Eat your heart out!

This is a guest post by my sister Padmini Natarajan who is a regular contributor to and a professional writer. Her articles appear in many magazines in Chennai and she has co-authored/edited a few books that have won acclaim and awards.

This piece is all about the special foods in various parts of our diverse country. At least for me, reading it was a nostalgia trip. I hope that all those who read this get as much enjoyment as I did reading it.

Frankly all this Globalization has taken the charm out of eating! There used to be a time when you looked forward to travelling to new places to taste the food that was special to that place.

If it was Chennai it was Idli, Vadai, Sambhar, Dosai and Chutney and Pongal, Puli saadam and that ambrosia—Curd Rice. Tirunelveli halwa and payasam brought up the sweet menu.

Kerala dished out aapam and stew both vegetable and fish and the rich coconut oil flavoured Nendranga chips and the Jackfruit varieties and the adai pradamam. The vella payasam made up of rice, gur, coconut and spices and dripping with ghee served in temples was unmatched.

Delhi was the place for Tandoori roti, chaat, Paneer dishes, sarson ka saag in winter with makkai ki roti—not to forget the sharp taste of the radish, white mooli and tender cucumbers sold by vendors with baskets full of fresh stuff harvested from the Yamuna river bed and served with a dash of pepper and salt and maybe a hint of kaala namak. Sweets bought in Bengali market, the dry spell in the summer when no milk based sweets were sold and the delicious taste of the moti choor ke laddu, gajjar ka halwa and Mathura ka Peda and Karol Bagh’s Kulfi and huge glasses of Lassi.

Calcutta meant rosogollas in earthen pots from KC Das and hot, hot singadas. Mishti doi from the corner doodhwala and a plate full rainbow coloured sweets like kaala jamuns, chum chums, malai channa and mishtis. Chocolates from Flurrys was a treat and the chana garam and kulfi at Victoria Memorial and pink candy floss in the Zoo were out of this world.

Bombay meant Bhel Puri, Paani Puri, Dahi Batata Puri, Vada Paav and ‘cutlees and sandich’ eaten on the streets, in little cubbyholes called restaurants or in famous joints all hade a unique taste. Thali food in Purohit, Thakur or in lately-come –Johnny places like Kamats was a treat for a hungry shopper or sightseer. Bombay Halwa from Chandu Halwai, Mohenthal and Jilebis, Phirni from Bhendi Bazaar and Alphonso mangoes in season was part of the branding of the city.

Indore ki Mithai Galli, Hyderabad ka Pulla Reddy, Bangalore’s Iyengar bakery, Lucknow ki Daseri and Mysore Pak were identified with the history of the cities.

A trip to London was a dip into Baked potatoes, Pies, Ploghman’s lunches, cucumber sandwiches, scones and crumpets, Trifles and Cheesecakes. Italy meant pasta and pizzas wafting aromas of Olive Oil and fresh herbs and gelatos. Paris was the place for Nouvelle Cuisine, Croissants and Baguettes, Cheese and Cold Cuts, gateauxs and sorbets. The States meant McDonalds, KFC, Apple Pie and Chowder. Singapore or Hong Kong—even for that matter China Town in Calcutta—was the place for Mien and Chow, Wontons and Chinese Soups, Toffeed Apples and Lichis and Chopsticks to eat food.

Today, every big city boasts of restaurants, hotels, caterers and cubby-hole eateries that serve anything from everywhere. Even Ethiopian food, Lebanese specialities and Egyptian platters have attacked the hungry consumer in every big city.

Fusion is in! Food traditions have been indigenised and you get Chicken Manchurian with Sambhar Podi in it, Paneer Pizza, Nachos as Dahi Vada and Chicken Tikka Burgers. I think the biggest grief is to have Pasta Biryani, Mince gol guppas and Mutton or mien filled dosas that scream of globalization in its worst avatar.

Soon I expect we will have mini Taj’s, Eiffel Towers and London Bridges in all cities to make the world a truly global entity. Then we wont need to take a plane—anyway with the airfares rocketing it is going to get more and more dearer—to ‘furrin’ parts to gawp at the seven,m eight, nine whatever wonders of the world. Disney is already miniaturising famous monuments in their theme parks all over the world and famous people are being re-waxed in Madame Tussauds in major cities.

No wonder people are hitting the trekking trail and opting for nature holiday or Safaris where you can go sightseeing and experience raw unexploited natural scenery! And the last resort is to turn up your nose and say, “Well darling! There is so much to eat, see and experience in India, why go elsewhere” and then get into your car and take off down the ECR Road, Mumbai Pune Highway, Delhi-Jaipur six way etc.

Bon appetite!

We are like that only.

What a Sunday! I got my weekly dose of "Outlook" and an article in it prompted this post. After I finished writing the first draft, another article caught my attention and that too has been added as an after thought in this same post.

The first article is by Saikat Datta and gives an interesting insight into the working of India’s RAW (Research and Analysis Wing). It is aptly titled "Spy versus Spy" and talks about the intra departmental rivalries between the IPS (Indian Police Service) officials and the RAS (Research and Analysis Service). The two services between the two of them have apparently been causing a lot of problems within this important part of India’s security establishment.

When I mentioned this to one of my retired Armed forces friends, he told me that this was nothing and went on to elaborate how, these two will gang up at an appropriate opportunity to take on the IAS, the BSF, the Armed Forces, etc and within the bureaucracy and the establishment, there will always be such inter departmental, and inter services rivalries and detrimental politicking. He related the latest instance of how the Rajasthan Police and the IPS, including the CBI blamed the BSF for being corrupt and allowing Bangladeshis to enter India.

He also mentioned how the IAS has always done things to protect its own turf at the cost of other services and pointed out the latest Pay Commission fiasco which has resulted in a lot of unpleasantness in the Armed Forces as well as in the Scientific establishment etc.

The political scene is no less illuminating for its sheer self-centeredness at the cost of the nation’s interest. The drama of the UPA unraveling and political wheeling dealing going on is a spectacle that no Bollywood movie can match for its sheer drama!

The other article is inset by John Mary "25:17…Path Of The Righteous Man" which talks about the crisis in Kerala arising out of text books approved for school children. One cites the example of an instance in a text book where the child of mixed parenthood unable to fill in religion cast etc in an application form, which has been criticized for leaving the children with lasting impressions,of quite what, one is led to imagine.

I had first hand experience of this in Bangalore in 1989. My son Ranjan was seeking admission into the plus two section of a college and required my personal appearance before the Principal to secure it. I rushed only to be informed that the application form as filled in by me will result in Ranjan not getting a hall ticket to write his examinations. The problem was that I had written that Ranjan had no religion or cast. At that point it was true as Ranjan had not made up his mind whether to take up my religion, Hinduism or his mother’s which is Christianity. So, after mutual consultation, Ranjan and I agreed to put in Hinduism as his religion but that left the caste. I joked with the Principal that perhaps I should put it down as Scheduled Caste. He promptly advised me to do so, if I could produce documentary evidence as, a lot of benefits can accrue to Ranjan. I politely declined. When I suggested that it be Nil, the Principal pointed out that while he appreciated my intentions, it would be impractical as the computer would not recognize nil as a caste and would create endless problems for Ranjan. I was beaten by technology and had to put in my caste down.

On a visit to my father in his village home, when I related this story to him, my father, a wise man berated me for having missed an opportunity. He said that it would have been a simple matter for him to have got a certificate issued to me identifying me as belonging to one of the scheduled castes! It would have perhaps cost a few hundred rupees, but it could have been done!

And that brings me to the last part of this post. As I finished writing the above, I checked the latest news and found this which I urge all of you to visit and read.

This is from CNN and I reproduce the first few paragraphs to whet your appetite.

"NEW DELHI, India (CNN) — One out of every three families living below the poverty level in India paid a bribe last year for basic public services, like admitting a family member into a hospital, according to a new report.

The report by Transparency International India and the Center for Media Studies said poor people in India paid about $210 million (9,000 million rupees) in bribes last year to the police, schools, hospitals and power companies.

The bribes were for basic services, the report said: to file a police report, to enroll a child in school, to admit a family member into a hospital or to get electricity turned on.

"This kind of corruption that denies people their entitlement to basic and need based services, many of which may be ‘free’ by law, results in the poor finding themselves at the losing end of the corruption chain," said R. H. Tahiliani of Transparency International India in a statement."

Customer Service


I wish to write about two instances of customer service or the lack of it.

One where I am, as a customer, disgusted and the other where, I am delighted and rooting for the supplier of the service.

The first story.

Times of India, has a Pune subedition called Pune Times. This is a daily that accompanies the main paper. Pune Times contains a whole lot of stuff of interest to perhaps the page three types and the yuppie crowd.  There was a time when children used to like it for the comic strips but that has stopped a long time ago, as they have been recycling the same old stuff over and over again.

If there is one thing about the Pune Times that is of value to me, and to many of my friends, it is the daily crossword puzzle. Neither I nor my friends are spring chicken and our eye sights are not very sharp.  The puzzle simply is of too small a font size and the space to fill in, too little to make the solving of the puzzle a joyful experience.

I have written to the Pune Times by email about their recycling the comic strips and the poor get up of the crossword puzzle and they have neither taken corrective action, nor responded to my mails.

If you think that this perhaps is a local aberration and Times of India as a newspaper will behave in a more professional manner, wait till you read another experience that I had with them.

The Economic Times, recently advertised their publication, The Best Of ET 2007. As advised by them on the body of the advertisement, I went to their website from which I could have bought the book online.  The website did not oblige.  I wrote a complaint about it to the person whose contact details were given in their website’s automated response, about this aberration and till date, I have neither heard from the book sellers nor from Economic Times.

Will I root for the Times Group, where customer service matters?

I also read Business Standard every day. The first time I had a problem with missing crossword puzzles, I wrote to them and within twelve hours I got a response, explaining their problem, giving me an assurance that they would solve the problem within the next few weeks and requesting me to bear with the inconvenience caused till then.  They solved the problem to my full satisfaction within the committed time.  They too, went to a small font size for the crossword puzzle, in the process of redesigning their paper and I wrote to them again advising them about this problem and how senior citizens like me found it difficult to solve the puzzles.  I got a reply back from them, and immediate corrective action was taken too.

Business Standard too advertised their publication India 2008 and I had the same problem with their portal not proceeding further after confirmation of the order.  I sent an email to them about the problem, and within six hours, I got a response from their IT people regarding the problem and that it had been fixed and requesting me to try the portal again.  I did, this time successfully and received the book within 48 hours too!

Two competing newspapers/groups. The first one, a long established one with a great name.  The other, a new one fighting for its place in the sun.  Is it because it is fighting for its place in the sun that it provides such customer service, albeit to one cranky individual customer?  I believe that it is not. I sincerely believe that it is a matter of a culture that the latter is building in its business model. While the former is sustained by its history and does not care for its readers, the latter is building a strong service oriented culture.

What do you think?

What is in a name?

A rose by any other name "What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." – William Shakespeare.

Conversations to do with someone’s names can have some very peculiar outcomes. My name often results in some unexpected developments, new friendships are made and new insights into the whole process of naming are developed.

I was introduced to a new resident to our colony today and we went through the visiting card exchanging routine. He was promptly intrigued with the spelling of my surname, which has got an unusual “U” inserted in it. Rajgopaul instead of Rajgopal. I had to explain that this was done by my father under advise from a numerologist and all his children and grandchildren have got stuck with it.

This is not the first time that this discussion has taken place. I have had the same conversation with countless individuals. Quite a few of them have been quite disappointed that I am not a Christian! Quite a few, very happy that I am not.

For curious Europeans and Americans, I have even translated it to mean King of Cowboys, which actually it is. Rajgopal is a name given to Lord Krishna who was the King of cowherds. Naturally, I had to also explain that it was only a family name and I was not a Prince, or a Rajah!

I have also had to explain to many South Indians that my name is not Rajgopaul and that it is my surname. Tamilians have the custom of using only their given name and using their father’s name as the initials. Famous names such as Krishnamachari Srikant, Ramanathan Krishnan etc follow this system. My father however was exposed to the North Indian method and decided that he should start a clan called the Rajgopauls, and he has had his way. There are quite a few, and at the latest count the fourth generation has come into existence to keep the lineage going.

I was talking about this topic with some friends when one of them, a Sindhi who has spent a lifetime in Hong Kong suggested that I acquire myself a Chinese name and gave me a site to visit for the purpose. I did, and got myself a Chinese name, which is Ran Rui Ming. Ran, as per the Chinese system being the surname Rui and Ming being the letters of the given name meaning Sharp, Bright, Light, Brilliant and Clear. My friend from Hong Kong is very amused with the name and insists on calling me by that. For those of you who are interested, please visit You can get yourself a Chinese name too.

This subject is a fascinating one with a lot of twists and turns. More on this subject in some future posts.

I have got the worst job in the world!

I saw this cartoon in a blog during my surfing experience yesterday and wish to share it with all of you.
It says it all!

This is the universal human problem!  The grass being greeener on the other side of the fence.

I have felt like this any number of times and inevitably found someone else who had a different perceptive on the situation, or till I got what I thought would be better, only to regret letting go of the earlier job.

This cartoon however says it so elegantly!

Is it your dream life?

There is a wonderful blog called A Deaf Mom Shares Her World which I strongly recommend to all.

This blog is full of such amazing stories about a family of deaf people and what they do.

In the latest blog, the blogger asks the question “Are you living your dream life?
In my comment on her blog I said “I am a Vedantin from India. What you probably know as a Hindu. For Vedantins, life itself is a dream. It is unreal. What you probably know as Maya or inaccurately translated as illusion. In Eastern religions, there is no substance to this life and it is but a dream. This has now been kind of supported by modern physicists like Fritjof Capra. So, to your specific query, Yes, my life is a dream!”
A Zen Master tells his students that he had a dream in which he was flitting around like a butterfly. Since he woke up he has been unable to decide whether he is the master who dreamed about the butterfly or if he was the butterfly dreaming that he was the master with the students.
Eastern traditions, religions and philosophy are full of such amazing insights that one can get completely lost in a life long study. That is what happens to Sanyasis and Monks in the Eastern traditions.

In the Indian tradition, the training in such matters start from the time of the individual’s student days called the Brahmacharya Ashrama, continues during his householder days called the Grahasthashrama Ashrama, takes serious contours during his retirement days called the Vanaprastha Ashrama and culminates in his total withdrawl from society days called the Sanyasa Ashrama. While, from every stage one could jump into the last stage under the express approval of Rishis who satisfy themselves that the individual has no other responsibilities, normally, the individual experienced a full and rich life before the full time pursuit of matters spiritual.

Perhaps my answer to the blogger should have then been “As a Vedantin, my dream is to become a Sanyasi and I am on the path. I am now in the Grahastha Ashrama stage due to circumstances beyond my control, but I have every hope of moving to the other two Ashramas.” In all honesty, I cannot tell her that I am not living the life of a Grahastha as a Brahmachary dreams of.

Would she have understood it? Do you, dear reader?