A note about Indian restaurants in the US

So, we are at an Indian restaurant again last night, and as usual, for a table of four, it got crowded really fast. Indian eating joints have this exquisite property of always seating you at tables not quite big enough for all the food you’ll order, and it is sad since their property is very big from https://www.williampitt.com/

But it’s not their fault. Indian food is community food. A central platter of dishes, and then our individual plates. Compare that to, say, American food, where everyone orders their own entree and all the food in contained within individual plates. That saves on space and consequently allows for smaller tables. That is space saved per tables which allows for a roomier restaurant or more tables per eating joint – especially useful for fast food joints. 

What’s the solution for Indian restaurants? How can they provide for the right amount of space for patrons? Well, they can swallow the cost of having fewer tables and just provide bigger tables – seating four at a table meant for six and two at a table meant for four. But we know they won’t do that. 

What can we as customers do? We can order thalis instead of entrees. Thalis have all of the food on the same plate, in small portions, providing a variety and a more complete meal. They’re also individualistic, so it’ll ensure everyone can get the dishes they want. But there’s two problems there – 

  1. Most restaurants don’t have a lot of varieties in thalis. They’ll have a maximum of two options. So even if we as consumers make this change in our eating habits, it’ll end up only hurting our choices. There are, of course, some restaurants which specialize in thalis and those are definitely worth visiting, but they’re few and far batween.  
  2. As a North Indian, I am geared towards larger portions of fewer dishes. That’s not going to change. 

There’s one more thing which need to address – naan (or as they’re affectionately called, ‘naan bread’). Naans are usually cooked individually and tossed into a metal bread basket which consumes an inordinate amount of space on the table. If you’re ordering a few different types for the table, those baskets quickly take up too much space, often spilling over and causing a great deal of wrangling to place everything on the table. The solution often ends up being that you consume your naan partially and then stack the baskets until someone comes along to take them away. This whole business is messy and commanded by this idea that if someone orders a garlic naan, a butter naan, and a parantha, they need to come in separate baskets, so as not to intermingle their aroma, even though most people end up sharing naans. This situation is further exacerbated by the difference in sizes of naans between different restaurants. Some make their naans huge, wherein people have to share their ‘breads’ while others serve smaller portions, making it difficult to know from the get-go whether we’ll be sharing naans or not.

I believe the solution is midway – a new kind of offering that is a cross between a thali and entree. This offering would let you pick your entree and naan but offer smaller portions for the same, to specifically cater to a single person. Some restaurants would choose to offer some options with it – raita or plain rice (which, to my utter amazement, is considered a freebie in most Indian restaurants in the US). This complete package would be constructed in such a way as to fit within a single plate, taking the right amount of space to allow for a comfortable dining experience. 

There is only one place where I’ve seen this kind of offering – Azitra in Broomfield, Colorado. Their lunch options were wonderful and the portions were filling. They too made the mistake of tossing the naan into a separate basket, but by saving space on the dish (the curry came in a beautiful boat-shaped dish), they allowed for a much cleaner and spacious table. I would like more restaurants to pick up this offering and improve our dining experience. 

Word of the day: Russophobia

Ever since I read the novel Poland by James Michener, I’ve been interested in Poland and its neighbors. Thus, I follow a few organizations which often talk about Poland, one of which is the Center for Eastern Studies(OSW) based in Warsaw. They run an online publication which explains what‘s been going on in Eastern Europe in detail. Today, I can across a Point of View article on their site which talks about Russophobia, which is the political and information strategy used by Russia to make its residents believe that the Western world hates/fears/wants to destroy Russia. All well and good. They run a propaganda machine and we understand that.

Reading the paper, I came across this quote, found in footnote 11 on page 16 of the PDF document –

He regrets that the “ungrateful” Ukrainians are dismantling monuments to Lenin, “to whom, after all, they owe the awakening of Ukrainian national consciousness.”

‘He’ is a former head of a Russian intelligence analytic group. The words above echoed in my mind and connected the dots with another topic I’ve read about today. What could I be thinking of while reading those words? Well, here‘s the quote –

“Those involved in this ludicrous case should recognize that the British Crown Jewels is precisely the right place for the Koh-i-Noor diamond to reside, in grateful recognition for over three centuries of British involvement in India, which led to the modernization, development, protection, agrarian advance, linguistic unification and ultimately the democratization of the sub-continent.”

Who said that? Historian Andrew Roberts, in regards to the latest case by an Indian group, asking for the return of the crown jewel, Koh-i-noor, of which they believe India is the rightful owner. Andrew Roberts, of course, disagrees.

Notice the similarity in the statements? The oppressive power, having trampled, abused, stripped of all riches and domineered over the oppressed nation, then assumes a state of victim-hood and faux-chivalry. “We gave you education, liberty, civilization and nationality, and this is how you repay us?”

Frankly, this ugly act is ill-suited to super-powers. They are aware of their transgressions and should accept their role in enslaving the masses of their colonies instead of acting like hurt Starfleet officers thwarted in their attempts to uplift the masses of an alien civilization.

The fact of the matter is that the Prime Directive has only been a myth of science fiction and history has always shown that the greater power will only suppress the lesser, no matter how much their historians wax eloquent about the noble goals with which these super-powers stepped on foreign soil. At the end of the day, this propagandist Russophobia and this false British victim-hood isn’t fooling anyone.

 

Word of the day: bugbear

A bugbear, according to Wikipedia is a legendary creature (not epic, just the stuff of stories) similar to a bogeyman, mostly used to frighten children into obedience. It was used in this article today to describe how India perceives China’s influence (interference?) in regional affairs in South East Asia –

And then there is China, India’s regional bugbear.

The article is titled ‘Why India is concerned about Nepal’s constitution’ and talks about how India is worried that Nepal’s new constitution is not comprehensive enough. This has caused concern among residents of the southern plains of Nepal, known as the Terai. The communities living in Terai, including the Madeshis and the Tharu ethnic minorities, which comprise about 40% of Nepal’s population do not agree with the seven federal provinces delineated in the constitution and this has caused violence in those regions. India is rightfully concerned that this violence will spill over to Bihar, which is something that has happened in the past, during Nepal’s long and bloody battle with Maoism.

I spent some time this year reading the book ‘The Bullet and the Ballot Box’ by Aditya Adhikari, which talks about Nepal’s struggle with the Maoist revolution and how everything in Nepali politics has one looming external factor which plays a heavy role in deciding things – India. No analysis of Nepal’s history is complete without looking at India’s interference in their local politics. The following are some highlights which I made while reading the book. They may seem out of context, but I hope to write these out along with explanations in a later post one day, so please skim through them for now. These are excerpts from the book –

At the heart of the matter was the question of how Nepali communists should view the monarchy, the parliamentary parties and the Indian state.

The monarchy, the parliamentary parties and the Indian government were equally their enemy.

A number of Bhattarai’s colleagues from university had gone on to careers in Indian politics, civil service and academia, and so he was tasked with contacting them. In early 2002, Bhattarai managed to contact the Indian Prime Minister’s Office through his old acquaintance, S. D. Muni, a scholar of Nepali politics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University who had briefly been ambassador to Laos.

Prachanda raised the spectre of an Indian invasion to provide ideological justification for a royalist–Maoist alliance among the party’s rank and file […]

Soon after, India announced a freeze on military aid to Nepal, as did the United Kingdom and the United States.

But India, unplacated, maintained its arms embargo. Gyanendra then resorted to a strategy his father had used in the past: he sought to cultivate China as a counterweight against India. India, ever wary of Chinese influence in Nepal, only grew more hostile towards the Nepali government.

Never before had the Maoists been able to establish contacts at such high levels of the Indian establishment. Antagonized by Gyanendra’s extreme measures and his efforts to cultivate China, the Indian political class, which had hitherto seen the Maoists only as a terrorist group, was growing less reluctant to recognize them as a political force.

Although India was not a signatory to the twelve-point agreement, it did influence its content. Various Nepali leaders had long been requesting mediation from international bodies like the UN to resolve the conflict. India did not want any third-party involvement […]

Hindu groups in both Nepal and India were outraged by the godless regime’s tampering with sacred tradition.

Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee had assured the president of their support for revoking the government’s decision.

The Indian state was familiar with such games. They had, after all, been played before, often successfully, in dealing with hostile groups in Kashmir and Northeast India.

The above notes may seem as random lines picked up from the book, but the underlying pattern is clear – While India may always be afraid of China and their growing strength in every country around India, for smaller countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka, the only bugbear to be scared of is India, their giant next door neighbor.

कुक्कुराणां वनं

Every once in a while, we ask ourselves, “Why the heck did I ever waste my time on that?” Two of the prime candidates for that question for our generation are Calculus and Sanskrit. Two years of Calculus and two years of Sanskrit seem to be too much of a waste to me.

Now, the first, even I understand. I know no one who uses Calculus. I’ve not used it once since I got out of Engineering and even in there, most of the work purported to be done by hand was deftly dealt with by my calculator. But the latter, well, is more of a mystery. There’s a peep every now and then about Sanskrit. It’s in the news either because the German government is doing too much for it or because the Indian government is doing too little. Either because someone discovers some long-lost formula in those dusty tomes that seems to prove that all math and science in the world was first developed by Bharat or because somewhere or another, I find reference of oddities and extremities that I didn’t know about our motherland (I enjoy wikisurfing far too much). Continue reading

Word of the Day: illiberalism

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, illiberalism, quite simply, is the lack of liberal values. But that begs the question, what is liberalism? Is it the ability of a community to be forward thinking and self-critical? Is it the incessant forward march of a government without caring for the social, political and emotive values of its peoples? Or is it the protection of the freedom of expression of an author writing about a sensitive topic with the backdrop of a community to which he does not belong? Hindustan Times certainly believes in the last definition.

First, it shows that it is not only the sangh parivar or Islamic organisations that are at the forefront of such illiberalism.

Source: Liberal values are being trampled upon in Tamil Nadu

The issue at hand is that the author Puliyur Murugesan wrote a bookBalachandran Enra Peyarum Enakkundu (I am also known as Balachandran), about the life and troubles of a transgender, who is sexually harassed throughout life and faces an upward battle of identity. The protagonist belongs to the Gounder community and by now, you would have guessed where this is going.

The Gounder community decided to take offence to this ‘insult’ to their people and instead of rationally sitting down with the writer and asking for edits to the story or a total redaction, decided that the better course of action would be to abduct the author and brutally beat him up in the middle of nowhere. To add insult to literal injury, the police has filed a case against the author for provoking a riot, writing and circulating obscene content, selling a book containing defamatory matter, intentional provocation of breach of peace and causing fear or alarm to public. Wonderful, isn’t it?

HT, in their laconic article, asked an interesting question – why is it that only current authors face the brunt of such injustice? Why do authors such as Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, the acclaimed author of Devdas, who “had made uncharitable remarks about some non-Bengali Brahmin clans”, not face such public ridicule and outrage? Perhaps, if it were in fashion, political parties and illiberal communities will also start attacking famous people from India’s history books. Oh wait, they already do!

Word of the Day: Fungible

Fungibility, according to Wikipedia, is an economic term used to describe the property of a commodity whereby it is directly interchangeable with something else. For example, if you don’t care whether the rental car you get is a Mercedes or a BMW, then they are fungible. It was used by journalist Stijn Debrouwere in an awesome article about the future of newspapers and media companies in the age of the Internet, by calling his article –

A treatise on fungibility, or, a framework for understanding the mess the news industry is in and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Source: Fungible

Continue reading

The Old India

India

So, I was reading about Xerxes, because I’ve recently watched 300 Part II and it’s very interesting how in a short period of time, in a very small part of the world, entire kingdoms formed and fell, armies moved across oceans and civilizations blossomed and razed to the ground. While reading about Xerxes (and this is Wikipedia, everything is linked and I often go binge-wikiing), I started reading about his father, Darius I. Darius died fighting revolts from the Greeks, Egypt and the Babylonians, amongst others. But before he did that, he went a little East to raid and conquer this wonderful place called Afghanistan. Along with that, he decided to conquer Taxila. Wait, Taxila? Isn’t that supposed to be part of Indian history? I definitely read about it. Interesting, reading on! Continue reading

Stories Untold: How the lack of Character Development affects Indian Cinema

I have often observed that Indian movies have a habit of skipping over various aspects of a character’s development in a rush to tell the entire story in the allotted time. Story telling is a noble pursuit, in that the audience is nowadays impatient and quick to judge. It takes a lot of combined work by everyone involved, from the script writer to the editor, to release a product that is worthy of people’s time and money. Consequently, if the end product is a confused, winding tale, it is a failure of every single person involved in the storytelling process. Continue reading

Dabangg

Sitting in a dark cinema hall, all alone, I had a thought. Maybe this movie, called Dabangg 2, isn’t all non-sense. Maybe it’s not about leaving your brains out of the hall when you come to see this funny and interesting movie. Maybe it’s about knowing what you’re looking at. We Indians are pretty judgmental people. We look at Indian cinema and TV and laugh at its stupidity yet spend hours talking about the latest Bond or Iron Man flick (don’t tell me you don’t think RDJ doesn’t make it awesome). What is so awesome about Superman and Batman that makes us Gaga (and not in the Lady sense) about them? The fact that we know them to be fiction. These are the Superheroes that we believe in despite knowing their fictional origins. Continue reading

Waking Up to Sid

So, the movie ‘Wake up Sid’ is a look at today’s Youth and their abhorrence to the 9 to 5 job culture. It is a good portrayal of dreams and winning them and yet, many will see it as critical of the way today’s Generation is leading their lives, waking up late, shunning responsibility and not learning ‘Family values’.

Indeed, it is true that at our ages our parents were more mature, responsible and career-oriented, but allow me to show you a side which the movie only hinted at but did not explore as it devoted time to the Love story enmeshed in it. Does anyone realize that today, the average age of a person to remain a child has gone a lot further! There are many influences towards that- the increasing demands of education being one; it is impossible to get a decent job in today’s scenario with at least two degrees tucked in your belt, proof of that comes from my discovery that the taxi driver, who drove us from Guwahati to Shillong when I first came here, was a Graduate in English Literature and yet not able to secure a good job in Welcome to Shillong. Its amazing how we can proudly jump from one level of Education to another without ever gaining any real Education, vis-a-vis, experience in Life. In that sense we remain Children at least till such ages when our parents we looked at by their parents as Adults who had secured jobs and were starting families. Another influence pushing towards this attitude is the advent of Pleasure. Today, the amount of devices and methods to get sensory pleasures is a huge set. My Father first used a computer in His Masters Degree while I got mine in Class 6th. Obviously this affects our choices and level of enjoyment. Any one with a computer today listens to the latest songs and watches the latest movies at the click of the mouse, while our parents specially took out time and permission from their parents to enjoy such pleasures. Finally, we today have a lot more services which can be accessed via more comfortable means, thereby pushing us away from the real action of getting up and standing in that long queue to book that train ticket. Who is to blame? No One! Society has been consistently pushing these amenities into the hands of its children. Parents will keep loving their children and considering them children as long as they stay in their parental homes and pursue higher standards of education before getting real jobs and learning real values. You will say- “But what of those parents who push their children and make them work hard??” Read on…

The second reason why we are so misunderstood is that today, our Education System is competitive, Our Society, open-minded and pushing our creative talents but our “Traditional” look at a career still points towards a limited set of supposedly “valuable” and good careers such as Engineering, Medical and Accounts. It is this stereotyping of jobs which, at the same time both encourages our creativity and limits it. There are enough Summer camps in school to make students believe that art is a viable career yet enough pressure during exams to cause suicides even in Class 7th students. This ping-pong battle between passions and “consistent source of income” causes a messed up attitude amongst children and shows in their callousness towards life and insistence on living in the world of games and fairy tale love stories. In short, todays Youth is up for many challenges but is not encouraged to take risks. In light of this, I laud Konkona Sen’s role in the Movie, who takes a huge risk at one point of life and is courageous enough to make sure that she’s successful.

This debate and the future of the Indian Child has only two possible outcomes- the parents suddenly realize that the best way to rear children is to give them more responsibility, sooner, so that they learn how to live at nearly the same time as their parents did. This is akin to what happens in many western societies where no job is looked down at and children learn the value of menial labor earlier than their counterparts in India. Alternatively, parents will continue to crib about their children yet keep pushing them towards more books and learning without understanding. That model will only yield a generation which prefers to live in the gaming world and wake up late in the afternoons.

I wonder where India is headed…