A bit of THIS and A bit THAT....Kuch Khatha, Kuch Meetha, Thoda Naram, Thoda Garam!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

India Shining??

Came upon this article on the web by MADHAVI TATA. India Shining??

Andhra's looms are again weaving a tale of suicides

The roar of powerlooms in a small shed at Baddam Yellareddy Nagar in Sircilla drowns out the muted mantras being read out at Bitla Ramu’s house at a funeral.
Ramu, 23, unemployed and newly married, hanged himself on February 28 when his wife had stepped out to borrow rice. The couple hadn’t eaten a proper meal in three days. The loom shed where Ramu worked had been ridden by power cuts and shortage of raw material. Consequently, he hadn’t drawn any wages for days.

The roar also stands out in contrast to the silence that prevails in Ratsa Narsaiah’s house. Plagued by poor eyesight and piling debts, 55-year-old Narsaiah, a weaver at the Bhadravathi Cooperative Society, also committed suicide, on March 8. His last act: checking his wage book.

Everywhere you go, the story is the same. In 2000-03, the then chief minister Chandrababu Naidu’s decision to hike power tariff led to 120 suicides in Sircilla. In 2004-05, there were 40 such deaths. It seems to be a continuing crisis. Locals say there have been 12 suicides in Sircilla this February and five already in March. Official figures cite only eight suicides for these months, and attribute most of them to "personal reasons".

Sircilla, with its 23,000 powerlooms, has about 25,000 families depending on weaving and allied activities. The majority comprises workers who are paid Rs 85-100 per day for 12 hours of work. Most weavers suffer from TB, asthma, poor eyesight by the time they are 40. Powerloom weaving is the major occupation in Sircilla division, but it continues to be an unorganised sector. The loom owners market the produce themselves. While the handloom sector is supported by the State Handloom Weavers’ Cooperative Society, the powerloom industry is not quite lucky. Chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s gift of free power doesn’t extend to powerlooms as they fall under the industrial sector. There’s been frequent power cuts since January-end. A four-hour power trims worker’s wages to Rs 35-50 a day.

Most cloth from Sircilla goes to the Katedan Industrial Estate near Hyderabad for further processing. But a recent Pollution Control Board order to shut the Katedan units has resulted in stocks piling up at Sircilla, leaving workers jobless.

Ironically, the Rs 10,000 spot compensation for each suicide-hit family from the National Family Benefit Fund has been cut to Rs 5,000. The government has announced Rs 1,50,000 for every such family. But the catch is it includes only those households where the suicides occurred after May 14, 2004—the day Rajasekhara Reddy came into power. Outraged widows, who have been subsisting on beedi-rolling, protest the unfairness of it all.

Joint collector Christiana Z. Chongthu refutes news of starvation. "Every household is covered by either BPL or Annapurna Antyodaya Yojana ration cards. So how’s it that they don’t get food," she asks. But then these families don’t even have the money to buy rice at subsidised prices. Labour minister G. Vinod says ‘livery’ cloth worth Rs 50 crore generated by Sircilla weavers is being bought on behalf of the government by Apco. "Also, pensions are now given at the age of 50, considering that the weavers age fast. Our job is to avoid backlog of payments and ensure greater liquidity," he notes.

But for the weaving families, liquidity is practically a non-existent term.

Friday, March 24, 2006

"Indians are, beyond question, the best company in the world." - John Keay

John Keay is a British Historian and is the author of The Spice Route. I recently read his interview and am incuding a a few lines here...

The people of India is why I first loved, and still love, the country. I was not born there, but Julia and I were married there and we would quite like to die there. You/they are, beyond question, the best company in the world. Occasionally infuriating but always friendly, deeply sympathetic, entertaining, immensely hospitable, highly stimulating and ever surprising. I could go on. You make all things possible. You restore one’s faith in humanity. I have researched, travelled and written elsewhere – notably on West Asia, South East Asia, Indonesia and now China. The fact that I keep returning to India speaks for itself.

Read the full interview HERE

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Highrise grows in heritage compound


Read this article in The Telegraph (March 23'06). Is this a good idea? Desperate calls for desperate times??!!

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), for the first time, has allowed a construction on the premises of a heritage building, in an effort to raise funds for the upkeep of old structures with historical significance.

The owners of the 206-year-old Cossimbazar Rajbati, in Sealdah, will have to pay the civic body Rs 1 crore in return for the nod to their proposal of constructing a 20-storeyed building.

Civic director-general (building) Gorachand Mondol said the building would come up on four bighas in the Rajbati compound, at a cost of Rs 100 crore. The proposal is awaiting clearance from the state pollution control board.

“I think it is a good decision. The city is rich in heritage structures, but most of them are in a poor state because the CMC lacks funds to preserve them,” said mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya.

Officials said the Rs 1 crore that would come to the civic coffers from the Sealdah property would be spent on the heritage structures whose owners either are reluctant to maintain them or cannot afford the upkeep.

Though the new building will overshadow the heritage structure, the civic body’s heritage committee (the members include Ramananda Bandopadhyay, Samir Rakshit and Barun De) cleared the proposal — subsequently ratified by the mayoral council — because the Rajbati does not possess any unique architectural value.

Mayor Bhattacharyya and municipal commissioner Alapan Bandyopadhyay had imposed one condition on the Rajbati owners — they would have to pay the civic body Rs 1 crore. The owners readily agreed.

The heritage rules not only prevent redevelopment of a heritage structure, but bar construction even on a vacant plot that falls within its boundary. Going by the rules, the CMC had abandoned its project to set up a commercial complex in the Town Hall compound nine years ago.

Cossimbazar Rajbati — the only one in the city without a thakurdalan — figured on the primary list of 76 heritage structures published by the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority, under the Land Use and Development Control Planning Act, 1996. Subsequently, more than 1,100 structures have been added to the list.

The building at 302, APC Road stands on 20 bighas. Built in 1800 by then superintendent of Calcutta Mint James Forbes, it was originally a single-storeyed structure. In 1824, the building was purchased by Raja Harinath Nundi, scion of the Cossimbazar royal family, who added a storey to it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Tongue Twister Memories Of Some Magical Meals


Situation, environment and pleasant recollections play an important part. Speaking for myself, no matter how fancy the food, I never enjoy eating at large gatherings making inane conversation between mouthfuls, most likely standing up with the plate in one hand and a weapon in the other, too much food piled up together because you don’t want to keep getting into a queue, as is the case at wedding receptions and the like.

You’ve got this jumbo prawn on your plate, you can’t get enough purchase on it with just a fork in one hand and you plate a tad unstable in the other, so you pick at the convenient bits and leave nearly half unfinished (forget the pleasures of eating the head) and you have also made a few trite remarks about the weather in between. What a tragic waste of good food which should be eaten sitting down, with no time constraints, course by course, with devotion and concentration.

Setting and occasion are vital. Most people will hark back to family feasts on holidays, with all right smells emanating from grandma’s or mom’s kitchen. Some of my most mouth-watering memories are of eating outdoors.

As a young lad, I remember, we had a bonfire one night out in someone’s garden and we baked these big, old potatoes with thick skins, in their jackets. They came out with jackets crisp and blackened in places; we split them open and had them with generous amounts of butter. There were also barbecued sausages (the spicy ones) and a homemade salad with a mayonnaise base.

Another time was out on a fishing safari with my great uncle near Lake Victoria in Uganda, eating fresh Nile Perch slightly pan-fried in olive oil over a wood fire in the crystal clear air of absolutely virgin surroundings. Nile Perch is the world’s largest fresh water fish and can grow up to two metres in length and can weigh up to 200 kg. It is a sublime and versatile item which can be cooked in many ways to suit many styles of cuisine; very similar is our Calcutta freshwater bekti which of course grows nowhere near as large and is a less fatty fish.

Another fishing trip, this time with an uncle, up in Assam on the banks of the Bohreli river near the Arunachal Pradesh border, but the meal to remember was not fish, but pork. They know their pork up in the Northeast and they do magical things with it. Again, there was a bonfire out in the open and it was cold. Not a young lad any more, our glasses were well supplied.

Our host’s major domo appeared with three or four sections of green bamboo, closed at one end and open at the other, each about two feet long. Into these hollow cylinders he put a healthy amount of lean pork which had been marinated for about 20 hours in just ginger, chillies and salt. The open ends were plugged with stoppers fashioned from banana leaves and the cylinders of bamboo were placed close to the blazing wood at the base of the fire. The major domo kept turning the bamboo sections at regular intervals and when he figured that the meat was cooked, he prized the banana-leaf plugs loose with a stick and they shot out, followed by a gush of steam and a heavenly aroma. The meat was whitish — not a drop of oil or grain of turmeric had been used. It was delicious, fiery both to touch and taste, and it vanished before we could say “Cheers!”

The combined cost of these delights would be so negligible that one would be tempted to say that the best things in life are free — well, almost.

Closer to home, a stroll around the Maidan indulging in phuchkas, aloo kabli, jhaal muri and other temptations can transport you to a level of bliss for just a few rupees. We carry in our memories a handful of quality experiences; most of them revolve around simple, homely fare — a good monsoon khichuri, Sunday afternoon mangsho bhaat, an orgy of mangoes in the summertime…

Not to say that meals had in five-star luxury have never been satisfying. Far from it. Just to say that when it comes to the tastebuds, price has no part to play, for even if one has tasted bliss in such situations, it has been because of the chef’s magic and not because of the figure on the bill.

Coming back to the book that echoed my thoughts. Written by a celebrated chef, he talks about a game he plays with friends called the Last Meal Game where someone has to decide what his dinner will be the night before his execution. “When playing this game with chefs — and we’re talking good chefs here — ”, he writes , “the answers are invariably simple ones”.

“‘Braised short ribs’, said one friend

“‘A single slab of seared foie gras,’ said another.

“‘Cold meat loaf sandwich,’ said another, shuddering with pleasure. ‘Don’t tell anyone?’”