Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.

When I go from hence
let this be my parting word,
that what I have seen is unsurpassable.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Of Indian English and History Sheeters

I stumbled across a nice article on Indian English a few minutes ago. It explores the many variations of Standard (or BBC) English that are in use in India. I came across it while doing a Google search for the definition of the word "dias". This article told me that "dias" ia a mispronunciation of the word "dais" which is generally accepted only in India. The link to the article is:

I also learnt, much to my surprise, that words like batchmate, eve teasing and opticals are not standard English and are not used outside India.

One word I have always been curious about is "history-sheeter". I know it is not part of standard English and is used only in India. But it has become standard in India and is used in newspaper articles, government notifications and other such bastions of standard English. What I find curious about this word is its complexity and apparent lack of relation to any word in English or in any Indian language. Most words in Indian English are either derived from some Indian words (such as bunglow, mantra, guru), or are corrupt forms of some English words (such as fundu from "fundamental" and backside from "rear") or are literal translations of Indian words (such as "good name" - "bhalo naam" in Bengali and taxi-wallah). However, the word history-sheeter, meaning someone who has a long criminal record, has no equivalent in standard English. Worse still is that there is no term in standard English or in any Indian language (as far as I know) which conveys exactly the same meaning. The closest word I have found is "rap-sheet". The word "rap sheet" refers to the criminal record of a person in standard English. However, it refers to the record and not the person. How "rap-sheet" evolved to "history-sheeter" - if indeed it did so in the first place - still remains a mystery to me.
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Crossed fifty

I have just realized that my last post was my fiftieth post on this blog. So I have crossed half century with this post. Time to doff my cap and raise my pen towards the pavilion. If only, there was a pavilion...sigh. Read More

Shoe-ing accurately

Throwing shoes at people has suddenly become a rage. If you don't like what somebody is saying or doing just throw a shoe at him. Just ensure a dozen news channels are there to capture the moment. The benefits of doing so are many. Mr. Muntazer al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journo who started the trend by throwing his shoe at George Bush became a hero overnight. Iraqis took to the streets in his support. Some parents even offered him their daughters in marriage. Others offered to support him financially during his incarceration and subsequent joblessness. The man who threw a shoe at the Chinese PM was far less successful. But that's only because he chose the wrong man to throw his shoe at. The Chinese have a habit of censoring all embarrassing news from the state controlled media. This seriously impairs any such unconventional bid for grabbing eyeballs. Otherwise, given the number of things the number of people in China are unhappy about, this man would have become an overnight star in China and an even bigger superstar in Tibet. Our own Jarnail Sigh has found his fifteen minutes of fame after throwing his shoe at the home minister. While the minister has himself tried to downplay the incident and "forgiven" him, other political parties are apparently making a mascot out of him. One party has allegedly announced a reward of five lakh rupees and another has offered him a ticket for the coming elections. I am sure others yet will come out with even more novel ways to fete him.

While the world debates on how to react to these new champions of the Shoe, I have only two observations to make. The first observation is that all these people are lousy shots. Not one of them could actually hit his target. That seems like a terrible waste. If your target has presented himself to you on a dais, standing up tall and erect to offer the largest surface area possible, the least you can do is to offer him the courtesy of at least touching his person with your missile. If you cannot do that, you have no business to be in the shoe throwing business. The second observation is a recognition of the age old Indian values of frugality and price consciousness. Where as all others chose to throw expensive branded shoes at their chosen targets with the Iraqi throwing the most expensive shoe, the Indian chose to throw a cheap unbranded shoe at his target. He must have realized it would be a terrible waste of hard earned money to spend more than is absolutely necessary on a shoe he would be wearing for just half a trip for it was always unlikely that the police would be courteous enough the return the offending shoe after the incident.
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Monday, 6 April 2009

My experiments with food: Steamed prawns with mustard

I had never imagined that finding as simple a thing as ready made mustard paste would be so hard in Pune. I am partial to steamed dishes with a hint (or more) of mustard in them. That goes for all varieties of food, fish, chicken, egg, etc, with the absolute favourite being steamed Hilsa. But that is probably boringly predictable in a Bong. It is no wonder then that I began searching high and low for mustard paste as soon as I set up my own kitchen (buying a mixer just to grind mustard was never an option). But, I had not contended with the utter lack of enthusiasm of Puneites for ready made mustard paste. Every shop here stores either whole mustard or split mustard. Split mustard or dal mustard as it is called here is mustard seed split in half. I have not been able to figure out what earthly use can split mustard have for anyone. I mean, either you use whole mustard seed in your preparation or grind it into paste, so why split it? Anyways, fed up of my incessant grumblings about mustard my mother took pity on me and sent me the paste from Delhi by courier. I could guess how fed up she had become only when I found that the cost of courier was seven times the cost of the paste.

Anyhow, now that I finally had my precious paste, I had to decide what to do with it. I decided to cook something which I had never tried before - prawns. The trouble with prawns is that they are so hard to clean and devein. That problem resolved itself when I found ready-to-cook cleaned and de-veined prawns as a super mart. And so the stage was set for my next adventure in the kitchen.

Recipe: Steamed prawns with mustard

Ingredients(serves 3):
  1. Medium prawns - 250 gms (cleaned and deveined)
  2. Mustard paste - 2 tb spoon
  3. Mustard oil - 3-4 tb spoon
  4. Onion - 100 gms (finely chopped or paste)
  5. Garlic - 5-6 cloves (finely chopped or paste)
  6. Green chillies - 3-4 (finely chopped)
  7. Tomato - 1 (finely chopped)
  8. Turmeric - 1/4 tb spoon
  9. Salt - to taste

  1. I don't like adding the residue or the fibrous part of mustard paste to the preparation as it is this part that is hard to digest. So at the outset, I soak the paste in half a cup of water. This way the fibrous particles sink to the bottom and the milk can be drained from the top.
  2. Mix onion, garlic and green chili.
  3. Add a little turmeric and salt to the prawns and mix.
  4. Heat oil and the onion mix to it.
  5. Stir for some time, till onion turns golden.
  6. Add tomato and fry till they release water.
  7. Add prawns and let the mix fry on low heat till the prawns lose their pinkish colour.
  8. Add the milk of the mustard, add salt and remaining turmeric.
  9. Cover the kadhai till the gravy begins to boil. Then remove from fire.

It is important to keep in mind that prawns should not be deep fried as they become tough and difficult to chew if heated for too long.

About prawns
The terms 'prawn' and 'shrimp' are used interchangeably with 'prawn' being more common in UK, India and 'shrimp' being used exclusively in the US. The etymology of the word 'prawn' is obscure. In Middle English, the word 'prawn' is recorded as prayne or prane; no cognate form can be found in any other language.
Source: Wikipedia
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Friday, 3 April 2009

The British Council Library

The British Council Library has come up with new plastic bar-coded photo-id cards for members. Apparently, they have been issuing these cards for quite some time now. I got one when I went to renew my membership. My membership had expired more than two years ago but I had never got around to renewing it. This year when I got an invitation from them for the third time offering a discount of Rs. 100 if I renewed my membership by the end of March, I realized that these guys were just not ready to forget me. So I decided to renew their acquaintance and make our relationship a two-way one. Of course, the discount was an added attraction. It was not the amount of discount that appealed to me - Rs. 100 is less than 4% of my membership free. It was just that the offer was so charmingly conceited that I could not resist it. I could almost visualize BCL taking on the form of a prim old librarian (somehow librarians have to be prim and old) and putting her nose (I have nothing against it being a "him", I just think that prim old ladies are cuter than cranky old men) in the air saying, "Don't try to judge the value of what I am offering you young man, it is invaluable. However, since you are being so contrary and this is the age of consumerism <insert distasteful grimace here>, here is a hundred rupee note for you". To be fair to BCL though, the membership fee is not too high - the most expensive one (Senior Family) is Rs. 2600 per year, which comes down to hardly Rs. 200 per month, against which you can borrow upto 8 books/CDs/DVDs at a time as many times as you want. I took the Senior Family membership as this is the only one which includes DVDs. Any other membership type charges you Rs. 50 per DVD. And at the rate I borrow DVDs, I will cover any difference in fees in one month. After all, on the first day alone I borrowed 6 DVDs.
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Saturday, 3 January 2009

New resolutions for old

I don't believe in new year resolutions. I don't believe there is any special day for making resolutions. If I feel the need to form a resolution, I don't wait till the start of next year or my next birthday to implement it. By a curious coincidence however, since the two years I have been making resolutions just around the time of new year. Last year, after dithering for years, I finally made up my mind to learn swimmimg. And I did it!! I can now proudly claim to know three of the four strokes in swimmimg. I don't know the last one only because I have decided to avoid the water during the winter. This year I found myself making another resolution while frolicking in the beaches of Puri. I have resolved to become financially literate. Its the unlikeliest place to be making such a resolution but recent events have not allowed me to ignore money matters even for a second, not even when I was vacationing in Puri. I have decided that the only way I can be free of such worries in the future is if I start worrying about my finances before they start troubling me. Till now I have steadfastly refused to think about investing. I believe I am temperamentally unsuited for the job. My investments have been limited to hurried buys into the first tax saving MF someone points out to me before March every year. Needless to say, the recent slowdown in the economy has gobbled up all that money and put it somewhere I can't find it. All that I about to change. I have resolved to become Mr. Investment himself. I am evolving a long term investement plan which should put the most die hard investor to shame. As a first step, I have bought a copy of the "bible" on investing - "The Intelligent Investor" by Benjamin Graham. I have already picked up a few invaluable tips from it but more on that later. For now let me just quote a wise woman who said, "Money, if it does not bring you happiness, will at least help you be miserable in comfort".
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