Monday, September 13, 2010


He worked almost mechanically, his mind numbed by shock and sorrow but his body moving to a practiced rhythm.

He lined up all his ingredients. A large group had requested the Chef's special, and he was expected to deliver. Eight years as Head Chef, he had never failed. And he wasn't about to start now, whatever his inner turmoil.

The saucepan clanked against the stove, the oil stopper popped, and he carefully measured out two tablespoons of virgin olive oil. Next, the meat. Freshly ground not half an hour ago, the process smoothened by the usual preliminary hacking and rough dicing. A few stray chunks were assiduously chopped further. He'd been asking them for a new processor for months now, but the idiots in management had steadfastly refused. They dared refuse him, among the finest chefs in the city!

He browned the meat on medium heat, carefully separating the tiny pieces with a wooden fork. It was a little soft, but smelt heavenly.

He sighed. What a day for it all to unravel. They were just a week from their twentieth anniversary, and he had had a romantic getaway planned. Now it would be just him. All alone with his thoughts, his anger, his regrets.

His eyes clouded over slightly, and a stray tear sizzled on the pan. The meat was browned, ready to be moved to a colander and drained. Mustn't daydream, he scolded himself. Mustn't slack. Focus!

He dropped in some chopped onion, sautéing it in olive oil. Watched it become translucent.

Why him? Suddenly, filled with a blinding rage, why that guy, of all people? Some two bit model with rock hard abs and rocks in his head.

He threw the drained meat into the pan viciously. Flung in some tomatoes and added half a cup of water.

Stupid, stupid, stupid fool. He'd never suspected, never dreamt that she would cheat on him.

A few finely chopped stalks of celery, a bay leaf.

He still remembered the first day he saw her, she a patron at the finest restaurant in the city, he a lowly apprentice. He'd wooed her persistently, charming and cajoling and wining and dining her until she agreed to marry him.

In went the sea salt and the pepper. The water seethed and boiled with him.

He had come home that afternoon from lunch, bursting to tell her about the new opportunity he'd been offered. Head Chef at the new seven star hotel everyone was raving about! He'd thought he'd reached the peak, but there was so much more ahead!

The meat was cooking well. Time to start on the side dish.

The house was strangely quiet, the living room deserted. Weren't her soaps on this afternoon?

His boys had already shelled the beans, softened from soaking overnight. He transferred them to a pot and added minced onion and a cup of water. Paused a second, and added half a cup more. He covered the pot, his hands trembling just a little from the emotion and exhaustion.

It was the noises that led him upstairs. The guttural cries. The sound of... of another man's voice.

He leaned back, resting for a few minutes, and looked about the kitchen with pride. His kitchen. Head Chef at the most swanky (well, now the second-most swanky) Mediterranean restaurant in the city. Possibly even the country. It had taken him years of toil and perseverance to get this far, to nearly the summit of his profession. Her modelling career peaked and then sputtered, as expected, but he loved her none the less for it. Had loved her, he reminded himself bitterly.

Back to the meat. Perfect. He quickly brought some broth to boil.

She pleaded for forgiveness, of course. That bastard pleaded too, but with a superior smirk on his face.

The oven had been preheated already. All going to clockwork, as it had the thousand or so times he'd made his signature dish - a traditional Greek favourite - earlier. He transferred the meat mixture to a baking dish and added the broth and pasta. Set to cook.

He hadn't known how to react. What does one say in such a situation, what does one do? It was bizarre, and he struggled to understand the betrayal.

A quick check on the oven and the stove. All was well.

What had he done wrong? Had he not made her the centre of his universe, given her everything she ever wanted, treated her like a queen? Then why... this?

A light rattle from the pot jerked him back to reality. He peeked into it. The side dish was just right, soft and mushy. He added salt, pepper and enough olive oil to make it just a little creamy, and set it aside to cool.

He replayed the scene over and over in his mind, almost in a trance. His entry, their protests, the angry recriminations, her soft hastily-clothed body, the screams and shouts, her young lover with his impossibly perfect body...

The meat was done as well. He removed the baking dish, and covered it with a cotton towel to absorb the excess moisture. He busied himself with the plates.

The marriage was, obviously, over. He sighed, and massaged his temples. He suddenly felt far, far older than his forty five years.

With a flourish born from years of practice, he plated the meal. The Yiouvetsi, a riot of bright yellow, brown and red, with fresh parsley and a topping of finely grated cheese. The side dish, an inviting green. And, to accompany it, a glass of the finest Tuscan red wine. Onto the cart, and rolled out personally to the table.

He'd lived his life an honourable man. He'd slaved to earn society's respect, and his harlot of a wife was going to bring it all crashing down. It had been too much to take. He had to protect his reputation. He had no options.

"The Chef's special, Sir," he said to the chief patron. "Traditional Greek Yiouvetsi - Ground meat with Orzo Pasta."

A ghost of a smile flickered across his face.

"With some fava beans and a nice chianti."

(Recipes from here and here.)

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Death - more musings

I have written earlier about death, where I stated that I'd like to die now rather than of old age at the end of the natural life cycle.

Recently, I had occasion to think once again about death as a concept and dying as an act, whether by accident or premeditated.

Given that I have to die someday, I felt it would an instructive, interesting and fun exercise to run through some of the different ways I could die and rank them in order of preference.

A few considerations
  • No suicide. Simply because my family wouldn't get the insurance payout in such a case
  • The more instantaneous the death, the better. I have a low threshold for pain inspite of my high desire for death
  • In compiling this list, I'm accounting for the possibility that the methods below may not necessarily result in death. I'm factoring this into the preference rating
  • Obviously, these are purely my views on the subject. You probably have a completely different set of criteria when picking how to die. If so, do share

  • I'll start from the least preferred route to death.

    10. Car accident

    Good: Extremely high likelihood of happening, given the amount of time I spend on the road and the general insanity of every Indian driver. Including me.
    Bad: Cars provide a fairly decent level of protection nowadays. Airbags, and all that. Plus I am inherently a reasonably careful driver. Still, no match for a drunken truck driver.
    Ugly: High chance of life-altering and crippling injury, but no death. Not how I want to spend the rest of my life.
    Bottom line: Highly risky, from the point of view of the kind of death I'm looking for

    9. Fire
    Good: Can't really think of any. Except that your family could claim both life and property insurance. Oh, and that you might just choke to death before you burn to death.
    Bad: Most fires that are likely to break out in the course of my normal life are in places that claim to have good fire systems. And unless it's a really big blaze and one is absolutely trapped, chances of death are minimal
    Ugly: Third degree burns, no balm of death, painful disfigurement, social horror and a ruined life
    Bottom line: Too ugly. The mind and soul quail at the thought of this route

    8. Drowning
    Good: Almost definite to kill you, if you're under long enough. If this occurs in a river, there's the added possibility you'll be crushed by rocks. Just to make sure
    Bad: Unlikely to occur naturally, in the course of my everyday life. While I do visit rivers and waterfalls and seashores and such, they are usually not dangerous enough to drown me. There is the possibility of someone trying to kill me through drowning though - a silver lining
    Ugly: A terribly painful way to go. Having briefly tried it to see what it feels like, I never want to do it again
    Bottom line: The destination is great, the journey not so much

    7. Terrorist attack: bomb blast
    Good: If it's a powerful bomb, it can pretty much blow you to smithereens. Clean and complete
    Bad: Bomb blasts are, mercifully (for the population at large), few. Relatively speaking, of course. I wouldn't want my selfish desire for death to claim other lives, at least not through a means as base as terrorism
    Ugly: Extremely high likelihood of losing just a limb if I'm not within a few metres of the bomb. And the terrorists are unlikely to feed me inside info on the bomb's location, even if they read this blog
    Bottom line: Terrorism is heinous, period. Given this point of view and the likely collateral damage through this method, my conscience can't support this

    6. Falling off a building
    Good: If the building is high enough, one is more or less guaranteed death
    Bad: "High enough" is difficult to guage. My office building only runs to five floors. My apartment complex runs to ten. Will ten guarantee death? Will five? Also, most tall buildings are protected nowadays, with sealed windows and closed terraces. And it would be difficult to prove it wasn't a suicide. People hate me, but not so much as to push me off a building
    Ugly: Anything short of death through this method. Exactly the same downside as a car accident, just more severe
    Bottom line: Seems impractical and unlikely

    5. Knife wound
    Good: Reasonable chance of this happening somewhere, especially if I roam about in dark alleyways at night. I could lose a reasonable amount of blood and thereby die
    Bad: The society around me is more of gun-oriented one, I think. Plus I don't spend much time in dark alleyways in the normal course of things - the most I get about in the dark is the drive from office to home
    Ugly: An incision that isn't deep enough will leave me in terrible pain, bleeding very very slowly (or terribly scarred) but not dead. Which kind of defeats the whole point of the thing for me
    Bottom line: This could go either way

    4. Electrocution
    Good: Given the general state of construction in many of the places I go in and out of (not the mention that my life is ruled by electrical and electronic gadgets), this is a very plausible way to die
    Bad: It would have to be a very decisive bit of electrocution to kill me immediately, not just fry my skin or internal body parts
    Ugly: One word - vegetable
    Bottom line: This, too could go either way

    3. Falling construction material
    Good: In Delhi/Gurgaon, this is always a very real possibility. Maybe a roof will come crashing down when I attend the Commonwealth Games later this year
    Bad: The Metro construction in Gurgaon is coming to an end. And there are no major buildings being built around the areas I visit - the CWG is my only hope
    Ugly: Unless it's a really large and heavy piece of material - such as a multi-ton cement section that can crush my car like a pretty girl crushing a young man's hope - this could go the car accident way. And I'd be out a car.
    Bottom line: Worth a shot, it could very well happen

    2. Gunshot wound (mugger, police cross fire, encounter)
    Good: More blood loss likely than a gun wound. Also more likely to result in near immediate death if aimed right (brain, heart). Plus gun-raj is reasonably prevalent in this neck of the woods, from what I hear and see. And death by gunfire is kind of cool, in a filmy tragic-romantic sense
    Bad: I don't frequent too many places of ill repute and high crime rates (relatively speaking, of course. Gurgaon city's is pretty high as it is.) So while I've seen many gun-toting drivers and such, I don't know if I'll actually be faced with the desired situation in the course of my normal life. If I was, though, I'd probably ask the guy to kill me
    Ugly: There's always the possibility of a slow, agonizing, death. Or just slow agony, if someone finds you before you die
    Bottom line: I like this, but it needs to be done right. I might have to be asked to be killed, but who's the killer going to complain to?

    1. Airplane accident
    Good: Perfect. Near 100% chance of death, especially if mid air or involving two aircraft. In a warped way, a cool, worry-free way to go. And I fly a fair bit on work
    Bad: The probability of dying in an accident if flying one of the world's top 25 airlines is just 1 in 9.2 million, and only 8% of fatal accidents happen mid-flight (Source). The majority of accidents are on the ground with no major casualties.
    Ugly: The other lives that may be lost. Hopefully very very few, ideally none except mine.
    Bottom line: I'm fairly sure this is the way I'd like to go.

    In summary,
    10. Car accident
    9. Fire
    8. Drowning
    7. Terrorist attack
    6. Falling off a building
    5. Knife wound
    4. Falling construction material
    3. Electrocution
    2. Gunshot wound
    1. Airplane accident

    Well, there it is. The problem is that this is all wishful thinking. There's little I can do to hasten one or more of these methods of death without it bordering on suicide, so I just have to continue (a) flying, and (b) living in Haryana and hope that one of the top two on my list, respectively, happens.

    (To my parents and a few others who care: No, I am not going to kill myself. So there's no need to worry, for now.)