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Archive for April, 2010

India, US and China consider joint strategic crude oil response – Money Matters – livemint.com

Big Oil is way to big to be managed by a few meetings in Seoul ... But

Big Oil is way too big to be managed by a few meetings in Seoul ... But

To protect themselves against disruptions in crude oil supplies, India, Japan, China, South Korea and the US will meet in June in Seoul to work on a joint response mechanism based on their combined strategic crude oil reserves. The five nations together account for 44% of global demand.Strategic crude oil reserves are a country’s answer to counter short-term supply disruptions. They are state-funded and meant to tackle emergency situations. (via India, US and China consider joint strategic crude oil response – Money Matters – livemint.com).

So quietly

A rather sudden development – and not widely reported, at that. Much trawling over the internet could not find any other reports on this meeting – except this one report in Livemint, linked above. It appears that this meeting in Seoul, is a follow-on meeting to the one that China proposed and hosted in 2006.

Energy security has long been an issue with China – which seems to have influenced its foreign policy strongly. Korea has long  been working on energy security with Middle East producers. India has worked on some oil storage plans with foreign investments.

Considering the low-output since the China confab, nearly four years ago, in the short run, there is little scope for any tangible outcome from the Seoul conclave. Developments if any, will only be long-term in nature – and will need significant co-ordination in oil exploration, shipping, storage, and transportation. But what it does, is establish an Asian forum for Asia’s big economies to coördinate policy.

Not a bad idea at all.

Korea-India

Oil prices and uncertainty could derail economies

Oil prices and uncertainty could derail economies

This meeting has quite some background. With the changing power equations in Asia, Korea finds itself in a difficult situation. For historical reasons, they cannot see themselves being very close to Japan (bad memories of Japanese occupation) or China (China’s support for North Korea, hegemonic designs of China, etc.).

On the other hand, the Korean experience in India has been positive. Korean brands like Hyundai, Samsung and LG have done exceedingly well in India, Unlike Chinese brands, Korean products have been received warmly by Indians. Indian prowess in design, R&D, software, also complement Korean manufacturing, global scales and plans. Korea and India have signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) in August, 2009.

In India, Korea is seen as a rare, non-threatening, non-exploitative industrial-economy player.

USA-Europe-Asia

It was at Copenhagen, that for the first time, Europe realized that they no longer have the inside track with the USA. At least Obama’s administration. The ‘special relationship’ that swells the British chest has been under some strain – for some time now. The US engagement with Asia makes some sense – as it is Asia which has extended nearly US$3-4 trillion in credit, growth opportunities to the US. Europe increasingly seems more like a liability – and a truculent competitor.

The US presumably knows which side of their bread is buttered.

China-India

Post-Copenhagen, a grateful China has been effusive towards India – at least temporarily. The Chinese press did a roundel for 60 years of India-China diplomatic relationship. With this we have a round-up of the entire scenario. The sentiment and motivation are thick enough to cut with even a blunt knife.

This time around.

Warped Indian history – By Nehru

A mentally shackled Nehru on 15th August 1947 - could not break free of the English

A mentally shackled Nehru on 15th August 1947 - could not break free of the English

The old culture managed to live through many a fierce storm and tempest, but though it kept its outer form, it lost its real content. Today it is fighting silently and desperately against a new and all-powerful opponent — the bania civilisation of the capitalist West. It will succumb to the newcomer, for the West brings science, and science brings food for the hungry millions. But the West also brings an antidote to the evils of this cut-throat civilisation — the principles of socialism, of cooperation, and service to the community for the common good. This is not so unlike the old Brahmin idea of service. (from Jawaharlal Nehru, an autobiography: with musings on recent events in India By Jawaharlal Nehru via Nehru: Man Among Men By Raja R. Mehrotra).

Bad start

India and Nehru got off to wrong start at the very first instant. When he made his ‘famous’ tryst with destiny speech, who was Nehru talking to? To the less than 5% Indians who understood English? If Free India’s first Prime Minister did not see fit to talk to Indians intelligibly, how close or how much did he care for India?

Nehru’s ideas about Indian history are possibly his biggest failing. Nehru’s puerile ignorance about India’s scientific tradition does not deserve further examination. Look at his pseudo-romantic ideas of Indian Brahminism.

Indian tradition

Jawaharlal Nehru with Girja Shankar Bajpai, the first Secretary-General, Ministry of External Affairs, at Commonwealth Prime Ministers, 1948, London. (THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY)

Jawaharlal Nehru with Girja Shankar Bajpai, the first Secretary-General, Ministry of External Affairs, at Commonwealth Prime Ministers, 1948, London. (THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY)

In Upanishadic times, there was the Nachiketa story, where his rich Brahman father, Uddalaka, /Vajasrava, was ‘giving’ away old, barren, unproductive cows – and keeping the best for himself. Obviously, Uddalaka, /Vajasrava did not become rich through ‘selfless’ service. Probably, Nehru was not Brahmin enough to know this lesson. Or we can blame his British school, Harrow. Why did they not teach him anything much about Upanishads?

Much after Uddalaka /Vajasrava, foreign students paid upto 1000 coins in advance to receive education at Takshashila – and there were thousands of such students. Students came from all over the world – and paid large sums of money to Indian teachers for education!

The Tibetan-Buddhist student, Marpa, the Translator (1012–1099), was warned by a co-traveller “If you go to India without lots of gold, searching for dharma will be like trying to drink water from an empty gourd.” Interestingly, Naropa, the Indian teacher forced Marpa to give up his entire stock of gold. Having extracted all of Marpa’s gold, Naropa threw all the gold dust, up in the air, exclaiming that the whole world was gold to him. Where was Nehru’s much-vaunted Brahmin idea of service then. Nehru’s ideas of Brahminical selfless service were alien to India – as were his ideas of rampant, extractive, profiteering banias.

Indian trade ethics

Indian banias were limited in their profit-taking by शुभ लाभ shubh-labh’ ethics. It is शुभ लाभ shubh labh, that prevents traditional Indian merchant community, from dealing with slaves, drugs and alcohol. The ‘green’ agenda of शुभ लाभ shubl labh, also prevents traditional banias from dealing in meat products. Unlike Nehru’s British banias whose wealth was created from slave trade – apart from drugs and alcohol.

Historically, trade in India is governed by शुभ लाभ ‘shubh labh’ – and hence Indians have not been major players in drugs proliferation (unlike Japan, the West, which traded Opium in Korea and China) or in slave trade. In modern times, India is not a big player in spamming or in software virus – though a power in computing industry. In August 2008, a hoax story alleged that an Indian hacker, had broken into a credit card database, and sold it to the European underworld. Some ‘experts’ feared that this would spark of a crime wave across Europe.

On slavery, the very basis of Western dominance, in his autobiography of nearly 500 pages, Nehru mentions slavery less than 5 times. Which just goes onto to show how well the Indian colonial masters had ‘supressed’ their own real history and source of wealth.

Underneath the Western sky

Colonial India’s English push was understandable. But, Nehru’s imposition of English on India is beyond defence. What more, after 60 years of Independence, state patronage of English language is unwarranted by the Indian Republic – and illegitimate. Making sense of the newly formed Indian nation was herculean task – even for Nehru. After more than a century of propaganda, Western ‘education’, inversion of history, post-colonial Indian rulers struggled between the ‘glossy’ imported idioms and the familiar native dialogue.

Caught in this dilemma, the Nehruvian Indian State vacillates between a unique Indic inheritance and the detritus of dead-end colonialism.

Assault on Indian academia

Nehru - at his Harrowian best!

Nehru - at his Harrowian best!

Mohammed Bakhtiar Khilji destroyed the Universities and schools of Nalanda, Vikramshila, Odantapura and Jagddala around 1200 AD. This marked the destruction, persecution and decline in Indian education, thought and structure. 600 years later, the British further damaged the Indic system of education, with State subsidies and patronage of Western education – the watershed being Bentinck’s proclamation in 1835.

Thus, the reduced (quality and quantity) output from the ‘Indian thought factory’ led to stasis and the decline that we see today – through the prism of last 800 years of violence and destruction of Indic thought. This problem gets further magnified with the existing and continued subsidy to English language /Western education by the Indian Government.

Many centuries ago, Indians (under Islamic rulers) thought that Persian was the most important language in the world. And then it became Urdu. Now there are hosannas to English. Persian and Urdu were languages that the ruling class foisted on the Indians.

As is English.

SEC to sue Goldman Sachs

April 20, 2010 1 comment

The gentle art of suing Big Guns

SEC’s decision to sue Goldman Sachs, brings to an end, a long drama.

In August and September of 2008, 2ndlook was calling for investigations into the collapse of Bear Sterns, Lehman, et al. When the Great Recession was not real – and only a fear. While Preet Bharara was busy building a flimsy case against Rajarathnam? When Bharara should have been investigating Hank Paulson, the Former Treasury Secretary, under whose watch many bankruptcies happened. Conveniently in favour of JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. Even now, this investigation,

To say that it comes at an awfully convenient time for President Barack Obama’s Democrats is a colossal understatement.

With mid-term elections just a few months off and the U.S. Congress set to debate a massive financial regulatory reform package — one that Wall Street lobbyists and their pals in the Senate have been fighting every step of the way — the suit offers tailor-made reformist ammo for Obama & Co.

Birds of feather

Khuzami tells us that Goldman Sachs is cared. Tell that to the birds!

Khuzami tells us that Goldman Sachs is cared. Tell that to the birds!

By sending a notice to Goldman Sachs, in July 2009, SEC gave enough time to Goldman Sachs to enable them to prepare adequately for an extended court-room battle. Businessweek  writes about three issues,

Robert Khuzami, shortly after becoming the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement chief last year, told Congress the agency must be willing to fight big cases to show it poses a “credible threat.”

Does Khuzami think that SEC scares Goldman Sachs? With the kind of money power that Goldman Sachs has, it can manage a battle with SEC for an entire generation. What SEC’s action will do is scare the likes of the co-accused in the Rajarathnam case. Extremely small fry. Even Rajarathnam was  not scared of SEC. Minions – that is who Khuzami is trying to scare.

European regulators are following the SEC’s case. Britain’s Financial Services Authority said today it will start a formal probe of Goldman Sachs’s London unit. BaFin, Germany’s financial-services regulator, is requesting information from the SEC about the case.

Big Business loves regulatory overload. It kills competition!

Big Business loves regulatory overload. It kills competition!

Win over voters. Avoid charges of collusion. Shake the money tree. Gordon Brown has a tough election to win. In the middle of the Great Recession, the German Government needs to show ‘resolve.’ In the meantime, AIG has also decided to try a shakedown.

The SEC’s Republican commissioners, Kathleen Casey and Troy Paredes, opposed the lawsuit against Goldman Sachs, which was approved in a 3-2 vote, two people with knowledge of the matter said yesterday.

Nobody’s ‘tellin’ but everybody knows. Big business and Big Government. That is the axis on which ‘progressive’ economies of the world are being built – and depend on. Or become a large public-sector enterprise – like Europe has become. This is the regulation gambit.

Government’s impose regulation to eliminate the small players – who cannot bear the regulatory overload and compliance costs. More regulation helps the big players – and big players have the financial and bureaucratic muscle to manage excess regulation.

The trouble with Hank

Was Hank Paulson making it easier for his ex-employer Goldman to buy up competitors? Was he helping out JP Morgan with WaMu and Bear Stearns? It was well-known that JPMorgan Chief, Jamie Dimon had long drooled over WaMu. While a lot of stressed organizations were getting support, Hank Paulson allowed Lehman to go under! JPMorgan was being blamed for Lehman collapse.

US bank JPMorgan Chase stands accused of precipitating the collapse of American investment bank Lehman Brothers by freezing Lehman assets days before it filed for bankruptcy protection, the Sunday Times reported.

After 60 Days

Was Paulson looking at his own future, while deciding on the future of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, WaMu? How 60 days later, when he would need a new job! Was the collapse of Lehman, a deal for a job with Goldman – or was it JP Moran Chase? While a lot of people were getting support, Paulson allowed Lehman to go under!

I wonder why?

Transparency International does not call this corruption. But then, that is par for the course!

Been there and done that

In a democracy, people have choice!

In a democracy, people have choice!

This is very similar to Joseph Kennedy’s shorting the market before The Great Depression. It has always been a source of wonder to me how could Joseph Kennedy, a bootlegger and a friend of the mafiosi become SEC Chairman? And after that, could the Great Depression not follow?

It was always 2ndlook’s suspicion that Hank Paulson’s behaviour in the Lehman collapse is similar to Bootlegger Kennedy’s behaviour. And this now coming out all in the open!!

The biggest bankruptcy in history might have been avoided if Wall Street had been prevented from practicing one of its darkest arts.

As Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc struggled to survive last year, as many as 32.8 million shares in the company were sold and not delivered to buyers on time as of September 11, according to data compiled by the Securities and Exchange Commission and Bloomberg. That was a more than 57-fold increase over the prior year’s peak of 567,518 failed trades on July 30.

The SEC has linked such so-called fails-to-deliver to naked short selling, a strategy that can be used to manipulate markets. A fail-to-deliver is a trade that doesn’t settle within three days.

“We had another word for this in Brooklyn,” said Harvey Pitt, a former SEC chairman. “The word was ‘fraud.’” (via Naked short sales hint fraud in bringing down Lehman).

Back then in 2008, first, the world was hit by Big Oil at US$150 per barrel. As though that  was not enough, came the Big Banks! After Big Oil and Big Banks, we will have the pleasure of getting the The Big Lie!

Goebbels is alive, well and kicking. All of us.

Fears of German exit from EMU

EU's having a difficult time!

EU's having a difficult time!

weak states cannot easily leave EMU because they would pay a stiff penalty in higher rates, would be stuck with euro debt contracts, and might need controls to stem capital flight. It is a different calculus for Germany, which would see lower rates and might view EMU exit as the only way to ensure monetary stability.”Obviously, we have not reached the end game yet. However, with the latest developments, such a break-up scenario has clearly become more likely. The risk is far from negligible and the consequences for financial markets would be very severe. Investors ignore the break-up risk at their peril,” he said. (via Morgan Stanley fears German exit from EMU – Telegraph).

How many Euro-currencies …

A super-dense, power-currency, union between France, Germany, Italy and UK may have a chance of survival. At least, Joachim Starbatty, a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Tübingen, seriously proposes that Germany withdraw from the EMU. In which case what happens to the Euro? Will it become a 2nd-class currency of the Euro-zone?Will Europe splinter into another 20 currencies?

Idle minds?

Turning the clock back, to recreate a German Deutschmarks, surely the Germans realize, is the last resort. A en flambé Europe  may justify such a last step. Europe is at least a few decades away from such a situation. Unless the gentle decline of Europe gathers significant pace, such thinking will be defeatist. Europe has invested too much and gone too far down the road to turn back. In a stressed financial sector, mandates are difficult and far in between.

One way to draw attention is to give out such reports.

Dollar-Yuan – When the dust settles

April 18, 2010 1 comment

The Dollar-Yuan spat between US and China is actually a 60 year old US foreign-policy mechanism – which 2ndlook has termed as USCAP – US-Client-Acquisition-Program.

Originally published on Wednesday, May 09, 2001 - Cartoon David Horsey - Seattle-PI

Originally published on Wednesday, May 09, 2001 - Cartoon David Horsey; Seattle PI

EU’s trade deficit

The interesting point is how EU manages its trade deficit – without blaming China-Yuan. EU-zone countries like Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, are on the verge of a sovereign default. Euro-zone is upto its gills in debt. The Euro is being called names. And EU is not snivelling about the yuan and China?

Very un-European!

Usually…

USA, EU Trade Balance with Oil Producers (Graphic source and courtesy - www.eurotrib.com). Click for larger image.

USA, EU Trade Balance with Oil Producers (Graphic source and courtesy - http://www.eurotrib.com). Click for larger image.

Europe is at the forefront seeing dangers, damage, affronts, threats, effects, fall-outs et al. The whole she-bang! But in case of China and Yuan, Europe is not doing much of crying about the ‘undervalued’ Yuan. The Euro revaluation is a recent affair. So, not of much consequence. The Yuan undervaluation has been on the US agenda for a few years now – with varying intensities. Euro-trade balance with China is slightly in China’s favour. All in all, good management by the Euro-zone, it appears.

Which in the current scenario is the one-bright-spot on the Euro-horizon!

Good for them.

The US Treasury has been charged by Congress to assess whether China is a ‘currency manipulator’  … the very concept of currency manipulation is flawed: all governments take actions that directly or indirectly affect the exchange rate. Reckless budget deficits can lead to a weak currency ; so can low interest rates. Until the recent crisis in Greece, the US benefited from a weak dollar-euro exchange rate. Should Europeans have accused the US of ‘manipulating’ the exchange rate to expand exports at its expense?

Although US politicians focus on the bilateral trade deficit with China — which is persistently large — what matters is the multilateral balance. When demands for China to adjust its exchange rate began during George W Bush’s administration, its multilateral trade surplus was small. More recently, however, China has been running a large multilateral surplus as well.

Saudi Arabia also has a bilateral and multilateral surplus: Americans want its oil, and Saudis want fewer US products . Even in absolute value, Saudi Arabia’s multilateral merchandise surplus of $212 billion in 2008 dwarfs China’s $175 billion surplus; as a percentage of GDP, Saudi Arabia’s current-account surplus, at 11.5% of GDP, is more than twice that of China. Saudi Arabia’s surplus would be far higher were it not for US armaments exports.

In a global economy with deficient aggregate demand, current-account surpluses are a problem. But China’s current-account surplus is actually less than the combined figure for Japan and Germany; as a percentage of GDP, it is 5%, compared to Germany’s 5.2%.

Adjustment in the exchange rate is likely to shift to where the US buys its textiles and apparel: from Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, rather than China . Meanwhile, a rise in the exchange rate is likely to contribute to inequality in China, as its poor farmers face increasing competition from the US’ highly subsidised farms. This is the real trade distortion in the global economy, one in which millions of poor people in developing countries are hurt as the US helps some of the world’s richest farmers.

Since China’s multilateral surplus is the economic issue and many countries are concerned about it, the US should seek a multilateral, rules-based solution … Unfortunately, this global crisis was made in the US, and the country must look inward … (via No time for trade war between US and China: Joseph E Stiglitz-International Business-News-The Economic Times).

View from Lanka (Image source and courtesy - sundaytimes.lk). Click for larger image.

View from Lanka (Image source and courtesy - sundaytimes.lk). Click for larger image.

US trade deficit

Stiglitz, in the post linked above,  does a good job in demolishing American propaganda against the Chinese yuan. He shows how while there is case for yuan revaluation, the logic is not what the Americans are giving.

To de-fang American pressure, China recently reported a trade deficit. Much like Europe, Japan, Asian Tigers had to recalibrate their currencies, China too will have to do it. Dollar gyrations are sinking many smaller economies – like the cartoon above from Sri Lanka represents.

The mystery of the forex basket

Increasing the share of Euro in global forex reserves is a long-term EU objective. Is this European quiet related to:-

1. Keeping China happy,
2. Pushing the Euro proposition to the Chinese
3. Increasing the share of Euro in China’s reserves basket.
4. All at the dollar’s expense.
5. After all, who would like to turn away a creditor who is happy with low-to-zero interest with an excess of US$2.5 trillion sloshing around.
6. This US$2.5 trillion can turn Euro-fortunes!

USCAP

Cartoon from Korea Times - Mad Pakistani Tiger eating itself!

Mad Pakistani Tiger eating itself! (Cartoon from Korea Times).

The US has successfully executed US-Client-Acquisition-Programme (USCAP) – a most out-sized ‘conquest’ in history. By using economic levers, it has successfully created client-states across Europe, SE Asia, Japan, China, etc. Some economies have taken the bait, used US incentives and become ‘successful’ client states.

What is most intriguing is Stiglitz’s choice for US largesse – after China. Sri Lanka or Bangladesh, he says. With Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as US clients, India’s may see itself encircled by Anglo-Saxon client states.

A declining West, riding away into the sunset, somehow seems unreal to me.

India’s Forgotten Tryst With Destiny

April 11, 2010 1 comment
Forgotten heroes - inflated cut outs!

Forgotten heroes - inflated cut outs!

Lal, Bal and Pal Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal who hailed from Punjab, Maharashtra and Bengal, respectively, and adopted Swaraj as the destiny of the nation, could form the subject of yet another pavilion. Tilak’s memorable phrase, “Swaraj is my birthright and i shall have it”, his differences with the more moderate Gopal Krishna Gokhale and the split in the Congress into an ‘aggressive nationalist’ wing under him and a moderate wing under the latter may provide some of the themes for this pavilion. The Partition of Bengal and its reversal forced by the swadeshi movement, the visit of King George V and the Delhi-Lahore conspiracy are some additional events the pavilion could exhibit. (via Another Tryst With Destiny – The Times of India).

Victor’s propaganda

Post-colonial Indian history has been completely swamped by Congress propaganda. Leaders in the vanguard, the leading lights, have been have been cursorily dismissed or their names wiped clean. Those who pursued different directions, disagreed with GNP (Gandhi /Nehru /Patel) were villified, ignored or dismissed. Leaders like Lal, Bal and Pal, are completely forgotten. Subhash Chandra Bose is a vague memory today.

Subhash Chandra Bose with Jawaharlal Nehru (Image source and courtesy - im.rediff.com). Click for larger image.

Subhash Chandra Bose with Jawaharlal Nehru (Image source and courtesy - im.rediff.com). Click for larger image.

Contributions of leaders like SC Bose was ignored or the importance of the February 1946 joint action by the Indian Armed Forces against the colonial forces, was minimized to the ‘Naval Ratings Mutiny.’ Leaders like VD Savarkar (the first to write a non-colonial history of the War of 1857), or Madan Mohan Malaviya, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee (the founder of the Jana Sangh-BJP) was dismissed as fascism.

A ‘victorious’ Congress, ruling for most of the 60 years of post-colonial India, had three clear propaganda imperatives. One – There is no alternative to the Congress. Two – If you don’t have an enemy create one . Like Pakistan. Three – Gain Western approval.

The threads of Indian independence

The myth of non-violent Indian freedom movement, served both colonial and Congress interests. It showed the British as ‘civilized’ colonialists – and the Congress as ‘enlightened’ leadership. Just like most Western literature caricatures African-American characters as hard-working, humble, docile, placid, obedient, gentle! Fact is, that Britain was bankrupt and could not hold onto India. Congress decided to re-write history and take all credit for the departure of the British colonialists.

Apart from the War of 1857, there were more than 75 battles, skirmishes, revolts, mutinies, involving thousands, up to lakhs of Indians, across India. And more than double that many conspiracies, plots, hold-ups, explosions, bombings, which were not organized. These more than 200 violent actions have been completely glossed over by post-colonial India’s historians. Obviously, more than 200 incidents of violent opposition to British misrule over 150 years (1800-1947) deserves better treatment by official historians. Especially, the people who were ‘behind’ this.

Fact is, that Britain was bankrupt and could not hold onto India.

On Jain /Indian food taboos …

April 8, 2010 5 comments
Rich man's food sampler across India

Rich man's food sampler across India

Some years back my grandmother employed a cook called Mary … a good cook … also fond of eating … particularly … non-vegetarian food … my grandmother … would give Mary a little extra money to buy meat or fish for herself … knowing my interest in food, she asked Mary to let me taste what she had cooked for herself that day.

Mary … wondering … brought out a small bowl of what looked like chopped long beans, but whitish, and in a rich brown gravy. They were goats’ intestines she said, waiting for me to refuse them. But, of course, I didn’t and it was delicious — the slight chewiness was more than made up by the rich, savoury gravy, which had a slight jelly-like thickness. I knew … that some organ meats like liver and brain are eaten for their own unique texture, but others are more valued for the rich savour of their juices, and these intestines were like that.

Once she knew I was interested in her food, Mary would happily serve me some, always the really cheap meats she bought. Another time she cooked salt fish curry, and again it was delicious, with a tang that you never get with fresh fish. It was the sort of dish you would never find in a restaurant, partly from genuine constraints — the Taj Group’s Chef Ananda Solomon told me wistfully he would love to serve the Mangalorean salt fish dishes of his childhood at his Konkan Cafe, but doesn’t dare for fear of the smell penetrating and lingering through his hotel kitchen — but also because most customers would not order what they saw as poor people’s food.

I thought of Mary’s food when I read that the Dalit poet and activist Namdeo Dhasal has started a restaurant … due to the financial problems … and it sounds like a regular place serving North Indian style kebabs and curries, but … he also plans to serve lesser known dishes like a curry of harandodi flowers and vazri, which is intestines and tripe (the stomachs of ruminants). These are dishes typically associated with Dalits … generally, the poor who could not afford other foods … one has to be careful in talking about Dalit food … For most of their history the basic fact of Dalit lives was hunger … there is another side to the food of Dalits, or just the really poor, who were forced into eating things that the rich upper castes would not touch … quite often there is real value in such food, and tripe is a good example.  There are also regional Indian dishes for tripe and intestines, like Kashmiri chuste, for which the first ingredient … is, vividly, “3 feet of intestines.” But as with salt fish, restaurants are too squeamish to serve such dishes, and I am guessing that it is also disappearing from home kitchens for that reason, and also because of the labour involved in making them. One of the reasons we value ingredients like chicken breast is because so little effort is involved in making  it, whereas salt fish must be soaked and tripe cleaned many times before it can be used. The reward is their great taste, as compared to the lack of any for broiler chicken breasts, but perhaps we are also uncomfortable with such deep, complex flavours these days.

But these are flavours that Dhasal would know well. His father worked in a Muslim butcher’s shop in Mumbai, and one of the perks was to take home whatever scraps of meat were left over at the end of day, which would definitely have included offal meats. His mother would cook them all into one sustaining stew, and perhaps it is this that he plans to serve in his restaurant. The harandodi flowers sound like they come from another food tradition of the poor — the wild leaves and flowers foraged in the countryside.

The Deccan Development Society, an Andhra Pradesh-based organisation that works with predominantly Dalit women in rural areas has catalogued the amazing variety of foraged greens they know of, many of them with vital nutritional and health values. Not all make for good eating, but some definitely do, and this would be a welcome vegetarian addition to such a restaurant.

There are also the fish and shellfish which Urmila Pawar writes about in Aaydan, her autobiography  … notable for capturing not just the many miseries of Dalit women’s lives, but also their small, fleeting pleasures. For example … collection of shellfish — backbreaking work, and dangerous too, since the tide could suddenly rise and drown you. Yet one of the pleasures was the oysters that could be found under the further rocks, and “once on shore, they would spread the oyster shells on it, cover these with dry leaves and twigs and bake the oysters.”

Another dish that Pawar remembers is katyacha motla, made from small river fish, “cleaned and covered with a paste made of amsul, turmeric, oil and salt. Next they would be wrapped in leaves of the kumbhi tree and tied with thin long strips cut from the stems of wild creepers. The packet was kept in the stove under hot ash, sometimes even for eight days… This was a very tasty dish and while it lasted our mouths kept watering all the time.” One thing also worth noting about such dishes is their nutritional and environmental value. Since rice was too expensive … most Dalits had to eat millets like jowar and bajra; yet it these millets which are being extolled today for their environmental value in requiring far less water than wheat or rice, and also for their exceptional nutritional qualities, which results in them being sold in health food shops in cities at prices that would boggle the minds of the poor who ate them from lack of choice. As I said, it is hardly surprising that when they do have a choice, many spurn them, yet there is some sense in preserving such traditions, and someone with the influence of Dhasal, is ideally placed to do so in his restaurant. (via The poor man’s palate:On My Plate :Vikram Doctor’s blog-The Economic Times).

Curious tales

This post from Vikram Doctor, unraveled to me, a part of Indian cuisine, that was long a mystery. A tribe in Bihar specializes in diet limited to rats – the mushahaaris. Why don’t Jains eat anything that grows underground – potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, carrots, et al. Similarly, Agarwals-Marwaris also have taboos against onions and garlic.

These taboos are covered by a patina of a folk-religion and tales. Onions and garlic were cursed by Shiva, for instance. There are no references in any classical texts for such a curse by Shiva. Then there are thin moral explanations, surrounding the taboos and preferences in Indian communities. Onion and garlic ‘contaminate’ the mind with ‘dirty’ thoughts – and increase ‘sexual desire’.

Not a good idea, you will agree!

A study in parallels

The Indian food conundrum!

The Indian food conundrum!

Looking at how property, gold, trade and commerce were historically organized in India – so was food. In a non-competitive manner.

Everyone could and did invest in gold. Property was every peasant’s right – till the Desert Bloc started the Great Indian Land Grab, 800 years ago. Like how trade were reserved for certain communities – which later ossified into an exclusive, caste system.

Similarly, the food system seems to have evolved. The rich did not compete with the poor for cheaper foods. Roots and tubers – like onions, garlic, carrots, are all low-cost vegetables. And rich traders (like Jains /Agrawals-Marwaris) did not compete with the poor for the same items.

Could this be the logic?

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