Friday, 9 April 2021

Table Talk

If you’re on Facebook, chances are I have invited you to join Simple recipes for complicated times, a group I run. If you’re in the group, skip the next two paragraphs.

It was a sort of reaction to lockdown, a way for people like me, unaccustomed to cooking or managing their kitchens to get some simple recipe ideas, tips on how to work with whatever was available, and so on, from more experienced folks. It took off rather rapidly, thanks to folks like you who saw usefulness in it and invited friends in and helped spread the word. Membership grew rapidly, until we began moderating join requests as a way of cutting clutter. It’s now at around 6,800. (The group even got a bit of kind press coverage, finding mentions in these pieces by Paromitra Vohra, Priya Ramani, Ranjini Rao, and Manjula Padmanabhan.)

On March 19th, we completed a year. As a way or marking the date, (‘celebration’ seems like the wrong word to use for something born of a crisis), I hosted a couple of video chats on the group, which were fun.

Going ahead, I plan to host a fortnightly chat, each time with a different guest (or guests, max three people). It’s called Table Talk and will be live once a fortnight, on Sundays, 9 p.m. IST. I'll also archive these to YouTube or similar for those who couldn’t be there for the broadcast.

The idea is to have my guests tell stories — which could be in many kinds of media — or do a lecture or a tutorial or a demonstration, or have a debate or chat with two or three people, maybe even things like quizzes. All connected to recipes, cooking and food, of course. This would be, say, half an hour, max an hour. And then we’d throw it open to the audience to join in, with questions, discussion, debate, because the purpose is to involve the community, for another half-hour.

Topics for the first few sessions include: what it takes to actually give up the city and live the farm life, with asides on what kitchen ingredients you may want to carry with you if you’re spending a short stint in another country; summer foods and beverages and also food and literature; tales from one of the group’s most popular story-tellers; what a food reviewer looks for and also why not to be constrained by recipes; writing food for kids, with a reading; a peek into an artist’s travel diaries and a bit about food and art; culinary anthropology and what we know about what ancient Indians ate; creole foods and exploring creole cultures. And more to come.

That lovely logo? Hand-lettered by my talented friend the designer, artist, calligrapher and storyteller Kriti Monga, who was a founding member of the group and frequent contributor.

Gratitude to my friend Shubha Sharma who brainstormed the idea with me and came up with many of the possible subjects we'll be exploring, and Nilanjana S Roy , Manjula Padmanabhan , Rimi N , Venkat Krishnan N , Sameera Khan , Prem Panicker , Kurush F Dalal , Rashmi Dhanwani , Richa Dubey , Anita Vasudeva , Anita Roy, who all took time to critique the idea and offer me their thoughts and suggestions.

If you’d like advance notice of shows, and links to recordings, please subscribe to the Google Group and/or the Telegram Channel. Both are one-way: only admins, i.e., me, can post, so you won’t get any clutter on your inbox. There will be, at most, three messages a week: advance notice of the next live show, and links to recordings of shows just gone by.

Want to be on the show? Get in touch.

p.s. You’ll notice, if you’ve been nice and subscribed to the Google Group and/or the Telegram Channel, that they also reference ‘For Pete's Sake.’ That’s another project I’m developing, about which more soon.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Poetry with Prakriti: a brand new avataar

Prakriti Foundation's Poetry with Prakriti festival is responding to travel and public gathering restrictions by reinventing itself as an online festival, with readings on Zoom, on the first three Saturdays of every month, starting October 2020 and running up to September next 2021 from 7 p.m. IST.

The poets featured will be a mix of well-loved names and emerging voices, in English and other languages, from India and abroad. The format is to have one poet on each evening, to read their poems for 15 minutes or thereabouts, followed by around 15 minutes of answering questions from the audience.

I’m helping out with the festival in a couple of ways: acting as moderator for the Q&A sessions that will follow each reading, and in outreach.

Here’s how you (and any poetry-loving folks you know and care to forward this to) can get notified of who is reading and when.
1. You can sign up for updates at (This is a one-way newsgroup. I.e., there will only be emails from the admins, who are Meera Krishnan of Prakriti Foundation and I, and no back-and-forth chatter. There will be three emails a month, approximately, telling you who the poet reading the following Saturday will be, and giving you the registration link.)
2. Or, email Meera at prakritifoundation at gmail and she’ll add you to their mailing list.
3. Or if you’d prefer your updates on WhatsApp, please contact Meera or me with your phone number, or email her at the same address.

On social media, you can follow Prakriti Foundation on
If you could amplify posts on those platforms, we would be very grateful.

And yes, please share this with friends whom you think might be interested.

Prakriti Foundation is an arts and culture NGO in Chennai (India), founded in 1998. In a city accustomed to a regular diet of classical performance, Prakriti has been the space where scholars, researchers, artists, critics, poets, and filmmakers have been able to present their work to those who engage with it on serious terms. One of its four annual festivals, Poetry with Prakriti, features eminent and emerging poets (from India and abroad), with each presenting four different readings of their poems to small, intimate audiences at several venues in the city: schools, colleges, cafes, galleries, boutiques, banks, IT parks, green public parks, and other commercial establishments.

Saturday, 18 July 2020

The Goa Project Sessions

Since May, I've been helping The Goa Project shape something we're calling the TGP Sessions.

Background: The Goa Project is an annual unconference that happens in Goa. Unconference? The attendees pitch sessions and vote for who gets stage time. (I wrote a piece about it back in 2017, much before I first volunteered, if you want a then-outsider's point of view.)

Image is a poster with the logotype 'The Goa Project Sessions' Below, the text says, 'Alternate Sundays. 5:30-6:30 PM, on Zoom.' In smaller type, below, the text says, 'The TGP Sessions aim to keep our community active, engaged, making new connections, collaborating. They are just like the TGP editions you are familiar with, except spread out over the year, for an hour at a time, and online. Attendance is free, but registration is required.'

The TGP Sessions is an idea we came up with as a way of keeping the community engaged in these lockdown times. (The community is people who have attended TGP editions in the past or contributed to them, or who participated in the first TGP Residency in 2018.) It's also a way to grow the community, since it's pretty clear that we won't be able to have a gathering in Goa any time in the near future.

We meet every alternate Sunday, between 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., IST, on Zoom. Attendance is free, but you need to register.

The Sessions go like this.

There are up to three segments, or sessions within a Sessions.

Up to two of these are 10-minute presentations of interesting ideas, things people are creating that are aimed at making for a better world, debates, and so on. These are each followed by 10 minutes of Q&A and discussion. Some Sessions we've had so far: an overview of the evolution of money, from gold to cryptocurrencies; valuing labour in a time of unprecedented economic shifts; building platforms for collaborations and communities; communities that have arisen as a response to the COVID-19 crisis and lockdown; arts and culture in times of pandemics; mental health in quarantine; a case for cutting up the Supreme Court; technology creative people are using; how live storytelling can transition to digital; alternative sexual lifestyles in India; how improv trains your mind; how to do good podcast and live online interviews.

And we conclude with what we call the creative showcase (again, not more than two of these on a given weekend), which is for artists and performers to show us things they're making: art, plays, music, poetry, anything that can be done through a Zoom window. We've had a duo that makes music that fuses Carnatic music with other forms, and a Odissi dancer making the case for dance for both physical and mental health. Coming up, photo essays, interactive theatre, poetry, more music.

Want to check out the sessions? You'll need to register on Zoom and you'll get the meeting ID and a unique password. Once you've got the feel of it, you may want to pitch a session. You can use this form to pitch a session and this one for the creative showcase. And we have a mailing list you could subscribe to, which notifies members of TGP events (currently one mail a week, usually on Friday, with the coming Sunday's line-up).

We encourage people to attend sessions before pitching. And to continue to attend once they've done a session. The idea is to build a community after all, one with no stars who only come in to present, where everyone contributes and collaborates. (Important note: none of this is paid for in cash. TGP is all volunteers who do stuff because they think it's worth doing. The result has been a rather interesting collection of people over the years, folks well worth your time to get to know, and the kind of collaborations and relationships that result when interesting minds bump into each other.)

Friday, 3 April 2020

The doors of managing perception

You know that it would be untrue
You know that I would be a feku
If I was to say to you
I know exactly what to do

Come on baby, light my pyre
Come on baby, light my pyre
Try to get the light on hire

It's time to isolate it's true
The situations' really dire
You clapped and yet we're in the goo
Wait a minute, gotta sue The Wire

Come on baby, light my pyre
Come on baby, light my pyre
Try to get the light on hire, haanh?

We could take care of the poor
We could push testing rates higher
Help the farmers, okay, yes, sure
Wait a minute, gotta sue The Wire

Come on baby, light my pyre
Come on baby, light my pyre
Try to get the light on hire, haanh?

You know that it would be untrue
You know that I would be a feku
If I was to say to you
I know exactly what to do

Come on baby, light my pyre
Come on baby, light my pyre
Try to get the light on hire
Try to get the light on hire
Try to get the light on hire
Try to get the light on hire

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Covid-19 in India: donation drives you can support

You're not enjoying lockdown, but you know you are comparatively better off than many others. And you want to help people who do not have your privilege.

Here are a few suggestions.

• Of course, there's the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund

These are campaigns on fund-raising sites that aim to:
1. Help medical professionals with equipment (masks, etc.)
2. Assist daily wagers with basic sustainance, food grains, etc.
3. Support sanitation workers and others
4. Donate to provide soap, sanitizers, etc. to people
With most of these, the platforms are waiving their charges, so all money goes to the fundraisers.
One request: pay via net banking; a credit card means the platform pays credit card charges.

Give India's fundraiser to feed Covid-19-hit families and also this page.

Give India's fundraiser for hygiene kits

Ketto's dedicated Covid-19 page, where you can find multiple campaigns:

Milaap's dedicated Covid-19 page, where you can find multiple campaigns:

Buy masks for medical workers. PharmEasy will match your donations. (It's 200 rupees a mask.)

Some more

• Want to volunteer in your neighbourhood, please see this Facebook group set up to 'help people help people', Caremongers India

Campaign for daily-wage workers in Delhi on OurDemocracy

Uday Foundation's campaign on Ketto

Campaign to buy Ventilators & Medical Supplies For COVID-19 Ward At St. John's NAHS, Bangalore on Ketto

Support for Wastepickers in a time of COVID 19

• Habitat for Humanity India: Hygiene Kits to the underprivileged to fight against COVID-19

A few more I've found

• Sumanasa Foundation is seeking contributions to buy provisions for community kitchens run by the Greater Chennai Corporation. Indian rupee contributions to Axis Bank account 91101001257036, IFSC UTIB0000006. Source, this tweet by the musician TM Krishna, one of the trustees.

• RotiGhar is distributing freshly-cooked meals to security guards, labourers, rag-pickers and others in and around Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Bhiwandi. Contributions via Paytm / Gpay to +91-97691-81218 or UPI chinukwatra@okaxis. WhatsApp these numbers for details: +91-96993-96544, +91-96190-89050, +91-99877-30605, +91-75063-84025, +91-95946-09229, +91-72087-73650. Follow (on Twitter): RotiGharIndia and founder chinukofficial

Goonj's campaign (foreign passport holders can also contribute)

• Zomato's Feeding India campaign (tax deductions available: (more info)

SAFA Society's campaign collecting funds for relief packages in Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru (tax exemptions available)

Covid-19 Relief Fund for Daily Wage Workers of Chandigarh/Tricity on OurDemocracy

Sangama, which works with working class, non-English speaking gender/sexual minorities, sex workers and people living with HIV, is raising funds for family units of sex workers, and transpeople

• Apnalaya is reaching out to vulnerable households in M Ward. Follow their Twitter (@ApnalayaTweets) or support at

Coro India, which works on equality and justice in gender-related issues, is raising funds for food packages, masks, sanitisers and soap for daily-wage workers.

• Fit Brigade: Independent volunteers from Mumbai to help senior citizens who are living alone with delivery of essential items (groceries, medicines, fruits and vegetables) and cooked meals. Contacts: South Mumbai: 9821887707/ 9820391911; Central Railway suburbs: 9004670600/ 9833170665/9773706712; Western Railway suburbs: 9819236951/9821159710/9022420360

• AngelXpress Foundation, which enables volunteerism, primarily with teaching is now working on bringing relief to their student's families. Contact them or support via instamojo

Sparsha Charitable Trust which works in the Wadala area, is seeking support for getting supplies to vulnerable families there. Email info.sparshatrust at gmail dot com

YUVA (Youth for Unity And Voluntary Action) is raising funds for the urban poor.

• If you own a 3-D printer and would like to help doctors expand their ventilator capacity via 3D printing valves and splitters, see this page

• Gurgaon Nagrik Ekta Manch is collecting for Gurgaon's stranded daily wage labourers

• Ahmedabad based youth organisations (Elixir, Ahmedabad Global Shapers, Hearty Mart, Communicate Karo, Amdavad Rockets and HeyHi Foundation) have an #AhmedabadFightsCorona campaign

Project Mumbai has a free counselling facility for people in Mumbai, 8 am to 8 pm, across multiple languages, including Marathi Hindi English Gujarati Malayalam Punjabi and Kannada. More here on Twitter

Project Mumbai is also helping the Maharashtra govt provide N-95 masks to healthcare workers. is raising funds for sanitation workers in Pune, and Pimpri-Chinchwad

• Mercy Mission in Bangalore is a federation of NGOs coming together to #FightCoronaTogether. See their (work in progress) page on Facebook.

I'll be updating this post as often as I get new information, and also this Twitter thread and this Facebook post.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

We, the People of India

I think the preamble to the constitution is one of the most beautiful texts India has produced, putting in words what our best selves can be.

I asked a large number of friends if they would like to join in on a virtual group reading. Sveral jumped in. Here it is.

Video, Audio and Text


Arundhati Ghosh, arts professional, Bangalore
Dilip D'Souza, writer and journalist, Bombay
Jasmeen Patheja, Bangalore
Karen Donoghue, academic, Shillong
Kirtana Kumar, actor and director, Bangalore
Lalnunsanga Ralte, academic, Shillong
Mitali Saran, independent writer, Delhi
Peter Griffin, writer and journalist, New Bombay
Pervin Varma, development professional and musician, Bangalore
Rahul Ram, musician, Delhi
Rimi N, researcher, Bombay
Sampurna Chattarji, writer, Thane

The quality is rough and I will probably do another version. But I wanted to get this out in time for our seventieth Republic Day.

If you want to do this with your friends (I'd really like to see more versions, especially in other Indian languages) here's a how-to.

1. Record a 'pacing' track yourself.
Be clear, make word endings clean, don't do too much voice acting (because others may not be able to replicate your impressive interpretation; but don't be too robot-voice either). It may take several tries. You should wind up with a recording that's around 50 seconds long in English.

2. Send the audio to your friends. Ask them to listen to it a few times, then record their version.
Best way: listen on earphones on one device, and record on another. Getting the synch really, really close is critical. It can take hours to clean up otherwise.
You may also want to try a karaoke-ish style. That is, text on screen at the right pace. If you, like me, are an amateur at video editing, it can take a while. (I used GIMP to make the text, subtracting one word at a time and naming the files in reverse order, so the full text is 85.png, minus one word is 84.png and so on, until 00.png, which is a blank screen.) Then used GIMP to make an animated Gif. Then an online converter to turn the Gif into a video. There is probably an easier way to do this, but I don't have the skills. Ask a film-maker friend.
I have one version which is just my voice and the text, which I will post in the comments.

3. Mix the audio.
If your friends have been faithful to your pacing track, this is easy. But even the best intentions will produce lost of stuff you have to mess with. FOR EACH TRACK. THIS TAKES TIME!
I used Audacity for the audio editing.

4. You can release the track as an audio file, but you may want to also of a video version. This opens up lots more possibilities if you're proficient with a camera and a video editor.

I repeat, please, please do this in other Indian languages!

Friday, 6 December 2019

I am an island

A winter's day
In a dweep I bought from
I am alone
Gazing at my phone at news reports from desh
And a freshly powdered silent pile of hash
I am a prick
Who owns an island

Abducted kids
Have a rape case pending too
That they can't litigate
I have no need of justice, justice is a pain
Punishment and jail time I disdain
I am a prick
Who owns an island

Don't talk of love
But sex tapes I've made before
I was sleeping with an actor
I won't disclose the number of offshore crores I have
Tax-free dollars paid for Kailaasa
I am a prick
Who owns an island

I have my kooks
And my bhakts are there to protect me
I am shielded in my exile
Safe within my room, eating magic shrooms
I can touch everyone and no one can touch me
I am a prick
Who owns an island

And my prick feels no shame
And no one hears my victim's cries

Real life, as often happens these days, outran satire. Ecuador said it hadn't agreed to sell the 'swami' anything and he had left, presumably for Haiti.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

The room in the elephant

Mastodon — or to be precise,, which is the only part of the 'Fediverse' I've explored at all — feels a lot like early Web.

Before 'social networks' were named thus. Before Ryze or Orkut, which for many Indians were their first steps into the ocean. Before even blogs. When there were communities, and it felt… right. When "assume goodwill," to steal friend Udhay Shankar's advice to members of a certain list, seemed perfectly natural. (To be clear, I only met Udhay comparatively recently. When I did see that succinct phrase, those words leapt out at me; they described what I had been looking for then — and often I found it — and continue to search for today.)

These communities of choice formed in ad hoc ways. Lists (which of course were pre-Web, and to which I came late), chat rooms (which I jumped into enthusiastically, over-enthusiastically), even comment sections when they came up. And, as someone pointed out to me, guest books and the like. It took some time and effort to find your peeps and keep track of them.

Geocities was the first, if I recall right, to create infra of a sort for this. (Raise hands if you had a homestead.) Then came LiveJournal, which I totally missed out on, and then other early purpose-built networks and the "blogosphere," which I put in quotes because it already feels like a bygone era. And now, of course, social media seems ubiquitous, inescapable.

In this deluge of information, feels calmer. Like starting over. The rules of engagement, formal or informal, are sane, and moderation is firm and decisive. I see 'influencers' fumbling around, some adding 'verified' symbols to their handles because Mastodon doesn't have them. I also see folks who are confident in their worth, being helpful, reaching out, not standing on their celebrity dignity. I see names from long ago, people who sort of withdrew from the hurly-burly (or maybe just from my ken, as I morphed).

Perhaps, this won't last.. Perhaps server loads will get too high to keep membership free. Perhaps traffic will be too frenetic for moderators to keep track of. Perhaps.

For now, this is refreshing. And fun.

If you haven't tried the water yet, come on in.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Trunk call

Yeah, so I'm on Mastodon.

If you want to join this 'instance' of Mastodon and follow me, use this link.

Both are invitations to — which is the most popular but also only one of many ways to use Mastodon — but you don't have to do either to use Mastodon. You could, instead, go to Join Mastodon and get an overview and then choose from any of a vast number of instances of Mastodon. Think of it — in a limited way — like email: I could have Gmail, you could have Yahoo Mail (but why would you?), but we can still write to each other. You can even set up your own instance of Mastodon if you have a server and are feeling hospitable. And then later, if you want to, look me up.

Here are links to intros to Mastodon at PC Mag and LifeHacker (the later's a bit dated, referring to a tool that lets you look up your Twitter followers, but Twitter's changed it's API, so the tool no longer exists.)

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Requiem for a paper

And for another Saturday of my life, a few stray thoughts and a few general observations and a few points of view (all my own work).

Like it’s sad that The Afternoon Despatch and Courier will bring out its last edition today, 34 years and change since it first hit the stands.

Like so many of us blithely defected from Mid-Day just to follow the writing of Behram Contractor, its founding editor and most popular columnist under the nom de plume Busybee.

Like it was a talisman for people my age, the first paper we bought ourselves, sharing its pages and collaborating over the crossword in the canteen of an evening, later reading it on the train home when we were earning salaries and could afford personal copies and could properly, to steal the verb today’s young people use, ‘adult.’

Like we who lost the afternoon paper habit to getting our news on the Internet even as our parents continued to get printing ink on their hands every morning were complicit on The Afternoon’s demise and so we can hardly complain, but we will, like this writer, nevertheless mourn our victim.

Like the paper hosted a galaxy of reporters and writers over time, many of them role models to your correspondent, some of them now people one has met personally and liked, their bylines remembered long after one first read them.

Like no one wrote about Bombay and its people and their foibles and graces, their mannerisms and addictions, with as much affection and gentle humour as he did, some have come close since, but only that. And yes, not many knew its food, from the humblest snack to the poshest spread, as he did.

Like while one can reproduce Busybee’s signature starting lines for his Saturday column and begin every paragraph with ‘like’ as homage, as many have, and many will do now to mark the passing of his paper, it’s really not possible to write like him without having lived his life; there’s a reason why a word often found before his name is ‘inimitable.’

Like this was supposed to be about the newspaper, but it has turned out being about Mr Contractor.

Like, perhaps this was why the paper was not the same after Mr C passed away.

Like it was somehow inevitable that a picture of an internal notice announcing the paper’s closing has been doing the rounds on social media way before any formal news of it appeared anywhere.

Like it was nevertheless sad that that notice was signed by the publisher’s commercial manager not the editor.

Like one hopes that the staff whose services ‘stands terminated w.e.f. 19th July 2019’ had read the writing on the wall before the notice on the softboard and have found new jobs.

And this final point of view. Today’s young people are not reading print newspapers much; but they are reading, and reading a lot; it’s just that their eyes are rivetted to small screens and we who make a living in text media have not yet learnt out how to get them to pay to read us. And more loved papers will die while we try to figure that out.