Wednesday, January 17, 2018

AI priorities and a tech-dummy's concerns

I recently heard Sundar Pichai speak about whats coming up next from the Google stable. I am amazed at this talk and truly appreciate what Google in particular and AI in general are doing. Its really smart, and revolutionary. However, I must admit it is unsettling and a few questions refuse to leave my head. Some revolutions are really not required. The best brains of the world are putting in all they have got towards creating something we do not really need. I mean getting the computer to take oral commands and do things like playing music, search information online, dim the lights in the house or prepare a quick reply to an email are things humans can easily do themselves. If anything at all, it makes us a tad bit lazy, impairs our ability to think ahead and stay prepared because we know a device will remind or alert us. What I am more worried about is the things we humans cant do without, but need greatly. We can easily live without AI replying to our emails for us, but we cannot live without access to potable water, renewable energy, clean air and safe food that not only tastes great but also does not mess with our health in the long run. Would it not be really cool for the best minds and resources to find these solutions and find them fast, rather than creating newer ways of doing mundane things. Let AI make life on this planet sustainable first and then easy. We need technology to add value to our lives. I fail to see how the quality of life is improving with devices telling us something we can find out ourselves using 1st generation tech. A device is going to give me information about restaurants by pointing at them. But I can just cross over to the place and ask or even better, ask a friend who might know. Some argue that these developments are saving us time. True. But take a look around and answer honestly. What are we using this saved time for? Are we spending this time with friends and family or in meaningful relationships? Are we using this time to exercise, engage in a hobby, play a sport or practice an art? Few people are consciously doing this. But most are using it to consume even more technology. It seems to me like the 'make what people want rather than what they need' trend. An in this case I doubt people even want AI to take over these aspects of life. We use it because its available, couldn't care less if it wasn't, life would still go on and not badly at all. Life is not so good however, knowing that the water we are drinking is becoming more and more scarce with each passing day or that the earth is not enough to feed all of us any more. It may even be true that the best brains and resources are working towards solving these more existential issues and I probably don't know the details. Its all sorted out, they just aren't telling us yet. If that is true and I pray it is, I wouldn't mind being ridiculed for asking silly questions or being labelled a naysayer. People who have the data and certainly more information than me, could you chip in here please? Just so that tech-dummies like me can rest assured and marvel at the fact that Alexa can set me an alarm so I dont need that oh so inconvenient alarm clock anymore. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I want my sidewalk back!

Chop, chop, chop. How can they do this? Chop, chop. Shameless, dictatorial, outrageous. Chop chop, no more onions. OK, the tomatoes. Onion tears condense vapour rising from my fury into sweat beads all over my red face. An ugly fountain on the corner of our street has encroached upon the precious little space we had to walk. With footpaths as rare as caviar watching a fat ‘beautification project’ come up on our size zero walkway is unbearable. With few people displaying as much concern as me, I have resorted to some cathartic chopping. The tomatoes are bleeding by now and the pressure cooker is about to blow its lid. But I still have steam to vent. So I decide to grind.

I think I should prepare some super hot kolhapuri chicken rassa for the politician neighbor; thanks to who, this monstrosity of a fountain has usurped a key pedestrian junction. A double dose of garam masala combined with some gun powder chutney podi should serve him right. Oh boy will he need that fountain after that!!

Or should I take the Munnabhai approach to conflict resolution? How about a big jar of strawberry jam to make him see red? Or, some chocolates to make him melt? I know. Fortune cookies with ‘get well soon’ and other nasty notes inside. All right then, it is time for some CSR- Cooking for Sidewalk Revival.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A full circle

The joy of watching your roti roll out into a perfect circle, lift off the rolling board in a single sweep and puff up into a buttered balloon as soon as it has exchanged pleasantries with the pan, is unspeakable. Today I bid adieu to years of haggling with stubbornly sticky dough that held on to the rolling pin like glue. Farewell to the roti impostors that refused to rise to the occasion despite greasing the pan. Deceptive shapes, which looked soft but cracked at the slightest touch, adding audio to the already visual embarrassment, are now history. Enter; the delicate, dusky or should I say wheatish, slim and yet perfectly curved heroine of the meal. A conquest over my longest culinary struggle.

Flashes of sepia toned days. I pull a stool to match my eye level with the stove on the kitchen platform. Mother rolls, pats, flips, packs. Roll, pat, flip, pack. It is like a one woman assembly line. It is almost mechanical. They are all identical, symmetrical like carved out of moulds. I ask my daily question. May I try? The last ball of dough always comes my way. I labour over it. There are several retakes. Eventually the ball is toughened with several rounds of rolling, flouring and rolling again. An undefined geometrical shape hits the pan. When it’s done it is hopelessly chewy and unservable. But it is my roti. And I know the trick. For the perfect cover up, lap it up hot. Wait for it to cool down and the cookie will crumble. Straight from pan to plate, plate to palate. Utter satisfaction. My own roti.

Today, that same feeling. I made it. And this time it won’t disappear before being discovered. It will proudly take its place at the table.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In defense of bhindi

Bhindi is my favourite vegetable. The crunch it creates when cooked with the right quantity of oil (read generous) makes it less of an entrĂ©e and more of a side. Despite that it rules the plate. That it is green puts the beeping health meter to rest too. But it tops my chart for holding its own in the easy to manipulate breed of vegetables. It has a distinct flavor that no cooking method or masala can put down. Combine it with any other vegetable and it will stand out. Not like the fickle potato that can be anything you want it to be. Or populist paneer, that prefers to star only in multi-cast potboilers. So this morning as I stood engulfed in aroma of slowly sizzling bhindi, I didn’t think of any way this could go wrong. Sure the web of gooey strings had wrapped the kadhai making the under construction masterpiece look highly unpalatable. But I smirked at it cunningly as if to say,’ I’ll let you play now, before I fix you’. Because I know if you squeeze lemon and cover the pot, the sticky strings vanish without a trace.

Bhindi is no fast food. It takes its time to come around and just like a lady, will open up and reveal itself on slow fire over hours. By the time it was ripe and ready, the sun came up and the husband staggered out from the bedroom. ‘I am not eating bhindi’ he blurted out as soon as the smell caught him. And there, my labour of love received a blow. Suddenly the delicate bhindi became harsh okra. My husband has never eaten bhindi and is prejudiced against it, thanks to the slimy web I had so smartly dealt with. I showed him it wasn’t there anymore. I made him touch the crisp hexagons I had so artfully chopped to keep the symmetry. But once a bhindi hater, always a bhindi hater. The slime he was subjected to in childhood had scarred him for life. After a long trial where I submitted all evidence to prove that bhindi is innocent of being gooey anymore, alas I lost. But the defense won a minor relief by being allowed to serve potato fingers cooked with the bhindi. Well at least it is a beginning. Bhindi has no doubt rubbed off its distinguished taste on the potato and will introduce the uninitiated to its charm. As for me, I can now have it all.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Soul food

It is 4 am and I am frying onions. The smell is overpowering. It is filling up not just my tiny kitchen but my soul. Now I admit that most people may like their serene mornings to be perfumed with flowers or incense or at least an aromatic tea or a fragrant sweet .Onions are not particularly known to please noses, especially the purist’s, at any hour. But for me this is the beginning of a new chapter in life, one that if full of flavor. Like the opening to a buffet of never ending delicacies, a recipe book without a last page. I stand at the cooking platform staring into the kadhai looking at myself, my 30 years. Like love at first sight, there is a sizzle when the onions touch hot oil and the crisp noise cuts through the silence of a sleeping city. But my thoughts remain unchained, running amok like escaping smoke, the frying only making them wilder. So here I am, back into my kitchen after 2 months. Awake because of jet lag, awakened by the days spent away from the kitchen, the house, the city, the people.

Sometimes when you go away changing everything around you, you also leave yourself behind. This trip was something like that. Getting out of my skin, to see who I am sans my items of identity. I am no more a journalist, a wife and mom, a girl good at whatever she does but never satisfied with what she did. Now I can be all of these and yet none of these at all if I wish so. This discovery of me is truly what I got back from my trip to the United States of America. So as people ohh and aah at the Macy’s and Herseys tumbling out of my unpacked bags, it is I that I consider my souvenir. So as I dress up every day to please myself with the image in the mirror I am also going to do the one thing that gives me extreme creative satisfaction. Cook. The tang, the spice, that essential sweet and an odd bitter or bland touch on the palate. They make me happy, my sense of being complete. Mixing, heating and beating raw ingredients until I see my imagination turn real. Creating from scratch! No excuses, no alternatives. Busy day or boring, the magic potion in the kitchen must brew. You may wonder why I had to go all the way to America to discover the cook in me. Because the torch in Lady Liberty’s hand is the ‘imprisoned lightening’ according to Emma Lazarus. And you never know where lightening strikes.