A Sparse Metropolis

Stockholm is a sparse metropolis. The amount of nature mingled with the urban environs, modern and historied is incredible. I can’t imagine any other place where I can go from walking on a paved road surrounded by buildings to a wooded lake edge. So, when I went to swim in a lake in the middle of the city, it wasn’t like being in nature, it was being in nature.

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It’s been a while since I posted. Summer has come around and I had a sweat in Stockholm. The warmth in the air, the lush greenery and an almost (so close) 24 hour sunlight day makes for an interesting experience in itself when placed in contrast with the bleak grey, frozen hell this place can be.

So, we did a barbecue on one sunny day and had a bonfire later. Walking back home, doing groceries, the joy of watching the sheep and the cows in the fields. I remember the day I felt it was summer. As usual I put on my coat and walked out of my apartment. It was windy as usual except the air felt warm, the day before it would have been a chilly pinching sensation. The temperamental nature of the weather here is astounding, days can go from sunny, to rainy, even snowy at a whim.

 

But as the semester wound down, the warm days kept on coming. I finally got around to running in the trails and woods behind Lappis, something I have been thinking and talking about for a while. I found some more interesting places (see: Something prompted this!).

Stockholm is a sparse metropolis. The amount of nature mingled with the urban environs, modern and historied is incredible. I can’t imagine any other place where I can go from walking on a paved road surrounded by buildings to a wooded lake edge. So, when I went to swim in a lake in the middle of the city, it wasn’t like being in nature, it was being in nature.

 

Its not just the nature though, This feeling which I can only describe as being the opposite of feeling crowded is as pervasive as its incredible. The place has largely left me untouched, it has been the experiences I have sought out that have come to impress me. I went slack lining in the park, where I meet several new people, some of them strangers who wanted to join and a elderly gentleman who congratulated us on our efforts. I felt very pleased with the warmth and welcoming demeanor. I went to a gay bar and found it to be pretty much a normal bar, a couple of winks here and a few girls making out, notwithstanding.

The restaurants, clubs, museums one visits here appear to me as cozy boxes embedded in the pastel colored buildings that stand soberly, orderly. The openness that this place has never seems to stop amazing. For the last couple of days I have been riding around a borrowed bicycle. I have crossed the length of the city, gotten lost (even with GPS :/) and just enjoyed the freedom that this place promises (you do need a job, which I currently do).

 

So I rode around and saw the blue hued midnight skies and went for a sunny morning ride to work. While the regular folks go around in their cars on bland grey highways, the cyclists get to enjoy some spectacular views, filled with lakes, flowers. As the cool wind blows and the sun keeps you warm, it is easy to get lost in this dream. I get lost all the time and its worth it because every sight is priceless. The pictures I take don’t tell it well, the best parts I was too busy enjoying myself.

In my opinion, this is a city not of dreams but one where people make choices, where things don’t come to you, rather you have to seek your way out. This ethos has caused me much anguish but still there is much to be appreciated.

Left alone to my own devices but inevitably, still a part of this beautiful city, I am loving it here.

 

Indian Spice

When I bit into the slightly crunchy, oil laden slice I experienced an epiphany and a catharsis of epic proportions. The rich taste and aroma of mustard lifted my spirits as I gulped down my creation in a frenzy. I, having lived for almost 8 months without this precious flavor, was a man quenching his thirst after journeying through the desert.

The next Monday after this post is Holi. It is a celebration of values like the triumph of good over evil and associated with many different legends, the most prominent being the burning of the eponymous demon Holika. However for me and countless others, it means bright colors, water fights, Gujiyas & Thandai. It was by far the most fun event of my life while growing up. The frivolty is intoxicating.

Holi is becoming more known to people far abroad in recent times. Here’s how it looks like,

This is of course largely due the festival occurring at the start of Spring in India. While gentle winds blow and the temperature is just right. The sun isn’t so harsh as to burn though the its warmth, felt on the back while being drenched in color water is soothing.

Meanwhile in Stockholm….

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I have been for past few days been missing home. There are the little things about my previous life that I miss and there are major things, like food! I have overpowering cravings for the Mughlai I ate every weekend in Allahabad. The dahi vada, samosa, gulabjamun, papri chaat I had in the evenings. Even, aloo gobi and paneer paratha are missing from my life. Finally, my all time favorite ‘arhar dal tadke laga ke, aur chawal‘ has been absent for months :/ Just collecting these images has plunged me into immense agony.

Indian spices have been considered valuable in Europe for millenia. From the ancient Romans to modern day, Indian food is considered exotic, flavorful and hot. Spices have had an important role in our history. From the first global trading networks to the rise of colonialism, it was all driven by the riches derived from Indian spices.

Having eaten spicy food all my life, I had never really understood the fascination for Indian food from people who are not used to it. Infact, for me all food Indian or otherwise cannot be separated into categories. As I sit here drinking coffee and eating a fantastic spinach, bacon sandwich.

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I think about the relative lack of flavor in my food. A lot of meat, bread and pasta dominates my diet yet apart from the standard ‘garam masala‘, I haven’t really leveraged my heritage. The curry mixes as expected do not hold up to the definition. So, I decided that it was time I took my cooking initiatives one step further.

A week ago, I made the bold decision to buy baigan/egglpant/aubergines/brinjal, whatever term you prefer. I then proceeded to buy mustard seeds or ‘rai‘ to replicate the essence of mustard oil used in almost all fancy cooking in India. The results were spectacular. I made two great dishes, ‘baigan bhaja‘ which is a Bengali dish made by frying sliced baigan and ‘baigan ka bharta‘ which is a Punjabi recipe, made by roasting, then mashing the veggie. Unfortunately, I was too busy eating to consider snapping my achievements.

When I bit into the slightly crunchy, oil laden slice I experienced an epiphany and a catharsis of epic proportions. The rich taste and aroma of mustard lifted my spirits as I gulped down my creation in a frenzy. I, having lived for almost 8 months without this precious flavor,  was a man quenching his thirst after journeying through the desert. The tremendous satiation I felt made me realise why good food is a central pillar of a satisfied life.

The amazing thing  is that there are many, many more experiences of rediscovery awaiting me as I explore the rich diversity of the subcontinent’s gastronomical delights.