Because of Joan Didion

20190629_101313

I mentioned Joan Didion for the first time in Seattle today. I must have said her name in my mind plenty of times but for the first time today, in Seattle (I cannot say this enough) I said her name out loud to my roommate.

My roommate is from Lebanon. Her name is Maha. She took a blue post it from her purse and wrote Joan Didion’s name down in small letters:

J-o-a-n  D-i-d-i-o-n

and I felt the quiet smile I always feel when I see Didion’s name in print.

At the visa interview in Chennai, when the white man behind the glass door had asked me what my SOP was about, I had said Joan Didion. And when he asked me who she was, I had felt incredibly stupid saying ‘She is an American writer’

***

Maha and I were saying how excited we are that they are going to take us on a study tour to Washington DC at the end of this month. I told her, ‘It’d would be tragic to be so close to New York and still not see it’

Ah! New York! You want to see because of Friends?

Yaaa, I said and then with a calm that took even me by surprise I said, ‘Because of Joan Didion’

It will always be Joan Didion’s New York for me now. In the way that it will always be Parodevi’s Bombay, and Adichie’s Nigeria. Cities are built to keep women away. Women may never belong to a city in the way that men do but cities always only belong to women.

Esra, who is from Turkey and now a student here like me, said that Orhan Pamuk is a psycho and we both giggled like children. She said – “Back home we don’t like his writing in Turkish very much. If we want to make fun of someone, we say you are talking like Pamuk writes”

Then she told me that he once put his phone on the balcony and took pictures of the city. “Same time each day and he saw different things it seems – such a crazy that man”

And now it is Esra’s Turkey. Like it is Elif Batuman’s Turkey (but it will never be Pamuk’s)

***

Here I must add because after years of not knowing, and then knowing, I am not going to suddenly unknow who I am – How do Dalit men and women figure here? Can cities ever belong to us? I don’t know. Maybe other cities can belong to us – perhaps even more than ours ever will. Then again – not all of us can afford to walk into strange, new cities and make them ours. But because of some odd luck that I am here now – I want to try.

Seattle is empty without my Basavanagudi cows and their dung, without the trees and their rains. But it is still mine. Today I woke at 5:30 and made it mine. I made it mine as I made hot water and drank it from a red mug. I made it mine as I walked on the same street up and down, effortlessly avoiding Starbucks. I made it mine when I was so distracted by the houses, I missed a turn. I made it mine when I saw a huge Ferrari showroom, said bah, and took a picture. I made it mine when I walked into Ba Bar last night and ordered Garlic Crab Noodles with a glass of wine.

I sat by the bar eating my food, drinking my drink and watched as the young bartender in front of me (grey dress with a slit down the side) climbed up the ladder in her black Nike shoes, and gently picked a bottle of scotch. I watched as she smoothly came down, her right hand clutching the bottle, her left holding-not holding the ladder.

This city is hers more than mine. But because she is now locked forever in a moment that I am writing about and because the next time I eat crab noodles, I’ll be in Bangalore, I will think about how she brought the bottle of scotch down and just like that – the city will be mine again. I sat today and put all my things in this city, so it is not empty anymore. That’s why I am sitting here writing this at 3 in the morning. It could be jet lag also, but lol.

 

 

Crab Story

The spicy crab meat soup yesterday was an oval red in a white ceramic bowl with a blue border.

When I was 9, I ate crab and my lips swelled up like a big balloon.

When I was 24, I ate crab again and didn’t care because its meat brought the sea to my mouth and I grew more and more carnivorous with every piece of shell I cracked.

When I slide my index under its shelly stomach, the meat yields and polishes my fingernail, like cutex.

There’s Mangalore Pearl and Carnival De Goa and Fishland. I also have a Souza Lobo on my crab list now.

In Souza Lobo, they gave me a black pot with the biggest crab I had ever seen. It took me an hour to finish it.

I am all hands, fingers, mouth, hair, and cheeks when I eat crab. Sometimes, I think crab is flavorless, lost now and then in overpowering enthralls of coconut, spices, and garlic butter.

But I eat it anyway. Hands, fingers, mouth, hair, and cheeks.

Fatty Bao

After an hour of closely watching wise, and smiling bartenders mix drinks, I have decided that I want to be a barmaid. It looks like a fun thing to do. Or maybe I was too much in love with the world and its people and myself this afternoon when I dined at Fatty Bao. I had been stalking their menu for weeks now, eyeing with savage desire, pictures of their ‘Grilled sea food ramen soup with a hundred odd things in it’ and prawn tempura and sushi like objects. So we got there around 1:45 and were seated by the bar with its tall bar stools. I have never had real food by the bar but have always wanted to. Maggi didn’t care much for these tall stools and spent most of the time sulking, but now and then he would see food and cheer up. 

So after discussing my professional prospects as a barmaid with an unimpressed and hungry Maggi, I began the whole business of fine dining with a glass of ‘Fatty sour’ which is whiskey, raspberry, egg whites and a slice of orange. I watched with delight and mild horror as I saw the bartender break the egg, collect the yolk in the shell and discard it effortlessly after having procured the whites. The drink was sweet and that’s all I can really remember now. 

Next up in line were the California crab meat rolls, the shrimp and pork Hargaos and the beef bao. I loved the first two, not just because I’m a lousy seafood fan, but also because they were easy to eat. We repeated another round of each of these things, except with various other dead animals this time. Two Fatty Sours and three life changing decisions later I was attacking the Via Malaysian sea food Ramen which had its moments but only now and then. It wasn’t as exciting as its preamble of starters. What remains on my palate now after 6 hours is the faint memory of the sushi’s cousin – The Spicy Tuna Tartare and traces of Fatty sour. 

I have been Fatty Bao-ed and cannot wait to go there again. The whole place has a modern sea deck-y look which I liked very much. Plus really cute bartenders. They will take your orders nicely and politely pretend to not notice if they catch you drooling or staring at them. 

Crabalala-crab

The first time I tasted crab, my skin responded in a way that perpetually scared me away from returning to it. I thought it wasn’t worth much because after all the allergy madness, I had forgotten how it tasted. I simply had no memory of the crab.

I have always enjoyed sea food though. It somehow tastes like home to me. Maybe that’s why I still can never tell the difference between prawn and crab. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I was gripped by this sudden mad urge to devour a whole crab, with masala and oil and everything. Part of this madness came from this strange desire to feel sea in my mouth. So I went to Mangalore Pearl, ordered rice and crab curry and waited. I was not particularly hungry that evening. I had only just belted a whole plate of Bombay toast and some chicken sandwiches. I’m saying this because I know I can’t really boast of having a kickass appetite but when I could smell the crab curry come to our table, my stomach did a somersault and I forgot all about my stupid appetite and reached out for my first piece of the evening.

When I started work on my first piece, words of wisdom spoken by somebody who wished well came to mind; that eating crab required skill and that I possessed no such skill.  And this was because I use both of my hands, all my fingers and parts of my face to eat crab. I was slightly embarrassed to return to that adventure and  needless to say, I did have to struggle a lot with undressing the crab but when I finally did put that first piece in my mouth, I said fuck you to talent and decided to make use of all body parts if I have to, to eat the damn crab. Because it simply tasted that good and my need to justify why I am doing something was overpowered by my new found respect for crab. It was only 45 minutes later when I finally emerged from my plate and looked up at laughing friends did I realise that my way was the best way.

There is that moment of struggle between wanting to release the spicy sweet meat from its stupid pincers to sucking really hard on the tip of the pincers to make sure you haven’t left out any meat.  After I had attacked the pincers and sucked out all the meat, I turned to look at what is now my favourite part of the crab, its stomach. I feel rich when I see the crab’s stomach. I feel gracious when I comb its meat out and stuff all of it in my mouth. Reasonably this is my favourite part of the crab because I don’t have to wrestle much and it always promises meat bursting about in all directions.

I have never really been much of a spice or a masala person. But I didn’t quite mind it when they accompanied the crab. I think it’s because they didn’t interfere much with the flavour of the crab and flirted with it only a proper amount before dissolving into seafoodness.

It was only after I tasted my second crab in life that I realised that I am capable of enjoying good food and that the affair with taste and remembering taste is an interesting one.  Sometimes I cannot believe that it took me a just one plate of crab yet so late in life to make sense of food and its capabilities to produce happy feelings. I have frequented the crab a little more after Mangalore Pearl.  Not much has improved when it comes to the number of body parts that get involved in this task; it has gotten progressively worse in fact. But my curiosity to look for words to remember taste and to produce it in writing has increased.