the essential internet/ 42

sarika

Ah perfectionism, that ole’ interview humblebrag. It’s actually a pretty damaging quality to have if you’re not careful. This excellent piece examines ‘three types of perfectionism: self-oriented, or a desire to be perfect; socially prescribed, or a desire to live up to others’ expectations; and other-oriented, or holding others to unrealistic standards.’

THE best, most realistically achievable makeup tutorial I’ve seen in a while. I love Halima Aden

Why Top <number> Under <number> lists are silly, and why it’s sensible to have shifting goalposts

Yes- there is such a thing as leaving a job you love. I’ve done it. The key thing to remember is to respect your reasons and not question your past self

Nupur Pant’s lovely, melancholic reprise of Kiven Mukhde Ton Nazraan Hataavaan has been looping on my AirPods since forever. This sitar- heavy cover is also quite something

Image- Actor Sarika wearing the sort of bindi that’s fast disappearing from the desi sartorial landscape. Roughly the size of the new one Rupee coin and associated most with actor Rekha, the large-ish maroon bindi makes an appearance only at weddings. On the other hand, smaller, subtler versions abound- the little black dot, the discreet single crystal,  shrunken stick-on versions of popular Indian textile and architectural motifs like the ambi and the mor. On Instagram, my favourite sari revivalist Chinna Dua paints her own bindis, drawing inspiration from her sari- of- the- day. Still, I can never summon the courage to wear one no matter how much my outfit’s screaming for it. 

cooking with samin nosrat- salt, fat, acid, heat

IMG_3932

 

I first came by Samin Nosrat in 2017 via her book, a thick hardcover embossed with stylized microscope views of muscle and fat. The serious black and white cover is more biology textbook than cookbook and fronts a wildly colorful interior. Gorgeous watercolour illustrations replace the slick photography that defines the genre. Handwritten instructionals soften and elevate what could have been a pedantic exercise, and the book is a lovely addition to the graphic cookbooks trickling into the market. I bought it because Nosrat, like me, is an English major; I felt a sense of kinship with someone who understands the difference words and language can make to a discipline that historically hasn’t had much use for them. Recipes have always been laundry lists bulletpointed for convenience, and good food writing is truly hard to come by. I wasn’t surprised to learn that she got her dream job at American institution Chez Panisse by writing the owner- a complete stranger-  a grateful letter mentioning every memorable detail of her first meal there.

So when Netflix greenlit the show, I was beyond ready. 

Samin Nosrat is as gratifying to watch as she is to read. She is authentic and immensely likeable, which by itself is a feat. In this business it’s impossible to be  that earnest without appearing tone deaf or incredibly self indulgent, but she dispenses with any rules. Comparisons with celebrated hellraisers Anthony Bourdain and David Chang are inevitable but unfair. Bourdain liked to wander into surreal, absurdist territory, some of it for shock value, most of it to intimidating effect. Chang (of Ugly Delicious fame) is funny and irreverent. So is Nosrat, except her endearing nerdiness sets her apart. The only things these people have in common are a naked love of discovery, a rejection of artifice and the refusal to take themselves too seriously. 

 

sfah4

 

Here’s what I love about SFAH-  travel- cooking shows hosted by women invest in a brand of heavily curated, aesthetic domesticity. Women are primped for maximum viewing pleasure (think Padma Lakshmi in Top Chef sampling a street paella, pristine white tee and lipstick unaffected, Nigella Lawson pottering about the kitchen, nary a spatter in sight, Tarla Dalal’s level, unruffled delivery and starched pallu– even in the presence of scaldingly hot liquids). Meanwhile male chefs indulge their neanderthal hunter- gatherer instincts, eating sloppily, moaning primally, burping with undisguised delight. Nosrat refuses to nibble primly at her portions, but she also does not pander to literal- minded feminists who want her eating copiously, like she’s got a point to prove. There are plenty of places on the internet where performative hunger is used to challenge notions of femininity (on hilarious Instagram account You Did Not Eat That , pretty, disingenuous people pose with food), but she wants no part in it.

 

sfah1

 

SFAH is radical in how it tackles beauty and the expressing of feelings. Samin’s messy curls, an admitted source of frustration, are right there in HD in all their unstraightened, untreated glory.  Her cratered facial skin and dark circles are pleasantly concealer- free. She is easily moved- by a creamy aged cheese, a tender, translucent sliver of meat, a drop of clear honey sucked off a folded leaf. Her beautiful smile lights up the screen, and her teardrop- shaped bangle (which I want) knocks against the counter as she lays into her dough, just as much of a star as she is.

 

sfah5

 

But Nosrat’s biggest triumph by far is that she is a child of immigrants with visibly brown skin, educating us in a milieu where power- and televised culinary shows-  skew mostly white. When she cooks tahdig with her Persian mother, we are witness to an intimate cultural moment, a personal act of defiance. When she marinates turkey in a cheap plastic tub in a modest backyard in rural Mexico, she’d like us to trash elitist opinions of what constitutes good food. When she samples freshly unearthed miso made by a Japanese peasant, we learn how deprived we are even in abundance, how reliant on mediocre likenesses of the real deal. There are a lot of women in the show- home cooks, restaurant owners, teachers and enthusiasts, fellow- seekers of deliciousness. This was deliberate. ‘One of the extraordinary things about “Salt Fat Acid Heat”’, says The Washington Post, ‘is how many women appear in the show. They are there as friends and cultural guides for Nosrat, or they’re the faces of successful artisanal food businesses. Or they’re elderly home cooks, eager for the chance to reveal their secrets…“It was absolutely intentional,” that the show shows mostly women, and especially older women, said Nosrat. “There would be times where the producers would bring me a list of people” that was full of men, and she would tell them to go back to the drawing board.

 

sfah2.jpg

 

There is also the matter of fanciness, a legitimate concern. How many of us have access to the world’s best olive oil or the world’s rarest soy sauce? Nosrat addresses this by giving taste, not ingredients, primacy. She doesn’t want you grieving over your storebought staples; she just wants you to know what the gold standard is, and how achievable good taste is even within limited means. She wants you to know how  to get the most out of your money by examining a cut of meat scientifically. She wants you buying the right kind of salt from your neighbourhood grocer’s. She wants you moving the casserole you’re baking in the oven, because no oven heats uniformly. She’s all about the nuskha and the tareeqa, little hacks that get you sublime results. Eater has an excellent Marxist interpretation of the show’s love of artisanal businesses- you will not regret reading it. 

 

sfah3

 

Queue the show up already and prepare to fall in love with a host whose person radiates a kindness and intelligence rarely seen in the genre. Every episode ends with friends gathering at a table groaning with beautiful, fragrant food, all leading up to a ritual as old as time. May such wonderful gatherings be your lot, and may you always find solace in the glorious alchemy of salt, fat, acid and heat. 

the essential internet/ 41

shyamashades

 

Why isn’t anyone talking about toxic femininity?

I love clogs. There is something to be said for a shoe that melds comfort, practicality and leg- lengthening optics. My favorites come from Woodland; I currently own a lichen green pair with a sporty rubber undersole. Here’s why clogs are having a moment

For all the gau hysteria gripping the country, we know shockingly little about the quality of our dairy

Thoughts on the lost art of calling a gathering, and how to be a good hostess

Zero surprises- early Sona Mohapatra was as good as current Sona Mohapatra. When played in the middle of crawling traffic I’ve found that her songs have a curiously transportive quality. Suddenly you’re the cable TV- watching teen of your early 00’s and your heavily postered bedroom has begun to grate on you and you’re yearning to experience more than just the thrill of academic conquests- love, longing, betrayal, power

Image- Actor Khurshid Akhtar (Aar Paar, 1954) renamed Shyama in the casually Islamophobic conventions of India’s entertainment industry, wearing shades in a shape I’d personally never dare to and looking, like the millennials say, ‘like a total snacc’. 

witching hour with Sabrina

tngewtch6

 

Desi kids’ only memory of Sabrina is from the Archie comics. She was a page break for the far more exciting and glamorous hijinks of the Riverdale gang, and like Josie and The Pussycats and that tiny blonde imp Lil Jinx, a sideshow to the real deal. Unlike Josie and her bandmates, her life rarely intersected with Archie’s, cementing her position as filler and afterthought for decades’ worth of comics. This was a pity. Her universe held such promise. Two aunts- one testy, the other bumbling, both kind. A portly newspaper loving cousin. A magical feline for a pet. A doofus of a boyfriend, who Sabrina’s always saving from embarrassment. A whole town that’s blissfully unaware of the firepower in their midst. And yet, the Sabrina panels never went beyond lazy witchy imagery. All the spells and potions in the world couldn’t hide the fact that this was basic, milquetoast witchin’. 

 

tngewtch4

 

Netflix changes all that with Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, a luscious, dark, campy tribute to the comics. Relevant feminist themes and tropes clash and converge into a pacy montage of small town Americana. Shockingly topical conversations abound- the othering of the different, the crackdown on dissidents, the deliberate exclusion of women from positions of power, the ghettoisation of society, the burdening of minorities with loyalist, protectionist demands, majoritarian paranoia. Like the women in Sofia Coppola’s movies, the women in the series wield their bodies and their sexuality with the confidence of professional assassins. Feminine mystique becomes a subversive, do-good force in their exaggeratedly patriarchal ecosystem. Quite like real life, women negotiate the patriarchy in self- damaging ways, never quite managing to best their oppressors. They also perpetuate it for a bunch of relatable reasons- pride, fear, convenience, guilt. Blood and gore are over- present and only serve to emphasise the increasing normalisation of violence in the real world. The real horrors don’t lurk in the woods, waiting to serve bloody comeuppance. They lie in the hearts of small minded men and women capable of unspeakable evil. 

 

tngewtch8.jpg

 

I haven’t even come to my favourite bits yet. There are two. The first is how the show examines religion and its crushing primacy in the lives of its followers. Why are we so invested in authority figures? Why must religion control our private lives and innermost thoughts?  What gives one faith the right to deride another? Are the values of your faith entirely benign? Aren’t the followers of every faith equally corruptible? Do all faiths have more in common than they care to admit, like institutionalised narcissism, an intolerance for critique and debate, an appetite for tormenting women in so many heartbreaking ways, rituals that achieve the opposite of comfort- binding and intimidating? Why do concepts like choice and agency terrify those who represent their gods? My favorite professor from college and grade A human being Dr. Megha Anwer answered these for me a long time ago; she read John Milton’s Paradise Lost to and for us and made short work of the opacity all organised religion thrives on. Those were pleasant winters. The sun was warm and golden on the desks and walls of our cosy tutorial classrooms, yet I could only feel my stomach knot and sink. The revelation that both God and his nemesis operated at absurdly human levels of pettiness was too much to process.

My second favorite bit is how freely the show’s creators borrow, proving that borrowing, even when done unsubtly and in spades, can be a good thing. The show doesn’t pussyfoot around its extensive reliance on beloved book, TV and film hits for material. Harry Potter’s wizarding world, Terry Pratchett’s chaotically brilliant universe, Neil Gaiman’s mind- screwy inversions of the fairy tale, indulgent hyper- Christian fare like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Conjuring, Sofia Coppola’s unique brand of soft- lit, pastel feminine vengeance, even Netflix’s own breakaway hit Stranger Things– everything’s fair pickings. The Addam’s Family aesthetic takes the fun up several notches.

 

tngewtch7

 

Kiernan Shipka is a luminous and fresh faced Sabrina Spellman. I live for her structured waves, dark headband and wine stain-y lips. Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto do doting aunts and clever sisters Hilda and Zelda, and they are phenomenal. Their bits are an excellent study in sibling dynamics, switching dizzyingly from conflict to truce and back again to conflict, informed always by a mutual adoration and respect. When they’re fighting, I’m reminded of Sylvia Plath’s Lesbos 

Viciousness in the kitchen!
The potatoes hiss.
It is all Hollywood, windowless,
The fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine.

I’m doped and thick from my last sleeping pill.
The smog of cooking, the smog of hell
Floats our heads, two venomous opposites.

Ambrose is a broodingly handsome exuder of nervous energy and Harvey is sweet and likeable in the way cows are, I don’t know. The show packs a fairly diverse cast and I’m happy with their choices. 

I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a love song to every woman who understands that the most radical act is to strive to feel comfortable in her skin. It is hope for the bitter and despondent among us, smarting from so many betrayals, craving a better life. A morbid but oddly life affirming Plath sums the substance of the show best in Lady Lazarus 

I have done it again. 
One year in every ten   
I manage it
A sort of walking miracle, my skin   
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,   
My right foot
A paperweight,
My face a featureless, fine   
Jew linen.
Peel off the napkin   
O my enemy.   
Do I terrify?
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?   
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.
Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be   
At home on me
And I a smiling woman.   
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.   
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.   
The peanut-crunching crowd   
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot——
The big strip tease.   
Gentlemen, ladies
These are my hands   
My knees.
I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.   
The first time it happened I was ten.   
It was an accident.
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.   
I rocked shut
As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
Dying
Is an art, like everything else.   
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.   
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.
It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.   
It’s the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute   
Amused shout:
‘A miracle!’
That knocks me out.   
There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge   
For the hearing of my heart——
It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge   
For a word or a touch   
Or a bit of blood
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.   
So, so, Herr Doktor.   
So, Herr Enemy.
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,   
The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.   
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.
Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——
A cake of soap,   
A wedding ring,   
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer   
Beware
Beware.
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair   
And I eat men like air.

the essential internet/ 40

rakhi

 

Finding trouble reading books or long bits of writing, where once you could get through a dozen books a month? Beating yourself up over your poor reading productivity? This is the reason

The Buddhist mantra to finding happiness hinges on a technicality, but it’s an important one and makes all the difference

If JK Rowling’s newest iterations of the Potterverse feel contrived and inauthentic, it’s because they probably are

Writer Janice Pariat’s writing is a beautiful and life affirming thing. Explore her column for The Hindu BusinessLine here

I’ve always loved Bic Runga’s music. It’s a pity she never made more. This song was a constant headphones companion when I was living and working alone in the Philippines, missing S terribly. It’s playing on my car stereo a lot these days too

Image- Actor Raakhee reminding us that the waxing and waning of the choker’s popularity is irrelevant. Short or long, chubby or slender, there’s no neck the choker can’t make prettier. Sidebar: my heart broke reading this about her life

minhaj a deux- Patriot Act

hasantoon

Earlier this year Harvard Law student Pete Davis deployed a clever analogy- the Netflix ‘loop’– to illustrate some obvious but important truths about our generation. Stung, Husband and I stopped our idle postprandial surfing. Now, our decisive streaming is followed by a sleepy but educational post mortem. This is how we discovered Hasan Minhaj, brown comedic force and necessary cultural counterweight to Trump’s America. In Homecoming, his first Netflix special, he dissects the pain and awkwardness of his childhood to expose inconvenient truths about the immigrant experience. In doing so, he turns what could have been a sweetly benign coming of age story into discomfiting political commentary. Naturally, we were hooked.

With Patriot Act, his new show, it’s gloves- off time. This is Minhaj at his confrontational best, directing his rage and bafflement at the other person in the room and the other half of his existence- America. This is a messy two person house; there is a misalignment of values and growing unease on both sides, and every conflict needs addressing. The show is a public version of couple’s therapy, with Minhaj pointing fingers but also trying to reason and empathise with the other party. Unpacking issues that should resonate with anyone that cares about fairness and justice, he rants on an all- pixels set that marries theatre stage and newsroom. Episode 1 uses Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder to pry open the gridlock of America’s hypocritical, opportunistic relationship with Saudi Arabia’s dictatorial regime. He chucks the boundaries between personal and political out the window and agonises over reconciling his faith with his patriotism. In Episode 2, he deconstructs the clusterfuck that is the Asians and Asian Americans lawsuit against Harvard Admissions, revealing the sinister motivations of its key actors. His defence of affirmative action in American education is the best I’ve seen. It ends with several facepalm-y mentions of desi notables and an impassioned plea for good sense. In Episode 3, the latest, he gleefully guilt trips us for our overreliance on Amazon, then peels back layers to reveal an unchecked corporate behemoth bent on world domination. It turns out they’re not even playing the game we think they’re playing.

For someone taking on such complex material, Minhaj is an easy watch. His style is human slinky- tense when it needs to be, breezy and expansive in bursts, always riveting as he tumbles from fact to funny anecdote. If you’re not watching him right now you’re missing the most hilarious, politically astute commentary on our times. Please do. And oh- you’re going to love the opening track.

Art by Emmen Ahmed

the essential internet/ 39

Screen Shot 2018-10-31 at 4.47.20 AM

Are you generally thought of as being a nice person and a delight to be around? No? If you tend to piss people off and genuinely can’t see why people won’t like you, this might help. Lots of obvious truths here but it’s still worth a read

The Duchess of Sussex is killing it with her hair choices. Her messy buns and flyaways are a refreshing departure from royal hairdos, coiffed, waxed and netted to within an inch of its life. With her simple, achievable updos, Markle signals a kinship with working women and their daily struggles to remain stylish

With general elections around the corner, propaganda is bound to get shoutier, cleverer and more sophisticated. WhatsApp is an especially vulnerable medium for the transmission of video content made with this cunning technique that has the potential to change outcomes in terrifying ways

Are you convinced you’re bad at math? You’re dead wrong 

This song is an unfailing pick-me-up

Image- Zohra Sehgal and her very browy brows, via.