980s, we would take it in turns to cook. When it was my turn I would frequently make a full-course Indian vegetarian meal, with rice, dal, chapattis, and at least two vegetable dishes. The preparation would take most of the afternoon, and Charlie, tired of waiting, would invariably lose his patience (and frequently, his temper) and make himself a hefty cheese sandwich just as I was entering the home stretch. A dismissive comment by one of my housemates about my “Third-World” cooking still rankles, and probably only strengthened my commitment to the stubbornly, pleasurably slow process of conjuring up a simple banquet from scratch. But with Charlie getting hypoglycemic, the babies getting tired and fretful, and the frying spices filling the whole house with their heady fumes, I can see how my insistence on slow cooking must have tried my housemates’ patience.

I took the yellowing turkey biryani recipe off the fridge today, considered it for a moment or two, then shook my head. Slow cooking is just not on this Thanksgiving, when, for the first time ever, I have succumbed to the idea of buying and re-heating a pre-cooked turkey. But at least I’ll be serving fresh steamed green beans. And the biryani still beckons as I promise myself the pleasure of slowing down for Christmas. Thank you, Dad.

Evan Sung for The New York Times

Evan Sung (New York Times)

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350. Lest We Forget

In Britain, Family, history, Media, people on November 11, 2015 at 6:40 pm
Remembrance Poppy

Remembrance Poppy

My maternal grandfather was a proud man who refused to wear a tie or to bow to anybody or anything. But Mum said that he made one exception, at 11:11 am every Armistice Day, when he stood stiffly to attention—as did everyone else in the room, or woe betide them—during the minute of silence on the radio in honour of all who lost their lives in the First World War.

My uncle Ted told me that Granddad signed up with his younger brother at the start of the War. The pressure to enlist was enormous, and there was no work for them in England, so off they went to France. Granddad made it through with only a knee injury that sent him to a hospital in Wales for a short period of recovery and then back to the front, where he was transferred from the King’s Royal Rifle Corps Regiment to a “cushy” job in the Royal Army Medical Corps, retrieving the wounded and the dead from the field of battle. He served to the very end and came home in one piece, but his brother wasn’t so lucky. He was killed in the very last month of the war, and the family has never found his grave.


The demobilized soldiers were promised “a land fit for heroes,” but the reality back home was very different. During the four years of the war our grandmother had given birth to three children and buried two of them. Life was bleak for the young couple, with more children being born and no work to be found. Granddad faced a Catch-22 whereby he couldn’t receive unemployment because he had not lost a job; apparently the war didn’t count. As a small boy, Uncle Ted remembers queuing up with his father for food relief and coming away with a single loaf of bread to feed the whole family.

Although Granddad himself remained staunchly patriotic and proud of his military service, Uncle Ted is sad and bitter on his behalf. He blames the diplomats who failed to secure a negotiated peace, the generals who sent soldiers to certain slaughter, and the politicians who allowed the war to drag on for years, long after anyone remembered what it was all in aid of—if they ever had.

It was in my childhood that I first wore a poppy on Remembrance Day in remembrance of the dead of the “Great War”—the war in which there was hardly a family in Britain who didn’t lose someone. But this year the controversy surrounding that simple emblem has left a bad taste in my mouth. Right-wing anti-immigrant parties have attempted to appropriate the remembrance poppy and its meaning. It was always sold by the Royal British Legion in aid of the WWI veterans; now, however, there are hardly any of them left and apparently groups like Britain First have been selling the poppy as well; I wonder what they do with the money.

I am not living in Britain, but the controversy reaches me over Facebook, where I have been seeing aggressive posts telling those who disrespect the poppy to Go Home. After a little research into the subject, I find that the so-called disrespecters are straw men: that is, no one has shown disrespect to the poppy and what it stands for; these groups are creating a false enemy in order to fan the flames of hate. It would be well for these haters to remember that among the many men who fought and died in the First World War were nearly two million British colonial subjects, Indians and Africans who were aggressively recruited, with promises of land and freedom upon their return. For those who did return, the promises were not kept, fueling the movements for independence from colonial rule.

An Indian soldier wounded in WWI

An Indian soldier wounded in WWI

So on Remembrance Day, once but no longer Poppy Day in my mind, I remember the hard lives of my grandparents and the ordinary British working people, as well as the men who gave their lives for their colonial rulers. That war was not fought for any of them. If the poppy means anything to me, it is as an emblem of the fragility and preciousness of human life and a reminder of all those who have been sacrificed to the insatiably hungry war machine.

Lest we forget.


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