don’t ask then – by Renuka Mendis

don’t
breathe down my neck
instead
sit here
first
hold my hand
bring me tea and rose water

ask
where it hurts
which part of heart
which knuckle
at which street fight buckled
if it bled
and always bring me tea
and rose water
sit here
first

then
look at the trees
you’ll hear the birds
the sky will smile
and i will spill
everything i held
corked up
in a musty old bottle.

Renuka Mendis – July 4, 2015, Toronto

Sincy’s Tap at 52′

At many levels the connection with football is emotional. Consider the Wembley. English football before it went down the tubes. Makes one sentimental. I very nearly flew to London for the weekend to get back in time for Monday when the English women played Germany at the Wembley to a record attendance of 45,619 on November 23, 2014; as a precursor to the Women’s World Cup 2015 (WWC15). Alas, reality intervened and I never got there. Still some things remain in our football memory if you’ve lived long enough and remember. English football and the Wembley. Icons. Some half dead. But the English women have revived these symbols with a new spirit and sincerity this WWC15. And thinking of when they meet Canada’s women on Saturday other emotions surface.

Unlike England where football runs deep, Canada as I’ve said before will never fully embrace football leave alone touch it with a barge pole; not even if we win this tournament though that is a long ball. But put that aside for a day or four. Let us look at the here the now. The Canadian team and coach Herdman have got quite the bashing in the papers. Cathal Kelly (see Link below) rightly opined that Sinclair, Mathesan et al have had their last hurrah and why they needed to make way for others. True that. One factor justifying the bashing is the age of the seniors. Sinclair is 32. Well beyond prime time for footballers. Old. Matheson’s long injury and Sincy’s lack of strikes, leave alone goals except the one at expense of truth in China v Canada. So when Switzerland played Canada at knock out stages last Sunday most expected Canada to lose for the same reasons they were getting bashed in the press. It all seemed so rational.

I’ve always kept a safe distance from the Canada team and its seasonal fans. Flavour of the month fandom is not my thing. Especially when hardworking women doing double triple duty from poor countries do more with far less despite scoreless ends. It was also a nice bit of fun bashing Canada, a non-football nation. Always get a kick out of that. It’s ok. You can go har dee ha. I went along on that bus for the ride. At worst I was being a jerk and at best it gives my opinions some objectivity.

Fact is as we bashed and salivated wishing a banishment we forgot that women are survivors. They cook something up with the little they’ve got. The good, the not so good, the old and the wily. 0-0 at half-time and an energetic Swiss side on the prowl it looked like Canada’s goose was cooked. I just wanted it to be over once and for all and put an end to press-bashings not to mention the boring seasonal fandoms. I’d given up on Canada in more ways than football. But then women as women do cobble something together. Somehow. That’s nothing revolutionary. It is what women do.

It was not Rhian Wilkinson’s cross into the box which won the match. It was that old wily Sincy’s sweet little tap to Belanger at 52’; that wily tricky tap pulled out of the air like a rabbit out of an invisible hat that birthed that goal. And we were 1-0 and into the quarter finals and I ain’t gonna let the great saves made by Erin McLeod take that away from old Sincy. A magic tap that fed my emotions for a team I’d kept at arm’s length.

Which brings us back to England. England plays Canada on Saturday in Vancouver in the quarter finals. The winner advances to the semis. I will be cheering for England. The land of Shakespeare, cricket and the Wembley and other twisted and bitter sweet emotional attachments. But a part of my heart will still owe a debt of gratitude to Sincy for that wily tap on the ball placing Canada in the quarters. A magic spark that lit up this tournament for a troubled lopsided team in a sterile and cold cold country. A moment of fire which I will remember forever. Thank you Sincy. One day someone will put that moment in a statute of you in bronze. I know we will. We aren’t that cold.

Renuka Mendis
June 26, 2015

With thanks to Mr. Richard Farley, @richardfarley.

Cathal Kelly: In The Globe and Mail, June 19, 2015 – Canada owes a lot to Christine Sinclair, but she isn’t the key to this tournament. Link: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/soccer/canada-owes-a-lot-to-christine-sinclair-but-she-isnt-the-key-to-this-tournament/article25042365/

reality sniffs

came home knackered .. my body like a few trains had run over it…my posture a broken tree, having done groceries in the humid rain. fortunately the dregs from last week’s soup filled a small bowl to take to bed with saveur magazine at six in the evening … and its sentences like tiny ants eat away at what i see and they swallow whole sentience like a python, to afternoon/evening sleep like oxygen for fire.

up at 9.30p.m. to notice a roomful of piles of old clothes who I have just dropped over days on end rushing out in the morning like a lemming to fall into subway. and here i am wide awake and widely dopey. at lose ends with piles of dishes to put away and wash and papers to read and leave unread and slough off the week and it’s annoyances.

and those little people in bottles that hide neglected in the cupboard keep calling me like atavistic friends. i look and see my greek oregano jar is not closed properly ..closed ajar literally. worried for all the perfume of barren greek mountain taste lost I tighten it right guarding it from taste poverty and then another bottle calls out crying to me asking me to reach for it. like a little child.

and i take its familiar round shape in my palm and hold it tight. grab the cover with my left hand and open it. to sniff perungkayang. i breathe deep for the first time in weeks and my heart. bursts. and bjork turns up on see bee sea.

and slowly i feel human again in dribs and drabs. yes. bjork, dishes, musty clothes and perungkayang. there’s nothing else. i am home for a few days.

– renu on a late late may night.

Sport is actually about being idealistic … – Subash Jayaraman

Sport is actually about being idealistic. … You have to have a very long vision. You can’t think about four year cycles. – Subash Jayaraman

When December turned to the Bottle Month I wanted to blog about the Bottle Month. But no. Instead I stayed up nights watching New Zealand and Sri Lanka play ODI’s and test cricket and went to bed at dawn when the paper arrived at my door. Cricket. The whole works. Lost count of how many. This went on into February it felt like and then more cricket. You know the one. Pool stages. Forty-two matches. Fourteen cities in two countries, Australia and New Zealand and teams and fans crossing the sea; often as Russel Arnold cooed in your ear commentating. All was well in cricket heaven and even better on earth while most of North America slept. For those of us sinners across time zones, living in two time zones with the price for heaven being paid in lost sleep, another blog post postponed and before I knew it the pool stages of the cricket world cup have now come to an end. Alas I’ve yet to write the post about watching cricket with strangers in the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto two world cups ago. Did not get to that either. How to? Not when you spend your nights watching even more cricket. Delighted by minnows and associate teams and slowly falling in love with them. Well may be not slowly. Falling in love fast. Then the news the ordinary cricket world woke up to that in 2019 the CWC will have only ten teams and not fourteen. Essentially excluding associate nations.

Afghanistan is one of them. With Shapoor Zadran and his Shohaib Akhtar hair and airplane simulations which never failed to delight. The Irish are also associates, standing up to South Africa and the other excellent associate being the Scottish team with the splendid bat of Koetze. The journeymen from UAE without UAE passports and their day jobs the last of the associates this time around. And the lad from Ambalangoda – Guruge — a good bowler from Sri Lanka working in the UAE and thus playing for UAE.

The pool stages of this world cup have been a celebration of outsiders and second class citizens of the cricket world. The ICC’s inbred royalty play each other in repetitious games and tournaments over and over, over after over through the years until we get treated to the outsiders every four years or so. Yes granted in 2011 Canada and Kenya were awful embarrassments. But it was a laugh. Then we forget about them because the rest of the time the ICC ignores them along with the Afghanistans and Irelands in cricket. They rarely get to play the big, sorry, top teams. I loved Afghanistan so much and knowing the limits of the Sri Lankan team without Murali even fantasized an Afghan win over the Sri Lankans and guess what; that nearly happened. Sri Lanka got the scare of their lives. Sri Lanka won that game only by a hair’s breadth. What does this say about the associate teams that are hidden away from public view the rest of the time and the ICC cricketing hierarchy? Those not seen on TV and Internet cricket channels which are dominated by the big player nations.

Without the associates the pool stages of CWC15 would’ve been dull as ditch water. But instead they thrilled and their joy was infectious. They endeared and endured. They stood up to the big guns as the whole world laughed at England. And most of all they had so much fun and so did we watching them and cheering them on. Ireland has a good administrative structure; as does Afghanistan with a lot of support from Pakistan. But UAE is pretty well fly by night in that they have day jobs. And Scotland cricket is also well established. Thus these teams rose to the top and in a way it is UAE who are the heroes of the associates at CWC15 for having come this far with very little support. Then ordinary layperson like you and I heard that ICC royalty had cut back the teams to a mere ten for CWC19. No associates. They only want the big-timers. You know the big timers like England and even Zimbabwe. And the cricket world, no not the ICC, but the real cricket world who watch and love aren’t pleased one bit. We fear CWC19 with ten teams will be a big yawn. A petition is circulating to change this so associates get to play.

Much has been said about this injustice since this world cup started; not just to the teams but to the spectators; but most of all to cricket and its growth and the diversity of its players and the diversity of how it is played. According to Subash Jayaraman, a panelist in this podcast, ICC associate nations are being restricted by full test playing nations (such as England who no longer can play cricket for toffee) at the top of the ICC hierarchy. The ICC also takes back most of the money the ICC makes which gets redistributed back amongst the top teams and only about one eighth of the budget goes to the associates. The ICC is doing very little about developing the game and spreading cricket amongst the associates and in more countries; some of them already cricket playing nations.

The panelist/s also discuss Nepal, Papua New Guinea, for example and how they can do with a little or a lot of help from their big brother neighbours India and Australia. Unlike the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan where Pakistan nurtures and supports the Afghan team Australia nor India do zilch for their cricket loving neighbours who could do with a little help. And the other question to ask is if it is fair to leave it to the magnanimity of one ICC cricket team to help another when development and nurturing of cricket amongst minor cricketing nations ought to be inbuilt into the ICC’s structure and governance.

In this timely, informative, engaging and considered podcast by The Guardian Subash Jayaraman says that the ICC does not want more member countries with full member status because the top cricket nations don’t want to share more voting powers for fear that more votes will bring chaos; whatever chaos means. This is unjust and it is wrong for cricket when the world needs to see more Afghanistans. Nepal and Papua New Guinea, and Hong Kong to name a few. The more the merrier provided they strive for a good game. It is better for the world.

In the last segment the panel discusses the possible outcomes at the Quarter final knock off stages. A Sri Lanka win is not impossible if Sri Lanka wins the toss and bats first. Pakistan could possibly beat Australia because Pakistan is now in good form. Can Bangladesh beat India? Well not as easily as even a Gayle-less West Indies could beat New Zealand.

So while you fret and worry in the approximately sixteen or so hours before the first Quarter Final match between Sri Lanka and South Africa it is essential that we understand fully how and what stands in the way of associate nations that play well being seen in the world cricket arena. This is an excellent, considered chat that should be crucial knowledge for every cricket lover, cricket fanatic and cricket tragic at this stage of the tournament.

And then there is that problem of cricket broadcasters and their meddling in matches and the very game and how and where it is played. We all ought to be up in arms or be after the ICC with our bats raised. And you still have a few hours to mull over the slightly flippant but interesting precursor to the quarters. And as Subash Jayaraman says – Anything is possible.

Listen.

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/audio/2015/mar/16/cricket-world-cup-podcast-episode-five

silver street

why bother to shine
like the glistening moon
a silver river
this asphalt street
for only the desolate
to see

the inky night
paints the houses black
window panes dark handkerchiefs
at funerals
from morning suits
to weep

and eleanor rigby
lies down to sleep
remembering the silver sheen
of a long dark braid
woven, like three street strands of a song
in tears.

January 18, 2014

Of Milk Rice and Fish Heads from Parliament Street

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Kiribath is such an amazing treat. Just add extra water in some good rice and cook it well and add a little light coconut milk with enough salt to taste. Cook it down until it is a happy mush with the grains somewhat still in tact and spread it out on a plate like a cake and cool it. Cut it into pieces and bob’s your uncle.

I’ve eaten ridiculous quantities of Christmas cake that kiribath was certainly not on the agenda though a lot of people seem to think not to make kiribath on January 1st is really pushing your luck. But heck my waistline is in great peril. Still. I’d been pining through all the Christmas cooking which incidentally is not really Sri Lankan but more western oriented, yes pining for a good spicy fish head dish. A Portuguese fish head soup may be or a Korean fish head soup or an impromptu something or the other with lotsa spice. In some places in the world fish head is a delicacy because that is where the flesh is the sweetest. It is true. If you don’t know that then sorry I guess you need to try it or else forever hold your tongue.

Kiribath in some Sinhala homes are made on the 1st of every month for good luck. It is made on New Years and on special days. Again for good luck. At exam time many mothers make kiribath before one marches out to slaughter at the O Levels or A Levels. So much luck bags of it I really don’t know what people do with all the luck they harvest making all that kiribath. Sometimes Amma made too much. And she’d plonk it on the table with the rest of the food; usually just curries those days. But always welcome. Kiribath. Usually kiribath is not eaten with a curry but with Jaggery (sweet palm sugar) or a hot relish type condiment– Lunu Miris. Never with gravy etc. But if there were leftovers they got served up as if it were regular rice. Except it is not regular rice because it has coconut milk in it and it is not loose like just rice but more like a rice cake. Kiribath with fish curry from those unusual times when there was an excess of kiribath; and fish cooked in a spicy coconut milk sauce with Kiribath is an amazing combination. Not that it is on the menu when the kiribath is first made but it is just offered with whatever meat or fish curry that is left over in the kitchen.

This is from long ago and my mom has not made kiribath for me since the late 70s except on the odd visits after I left home.  And she’s now long left this earth.  But I remember the taste of it all. I’ve been pining for this in the back of my mind. I had purchased a few fish heads by feigned accident from Ambal Trading when I went down there to pick up something else on the 30th. Curry leaves. You know how it is. One thing leads to another and god knows where one ends up.

Usually when you make a fish curry you end up with the gravy going all watery which is a huge drag. So I tried a few tricks and it worked so that the gravy was thick thick thick and heavier than whipping cream.  And the lemon rind at the end was not something my mom did.  Nor did she do the fry up which I think is more a Kerala style and ditto with the sambar powder.   Main thing is to keep the gravy from getting watery and not to overcook the fish remembering these are fish with bones. The fact that it is made of fish heads adds ridiculous amounts of flavour and you get to suck on the bones and even chew the juices out of them. You know what they say. You are never lonely when eating spaghetti. But try fish head curry. Lonely. No chance.

The fish heads cost me $4.50 at Ambal Trading which is ridiculously cheap. And even better. Kiribath and spicy fish head curry go together with cava like a horse and carriage. For left over bubbly from 31st night. Happy all round.  It all turned out slightly different from what mom made but divine nevertheless.  Make some.

You need:
About 4lbs of Seer (King Fish) fish head with gills discarded and head cut into about 1 inch pieces. Do not throw anything. (The fish monger will do this for you).
The cream of a can of good coconut milk. (Chill for about an hour and without shaking open the can and carefully spoon the cream and put into a separate container. You can use the watery residue in something else).
One small onion sliced.
Three or four green chillies sliced.
Four large garlic cloves. (2 sliced and 2 grated).
1 inch piece ginger (half finely minced and the rest grated).
Four sprigs fresh curry leaves.
1 or 2 teaspoons black Mustard seeds
3 tablespoons cooking oil
One cardamom pod bashed
2 x 1″ pieces of Ceylon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon Paprika
1 heaping teaspoon turmeric
About 3 or 4 red dry chillies roughly banged up in a mortar and pestle so they are in rough flake-like pieces (it’s ok if the seeds are whole)
About a teaspoon or two of fresh rough ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sambar powder (get from Tamil shop)
Fenugreek seeds (1/4 teaspoon)
Salt to taste
Three pieces goraka (get it from Tamil shops or Sri Lankan on line grocers)
Juice of one lemon including the rind of a lemon freshly grated. (grate at end straight into the curry)

Thoroughly wash goraka (careful sometimes it has sand on it) and put in about a cup of boiling water and bring to a medium simmer and cook for about 30 – 45 minutes watching so as not to let it dry out. Idea is to simmer so the flavour gets out into the water and you end up with about ½ cup of sour water.

Thoroughly rinse the cut up fish. (Be careful don’t cut yourself on the bony bits and sharp ends. Some of teeth can be sharp). Drain well and if you can even dry it with paper towels carefully. Place in a very large bowl. Add the turmeric, paprika, black pepper and dry chilli pieces to the fish with salt. Add the grated ginger and garlic and half fenugreek seeds. Toss with a spoon or spatula gently to cover most of the fish. Cover with plastic and keep in fridge about 30 minutes.

Gather the stuff for the temperado (fry up):
Half the curry leaves. Half the onions. Fenugreek seeds. Sliced garlic and minced ginger. One piece cinnamon. Sambar powder and mustard seed.

All the remaining ingredients except for lemon and coconut milk should be put into another small bowl as it will go in after the fry up.

In a large sauce pan heat the oil and when hot fry the mustard seeds. They will pop. Use a splatter shield or it could burn you. Add the rest of the fry up ingredients and once the onions are near brown turn off fire and remove pan from heat. Add the sambar powder and quickly stir for about 10 seconds until fragrant.  Place back on medium heat and add half of the fish and gently stir so it get’s singed a little. Add the rest of the fish and do the same. Now add the remaining ingredients except for lemon and coconut milk. Also add the goraka water and the goraka pieces. Make sure the fresh ingredients (like onion etc.) are below the fish pieces. Now add about a cup of the thick coconut milk. No need to mix. It will not cover the fish but the fish will render liquid as it cooks and mingle.

Cover and on medium to high heat bring to a near boil then reduce to allow fish to render liquid and it will then mix with the coconut milk and the liquid should come to nearly the top of the fish. Gently shake and mix from time to time and cook for about 15-20 minutes on a high simmer. Taste for salt. Make sure the fish cooks gently all the time no higher than a high simmer otherwise it may get too mushy if the fish breaks up too much.  Remember too much friction is the enemy of fish most days.

Important to remember that it is the thick coconut cream that prevents the gravy becoming too watery.  Also remember not to overcook the fish but just right so the bones are just cooked through.

At the end grate the rind of a lemon into the gravy and add the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning for salt and lemon/sour. The sauce will be very thick. Slightly thicker than whipping cream. Serve with Kiribath. How to make kiribath? Well it is all over the internet. Go check.

Happy New Year!

By the way:
Choice of fish. Grouper head and red snapper head is great for this too. But make sure the scales on the head are totally removed by the fish monger before cutting it. The cut up head goes into the curry skin and all. But no one wants fish scales in their curry. No sirree.

Heat: This may be spicy for some so feel free to vary the pepper and chillies. But the whole point in the dish is that it is hot and tangy.  If you love it hot add your hottest freshest deadliest chillies as much as you can take instead of the quantities mentioned in ingredients.  It will be sublime.  (This is a big secret and enjoy the heat.)

for Phillip Hughes – “It’s as if all the boys I used to secretly fall in love with in their cricket whites who I watched from the top of the double decker bus in Colombo between home and school suddenly died.”

For Phil Hughes (25) who took to that great big pavilion in the sky and who will be missed at 2015 WC. 63no.

DSCF8306
sweet sweet love

lovesick for cricket
the last two days
and nights
how do i describe

a canvass under lights
drawn
shrieks of howzat
broken hearts bittered when run out

a gift of true sweet love
when won
people like poetry
building innings

life lives
entirely vulnerable
standing upright
alone at the wicket

the pitch
the great yawning chasm
a hell into which you may fall
in less than 1/10th of a second

one by one
a run at a time
with luck a four
sometimes a sweep-ticket
of a six

it matters not who you are
which land – curried or of roasted beef
toast or chapathi
frock or sari

it is that one run that matters
making everything stand still
single minded
a moment in time

let me just be – lovesick
that beautiful sound of ball – on bat
there really is nothing else
that matters.

Renuka Mendis
March 19, 2011

This poem is from March 2011written during that Cricket World Cup.