Sunday, October 26, 2008
Separated at birth
Now am I the only one who thinks this way about THESE two?
This one used his head to good effect recently
Friday, October 24, 2008
The writing on the wall
Meantime, all that happens, happens for the best in this best of all possible worlds. After the Singur imbroglio, “Dr.” M. Banerjee and the head of the Left Front agree on something. To wit, that the very basis of a democratic polity is endangered by the Election Commission’s ban on graffiti (better known in devout circles as “the writing on the wall”). Given a choice between, on the one hand, giving your consent and having your walls re-decorated in avant-garde mode, and on the other, NOT consenting and having your features re-arranged in Neanderthal mode, which would YOU choose? The democratic option, of course. The greatest good of the greatest number. It’s so heart-warming when our leaders agree on a matter in the public weal. Leaves me all saahgy wiv emoshun and teary-eyed.
On the other coast, there is a patriotic movement. No, not saffronised bowel movements (though those may be happening in Utkala Desh – more of that later). The Western movement seeks to intensify nationalist sentiments. Think global, act local types. If you start with beating up people who are “Not Us” (and not armed), you may eventually get good at beating up people who are REALLY Not Us AND shooting back at you. Practice makes perfect and all that. Score so far – 4 dead, a few dozen injured, vehicles burnt, man-days lost. All in the great tradition of democracy. I am loving it.
In Orissa, Diwali came some months early. There were bonfires and merriment, there was good religious sentiment which involved killing real people (so much more fun than burning effigies). This has led to Parliament making wise noises (not too loud, since A Particular Religion is still the Religion of the Majority). It has also led to friends (whom I had hitherto considered rational) sending out cyber-whoops on the lines of “THAT will laarn ’em!” Organised religion is such a sweet thing. It must be so comforting for all concerned to read Nice Things about Love Thy Neighbour, Humanity is the Ultimate Creed etc. and then, spiritually uplifted, go out to rape and kill and burn. I love Organised Religion. In my book, it is one of mankind’s finest experiences. You know, in terms of enrichment, somewhere between an acid enema and a boil on the scrotum.
Say after me – I Love My Country. I Love My Faith. I Love My Fellow Man (AND My Fellow Woman. ESPECIALLY My Fellow Woman). I Love Our Peaceful Tradition. And I Love Killing Anybody Who Disagrees.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
By bread alone ... ?
Pucca sahibs would probably limit the term to food made from grain flour (usually wheat), leavened with yeast and baked in an oven. Fiddlesticks. Or rather, Ey Mamu! The majority of Indian breads are unleavened, some are fried or even roasted and many are made from rice gruel or even lentil pastes. The more the merrier, say I. Man does not live by bread alone, but (as anybody on the Atkins Diet will vouch) life is pretty bleak without it.
First, the Big Question. Is it bread if it’s not made from grain? Check out pashti from Arcot in Tamil Nadu, rice flour dumplings pan-fried in ghee and eaten with chutneys or spicy meat. Or pesarattu from Andhra Pradesh, which is made from moong daal and fried on a griddle. Or, indeed, the entire family of dosai and their variants, from Kerala’s appam to uttapam and neer dosa. If these are dismissed as more pancakes than bread, where would you place thalipeet? The dough for this Maharashtrian favourite may contain – among others - beans, wheat, rice, onion, jaggery, vegetables and spices. It’s kneaded and rolled, unlike a crepe or pancake, but it’s not baked and it isn’t wholly wheat. So is it bread?
Most Indian breads are flatbreads, rolled from dough and roasted over an open fire or baked in a tandoor. In the far north, we have the chewy Ladakhi cambir or khambiri, dabbed with butter and eaten with home-made apricot jam or with tea. Kashmiris, surprisingly, eat more rice but have a wide variety of breads. Tsot and tsochvoru are small round breads, topped with poppy and sesame seeds and traditionally washed down with salt tea. Lavas is a cream coloured unleavened bread, probably derived from the Armenian Lahvash or Armenian cracker bread, a soft, thin flatbread sometimes sprinkled with toasted sesame or poppy seeds.
In the heartland, the humble chapatti is part of Indian history. It was carried from village to village and used as a signal before the rising of 1857. It’s also comfort food for millions, especially when hot off the fire with a dab of butter melting in the middle. It has a number of variants, all round flat unleavened breads made from grains other than wheat. The bhakhri, made from jowar, bajra or even (in Karnataka) from rice flour, is a staple in the western states. The jolada rotti of Karnataka is made from sorghum. Both these variations keep well and are good travelling food, usually eaten with pulse curries (daal, jhunka) or with chutneys such as thecha, a paste of chillies that can set fire to paper at 50 paces. The rock star in this category (or bhangra rapper?) is makki di roti,
Fried breads are
Parathas are the big brothers of puris. They range from the comparatively innocuous ones that are just thick rotis with a gloss of ghee to the utterly sinful sheermal from
Some North Indian breads are stand-alones, like the Gujarati khakra and mattha. Light, flaky, almost pastry-like, these are spiced and roasted rather than fried, giving them a long shelf-life and making ideal snacks. Rajasthan’s baati is richer. These baked dumplings are quick-fried for a crisp outer crust and most famously eaten with daal and churma. And of course gobs of ghee. The Bihari version, litthi, evokes nostalgia in a zillion engineering institutions and staff colleges.
Leavened sahib bread is not unknown, as the numerous bakeries in Bandra attest. The real legacy, however, is not English but Portuguese. The poder or traditional baker (though the term is also used for the delivery man) is a part of Goan tradition, his honking announcing the morning delivery of pao, soft square bread that fills the stomach and gladdens the palate. Pao, ideal for mopping up the last drops of tongue-tingling curry, is the accompaniment to spicy vindaloo and sorpotel. Mumbai’s pao bhaaji can only be a wan poor cousin! Pokshie and katre are other avatars of pao, distinguished by their shapes (pokshie is also more crusty). My Goan friends swear that the secret ingredient is the use of toddy instead of yeast for leavening. Poie or poee is Goan brown bread, fat, hollow and often “butterfly” shaped so that it can be broken by hand into four pieces. Generations of grandmothers swear that it is “ideal for diabetics”, an assertion supported by modern medical science.
Man does not live by bread alone? Enough already! Pass the butter.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Stranger than fiction
Money quote - “She as an unchaste woman had defendant 1 (Tiwari) as her paramour even during the subsistence of her marriage...”
I laugh that I may not weep.
Update: Why is The Telegraph the only paper following this story? Not even the sensationalist TV channels have taken it up. Strange.
Bhairavi for my balcony
I am becoming my father.
This is exactly what he does when he’s here. The deliberate arrangement of things on the table, placing the chair at a precise angle, one ankle hooked over the opposite knee as he waits for his tea. I’m even drinking tea these days instead of my usual dark fresh-brew. But my father drinks Darjeeling, just so. Not thick milky pau patti.
And he has never in his life worn psychedelic parachute-silk boxers.
On one branch of my krishnachura, the bark has acquired a metallic sheen, more bronze than gold. The sun is breaking free of the horizon’s haze. Seven shades of green come to life over the balcony railing. A tiny bird flutters out of the champa tree, confused by a falling leaf. The sunlight is papery, wrapping itself round the first wisps of smoke from the laundryman’s earthen stove in the next lane. The morning smells fresher, yet more languid than the soggy bouquet of the monsoons. Autumn in Calcutta.
The climbing sun glints into my eyes, batters on the morning coolness, warms my neck until a slow trickle of sweat signals the end of dawn. A bicycle bell drops into the pool of birdsong, I can almost see its ripples in slow motion. Then a rolled-up cylinder of newspapers arcs onto the balcony and lands with a satisfying thwack. My tea arrives.
The day holds promise.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
regarding the world with a jaundiced eye?
So this year I’ve missed it. Or most of it. I did get one Sunday afternoon with friends and beer while the sound of knashor ghonta floated up and the ladies fluttered in sudden panic over being late for the pujo. The rest of the time, really, I was just too sick to care.
But being sick isn’t so bad. I can’t remember the last time I spent an entire week at home. One. Whole. Week. Haven’t even stepped out of the front door. How strange. No office, meetings, dinners, cocktails, gym, library. No Saturday-lunch-and-shopping, no let’s-try-that-new-place-for-dinner. No stopping-by-the-office-to-send-off-a-report. Nothing.
Instead … a succession of books. The Kite Runner.
I could get used to this. Far too easy.
Sunday, October 05, 2008
The more things change
I worked for six years in the industries department in
I was only a small part of a large team, but I felt good when the results started to show. For a while, we all believed in the change, in the new
The basic issue was the right to property. Can the State take away your private land for a public purpose if you don’t want to sell it? I’d say yes, up to a point. You may not agree with the purpose, but the State has to (theoretically) act for the greatest good of the greatest number. But as I said, only up to a point. And in any case, the compensation for taking away your property should be at least equal to market levels.
What constitutes public purpose? Building a highway (or an inter-galactic bypass – ask Arthur Dent), or a sanitised zone, or even an industrial estate. Is it public purpose if the industrial estate is to be privately owned and operated? On balance, no. The private entrepreneurs can negotiate and purchase their own land. The State should ensure speed and transparency, publish clear estimates of land value, speed up documentation and transfer.
There’s a catch. Once industry starts buying up land, prices shoot up. Fine, pay more – that’s the law of the market. But what if you buy 980 acres out of the 1000 you need, and then get stuck because of 20 acres right in the heart of the project area? Could be any reason – price negotiation, political pressure, sheer cussedness. It’s happened to me, a 200-acre project was stuck for months because of 9.47 acres. So does the State have a responsibility to step in and sort out these problems for a huge private project? In the Singur case, did the State do the right thing by being pro-active and acquiring land themselves?
Perhaps not. But right or wrong, the whole process could have been far more acceptable given greater transparency. Why didn’t the
Having made these mistakes, could they still have made the best of a bad deal? Most certainly. By offering compensation at market rates or better and publicising it. They could have recouped the extra expenditure from the Tatas, maybe called it a speed surcharge, development costs, whatever. In a project of this size, one can’t have full consensus. But the Govt. could have more effectively addressed the grievances of the unwilling land-losers. That would have reduced the opposition to the project and the political fall-out.
Now to the specifics. Once the Opposition had made their point about adequate compensation for land-losers, once the Governor had stepped in and brokered a compromise, why did the process fail? First, because of one woman’s insistence that 300 acres of land within the project area would have to be returned to farmers. Bloody ridiculous. Much more honest to come right out and say, take your project and sod off, we don’t want you here. Second, because the Govt. could not deal separately with the Opposition’s demands – a political issue – and their methods, which broke the law of the land. Perhaps a third reason too – despite the huge media criticism of the Trinamool actions, this Govt. has never had any clue of public relations or media management.
End result – the project is stalled, 1000 acres of land are now useless and a few thousand residents of Singur are bankrupt. In effect, the last two months have pi… washed away most of what we worked for in those years. Yet again, vindicates my decision about my last career move. But it still leaves a very bad taste.
Friday, October 03, 2008
In the 1970s, a
Now Chicken Manchurian has nothing to do with
This is the essence of what we proudly call “Calcutta Chinese” food – any faintly Chinese ingredients spiced up with large amounts of fresh garlic, ginger, and hot chillies, “like ramped-up curries minus the ground spices”, as New York’s Village Voice put it. It may not be Chinese, but boy, does it sell! And it originated in an eastern corner of
Purists like the formidable Ram Ray, one of
The Chinoiserie prides itself on its authenticity – even the chillies for the chilli paste are flown in from
A number of Taj personnel have struck out on their own, the best known being the Red Hot Chilli Pepper chain. Their fried rice was superb, mainly because they cooked the rice in stock and not water. Nowadays, however, they have had to adapt to the Indian palate rather than stick with authenticity. Perhaps authenticity is affordable at the Chinoiserie alone, where a meal for two would set you back by at least 3500 rupees.
The premier fish dish, however, is served by Josephine Huang of Eu Chu. Tucked away on the first floor behind a petrol pump on
The standard Tangra fare these days is more Shyambazar than
There’s a short-hand to interpreting the menus here. Chilli means hot and batter-fried, Manchurian dishes (even cabbage Manchurian!) come in a sweet and salty brown sauce, and
There used to be some family-run restaurants in this area too. I still remember the foo yung rice and kup tai mei foon (rice noodles with what I thought was pork liver, turned out to have kidneys and heart as well!) in Tai Wah on
Which only proves my basic point. Chinese food as she is ate in