Sunday, December 8, 2013

'FORAGE' FOR FOOD ...



Our son was driving hubby and me to our dinner date - he had reserved a table for us at ‘Forage’ (in Salt lake City) - owned by Bowman Brown, a contestant of ‘Iron Chef’. Actually my son and daughter-in-law had celebrated the 10th anniversary of their first rendezvous the previous day with dinner in this unique restaurant.. They had relished it and wanted us to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience and had booked a table for both of us today. This was the first time both of us were eating out in the US without being accompanied by the family and we felt it odd. This was a formal place - usually for couples on dates ….
During the drive, our son briefed us about this place - it doesn't offer run-of-the-mill stuff like other restaurants. The chef forages the nearby forests like Yogi Bear in Jellystone Park and uses exotic items using herbs, nuts and roots and leaves. This would be a 13 course meal - actually it would have been 15 ...
“What? Even elaborate feasts in India are theoretically 4 - 6 courses and we are full at the end of it! We are no longer young, you see!”
“Oh this is nowhere like your sambar / rasam / payasams / curd rice courses!”
“How?”
“The dinner goes on through 2 ½ hours ..”
“You must be kidding!”
“Seriously! And they have a different menu every day but I have requested that you be served our same menu - minus 2 items as I know you don’t like raw egg / mushrooms.”
He had liked the dishes and knew we would like them too - and we knew we could count on him.
So you see the menu was custom-made for every table reservation.
“So it must be pretty expensive - how much?”
“I’m not telling you…. and yeah it is not crowded.”
“Naturally - I can visualize that - considering the exotic price tag!”
“We hope we’ll enjoy them. Wish we could share one lunch between us - you see Dad and I love to split and share our orders in restaurants but then I know this is more ridiculous than wishing to  share ‘one limited thaali’ between us!"
“Yes - because each serving is just bite-sized - literally one mouthful!”
“Really?”
“Some of them have ‘a peg’ of juice accompanying them - carrot / peach / green apple … So you will have enough to eat. And there’s bread too - I think we went overboard with the bread and that’s why we were stuffed at the end of the meal”.
“Point noted.”
“One more thing. ‘The Iron Chef’ will come to serve you the first drink. After that other waiters will take over - they’ll give you details of each dish - you can ask for clarifications if you wish …”
Clearly these were handy tips. And what I liked best was he told me I could take pictures and even jot down notes about each dish at the back of the printed menu (he understood my blogger-enthusiasm). I gave hubby a furtive glance as he is always the damp squib coming between the camera and me! Okay, all set for the palate-tickling unique experience…..
As we drove in, we noticed that the exterior was extremely low-key. Our son ushered us in and and left us at our table .. I looked around and saw some 20 tables for 2s  - 4 of them occupied.
As we seated ourselves at our table, we saw the menu card in front of us -


Nov 14 2013


Apple cider and green juniper
Cured unripe peach
Black bread
crispy potato
Buckwheat


Black currant
Potato and elderberry capers
Young roots, stems, leaves with fruit vinegar
Brassicas
Oats and turnips
Beets and smoked onions


Frozen quince and lavender  
Roasted acorn


Tasting menu - $ 87
Wine pairing - $65 / 35
Juice & non alcoholic pairing - $26
Chef - Bowman Brown


I loved the card: the carefully chosen term ‘tasting menu’ but with so many personalizations, I felt they could have included our names too! And the dinner was priced at 87$ plus taxes and juices at 26$ plus taxes. Hmm... we should like what we are offered - I think this sort of positive approach helps!
Soon Chef Bowman presented himself pleasantly at our table and started explaining about the welcome drink while pouring hot apple cider over the little green juniper branch held over the tiny silver cup with a ball of cream in it. Then he took leave and left us to enjoy our drink. I jotted down the details at the back of my menu card , took out my iPhone with a flourish and took a picture even before taking a sip. (As much as I would have loved to take a pic of Bowman I didn't, as I felt it wouldn't be appropriate.) Hmmm….. yummm..y - warm, frothy, refreshing and out-of-the-world.

Soon we started off with the starters - the first next serving arrived - cured unripe peach - just 2 small pieces - one for each of us - nice and sour. 

The next was ‘Black Bread’ - very nicely presented! As I finished taking a picture, hubby warned me to pick the right piece - only one was the edible piece (he had eaten his) camouflaged amidst black stones! 

I chose to take a close-up pic of the cheddar-cheese-filled bread piece fried with malt. 
We soon realized that each dish was presented uniquely - only they were a tiny bit in a large bowl! As we were waiting for our next dish, our next table was occupied by a young couple. Wasn't I pleasantly surprised to see her as enthusiastic as me (in fact less so) as she too started clicking pics of each dish. No, she didn't take notes like me....
‘Crispy potato’ was a delight to the eyes and the palate - ultra-thin, crispy ‘potato-string-morsel’ crunching in your mouth ...hmmm…


‘Buckwheat crisp’ - resembled a tortilla chip - with a dash of onion puree and topped with some herb - again one for each of us - it is not like digging your hand into a bag of chips and popping mouthfuls! These were all starters, you see!

Next the entrees were announced. A bowl of homemade bread accompanied by locally made butter and salt (remember we are in Salt Lake City) presented themselves. Both of us remembered not to splurge on the bread right away though it tasted awesome with the butter and salt. 

I also remembered our son telling us that as the courses progressed, the size of the portion also increased but warned us not to expect big helpings. In fact that suited us beautifully as we were poor eaters, both of us!
The first one to adorn our table was Black currant - a tablespoon of the dish in a huge bowl - it tasted like savory custard, with smoked iced tomato - cold and crisp, tingling our tongues.

The next one was ‘Potato and elderberry capers’ - a piece of baked potato with capers (leaves) and a dot - yes, literally a dot - of sour cream. Who wouldn't love baked potato?

The next entree had a decent spread compared to the others - ‘Young roots, stems, leaves with fruit vinegar’ - as you can guess - there were very slender carrots, beets, sweet potato with brown butter sauce and fruit vinegar. This was the tastiest dish so far and we did full justice to it.

After the roots and stems, it was the turn of flowerets - ‘Brassicas’ - broccoli, cabbage, kale (?) ...with buttermilk sauce. We managed to finish them too, with a few intermittent bites of bread and butter.

‘Oats and turnip’ were on our platter next - oats with roasted turnip and sliced turnips. Weren't we glad that the quantity was measly! We were not fans of either turnip or oats. But then it turned out that my son and daughter-in-law too liked that the least.

We resorted to a slice of bread again as our main courses were coming to an end.

The last entree was announced - ‘Beets and smoked onions’ - a decent platter of white beans, beets, roasted gooseberry, onions - the tangy taste of gooseberry and the purple patches was yummy. And was an awesome presentation - just look at this picture!   

We made sure to enjoy our last slice of bread along with that dish.
The dessert was announced. The first was ‘Frozen quince and lavender’. The marshmallow frozen yogurt sorbet with quince on top was a sort of cold sweet-sour magic with the aroma of lavender.



The second dessert ‘Roasted acorn’ was also presented very artistically - a small piece of acorn bread with a dash of acorn custard was also a bit of a sweet-and-sour affair. And I was under the impression that acorns are squirrels’ delights!

The desserts were too less in number and too mild to satisfy the Indian palate which is so used to payasam / halwas / laddus ….! At the end of it, our good-natured waiter brought a plate with a bunch of brown stones and coaxed us to pick our chocolate, warning us that there were just two of them on the plate.  I was so engrossed picking out the right one and popping it in my mouth to satisfy my sweet craving that I forgot to photograph them.
Our son presented himself just as we were finishing - at the end of 2 ½ hours. There was a look of surprise at our bill. The goodbyes came with packets of special nutty cereal packets for the next day's breakfast.

“What’s your judgement on the dinner?”my son was eager to know.
“Good, we didn't waste a thing and we were not feeling stuffed,” we said.
“How about the drinks?” he probed.
“We asked for just water,” I sheepishly said.
“What?”
“We didn’t want to get over-stuffed.”
“Or did you want to save some bucks?”
“Well, both,” I muttered to myself.
All said and done, it was an experience to cherish. Of course no one would be keen to go in for a second time for more than one reason!
On our drive back, I was imagining the prospect of a similar restaurant in India. I wouldn't forage in the forests for exotic herbs / roots but build up my menu with recipes from all over India and offer mini helpings of them. And I’d call it ‘India Unlimited' / 'Flavors of Indian food'.
If I were to open a restaurant, my menu card would read something like this -


rasam ( tomato / lemon / pineapple / garlic)
karuvadam nest / papad piece / banana chip / potato chip / papad with topping
pakoda - chutney / cheese lollipop / Manchurian pop
amla moraba / sharkaravarati upperi
gol gappa / pani puri
sprouts bhel 
fried idli / mini idli with topping


butter & pav
sauted veggies / greens / leafy veggies / koshambir
chole / rajma on a mini puri
coconut / lemon / tamarind rice / noodles / upma / poha / sabudana khichadi with chutney / dahi vada / curd rice with pickle
savory doughnut - mini thepla / dhokla / vada with tamarind sauce and mint chutney
triangles - uthappa / masala dosa with tomato chutney
stuffed paratha piece with raita & pickle


jackfruit / mango piece with honey / Kerala plantain brownie
gulab jamun / rosogolla in ‘milk sauce’
shrikhand / halwa / payasam


Each item would be at least two morsels each - to satisfy big eaters ….


For the drinks I would include jal jeera, panna, tender coconut water, mango lassi / buttermilk / chaas, fresh fruit juice …..
And price the meal at Rs. 700 and the drinks at Rs. 300! Personally I would like to start off with half the price. But if we have to be unique, we have to raise the bar with the rates as well in order  to entice the elite!

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

TO THE KING OF FRUITS - JACK FRUIT .......


Which would you choose as the King of Fruits? My vote is for jack fruit – I know some of you may not agree with me. But believe me it is – in size and majestic appearance and sweetness. Tough externally and silky smooth internally. And during one of my Google searches, I discovered the many health benefits of the jack fruit, so I'm convinced that my loyalty is not misplaced!
Of course it demands some arduous efforts on your part to enjoy the pieces. This might put some off – damn the stickiness and need for oiling your knife and palms. (Nowadays the fruit vendor does all this sticky business for you while you wait patiently.) Another thing - you simply cannot hide the jack fruit at home – so strong is its ‘odour’. Don’t even think of shoving it in the fridge – the odour will permeate the entire items in it even if it is kept in a closed container! For the same set of people (I mean jack fruit-haters), this odour is a repellent  But not for me! Oh I simply love the fruit! Partly because I am a Keralite; also because I've stayed a very small fraction of my life there – four years to be exact – in the mid-sixties! I was staying with my grandparents and aunt in Thrissur as my father was posted in the remote Port Blair (Andamans) and there was no high school there in those days! Come summer vacation, and I’d be ready to pack my bags to visit my parents and siblings. But not before relishing a week of jack fruit! I’m not ashamed to admit my greed – I had to gulp all the jack fruit I could for the season in just a matter of days. My grandma would cut up a gigantic jack fruit and give me 1/6 of it. I’d tell her I’d help myself to the ‘chakka thundam’ all through the day! She’d keep aside another similar piece. I’d ask her what that was for. She would say that was for the maid. Selfish me – I would try to remind her I’d be eating more the same day and the next day too …. And she would reassure me there was plenty! And sure enough I’d gorge on my favorite fruit for some 10 days – sometimes dipping them in honey – hmm…love them that sweet …. Oh those were the days! The elders at home were no big fans of the fruit as such but were more interested in the dishes from jack fruit – they called them ‘chakka series’ – starting with ‘chakka molagooshiam’ (with almost raw big jack fruit, graduating to ‘chakka puzhukku’ the next day and to the sweet ‘chakka curry’ (which was the only one I was interested in) as the cut jack fruit ripened. Not to forget the tasty 'chakka kuru' (jack fruit seeds) used in 'mezhukkuvaratti' and most 'koottaans'.
Before and after that period, I’ve never got to eat SO MUCH of ‘chakkapazham’! Except a couple of tenures in ‘jack fruit-infested’ Bangalore and Pondicherry, my dad’s postings were in ‘jack fruit-forsaken’ places. And during such times, we had to rest content with ‘chakkavaratti’ (jack fruit halwa) lovingly stored by grandma for our annual visit. My, wouldn't we simply enjoy the extra large helpings she would hand over to us kids! We loved to dig the spoon into the tempting brown halwa, pick up just a wee bit and lick and let it remain on our tongue as we savored its yummy taste!
Hubby has a favorite anecdote about the jack fruit – and I love it too! He had a big group of Mallu friends in  his bachelor days in Pune. A couple of them would want him also to accompany them on their scooter to Pune railway station. The foursome would wait for the particular train from Kerala – we forget what it was called in the late 60s. As it arrived on the platform, the friends would take out a piece of paper with some numbers scribbled on it and look for the particular bogey. On locating it, they’d enter the compartment and look for the particular seat number. They’d put their hands under the seat and pull out two huge jack fruits lying there and alight with them from the train. The pillion rider would hold on to the jack fruit as they rode home! The story unfolded before hubby like a jigsaw puzzle! The jack fruits had travelled WT all the way from Thrissur to Pune under a particular seat in a particular compartment. The relatives who had sneaked in the jack fruits had sent the bogey and seat numbers by telegram (remember those were the days – RIP telegram!) to the Pune guys. None of the passengers suspected that the jack fruit was nobody’s – each thought it belonged to one or the other passenger. Nobody bothered who collected it as it wasn't anybody’s and didn't suspect when somebody collected it! It happens only in India! The relatives were happy to send some home-grown jack fruits to eager fans and the latter equally thrilled to receive them – and if it was achieved free of cost, the joy of both the parties was doubled!
Post-marriage I have been in Pune – this city had been a ‘No Zone’ for my favorite fruit – till the dawn of the millennium or a little earlier! Pune has undergone tremendous changes for the better in every respect, including availability of all fruits in plenty in every part of the city and suburbs – and the jack fruit is no exception! Now that I’m a grandma, I prepare ‘jack fruit halwa’ and await my grand kids! (The only difference is my grandma would have a bottomless jar of it (remember those were the times of home-grown jack fruits and stay-at-home cooks!) and I have 3-4 small containers with my several batches of the ‘chakkavaratti’ (poor me – I have to make it on my own steam, so I make in installments - with a little more than one kg of jack fruit every time!). Last year my friendly neighborhood jack fruit vendor (he makes his appearance just during the season!) had loads of good jack fruit till mid July – so when my grand kids came down from the US, they got to eat the ripe fruit and give their vote in its favor. They were also overawed by its size and its ‘poky’exterior! My elder son and family landed a week too late but they had jack fruit awaiting them on the tree at the other grandparents’ house in Chennai!
So that was about last year. This year our friends Padmini and Aravind brought us my most precious gift on their return from Kerala in early April – no prizes for guessing! Yummm …. So many whole pieces embedded in that a ‘chakka thundam’ – about 1/6 portion of a whole jack fruit! We chomped on them as such. Come Vishu, and I presented myself at the Kerala Store and bought 1/5 of a whole chakka and decided to use a part of it for chakka pradhaman. But when I was done removing the ‘chakka chola’ (whole pieces) I realized that the number was half of what I had managed to get with Padmini’s! So you see, you can never be sure what lies within the jack fruit! After that, there was no sight of jack fruits at all for more than a month. And here I was biding my time to make ‘chakkavaratti’. Finally they appeared around the street corner and with a vengeance I had a go for it, grabbing 1 ½ kg each time (other buyers would give me dirty looks as they’d have to wait patiently in queue for their ¼ kg buy!). I remembered the tasty sweet ‘chakka curry’ my aunt would make some 45 years ago and tried it out (I didn't know the recipe but guessed it recalling its taste!). I made just a little quantity as I wasn't sure hubby would like it – but then we almost ended up competing for it! So I repeated the same three times and now I’m feeling so good. We don’t normally buy jack fruit once it starts raining – the belief is water enters the fruit and reduces its sweetness. But our counterparts from the North are of the opinion that it tastes better after the rains! Diversity! Awaiting jack fruit in the next season, I chose to pen this ode to jack fruit.


P.S. Hey, wait! This season is not over – not yet! My neighbor Valsa who had gone to Kerala by car, returned yesterday and …..yes, sent me ¼ of a home-grown jack fruit. Yippee – I got to take photos of the 'chakka thundam' (portion), the messy 'chola-extracting' business and 'chakka chola'. 

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

BOMBAY TALKIES - A MIXED FARE

Movie review: Bombay Talkies, an ideal approach to salute cinema

Four successful directors join hands to create a movie as a salute to the centenary year of Indian cinema – a novel idea! Each presents a short story on an aspect of cinema – reminding us of those Doordarshan days when we relished ‘Ek kahani’ and its ilk! There’s no question of not liking the movie in toto – there may be mixed reactions to one or the other story!
Karan Johar’s theme – as usual is bold and ‘hatke’ – in fact he’s getting bolder and bolder! Though LGBT is not taboo in India any more, parents watching with kids definitely squirm even as the scenes get bolder and reach a crescendo! Rani-Saqib is a delightful ‘pair’! Rani is a natural and so it’s no big surprise. The young Saqib Salim more than matches strides with her with ease and confidence. Randeep Hooda completes the triangle with elan. The old melodies used aptly in the background add to the effect. The volley of punch lines is lapped up by the public. A very well-made story without Karan’s trade-mark frills and fancies – if you don’t mind the adult theme, especially in a movie with all other stories with kids / for kids! The tribute is to all the innovative creators – story / script writers, dialogue writers and directors who have left their indelible stamp on Indian cinema.
The next story directed by Dibaker Banerji is an adaptation of Satyajit Ray’s short story. Nawazuddin Siddhique who plays the failed actor accidentally landing up with a ‘face-in-the crowd’ role, is a delight to watch as he grabs at the opportunities to display minute emotions with subtle facial twitches. Authentic shots of chawl and street scenes of Mumbai are a feast to the eyes. The best of the lot is the ‘reading-the-newspaper-over-the shoulder-in-local-train’ scene – even if we have a feeling of having seen it earlier! The highlight is the hazaar ways of uttering the monosyllabic dialogue ‘ay’! The imaginary dialogue- baazi between Nawazuddin and his theatre guru Sadashiv Amrapurkar conveys the acknowledgement of the impact of theatre on our cinema.
Zoya Akhtar handles the next story – very typical of kids obsessed with filmy dance / music. This is the age of reality shows and ambitious parents and super-talented kids. But this father (Ranveer Sheorey) would rather enroll his son (Naman Jain) for football coaching but the boy has a flair for dancing (read item numbers). At the climax scene at the  “ghar ko multiplex banaake rakha hai”, the multiplex audience (we) as well as those in the movie – begin watching the gyrations of the ‘boy’ with wide-open mouth and raised eyebrows but end up easing those creases and smiling and clapping for his superb performance! “Follow your heart and dreams” is the theme – yes, many have come with dreams and made it big in Indian cinema. But couldn't there have been a better icon than Kat?
How can this euology to Indian cinema be complete without the legendary Amitabh Bachchan? Anurag Kashyap’s is the simple rustic tale of the crazy Bachchan fan (Sudhir Pandey) who sends his son (Vineet Kumar) to meet his idol with the home-made ‘amla murabba’, just as his father had sent him years ago on a similar mission to Dilip saab! Mission indeed – as it turns out to be! And the twist in the tale reminds us of Premchand’s short stories! This segment is a salute to millions of frenzied fans like the protagonist and to the legends of cinema.

Unique joint venture, hand-picked actors, natural acting, crisp dialogues, simple themes projecting the influence of the Indian film industry on the common man. The first half is crisp, the second half totters. No big surprise that the film ends with a celebration  - with a glorious star line-up - paisa vasool!

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

BIG IS BEAUTIFUL

Yes, it's the TWIN TOWERS of WTC (pic taken in 2000)

NY skyline from atop WTC
The land of the BIG Apple – it overwhelms me with its awesome enormity! Even as the plane prepares to land, you can sense it – if it is New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, the skyline with sky-kissing skyscrapers is awesome; if it is Denver or Salt Lake City, it is the vast expanses of land and mountains! In the east, sprawling stretches of woods separate cities and in the west, majestic mountains!
Picturesque Golf course in Salt Lake City, Utah
   As you look out of the window of the plane at the city, you are dazzled at the sight of spacious parking lots with glittering car tops, streams of cars on the highways, green golf courses dotted with trees and bunkers and water bodies, sparkling swimming pools attached to houses. Every major airport has a plane taking off every other minute and within the airport there are trains or buses to take passengers from one concourse to another. If you have to catch another flight from another gate in the same concourse you should be lucky if you have adjacent gates – otherwise you may in all probability find yourself taking a long walk all the way from Gate 7 to 77! Major airports ply carts to ferry old / needy passengers to their gates – you may express your thanks by tipping the driver.

  Okay, if parking lots as seen from the plane impressed you, the multi-level parking lots at the airports and important places will bowl you over – I can’t help thinking of the cramped parking spaces in our country where there is a mad scramble for the limited parking available with the rest of the cars parked haphazardly as per the will and pleasure of motorists! Some of our airports and important land-marks  can now boast of multi-level parking lots. Now something about the cars: you have so many many of them zooming past in a steady stream on the different lanes! The number of cars speeding along some 14 lanes – be it New York or San Francisco or LA should be seen to be believed! But nine out of ten cars have just one occupant! And every family has at least two cars – even for the same number of members! From number let us move on to size – most of them are on the bigger side though you do spot some cute little ‘Ladybirds’. Many families have at least an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) – if not an RV (Recreation Vehicle – which is a house-on-wheels) – so that they can tag along boats and bikes for their family on weekend outings. In addition you see all those giant carriers plying between cities. We even spotted one humongous vehicle carrying a house – honestly!
Sprawling 'Pet (dog) supplies' aisle
   What else is big? Why, the houses, the museums, the National Parks, why even every departmental store is sprawling – with well-stacked aisles - even for Pet supplies (Dogs)! Shoppers grab items in multiple quantities. So it is two dozen eggs, a crate of juice cans, 12 pack tissue roll, three varieties of juices… Such shopping sprees call for a big boot, which all cars are equipped with. If you take a peak at the vegetable section, you will notice that capsicum, cabbage, cauliflower, tomato and onion – all are giant sized! Of course you find baby carrots too!

  For the desis, weekly grocery shopping is incomplete without a round of the Indian store. What amazed me was that they too sell giant packs – 4 lb packs of dal varieties or 2 lb packs of sooji or puffed rice or one lb packs of turmeric or coriander powder – all suitable for giant (sorry, joint) families where cooking is done at least twice a day! But our desi families here can’t and don’t indulge in everyday cooking except during parents’ visit. Still they have no option but go for these huge packs and then replenish the supplies every couple of months, tossing away the unused stuff into the garbage bin.

  If you are shopping for clothes, you will get lots of selection for giant sizes – XL, XXL and XXXL, but less for Medium size. If you are shopping for Small size, you had it! You’d be left wondering why God made you that way as you find yourself less privileged than bigger people in more than one respect! You’d curse yourself for being a child of a smaller god!

  Babies are huge too – especially the ones on formula milk. Naturally people out there are also of big build! I used to consider myself on the heavier side back home but compared to the Americans I was scrawny! It is their diet I feel – all that cheese and beef or bacon or ham stuffed in the bread or wrap – it is funny to watch on TV, the ads of fast food joints selling bulging burgers which spill out at every bite! Super sized sodas and sandwiches are in vogue. When it comes to coffee – even if it is the famed Starbucks – I feel that even an avid coffee enthusiast from overseas will be left struggling to finish the large cup! The coffee mugs at homes are large too!

  So that is it – the US is not only a vast land of big bucks but also of big people who eat, drink, drive, watch, wear – BIG and sport a BIG heart too! All the same that is also the country for those want to make it BIG!
© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.

Friday, March 1, 2013

TO GIFT OR NOT TO GIFT .....


Wedding bells ring in joy for all. Who doesn't like to attend weddings? I am no exception. But of late I have been coming across a dampening phrase in every other invitation card – “No gifts or bouquets, please” or “Blessings only”. I cannot say for sure how it is with others but this statutory warning has landed me in a soup – a different kind, each time! So I have come to dread this phrase so much so that I feel pleased as punch to receive a normal, regular (read traditional) wedding invitation.

The first thing is I simply cannot understand the logic behind this request. Doesn't it go against the culture of ‘gifts’? It is all very well to say “Your blessing is your gift”. But I am just a lesser mortal in this materialistic world (come on, tell me how many of you aren't)  and don’t subscribe to lofty principles, but I can vouch that there is as much joy in giving as in receiving! Let me be me and do what I wish! You will understand when I elaborate …

The first time I came across this ‘unreasonable’ request was in the late 80's – I think those friends were much ahead of their times. I felt I had been stripped of my fundamental right to go armed with a gift to a wedding reception! I couldn't take it lying down. So I defiantly marched in with an extra large gift alright! To my embarrassment, our good hosts turned down the gift very graciously, explaining they hadn't accepted gifts even from relatives. You can imagine my stupid expression as I walked down the dais after greeting the newlyweds - with our gift still in my hand - (hubby doesn't chip in with help on such occasions – ‘gift’ is entirely my department, so I have to always grin and bear it!). More embarrassment when I couldn't balance my plate and gift. So I had to find a calm resting place for the latter so that I could focus on my dinner. The only consolation was that I was not the only one – there were many in the same predicament! Humph …. I will never forget that first experience.

Yes, but obviously I didn't learn my lesson! The next decade witnessed a boom in such requests. Needless to say I sailed through varied experiences ….. The first time, I repeated the same mistake as before but luckily wasn't penalized for it! In fact it was accepted without the least hesitation (perhaps to save our humiliation - so considerate, eh?). Encouraged, I continued to flaunt such a request with impunity the next time only to be politely put in place! However bouquets managed to get a better treatment. So the next time – yes, you guessed it – I landed with flowers. But they had to be left at the entrance! I had failed to read the invitation properly – it read – “No gifts / bouquets, please!” And they stuck to it verbatim!

Oh I forgot to mention another weird experience. It was my colleague’s son’s wedding – the entire staff was in full attendance. The invite carried the statutory warning, “No gifts, please” but some of us managed to thrust the gift envelope in the hands of the hapless bridegroom who was our ex-student. You see he couldn't put up a strong resistance against his respected teachers! We patted our own backs and boasted about our victory to the colleagues who were not so fortunate! Wait, that was not ‘The end’! Two days later, our colleague resumed duty. As we gathered around him for small talk, he smilingly took out envelopes from his bag and started reading out the names written on them and distributing! Yes, those were our gift envelopes returning to us! So he had the last laugh; my hubby too!

You see hubby had been in the disapproval mode all along, asking me to stick to the invite’s request. Finally I had to give in – no choice, you see – a case of twice (in fact more) bitten, thrice shy, so to say! So there we stood in the queue to greet the newlyweds – barehanded for the first time! There were many others like us. But there were so many others armed with gifts too. My eyes were riveted on the stage – no, not admiring the bridal couple but scrutinizing whether the gifts exchanged hands. Oh yes, they did! I looked at hubby. Needless to say he was coolly oblivious to the entire show. Even if he wasn't,  it didn't matter to him. Don’t you agree men are made of different mettle? I was on pins and needles. I noticed many in the queue pulling out an envelope from their purse with a flourish as they neared the dais. I cursed myself – how couldn't I think of that? I simply couldn't forgive myself. My guilt-pangs must have adorned my face but I guess the newlyweds with eyes only for each other must have missed it.

So what next? No prizes for guessing – I started attending weddings with an envelope with a cash gift in the purse – with the words “Best wishes from The Balasubramonians” inscribed on it. If it was accepted, fine. If not, again fine! This was a classic case of having the cake and eating it too. I patted my own back for resolving my dilemma – though it was definitely not my discovery!

This worked well for a while till we encountered a different experience. We had gone for a reception with our friends. As we stood together in the greet-the-couple-queue, I pulled out the gift envelope from my purse. Noticing that, my friend said that they didn't bring any gift as requested in the invite. We greeted the couple with the gift and hand-shake and our friends with a mere hand-shake. We felt bad that they must have felt bad. I got an earful from hubby who felt I had embarrassed our hosts as well as our friends.

So the next time, I played the obedient wife as we attended a wedding reception minus the ubiquitous envelope. Again the same scenes – gifts / envelopes / bouquets being accepted as graciously as mere handshakes and greetings. I gave hubby a meaningful glance. He whispered, “We are only honoring their request, so why feel guilty?” Theoretically correct, but personally I couldn't agree. I am still struggling to come to terms with the changing trend.

But my honest opinion is the phrase goes against our culture. I don’t think anyone would grudge presenting a gift! So why put a negative premium on that?! Is the aim to revolutionize? Will someone enlighten me with a valid / convincing explanation for this growing trend? I would like to state here that if people are taking concrete steps against dowry, they deserve kudos. But I hope they are not mixing up issues by saying ‘NO’ to gifts which can in no way be classified as dowry! If they still want to persist in bringing about a change in society, good luck to them! Till then will someone help me to get out of this ‘thrishanku’?! It is with dreadful apprehension that I open wedding invitation cards these days!

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.