Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Arey O Sambhar

Recently the impressive library of a Chicagoland suburb decided enough Body Odor was enough. It issued a prohibition of "offensive bodily odors" on its patrons, subject to eviction from the library.

"Director Stephanie Sarnoff said the aroma would have to be so overpowering that it interfered with others' use of the facility. And while the policy stemmed from complaints about an apparently homeless person, Sarnoff said it would apply just as much to an overuse of perfume as an underuse of soap."

There is some minor controversy about how this targets homeless people and perpetuates all kinds of stereotypes. Mostly inane and boring stuff.

But speaking of stereotypes - I wonder how many people have shared this experience with me.

You go into a grocery store to shop. Suddenly the delicate aroma of Chicken Vindaloo fills the air. Wow, you tell yourself, since when did Dominick's start selling fresh Indian food? So you follow your nose (and I have a pretty sharp one) hoping it will lead you to the newly laid out Indian Groceries aisle. No more going to three different stores just to get groceries done! you smile to yourself. Only you reach the end of the trail and you find yourself staring at the rear end of a guy buying a 30 lbs bag of onions. The guy IS your Chicken Vindaloo.

Come on now, it has to be said: a number of desi people (and they probably have no clue who they are) smell like mixed vegetable curry. You run into them everywhere: the office, the store, even the library. Pretty soon you can tell from across an aisle the exact dinner menu of the person you'll surely run into when you turn the corner.

This phenomenon is exacerbated in places like Chicago because of its harsh winters. Cold weather means shuttered doors and windows. Poor ventilation. The aroma of delicious Indian food swirling around the house for weeks. Until it gets into your hair, your clothes, your jackets, your couches. Heck it probably gets into your soap as well because after a while I've noticed people just smell of the same food no matter what the time of the day is.

Once during my graduate studies, the place where I was working as a Research Assistant started hiring more students. The number of desis in our unit trebled. A perpetual aroma of desi cooking settled down in the Lab and refused to leave. I remember settling at a mainframe terminal, sniffing the keyboards and making a mental note to stop by Apoorva's home later for batatavadas. Our Professor stopped coming into our Lab. A month later she issued a memo that outlined basic courtesy to fellow lab rats. One prominent addition had been made from the memo we had all seen previously - buried under copious verbiage to cover liberal guilt was this message: "Please DO NOT smell"

Indian cooking comes with its set of challenges. Fry onions, singe some masala, roast some garlic - and you've pretty much created an aroma issue in your house. And as anyone who cooks can tell you, getting that stuff out of your house is hard. Especially if its 30F outside. Worse yet, desi aromas love fabrics! They love engulfing them, settling in them - I think there might be some molecular level bonding going on.

I remember buying rotis from a friendly neighborhood gujjuben a few years ago. I had fine tuned the entire routine - from entering the house, asking about the family, grabbing the rotis and handing over the cash - to under 3 minutes. And still I would have to dump my clothes in the laundry after I got home and shampoo furiously the next day.

Indian food aromas are like Lindsay Lohan: fast and clingy.

So what is a desi to do? I've seen people exercise a number of options.

Stop Cooking! Although you'd think this isn't a realistic option, some people actually do use it. Snooty cowards! Let's ignore them and carry on.

Bake Cookies After! This is not a good option. Cookies vs Indian Food is basically a no-contest. There is no cookie on earth that can stand up to Indian cooking. Often people will have to bake dozens of cookies just to counter the rassam they just made. These cookies, when consumed later, create their own set of issues - but those are peripheral to this post.

Use an Air Freshener! Another option used frantically by many desis but largely ineffective. Air Freshener vs Indian Food is another no-contest. Plus you pump the air in your home full of all kinds of chemicals. Pretty soon even the roaches start coughing.

Invest in a good vent! This is a reasonably sensible option, probably mostly because I've settled on it. We have two types of vents in our house. One 3000 cfm Vent Hood Fan that spits the air out of the house via a duct. And a Whole House Fan that does reasonably well in terms of clearing the air from the entire house in under 15 minutes.

25 comments:

Fan-e-Aspi said...

Possible Solutions to save Drywalls and everything smelly after Desi Cooking.

Boil 2 Glasses of Vinegar after cooking / once every 2 weeks and it will clean the smell.
Alternately one can also boild some ornage peel / with some Cinnamon on the stove.

Aspi has many dimentions besides music !

Enjoyable post

meena said...

good post Aspi, had to be said

..but what you are saying is that if you are a cooking-desi living in an apartment you are screwed :0
You can tell as soon as you step into the building lobby if a desi lives there and dive into the corridors at your own peril.

although I find that most desis forget simple precautions like -take of your winter coats before you wander into the kitchen, cook in your old clothes and change as soon as cooking is done before you step out...
Once I remember I accepted an invitation to lunch at a colleague's who lived close by work and whose wife was kind enough to cook. when I came back I had to take the afternoon off - couldnt stand how I smelled :)

Anonymous said...

This could be a sensitive topic, but let me relate the story anyway. Have you ever tried riding in NYC subway Aspi, in winters or summers. Cramped in there like onions stuffed in a bag, you smell, idli/sambhar. Early in the morning, when you would like to smell coffee, your entire lunch is now on you. The bad part, you did shower, but now when you get to the office everyone will smell your spices too. I agree, the Indian food and molecules around here have a affinity, they never seem to leave you. When we bought the house, the biggest investment in the house was a restaurant style vent. It is 'on' the complete 30 mins I cook, even though it kills your ears and the kids close the doors of their rooms. It still works. Something else that may help is closing the doors of all the rooms, the vent has easier time sucking the air out of the hallways ...In India, like they use to have servants quarters in the back or unattached to the house, maybe here we should have our kitchens that way ??? wonder if we harm the green zone??

Aspi said...

Boil vinegar, eh? It will be tried as soon as I can get some cheap vinegar in the house (Parsi people have a long history with vinegar so I tend to buy the good stuff).

meena, lol to the desi lobby situation. I know exactly what you mean.

Anon, I agree - there has to be a kitchen arrangement in a house layout that suits people who want to cook furiously in their house. I haven't seen too many - but I've fantasized about having a kitchen that can be completely sealed from the rest of the house and aired out independently.

Anonymous said...

haha..kitchen sealed from the rest of the house. It might actually be cool, all glass enclosed, you can see but you can't smell ahhhh what a kitchen. You think we may need some special glass so that it does not start to seep out the so called aroma or maybe goes yellow from the cooking, neat idea haa, i think it could sell!!!

Anonymous said...

Trust me Aspi - Vinegar has been tried and the whole house became fresh , even the vents were effected.

Anonymous said...

and you can wash your hair in vinger too, i mean for people who have long hair, it is a great conditioner, and also works on clothes, just put some in with your laundry. Then life will be all same, feel and smell like sour lemons...

Aspi said...

Wah kya tip hai. One of my own - beer is a great conditioner too. Notice how cool the hair on men look the day after a beer bash?

Anonymous said...

I third the vinegar recommendaton. Saved us during winters in Purdue, close enough to you that the variables were the same! Store-brand white vinegar is cheap enough to fit on a desi grad student's budget - boil it on the stovetop, boil some in the microwave...works a charm! We still use it, though we live in a city where we can open windows even in winter, and we have no carpets. Whole house vent, kitchen hood vented to the outside, closing off bedroom doors etc. are also done, quite religiously!

We used to use it even in India, in hostel days, when the dhobi didn't turn up as promised and clothes needed to be reused - spritzing white vinegar on smelly spots (check for color fastness first!) really freshens up clothes.

Bitterlemons

Lin said...

The separate kitchen,

I know of some houses like that. When the Indians have the house built, some of them if they can try to have two kitches. One in the main place. Then another one, still connected to the house but sort of closed off and at edge of house.

The other type is with some Mallu houses I've been to in New York, it's not like a totally separate kitchen. But more like a second kitchen. It's been so long. I don't know how to explain it.

Anonymous said...

kya hai na Aspi, ma tu cheap hu, so I use vinegar. But, yes you can upgrade to beer, champagne.. as you please and as your wallet pleases. btw, beer and champagne also work in helping forget the aroma in the house!!

Aspi said...

Hey someone once told me about how in some (ethnicity withheld) neighborhoods people have converted their garage into a kitchen. They use their regular kitchen for like serving. But their garage is all set up with a fridge, stove everything.

Yes, they park their cars outside.

j said...

I am the "Stop cooking" type :) Also think a lot of Indian cooks (specially the student kind who are learning to cook) in the US tend to add spices willy-nilly. For eg: they will add coriander powder, cumin powder and garam masala to pretty much everything. Always add extra dosage of Rasam and Sambhar powder.

We have all had stories of rooms or cubes that you do not visit after lunch. In defense of Indians though, they are not the only once. As an RA shared space with oriental students and could not sit in the office when they were heating their food in the microwave.

Anonymous said...

oh yes, J, I remember that fish in microwave, what a stinkoma.. And, Aspi I guess those people don't live in the East, with 5" of snow in spring I am sure they will reverse their cooking methods!

Aspi said...

j, quite true, desis aren't the only ones - and masala isn't always the culprit. Most meats on a BBQ are hard to get rid of in terms of aroma. So is bacon in a pan.

Speaking of which - the worst smell I've encountered in a large closed space was an overnighted burrito in the garbage. I parked myself in my boss' office a few corridors away for the entire day.

Anonymous said...

whats up on june3th.com ???

Anonymous said...

hi Aspi, ek write-up kar na American idol par, apna guju bhai hai, see if you can do an exclusive drift interview with Anoop desai... not entertaining for your taste???you can always do the interview with champagne, just bring your own rule applies.

Lin said...

I think it may be hard to do with an A.I. contestant while he is still on the show (is he?). Their media output is sure to be controlled by the A.I. team while they are on there.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Anoop Desai is still on the show. Does the media control the contestants interviews? Aspi would know better..what say Aspiji.

Aspi said...

Yes, the production team/channel has all kinds of restrictions on contestants in the show. (Great point Lin).

In fact, surprise surprise, I am also running into that with Bollywood actors. All they can do these days is confirm or deny if they are working on a film. Then I have to wait for the media junket to start before I can talk to them.

Anonymous said...

Yeh but Aspi, I am sure there are ways around that. I mean legitimate ways around that kind of stuff. I would have thought most of these artist Bollywood or Hollywood would like positive publicity..

Aspi said...

I can't think of any legit workaround. What this amounts to essentially is a contractual gag order. And no artist in their right minds will risk it to make any journalist happy - forget a sidey blogger like me :).

Heard about the Wolverine leak, did you?:)

Similar leak happened with The Hulk last year. Universal came out and said the leak cost them $100m.

Anonymous said...

I know I have heard, but i didn't think that would stand up to the upcoming artist. I guess with the economy being the way it is, they must really make sure their money is tied in. Else, with the # of contestants on a AI its a lot of work to just make sure they are not breaking any contract even before they are famous or anywhere close to being famous...

Aspi said...

AI probably does it - I once read an article about The Bachelor where they mentioned how they did it for the contestants. And by the time you get to the finals - which is like the guy and two gals I think - you are virtually sequestered in a hotel room.

And funnily enough, for every eliminated contestant, they can stay in a fully paid hotel for a day and have access to a therapist.

Anonymous said...

well yeah, have you really seen bachelor, I would want a therapist for just watching their show!!!