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Sambar Power

By Alfred Satish Jones, Washington, DC
February 28, 2003 23:19 IST
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 It's hours before India plays Pakistan. And by now, I've heard just about everything there is to hear about this match.

First, there are The Experts spewing clichéd crap. To wit, Pakistan will come to the match with a lot of intensity.  Yeah well, no shit Sherlock! Batting will hold the key to the match.  Oh really?  This will be a real test of India's middle order.  Oh my god, please allow me to fall at your feet and offer my first born as sacrifice!

Seriously, I can't believe these ex-players are being paid money to write this kachra.

Second, there are more personal observations and assorted sound bytes. ‘Yo Jones, you are coming to watch The Game at Amit's right? You'd better – everyone is going to be there!'

And the most popular of all, ‘I don't care what India does in the rest of the World Cup. On Saturday, they'd better win.'

In response, I've kind of joined in, said the right things and spat out the appropriate cusswords.  ‘You bet your !@**!&%#! I'm going to be there buddy!'  You can substitute anything Captain Haddock said in any Tintin comic in place of !@**!&%#!

On a side note, I would have preferred to cite an Indian comic book reference but have you guys ever seen Bahadur and/or Bela curse? Neither did I – but wait, I digress.

And finally the TV commentators, not to be outdone, are also fanning the flames.  It's become fashionable to imply that your interest in this World Cup will peak on Saturday, March 1, 2003 – the India-Pakistan match. I don't concede the point, however.  Instead, there's a touch of affected conviction in my obsession with The Ultimate Indus Valley Kabaddi Championship tomorrow morning.  And that is the end result of, (a) Me, (b) My ex-roommate, and, (c) My mom's sambar recipe. Cue in some generic Hindi-movie flashback music because I'm taking you back to the spring of 1992.

The location is A Kitchen. The locale is your typical grad student apartment Anywhere In The US.  I'm standing in the kitchen.  So far, so good, I've had plenty of practice standing in various kitchens back home in India: mom's kitchen, aunt's kitchen, grandmom's kitchen, my friends' moms' kitchens (also known as aunties' kitchen), you get the picture right? But this time, I'm stirring the pot. There is a pressure cooker on the stove.  And in it, there is this gum-like goo bubbling wickedly.

Occasionally, a heat bubble forms and bursts spattering muck all over the stove, the wall and me. I'm staring at it, fascinated by my own ingenuity. How the !@**!&%#!  I produced this is beyond me, but produce it I have. I have to do two things before my roommate and I have dinner. One, I have to add salt.  And two, I have to add sambar powder and let this vile brew ‘cook under pressure for 2 to 4 minutes or till 3 or 4 whistles.'

Still staring downward, I hold my left hand out and ask with exaggerated calm, ‘Shahab, could you hand me the sambar powder please?'  And he replies, ‘Hand you the what?'  And that's when it hits me - my roommate is from Karachi. I look over at him, reach up to the cupboard and pull out a home-sealed plastic packet. I look over at him reassuringly, muster a smile and add, ‘Shahab, today you're going to have some real South Indian food.'

He walks over, looks down at the stove and then at me.  ‘OK' he says, with the same confidence as that of a kid agreeing with a doctor who has just told him that the injection in his hand won't hurt one bit. ‘I'll do the dishes after you finish cooking.'

So there you have it.  That's why I'm having a tough time whipping myself up into the sort of anxious frenzy that I'm sensing all around me.  It's a little hard, when you can put a real human face on the collective opponent. Especially if that is the same face that silently ingested your own brand of sambar for 5 years with not one complaint – and survived!  I'm telling you, they can't be all that bad.

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Alfred Satish Jones, Washington, DC