For You, Daddy!

Friday, 15 June 2012

My Friend’s Friend

Do you know how most of you think I have a really great life and that I have fun all the time? Well, I do have a great life! I’m alive and what’s not great about that, huh?

So great – yes; fun all the time – far from it.

For those of you still not convinced, I’ll tell you a story. It’s actually a slice of my life from last year.

The title character is Bestie Boy’s friend. I will include excerpts of my correspondence with Bestie Boy. I must warn you that there is a bit of racist lingo tossed around. It is how Bestie Boy and I communicate because both of us cannot comprehend the notion of racism. We laugh at the absolute ridiculousness of racist language and that’s why Bestie Boy uses it fairly frequently only within his closest group of friends.

The main characters in this story are
Bestie Boy, Brit
Sajid, Kashmiri


Supporting roles:
Monique, Franco-Syrian
Steve, Brit

Sajid and Monique were Bestie Boy’s housemates at the university student house while they were pursuing their doctoral studies. Steve is Bestie Boy’s childhood friend who, like the rest of Bestie Boy’s family and close friends, was very fond of Sajid, too.

Sajid died in May 2011. A car crash victim on the notoriously dangerous roads of Kashmir.  Sajid’s birthday is four days from today i.e. 19 June. He was a mere 26 years when he passed away last year.

The following are bits and pieces of my mail to Bestie Boy as both of us dealt with the news. Bestie Boy’s text in his favourite green and mine, as always, in brown. Oh, later on, Sajid’s words are in orange. I chose that colour because I use similarly shaded saffron strands from Kashmir in my breakfast porridge. 

We still miss you, Saj.

(Editor’s Note: I do not have a Facebook account, but I have access to Bis Sis’ account because she is Friends with some of my friends.)  

Me: I read your first line and was confused. I thought you were joking, but I know that death is one of the things you don’t horse around with. When I saw the details in the link*, it began to make sense. Still, I hoped that it wasn’t the same Sajid, your friend Sajid, but when the page with the article opened up with his photograph, there was no chance of mistaken identity. I turned cold, and felt dizzy, sick. I read through the article and choked up. Next, I went to his Wall and scrolled a couple of pages down to get to when the news broke. Reading through each of those tearful posts was good because it made me cry.

*Bestie Boy had sent me the URL to the article about Sajid’s accident and demise that appeared in the Kashmir newspaper.

Me: Like you attempted, I, too, found it wasn’t easy to get on with life after I found out about Sajid’s death; not immediately, that is. Took me a whole day. On Friday,I was quiet through my breakfast and told Mum the news only at the lunch table. A few lines only because I choked up. She tried to ask some questions, but when she found I couldn’t talk, she let me eat.

Friday night, as expected, was rough. I woke up a little after 1.30 a.m. on Saturday. Came here, sat at my PC and just surfed my usual sites. Felt drowsy enough to crash again by 4.30 a.m. and was up at my usual 6 a.m. I decided to skip my(/our) usual favourite oats and pig in Sajid’s name. I needed something to feel good again. So I treated myself to my fave Sunday brekkie of egg fried sunny side up with brown bread and a thick layer of butter and cheese, and coffee with a hefty shot of Amarula. Thanks, Sajid!
I worked extra hard on my whole positive thinking drill and felt much better yesterday. I showed Mum your mail, the article and then, let her go through Sajid’s Wall. I still welled up a few times, and choked a few times when I deliberately went through his Wall several times yesterday, I feel for Siena (his girlfriend), too. Sh*t! God only knows her state.

Bestie Boy: I have very fond memories of Sajid, as do my family and friends who all met him and were swayed by his courteousness and genuine charm. The old rogue!

Me: Now calm down, Bestie Boy old chap, as Sajid would say. Judging by what the others have to say on his Wall, he made a good impression on every single one of them, too.  


You know, you have talked about his politeness, etc. a couple of times before. After I read the article about his accident (where his parents’ professions were mentioned), it made sense. In my experience in India, children of defence personnel, bureaucrats and old money are more refined than their counterparts, even if the latter are urban and more wealthy. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but it does reflect a certain class. The young scions of the wealthy today are largely loud and obnoxious. Heck, our young population the world over, is a loud, crass lot. The more money we have, the louder we get in public places. Unfortunately, all I hear is their desperate need for attention and lack of self worth.  

Writing to Bestie Boy and talking about Sajid’s shocking demise helped, but I was still restless. On Sajid’s Wall, I found a link to one of his friend’s blog posts about the accident. So I wrote to his friend, Faysal. That’s next.


20 May 2011

Dear Faysal,

I have a special request for you. I am not Sajid’s Facebook friend, or even a known friend. We have a friend in common. I would like to post the following on Sajid’s Wall, but not being a Friend, I am unable to do so. Could you please post it for me with the appropriate explanation/disclaimer?

Thank you for understanding.



I had never met Sajid. He did not know me personally. A few years ago, Sajid became friends with my friend when Sajid went to England to study at the same university in England. This was what my friend wrote to me when he first mentioned Sajid:

Sajid is a law student from Kashmir. He, along with French-Syrian Monique, is my favourite housemate, purely because he is the sweetest guy that God ever created. He is so Indian in the way he speaks, thinks, expresses himself. He says things like <adopting mock Indian accent>, ‘Mmm, yes, one would expect the needs of the students to be immediately recognised by the Union.’ or some such thing. Oh Kate, he is fantastic. Plus he reminds me of you, not just because you’re both brown and skinny, but because you both have high personal moral standards. He, too, is always trying to learn the good habits of others to replace his bad ones.

A year later, when Sajid had to return to Kashmir, this is what Bestie Boy wrote to me:

It’s official. I love Sajid [Surname]. He is a saintly man. He is also one of the most useless boys I’ve met, and can barely tie his own shoelaces without help from his mother (or me, who has increasingly been filling his mother’s shoes of late), but he has a heart of gold and when he leaves the UK, I will miss him dearly. He is in Ireland now visiting Steve after his Schengen visa application didn’t come through on time (he’d originally planned to go see Monique in gay Paris); then, a short stint in Edinburgh and he flies back to Srinagar on the 12th. I don’t want him to go. 😥  

My friend continued to write about Sajid frequently, and with fondness.

I am very realistic about death. I accept that it is indeterminable and inevitable. Still, when it happens to someone I know and care about, it hurts. Like heck. Although I never knew Sajid, I was still stunned when I learned the terrible news very early this morning. It’s taken me a few hours to compose my thoughts.


I am grateful for the happiness Sajid brought into my friend’s life which was evident in their Wall banter. I am also grateful to have known of Sajid for a short time because I read his Wall regularly. Initially, because I found him funny. Not long after, because Sajid was one of the people who inspired me to remain steadfast in my beliefs, particularly towards injustices and unfairness. He was one of the people who made it a little easier for me to swim against the sometimes overwhelming tide of public callousness and unethical practices.


To Sajid’s family members, along with my prayers during this, your darkest hour, I have the following Jewish saying for you:


God is closest to those with broken hearts.


And to all of you who were lucky enough to know him more than I got to, I’ll leave you with:


When you are sorrowful
look again in your heart,
and you shall see
that in truth you are
weeping for that which has been your delight.
~ Kahlil Gibran


Sajid – Requiescat in pace et in amore.


Faysal, thank you very much (in advance) for posting my tribute on Sajid’s Wall.


21 May 2011

Thank you VERY much, Faysal, for complying with my request. I just read Sajid’s Wall and your post on my behalf.


I wrote that tribute for the following people:


1. Sajid’s parents and sister. Their pain is … I am unable to fathom that sort of grief, much less find words for it. I hope that when their pain is dulled with the passage of time and they read all the heartfelt messages about their child here, they derive some solace from knowing that their son not only made a positive impact on the lives of the people who knew him, but also on those like me, who did not have the privilege of even meeting him.


2. My friend who is bleeding. I did not seek his permission to quote excerpts of his private mail to me. I hope that reading back on his own words, he will remember the good times he shared with Sajid and their group of friends. Maybe, just maybe, those happy memories will help him tide over this extremely rough patch.


3. All of Sajid’s friends. His sudden demise has been nothing less than shattering. I would suggest that, like me, all of you take courage in the fact that besides being a beautiful person, Sajid also worked towards goals he believed in; not wait, like many of us, for the right time or mood or the planets to align a certain way.


4. Myself. Although I had never met Sajid personally, hearing about him so often from my friend and laughing at their playful potshots at each other on their respective Walls, I broke down when I heard the news. So young, so full of potential, snuffed out suddenly. In addition to my usual arsenal of prayers, tears and talking to my family and closest friends, I needed to partake with the larger grieving party. It’s working. I feel a lot better now.


Oh, you did notice I left out Sajid’s name. Well, he’s more than just knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door, people, he’s rocking with ‘em winged ones within!


Thank you again for your time, Faysal. You have helped a lot of us deal with this crushing bit of reality. May God bless you.


Bestie Boy (x2)       Sajid       Monique              Monique’s friend       Steve


This was taken two years ago when they finished their respective exams. They treated themselves to high tea at the London Hilton. Bestie Boy is uncharacteristically tame in this shot and that naturally prompted Sajid to call him out with this comment when the picture went up on Facebook:


Sajid: Bestie Boy, stop it!!! Just because it’s the Hilton, doesn’t mean that you have to act all gentlemanly… 
Bestie Boy complied (well!) with that true-to-form pose that I have edited in at the bottom left corner. He was at an international event in a faraway foreign country representing England and look at how seriously he took that job. Or pretty much anything in life. Classic Bestie Boy.

Four days before Sajid met with that accident, this was the final exchange between Bestie Boy and Sajid on Sajid’s Wall:

Bestie Boy: Bloody chutney, you useless piece of fool, when is this damn wedding happening? I want in! Can you assure me there’ll be huge vats of warm ghee for me to drink? And a golden platter of chapatis to lie on? And a wall made of dhoklas? And a cauldron of your world-famous [Family Name]-Recipe kheema? If you can promise me these things, I will be there!

Sajid: Bestie Boy, you ‘MUTTON-go-YAY’! I promise you all this and more, you ‘pucking’ person with no personality, no ‘tcharisma’! That ‘damn’ wedding, as you so eloquently put it – and another one – is happening from the 27th to the 30th of May! You are …most cordially invited to both of them… Come along, old chum… Mother Kashmir is calling…

P.S.:  I will be visiting the ‘Mother Country’ between the 23rd and the 31st of July… Any chance of you gracing those lands, during those times, with your esteemed presence?

I read that several times and laughed heartily each time until Sajid died.

I’ve saved this exchange and still read it. Although devoid of the initial mirth, I still laugh because I am consoled by the fact that despite both, Bestie Boy and Sajid, jetsetting often to different parts of the globe, they kept in touch frequently and with the same warmth. They didn’t take their friendship for granted and that can be epitomised in this Nickelback song.


Thank you, orplesThe Book of Terriblemj monaghan and Elvierose  for commenting on my last post.

Thank you, orples and The Book of Terrible, for liking my last post.


P.S.: Cheerful Monk adds a footnote to every post acknowledging those who comment on her previous post. She also links the commenters’ names back to their own blogs.

 I like both these practices of acknowledging the time and effort made to comment, and the free advertising! So I’m doing what I do well – being a copycat! 


Friday, 1 June 2012

Kain Tayo!



Kain tayo  = “Let’s eat!” in Tagalog, the widely spoken language in the Philippines.

During my stint as Nurse Clinician with Aramco, Saudi Arabia, I befriended Fleur, my Filipina co-worker. 


Well over a decade on and oceans apart, we are still friends today. 🙂


I had spent a considerable amount of my time at Fleur’s. Why? Because she was an excellent cook! Duh. And I? Oh, I’m every good cook’s dream guest! Because I love good food, I am not afraid to try out things I have never eaten before and I am definitely not afraid to voice my opinion.


With Fleur and her group of friends, the words, “Kain tayo!”were tossed around a lot. Yes, I spent many happy hours around food with my friends. Filipino cuisine is not as hot/pungent as I have come to prefer, but it was tasty enough to eat on a regular basis. Pancit (noodles),  Lumpia (spring rolls), Adobo (a soya sauce-vinegar-garlic meat dish), Kare-Kare (oxtail peanut stew) and Longganisa (sweetish sausage) were eaten often enough by my friends to be considered staples. Which is why I grew to enjoy these preparations.


Having had such a wonderful gustatory experience with Filipino food in Saudi Arabia, it was only natural that I visit the country properly to enjoy the real deal.


Four years ago, I visited the Philippines on my own because Fleur and I could not coordinate our holidays. She was (and still is) with Aramco and I had long since left. I wasn’t too disappointed because I liked exploring a bit of her country on my own.  But the food? It was a letdown.


Sadly, “real” Filipino food did not live up to the fantasy experience I had envisioned and hoped for, or even what I had experienced with Fleur and friends.


Disclaimer: When I travel, I avoid international food chain outlets, and I avoid high end restaurants. I love street food and I patronise small and/or family run eateries for a more authentic or organic experience. So my experience below may come across as skewed.


Overall, I found the commercial fare in the Philippines very greasy, the portions small and not “meaty” enough. On the whole, there was nothing that blew me away. The warm, melded flavours were Asian in some ways, but there was, once again, that noticeable absence of spice and heat (pungency). I preferred the street snacks by far.


The tastiest ‘proper meal’ (i.e. in a restaurant) I ate was at a food court in a mall in Manila. It was my last lunch in the country, and after a mostly non-exciting experience with restaurant food, I went in for known favourites.


I ate Bihon Noodles (vermicelli-thin noodles) and Stir-Fried Squid (with the ink). I did not pay attention to the prices when ordering and chose from the array on display. Those turned out to be some of the cheapest options, but ironically, that meal was the most expensive I had had in my 2 weeks in the Philippines. That’s because that mall was none other than the largest in Asia and therefore, appropriately called The Mall of Asia.


Thank you, Elvie Rose, for permitting the use of this image. You can find more of Elvie Rose’s work at


Although I was disappointed with my overall eating experience in the Philippines, I did try out a whole lot of new dishes during my time there. The following put a smile on my food-fussy face. Not surprisingly, everything I liked was from the street hawkers. With the amount of time I have spent eating on the streets of Asia, my tummy has been galvanised. 🙂


1. Puto BongBong: Sweetened sticky rice, coloured a bright purple, that’s put in a small bamboo mould and pushed out to form a 10 in (25 cm) long roll. Topped with grated coconut and brown sugar. Served on a bit of banana leaf.


Thank you, Jeff Vergara, for permitting me the use of this image. You can find more of Jeff’s work at


2. Pinagte: A leafy veggie pie (local spinach?) cooked in a fish-based gravy and cut into big, soggy squares. And I ate that out of a plastic bag. 🙂 The texture reminded me of Spanakopita.


3. Piaya: A flattened pop-tart. Flaky pastry with ube (taro) and date filling. I tried the other fillings with mung beans and camote (a sweet potato-like root veggie), but liked the ube one best.


4. Puto: Tiny, steamed, rice cupcakes. These were a favourite that Fleur often cooked just for me. I had to be very strict with myself not to gorge on these in the Philippines so I could try other stuff. I had them just once. 😦


Thank you, Ghee, for permitting the use of this image. You can find more of Ghee’s work at


As always, I tried out a different item every opportunity I got. Here are some that were a first for me, and quite possibly I won’t ever go back for seconds.  All, but the first one (i.e Chicken Skin), were dipped in thick batter to bulk up the bits, and deep fried. 


1. Chicken Skin: These bits of pure chicken skin were cut up in pieces and were nicely crisp, but they had an overpowering chicken taste. I could almost taste the chickens scratching around in the yard!


2. Chicken Oesophagus: (Not!) These bits looked like pretzel sticks. They were equally firm and crunchy. The vendors called them “throat”. When I looked askance, they offered “neck”. Turns out they were bits of oesophagus. That’s what I thought until I contacted Sidney Snoeck to request the use of this image of his.


Thank you, Sidney Snoeck, for permitting me the use of this image. You can find more of Sidney’s work at :


This is not what I ate. I mean, what I ate did not look like this. They really looked liked broken bits of deep-fried pretzel sticks. I’ve chosen to include this image because I quite possibly ate the deep-fried version of ….  chicken intestines. Ack!


These are the grilled version. Sidney’s site (URL above) has a lot of, um, interesting stories.


3. Chicken “Nuggets”: This snack saddened me. I got 5 pieces for 10 PHP/15p/25¢. The first one I bit into was all batter and bone. So was the second. I thought I just got unlucky with those 2, but all the pieces I had were the same. Later, my volcano trek guide confirmed that that’s what chicken nuggets are. I felt very sorry for those who could not afford to buy real chicken nuggets because bony bits in batter is what street snack consumers knew of the popular meat(ish)-only snack.


4. Camote: Camote is a kind of white-fleshed tuber. Not too starchy like the potato, but a little smoother like the sweet potato. It’s just the tiniest bit sweet, too.


And I’ve saved the best of my Filipino foods for last!


Balut: Dude, I psyched myself about this well-known delicacy for months before I got there, but plucked up the courage to eat it …. only on my last night. What a wimpy (overgrown) kid!  


Balut is … deep breaths, everyone … boiled duck embryo.


The Day 16 one is for losers. 😉 I’m no loser, yo, so brave heart that I am, I went for the Day 19 one, which is recommended, because the embryo is better developed with the downiest of feathers in view.


Quack Pot


Quack Pot. That’s what Elmer Fudd calls me, but I’m talking about what’s in my right hand. You cannot see it very clearly. That’s a quack in a pot. Okay, in a shell. It’s a Balut, the boiled duck embryo. Of course, I ate it. And? I absolutely loved it!


The shell at the pointy end of the egg has to be gently broken and the broth, uh, amniotic fluid, is to be drunk. That heady fluid tasted like a strong crab broth. Slurp! I peeled off a little more of the shell and peered very briefly at the little duckie with its eyes wide shut, dismissed its little face from my mind, ignored the network of blood vessels all around it and bit right into it. Soft, smooth and savoury. There was no turning back now. What little trepidation I had left crumbled like the rest of the egg shell.


The white of the egg was a disappointment. It was hard. Oh, very hard and had none of the rich flavour of the developing yolk.


A real pity I summoned up the courage to eat this night snack on my last night in the Philippines.


Balut is a late evening snack and is sold by vendors on bicycles. I plucked up the courage to flag down the last vendor to walk into the street I shacked up for that night and the chicken that I was, I bought just one.


Well, I’ll just have to go back to the Philippines for more one day.


Thank you, The Book of Terrible , orples and mj monaghan, for commenting on my last post.

Thank you, The Book of Terrible and orples, for liking my last post.


P.S.: Cheerful Monk adds a footnote to every post acknowledging those who comment on her previous post. She also links the commenters’ names back to their own blogs.

 I like both these practices of acknowledging the time and effort made to comment, and the free advertising! So I’m doing what I do well – being a copycat! 


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