Saturday, 21 January 2017


[This post can be read independently. But if you are interested, the story starts here:]

Thursday evenings were my turn to cook dinner. It was a good forty minute walk home from Lambert Hall and I was trying to keep up a brisk pace despite feeling pretty sore in the legs after an hour of intense training. So it was a feeling of relief when Ben pulled up his car next to me and asked if I wanted a ride.

Sure, where are you headed?

That way!”, he said as he pointed forward and burst into a short laughter.

Ben was a bit crazy most of the time and I knew better than to try and get any further specifics from him. I just hopped into the car, felt the relief of sitting in a comfortable seat, strapped my seat belt across me and leaned back. As usual he had some interesting music on in his car stereo and we rolled forward.

So what’s up?”, he asked.

Had my Karate training today. Feeling sore as hell. You?

Just got done with my shift at MM, now trying to figure out what I want to do for the rest of the evening. I’m hungry for one. So maybe I’ll grab a bite to eat somewhere.

MM stood for Mad Mushroom, a local Pizza store in West Lafayette. Ben, as in Ben Schroeder, used to work there a few days a week baking pizzas to eke out his living. But that was not his forte.

What Ben was, and I kid you not, was almost a genius of a bass guitar player. He is probably one of the very best musicians I have met in personal life. He hadn’t made it big or anything at the time, used to just play in local gigs, but if he wants to, I’m willing to bet that he can go a long long way. He too had this near perfect ear and could just walk into a jam and start producing grooves and bass lines that seemed just spot on. His technique was amazing too and he could move around on a fretless bass with remarkable dexterity.

Ben also had his own unique way of looking at things. I remember urging him to go down the professional musician road once; he may have now, we haven’t been in touch for years, but he shook his head at the time and told me that he wanted to keep his music separate from earning his livelihood. I don’t necessarily agree with this point of view but I could see where he was coming from. He didn’t want to be in a situation wherein he might have to compromise on his music to ensure that it sold. I respect such an attitude in practitioners of any art, or for that matter in any sphere of activity. Placing the integrity of one’s discipline above commercial interests is a very remarkable quality to possess in my book.

Another time I asked him why he chose not to attend college. He just laughed his crazy laugh and remarked that he didn’t understand why he should pay all that fees when he could just as well get an education by reading books from the public library. Again, I don’t agree with him. I think it’s perfectly fair that one pays for education if one can afford it: if we are willing to pay for material goods, we might as well be willing to pay when it comes to gaining intellectually. But his remark did underline a fact: getting a degree doesn’t necessarily mean one has educated oneself. I think many a college graduate today don’t possess an education in the right sense of the word. Instead, they are merely a bit literate and possess some technique and skill to be able to get a job and earn money. Being educated is an entirely different matter and I think one needs to consciously stay aware of this as one goes through college to ensure that the education aspect isn’t overlooked and one comes out with just a degree certificate.

When Ben mentioned that he was hungry I asked him if he wanted to come over and have dinner with Prosh, Lan and myself.

Are you sure that won’t be a bother?

Not at all. Just that you’ll have to be content with some orange juice while I cook.

Hey no problem at all man, cool…so you’re going to cook up some Indian food eh?

Yep, some lentils (daal) and a potato-capsicum (aloo-simla-mirch) dish with rice. Sound alright?

Yeah of course…

With Ben’s dinner concerns out of the way we both just enjoyed the music he had on for a bit till we pulled up in the driveway of our house.

Prosh and Lan were yet to arrive. I quickly started up the rice cooker and put lentils to boil and hopped into the shower while Ben sat down with his glass of orange juice and started rummaging through Prosh’s CD collection to see what he wanted to put on.

I think a lot of Indian students in the US learn a bit of cooking back home before they arrive. It is simply not economically viable to eat out every day and pretty much everyone cooks at least one meal a day at home.

I hadn’t learnt how to cook before arriving. I learnt cooking as well as most aspects of how to negotiate my life independently in the US from my roommate for two years at University of Cincinnati (where I did my MS), Deepinder Singh.

Deepinder, a tall proud Sikh with a heart made of 24 Carat Gold, is one of my best friends till date. He is now back in his hometown, Chandigarh. With an educational pedigree of a B. Tech. from Punjab Engineering College (PEC) followed by two Masters degrees – an M. Tech. from IIT Delhi and a M.S. from University of Saskatchewan, Canada – and a PhD from University of Cincinnati, Deepinder could have been on the faculty of many a good institute in India. But he chose to respect some domestic constraints at his end and is now heading the mechanical engineering department at an engineering college near Chandigarh.

Deepinder and me hit it off from moment zero. I first spoke to him over the telephone when I was responding to an advertisement he had put out looking for someone to share an apartment rental with him. The conversation was brief and I simply trusted him and agreed to be his roommate. This may not be the wise thing to do in general of course – best to meet your prospective roommate, see the apartment and move in with eyes wide open – but I got lucky and found not only a roommate but a friend who continues to be as dear to me now as then.

Deepinder was some ten years senior to me and I must have given him ample opportunity to get impatient and fed up with me. But he has a magnanimity of personality that is hard to imagine. Ever the elder brother, he steadily taught me everything I needed to know: from cooking to managing my finances sensibly to grocery shopping to ensuring that my academic focus did not waiver to what were some of the best programs on TV and some of the best spots in Cincinnati to relax and enjoy when the weekends came around.

I visit him and his family in Chandigarh once in a while and maybe I’ll write about some of my visits one of these days.

The rice was ready and the lentils were boiled and soft when I finished showering and came back to the kitchen. I went ahead and chopped a couple of onions and was in the middle of sauteing them when Prosh and Lan arrived. They had seen Ben’s car parked in the driveway and enthusiastically greeted him as they walked in.

After a few minutes of general banter and catching up with each other, Prosh asked Ben if he was carrying his bass guitar in the car by any chance. Ben smiled, nodded and promptly went out to the car and got it along with a small practice amplifier. Prosh brought out his keyboard while Ben plugged his bass into the amp and set about tuning it. Lan perched himself on his drum stool and pretty soon the three of them were locking into a nice little groove.

I tapped my feet along as I diced some tomatoes and busied myself with cooking up the daal (lentils) and aloo-simla-mirch (potato-capsicum) I had promised Ben.

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