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Indian Food: Centuries of Parallel Evolution, Now Converging?

January 13, 2013 2 comments

Indian cuisine has been regional for centuries. But, in the last thirty-five years, Indian food habits have undergone a sea-change.

Image source & courtesy - hindustantimes.com

Image source & courtesy – hindustantimes.com

Something very strange is happening across India.

Indian cuisine has been regional for centuries.

Image source & courtesy - hindustantimes.com

Image source & courtesy – hindustantimes.com

Rajasthan has a dry cuisine that concentrates on preservation. Konkan food is full of greenery, freshness and coconut. Andhra cuisine has an overload of chilly and tamarind. Some brahmin sects in Bengal and Konkan coasts, eat fish.

But for the first time in 5000-years of Indian history, India’s Bombay High Generation (1975-2000) changed that. In the last thirty-five years, Indian food habits have undergone a sea-change.

Image source & courtesy - hindustantimes.com

Image source & courtesy – hindustantimes.com

Dosas and Idlis are now a breakfast staple across India. How much have dosas penetrated? Seen at a corner atta-chakki (a house-hold size grain-flour mill), a Muslim householder, who wanted some dosa-atta to be dry-ground. Clueless on how to make dosa batter, the family had decided to go the dosa way due to children-pressure.

Punjabi paneer items are now lunch and dinner regulars across food tables in India. Modern Punjabi cuisine, perfected in the last 500-years of gurudwara-langar cooking has taken the country by storm.

Banarsi chaat has surely spread across the country. Remember, Banaras is the world’s oldest living city.

In all this, an analysis of the food composition will show a broad focus on two things.

  • One – A good mix of carbohydrates, proteins, fat and fibre.
  • Two – Maximum variety and increasing the number of elements that go into any preparation, which is the bedrock of vegetarian cuisine.
Image source & courtesy - hindustantimes.com

Image source & courtesy – hindustantimes.com

Here is an interesting post by Vir Sanghvi on Banarsi chaat.

I’m finally coming to terms with something I’ve always suspected about myself: my favourite food in the world is chaat. Give me caviar, give me white truffles and give me the greatest hits of Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adrià, and I’ll probably be diverted for a while. But after a briefflirtation, I will return to my first love: chaat.

One of my friends is a TV big-shot who prides himself on his foodie skills though he has a misplaced admiration for his local Bihari cuisine and little understanding of the complexities of Gujarati food! and even he and his wife were stunned by the quality of the chaat. The secret of good chaat, he said, is that UP has the best chaat in India but that it does not come from Lucknow as is commonly supposed but from Benaras. The thing about the people of Benaras, he added, is that they are naturally shy and reluctant to leave their city and show off their skills to the world.

I phoned Marut and asked him what he thought. He agreed that UP was the centre of the chaat world. But he thought that, within UP, there were many chaat traditions. He gave me the example of what we call paani-puri in Bombay. In Lucknow and Kanpur, they use the term ‘batasha’ or possibly, ‘gol-gappa’. In Benaras, on the other hand, they call it a puchhka and the taste of the paani is subtly different from the Lucknow version.

Marut thinks that there are strong foodie links between Benaras and Calcutta, which is why the term ‘puchhka’ is used in Bengal as well. He reckons that perhaps chaatwallahs from the Benaras region moved to Calcutta and seeded the city’s flourishing chaat scene.
He may be right. The more I thought about it the more chaat seemed to be a UP thing. The Calcutta tradition is essentially a morphing of Benarasi recipes to suit the city’s Bengali and Marwari clientele. This is why Calcutta’s puchhkas are tarter than the Benaras version. In Delhi, on the other hand, the chaatwallahs probably came from Lucknow and Kanpur and gave the city its own gol-gappa, which I regret to say, is easily the least interesting example of the genre.

Neither Marut nor I could work out which part of UP Bombay’s chaatwallahs originally came from. We know for certain that chaat was transported to Bombay by UP Brahmins, most of whom used the surname Sharma. (Take a poll of the chaatwallahs at Chowpatty and Juhu. You will find that most of the long-established ones are still called Sharma.)

It is a tribute to Bombay’s culinary genius that the UP chaat tradition was able to successfully mate with the Gujarati snack/farsan tradition so that a new chaat culture was born. The Gujaratis took the principles of UP chaat (something fried, lots of crispy things for texture, chutneys, dahi, potatoes, etc.) and created new dishes. The most famous of these is bhel puri but there are many others.
The Bombay dahi batata puri has its roots in UP chaat but is very much an individual dish in its own right. Ragda pattice is a Gujarati adaptation of that north Indian standby, tikki with channa. And Marut reckons that Bombay’s pani-puri, which is the local variant of the gol-gappa/puchhka/batasha chaat is probably the best expression of this dish. (I love Bombay but here I disagree with Marut: my money is on the Calcutta  puchhka.)

The more Marut and I talked about it, the more convinced we became that we could trace nearly all genuine chaat dishes to waves of migration from UP. This explains why it is so difficult to find a chaat tradition south of Bombay: the UPites did not venture further down the Peninsula.

It is funny, though, that at a time when every state is doing so much to put its cuisine on the map, UP takes so little credit for being the home of chaat. Kerala may brag about its spices, Goa may trumpet the virtues of vindaloo and so on, but UP seems to have surrendered all claims to chaat, which is now seen as a pan-Indian favourite rather than a regional cuisine.

The public image of the food of UP leads only to the Awadhi haute cuisine of Lucknow and to pots of steaming biryani or animal fat kebabs. I love Lucknawi food as much as the next man but I doubt if it has been as influential or as popular as chaat. And yet, the chaat geniuses of Benaras, Lucknow, Kanpur and other UP towns get almost no recognition at all. Their wonderful tradition is disparaged as being ‘mere street food’.

But India lives and eats on its streets. And that night as I turned away all the fancy food that Marut and the Michelin-starred chefs had cooked and stuck to the Benaras chaat, I pondered the injustice. In America, they celebrate the hamburger and the hotdog; pizza is Italy’s global calling card; and Britain is known for fish and chips. So why, oh why, do we in India not give chaat the respect it deserves? Why is it without honour even in its home state?

I say this not just because chaat is my favourite food. I’m sure that millions of other Indians are also crazy about chaat. So, for once, let’s give haute cuisine a rest and stand up for what we really love: the cuisine of the Indian street.

via Rude Food: the cuisine of the street – Hindustan Times.


Rape Metrics: A Global Comparison

December 25, 2012 8 comments

I am all for a ban on tinted windows in all vehicles, if any one can guarantee even a minor reduction in rape cases.

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Assuming parity in definition, India on a population that is 400% larger has a rape incident ratio which are 24% of US. | Graphic source - hindustantimes.com; Hindustan Times e-Paper dated 2012-12-23 accessed at 17-29-59.

Assuming parity in definition, India on a population that is 400% larger has a rape incident ratio which are 24% of US. | Graphic source – hindustantimes.com; Hindustan Times e-Paper dated 2012-12-23 accessed at 17-29-59.

rotesters and activistas have semi-successfully projected the Delhi gang-rape case as representative of India, Indian society and Indian governance – as detailed in the previous post.

Fog & Noise

In the din of protests and clamour, on the Delhi gang-rape case, facts and data have become less than important.

There is wide availability of data in public domain – and across countries.

Cross country comparisons will quickly dispel claims that these protesters and activistas are making.

Indian rape metrics are skewed by the definition - where consenting teenage marriage is defined as rape. Per Capita rape cases across the world  |  Graphic - timesofindia.com on Dec 21, 2012, 02.47AM IST

Indian rape metrics are skewed by the definition – where consenting teenage marriage is defined as rape. Per Capita rape cases across the world | Graphic – timesofindia.com on Dec 21, 2012, 02.47AM IST

The five major factors are: -

  1. Definition
  2. Incidence
  3. Investigation
  4. Prosecution
  5. Conviction

Definition

Under a liberal-progressive overload, Indian laws that cover rape have been overwhelmed by illogical laws.

In the 70s and the 80s, under World Bank, IMF guidance, and the pressure from AID-India consortium of Western nations to curb population ‘explosion’, child marriage were ‘discouraged’.

To further stigmatize child marriage, sex between consenting female below 18, is now classified as rape.

If a girl below 18 has sex, in marriage or otherwise, in the eyes of Indian law, is rape.

Under-age marriages and attempts to marry have inflated rape statistics in India.

Similar inflation in rape statistics has occurred in Sweden for instance – with an accompanying reduction in conviction.

Break up of rape incidents across India  |  Graphic - thehindu.com in NEW DELHI, October 28, 2011

Break up of rape incidents across India | Graphic – thehindu.com in NEW DELHI, October 28, 2011

Incidence

The National Crime Records Bureau has estimated more than 90% of ‘rape’ cases involve neighbours, relatives, and known people.

Many of these cases are prima facie, cases of opportunistic withdrawal of consent.

Long-term marital relationships in India are forged under community and parental supervision and intervention.

In cases, parental and societal pressure is enough for a female to withdraw consent – opening doors to criminal registration and prosecution.

At times, the withdrawal of consent is also a means of gaining financial benefit.

Police, Police – Everywhere

With investigation is the question of prevention.

Empty demands have been made for better police patrolling, CCTV cameras, more supervision and vigilance. As can be seen, India has low or lower rape-incidents than most of the world.

Do these activistas want to turn India into a Police State? Into a society riven by gender conflict!

Do they want replace a concerned citizenry with a domineering police force? Instead of citizen vigilance, these activistas want us to believe that the police can do a better job.

Graphic courtesy - intoday.in

Graphic courtesy – intoday.in

There are increasing demands for CCTV installations. The West and China are now practically surveillance societies – where, with facial recognition software, police officials will be able keep most of the people under surveillance.

Is that what these protesters and activistas want? Have all these CCTV cameras in the West stopped rape in those countries? Are rape incidents lesser in those surveillance societies?

As the data in the graphic shows, this is neither true – nor logical. If a few rapes are committed in moving vehicles, will we stop vehicles from moving? Or men from moving? Or women from moving around!

Demands for ban on tinted glass windows in Delhi is another demand. Delhi which faces searing heat for 5 months in a summer – needs tinted glasses. Do we want millions of Delhi commuters to steam in higher temperatures to gain psychological comfort?

Forget about elimination of rape – or even a major reduction.

I am all for a ban on tinted windows in all vehicles, if any one can guarantee even a minor reduction in rape cases.

Conviction levels in rape cases varies between 20% to 50% globally. Few exceptions apart. Rape convictions in India are at a higher ratio than general criminal convictions which are at  17%(TBC).. Defines as the number of convictions as a percentage of the total number of completed prosecutions that year.  |  Graphic & caption source - thehindu.com

Conviction levels in rape cases varies between 20% to 50% globally. Few exceptions apart. Rape convictions in India are at a higher ratio than general criminal convictions which are at 17%(TBC).. Defines as the number of convictions as a percentage of the total number of completed prosecutions that year. | Graphic & caption source – thehindu.com

Exaggerate! Overheat

This exaggeration in reaction can be seen in the recent media coverage of rape in Haryana.

Attempting to tar traditional khap panchayats, the media ran a villification campaign on rape in Haryana – whereas there were other states in India with higher occurrence – and lower conviction ratios.

Many of these protests have been organized by NGOs – many funded by sources that are suspect.

Why did the US pay attention to one rape in New Delhi.

2ndkook posts on Delhi gang-rape case


Does India ignore Sikhs?

June 17, 2011 3 comments
Births and deaths in Mumbai city (Graphic courtesy - timesofindia.com). Click for a larger copy.

Births and deaths in Mumbai city (Graphic courtesy - timesofindia.com). Click for a larger copy.

Bending backwards

Christian community in the city recorded negative population growth as against Hindus and Muslims who are growing at a faster rate, birth and death figures from the civic health department showed.

Last year, 3,763 infants were born to Christians while 3,887 members of the community died, indicating a fall in growth rate. (via Mumbai’s Christian population falls – The Times of India).

Tales from the table

Now the same study also showed that in absolute numbers, Sikh births had reduced from 315 to 298. Whereas Christian births had increased by a nominal number – from 3749 to 3763. All other communities showed increase in absolute number of births – except Sikhs and (Others).

If Delhi has too many Sikhs, Mumbai needs some Sikhs. Their can-do attitude, their jugaad, is something that seems to be bubbling forever. Every city in the world needs some Sikhs.

But this report does not mention the decline in Sikh births at all. Not once. In fact the word Sikh does not appear even once in the post. When it comes to Sikhs, whether it is the 1984 riots or attacks on Sikhs in USA, we all seem to be keeping quiet.

What’s with us?

Understanding Ravana is essential!

February 4, 2011 27 comments
Soldiers of Ayodhya being attacked by bandits in a forest (Image link courtesy - mumbaimirror). Click for larger image.

Soldiers of Ayodhya being attacked by bandits in a forest (Image link courtesy - mumbaimirror). Click for larger image.

Most of the rakshasas have been humanised and the 10 heads of Ravan do not find mention. “People are bad from inside,” says Goel. “It doesn’t manifest physically. The 10 heads were a metaphor for the ten qualities of Ravan – valour, generosity, intelligence, knowledgeable, etc. We chose to elaborate those qualities instead of showing the heads,” says Goel.

In contrast, Ram is shabby looking, with a thick unkempt beard, long hair and no ornaments. “Being forest dwellers, Ram and Laxman could not shave every day,” explains Goel. Since this is Ravan’s story, the role of Ram’s kin has been minimised to make place for more fleshed out characters from Ravan’s family. (via The legend of the fallen one, Lifestyle – Sunday Read – Mumbai Mirror).

Ravana deserves study

This is a most interesting project. To fully and really understand Indian classics, texts and scriptures, the idea of Asuras needs to understood. I am not sure how much these writers have understood the Asura concept – and its link with slavery. They seem to be more interested in ‘balancing’ the picture, rather than ‘righting’ the picture.

Demonising Ravana

Ravana was not a demon (which is a bad English equivalent of Asura) but an asura. And some Indians have taken the easy way out, by demonising Ravana. I hope these ‘creators’ understand that demonising Ravana, or romanticising him too, is counter-productive.

Understanding Ravana is essential!

Commonwealth Games – Politics of Collusion

September 28, 2010 19 comments
Why should only the Congress misue CBI - let all parties misuse the CBI! (Cartoon by Kirtish Bhatt).

Why should only the Congress misuse CBI - let all parties misuse the CBI! (Cartoon by Kirtish Bhatt).

In the beginning

The Commonwealth Games (CWG) proves the point that democracy breeds a collusive polity. In the beginning was the BJP.

1. Why did Vajpayee Government bid for CWG? It defies all common sense. The Commonwealth is an idea that is long dead – and definitely irrelevant.

2. If it was persuaded by the Anglo-Saxon Bloc, what is the quid-pro-quo? What did India get from CWG? This Commonwealth benefits the British! Let them host it, pay for it, support it and ‘persuade’ us to attend.

3. Yesterday, Times Now TV debate tells that the Vajpayee Government paid out some thousands of dollars for each vote to ‘win’ the right to ‘host’ these games? Delhi beat Hamilton, New Zealand for this ‘privilege’?

Sorrier tale, I have not heard in many years. Even if the Vajpayee Govt paid nothing for this ‘privilege’?

We’ll walk hand in hand …

Coming to Kawngressis: -

1. If the Kawngress had an iota of honesty, they should have protested this bid in the first place. When the BJP /NDA was in power.

2. Having got this fait accompli, the Kawngress should have been determined to do this at least cost, minimum shosha, tamasha - like Mani Shanker Iyer has proposed.

3. They should have put some good, honest bureaucrats on the job to achieve point no.2. Not allowed the likes of Mike Fennell and Mike Hooper to abuse Indian people, hospitality – and spend lakhs on them every month for this privilege. Rs.6.0 crore spent on them in the last few years.

A job so badly botched up, I have not seen in the last many years. Any way you look at it, the CWG is a case of collusive polity. And no one, but no one, comes out of this clean or decent. Not in my books at least.

Corruption has got more coverage - drowning out the other related issues. (Cartoon by by IRFAN; courtesy - cartoonistirfan.blogspot.com.).

Corruption has got more coverage - drowning out the other related issues. (Cartoon by by IRFAN; courtesy - cartoonistirfan.blogspot.com.).

Craving approval – without actions and achievements

This bit about promoting sports is another bad idea. Why is the State getting involved in the sports business. If it has to get involved, it must promote Indian sports.

Why is India building this huge infrastructure to promote Western sports. Why do we want to prove to the world that we can be good at Western sports. Like a columnist put it

Burning money on a gala sporting event does not make us a super-power

Anyway, what has sports got to do with nationhood. This nation-competition-sports is one bad idea, which must be killed.

Try as hard as anyone may, I just cannot be moved by this idea. No Indian can put up a good show of something as dishonest as CWG. I am not surprised that CWG is going to be a disaster! It will take a Great Disbeliever in the idea of India, to put up a good CWG.

Great Indian shows

Is it that Indians cannot put up a good show?

About ten years ago, India put up a great show. Unrivaled in the last 100 years, at least, by any country. It was called Y2K.

The Western world was at the cusp of an epic disaster – Y2K. Computer systems had used two-digit number to denote years. In 20th century, this was efficient use of computing power when raw computing power itself was expensive. Coming to the end of 20th century, when the number would go from 1999 to 2000, it was expected the logic used by computers would crash.

Posted by Shreyas Navare on Friday, August 6, 2010 at 10.35 pm (Courtesy - blogs.hindustantimes.com.). Click for larger image.

Posted by Shreyas Navare on Friday, August 6, 2010 at 10.35 pm (Courtesy - blogs.hindustantimes.com.). Click for larger image.

The West needed to rewrite the entire code for their industrial systems. And they had no spare programming capacity to do it. Enter India. In a matter of 7 years, desi, backward Indians obtained contracts, understood programming designs, deciphered the code, redesigned the new system, coded and tested their new systems, trained users and handed over fully working systems on D-date. It is 10 years now. These Indian systems continue to run the Western world.

Most recently, the corrupt and scam-tainted Satyam put up a faultless show at South Africa Football World Cup.

What has money got to do

Let us be clear – corruption has nothing to do with this fiasco. A highly corrupt China put up a great show at Beijing Olympics.

The CWG problem goes deeper. Even if the CWG were to go off smoothly,  I can’t be proud of this. Even if, this corruption allegations were poppycock! I have no answer to a simple question? Why are we doing the CWG? And there is no good answer to this question.

Write to me. If you have one reason. Just one, honest reason. Why should we host and promote this hoax.

Can you really motivate someone to do a good job on Commonwealth Games? I wonder ...

Can you really motivate someone to do a good job on Commonwealth Games? I wonder ...

A ‘caring’ state is a ‘foolish’ mistake

The 'development' paradigm

The 'development' paradigm

The state government caught flak for using words such as “rustic” to describe tribal girls in official documents … Minister, Padmakar Walvi, apologised on behalf of the government …

… 95 adivasi girls had undergone a year-long training in Pune (for) the aviation hospitality sector … Legislators had taken on the government, saying it had “embarrassed these girls” by failing to get them placed. “The government encouraged these girls to become air hostess, but couldn’t provide them with jobs.”

Walvi informed … that the government has so far assisted 37 adivasi girls—who were denied jobs as air hostess—in getting placements in the tourism and hospitality industry. Six of them have been absorbed in airline companies, he added. “The remaining are likely to be recruited in various government departments if they do not get jobs of their choice,” he added. (via State says sorry for calling tribal girls ‘rustic’).

In Mumbai

In 2007, with surging liquidity, with no signs of The Great Recession, the Government of Maharashtra, decided that the fruits of the ‘sunshine’ sectors should also go to the ‘adivasis‘ and ‘dalits‘. So, they decided to spend Rs.1.crore. Said, Dr Vijay Gavit, state tribal development minister to TOI,

“Under the Centre’s welfare scheme for education of tribals, we (the state tribal development department) proposed that our boys and girls be trained in the sunshine sectors. Our proposal for air hostess and pilot training were readily sanctioned by them,’’

Girls from the backward pockets of Nandurbar, Thane and Nagpur are already undergoing the training programme at the privately-run Air Hostess Academy in Pune. The Centre is bearing over Rs 1 crore for the programme.

Presently the Centre pays Rs 1 lakh towards the one year air hostess course which includes tuition fees, hostel and uniform costs.

The minister said it was essential to keep up with the changing times so as to bring the socially and economically backward tribal community with the mainstream. Instead of making the tribal students go through some course which have lost all relevance in present times, we decided that they be trained to meet challenges in the modern era.

Is this the ‘development’, the ‘modern’ careers, that the ‘caring’ Government wishes on the ‘Adivasis‘!

In New Delhi

Two years after Mumbai, the next great ‘revolution’ in Indian economy after the BPO ‘thing’ was ushered by the ILO and GoD (Government of Delhi) under Chief Minister, Sheila Dikshit. ILO-GoD are going to train domestics and ‘upgrade their skills. With this ‘revolution’ India’ can become the global source for ‘true’ coolie labour – a source for domestics, for any country in the world. The New Delhi State Government

launched the programme for skill development of domestic workers, a programme to turn out trained housemaids for the rich and the burgeoning middle class. And in this endeavour, it had impressive sponsors: the International Labour Organisation (ILO) no less, the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment and the Delhi government, all under the umbrella of the high-sounding National Skill Development Programme. (via Latha Jishnu: The commons and the classes).

‘Caring’ Governments … ‘foolish mistakes’

I forgot to charge my cell phone! Foolish mistake, right? Everyday mistakes are usually foolish! And to believe that Governments can be caring, is a ‘foolish’ mistake! Apparently, colonialism never died. We now seem to just have Brown masters instead of White masters!

What a waste!

Of course, like Latha Jishnu (the author) of the article points out, no one is really interested in ensuring that all Indians go to equally good and high quality schools. Because then where will and “how would one get the endless flow of domestic helpers”. A dubious policy by the Government that cynically feeds on a trusting (gullible?) population!

To become domestics and air hostesses.

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