"Do you know what it means to come home at night...

... to a woman who'll give you a little love, a little affection, a little tenderness? It means you're in the wrong house, that's what it means."
Henny Youngman

That's how important the house is, to aforesaid Youngman and my young man. So when we went house hunting, last weekend, the air was rife with apprehension. "There are not too many houses/apartments in Northampton to choose from," A (my husband) had warned me already. Forewarned is forearmed, eh? Only in this case, forearmed for what? I saw some of the prettiest houses that day. A too conceded to that point and to a rather sheepish smile. He is prone to exaggeration (the small nuances of your partner -- ah, that probably merits another post to itself).

Six houses later we were running around in circles. We did not know which was to be ours. The beautiful house with the brand new carpets and wallpapers along with a blue, blue bathroom to steal the heart and its generous patch of garden, the other house split into three levels with a wooden patio perched upon the third level or the apartment with its ensuite bathroom and massive bedrooms. For once, we let practicality reign and gave in to the third option. With great reluctance on the part of A, and for once, an iron self-control on mine. The house is now some thing to look forward to. When we are not cash-strapped, when we can indulge in some expensive furniture investments. It is always nice to have some thing to look forward to, eh?

It was a gloomy day the day we went to Northampton. Yet, I was not overwhelmingly disappointed. Albeit, it is small. Yet, there is the freshness of a new place that always intrigues me.

What would living every day there be like, would I wake up and feel happy about heading out to the town centre, would I look forward to walking down its various streets every day, would I actually end up exploring its nooks and crannies, would I find a large library where I could spend endless hours smelling books and then stagger back home with stacks of them, and most importantly, would there be coffee shops to woo my cappuccino-craved senses? The prospects that a new town or city offers are endless. There is hardly any time to get bored (some thing that I know most of my relatives and friends find hard to believe, given that I am not in the throes of a full-time job).

What first struck me about Northampton was the beautiful parks dotting it. They were magnanimous landscapes of fluorescent green that even on that dull day, peppered with the bare bones of grey trees, lured me to take my imaginary dogs for a long, long walk.

The amusing bit is that there are references, dime-a-dozen, to Thomas Becket. If there is a Becket Ward at the local hospital, there is a park, a street name, a rotary club and schools dedicated to the Archbishop of Canterbury (from 1162 until his murder in 1170, during the reign of King Henry II). The link seems rather tenuous to me. According to wikipedia: "Henry summoned Becket to appear before a great council at Northampton Castle on 8 October 1164, to answer allegations of contempt of royal authority and malfeasance in the Chancellor's office."

The market square itself cheered me up about the move. It is an old, old square, and as with everything on this island, it comes armed with a charming veneer of history. The market dates back to 1235 when King Henry III forbade the selling of goods in the churchyard of All Saints. The Market, according to his orders, were then moved to a space north of the churchyard and remains there till date. This was the big space that I saw covered with dozens of blue canopies that were home to stalls selling fish, fresh rolls, coffee, antiques, army surplus, old books, bric-a-brac. An assortment, really. I cannot wait -- to start my explorations.

Interestingly enough, I could not help but notice a large number of young Goths hanging around town. Apparently, Northampton for all its quaint market square and cobbled streets is known for a sizeable population of Chavs and Goths. The Chav, if you do not know the species, is a notorious resident of the UK. He is atypical of the working class youth who wears branded designer sportswear, some form of bling jewellery, is always to be found with his hood on, and can be spotted from a distance. Or so my cousin says -- while a journalist describes the word Chav as "the vile word at the heart of fractured Britain".

On that particular day, however, I got the Gothic vibe. Shocking pink and electric blue and vibrant red mops of hair were complemented by dark smudges of lipstick, set off by dark eye make-up. So no surprises that the first English Gothic rock band, Bauhaus, came from Northampton in 1978.

Now how can a town such as this be boring? I tell myself, as I feel pangs of sadness and disquiet about leaving the familiar streets of Leicester. With its beautiful clock tower. The luscious smells of cheese and jalapeno pretzels hanging in the air of its rather happening and spacious mall. The Crumblin' Cookie, my favourite coffee bar with its perfect cup of frothy headed cappuccino and scones. And, oh, our first home together after our wedding.

Yet there remains the thrill of discovering the new.

A chapter closes and a new chapter unfurls.

Which reminds me off the top of my head. Of one of my favourite poets and his saying. That in the end is the beginning and in the beginning is the end.


A Toast for Toast

Buttery toast? Cheesy toast? Marmalade-y toast? Marmite-y toast?

Which is your little bit of guilty indulgence?

Me? I like it double sinful. Buttery cheesy toast works. Though marmalade has also been a childhood favourite.

The obsession with the word Toast comes from the fact that I have just about finished reading a book titled so. A black and white hard cover featuring a little boy casting an impish, sidelong look at his parents. The parents to my eyes look like siblings almost with their similar spectacle frames and expressions. The book is called Toast and its author is Nigel Slater, the man behind the food columns in The Observer and a few cookbooks.

A few months ago, last year actually, I chanced upon a show of Nigel Slater on a food channel. I have been enchanted by the tall, bespectacled lanky man since. That show introduced me to the traditional English sweets that I would probably spot in Marks & Spencer near its self-pay checkout aisle. Bags of mint humbugs and jelly babies have started making sense to me ever since I watched Slater as he walked down memory lane and rambled on about sweets and childhood. It was bittersweet, that show. One that tugged at your heartstrings almost immediately.

Toast itself is an easy read. It took me just two days to go through its 247 pages. Pages that lead from one food to another, from associations of those foods with Nigel's childhood, and take you through the years from his mid-childhood to his mid-adolescence in a single sweep. The chapters come with titles like Cream Soda, Jammie Dodgers, Duckling à l’orange. It follows him from the time he loses his mother to her asthma illness to the time he loses his father and thus his escape from the clutches of a stepmother he never fell in love with.

I like what writer Charles Moore says about the title of the book in The Telegraph: "Slater is right about toast - as evocative a one-word title about an English upbringing as one can imagine."

The beginning of the book goes with the title: "My mother is scraping a piece of burned toast out of the kitchen window, a crease of annoyance across her forehead". He does seem a bit harsh in judging the various figures from his childhood. His mother is adjudged an awful cook, his father rather a cold character who he once-in-a-while discovers masturbating in the greenhouse, his stepmother is a cleaner with a penchant for troubling the young Nigel. He gets his back on her, it seems, by portraying her as a gold-digger who left her husband and daughters to snag Slater Senior. Yes, Nigel is rather unforgiving in his depiction of her in the book, especially the part where he implies that she overcooked intentionally and that it led to his father's death. However veiled an accusation it might come across, it still is a veritable insult to which his stepsisters reacted strongly in interviews to newspapers. They too accused him, of lying. What probably got their goat is when the book is made into a film, when we all know that characters often always get exaggerated.

Yet behind all the bitching, I did feel sorry for the lonely little boy who never really got over the death of his mother or could accept the new woman in his father's and his life. He finds refuge in food. In mint humbugs, fairy drops, refreshers, sherbet lemons, acid drops and chocolate limes. "The price for which was mouth ulcers the size of shirt buttons..."

Holidays for him meant "sticks of rock, pink or humbug-striped with red letters running through it". I particularly loved his take on bread-and-butter pudding. When he says: "I love the layers of sweet, quivering custard, juicy raisins, and puffed, golden crust. I love the way it sings quietly in the oven; the way it wobbles on the spoon. You can't smell a hug. You can't hear a cuddle. But if you could, I reckon it would smell and sound of warm bread-and-butter pudding".

It is this ability to juxtapose food with emotions and moments that got me. Writer Matthew Fort notes in The Observer:

"Proust was not the first to use food as the spring to memory. The genre of the food autobiography goes back at least to Apuleius and Archestratus. More recently Americans have proved to be exceptionally adept at it - Calvin Trilling, AJ Leibling, Ruth Reichl, and, the greatest of all, MFK Fisher, all revelled in la recherche des gourmandises perdues. However, in keeping with our national reticence on matters of food, we British have been more circumspect in making the connection between food and the inner person.

In Toast, however, this connection is not simply explicit: food - jam tarts and Arctic Roll, Bird's Custard and Cadbury's MiniRoll, flapjacks and lamb chops with fat 'still hot wobbly and meat juicy' and a thousand other gustatory experiences - was the boy, is the man."



I have finally escaped It.

There’s nothing to be said for it than the fact that I feel utterly, butterly happy. It has been about 10 months that I have shifted to the small island of Britain with my sweetheart and husband. And for the last 10 months not for a single moment have I felt any kind of inhibition. It is such a strange and yet liberating feeling coming from India where almost everything is watched. When you come home from work, the kind of people who drop you back home after a party, the kind of clothes you wear, till what time it is that you sleep on Sundays…yes, I felt judged on everything. And, watched.

When I was a teenager, my mind goes back to certain things my mother would always try to ingrain into me. “Do not wear skimpy clothes”, “Why are you wearing such a short skirt?” to “Too much bare arms and legs” and “Isn’t the tunic a bit too figure hugging?” Then again, when I was stepping out, from maternal concern, she would warn me that if I did face any kind of harassment from strange men, the trick lay in making a quick getaway sans confrontation. “You never know how men get back when you try and confront them. So often you hear about women who end up as victims of acid attack,” ma would point out. I was always, therefore, a timid creature in Calcutta till I reached Delhi. There I realized how I had to fight back but a little cautiously since I did get slapped by a guy in the Metro station in the full view of the public, when I slapped him for molesting me. No one that day came forward to my help.

There have been so many incidents in the decade that I have spent in Delhi. Every day that I reached my little pad in Jangpura, I would mentally pat myself on the back. It was always this feeling of having survived another day without having something terrible happen to me - a curious kind of battle. Reading the newspapers every day about rapes and women-hate crimes almost every day in some corner of our city and country makes me sick.

The leap to this freedom that I am experiencing is precious. There is no one to keep a watch on me. The nosy shop keeper opposite door, the inquisitive landlady, the vegetable seller. There is no one to whisper offensive words as they pass me by or try and molest me. Sometimes I wonder when we, the women of India, shall feel thus in our own homeland. Will there ever be such a time?