A Virtual Visit to India

Yesterday Hubby decided we should take his visiting brother and wife to see A MIGHTY HEART, the new movie based on the book written after her husband Daniel was beheaded in Pakistan, by journalist Marianne Pearl. I suggested that he make sure they actually wanted to go see a movie since it occurred to me they may prefer to spend their last day here resting as they had a very early flight out the next morning (today). 

He insisted, saying that he wanted to take them to see a movie in a real theatre since most of the movies they see in this country (quite a few incidentally) are viewed from home-screened videos, but the clincher was that this movie had been filmed partly in Poona, India. It would be like having a little virtual visit to India. (Actually I think the real reason may be that he’s a tiny bit in love with Angelina Jolie now that she’s developing her altruistic side, but since I’ve had a crush on Brad Pitt ever since I first discovered him in A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT I was quite agreeable.) So see the movie we did, and since it’s impossible to spoil the ending we all know already, which my daughters tell me I do sometimes (sorry girls! I’ll try to do better!), I thought I would tell you about the movie here.

To say the movie was beautifully done or that Jolie delivered a performance worthy of another Oscar has already been said better than words I could say, but there are some thoughts I want to pass along. If you decide to see the movie, go to a theater with as big a high-definition screen and surround sound as can be found in your city. It will be a virtual visit, and in spite of the ending you will feel uplifted just knowing there are people in the world of the caliber of Marianne Pearl, who is, incidentally, a French Buddhist. 

Too bad theaters don’t yet have aroma-tech capabilities to capture the smells from cooking stalls and flower-lined roads and homes, but you will get fleeting glimpses of almost every side of life there, including tin hut lean-tos surrounding affluent urban buildings, traffic din with the resulting horn-honking, and maimed beggars struggling to eke out a living on the crowded streets. At the same time, every time we arrive back at  Ms. Pearl’s residence, after our virtual attempts (trust me, this movie will make you feel as though you’re actually there, an unseen character living out those frantic days with the characters on screen) to solve the mystery of where Danny is, who has him, and who in this chaotic and exotic world is the real enemy, you’ll see the beauty and simplicity and calmness quietly exemplefied by her domestic help. 

I’ve been to India several times, and each time I go I still go through a kind of culture shock in spite of the good things I’ve discovered there. If you’ve never been to India and kinda, sorta, always, thought it would be nice to visit but haven’t had the time, the money, or whatever, this is your chance for a first-class if only virtual visit to this exotic country. Moments into the movie, aided I’m sure by close, tight camera shots of city streets complete with crowds, noises and the general bedlam that seem to define India’s big cities, I felt as though I was there. When the movie ended with a surprisingly uplifting ending, I blinked once or twice–and voila–I was right back in my upholstered movie seat scanning the movie credits and counting the three other brave souls (beside our party) who had made the virtual trip along with us as they exited the theater.(Afternoon matinees in nearly empty theaters is certainly one of the surprise perks we very much enjoy in our retirement.) Despite the low turnout for this screening in particular, I recommend this movie without hesitation.

Now that we’re back from our visit to India with India still very much on our minds, let me share with you a couple of my simple Indian recipes that are super easy to make, don’t take a lot of special ingredients, and are great for side supper dishes on a hot summer day.

RAITA (yogurt with tomato and cucumber)                                                        

2 cups plain yogurt / 1/2 to 1/4 teaspoon salt / 1/2 teaspoon ground & roasted cumin seeds / 1 small tomato, cut into small dice / about 4-inch piece of cucumber peeled & cut into small dice / freshly ground black pepper and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

Place the yogurt into a bowl and beat lightly with a fork or whisk until it’s smooth. Take a very small frying pan or pot (the smaller the better) and place the cumin seeds in it to pan-roast, then add it, along with the other ingredients, to the yogurt and mix well.

(My American, or “basterdised” as I like to call it, version of Raita is to substitute sour cream for the yogurt, use EITHER tomato or cucumber but not both at the same time, and leave the cayenne pepper out altogether. And I like to use lots of freshly ground black pepper. Also, if I’m feeling a little lazy I don’t bother adding the roasted cumin. I do like frying a bit of black mustard seeds in a little oil, however, and adding it to the sour cream mixture just before serving.)

INDIAN-STYLE RICE PULAU

1/2 package frozen peas / 2 bay leaves / fresh ground black pepper to taste / 2 large sliced or diced onions / 1/4 teaspoons cumin seeds / 4 cloves / 4 ounces butter / 1/2 cup Basmati* rice / 1 stick cinnamon /4 cardamons (or use ground from spice jar) / 2 cups water / salt to taste.

Brown the onions in the butter over a slow flame (so as not to burn the butter). Add the spices and stir. (The frying of the spices is what brings out their pungent flavors.) Now add the rice and brown just a little before adding the water, add the peas and bring to a boil, then lower to simmer with the lid on until all the water is absorbed (about 22 minutes after the boil begins). *Yes, rices do have different flavors. Basmatic rice, which is now available in most supermarkets, has a nuttier, richer taste than regular long grain.

(My bastardization of this one is just to be creative, using the spices you have on hand without having to invest a fortune. I leave out the cardomon, for instance, and don’t notice much difference–sometimes I throw in a little ground ginger. The point is to be flexible and as long as you like the ingredients you’re putting in, it’ll be fine and taste just fine.)

If I’m serving this rice dish I might make a curry or dal-based veggie stew to serve alongside, since Hubby does not eat meat, but most Americans can grill a chop of some sort and have supper on the table in record time.  

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2 thoughts on “A Virtual Visit to India

  1. Well, I should warn you, it is very intense, but it made it easier, strangely enough, already knowing the outcome. It just made me feel good to see there really are good people in the world who care enough to try to get the truth out there for the rest of us. But really I think I was very focused on the “virtual” visit to India. The movie was shot so well I did feel as though I’d visited. And I so admire the strength of both Mariane and Danny, the seeing the movie made me want to be a better person too. But I have to admit it isn’t easy to watch. Take some tissues!

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