Jingle Jingle

What’s the worst Indian advertising jingle?
Vajradanti Vajradanti Vicco Vajradanti
[a couple of lines about how its herbal ingredients give complete protection]
Vicco Vajradanti! Vicco Vajradanti!

The product is a toothpaste. Vicco is the manufacturer, and Vajradanti means ‘that which makes teeth as strong as a thunderbolt.’ (‘Vajra’ is a thunderbolt; it’s also a religious symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism; ‘dant’ is from the same Indo-Aryan root as ‘dental’.)

It’s an old-fashioned product, and an old-fashioned jingle, from the days when someone would doodle for awhile on a keyboard – I imagine one of those small harmoniums that comes in a box – until he found a sequence of notes that sounded complete. Then just keep repeating the name of the product, and that’s it.

It slid into my head last night, and when my mind switched on this morning, before I had even opened my eyes, there it still was. It made me realise why advertising tunelets are called ‘jingles,’ because it is jingling like a cluster of unmelodious bells in my brain. Can someone remove it now, please?


When I first arrived here, I was somewhat mystified by a dish that I encountered at almost every dinner party: it was called a "baked dish," or, more simply, a "bake." It consisted primarily of boiled vegetables in white sauce, with a dusting of grated cheese on top, the whole thing put in the oven for the cheese to brown. it was the westernised housewife’s gesture to western food (in fact, you had to be westernised to be able to produce it, since ovens are not standard items in Indian kitchens). You would arrive at the dinner table, often laid out like a buffet, to find a delicious range of Indian dishes, and then... the bake, in all its blandness.

Well, things have changed a bit now, though bakes have not disappeared. In fact, I am about to post a recipe for one myself:

Back in the days, mes enfants, when there was no cable TV, and we all had to make to with creaky old Doordarshan, the government-owned TV channel, there was a short-lived show in which celebrity women came to demonstrate their recipes. One of the guests was the recently-retired film star Poonam Dhillon, who made a baked dish which she said her mother-in-law had taught her. I was in the odd position of being a westerner who didn’t know how to make a baked dish – I mean, I could make assorted western items, including a couple of casseroles, but they somehow didn’t appeal to the friends I tried them out on. So I took careful notes, and made Poonam Dhillon’s baked dish, and it was a success. It was pretty good, in fact, because the green coriander, chillies and ginger livened up the white sauce. (I had to be careful, because my mother-in-law was alive and living with us at that time, and the only person officially allowed to eat eggs in our vegetarian house was our dog.)

I made the baked dish a couple of times and then forgot about it. And Poonam Dhillon has since, I believe, gotten divorced and returned to act in TV serials, and maybe she has forgotten about it too. But I have preserved it, and I found it in my cookbook the other day, and here it is:

Poonam Dhillon’s Baked Dish

2 green pepper
1 bunch green coriander
2 packets mushrooms
4 potatoes
2 or 3 onions
3 or 4 green chillies
piece of ginger
2 tomatoes
6 eggs
cheese, grated
salt, pepper, turmeric powder

Make a white sauce, add salt, pepper, and a bunch of green coriander, chopped.
Saute mushrooms, add to white sauce. Chop and saute green pepper, onion and ginger in butter. Chop chillies, tomatoes. Boil and mash potatoes. Scramble the eggs lightly, add onions, green chillies, ginger, tomatoes, salt, turmeric powder. Assemble the baked dish: butter a shallow baking dish. Spread half of the mushroom and white sauce mixture. Spread the egg mixture on top of this, then add the remaining half of the mushroom/white sauce mixture. Spread the mashed potatoes over the top, and then sprinkle generously with grated cheese. Bake in a 250 Centigrade oven for 10 minutes, grill for 10 minutes more to melt the cheese. OR, microwave for 10 minutes.

This Morning

At 8:00 I looked out the window toward the gate. The sky was the palest grey. The long magenta streak of bougainvillea, high up in a eucalyptus tree, was also greyed to a delicate pastel. Everything was moving, branches and leaves and petals. Then all movement stopped, under a soft rain. Now the sun has returned as if it never left, steam has stopped rising from the ground, crows are croaking. We are back to normal.

Immersing Ganesh

The New Indian Express has a photo gallery of Ganesh idols being immersed in the Bay of Bengal at Chennai on September 26, the end of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival.

Odds and Ends

Household bulletin: Lakshmi's sister had a baby boy and is okay. Her mother-in-law brought the money for the hospital, so Lakshmi returned what I had given her.

Household bulletin 2: We are suffering terribly from mosquitoes. I sent Chinnaraj, the gardener, to buy pesticide, and he said that I would have to write a letter for him to carry: drinking pesticide being a favoured form of committing suicide among the poor, the shopkeepers sometimes refuse to sell it. (I know this, in fact: our very first gardener, Karumegam, had a fight with his wife and drank pesticide, and died as we were taking him to the hospital.)

From The Guardian: Language dies with woman
Yang Huanyi, China's last woman proficient in the mysterious Nushu language, died at her home last week. She was thought to be 98. Yang learned possibly the world's only female-specific language from seven sworn sisters as a girl. Nushu characters are structured by four kinds of strokes, including dots, horizontals, verticals and arcs. Linguists believe her death marks the end of a 400-year-old tradition in which women shared their innermost feelings through codes incomprehensible to men.

From the Pakistani weekly, The Friday Times (free registration required):
Slaves away!

It’s not surprising that Pakistan is a dictatorship when one considers how we treat our servants ...

...It is amazing how quickly one becomes first used to, and then reliant on the idea of being waited upon hand and foot. Surely it is not healthy to wield the amount of control over another individual that people here do over their domestic staff. They say that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I would contend that as each of us becomes a tyrant in our own home any reasonable notions of inter-personal relations are corrupted and lost.

Those children who are fortunate enough to be born into relative affluence are tended to from their earliest days by their own personal maids...

...What is lost then, and from a young age, is the concept of relationships between equals. People come to develop a sense of entitlement over not just their servants but all those they perceive as inferior to themselves. They are also irrationally submissive towards their supposed superiors. One body language habit, which may serve to illustrate the point, is the manner in which people here seem to almost bow down in supplication when shaking hands with someone they perceive as a superior (knees and body bent, eyes down, hands held high). It is also the case that no matter what your position there is always someone more important than you are...

Although the article refers to Pakistan, it applies to India as well (although the central premise doesn't hold true: India is a democracy, even though the society is hierarchical). I have very conflicted feelings about having servants; yet I don't want to do without them -- at least not here, where many ordinary things are more difficult to accomplish than they are in America. I felt a little creepy, reading this article -- my own relationship to our staff is far less dictatorial than what is described (partly tongue-in-cheek) in the article; yet there always is that thing of having power over someone else's life. One has to watch out for that sense of entitlement, which inevitably tries to creep in, again and again.

The Moon

I found this beautiful poem through Malville. It came from this page, which includes the original Spanish text:
The Moon

You can take the moon by the spoonful
or in capsules every two hours.
It's useful as a hypnotic and sedative
and besides it relieves
those who have had too much philosophy.
A piece of moon in your purse
works better than a rabbit's foot.
Helps you find a lover
or get rich without anyone knowing,
and it staves off doctors and clinics.
You can give it to children like candy
when they've not gone to sleep,
and a few drops of moon in the eyes of the old
helps them to die in peace.

Put a new leaf of moon
under your pillow
and you'll see what you want to.
Always carry a little bottle of air of the moon
to keep you from drowning.
Give the key to the moon
to prisoners and the disappointed.
For those who are sentenced to death
and for those who are sentenced to life
there is no better tonic than the moon
in precise and regular doses.

Jaime Sabines

-- Poemas sueltos, 1981
translated by W. S. Merwin

Another one of those days

Yesterday I spent a good part of the day driving around in circles –- although that is difficult in Chennai, because there are so many cul-de-sacs culs-de-sac dead ends – trying to get a few things done, with little success. Although I saw a rare rainbow in the east, where rain was falling, wasted, into the Bay of Bengal.

Just as I got home the power went off, and stayed off for four hours, and we were waiting for some important calls, and in the middle of that the generator tripped, and we got it back, but by then we were pretty frazzled and irritable. And then around midnight it went dark again, and this time we felt it was out for the night. So I spread a couple of quilts (one block-printed Rajasthani razai and one red-and-white quilt, patched by me, but hand-quilted in a beautiful medallion design by my tailor’s sister-in-law and some of her friends in Lahore) on the drawing room carpet, because that was the coolest room in the house, and we lay down to sleep there. But after an hour the power came back again, and we were able to repair to the bedchamber.

The day before yesterday, part of the nearby slum where Lakshmi lives burned down. She said there was some dispute, and the fire was set, but it must be hard to know. Such fires always consume hundreds of huts, because they’re made of thatch and paper and such. She was okay, because she has a cement hut, and she was on the far side of the slum from where the fire was, but the electricity lines were all burnt, so maybe that had something to do with our blackout.

Mary came back from one of the many visits she’s been making to various doctors lately. She’s been suffering a lot from arthritis in both knees, but she doesn’t want to accept that she may have to put up with it. So she goes from one doctor to another. Many of the doctors who serve the poor seem careless and ignorant – though that may be unfair. (For the rest of us, Chennai is a regional medical center: people come here from other parts of India and even from neighbouring countries for certain kinds of treatment.) Mary or Lakshmi or Chinnaraj or whoever, will come back from the doctor with a handful of nondescript pills twisted into a newspaper, and no information. If I ask, “What did the doctor say?” the sick person will say something like, “I was afraid to ask, because then he would get angry and say, Go to another doctor if you don’t trust me.”

Mary has had one offer of an injection in her knees which would cost Rs. 1,000 – a lot! – which we guess must be cortisone, but which has to be taken on faith. Someone else gave her some heart medicine. She has been told that she has gotten old (vaayasaayichchu) and that she has to do physical work, and therefore this pain is inevitable and given vitamins and antacids. Three days ago she went for an x-ray, which showed that she has osteo-arthritis. Yesterday she took the x-ray to a doctor, who said that her body was deficient in iron and salt.

Ramesh told her that the only real solution might be knee replacement, which would keep her immobilised for months, and she said, “Yes, I heard about it on the radio. They said it’s very good, but you can’t bend your knees fully.” It’s interesting – the radio is an excellent source of information on all kinds of subjects. She has people who treat her as though she doesn’t deserve to know what’s going on; and then she has the radio. And, of course, Ramesh, who goes through his books, deciphering what each tablet really is, and explaining what’s really going on.

Lakshmi is worried because her sister is in the hospital, awaiting delivery of a child. But it’s not coming. She’s overweight, and her body has swelled up with liquid, and her blood pressure is high. The doctors told her she had too much salt in her body.

So it goes. And yet so it goes on -- babies do get born, and people manage their pain.

But really, it was one of those days, for everyone in the house.

Later: As we were having breakfast, one of Lakshmi's relatives called to say that her sister required emergency surgery. She took Rs. 1000 from me -- when these crises happen, money is collected from whoever can give -- to help pay the hospital, and tearfully rushed off. For her, today is also going to be one of those days.

Vaangi Bhath

Praveen Kumar has a step-by-step recipe for Vaangi bhath (eggplant rice), illustrated at every step with excellent photographs. I could feel my mouth tingling from the tamarind as I read it.

Praveen Kumar's wife has her own food-blog: entelechy.ws

Another Song

un regard oblique has posted a very beautiful, haunting mp3 song by the Russian Sirin Ensemble, as a response to Porale Ponnuthaye, which I posted a few days back. The two songs are remarkably well-matched, and equally beautiful.

Three Days Offline

On Sunday morning the line which brings the Internet to me was cut -- or "cutted," as the voice on the other end of the phone said, when I called to complain. The Voice told me that the line would be restored by four o’clock in the afternoon. That was specific, and therefore comforting... but in fact the line came back only on Tuesday evening. So here are some highlights of the last three days offline:
Mary bought the weirdest snake gourd I’ve ever seen. Usually they are long and straight. This one would scare me, if I came upon it in the dark:

I drove out to do some errands on Monday, and just outside the gate many water buffaloes were sashaying down the middle of the road. I’m used to one or two, so this show of strength was pleasing to me. Buffaloes are attractively ugly, with their used-inner-tube hide and knobby hindquarters. I drove past them very gingerly in my new car.

I squished a dung-beetle while playing badminton. It was inevitable: it’s apparently their mating season, and every day I see them cavorting ponderously in the grass beside the court. They are quite cute. They have black flattened-oval backs, with three white dots on each side and one in the middle, so that they look like half-dominoes in a funhouse mirror. Lost in the throes of passion, they keep scuttling onto the court. And I was trying to score a point. Alas.

It has been raining off and on for the last several days. The covered atrium in the center of the house magnifies the sound, so it’s like being inside a drum. The drainage on the roads is poor. Temporary floods appear immediately on all the low-lying roads. After the rain there are puddles, and the humidity is 100%, but seeing grey skies, instead of that endless blasted pale-blue, is a great pleasure.

This morning Lakshmi told me that many ant-like insects had entered the drawing room. All insects have been burgeoning because of the rain. I rushed in to see, and found a heap of half-inch translucent tan-coloured wings on the floor by the French window. When I looked out at the verandah I saw drifts of them, and realized that these had blown in through the slight gap between window-frame and floor. Some colony of insects held its mating ball last night, while we were sleeping.

Vinayaka Chaturthi and a Song

I came downstairs to music blaring from a public loudspeaker – A. R. Rahman’s Vande Mataram. Today is Vinayaka Chaturthi, the festival of Ganesh.

(AFP photo)

Hearing Rahman’s music reminded me that I’ve been wanting to put up an MP3 of a song of his that I love: Porale Ponuthaye, from the Tamil film Karuthamma. It’s a song of sadness and longing, just a woman’s voice, with almost no instrumental accompaniment. (The file size is 7553 kb, the playing time is 6:23. I'll keep it up for a week.)

The tune of this song appears twice in the film, the second time in a faster, happy version. Rahman used the faster version again for the album Vande Mataram.

The woman who sang this song, Swarnalatha, won a National Film Award for it in 1994.

You can hear the fast version, and lots of other Tamil film songs on streaming audio, at Tamil Songs Page (the link is to the page containing songs by Swarnalatha, including Porale Ponuthaye). I prefer the slow version, but the fast one is catchy; it’s interesting to compare them.

If you do download this song, please tell me how you liked it.

(And here's the Tamil Songs Page for the Top 10 Songs -- listen to
what Tamil popular music sounds like these days.)

My Sister's Chair

I meant to write something for the blog today, but instead I painted a picture of my sister's chair.

I've always admired my sister's ability to live in a certain way -- to cook beautifully, to assemble small things that one would not expect to see together, to put colours together with a flair that I lack. The chair was in the attic guestroom of a house she doesn't live in anymore: an early 20th C. house in a Boston suburb. She painted the wide old floorboards sky blue, and the walls white, with a big yellow sunburst on the sloping ceiling. Most of the room was blue and white and yellow, with a bright poster of a beach somewhere, so that you didn't feel that you were shivering in a New England winter.
A web ring of illustrated blogs.


Every night for dinner we have one vegetable dish, one dal, roti (for me), rice (for Ramesh), and ‘buttermilk’ made with yoghurt. There’s always a dish of yoghurt on the table, and sometimes there’s pickle and / or papad. Six days a week we eat Gujarati food, and on Sundays we have Tamil sappadu: rice and sambar and rasam and poriyal and pachadi and apalam and buttermilk, with lime pickle and sometimes curry-leaf chutney.

Sunday dinner is somewhat elaborate, but our daily fare is meagre by Gujarati standards. Ordinarily there would be two vegetable dishes, and one savoury (e.g. samosa, or kachori), and one sweet, and some chutney / salad / raita, and papad, and a few more things here and there.

Last night the vegetable was cauliflower-potato-peas, and along with that there was sprouted moong (i.e., mung bean sprouts) cooked in a thin sauce with yoghurt and a little chickpea flour, like a kadhi. Ramesh looked at it and said, “Cauliflower doesn’t go with moong.” I said, “Why not?” He said, “It goes with moong dal (i.e., the same pulse, but broken and without the skin), but not with full moong.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Likewise, it goes with urad dal, but not with full urad.” I said, with mock exasperation, “Gujjus!” (a derogatory term for Gujaratis), and he looked at me with mock offence, and that was that – but he ate the cauliflower and left the moong.

After all this time I should know this – that some things don’t go together - but somehow, because of laziness or because we’ve always had a cook, I still make these mistakes.

I really don’t think that was the case when I was growing up. The dinner plate then would have three discrete sectors: one for a piece of meat / chicken / fish; one for a small pile of boiled vegetables; one for potatoes, or, occasionally, a small mound of white rice. There would be a salad plate (here called a quarter-plate) containing some iceberg lettuce and tomato, or grated carrots with raisins, or a pineapple ring with cottage cheese in the middle. (I miss cottage cheese! Putting paneer in the blender doesn’t do the trick.) When there was company, or a special occasion, there would be rolls -- the Pillsbury ones, that were frozen and came in a tube. There was always dessert.

When we went away to college, the Gourmet magazine that my father loved to read suddenly began to be used, and we came home to veal scaloppini, and grilled swordfish, and sweetbreads, and such. I guess feeding children kept my mother subdued.

But what I was driving at was that, as far as I know, those flesh / green vegetable / starch categories were completely interchangeable. Lamb chops would go with green beans or peas or corn or spinach, or carrots. I can’t think of a single thing that wouldn’t go with every other thing. Except lima beans, which didn't go with anything at all.

I solve the problem now by having toor dal several times a week – it’s the O positive of dals, it goes with just about everything (and it’s my favourite). Ramesh gets his favourite, urad dal, once a week with okra, which goes with it. The rest of the week is when things get edgy.

Bon Voyage

Another one from my files -- I knew that this clipping would come in handy some day:

I looked for the website shown in this ad, and found that it has been updated: Detective International. You can find out about their services, and read some success stories.

I love Indians in western hats.

A Public Death

So many deaths of this kind these days. I was sorting through a stack of old papers and found this poem, one of the earliest that I wrote, about the first death that came much too close to me. It was a different President, and the coffins were not hidden away:

A Public Death

A suicide bomber slammed the Embassy.
Along with his colleagues, B blew up.
Then came the formalities:
fragments reassembled
in rows of flag-draped coffins.
Military honours.
The President wiping away tears.

I spent days on my hands and knees,
scrubbing the floor again and again.
No need to add water.

Which war was it?
Death was new to me then.
My first time, and full of ceremony,
unlike the deaths that came later.

Dress Shop

Dress Shop, C. P. Ramaswamy Road

To her friend

Here's a song from In Praise of Krishna: Songs From the Bengali, translated by Edward C. Dimock, Jr., and Denise Levertov. The poems in the book are kirtans, hymns of praise, which rose out of a devotional movement in Bengal which flowered from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries.

To her friend

My mind is not on housework.
Now I weep, now I laugh at the world's censure.
He draws me - to become
an outcast, a hermit woman in the woods!
He has bereft me of parents, brothers, sisters,
my good name. His flute
took my heart --
his flute, a thin bamboo trap enclosing me --
a cheap bamboo flute was Radha's ruin.
That hollow, simple stick -- fed nectar by his lips, but issuing

If you should find a clump of jointed reeds,
pull off their branches!
Tear them up by the roots!
Throw them
into the sea.

Dvija Chandidasa says, Why the bamboo?
Not it but Krishna enthralls you: him you cannot uproot.

A Couple of Things

When I came downstairs this morning, the sky was a soft grey, and the garden seemed to have a pale green wash overall -- the house next door, the badminton court, everything tinged with green. A little rain, at last.

Kannan sent me this great site: Interactive Kolam. Choose from a selection of kolam designs, and see how they are drawn.

And Mint Tea & Sympathy tells me that in the past, Scottish housewives would wash their front steps and then paint chalk spirals on them.

Taking to heart Vernaculo's advice: "Loosen. Which is like listen. Listen to them. Don't think of after. Let them be. Let them come through your hand," I had another go at the capsicum, this time using my cellphone photo of the subject as my model -- since the original had meanwhile undergone metamorphosis and become pakodas (which Anand tells me are best enjoyed during the rainy season). I still don't have the faintest idea about colour -- now it looks more like an apple... Nevertheless, onward and upward:

(The capsicum on top is the photo, obviously.
It is glued over my truly horrendous first attempt at letting go.)


I went to the market yesterday, and bought what I still think of as a green pepper, but what is here called a capsicum. It was large, dark and glossy. In the evening I pulled out my beautiful little Winsor & Newton Field Box, which arrived last week, and painted three pictures of it, two from the outside and one in cross-section. I put it under a lamp, and after a while, because of the light’s warmth, a delicious, faint smell like capsicum pakoda rose from it -- which is the same as that which a cycas, an ancient tree which is an ancestor of the palm, sends out when you walk past it in the night.

If you close one eye and squint at my painting with affection, you might say that these are expressionist capsicums...

As I painted I remembered my father. He was an engineer, and could draw beautiful little sketches of vaulted arches and such. But when he tried to get serious he froze up. Two of his paintings hung in our house when I was growing up: one oil, of a bare rocky landscape with bits of green scrub; and one watercolour, of a competently drawn sailboat, floating on frozen water under a dead sky. I never saw him paint - he had given it up long ago. There were two hinged wooden boxes in the closet under the stairs. The larger one held tubes of dried-up oil paints, a palette knife, some stiff brushes. The smaller one held tubes of dried-up watercolours. We were allowed to open the boxes and look inside once in awhile, but never to touch anything.

The closet was a repository of my father’s abandoned projects. Behind the coats was a hunting rifle, which he took out once, to shoot a couple of squirrels with some friends; and a fishing rod, which he also used once. Slipped and gashed his leg on a rock, and that was the end of it. On his desk was the untouched sumi-e stuff: an ink stick, a grinding stone, a seal, fascinating to me and my sister; and the brushes, which lived in the pencil jar.

It was the pencils which he really used, black drawing pencils with points which he kept needle-sharp. I remember one of his throwaway sketches, perfectly rendered, of a crypt with spiralling columns and stars on the arched ceiling, which he labelled 'Merlin's tomb.' He was a gifted doodler. If you squint and look at that fact with affection, it’s not such a bad thing.

Krishna Janmashtami

Today is the birthday of the god Krishna. (My post from last year.) I wrote this poem about Krishna in pantoum form:

The Honey Forest

When night stirs, his flute calls them.
Women wake beside sleeping husbands,
slip silently from exhausted beds,
and steal away to the Honey Forest.

Women wake beside sleeping husbands,
removing the vermillion of marriage,
and steal away to the Honey Forest
where trees are heavy with swollen blossoms.

Removing the vermillion of marriage,
they become as pure as children.
Where trees are heavy with swollen blossoms,
each meets Krishna in jasmine-scented darkness.

They become as pure as children
longing to dance.
Each meets Krishna in jasmine-scented darkness.
Each thinks she is alone with him.

Longing to dance,
yearning for Krishna,
Each thinks she is alone with him.
Young women embrace him as their lover.

Yearning for Krishna,
old women hold him as their child.
Young women embrace him as their lover
till the night is over.

Old women hold him as their child.
They dance in bright moonlight
till the night is over,
then return to their sleeping husbands.

They dance in bright moonlight,
then return to their sleeping husbands,
slip silently into exhausted beds.
When night stirs, his flute calls them.
In the category of beautiful things not connected with India: Nancy Pobanz, an American artist.
Many of my supplies I make from raw materials in the local environment. This involves grinding pigments from Oregon desert soils and rocks; boiling plant materials to make inks; cooking bark, leaf, and grass fibers to pound and form into paper; ... The concept behind this work comes directly from keeping a journal. ... Generally I create the substrate (handmade paper slabs, thick felt pieces, soil-painted linen) and then write on the surface... The content of the writing is personal, visceral, and cathartic. ... The next step is to disguise the writing so that it cannot be read, ...

Books, wallpieces, sculpture


The producer of breakfasts and kolams, Lourdes Mary, peers over branches of gul mohur. I've somehow managed to make her look like Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, but I love this picture anyway.

Breakfast and Kolam - 7

This concludes my week of breakfasts and kolams. Thank you for your patience. For those who are reading this from top to bottom, and who don't know what kolam is: traditionally, a woman in a Tamil Hindu household washes the threshhold early in the morning and makes these decorative patterns with rice flour. A flower may be placed in the centre of the kolam. During the month of Margazhi, in the cool season, a squash blossom is placed in a dab of cow dung in the centre. There must be hundreds of kolam designs -- during the annual Mylapore festival there is a kolam competition, where women make huge designs that stretch from one side of a (narrow) street to the other. Other designs may be more perfunctory, just a small grid of dots linked by loops -- a dutiful kind of kolam.

In north India people make similar rangoli designs on festive occasions. As the name implies (rang = colour), coloured powders are used. I don't think these are done every day -- maybe someone who knows better can educate me on this.

I doubt if the people who put the kolam meditate on the meaning of what they're doing. It's part of keeping an auspicious house, like putting jasmine in one's hair and doing the daily puja. To me it has to do with demarcating, and perhaps protecting, the threshhold, the line between the outside world and home.


Breakfast and Kolam - 6


Weird Google referral: shaved moustaches of telugu movie heros

What's that about?

Breakfast and Kolam - 5

Dosai with potato masala

Breakfast and Kolam - 4

South Indian coffee at my desk

The Omelette

I had earlier posted an excerpt from Wyvern's Indian Cookery Book, being a new and revised edition of Culinary Jottings for Madras, published in 1878, and revised in 1904. Now, in the spirit of breakfast, I present Wyvern's comments on the omelette. The notes in brackets are mine:
With a little skill by no means difficult to acquire, and moderate forethought in the matter of materials, the Anglo-Indian [i.e., Englishman in India] should always be able to rely on giving himself a good omelette, for the operation is as practicable in camp, at the traveller's bungalow, or by the road side, as in the back verandah in Cantonment. Eggs, concerning which there is no difficulty, charcoal and a broken chatty to hold it, a properly shaped omelette pan, a tin of good preserved butter, salt, pepper, and a bottle of dried parsley represent the requirements of the case, and thus provided everyone should be in a position to turn out a capital dish, very rapidly, at any time, and anywhere. An omelette for two can be made over a good spirit lamp in a little eight-inch pan.

Fettered by tradition, Ramasamy [the author’s generic term for an Indian cook], as a rule, is somewhat mistaken with regard to this branch of his art. He sends you up a very nice pudding, symmetrical in design, of a good consistency, and of a rich brown colour. You almost require a dessert-knife to help it. In addition to the eggs (the whites of which he whips separately), he puts in a little flour, some milk or a little water, and, in point of fact, makes a lightish sort of batter. This he mixes, vigorously whips, and fries in a fair amount of ghee, folding it into shape, and keeping it on the fire till it is nice and firm, and coloured as I before described. The fact is that he has never seen the real thing, and does his best to produce a substantial dish. In respect of one kind of omelette he is not far wrong, as will presently be shown, and he is easily taught how to make the one I am about to describe.

Now I have never come across a book in which the making of an omelette was thoroughly explained. Many writers indeed seem unable to grasp the fact that their readers may possibly know nothing at all about it. I picked up the little I know on the subject when on the line of march from Bangalore to Secunderabad at Pennaconda in the Bellary District, where I was entertained by a member of the Madras Civil Service at a memorable breakfast which was finished by an omelette made by my host himself: Calling for a slop-basin, he broke into it four ordinary country fowl's eggs, whole, and added the yolks only of two more. He thus had six yolks, and four whites. These he thoroughly mixed by using two forks: he did not beat them at all. When thoroughly satisfied that incorporation had been effected, he flavoured the mixture with a saltspoonful of salt, a teaspoonful of very finely minced shallot, a heaped up tablespoonful of minced curly parsley grown in his garden. He stirred this for a minute, and, as far as its first stage was concerned, the omelette was ready. We now left the dining-room for the verandah where there was a good charcoal fire in an iron brasier, (a half chatty would have sufficed of course) and upon it a pan about ten inches in diameter, very shallow, with a narrow rim well sloped outwards. A pat of butter was melted in the pan, sufficient in quantity to thoroughly lubricate the whole of its surface, and leave a coating of moisture about an eighth of an inch deep over all. As soon as ready, quite burning hot, the butter having ceased to splutter, and beginning to brown, with one good stir round, the mixture was poured into the pan. At the moment of contact, the underpart of omelette formed, this was instantly lifted by the spoon, and more of the unformed portion allowed to run beneath it; that was similarly quickly lifted, and the same process encouraged, the left hand, holding the pan, and playing it, as it were, from side to side: With one good shake, the pan (in less than a minute from the time of commencing operations) was now lifted from the fire, and its contents rolled off into the hot silver dish at hand to receive it, in which a little melted butter, with some minced parsley and shallot, had been prepared. The omelette, as it rolled, slightly assisted by the spoon, almost of its own accord from the pan, caught up, and buried within it, the slightly unformed juicy part of the mixture which still remained on the surface; and, as it lay in the dish, took an irregular oval form, of a golden yellow colour, flecked with green, with the juicy part escaping from beneath its folds.

Breakfast and Kolam - 3

Gujarati khatta dhokla with chutney,
and sambhaar powder* mixed with oil

(*Sambhaar powder is made of coarsely ground yellow mustard powder, coarsely ground methi, chilli powder, salt, asafoetida and turmeric)

Gastronomy in Lucknow

Since I am featuring breakfast this week, I wondered what my book on the culture of Lucknow before the British took it over in 1857, Lucknow: The Last Phase of an Oriental Culture, which I have quoted from several times, had to say about it. (Lucknow was considered the ultimate in the post-Mughal north Indian courtly tradition. It had a hybrid Hindu-Muslim culture. It was very different from south India, which has been my primary focus in this weblog, but I enjoy reading about its refinements.) As it happens, breakfast is not addressed, but there is quite a lot about food fashions generally. Here's a sample:
In those days the best food was considered to be that which appeared light and delicate but was in fact heavy and not easily digestible. People with old-fashioned taste still have a penchant for this sort of food but today it is not generally popular.

A special art was to produce one particular substance in several different guises. When placed on the table it looked as if there were scores of different kinds of delicacies, but when one tasted them, one found they were all the same.

For instance, I have heard that a Prince Mirza Asman Qadar, the son of Mirza Khurram Bakht of Delhi, who came to Lucknow and became a Shia, was invited to dine by [the ruler of Lucknow] Wajid Ali Shah. Murabba, a conserve, was put on the dastar khwan which looked very light, tasty and delicious. When Asman Qadar tasted it he became intrigued because it was not a conserve at all but a qaurma, a meat curry, which the chef had made to look exactly like a conserve. He felt embarrassed and Wajid Ali Shah was extremely pleased at having been able to trick an honoured Delhi connoisseur.

A few days later, Mirza Asman Qadar invited Wajid Ali Shah to a meal. Wajid Ali Shah anticipated that a trap would be laid for him, but this did not save him from being taken in. Asman Qadar's cook, Shaikh Husain Ali, had covered the tablecloth with hundreds of delicacies and many varieties of comestibles. There were pulau, zarda, qaurma, kababs, biryani, chapatis, chutneys, achars, parathas, shir mals - in fact every kind of food. However, when tasted they were all found to be made of sugar. The curry was sugar, the rice was sugar, the pickles were sugar and the bread was sugar. It is said that even the plates, the tablecloth, the finger bowls and cups were made of sugar; Wajid Ali Shah tried everything and became more and more embarrassed.