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.

Myself Madrasi. Hindi theriyaad macha!

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Recently, I was a witness to a scene that is familiar to most “Madrasis”:

I was in a Volvo bus to the airport. A Kannada radio channel was playing on the PA system. A burly north Indian gentleman loudly told the conductor to play Hindi songs instead. What is significant is that a lone northerner felt he was doing the right thing by imposing his language on a busful of commuters in the capital city of Karnataka – and what is more significant is that he got away with it. Mind you, this was a state government bus, that is required to use only the official language of Karnataka. The official language of Karnataka is not Hindi.

What’s in a language, you ask? Answer: Everything.

A language is the soul of its people. History, culture, art, philosophy, science, religion – everything. No other aspect of a people’s culture arouses as much passion, and loyalty, as its language.

People do not differentiate between their mother tongue and their mother land. Small wonder then, that people are willing to die for their language.

You cannot replace one language with another. You do not go around claiming one language is somehow better than the other. And you do not go around shoving your language down another’s throat.

I am a polyglot. Oddly enough, while I am fluent in Hindi and several other languages, I cannot read or write my own mother tongue, which is Tamil. I can speak the colloquial version of Tamil with reasonable fluency, but I cannot understand the formal version.

In principle therefore, a “Madrasi” like me should be an ardent supporter of “Hindigiri” (if I may coin a term).  And mind you, as a Hindi-speaking Brahmin, I am not exactly welcome in Tamil Nadu myself.

That doesn’t mean dick. I sympathise and I empathise with all my fellow Indians who are opposed to having any language imposed on them.

India does not have a national language.

The Indian Union has listed 22 indigenous languages and English as “official” languages. From these official languages, an Indian state can have its own official language, depending on regional considerations. Kannada, for example, is the sole official language of Karnataka, just as Marathi is that of Maharashtra, and so on. Tamil Nadu has two official languages – Tamil and English.

You can read India’s Official Languages Act, 1963, if you want to know the truth about our non-existent “national” language.

In Karnataka, all government communications need be in Kannada only. They add English as a courtesy, for which I am thankful.

None of the six states of south India have Hindi as an official language.

Does India need a national language? Why, pray? Why?

The three-language formula has been around since 1968. It hasn’t worked well, in spite of several revisions over the years. In Tamil Nadu, the three-language formula isn’t followed at all.  If it has not worked as well as it should have, it is due to lop-sided implementation. In a country with a few thousand languages and dialects – and a prolonged history of language based conflicts – the three-language policy represents a compromise at best, but it’s all we’ve got.

Yes, it is important for a country to have a common language, not necessarily not a national one. But, imposition by any means, direct or indirect, gentle or harsh, just does not work.

Why do our elected leaders never learn from our own history?

Instead, successive governments have adopted a bull-headed approach to the language issue. And that has resulted in the rise of certain regional parties whose only claim to fame is their alleged loyalty to their regional language. And that in turn, has created a new threat to our social fabric – the lingo-fascist.

This is not how a modern democracy works.

Dozens of assorted experts have provided sage advice on how to solve this chronic issue of our national language. Most of them miss the point. No matter how you sugar-coat it, you cannot make citizens of a democratic nation accept a language that is not native to them.

Till date, in post-Independent India, I have not seen a single north Indian politician trying to learn a single south Indian language. Not one. There is no shortage of south Indian politicians and thought-leaders who are fluent in Hindi. In fact, almost all of them are. How many of their north Indian counterparts have even a passing acquaintance with any south Indian language? Not one.

Why is it that “Madrasis” are expected to learn Hindi before they step foot into any part of north India, and why is it that the same “Madrasis” who never leave their home-states are still expected to learn Hindi, for the exclusive benefit of north Indians who come down south?

Hindi nahi aati kya?” is the first question they yell as they step out of the airport. Only in namma Bangalore would local people apologise with a sheepish grin. In Chennai, the likely response would be “Yo! Po ya!” That’s the polite Tamil equivalent of “Eff off!”.

As our ancient country enters its seventh decade as the world’s largest democratic republic, it’s time we ended this internecine war over our ‘national’ language. It’s time we tackled the real issues that are tearing our country apart – our uncontrolled population, poverty, civil strife, intolerance, vigilantism, human rights. In spite of the ruling party’s vehement protestations, we are still one of the poorest nations in the world.

We are the second-most populous nation on the planet.  We have the world’s largest illiterate population.

Our women are still unsafe. The United Nations states that India is the world’s “most deadly” country for female infants.

Our population will overtake China within a decade. And then what? A nation of one thousand five hundred million people, the highest population density in the world, and one of the lowest standards of living.

How exactly will a national language help with any of this?

Bas. Saaku. Chaalu. Podum. Paryaptam. Enough.

It’s time the nation grew up.

First learn the geography of your own country. There is no place called “Madras”. There are six separate states that comprise south India – Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala and Puducheri.

Learn any south Indian language first, before asking me, “Hindi nahi aati kya?”.

As it happens, my Hindi is definitely much better than yours. How’s your Tamil?

Tamil theriyaada? Kannada gotthillva? Telugu raada? Malayalam parayamo?

If your answer to these questions is ‘no’, then …shut the eff up.

And stop calling me “Madrasi”.

Punarmilaama … Srini.