Begun bhaaja to the rescue. Travails and tales of working from home

The begun bhaaja that I made at the last moment to salvage my lunch yesterday
What is begun bhaaja? Read on...

  • Why do I eat late lunches and an insight into my life as a freelance writer
  • Two things that I love about working from home
  • Some things that I don't and which explain why I go to a cafe to work from every day instead of doing so at home
  • Why do I eat more vegetarian dishes than before
  • What is the Bengali dish, begun bhaaja all about. How to make it
  • Stories from my home starring my mother in law who visits us on weekends and our cook Banu
  • A reference to some other Bengali dishes made with brinjal

The story of a late lunch

My good friend Mohit, a banker, once got flustered when he heard that I often have lunch at 3 pm or later on week days. 'Why do you eat so late?' he asked.

Well that's my routine as a freelance writer. I am not an early riser and usually go to cafes in Bandra to have breakfast and then work from there on most mornings. Candies is my favourite. Other options are Smokehouse Deli and of late, The Bombay Coffee House. I come back home around 1.30 pm. I continue with my work. Finish whatever I was writing. Select pictures to upload if I am putting up a blog post. At times I struggle to get the home internet to work, more on that later. Sometimes my laptop goes to sleep and the cursor become a wheel and keeps spinning. Apparently a three year old and super expensive MacBook Pro gets slower and more obstinate by the day than the average municipality officer. "Hardware issues," said the girl at the Maple service centre cheerfully in the hope that I will buy another laptop. On a good and rare day, I have to print out invoices to sign, scan and send. 

I like to finish everything on my plate and then take a shower and have lunch. It's usually around 3 pm by the time this happens. If I am hungry before that I pop in a few almonds or walnuts or pistachios from the kitchen and continue what I am doing without stopping.

I don't read the newspaper or watch TV while eating lunch unlike what I did for years till recently, including when I would go to offices to work. Instead, I try to apply what I learnt about 'mindful eating' in The Yoga Institute at Santa Cruz, and focus on my food. When I do so, I begin to get ideas for my next Instagram post while eating itself. I am not sure if that's what our teachers had in mind!

Post lunch, I sit on the easy chair in the hall and write a longish Instagram post about what I ate that day. 

After the twenty odd minutes that it takes me to write the post, I go to the bedroom and take a nap. This usually lasts for 10 to 20 minutes. A cat nap or a power nap you could say, but I can't do without it. It is as if my eyes shut by themselves after my lunch. That short nap is all I need usually. I wake up and then have a nimbu pani made with juice from half a lime, 1 teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt, no five star hotel room service or butler gets this right but our cook Banu does so thankfully. When she bunks, then I wake up from my nap and make it myself. 

It's yoga or a walk after that, a spot of chanting after that, and then its time to think about dinner, if I haven't already. 

Dinner is pretty late too much to good old Mohit's chagrin but more on that some other day.

Working from home... the sweet spots

There are two things that I especially love about working from home any my life as a freelancer. Eating a home cooked lunch  is one and the siesta after that is another. 

The lunch is usually made by our cook, Banu. I am talking of the days when she's not #BunkinBanu of course. The #NoorBanuCooks days in other words. Confused? I am referring to the  two hashtags I use for her frequent bunking and for her cooking on social media. 

I usually eat a vegetarian meal for lunch and keep the indulgences of non-vegetarian food for dinner. I know that this is contrary to modern dietary knowledge and ancient wisdom and I do not advise you to follow it. 

I do feel that eating an increasing number of home cooked meals has led to people telling me that they think that I have slimmed down a bit.

Wait, Finely chopped and vegetarian lunches?

Vegetarian food was not something I grew up being fond of but as I have grown older I've begun to 'accept' it and often even enjoy it to be honest. I find it light and easy to digest.

Though, to people who DM me or leave comments on my post extolling the moral values of vegetarianism, my response is to say, 'I don't lecture you on what to eat, so please don't do so to me.' If they still do, I block them with the ferocity of The Hound (a GOT reference).

Pretty plates and natural lighting help make my vegetarian lunches more appealing to me I feel. The fact that my meals are usually made fresh by Banu help too. Fresh rotis are precious. 

Contrast this to my office days when I would take lunch cooked the previous day or subscribe to veg dabbas and eat it at my desk or dreary canteens. This explains the sense of gratitude that I feel when I sit down for lunch these days.

I also think that Banu cooks better food now than she did before. Motivated possibly by the interest she sees me take in food and the praise my friends lavish on her when they come home and she is around. 

There is nothing like appreciation and respect to inspire one to deliver good work. Something bosses in the corporate world who are lost in their excel sheets often forget or don't realise. That, and a good meal which I've rarely had in any of the offices I've worked in, could make one's life at work so much nicer in my opinion and no, you will not learn this in any HR manual.

An example of my post lunch Instagram posts. This is from today
ant talks about the merits of having freshly cooked baigan. You will
get the link to this at the end of the post

Is working from home all fun and games?

It's not all La La Land, when you are working at home you know. 

It takes a lot to motivate oneself specially if you don't have deadlines to adhere too or a monthly salary to look forward to. 

In my case, what drives me is my love for writing and knowing that you might be reading it. 

Take today for example. My back was paining in the morning so I sat on the bed and typed this on my phone, with a hot water bag propped behind me. 

Why? Because I love to write and feel uncomfortable when I don't do so for long. So what if this is not for an assignment or on a trending topic or a list of new openings or cocktails which will get more views for my blog and hopefully sponsorships in its wake?

My mother told me last night that she feels the same about blogging and that it is the cornerstone of her life today. Now you know where I get this addiction to writing from.

I cracked a new strategy while writing this post. I wrote it on the phone in the bed. Later, when better, I mailed it to myself, sat at my desk and worked on the laptop to edit and post it.

Then there is the doorbell!!!!! 

It has the knack of being rung the moment I sit at my desk to write. And of being rung again and again and again. It could be the vegetable guy (whom I can never recognise and stare blankly at when he rings the bell), the car cleaner returning the keys, multiple courier guys or the rare postman, or the watchman bearing a courier for the person who had sold his apartment to our landlord years back, young folks pretending to work for NGOs and so on. Again and again and again like I said. It's as if winter is has come and can't stop ringing the bell. By the 15th ring I am thinking of whether it is possible to have an auto destruct button or to send out the dragons (Season 7 is on as you know so pardon the abundance of GOT references).

The doorbell is one of the main reasons why I head to a cafe to work. 

There was a time when the solitude of an empty home during the day would get to me too. That was unnerving after spending 15 years in office cubicles. Thankfully I have got used to my new life now and the stillness doesn't bother me any more.

Unlike an empty home, a cafe has noise. Ambient noise as they say. In a cafe, I can ignore the music and the chatter and the screaming and type on. The noise cocoons me in a way. 

You can't ignore the voices of folks who might be at home. That is the opposite of solitude. Let me explain.

I get to have a fresh lunch these days because we have finally managed to convince Banu to come to work early. Every situation has two sides though and Banu usually has a million questions for me when I am my desk. Maybe someday I should tell her that I don't like to be disturbed when i am at my desk as I am working then. Maybe she gets the non-verbals in any case as I just grunt or nod in response.

Sometimes my mom in law is around too as she come over to stay with us on weekends. She takes care of things then and we put up our feet and relax. She loves to talk too. Nothing beats watching television with her. There could be the movie on TV which has its own plot and then there is the discourse that she makes in parallel which has its own plot and is usually more entertaining and creative than what's happening on screen.

She often gets excited by something she read in the papers or in the whatsapp group or sees it on the telly and wants to tell me about it if she sees me even if my mind is somewhere else.

Both ladies are too important in my life to be labelled as 'ambient noise' and ignored. When they talk, I listen. They are my support system after all.

So Banu could come up to me when I am typing furiously and tell me that the washing machine is not working or that garbage bags have to be ordered.

Or I could be calling the YouBroadband guy trying to get the internet to work and suddenly my mom in law will come in and ask me if I have seen Mallishka's video on potholes.

Yesterday both came to me to know my verdict on what the grocer had sent over as 'kalo jeera', and whether it is shah jeera in reality.

Talking of poor internet signal, that's another reason for me to go out and work. We have MTNL at home which works in the hall and Vodafone on my phone which now works too after they put the booster at home. However, YouBroadband which I have for the internet in my study, is another story. I'd advise you to subscribe to them only if you are done with a materialistic life and want to burn all your money because it is perpetually on 'outage'. Though, to be fair, it worked this evening when I used the laptop to the post this.

Of the cafes I go to work, only Bombay Coffee House has free wifi. And I think Fitness to which I went recently.

Where's the begun bhaaja you promised?

I was hungry and frazzled when I finally sat down to lunch at 3.10 pm yesterday after  I finished my work. 

I took a bite of the roti, dal and bhindi that Banu had made and winced. I realised that the bhindi (okra) that Banu had cooked, and which smelt like it had got burnt, had indeed got burnt when she left it on the stove while she cleaned the house. This had never happened before. Smoked bhindi is not the same as smoked salmon as I realised, and can taste rather obnoxious. There was no way I was eating that.

I went to the kitchen in search of something else to eat along with the dal and roti. I saw a big brinjal (aubergine/ eggplant/ baigan)  lying among the vegetables I had ordered a bit earlier from Lalu's. 

Suddenly it felt as if knew what I had to do. Driven by latent memories I sliced a couple of pieces from the brinjal. I smeared slices of brinjal with a light touch of turmeric, salt and red chilli powder. I cut each slice into half moons. Heated a liberal amount of mustard oil in a kadai (wok) and then popped in the brinjal when the oil was hot. I turned the pieces around a couple of times, for them to cook evenly, and they were ready in about 3 or 4 minutes.

The pictures look ghastly as they are from my
Instagram Stories. I hadn't thought of writing this
post while frying the brinjal. I was too hungry then.

I took my Begun bhaaja (Bengali for fried sliced brinjal) and had it with the bhaaja moong dal that Banu had made, as taught by me years back, and fresh, soft rotis. I wished the rotis were rice though as bhaat, dal and begun bhaaja is the more traditional combination.

I had a couple of bites of the begun bhaaja and finally broke into a smile. I  remembered just why begun bhaaja, a Bengali treasure that my granny and my mother had once introduced me to, is still my favourite way to have brinjals.

I was finally at peace and balance was restored in my life.  I guess at times you need a bit of deep fried goodness to stop feeling fried!

The begun bhaaja which made my lunch happy
What is begun?

Begun, pronounced bae-goon, is Bengali for brinjal. Begun bhaaja (bhaaja is fry) is a favourite item to start to a Bengali meal with, along with the aloo (potato) bhaaja. Brinjal was introduced to India and to Bengal by the Portuguese as journalist Kanchan Gupta reminded me on Twitter. As was the potato without which almost no Bengali dish seems complete today. 

Another popular fried sliced brinjal dish in Bengal is the beguni where aubergine slices are dipped in a spiced gramflour or byashon batter and deep fried. This is often eaten with muri or puffed rice as a snack. Then there is the begun pora. A smoked mashed brinjal dish which is lightly spiced, and to which mustard oil and green chillies are added. I find the begun pora of Bengali homes closer to the middle-eastern babaganoush in its demureness than to the more heavier spiced baigan bhartas of north Indian restaurants. Another iconic Bengali brinjal dish is doi begun where sliced brinjals are cooked in a yogurt based sauce. You will find versions of these across eastern India. The Odiyas for one make one too. Now don't ask me who invented it. The blessed roshogollas have caused enough problems between us!

I lasked Kanchan Gupta about whether I should
spell it as begun or begoon and this twitter exchange followed

Update since when I wrote the first draft of this post: 

YouBroadband is working, my back is a bit better and I sat at my desk to edit and post this.  Banu made a baigan bhaaji fresh for my lunch today with the remaining brinjal from yesterday. 

If you spot typos please tell me so that I can correct them. I have spotted many each time I sat to edit it!

Also read:
  • Link to my Instagram post from today. I do hope you follow me on Instagram as I write many mini-stories there
  • A post I had written a while back on how I make begun pora. This is from before I began to use mustard oil at home. I recently met a young Gujarati lady in Candies who came up to me and told me that she read this post when she was in Botswana or some place in Africa doing relief work and that she had loved it.
  • A post which has my recipe for making a layered brinjal salad with hung curd. I first made this for the lone vegetarian at a party at home. It became a hit since then among vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.
  • Link to my mother's blog, Tabulous Mom. She lives to write too and readership stats and comments drive her.