London Diary: Entry One

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Recently, I got a chance to spend two-and-a-half weeks in London. Now, the most confusing part here is to shortlist the places where you want to go. You really can’t say. Any place can interest you but if the options are so many, you are all the more confused. And no one wants to miss out on anything.

When I used to study in Bengaluru, I got a chance to visit Blossom Bookstore in Church Street. It’only then that I realised what it is to find a rare, vintage book after spending hours digging rows of books. After moving to Mumbai, my love for second hand books went to another level, thanks to King’s Circle. Sadly, in Gurgaon, this fascination took a setback as there is hardly any corner that has second hand books for readers. I’ve been living here for more than three years now; which is why, the idea of exploring the second hand bookstores in London excited me. But, it’s only when I visited these stores did I realise how lucky I was to be there. I did not utilize my time well; otherwise, I would have gone to many other shops as well.

So, guys, if you happen to be in London and have a day or two in hand, do visit one of these places. I found my lost love for old books in these pretty corners of the city back, and how! May be, you would too.

Any Amount of Books, Charing Cross

It was a rainy day, and I was there, strolling in the streets of Charing Cross Road, looking for Any Amount of Books. After a detour, I got my way here near Leicester Square tube station. And, when I entered the bookstore, I could not believe my eyes. “Whoa! So many second hand books are stocked in here,” I thought to myself. I went to the underground section, but, quickly came back to the main door and started looking at the fiction titles from one shelf. Just the experience of taking almost every second book from the shelf and grabbing a quick look was not less surreal. How can I ever make a decision of which books I want to buy? I thought midway. But, then, the best part came up. Unlike other bookstores that stocked new books with each title no less than £8, this was a sweet spot. These books were priced from £1 to £4 and that made my decision an easy one. Let me say, I was extremely lucky to spot some beautiful books that I have got with me back to India, and I have already begun reading them. I absolutely loved the collection of old books in this store. You will find the best prices of books here. Especially for me, as I don’t like to spend big bucks at one go. Spent nearly two hours going through the books, and ended up buying more than 10 books. My bill was £30 and believe me, I was so, so happy!

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London Review of Books, Bloomsbury

I and my husband happened to go to British Museum one morning, and after a few hours, when we were hungry, we went strolling around the museum area for some good place to relax and grab a meal. My luck was such that I could easily spot this bookstore, and I knew this had to be good. Did I mention I was hungry? No way! Yes, I have heard its name, read it somewhere online, saw a lady carrying a tote with its name imprinted on it, I thought to myself. But little did I know that the stock of books would be so amazing that we had to come back here within a week. Yes, it’s the best bookstore when it comes to the interesting collection of books the people stock here. I picked up two books by Japanese authors like Banana Yoshimoto, and let me confess, I would have never spotted them online. The thing with buying books online is that you don’t get to flip through the books. I was so headstrong to buy a few books, but then, with the price range was such (£8 onwards) that I felt stupid and kept them back. But I did note down the titles in my phone! The store also has a little cafe; we liked the fresh salads they served there. London Review of Books is the place, if you want to get lost and discover new and old authors, but more precisely, gems. And I did buy a tote with its name on it. Another £3 went out of my pocket. But, what the hell.

Foyles, Charing Cross

Within 15 minutes in this store and I almost felt like I will faint down on the floor or something. This store is huge! But, oh, what a colourful sight it was! I was speechless. I remember I went to the section where they had these food books, and it seemed like there’s no end to it! From what I can recollect, it’s a four-storeyed building and you will certainly need a high level of energy to explore this place. There are books on various topics and genres here, and the quantity is matchless. Till now I thought Crossword at Kemps Corner, Mumbai is big, but I was simply wrong. Foyles is massive! So, save a day’s energy if you want to explore this shop. I didn’t buy anything from here, but it sure blew my mind away. Also, it’s a fun place to bring your family with you. There’s something for everyone, and the kids will love the happy vibes and colours you see about the place.

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Lutyens & Rubinstein, Kensington Park Road

We were exploring the Portobello Road Market and Notting Hill area, when we decided to go to the famous Notting Hill Bookshop. Luckily, I happened to Google more names, and found this one. Lutynes & Rubinstein is a secluded corner of the city, which has good books and the perfect environment to read and get lost. It’s a quaint little bookshop, and offered me some respite from the busy streets. The basement section was where I found some known yet lovely titles. These were books I have been meaning to pick up, but kept pushing for later. I especially liked the poetry section; and the wall art and decor was too good, I almost felt like grabbing a chair, and sitting here for a break, away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the market. There was a counter with a coffee machine as well, and a huge reading table. Oh, I really wanted to sit back, but we had to leave and explore more. I bought a teal-coloured fridge magnet from this place, and saved a few titles in my notes on my phone for later. Coincidently, all of them had pink-coloured covers.

Henry Pordes Books, Charing Cross

If you are into art and photography, you can’t miss going to this bookstore. There is a stately feeling that you get when you enter this place. If you love those red antique hardback books, this one is a gem of a place for you. I haven’t seen such a huge stock of such books anywhere else. I enjoyed being at Henry Pordes Books, listening to the conversations of the two people sitting at the payment counter (they were discussing food markets and book festivals), and going through the hardback, second hand copies. The store also had some signed copies by authors, which gave me a sense of its high stature and genuineness.

London is a big city, and there was no way that I could visit each bookstore that was in my list. I did go to Books for Cooks, but it was closed (Sunday, may be?). Whenever I get a golden opportunity to visit this city again, I will not miss these book places: Libreria, Judd Books, Skoob Bookstore, Housmans Bookshop, Persephone, Southbank Book Market, Foster’s Bookshop and Brick Lane Bookshop. A small list, this one, I know. But, hey! This city can make you crazy in the head with its beauty, let me warn you.

PS. I was at Quinto & Francis Edwards Bookshop, and I wish I could capture the moment where I was in the basement, and all I could see was how reading enthusiasts were engrossed in books with their hats and umbrellas and hear a pin drop silence. Soon, I became conscious, but then I got it. You had to find a fixed shelf for yourself, and the rule was to not move more around too fast, or they shudder and look at you with disgust. Old men, stylish young girls, middle-aged men, curious teen boys, carefree aged women–all of them together, exploring the world of books. One sight it was!

Words

 

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“If you can’t write a decent short story because of the cold, write something else. Write anything. Write a long letter to somebody. Tell them how cold you are. By the time the letter is received the sun will be out again and you will be warm again, but the letter will be there mentioning the cold. If it is so cold that you can’t make up a little ordinary Tuesday prose, why, what the hell, say anything that comes along, just so it’s the truth. Talk about your toes freezing, about the time you actually wanted to burn books to keep warm but couldn’t do it, about the phonograph. Speak of the little unimportant things on a cold day, when your mind is numb and feet and hands frozen. Mention the things you wanted to write but couldn’t. This is what I have been telling myself.”

~ The Cold Day by William Saroyan

PS: Found this short story in a book titled The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze (Faber and Faber) written by William Saroyan. Bought this book from Any Amount of Books, London.

Beat the blues

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Recently, I got a chance to visit London, which I happens to be the most beautiful city I have ever been to. I was there for more than two weeks, and eating outside food for this long was not in my plan. So, one day, being tired of all fancy food, I craved for a simple raita. But, I only had the store-bought yogurt with me, which is something I loathe. Can I possibly be making a yum Raita out of it? I asked myself and went ahead anyway.

Pyaaz ka Raita is one of the dishes my mother is famous for in our huge community. This recipe goes back to the days when she used to live in a desert in my maternal home. Pyaaz ka Raita was made with fresh curd and chopped onions, and it hardly took any time to cook. Which is why, it used to be made a lot in the house. And it tastes yum. So, it wasn’t like anybody was adjusting with it.

For me and my brothers, this Raita is what our home is all about. After returning from a family trip or at the end of a long day when all feel tired, it is this recipe that comes to our rescue. Even in those busy Sunday mornings when a guest kept us busy, my mum manages to cook this Raita and impresses one and all.

So, the next time you’re clueless in the kitchen, tired of the colourful veggies, need something simple and tasty, you know what to cook. You will thank my mother for this one, I promise!

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Recipe: Pyaaz ka Raita

All right, so I generally make this Raita in an earthen pot that I got from Dastkar exhibition (Delhi). When I cook this way, it comes out to be nice with a great texture. You can cook this in a mixed metal skillet as well. We don’t use non-stick pans, and I hardly connect with them so you could avoid them too. Do I make sense?

So, first, we will cook the onions on high flame with the spices. In fact, my mum just adds the onion with the spices and tosses it a bit. You don’t need to cook the onions till it’s completely soft. You just need to mix the spices and let it be crunchy.

The second step is to add the slightly beaten curd. This is a quick process. You see, it took me quite some time to crack this dish. It is simple, but there’s this one rule.

Cook the onions on high flame. Add the beaten curd. Switch off the flame. Transfer the Raita in another pan. Cook the onions on high flame. Add the beaten curd. Switch off the flame. Transfer the Raita in another pan. Cook the onions on high flame. Add the beaten curd. Switch off the flame. Transfer the Raita in another pan.

This way, you will get a Raita that has crunchy onions, and because you transfer it into another vessel, it won’t curdle. So, are you ready?

Ingredients

½ tsp cumin powder
a pinch of asafoetida
¼ tsp turmeric powder
½ tsp red chilli powder
fresh curry leaves (I didn’t have it when I clicked the picture)
salt to taste
oil for tempering the spices
¼ tsp black sesame seeds
1 big onion, chopped
2 green chillies, long-slit or chopped
coriander, chopped
½ tsp coriander powder, optional
1½ cup curd (I use homemade curd that is fresh and lightweight, but you could use those tight/stiff/thick looking store-bought yogurt that comes in a plastic box. Though, I avoid those completely)

Method

1. Add oil in a skillet. Add the curry leaves, asafoetida, turmeric and red powder, cumin, and sesame seeds, and green chilies. Sauté it for 10 seconds and add the chopped onion. Remember, the flame is on high.

 Add salt, coriander powder and sauté for a minute.

  1. 3. Now, add the beaten curd and chopped coriander leaves. Stir it ever so quickly and transfer the whole thing into another bowl (in room temperature). This will give it a nice texture. Voila! The Raita is ready!

My mum serves it with roti, jowar ki roti (sorghum) or bajre ki roti (pearl millet). In the picture, you can make out a thali (prepared in last winter). To keep us warm, we keep having bajre ki roti and lots of jaggery in the colder months. With this type of roti, I like to have lots of clarified butter or ghee as well. During summers, you could have this Pyaaz ka Raita with crispy jowar ki roti (it’s gluten-free, rich with nutrients and my mum keeps sending me a small bag of it every couple of months so that I’m never out of it.)

I hope, this Raita helps you beat the blues that might hit you when you are stuck in a weird situation, a clueless dinner prep time or after an uninspiring day at work.