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.

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.

 

Life Building

The next day, I sat alone on the floating jetty(?) and was feeling really content letting the sun warm my skin and the breeze ruffle my hair. I am very averse to discomfort yet the freshness that I felt compelled me to jump headlong into the lake. Again and again I plunged into the depths of the fjord, each time seeking to jump farther and dive deeper. The interval was just enough to let me feel my limbs.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the lakehouse of the Karolinska Institute’s student union, Solvik. The ice had only just melted and the overbearing, gloomy grey skies had been dispersed by the ever increasing daylight. Thanks to the initiative of my lovely friends, we organised an overnight gala, wine flowed as we gathered around the fire. Juicy, flavorful meats sizzled on the barbecue.

I was pretty languid after the intense experience of the sauna (my very first), alternated with jumps into the freezing ice water but as my sobriety receded, I had my share of fun on the dance floor and then sneaked off to the sauna again, though the alcohol dulled the bight of the late night chill. All in all, a very pleasant, relaxing experience.

The next day, I sat alone on the floating jetty(?) and was feeling really content letting the sun warm my skin and the breeze ruffle my hair. I am very averse to discomfort yet the freshness that I felt compelled me to jump headlong into the lake. Again and again I plunged into the depths of the fjord, each time seeking to jump farther and dive deeper. The interval was just enough to let me feel my limbs. I will forever be grateful that this moment got captured for posterity,

I had a ecstatic feeling of cleansing, of solace and life. After tiring myself out, I did what I do best, I pondered. Unlike my phases of existential agony, this time, the splendor around me would not let me slide into the melancholy I am so well versed with. I don’t really remember what I was thinking but I know I was content, the very best kind of happiness there is.

Yesterday, I was considering where my ideas about life and such come from. I readily identified the obvious sources and re-discovered some obscure ones. The earlier I looked back, the more fragmented these influences were, partial understandings of concepts way beyond my age at the time,. Yet it was these half understood ideas that had the most profound impact.

One of earliest ones, was Swami Vivekanandathe famous Indian ascetic. In my school, students were sorted into colored houses, each representing an acknowledged sage with a profound influence on the Indian society. I was assigned to the saffron colored, Vivekananda house. Buddha famously rejected extreme asceticism alongside materialism and then promulgated the middle path. Vivekananda had a similar realisation, though in contrast to the passivity of Buddhist philosophy, his was one of activity. The strength of spirituality, manifested as  energy to live life to the fullest. And by that he meant a drive to excel in every aspect of life.

I always imagined this to be akin to having an inexorable force, propelling me to my self determined destiny. The belief that, I could throw myself headlong into challenges, with a constant, unrelenting persistence and I would surmount anything. This was the ideal to live by. As I grew, several other ideas, thoughts and goals blended in. The bedrock of what I want to do is the certainty that I can do anything.

This also begs, the question then, can I stop? Could I imagine being content or would I always be stuck in the pursuit of a ever distant goal?  It doesn’t help that not everyone shares this compulsion. Going against the herd sounds glamorous but this is hardly ever the case. Most often that not, everyone is choosing their own unique path, and mine seems to be getting harder by my own doing. Unlike people who cannot escape their burdens, I was lucky enough to have a chance at an easier life. Is constant wanting or waiting or struggling, a sure way of making my life hell? I feel so at times yet I  reject the notion of stopping, of being satisfied with what I have.

That being said, it is really easy to find happiness along the way and it can look something like this,

The pure bliss of letting go (of doubt)

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.

Cook in 7 days

I was asked about my plan for dinner, to which I replied ‘Oats’.While I was still in India in the relative comfort of food cooked by people who knew what they were doing, ‘Oats’ had been my perfect answer to my very noticeable lack of culinary skills, yet after six days of consuming the white, gooey stuff I was in deep contemplation about the choices I made in life.

It has been two weeks since my last post (also the first! :p). After spending the first week subsisting on cup noodles and oats, I brought to life another long standing dream of mine. I learnt how to cook and though I don’t want to over-emphasize my accomplishments, I think this was a great personal milestone.

I did pretty well initially with sandwiches and such, though it was the conversation with my mother on Saturday that roused me from my ‘chalta hai’ (~ it’s fine) mood…

Early experiments with feeding myself

I was asked about my plan for dinner, to which I replied ‘Oats’.While I was still in India in the relative comfort of food cooked by people who knew what they were doing, ‘Oats’ had been my perfect answer to my very noticeable lack of culinary skills, yet after six days of consuming the white, gooey stuff I was in deep contemplation about the choices I made in life.

I was despondent, filled with remorse as I recalled countless days spent procrastinating, as I lived out my last few days in luxury back home. I further plunged into despair as I fondly remembered the time honored tradition of my family, consuming copious amounts of gravy chicken and ‘roomali roti’ every weekend. Furthermore, I was admonished by girlfriend, who in her generosity had prepared for me, the most fabulous home made chicken ever. However, I had dashed any hopes she might have had of inspiring me.

And then the realisation struck, I was here, alone and with no one to look I had the freedom to do as I please. Sure, I would have to invest some effort into it, but I had always loved cooking, meager though my abilities were. In a fit of rampant enthusiasm, I managed to create an exquisite egg curry, something, I would have never deemed myself capable of..

The first inspiration

There are a few moments when one is filled with the wonder and delight of mastering  life, a feeling of overcoming, of victory in face of adversity. I had broken a glass ceiling (albeit a very low one) but as they say ‘Buy yourself packaged food, you feed yourself but learn how to cook and you feed yourself cheaply! Forever!’ So, I cooked and I explored, I discovered the thrill of creation.

The portfolio

I accidentally found a local delicacy , filmjölk, which is fermented milk. I wanted to purchase regular milk, imagine my surprise when thick, sour cream poured out instead. Thankfully I took google’s advice before departing for  an indignant refund attempt. It definitely appears to be an acquired taste though I did manage to find a purpose for the 1L I have. I also discovered that peanut butter mixed with warm milk is a tasty counter to the cold.

Aaaand of course, presenting my crowning jewel, the source of my greatest culinary pride, my first dish with meat, a very unique chicken curry that lit up my taste buds. It was the most fulfilling meal I have ever had. I still dream about that magical day where I became a full fledged cook..

The best achievement so far

I even had it sampled by my friends, who were all suitably impressed when they had me over for dinner,last Friday. It was sincerely the best meal I have had since coming to Stockholm. I unfortunately forgot to snap a pic of the chicken dish (not mine) and the ras malai :\

Good food and good company! :D

So, I can now proudly claim to be a self fed guy :D On a serious note, this has been an excellent learning experience for me which I get to celebrate with a very lucky find, found clearing my shelf of stuff left by the previous tenant.

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Well, winter is coming!

Something prompted this!

I recently shifted to Stockholm for my Masters, pursue dreams and enjoy some first world living. So there is a huge amount of ‘major step in life’ enthusiasm going around (in my head). Now it seems, the epic beauty of this place was enough to push me off the edge and I have managed to click around a 100 photos in 3 days. Believe me, its an effort of staggering scale for me.

As you might have already read, I have been putting off this effort for 7 years now. Acknowledging this fact makes me feel really, really, old :\ but anyway, here is the thing.

I recently shifted to Stockholm for my Masters, pursue dreams and enjoy some first world living. So there is a huge amount of ‘major step in life’ enthusiasm going around (in my head). Now it seems, the epic beauty of this place was enough to push me off the edge and I have managed to click around a 100 photos in 3 days. Believe me, its an effort of staggering scale for me. These photos sit sadly in my hard disk but then I came up with the brilliant idea of posting them online :D So here goes nothing, YAY! -.-

I went around clicking photos of the area I stay in. Its called Lappkärrsberget, fondly refered to as Lappis (very cute)

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One of my first clicks, I was very taken by the streets and the lampposts that, as a friend suggested, might have been completely in place at Hogwarts. Everywhere I looked there were shades of red, gray and cream, all nestled in lots and lots of green. This combined with the cold air flowing through my hair was enough to put me in an adventurous mood.

I had 3 days to kill before the registration day, so I decided to move around a little and delight in getting the feel of the area nearby. I soon stumbled upon a trail behind my block and it led to a fantastic discovery :D I found this solitary bench. Notice the message carved on it, it says

THE FRIENDLY BENCH

Rule1: If you want a new friend, have a seat

Rule2: If you see someone sitting here, say hello!

Rule3: Make a new friend

I sat for a while, reading my book. Sadly there were no passersby.

Moving along, I saw something amazing, could it actually be and behold, a lake! A huge one at that. I decided to walk along and found a cozy spot some 3 kilometers ahead where I finally took a selfie!

Fun fact: I heard that the lake water is drinking quality water, that is just amazing to me :p

It struck me that all of this natural beauty, which happens to the most profound I have experienced yet, was hardly 100 meters away from the roads and buildings. Indeed it was possible to hear the traffic at some spots and occasionally peeks of multi stories were visible through the trees.

Today I followed another, more ‘foresty’ trail. I was sure I heard a bear..

Fortunately for me though, it turned out to be a relatively short walk till I arrived at the other end of Lappis, and the bear, was actually a speed boat out in the lake. Next time, I will venture with a more steadfast mental state. As I came out of the shrubbery, much to the surprise of an elderly couple cycling up the road, I heard music and merry sounds. It seems the locals were taking full advantage of the warm sun out today, at the beach.

This was all about my explorations of Lappis so far! I do have an interesting snippet of information. Waves of mystic lights have been reported in the sky at ungodly hours by the denizens, but it is rumored that only the most patient and hardy lot, willing to face down the challenges of nature and achieve inner strength can be blessed with these visions! Seriously though, I really need to get my ass out of bed at 2 AM to see the Aurora XD

As a final thought, why so many grills everywhere? They are everrrywhere!

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