Wednesday, August 20, 2008


There is something about the image (mental or real) of a colorful kite, cruising the sky, which always brings a smile to my face, and fills me with hope and positivism. Maybe it’s the bright colors or perhaps the bounce with which the kite moves in the sky. To me, a flying kite is a symbol of conviction and perseverance, virtues that we require to keep plowing through life, to achieve our goals and to turn our dreams into reality.

Kite flying is a popular sport in Northern India. I had only read about kites/kite-flying in books and seen the euphoric atmosphere surrounding Indian kite-flying festivities in the movies. So when I heard about the Berkeley Kite Festival, it wasn’t too surprising that I decided to go.
The festival was running through the weekend between 11 am – 2pm. We headed for Berkeley on Sunday after a quick brunch. Considering that it was summer and that the festival was in its 22nd year, we were expecting a crowd, but weren’t really sure of the size. As we neared Berkeley, we were able to see the big kites suspended for display. A friend had warned us about traffic in the area and tipped us about his parking woes. Sensing that we too were destined to similar fate, we turned back and found a parking spot in town, maybe a mile or two away from the park where the festival was running.

Long traffic lines near the festival area

Throngs of people, of all ages, walked towards the kite arenas. A group of musicians jammed, as onlookers swayed and clapped. The sky looked glum with no patch of blue and we were glad to be bundled up in layers. The monotone of the sky was broken by the colorful kites, some suspended for display and some drifted in the sky, like paintbrushes sweeping across a blank canvas with colorful strokes. While many, like us seemed to be there just to enjoy the scene or hang-out with friends and families, there seemed to be many photo enthusiasts, armed with cameras, from the simple point and shoot, to SLRs. Families with little ones had their own kites. It was fun watching children fly kites, their expressions darting between curiosity, focus and excitement.

Kite festival area

Musicians jamming

Some kites that were on display
After touring the arena for all the interesting looking kites, we stopped near the main arena to watch the kite ballet and synchronized kite flying. The kite flyers precisely controlled their kites to make it seem that their kites were moving to the music playing. I was very impressed by this display. The next scheduled program was the Rokkaku kite battle. As we waited near the fight arena, Arnold invited us and a few others to join the fight. I was excited that V would get to fly a kite. But unsure of my kite flying skills, I tried to excuse myself, citing photography as an excuse. But Arnold made me abandon my camera and handed me the line and gloves with “Taking pictures is no fun, flying a kite is”. So I dumped my camera and put on the gloves as Arnold gave us the “kite flying 101”. I got a cute looking sky-blue kite with pink daisies – numbered 34. “Maybe I am the the Rokkaku champ waiting to be discovered”, my delusional mind suggested. You see, my house number is 34 and my home phone number used to end in 34.

Arnold giving lessons
Either it was my non-combative nature interfering, or simply the fact that I couldn’t steer my kite, I was far from trying to get at the neck of other kites in the fight. The commentator commented on chickened fighters (apparently I wasn’t the only one! ) and challenged them to be more aggressive. Finally somebody noticed that it was time to send me home, my cutie kite tumbled down to the ground and that ended my dreams of becoming a Rokkaku champ. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.
Next in line was the candy drop event. I was curious to see how they would do it and also hoped to get some nice pictures of kids scrambling for candy. Kids had lined up for the candy drop, the youngest ones (3 yr olds I think) with their parents. A bag of candy would be hoisted up on the kite line, the kite line would then be cut loose and the bag opened. Kids of a specific age group would be called in and they would run around scouring the ground for candy. Volunteers with bags of candy would throw some more candy on the ground just to create a ruckus.

Children lined up for the candy drop

We then made our way to the food stalls to get our candy, oops! fries. We had seen all that there was to see and decided there wasn’t much left to do.
Content at having done something new and fun, we bade good-bye to the kites.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Certain dishes leave an indelible impression on you, so much so that you crave for the same experience, everytime you eat the dish. Some set on a pursuit to find a restaurant that can guarantee them that experience, while some, (like me) undertake the challenge of appeasing their taste buds by replicating the flavors on my own - in my very own kitchen.

I fell in love with 'Dal Makhani' (DM) ever since I had it at a restaurant last year. Now, DM has become comfort food for me. This week I finally got down to trying it on my own. I read many DM recipes on the Internet. I didn't follow any particular recipe to the dot, but picked up ideas from all over. Here is my version, which turned out to my liking, except that it was a tad too hot for me.

  • Soak whole urad dal and rajma (red kidney beans) overnight. I measured the urad dal and then threw in some rajma.
  • Pressure cook the dals. I added salt while pressure cooking. I also dropped in a couple of bay leaves, a black cardamom, a cinnamon stick and a few cloves while pressure cooking, so that their flavors would be nicely absorbed by the dals.
For the puree:
  • Grind tomatoes-ginger-garlic-green chillies to a fine paste.
  • Heat oil for tadka. Add heeng, mustard seeds, jeera seeds when the oil is hot.
  • Saute finely chopped onions when the seeds start crackling.
  • Once the onions are done, add the puree and saute it till its cooked.
  • Add pepper powder, anardana powder, some turmeric powder and red chilli poowder (optional)
  • Add the dal and mash it slightly. Mix well.
  • Add water, salt (if necessary) and allow the mixture to simmer.
  • Add some milk and simmer for a bit.
  • Garnish with chopped coriander and a dollop of butter. I also used some chopped spring onions for the garnishing.

  • Remove the whole masalas from the dal once it is cooked, else, their flavor can be over powering.
  • Be careful with the spice. I used 4 ingredients (green chillies, pepper powder, red chilli powder and cloves) and a bit too much of the pepper powder.