Monday, 31 August 2009

Shamelessly copied: In/Out

I love fashion columns that are of the “up/down” “in/out” variety – of which The Guardian’s The Measure is my favourite. Pithy, fickle and fun. Though mine, predictably, isn’t quite as pithy!


The Return of Bartimaeus

A week on Monday (fingers crossed). Not sure I’ve ever looked forward to anything as much. Now, what to wear…


The season of the chicest clothes, nicest food and X Factor. Oh, and mellow fruitfulness etc.

Embellished accessories

Feathered hairbands, jewelled flats, pearls and zipped corsages. Perfect for enriching a plain outfit.

Oreo Chocolate Cream cookies

I’m addicted to these. Like Bourbon creams, but darker and saltier. And way too moreish as a result.

Woolly tights

They’re back in the shops! (Though not quite weather for them yet)… These stop my winters as a dress-wearer from being miserable (in fact they make mine cosy and snug, indeed, smug, whilst I watch others drag trouserhems through puddles and sleet). I collect coloured ones wherever I find them, and have, so far, charcoal, red, pink, mauve and several shades of purple. What colours will I add this year, I wonder?


British summertime

And a disappointment every year, it seems. Luckily I refrained from too many sundress purchases this year!

Salads for lunch

Bring on the homemade soups and stews.


Soggy post-downpour feet are no fun.

Embellished dresses

Lovely dresses cheapened by an excess of studs, cheap diamantes, ruffles and hitched hems (sometimes all on the same item!). Less is more (accessories!)

X Factor Auditions

I don’t like the circus style format, and am bored already of the freak-freak-freak-ASBO-diamond-freak-freak-freak-ASBO-diamond rigmarole. Bring on the live shows!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The One-Eyed Cat Company

Apart from starting a blog, one of my other "When I've finished the PhD" resolutions was to start drawing and painting again. I did A-level Art, and was very much torn between doing English at uni and going to art school. Obviously I chose the former, and drawing became a hobby instead that I kept up during my undergrad, but it has been much neglected since.

This was my first foray back into drawing earlier this year, a quick doodle of my sister's one-eyed cat Molly, who likes to poke her head round corners in a most endearing way. I had this caption in my mind when I was drawing, and thought it might make a sweet card.

I've found a good incentive to get me drawing again has been card-making, in part influenced by my friend Sara who makes beautifully handdrawn cards, and my colleague Sue, an avid craft-based cardmaker. So far I've made two for my colleague, of her cat, Hunter. These were quick pencil sketches, really, coloured with water soluble wax pencils, the latter of which I finished yesterday. I loved doing his tiger stripes!

I'd like to do a series of cat cards, I think, perhaps line drawings I could reproduce and then colour individually, to raise money for Cats Protection. In tribute to our optically challenged feline friends (both my sister's cats are missing an eye) I envisage my little philanthropic venture to be titled The One-Eyed Cat Company.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Food, food, glorious food. (Or: baath, baath, moja moja baath).

Last week there was a ripple of excitement amongst foodie-Bangladeshis I know (i.e. most of them), for Bangladesh was on tv, not on a news special about floods, poverty or climate change, but purely from a culinary perspective, as the final destination on Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey (I was puzzled by Bangladesh and Sri Lanka’s inclusions as part of the Far East, but whilst the moniker might be geographically odd, I can see the connections between Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan food with Malaysian and Thai more clearly than Lahori/North Indian cuisine, which is so much richer, heavier and more meat-based).

Now I felt quite smug about this – I’ve always thought that given Bangladeshi food revolves mostly around fish, this’d be the perfect place for Rick Stein to go. I in fact had visualised (and as is my daydreaming wont, mentally sold) a series featuring Stein travelling around BD sampling its different regional cuisines. So this wasn’t quite a series, but an hour was more than I had ever imagined would be dedicated to proper deshi food on the Beeb.

I found the episode to be a mixture of things: informative, amusing (hilarious Steinisms such as “colonial tea plantations had their own schools and hospitals, there really wasn’t any reason for workers to leave” but also the ridiculously over-posh pretensions of a Bengali couple) but mostly evocative and moving. I’ve not been to Bangladesh in almost two years now, and my heart ached for Dhaka whilst watching.

As Stein observes, whilst 90% of Indian restaurants in the UK are owned by Sylheti Bangladeshis, the food you get in them is usually a world away from authentic deshi dishes. Everyone knows of the chicken tikka masala, but even the rogan joshes and baltis of the restaurant trade lean much more towards Lahori cooking and aren’t things we as Bengalis would eat at home. Fish is definitely a major feature – Bangladesh is the world’s largest delta, and criss-crossed by rivers, so this makes sense, and Stein made curries using rui and hilsa, our two most prized of fishes. I’d also have liked a mention of pithas – sweet and savoury cakes made with riceflour, of which there are hundreds of regional varieties (some of which are really ornately decorated). – Actually it is an ambition of mine to do an anthropological sideproject titled “The Pithas of Bangladesh” in which I’d travel around Bangladesh sampling said cakes and recording recipes and stories. It’d be tough, and I’d probably get diabetes, but such sacrifices must be made for the cultural good...

Anyway, it’s still on iPlayer until Thursday, so please do watch it for yourselves. It made me glow with pride and sob with homesickness. The only other disappointing omission, for me, was the absence of a mention of shutki, which is sun-dried fish (and of which there are many different varieties), a mainstay of Bangladeshi cooking.* It is pungent and smoky (somewhat akin to Thai fish sauce in taste and scent), used sparingly or in chunks in curries, or pounded with garlic and onions to a paste and eaten with plain rice. I’m totally addicted to the stuff – but it is an acquired taste (my sister and brother, for example, can’t stand it). This is a curry my mum cooked last week, with the freshest, sweetest fine green beans (on the right of the plate; a simple spinach bhaji is on the left). Yum. I’m hungry now!

*I was amused by an astute entry on a Facebook note titled “You know you’re Bangladeshi when…” which said “when you or a relative have tried to smuggle shutki through customs in your hand luggage.” Of course, neither I, nor any of my family, have ever done this – we dry our own in the blistering Surrey sun ;)

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Winter pretty

Apologies for the previous rant, and torturing your eyeballs with hideous illustrations. Now for some more aesthetically pleasing images of some of my favourite autumn/winter catwalk pieces. My interest in high fashion has only arisen quite recently (until now I've always been quite petulant about it: I can't afford it, so am not interested, pout.) But I've found myself increasingly drawn to it - thanks in part to the Guardian's excellent coverage of shows and my own increasingly expensive (or at least, particular) tastes. The colour palettes are much more imaginative, and if viewed with an open mind, collections can provide rich pickings in terms of inspiration.

A collection that endures in my memory is Alexander McQueen's AW08 collection, which perfectly encapsulates one idea of wintryness for me. A magical, icy, Hans Christian Andersen-esque wintryness, of Russian princesses, the fragility of icicles, and biting cold. This beauty of collection still leaves me a little short of breath. Whilst recreating this on a high street budget is obviously impossible, I take from it, delicacy, sumptuous fabrics and textures (lace, velvet and silk), winter white, red and black.

I also loved Alberta Feretti's offerings last year - in particular, her combination of jewel tones, which are my favourite colours. This combination of plum and burnt orange makes me think of golden autumn days and crunching leaves underfoot. I plan to recreate the colour combination with a plum dress with burnt orange red coral beads.

Moving to AW09, Lanvin's collection has been referenced in many mags as the ladylike alternative to the 80s powerdressing trend, ubiquitous on the 09 catwalks. And I'm glad of it: for me, '40s styles seem to work best in winter, cheerful '50s in summer. Waisted shifts, gloves and hairbands are all winter favourites of mine.

And finally, to my favourite AW09 collection, by Valentino. Even though the great man is no longer at the helm, this was a gorgeous collection. I particularly liked the accents of dark cherry red with black, a favourite combination of mine (I think the particular shade of red is important), the teal dress paired with cherry red shoes, and teal/black/cherry red combined with leopard print. Just fabulous, and fantastic inspiration for the coming season.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Everything is Ugly

A little melodramatic, perhaps, but that's how I'm generally feeling about fashion right now. The autumn/winter offerings are starting to appear on the high street (typical, that I start composing this post when its rainy and autumnal, only for it to hot up and seem premature), and in general I'm really not liking what I see. I have always hated the 80s with a passion - and it seems I'm living though Groundhog Decade, as the 80s have been recycled at least four times in fashion within very recent memory. Just when you think that no aspect of the decade remains unresurrected, along come shoulder pads (I remember cutting them out of salwaar kameez despite my mum's protests, with a grimly determined expression when I was 9! I might have to get those scissors out again this season...) In particular, most of the prints I've been coming across are eye-wateringly brash, or just plain ugly (and I love a pretty, unusual and sympathetically coloured, print so this really makes me wince).

I don’t do tough, edgy or power-dressing. I do pretty, quirky, and feminine. I suppose if you have a very distinct style (and I do) then some seasons may chime very well with it, and others, not so much. I have a feeling that for me there'll be slim pickings this autumn/winter. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing, given the mountains of clothes I possess and my general aim to be much more discerning with my purchases, and more inventive with the things I already have.

Until recently I've always considered myself a high-summer person, happiest in vivid colours and floaty summer dresses and sandals. But I was a goth as a teen, so I also love the darkest, deepest shades, as well as black: plum, aubergine, forest green, charcoal and indigo. I love thick tights, boots and the smug, happy feeling you get when trudging through rain in decent boots (and my winter boots are burgundy - I love them so much). Summer brights just don't get much of a look-in the UK, and ultra-vivid colours never seem to fit anyway: in fact, they leave me wistful for another climate and landscape entirely.

Over the next few of posts, I'll aim (really in order to organise my own mind, more than anything else more authoritative!) to give my take on the approaching autumn/winter - starting off with some of the catwalk creations (not necessarily just 09) that have captured my imagination, and a couple of posts on ideas/looks/themes I’ve been mulling over.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Love Aaj Kal

Last night I went to see the Bollywood movie Love Aaj Kal with my mum. We don't often go to see Hindi films in the cinema (the release periods are quite limited round our way, and we usually miss the ones we want to see) so it was a bit of a treat for Amu and I.

I'd previously seen two songs from the film on Zee Music (I usually scan the Hindi music channels while having my breakfast in the morning before work). One was a lovely, simple ballad and featured Saif looking rather fetching in a turban, and a captivating girl dressed very simply in a cotton salwaar kameez. The other was the kind of Hindi pop I really can't abide - loud, Punjabi-dance-based and without any kind of melody to my ears (how old do I sound!) with Saif and Deepika waggling about wearing the trashy, lurid and overembellished stuff that does the rounds as contemporary fashion in Hindi movies (yuck. I don't know who likes, let alone wears, this stuff in real life!). The contrast between the two got me intrigued and a recommendation from Bartimaeus in Bom sealed the deal.

And the contrast is central to the plot of the film, which compares an old fashioned love story set in the 60s, with a modern day love affair. It worked well as a premise, and crucially both love stories had enough charm to keep an audience emotionally engaged. The cynic in me thinks it is also perfectly conceived as a "family" movie with two parts to appeal to two different generations - and sure enough, I wasn't the only one there with her Amu.

I think there wasn't quite enough of the what I found to be the more beguiling of two romances, the 1960s one, and a little too much on the jet-setting and the casual nature of modern love, but it was amusing, well observed, and quite moving at points. Saif really is one of the best actors in Bollywood today, and played his double-role very well. It's not as charming as Jab We Met (one of my very favourite modern Hindi films) but it's good, and to be honest, convincing Hindi romances don't come around all that often, so I think it's worth catching.

Bartimaeus informed me that there was a bit of a surprise to the casting. I watched the whole thing bemused by this bit of information, and couldn't grasp what he might have been talking about. He let me into the secret today, and it is indeed a surprise. More and more international actresses are appearing in Bollywood, but usually they are cast very prominently as the "non-Indian" girlfriend (who is usually ditched right at the end for the good Indian girl - or is that me being jaded? Well this is indeed poor Swiss Jo's fate in Love Aaj Kal too, so I think there is some truth to it.) But the surprise here is that the role of the innocent, lovely Harleen, Saif's 1960s love, is played by a Brazilian model. Very convincingly too, I might add - I really had no idea she wasn't Indian! She doesn't have much dialogue, and that was dubbed but I think she coped with the dancing a heck of a lot better than some actresses in Bollywood today (Katrina, I'm talking about you, and your flailing limbs).

What is now particularly amusing, is my mum's comments after the film that Indian actresses nowadays are unnaturally tall and thin, and her hypothesis that they are injected with growth hormones to be so from a young age. Tee hee. I was also struck this morning by a comment I read by the director, who claims the role of Harleen could not have been played by an urbanised Indian actress:

Even when Harleen became visible in the trailers she remained inaccessible to the public. Imtiaz says, “Why a Brazilian girl to play an old-fashioned Punjabi girl? Well, I was auditioning girls from all over the country to play the Punjabi girl opposite the Sikh Saif. I couldn’t find the right girl to play the 1965 ki gali mein rehne wali ladki, purane zamane ki.”
[...] Significantly Giselle understood the old-world values of her small-town character better than an urban Indian actress would have. Says Imtiaz, “The small-town mentality in every part of the world is similar.” Times of India

I'm not sure if this is true, - rather it seems to be a hasty defence of a quirky bit of a casting. But it's still an interesting statement on the nature of the "modern" Indian woman (have we become so "Westernised" that we can really not do "demure" anymore? Moreover, should we even want to?)

I'm also bemused by the fact that Giselle Monteiro's name was left off the trailers and credits (it isn't even on Whilst Denise Richards's role in Kambakkht Ishq has been prominently advertised as a draw for the film, and Katrina Kaif, who is half-Indian and from Hawaii/England, is one of India's hottest actresses right now, it seems that the film's producers felt that India's not quite ready for a non-Indian actress playing an Indian role. Which makes me wonder exactly what kind of roles ex-Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger is being offered, on the back of Jai Ho...

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

A Pocketful of Wry

No doubt these posts will die down a little as the novelty wears off (and when, The Boy, who shall henceforth be known here as Bartimaeus , returns from his summer in Bombay). But for now, I shall continue to be prolific.

Due to a glut of familial birthdays and my general resolution to Not Buy Stuff and Save, few parcels have been arriving for me of late. And I do love to receive parcels. So it was a particular joy to receive one today, all the more enjoyable for having cost me all of £6 for a pretty dress I've been after for a while (inspired by one of my favourite bloggers, The Clothes Horse, wearing it so well here). Good things come to those who lurk on Ebay, I suppose. How very different it looks on me, no?!

Excuse the absence of shoes, or an "outfit" per se. I'm thinking of bronze/gold flats, and a black cardigan because the print, colours and shape really say enough on me. Perhaps with red accents, because The Clothes Horse's shoes do look fetching with it. I am really loving the tulip shape at the moment - Bartimaeus and others have commented that it is a good shape for me, and I agree. And I did a little dance when I discovered that this dress also has pockets.

Ah pockets. Whilst I often find Jess Cartner-Morley's contributions to the Guardian's fashion pages uninspiring, she's bang on the money with her hymn to pocketed dresses. I love them, and I've been swayed to buy a dress simply when I've discovered it had them. Like Jess, I can't exactly pinpoint why, given said pockets often do not have any practical purpose. But a pocketed dress feels different. Whilst a dress (especially a structured affair like this purchase) can seem quite formal, to me, pockets add a loucheness to proceedings. Perhaps even a trouseriness? (And given I never wear them, that is as trousered as I get!) I imagine Katharine Hepburn would've appreciated pockets on dresses. Being an enterprising kinda gal, she may have even insisted upon them. If I had a wardrobe mistress to hand, I know I would.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Black Forest Gateau - Remixed

Let me start as I mean to go on. With cake:

I made this on Sunday for my sister's birthday. She’s a cherry/chocolate fiend and I usually make her Nigella’s delicious chocolate-cherry cupcakes for her birthday, but we all fancied a change this year. This is a “Chocolate Dipped Cherry Cake,” and features a chocolate chip sponge and a white chocolate and fresh cherry filling and topping. I found the recipe here:

I’ve amended it a little. My version features a vanilla sponge heavy on grated and chopped dark chocolate because I think milk is too sweet for baking. I’ve also replaced 20g of sugar and the what I considered an odd addition of mashed banana with 100g of fresh halved and stone cherries and 40g of cherry jam (I'd add more fresh cherries I think if I made it again, they were a delicious addition). It turned out rather well I think (I made it on Sunday and it was all gone by Monday evening, and it was enormous!)

In other news, I had a fantastic charity-shop book haul today. Unlike my great friend Geeky Weirdo Chick (see blog), whose awesome charity shop fashion finds I remain in deep awe of, I have no luck on the secondhand clothes front. Sometimes Ebay, when I'm looking for a specific item, but not the happened-upon-find. I'm not sure why. Books, on the other hand, I'm very good at sourcing secondhand. So today I have purchased, for the grand sum of £5.50:

The End of the Peace Process, Edward W. Said

Said's work was formative for me during my undergrad years. My favourite text of his is After the Last Sky, which is a beautiful work of prose-poetry and photographs on Palestine. But I also love his political writing, so I'm pleased to have found this collection.

The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai

I've been meaning to read this for some time! I'm a sucker for novels set in South Asia (I've just finished Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace which was stunning, and I'm currently reading Indra Sinha's Animal's People).

Abhorsen, Garth Nix

I'm aware this is the third of a trilogy but I've already read them, and am sure I'll come by the other two in time (or via Amazon Marketplace...)

I recommend the trilogy thoroughly to fans of fantasy - I prefer it to the Keys of the Kingdom series, and I'll confess it scared me silly on more than one occasion!

Off to watch Ugly Betty now!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Hello there, and welcome.

I’ve been contemplating starting this for some time. In fact, it was on a list I compiled in the depths of writing-up-angst, of things I planned to do once I’d finished my PhD. That has been done and dusted for some time (March!) and I do like to tick boxes off lists, so voila. The Postcolonial Rabbit. (Tick!)

I’ve envisioned this as a space for my odd ramblings, in particular, about my unlikely set of interests, which include: postcolonial literature and theory (the topic of my PhD), children’s fantasy fiction, contemporary painting and drawing, all things Bengali, craft, fashion, makeup, cats, Bollywood, baking, books, and indie and pop music. But do not fear: it’ll be heavy on the light fun stuff, and light on the heavy, so please do stick around.

A little bit about me (to begin with), then. I’ve recently turned 30, I live in the Sarrf, and I’ve just completed a D. Phil. in English Literature, specialising in Bengali nationalist literature in East Pakistan/Bangladesh from 1947-1971 (so not really “English” at all – go figure). I’m about to start a postdoctoral position in October, which I’m very excited about. It’s a cool project, and I’m very happy to be part of it, but more of that later. To make up for being a ridiculous, Hermione-type swot, though, I have a deep attachment to all kinds of pop culture. Including the aforementioned Harry Potter, Girls Aloud and Bollywood films. And X-Factor. Oh yes. I also have a serious fixation on clothes, and food, both of which will feature here in ample quantities. I love to draw, cook and be creative, and my favourite thing in the world to do is spend time with my beloved friends and family. I've recently embarked on a heady Bollywood-style love affair with someone who has been a friend for many years, which is making me happier than I've ever dreamed possible.

Anyway, I hope this is going to be a gentle entertainment, a tad eccentric and occasionally stimulating. Somewhat like the teacup ride, which is the only one in theme parks I can actually go on, wuss that I am. (I also like that it features teacups, because I’m very fond of tea.) I'm also fond of nattering endlessly, as you can probably already tell!