simply the best job of my life

In pedagogy on December 31, 2013 at 2:15 am
the simplest way to offer yourself a little greenery!

Azeem’s garden kitchen: the simplest way to offer yourself a little greenery!

started in October this year and will end in the middle of January.

I worked as a cook’s assistant – chopping vegetables, pounding spices and washing dishes – for Azeem Amarshi, the owner and chef of Dhanyaa, a vegetarian Indian takeaway 2 minutes on foot from the Lausanne train station. I only get to work there for four to five hours every afternoon, but they’ve been the best hours of the day these past few months, time spent learning, learning – and panicking that I’m nowhere near being deep enough a receptacle to avoid losing most of what was imparted.

I suppose it doesn’t “technically” even qualify as a real job, more of an internship really. But who cares!

The point is that I learned:

  • how to prepare kohlrabi (and made its acquaintance in the process), leak, celery stalks, carrots, Brussel sprouts, purple cabbage and occra
  • the most efficient method to do large quantities of dish-washing without a dish-washer
  • all about rice-washing (not talking about washing rice here)
  • how to wash and dry a chef’s knife
  • how to wash and drain mushrooms and spinach
  • how to get at the leaves of swiss chard for washing and chopping
  • what goes into his wonderful chai masala
  • how to make carrots-in-orange curry
  • the simplest way to prepare garlic for Indian cooking: grate it!
  • how to use asafoetida – basically, never in combination with onions and garlic
  • the quick way to make the most delicious pakoras
  • his tofu burger recipe
  • how to make energy balls from “dry fruit”
  • how not to cut potatoes
  • the fascinating history of chia and how to make a simple desert with it
  • about the various kinds of yoga and meditative practices
  • also, a little about letting go, about freeing oneself from the weight of the past and the future
  • about Gary Crowley and his passing of the jelly
  • about living, as opposed to conforming to images, as opposed to the pretence of control

During this period, I had two week-long panic attacks during which I was unable to work or even let Azeem know when I would be coming back to work. Both times, he allowed me to resume work. Quite naturally, the second time around, he advised me to get serious help for my anxiety issues. So, I saw deep compassion in practice, not just towards me, but in his absolute acceptance of everyone as they are.

Update: I forgot to say that Dhanyaa closes definitively on Saturday, January 18th, passing the baton to Crock-en-Stock, a group of passionate “alternative-foodies” (as I tend to think of them), who dove in at the last minute to preserve rue du Simplon 13 as a vegetarian address. They plan to take the alternative logic further, use only organic ingredients, and offer vegetarian recipes of their own invention as well as those inspired by other cultures (other than Indian, that is), in addition to raw food supplies and vegan dishes. So, if you’re in Lausanne, drop in any day between the 4th and the 18th (Sundays excepted) and sample the amazing food and the “vibe” of the place!

The quality without a name

In sovereignty, The Timeless Way of Building on November 10, 2008 at 2:32 pm

This wild freedom, this passion, comes into our lives in the instant we let go.

It is when all our forces can move freely in us. In nature, this quality is almost automatic, because there are no images to interfere with natural processes of making things. But in all of our creations, the possibility occurs that images can interfere with the natural, necessary order of a thing. And, most of all, this way that images distort the things we make, is familiar in ourselves. For we ourselves are, like our works, the products of our own creation. And we are only free, and have the quality without a name in us, when we give up the images which guide our lives.

Yet each of us faces the fear of letting go. The fear of being just exactly what one is, of letting the forces flow freely; of letting the configuration of one’s person adjust truly to these forces. Our letting go is stifled, all the time, so long as we have ideas and opinions about ourselves, which make us hug too tightly to our images of how we live, and bottle up these forces.

So long as we are still bottled up, like this, there is a tightness about the mouth, a nervous tension in the eyes, a stiffness and a brittleness in the way we walk, the way we move. And yet, until one does let go, it is impossible to be alive. The stereotypes are restricted; there are very different configurations. The infinite variety of actual people, with their vastly and utterly different forces, require a huge creation, to find the resolution of the person: and in finding this resolution truly, one must above all be free of the stereotypes.

The great film, Ikiru – to live – describes it in the life of an old man

He has sat for thirty years behind a counter, preventing things from happening. And then he finds out that he is to die of cancer of the stomach, in six months. He tries to live; he seeks enjoyment; it doesn’t amount to much. And finally, against all obstacles, he helps to make a park in a dirty slum in Tokyo. He has lost his fear, because he knows that he is going to die; he works and works and works, there is no stopping him, because he is no longer afraid of anyone, or anything. He has no longer anything to lose, and so in this short time gains everything; and then dies, in the snow, swinging on a child’s swing in the park which he has made, and singing.


It has above all to do with the elements

The wind, the soft rain; sitting on the back of an old truck moving clothes and baskets of possessions while the gentle rain is falling, laughing, crouching under a shawl to keep from getting wet, but getting wet. Eating a loaf of bread, torn in pieces, hunks of cheese cut crudely with a hatchet which is lying in the corner; red flowers glistening in the rain along the roadside; banging on the window of the truck to shout some joke.

Nothing to keep, nothing to lose. No possessions, no security, no concern about possessions, and no concern about security; in this mood it is possible to do exactly what makes sense, and nothing else: there are no hidden fears, no morals, no rules, no undercurrent of constraint, no subtle sense of concern for the form of what the people round about you are doing, and above all no concern for what you are yourself, no subtle fear of other people’s ridicule, no subtle train of fears which can connect the smallest triviality with bankruptcy and loss of love and loss of friends and death, no ties, no suits, no outward elements of majesty at all. Only the laughter and the rain.

— Ch. 3, “Being Alive”, “The Timeless Way of Building” by Christopher Alexander, OUP New York, 1979


In resistance on December 1, 2015 at 6:54 pm

There’s an amazing bit of dialogue in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. It’s in the scene where Bajrangi is being tortured in a prison cell by Pakistani some un-named “counter-espionage” organisation in order to extract a false confession from him. The officer-in-charge eventually recognises Bajrangi’s innocence and decides that if Bajrangi is consigned to a life in limbo in Pakistani jails on false charges, he would consider it an insult to Pakistan’s honour – something he could not tolerate.

In this video, one brave Pakistani woman reminds us with simplicity and quiet determination of our duty to protect the weak and vulnerable sections of our society – without which we cannot claim to be responsible citizens of an honourable society.

I invite you to stand with those of us who believe, in the words of V, that “while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power. Words offer the means to meaning and, for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.”

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