Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 6, Issue 05, Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Special feature

The cuckoo story

February 13, Pohela Falgun, marks the arrival of spring; a joyous occasion marking the end of the ruinous winter and the beginning of the life-giving spring. The trees grow new leaves, women wear yellow, and all around life stirs anew.

Spring is synonymous with the call of the Kokil (Cuckoo) bird. The male Cuckoo calls to his female counterpart in a mating ritual that coincides with the start of spring, further underlining spring's life-giving qualities. Anyone who has lived in Bangladesh will know the call of the Kokil. Everyone knows of the black, male Kokil, but few have seen or realised the beauty of the female, the one for whom the male pines, ushering in spring.

Ronald Halder, vice president and founding member of Bangladesh Bird Club, has made it his lifelong passion to take pictures of birds, and has published a comprehensive compilation of pictures taken of Bangladeshi birds. He has been kind enough to enrich Star Lifestyle with these pictures of the beautiful Kokil birds that so exemplify spring and its beauty.

Photo: Ronald Halder

Special feature

It's not Valentine's, it's singles' awareness day

A lot of people, on the fourteenth of this month, will be out there celebrating, proclaiming, expressing and proving their love. For women in relationships, this day is a win-win. If their men do not meet expectations with regard to 'celebrating their love', it's a weapon in hand to be guarded and used at the crunch point of future fights, especially when the better halves are at fault.

On the flipside, if the men do live up to expectations (very rare - Haley's comet stuff), the women have a great day and they can feel proud that their relationships are still worth celebrating.

The men, well, it's not much fun for them, generally speaking. Certainly not a win-win situation. When special days roll around, they are gripped by the fear of failure and its consequences, and Valentine's Day is the worst.

It's the day when every couple is celebrating, so if your celebration isn't up to the mark, it'll be easy for the girlfriend or wife to point the finger at so-and-so and how much more romantic than you another husband or boyfriend is.

Really, what a hassle! Even the women, with their win-win situations are not guaranteed a happy Valentine's, for the simple reason mentioned above -- it's a day when everyone's celebrating, so for some it's a competition, and there are not many winners in one of those. The only win guaranteed her is the one over her worse half in the war of love, and you don't need Valentine's Day for that.

You may have guessed it by now, this writer is not part of the couple's club. Don't pity my kind. The three paragraphs above are not a manifestation of sour grapes. There are many on my side of the fence, who, with longing and envy, gaze at a couple sitting at a table, talking in soft whispers, oblivious to the world around.

On February 14, we get swamped with overt displays of romance in things such as stuffed toys, candy hearts, pink cards, while we sit and think wistfully, "We could have been part of the club."

The grass, people, is always greener on the other side. Let's break down this Valentine's Day into what it really is. It's a needless trend cooked up and popularised by, wait for it, the greeting card and stuffed toy brigade. And the participating couples are all victims.
Pity yourselves, single people? Think again.

Think how much we are saving each year while the romantically inclined are splurging their gizzards on sentimental trinkets that won't last a year. Think of the headaches we the men are spared, while our hooked counterparts plan the minute details and sweat over the choice of gift, the number of gifts, whether it will be one expensive one and several 'medium' ones, or just one really expensive one. And most of all: Will she like it?

Single ladies, be thankful for being spared the crushing of expectations. Even if you had a man, chances are (when did you last glance the Haley's?) he will disappoint you with his thoughtlessness or his lack of romantic depth. If you were in a relationship you would, as ladies always do, choose the perfect gift(s), an expensive wristwatch and the perfect poem that you spent hours, even days, writing. What does he give you? A cow-sized stuffed bear and a card he forgot to sign. And don't forget the cash you would have to shell out for that wristwatch.

Still jealous, my fellow singletons? Seriously, would you want to be celebrating all your birthdays on the same day? Where would the fun in that be? How can you feel that your love is special when the room is full of special couples? Valentine's Day is redundant; in their effort to make every couple feel special, the greeting cards and stuffed toys brigade have made every one of them ordinary.

What the day really celebrates is us single people. It was a wise person who first dubbed February 14 Singles Awareness Day (SAD). Of course, since then, the greeting card companies did what they do best -- create greeting cards for every conceivable occasion -- and SAD was moved to February 15. Balderdash and codswallop, February 14 is the real SAD. Just as in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king, so too in a restaurant full of couples the single people are special. QED.
Okay, maybe just a hint of grapes gone sour.



The fruits of love

‘Three things can't be hidden- coughing, poverty…and love.'- Yiddish proverb.

Despite the fact that many of us find Valentine's day a bit too dramatic and at times downright 'so not cool' some of us cannot ignore that little part inside us craving for some attention. Be it psychological, or be it cupid's arrow hitting you right where you need it, that special feeling of love is almost everywhere; at least on the dreaded Valentine's Day.

Even if you're not going to a fancy restaurant wearing your best clothes and your finest jewellery, you can come up with something simple and cute for your special someone. This year, perhaps you can try and do something out of the box. Think fruit basket, funny stickers, some laughs, a healthy dose of sentiment, and that should do it. Now, of course, a fruit basket is as simple as it gets. Bananas, apples, oranges, pears, whatever's good for you. Throw in a pack of nuts and sweets, tie it with a ribbon and it's good to go.

But before that, we come to the stickers. As cheesy as it can be, they're very cute and something you can share laughs about with your valentine. You can easily find blank stickers in the size of A4sized papers. Make funny and silly phrases matching everything in your basket and print them out on the sticker paper. When it's done, cut one sticker out at a time and stick them on. What phrases are we talking about? Here are a few to help get you on the track:

For apples- 'You're the apple of my eye', for oranges-'Orange you glad to be my valentine?', bananas-'I'm going bananas for you', pears-'We make the perfect pear', plums-'you're my sugarplum', nuts-'I'm nuts about you', sweets-'you're everything sweet in my life'.

I'm sure you get the picture, and can come up with some of your own funny and quirky sayings. There's no need to delay, go and get cracking on your fun fruit basket and make this Valentine's, no not your 'best', but good enough to have some sweet memories of. Happy Valentine's Day!

By Naziba Basher

For the love of food

Celebrating mediocrity

By Kaniska Chakraborty

I have decided to be a little less obtuse in my writing. All along, I have not mentioned names of any establishments, irrespective of the quality of experience there. It is time to change that.

When a behemoth sucks you in, takes your money and serves you second grade mush, I will not sit behind a veil of pleasantries like “that famed Chinese place near Ballygunge” or “the fine dining place near the museum”.

All this goes back to the Saturday, 22 January. An otherwise ordinary day made extraordinary by the fact that it is my mother's birthday. So the family decided to go somewhere for lunch.

Now in Kolkata, that is not really an open-ended choice. Outside of the ambit of the starred hotels, most places are tried and tested. And they have ceased to surprise. On top of that, my mother, being the busy bee that she is, chose South City mall for lunch, as it would be easier for her to hop across to wherever she was going to after lunch.

So the choice was pretty straightforward. Mainland China or Flame and Grill. My mother loathes to experiment, hence the other places -- Thai, Spanish and pan Indian, were out of the equation. Her comfort level lies in prawn kebabs and paneer tikkas. And not to mention, dessert in any form. Eventually, she chose Flame and Grill. Heaven only knows why.

We went in expecting a mad Saturday rush. It was surprisingly empty at 1.45 pm. Smack in the middle of weekend lunch hour. Possibly, the inflated price of a weekend buffet has turned people elsewhere?

Couple of words on Flame and Grill. It is an 'all you can eat' restaurant, serving North Indian cuisine, read endless kebabs, biriyani, daal, naan and the likes.

We have gone there many a time, and at times were impressed with their mushroom kebab (yes, there is such a thing), their fish tikka (actually very good) and their mutton seekh (non spicy, you could actually taste the meat). All of us opted for the non-vegetarian all-you-can-eat option. Can't go wrong with that, right? Think again.

We got four kinds of kebabs. Three of them were doused in tandoor paste and done to coalness. The one chicken that was spared the orange treatment looked grey and tasted like putty. That could have been chicken, or sponge, or any other form of (in)edible matter.

The mutton biriyani was still a standout. But will I go there and spend close to Rs500 for a plate of mutton biriyani? Unlikely.

Seriously, I think the big chains do have a social responsibility to promote not just an eating habit but a good eating habit. They need to be the pioneers as well as the harbingers of change. Any place can get away by serving good biriyani. I could possibly name a few hundred between Calcutta and Dhaka. And those places will all have half decent kebabs as well. So why should I pay a significant premium for the same food? Unless they offer me a significantly enhanced experience, I don't think I will any more.

Or do I just not matter?


Accidental vegetarian

Living away from home in a different country is not easy, especially if you are a student. Along with all the responsibilities of living alone, comes the responsibility of cooking alone. To add to the dismay, being a student generally means that you are on a tight budget.

Therefore, it is not always possible to buy ready or half-ready meals. Cooking from scratch can either be a daunting, labourious task or an easy, creative, recreational activity. For me, it turned out to be the latter. Cooking de-stresses me! I enjoy cooking simple, easy to make, healthy yet tasty meals.

I never thought I would become a vegetarian until I left home. And I became a vegetarian without even realising that I was becoming one. It all started with my laziness in going to the halal shops to buy meat. Then came the hesitation to buy all the spices. Next was the fear of cooking one whole chicken and having to eat it over an entire week. Finally, there was the fear of wasting money on unnecessary food.

Therefore, I became creative and started cooking simple vegetable dishes with only oil and onions. With time, my creativity and innovations impressed me more and more. Now I simply do not want meat anymore and am in love with my veggies!

Yummy Creamy-Crunchy Veggies
½ broccoli
½ parsnip(optional)
1 small carrot
¼ small cabbage
½ cucumber
½ medium leek (optional)
5-6 button mushrooms
1 medium-boiled egg
5-6 tsp pasta sauce or tomato ketchup
1 medium onion
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tbsp oil
Salt: to taste

Roughly chop all the vegetables into 1 inch thick pieces. Slice the mushrooms into 3 or 4 pieces, depending on size.

Heat oil in a small pan, preferably non-stick. Bung in the onion, broccoli, parsnip and carrot. Spread salt on top. Cover and cook in low-medium heat for about 4 minutes. The veggies should cook in their own water. If the veggies fail to give out water, add 3 tbsps of hot water to the pan.

After about 4 minutes, throw in the cucumber and cover and cook for another two minutes. Then add in the chopped mushrooms, cabbage and leek. Let them cook until the cabbage leaves go mellow but remain crunchy. Remember that you want the veggies to be tender but crunchy, not too soft and saggy.

Add in the ground pepper, pasta sauce and chopped medium-boiled egg. Mix well until the egg yolk gives the veggies a creamy texture. Remove from heat and serve hot.

By Saquifa Seraj


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