Thursday, August 20, 2009

Our Pseudo Democracy

There's never a dull moment in India's political arena. Jaswant Singh's new book Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence has invited the wrath of his own party men. The BJP promptly and ungraciously booted him out for airing his views on Jinnah and the partition, as well as some unflattering comments on Sardar Patel. Having condoned Varun Gandhi's inflammatory speeches against a minority community and now kicking JS out for what they deem "pro Jinnah" views, just what sort of a 'secular' message are they sending out to us voters? JS (whose previous books have courted controversy too) remains unrepentant, questioning the right of people to impose shackles on free thinking. Good on you, JS!

While the party can rightly justify their actions to some extent by saying that JS's opinions are not in keeping with the party's ideology, there is absolutely no justification for imposing a ban on the book in a few BJP-ruled states.

The last time I checked, this was a democracy ("the world's largest" as we take pride in trumpeting). As citizens of this supposed democracy, don't we have the right to freedom of expression? Doesn't it also give us the freedom of choice? I can choose to read the book or not. I don't need someone dictating what I should or should not read. I have the right to air my plentiful opinions but I definitely do not have the right to impose my views or restrictions on another individual.

Besides, how will banning the book in a few states, stop anyone from buying it from elsewhere? And then there's always Amazon, just have it shipped right to your doorstep!

JS is likely to have the last laugh. He remains a Member of Parliament, and can probably laugh all the way to the bank thanks to the free publicity that a couple of ignorant, rigid party leaders gave his book. Everybody loves a good controversy. That in itself is a fantastic farewell present.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Good God! I'm Blond!

It is that time of year again. As the religious festival season rolls around again, I can feel the onset of slight pangs of anxiety that will no doubt become more frequent and intense as the months go by. Okay, I am just going to have to come out and say it. There is no other way to do so. I am not religious. Pause one moment for the gasps of horror.

Now that that is done, and before the saffron brigade and the Bible bashers begin to roll down roads or hold prayer conventions for my rotten soul, here's the meat of the matter. This is a country where 'the guy upstairs' (who I know exists because I hear footsteps and rolling marbles at night) has around 40,000 different names, avatars, and forms of accepted worship. So, life for someone who chooses to remain an agnostic (note: vastly different from atheist, so let's not get our saffron knickers in a knot already, okay?) is not easy.

I had a good and lasting taste of it while driving to my Spanish institute with an equally religion-clueless friend on what could have been a peaceful Sunday morning. I stopped at a traffic signal and surveyed my surroundings. There was something odd by the side of the road - in my defence, it was odd by my religion-ignorant books. The conversation went something like this:

- OMFG, who the hell left so many Ganesha idols on the side of the road? (Brownie points for naming the idol correctly)
- Oh, yeah! There are so many!
- And they're all PINK!
- Strange!

Before we could act any more blond than that, the lights changed and we trundled along to our class with our brows furrowed. Once there, we decided to update the others about our strange sighting that morning. Our 'dramatic' revelation was met with a moment of silent disbelief and then a lot of eye rolling, before the following outburst (I have omitted some of the choice expletives and stinging name calling):

- It's Ganesh Chaturthi!
- How could you not know? Seriously?!
- They're selling idols on the road because it's GC!
- How could you not know that?
- How long have you lived in this country?
- Are you guys even Hindus?
- It's GC.....
- Yadda, yadda, nag, nag, gasp...

You get the drift.

Tears of utter shame and repentance sprang to my eyes and I ran from there and threw myself in front of one of those pink idols, ripping my hair out, beating my chest, groveling for forgiveness and salvation.

Okay, I made that last bit up entirely (that's another black mark for lying, tsk, tsk), but if my life were portrayed on a Hindi soap on Colors, that scene would be played out in slow motion, three times over, with a lot of tan-tan-tan music.

In reality, my ignoramus friend and I just looked suitably ashamed, giving our best I'm-the-dog-who-peed-on-your-floor looks, deciding that there was nothing we could say to justify our blond moment.

Now, we keep our 'religious' discussions between ourselves and helpfully give the other the heads-up whenever one of us hears hints of some festival around the corner in other people's conversations.

{Note: No offense meant to blonds, anyone religious, pink people, dogs who pee on floors and tan-tan-tan music composers.}

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lapsi or Titaura, anyone?

People familiar with Kalimpong and thereabouts may be familiar with "Lapsi". If you're wondering still, then may be if I said, "the red tamarind-type thing which is a little sour, a little sweet and a little spicy", that could ring a bell or two? This is not to be confused with the commonplace red tamarind sold around Delhi and up north. Lapsi is Nepalese in origin and is commonly found in various forms around the North East.

I first had a taste of this addictive, finger-licking-good whatchamacallit way back in school. A friend of mine would bring little packets of the stuff for us to savour. I remained blissfully unaware of the actual name, ignorantly supposing it to be the common tamarind.

However, I recently found myself trawling the bazaars of Kalimpong looking for the "red tamarind thing", determined not to disappoint a friend back home who had specifically asked for it. I located hoards of it in a small shop run by a crotchety-looking woman, who grunted when I asked her if this was "imli". I take it she meant to say, "Whatever, stupid tourist."

Later, I found that this is actually called Lapsi (pronounced "Lopsy"), which is really a fruit grown in Nepal. The fruit is then used to make various condiments like the sour-sweet-spicy sticky stuff ("Titaura"), pickles, chutneys and whatnot. The plain dried/boiled fruit is sold as well, which looks sort of like an apricot, but tastes and feels like a jujebe of sorts.

More Googling turned up that the stuff is exported from Nepal to the west. I laughed when I discovered that each tiny packet retails for something like $9 on the net, when I picked it up for Rs 5 in Kalimpong! Let's take a moment and gloat.

Really gloat.

Gloat like there's no tomorrow.

Oh, and this goes out to the gossip trawlers (you know who you are): if you're wondering why I've been savouring sour-sweet weird things, no, there isn't one in the oven! I've always loved sour-sweet things. Now go discuss all that, while I sit back and enjoy my Titaura. And if you're wondering whether I might give you some, the (plagiarized) tag line on the packet says "A gift for someone you love", so.....