The plate is not plastic. But the rice may be!

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I cooked this spaghetti myself.  80% is real food. The rest? God knows!

 

Is it plastic? Or not? Safe? Not safe? Unnecessary panic? Or really scary? Media hype? Or scientific fact?

Yesterday, I was a panelist on a TV discussion about plastic in our rice and eggs. There were scientists, food experts and two worried consumers who thought they had eaten plastic rice and eggs.

I was silent for the most part of the discussion, listening to everybody else on the panel vehemently argue that plastic rice is a myth, cannot be made, commercially not viable, technically not possible, creation of the media, etc, etc.

There was even a “scientific” demonstration by one of the panelists who took a cup of cooked rice, added a drop of iodine tincture and showed that the rice turned blue and was therefore real. That is, he took a cup of real rice and proved that it was real. Which made me wonder exactly where the “science” in his demonstration was.

It was all about denial.  Denial, denial, denial.

The videos on Youtube were loudly denounced, the two aggrieved consumers on the panel were hushed up, the caller who called in with her complaint about a dubious cabbage was overwhelmed with “science”.

The general attitude of the learned ones on the panel was, “I don’t believe it, therefore it does not exist”.

Where’s the proof, they all cried. We’ve analysed a hundred samples, but all were clean, they claim. Sure. If you take a sample that is clean to start with, you will get a clean result.

The one panelist I found really entertaining was the food expert who kept screaming and shouting about the rampant ‘malnutrition’ that is allegedly happening because people have allegedly stopped eating eggs. Egg farmers will go out of business, thousands of jobs will be lost, the economy will collapse, what will happen to our country, etc, etc.

I wonder if he meant that millions of Brahmins (like myself), Lingayats, Jains, vegans and other non-egg eaters across India are (a) severely malnourished and (b) responsible for India’s economic ruin because we do not eat eggs.

But hey, who am I to argue? I’m no “scientist”, am I?

I’m not surprised at this vehement denial. Some people have their reputations at stake, you see.

This is a classic case of confirmation bias. You can read more about it in this blogpost of mine. What it means is that if one is totally convinced about something, then he will either twist the existing facts to support his conviction or worse, create facts of his own.

This is just what I saw during that panel discussion. Not one of those “experts” was willing to even consider that there may, just may be, some basis to all those reports pouring in from across the country. They were not willing to concede even the remotest possibility. No means no, to them. We, the experts, say there is no plastic, so there is no plastic. That’s all.

I was reminded of that scene in Matrix, in which the little boy says, “There is no spoon”.

My take on this issue: The people deserve to be heard. The people deserve to know.

This is our food, damn it. Our food.

As it is, most of our food is already adulterated with all kinds of shit, and with all kinds of “legally permissible” stuff.

As our vociferous food expert loudly told us, and the rest of India, during the panel discussion, our sugar and salt have about 1.5% “legally permissible” silicates added to them. In other words, your sugar and salt have about 1.5% sand in them. And that’s legal. That’s right. When you add a hefty spoonful of shining white sugar to your child’s milk, you are legally feeding a little amount of sand to her. Cho chweet, no?

Did you know that? No? Then blame it on the same “experts” who tell you your rice is absolutely clean and totally plastic-free.

Don’t believe me. Try it yourself. Dissolve a teaspoon of your sugar in a glass of water.

The question here is not whether there really is plastic in our rice or not. The real question is, what are we not being told about the food we eat? How exactly is officialdom dealing with our food safety?

We saw this during the MSG issue during 2015. Vehement denial, confusing the public with “science”, contradictory statements by “experts”, rules and regulations, brushing aside consumer worries, raving and ranting.

But not one straightforward answer.

Do not underestimate the Indian house-wife. She knows her food. She knows what she’s buying. She’s the most skeptical consumer on earth, because she buys not for herself, but for her family.

When a deeply worried housewife tells you there’s something wrong with her food, you had better take her seriously.

And that is what the “scientists” do not understand.

This is not an effing research project, not an effing scientific experiment. It is not about “science”. And not a political issue, either.

It is about a worried wife and a scared mother. It is about a laborer who lives on daily wages. It is about a terrified farmer who already has enough problems in his life. Whether it is vada-pav on the roadside or a buffet at a 5-star hotel, whether it is a laborer or a corporate magnate – the questions on their minds are exactly the same.

How safe is our food? What are we not being told ?

Vehement denial is not the answer. Throwing “science” in our faces is not the answer. Quoting rules about “legally permissible” crap is not the answer.

People do not need “science”. They need compassion, and understanding. They deserve a proper explanation, not rhetoric. They need to know that someone in the administration is doing his job and someone is keeping us safe.

They need the truth.

Is there plastic in our rice? Are our eggs fake?

I do not know. It may contain plastic, it may not. Is it technically possible to make plastic rice grains and eggs? Yes it is.

But, does your rice really have plastic in it? I just do not know for sure. That I do not know for sure does not scare me. I am not responsible for your food supply.

What really scares me, is that those who are responsible for your food are not entirely sure either – and just do not want to accept that fact.

Think about that, when you order your biryani.

Srini.

The Rogue Elephant. Good food. But … service charge.

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The Rogue Elephant is an odd name for a garden café, but one had heard good things about this place, and decided to take a chance.

Strictly speaking, the term “café” applies to a small place that specialises in coffee and snacks. But what the heck.

This discreet little café is located next to Krishna Rao park in Basavanagudi, one part of Bangalore that still retains some of its original character.

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The café is part of an old Bangalore home and is flanked by another classical bungalow. The ambience is quiet and homely, the decor subdued and rustic. A huge gulmohur tree provides shade and an avian concert as well. Barbets, koels, tailorbirds and sunbirds dart to and fro over my head. Thankfully, no monkeys.

The food is advertised as Mediterranean and North Indian. Wonder why they take the trouble to offer pedestrian stuff like palak paneer, aloo tikkies, and similar stuff that I can get anywhere else.

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I start with roasted pumpkin soup, billed as the soup of the day. It’s hearty, non-spicy, piping hot, as I like it. A trifle heavy on the butter, though.

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Hummus with grilled chicken.

The waiter recommends hummus with grilled chicken and pita bread. The hummus is well made, served with two olives and a hefty amount of olive oil. The grilled chicken is not exactly world-class, but I’d say it’s acceptable.

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Spaghetti with meat sauce.

A half-portion of spaghetti with meat sauce follows. Now this I like. The quantity is right for one lonely soul and the meat sauce is generous.

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For dessert one indulges in apple pie and ice cream – in direct defiance of my cardiologist’s orders. The apple pie is, well, chalega.

One finishes the meal with french-pressed coffee, strong and fresh, the kind of stuff that puts hair on a man’s chest. Nice!

Prices are steep. My meal cost me about Rs. 800/-. And …

Minus points for: Bottled water being sold at twice the retail price. And the 10% service charge.

For these reasons, in spite of the good food and ambience, I will not eat here again.

Cheers … Srini.

Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko …

zeenatShe was a cardiovascular risk factor for men of all ages. Blood pressures would hit the roof, hearts would palpitate, tongues would hang out, grown men would drool as she swayed across Indian screens displaying almost everything she had.

Once upon a time, the Bollywood heroine was a goody-goody Bharatiya type, clad in a demure saree or a salwar-kameez, happy to play second fiddle to the manly hero, content to cook for him and sew buttons on his shirt, sing bhajans for the hero’s mother whenever required and bear as many children as deemed necessary or politely allow her man to marry another woman in case she was incapable. Anything remotely erotic was forbidden. At best, she would be permitted a dance or two in a wet saree. Any ‘bad’ behaviour like wearing short dresses, dancing in clubs, talking to strange men, drinking and smoking, was left to vamps like Helen, Bindu and the like.

And then in 1970, Zeenat Aman burst upon Indian screens and made the vamp unnecessary. With her first appearance in Dev Anand’s Hare Rama Hare Krishna, Zeenat Aman blew apart the very concept of a Bharatiya naari. Her debut song in the movie, ‘Dum maro dum’, introduced her to Indian audiences with a chillum in her hand, smoking pot with hippies, getting stoned out of her mind.
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‘Dum maro dum’ became a cult classic. Kishore Kumar once said that ‘Dum maro dum’ was powerful enough to bring a dead man back to life. Although Mumtaz was the leading lady of Hare Rama Hare Krishna, nineteen-year old Zeenat Aman stole the show with that single song. And she won a Filmfare award for her role.

Zeenat Aman was born in Bombay, graduated from St Xavier’s college, moved to Germany with her mother and studied in the US, before returning to India. She briefly worked for Femina as a reporter and then got into professional modeling. People from my generation will remember her as the brand ambassador for Taj Mahal tea.

Hare Rama Hare Krishna made a cultural icon out of Zeenat Aman. After that movie, she went from one successful role to another, even as she became typecast as an unconventional, Westernised heroine. Where other heroines wore sarees and salwars, she sported slit skirts and tight shorts. Other heroines would take diction lessons to deliver their dialogs in a pure Northie accent, she spoke in a breezy convent accent. Other heroines were happy to give TV interviews in their homes or in a demure studio setting, she took her interviewer, Bikram Vohra out to a night club and danced the night away with him.

And where other heroines dared to display a small hint of cleavage, Zeenat Aman did not hesitate to drop all her clothes and leave very little to the imagination. The nation watched her in Satyam Shivam Sundaram in stunned fascination, as she went through the movie with hardly a stitch on her curvaceous body.

With Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1977), Zeenat Aman truly broke all the traditional norms, became India’s official sex-symbol and set the trend for other heroines to shed their inhibitions. Tina Munim, Parveen Babi, Reena Roy, Mandakini and Kimi Katkar followed in her footsteps – much to the delight of men across India.

With the song ‘Aap jaisa koi‘ in Qurbani, Zeenat Aman became an international name, and with her role in Don, she became an action-heroine as well. But it was her role as a rape victim in Insaaf ka Taraazu that earned her the respect that she truly deserved for her talent.

Personally, I liked her best in Manoranjan, a naughty comedy made in 1974, in which she played the lead role as a cheerful hooker, happily sleeping with other men in addition to the hero, played by Sanjeev Kumar. Manoranjan made light of the prostitution business, instead of ranting against it, unlike other movies on this theme. No wonder it didn’t do well, but Zeenat Aman was fun to watch.

Zeenat Aman won a Lifetime Achievement award in 1980.  She lives in Bombay now, and is still as active, and as attractive, as ever.

Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi mein aaye, Zeenatji.  Ah well, one can but dream!

Cheers … Srini.