Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Fluffy, Crisp or Stuffed?

I am of course, talking about the Dosai which can be eaten Fluffy (as in an Uttappam or Set Dosai), Crispy (as in a sada or masala dosai) or Stuffed (onions for the simple minded - and then you can explore your imagination).

I for one, can eat dosai 24/7 and I dont think there is a better meal than a dosai atleast for breakfast and a snack.

The dosai kall as we call it is usually made of iron - but going by the name, perhaps at some point, it was probably made of stone. Non stick griddles are for amateurs - and are no fun IMO. Dosai mixes dont even count. If you want the real thing go for iron griddles and iron or steel ladles (or whatever they are called) and ground batter (not cut in a mixer). Hoping you get the basics right, lets go right into the actual mechanics of the three types.

The fluffy dosai is simpler to make - if you get your tava and batter right. Get the stone hot, spread a bit of oil and sprinkle a little water - hear it the sizzle and spread the oil water mixture gently or with some violence (and a broom if you want to replicate the hotel dosa chef). How to spread the dosai?  Use a ladle (chattuvam) or for added effect, use a small kinnam (Tamil) or wati (Maharashtrian) or bowl. And spread the batter, not so thin, but to medium thickness (5mm?). The flame should not be too hot or it will singe and not cook - if too low, it will not cook soon enough. This is more of intuition and may take a couple of tries. Pour a bit of oil around and over the dosai, turn it over after a minute or two and cook again for a minute or two. Your fluffy dosai is ready.

The crisp one is tough to crack. Spread the batter as thin as you can over a medium flame. Pour a bit of oil (or if you were a Bangalore hotel chef, douse it in so much oil that it almost deep fries itself) and wait patiently till the brown of the dosai shows up on the other side (the side facing you). The dosai has to be thin so that it needs to be cooked only on one side - and the flame just right or the dosai will be a black carbon mess very soon. And you will know when it is done. A gentle push under the dosai and the dosai pretty much lifts itself up and when you fold, it wil be as crisp as a fresh newspaper. Some places roll it up like a newspaper - some places make a cone - some as a semi circle - some triple folded with the masala hidden inside - and some cut it into longitudinal pieces after making it a semi circle or a triple fold.

The stuffed one - well, it is thinner than the fluffy but thicker than the crispy-and it can be stuffed with anything in your imagination. Onion, coconut or tomato (or a combination of the three with chillies). Spread some chutney over it while cooking itself. Put cheese inside. Well, you get it, you can stuff with your imagination (not literally). Or if you dont want to stuff it - try it with anything. Cholle, Masala, Rajma, Morkootan and Rasam, any spicy vegetable - kurma, or pav bhaji (my favourite). The Dosai is one of the most versatile things to eat! Go ahead, bite into one!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Chotta Bheem

When I grew up, there was one TV channel and one phone company. There were many cooking gas suppliers and many banks, each of which was indistinguishable from the other. Similarly, there were foreign cartoons (like He-man, Spiderman, Disney) that played for half an hour or so each week on DD and there were a few Indian cartoons (Ek Chidiya types) that did not really qualify as cartoons.

And so it was. Even the animation that we have seen recently in movies made in India was anything but pathbreaking - nothing that is of super high quality or high recall. And while a few of them made ripples in childrens mind like Hanuman - none of them has captured the kids imagination like Chotta Bheem.

Chotta Bheem (like the Mahrabharatas Bhima he is super strong, but the similarity ends there) is the improbable story of a little boy who lives in the fictitious village of Dholakpur. Each episode he fights the bad guys - that ranges from evil circus owners to not so evil scientists to aliens playing cricket - and saves Dholakpur from imminent ruin. The children are mad about him and if they catch him on TV - then our world comes to a standstill. Though, Chotta Bheem has helped many a mealtime go into fast forward mode.

It is encouraging to see the series become popular and it looks like the company has spun off its success into books and other merchandise as well.

What makes him so lovable is the simple plot lines, catchy music, some high recall ideas (he eats laddoos for strength). There are a bunch of sidekicks too - each with their own minor role. Adults might not find them very interesting - the plots are not entirely predictable - except for the part of Bheem winning - they are a super hit with children.

Whatever it is, it is nice to see the animation character give the phoren cartoons a run for their money.

Is this the tipping point for tolerating corruption?

Anna Hazares cause has found a voice in many ordinary Indians - mostly urban. Very much like Baba Ramdevs agitation resonated in the minds of middle India. Between the two of them, they have galvanized the imagination of India like never before. Corruption has always been big in India - it is almost taken for granted at many levels. It is accepted that people in power will misuse it and each time a corruption allegation has been raised against a politician - the politician has taken refuge in conspiracy theories. It would have been the same this time too - with Raja and Kalmadi accused in the 2G and CWG scam respectively (among other people who are getting pulled in) - resorting to time tested and brazen defence of backward class, dementia and what not. Except that this time, the citizenry is frustrated.

On the one hand, rising inflation and an inability to control food prices - by an economist prime minister at the helm whose marked skill seems to be inability to do anything. On the other hand, terror attacks, Maoism seem almost taken for granted. Sedition seems to be a rewarding occupation. On top of this comes corruption - while India struggles for progress, the ministers seem to be busy making retirement nests for themselves and for others. What an irony that both the corrupt and the agitators against corruption were jailed in the same prison - even if for a few days.

In all this come Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev with their clarion call to root out corruption. While one is not sure of their prescription of a super clean body that will sit to cleanse the ills of Indian society - their diagnosis is correct. Corruption as an evil has to be rooted out of Indian society - and one way for that is to ensure that the corrupt are punished. A government like the UPA which has laid bare its penchant and desire to subvert the many independent bodies the constitution provides - like the CVC and others - can very well subvert the Lok Pal with a pal of its own. In a land of puppet Prime Ministers, finding a few pals who want to hold a high office with little spine is not very difficult.

Be that as it may - there are signs of change. Today across the country, there are states which run clean administrations - Gujarat, Bihar and perhaps MP to a certain extent. The recently corrupt government of TN was booted out ignominiously and the incumbent seems well on track to provide a clean administration. The transformation of Bihar from corrupt hellhole to a clean administration makes one believe that the same happen across the country as well.

The question to be asked of these agitators and supporters is - who will they vote for in the next elections? Will they reward Congress with a third term? If they do, this entire agitation is a waste of time. Because there is no incentive for good behaviour - after looting thousands of crores, if a party comes to power again - there is no incentive for it to change. That is the logical conclusion of this endeavour - of voting and booting the corrupt out.

Therefore, perhaps this is a tipping point in the history of India. There have been many tipping points at State levels. Bihar, Gujarat have both gone through tipping points before becoming clean administrations. This agitation could very well us to a path where the corrupt are not tolerated - both by the voting populace and the party in power. Is this that tipping point?

Note to myself: This piece I thought was pretty well written and was quite pleased with it. But two editors thought it to nowhere near worth publishing! So much for my writing skills or getting to the core of the idea.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Outsourcing the fight for azadi

Once upon a time not too long ago, there was a freedom struggle between the colonized Indian natives and the ruling British. In the end the good guys won and the bad guys lost. But it was not that simple. The story saw innumerable twists and turns – the British often fired on the freedom fighters, killed quite a few common citizens and frequently arrested or caned the leaders as well. The more unfortunate leaders were sent to Andamans to a prison colloquially known as Kaala Paani. We have read about it in our history books – and then, if we were so inclined, in the many books that are available on the subject. Freedom struggle was not an easy thing to be a part of. After all you could not own fancy clothes nor buy British - among other things – if you really believed in it.

Those were the days. These days freedom fighting is an industry. And some part of it is outsourced to India - to fight India. It helps that we have elected a government that is suspiciously soft on seditious tendencies. Over the past 64 odd years (which is almost since a day after Independence), Pakistan nurses the fond hope that its unfinished task will be completed. Kashmir will return to Pakistan. And in this arduous task, they have enlisted useful idiots from the Indian society, who like most useful idiots are available for a price and they think they are fighting for a cause.

For some of these things, we have to hand it over to the ISI. While India has no covert operations active in Pakistan at all, except for some fake dossier printers – its spy agency has got its finger in every imaginable pie in India. It hosts Indian gangsters, prints fake Indian notes and even bankrolls Indian “intellectuals” for foreign trips. Clearly, it is more active in India than many other Indian agencies. While the world has outsourced work to India, the ISI has outsourced its useful idiots to India. Atleast one of the I's in ISI probably refers to India. But I digress.

These so called intellectuals who, for the price of a business class ticket and free stay at star hotels in US and Europe, fight freedom – against their own government. By doing so, they play right into the hands of the spy agency by giving legitimacy to the fake conferences that the spy agency has funded.

Unlike the earlier leaders who faced bullets, these useful idiots go and give seditious speeches in air conditioned halls while sipping champagne – all funded – by, hold your breath, the neighbours spy agency. Now, that would make you wonder if the government would arrest them like the British or send them to Kaala Pani or lathi charge them. But no, the government, actually appoints some of them as “interlocutors” and gives them an official voice. If that is not a successful Trojan horse strategy, I don’t know what is.

The list of useful idiots includes former editors of once respected newspapers, eminent personalities in the bureaucracy and people who have fairly high level of leverage with the current government. Luckily, for us, the US indicted a couple of such worthies on charges of receiving funding from ISI, and some of our intellectuals are now gasping for breath in the maelstrom.

Not that they are giving up without fighting. After all, what is at stake is free foreign trips, a bit of shopping and good accommodation. Aren't these causes worth fighting for?

(Was published in The Pioneer as an Op Ed yesterday)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gokulashtami

Q: What is the similarity between Gokulashtami and Communism?
A: Karl Marx

If you did not "get" this joke, you are best advised to not proceed reading this post steeped as it is in Tam-Mumbai sub culture.

Today is Gokulashtami 2011. And helmets have just been introduced into the kitchen after some cheedais decided to self explode in oil. And that took me back in time.

Gokulashtami to us, as youngsters, living in Tamland transplanted in Mumbai was a simple festival. Like most festivals, it meant good things to eat and sometimes wear.

Except that in Gokulashtami, the entire household would get its share of cheedai batter which they needed to convert into smallish round balls - the size of a marble (goti). Lets roll, amma would say and then thats it, we spent a good part of the afternoon rolling cheedais and often, sizing and resizing them till amma thought we got it right. It was worth it, in the end - the cheedais were a once in a year preparation - and they were an amazing snack. The salt cheedais were mostly harmless though there have been instances in our family tree when the cheedais decided to burst while they were being fried - at which point, we took evasive action and mothers used helmets to get the cheedais and themselves out of trouble.

The jaggery cheedais were more troublesome. They would split or dissolve in oil and what not. Every maami worth her salt jaggery had her own tweaks to get it right. Some advised adding banana, some reducing the jaggery and what not. But it was a sense of achievement amma had when she cracked the cheedais to her satisfaction.

No more cheedais until the next Gokulashtami. Post that all the maamis we knew exchanged their cheedais with each other - so each year we got to eat cheedais of a variety of quality levels.

Around evening, was when we got around to making footmarks of little Krishna who it is said makes his way into homes to have his share of butter, cheedai and neyappam. This was the second most exciting part - after the eating.

And since it was Mumbai, we also got to witness Dahi-Handi (it usually fell the next day) on the streets. And then for the next few days, we would take cheedais in our dabbas to school and eat it during snack time as well.

How to make: Salt Cheedai and Jaggery Cheedai

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Business ideas for Bangalore Traffic

Going by the past trends, this is becoming an almost exclusive blog on Bangalore traffic. That being said, I promise that this is not the case and that I am working on other posts too (promise).

The last couple of weeks have seen an almost exponential increase in Bangalore traffic and a subsequent exponential difficulty in reaching home after work. There are areas where a kilometer takes a good hour on a bad day - the same roads which a few years back there were people out watching aeroplanes take off. Or roads that were used for drag racing at nights are choc-a-bloc with traffic.

But despair not, there are many ideas in this traffic that are waiting to be implemented. First to my mind are the fast food restaurants. They could very well get volunteers to stand where the jam begins, take orders from cars and deliver them towards the middle of the jam so that people can have their dinner/lunch/breakfast and proceed onwards. And I mean, the good stuff like McDonalds and Pizza Hut and so on.

A concept of traffic valets can be implemented. Shops can offer valet drivers who will sit in your vehicle and drive it along slowly while you shop to your hearts content. There is no hassle of parking at all - the valet drives your car for the one odd kilometer for the 30 minutes that it will take you to shop using the same concept as the fast food idea above. If not shops, perhaps traffic valets can also be used like river pilots -they help you navigate through bad traffic and give you your car back when the signal is cleared. Indeed, if there are car travelators at signals cars will self drive through traffic and give control back to the driver at the end of the jam!


I know they are all stupid ideas, but today was an especially bad day - or someone put it on twitter - it was traffucked! But I am sure there are more such ideas out there...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Where the mind is with fear

Rabindranath Tagore penned those beautiful lines - Where the mind is without fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. 

Today 64 odd years later, I feel a little pessimistic this I-day for the day we get independence from corrupt rulers is when we will truly be independent.

The mind lives in fear - we may even have a thought police soon. Heads may be held high - but only of those who have looted mercilessly.
Knowledge is not free - it may be censored- our world has indeed been broken up into fragments, by narrow domestic walls - raised to heights each year by our friends, our rulers
Words are construed to give many hues  - any hues other than the truth
Tireless striving seems to happen to garner as many entitlements as possible
The clear stream of reason seems to be funded by the friendly neighbours spy agency
And the mind is led forward by billions earning mediapersons...

Anyway there is hope...and we are all part of that hope. Happy I-day. Not a day to be despondent, but a day to be hopeful. After all, if the English could be thrown out, so can the corrupt?

Saturday, August 06, 2011

The rains in Bangalore

There are three certainties to what happens to Bangalore when it rains. One, electricity will be shut down. Second, the weather will become noticeably cooler. Third, traffic goes for a toss.

There are multiple uncertainties as well - such as falling trees, stopping of traffic signals and sometimes the disappearance of traffic police as well...

The weather part is easy to guess. The electricity shutdown part is partly done from a safety perspective because Bangalore unlike Mumbai has very little underground electric lines - most lines are overhead which become a hazard with water and winds and falling trees. The third part is what I dont have an answer to.

When it rains - and this is at time of the day or any day of the week - traffic increases at a furious pace. The rate at which roads get clogged is exponentially proportional to the rains. And I have really never been able to figure out why that is the case.

Initially I used to think that the bikers who take shelter under any covered place available on the road caused it - but they are far too few in number to make traffic disrupt to such a large extent. Then my theory was that people who would normally walk or take the bus - decide to take rickshaws and taxis. (To some extent that is true - since it is my own experience that taxis are difficult to get when it rains.) But when with this as a combination, it is not enough to throw traffic out of gear so instantaneously. Especially considering that Bangalore rains, unlike Mumbai rains are nice and polite and stay like a well behaved guest in the city. Showers generally do not last beyond half an hour whereas in Mumbai the rain can last a week or more. Bangalore also experiences wild pouring rain not more than 15 minutes at a time - after which it becomes more like a nice tamed dog that you can take for a walk while singing romantic rain songs and enjoy chilli bhajji and tea somewhere.

One crazy hypothesis is that as soon it begins to rain, people, in a lemming like mentality take their cars and begin to drive  in all possible directions and clog up all the roads.

But this is an amazing thing about rain - and I am writing this at the fag end of a weekend shower that lasted for exactly 15 minutes - and has predictably thrown traffic out of gear, the weather has grown noticeably more pleasant and the electricity has gone off to take a short break at work.The traffic as I see it is a mess - almost a standstill and it will be like this for a couple of hours. How a 15 minute rain can stop the city and electricity and traffic each time, every time intrigues me. I dont have an answer. Do you?

(The post will finally be up when either the power supply or backup kicks in...)

The price of fruits

This is more of my own self discovery - my own personal, minor Eureka moment, if you will. It is just that I did not realize it myself.

A packet of biscuits - costs about 10 Rs for 100 grams (give or take a few). That translates into about 100 rupees a kilo. Premium biscuits cost even more- so you can do the math yourself.

But fruits - at Bangalore prices - fruits start from anywhere at 20 rupees a kilo (Robusta Bananas) to about 100 rupees a kilo (Apples, Pomegranates) for the most part. There are super premium fruits which cost more like Washington Apples and exotic fruits like Kiwi and whatchamicallit - which are more expensive.

But think about it, this is the level of "value add" that food processing brings. Whether it is beneficial or not etc is a bigger question.

But what it means in general is that, one is better off buying fruits, even if they are more expensive rather than buying other "processed" "artificial" items. It may or may not apply to you, but it does to me - since I believe that eating natural is better than eating artificial. Separate story that at this point, it does seem impossible to go to a completely natural diet - but if I achieve it, you can be sure it will be part of a blog post!

Why fruits and biscuits - because I tend to buy both as part our groceries - and I have been trying to cut down on the latter and  buy more of the former.