Friday, March 29, 2013


Daalmaa (henceforth “dalma”), presumably yet another typical Odia dish, is essentially yellow dal – moong or arhar - mixed with plenty of vegetables, preferably of the local variety. One could choose at least two or three from a set: brinjal, radish, raw banana, gourd, arbi, potato, beans of all kinds, jack fruit, jack fruit seed, and tomato, among others. One might think it’s like sambar, but it is not; with a lot of vegetables it is thick, and it’s not sour at all, and to make it tastier, there are things that can be added to it like coconut, jeera powder and kali mirch (pepper) seed or powder and some other spices as well, which is not the case with sambar. An incorrigible non-vegetarian would put some deep-fried prawns in dalma for taste or aroma.  In certain ways, it’s a quite useful dish, although some would prefer to view it as a deprivation dish: if there aren’t enough vegetables or enough dal to cook separate dishes, dalma is the solution. This apart, one cannot make just dal, there has to be a vegetable dish to go with it, but preparing a vegetable dish needs attention and takes time; so if one is in a hurry, then dalma is the best option. For the same reason it can be a distress dish as well, when guests arrive all of a sudden and unannounced at that, and there is neither enough vegetables at home nor enough time with the hostess to cook separate dishes of dal and vegetables for the guests. It’s thus a problem solver; therefore its increasing popularity among the urban lower- and middle- middle class is no surprise. At a feast, especially a traditional one, what is served is dal, not dalma.

Dalma until recently was a Puri-based dish, where people for some reason (having to do with the dampness of the climate, one is told) chose to eat roti and dalma for dinner. Surely the main choice was between rice and roti, and once roti was chosen, dalma had to be the natural choice, because of its thickness. There are eateries in the town, which specialize in dalma making, and these have a roaring business selling roti and dalma at night. The people of Puri have explored the delights of eating dalma in a variety of combinations – with sweet and salted cakes, puri, sweet powdered beaten rice, called chudaghasa, etc. With roti made of boiled atta (wheat flour), called khali roti. Khali roti and dalma constitute a speciality; it is offered to Lord Hanuman in one particular Hanuman temple – Siddha Hanuman - on the outskirts of this temple town as a special offering. Now gods must have whatever their devotees relish. However, khali roti is not normal food in Puri, and outside of Puri, khali roti is sick food, rarely eaten, even as such.

It is only during the last two or three decades that dalma has become a pan-Odia dish. However outside of Puri, it is still a “marked” or special dish, using a jargon from modern linguistics; the “unmarked” or normal one is dal. More recently, the establishment of a chain of excellent, affordable eateries, called Dalma, in several cities in Odisha has given dalma a brand name. These popular restaurants offer a range of delicacies, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, but do not specialize in dalma. People in fact do not go there to eat quality dalma. For the tastiest dalma one still has to go to Puri, to some of the modest roadside dhabas in the narrow lanes of this temple town.   


Whether the Odia word khiraa derives from the word khiri (Hindi kheer) or not, the two objects, khiraa and khiri would appear almost alike to one who has a mind for generalizations, and no mind for specifics. The careful observer would not make a mistake. Khiraa, like khiri, it is a sweet dish made of milk. It is basically sweet, thickened milk, thickened by boiling for a long time. A considerable amount of home-made cheese or sweet, deep-fried cakes made of the same (called chenaa taadiaa) are often added to it for taste. Khiraa does not have the elegant look of khiri, paayasa, neither does it have its aroma. It hasn’t become a marketable dish. Not as yet.

Khiraa is a Puri dish; one doesn’t get it in hotels and restaurants outside this celebrated temple town, which has a history the like of which no other city or town has in Odisha. “Khiraa” in the sense of the sweet dish, does not even occur in the exhaustive, three thousand page dictionary, entitled “Ajanta Odia Abhidhan”. It is the celebratory sweet dish of “inner” Puri, to be precise.  One could justifiably think of this temple town in terms of inner Puri and outer Puri. Inner Puri is the old, traditional town, surrounding the majestic temple, where people mostly connected with the temple live. Outer Puri is an extension; this is where the “outsiders” live, government employees, retirees, practitioners of modern professions, etc. Tourists, as distinct from traditional pilgrims, stay in this part of the town. In spite of this, inner Puri and outer Puri can be better thought of as are more cultural than spatial constructs. For the people of outer Puri, generally pitiably over-conscious about their food, this rather heavy-to-digest khiraa is a at best once-in-a fortnight dish.

As the celebratory sweet dish, khiraa goes with meals of any kind: rice and dal, roti or khali roti with dalmaa, puri (also spelt “puree”) and dalmaa or sabji, sweet and spiced, powdered flat rice (cudaghasa) and dalmaa. People are so fond of it that it often appears that the main meal is just an excuse for having khiraa. In a feast, when khiraa is served, connoisseurs just set aside other foods on their leaves (they even fondly ask a friend to do so, if he hasn’t already) and concentrate on it. If there is rice on the leaf, one makes a wall of it for khiraa. It has to be eaten really fast, so that it doesn’t flow out of the leaf. At a feast it is served at least twice, sometimes even three times, if the host is generous and the guests, special. One must eat it with one’s fingers, no spoons (and no cups, either) are provided in a community feast.

Those who simply cannot afford, go for a substitute – crushed ripe bananas, for example. Those who can barely afford it have their khiraa rather thin, with very little cheese or cheese cake in it, or even without either. The well-to-do have a lot of the same; especially those who love to eat and love to feed. In a community or group feast, if one is a special guest, one is served less khiraa and more cheese or cheese cakes. But one does not necessarily have to be an influential or a powerful person to be treated as a special guest, especially in inner Puri; here people still value warmth, goodwill and personal relationship. In a community feast here, a friend of the host from the outer Puri is also treated as a special guest. That was how I, a non-entity, used to be treated, when I participated in such a feast.

Unlike laddu and khiri, and surprisingly rasagola (its more familiar spelling being rasagulla), it is a completely “secular” dish, that is, without any traditional ritualistic associations.  Without the inviting look of the rasagulla or the sandesh, and its hard-to-digest reputation, this great cultural dish is unlikely to attract the uninitiated. Dozens of sweets have found mention in Odia literature during the last five centuries - ever since the great poet Sarala – including chenaa tadiaa - but as for khiraa, the story is different. It would indeed need research to know if it has been mentioned at all, and if indeed it has, then whether outside of the context of Puri.  With low packaging value, Khiraa is most likely to remain a local dish. Which is fine, as far as I am concerned: this would make it the ultimate Odia sweet!

Monday, March 25, 2013


As some runs are said to be more valuable than others in cricket. Arguing a few weeks ago that Ronaldo should be given the Ballon d’Or award for 2012, although in La Liga 2011-12 season, he scored fewer goals than Messi, Mourinho, the Real Madrid manager said that Ronaldo’s goals led to Real Madrid winning the La Liga title in the aforementioned year, whereas Messi’s didn’t. And La Liga, he stressed, is the toughest league in the world. In one of his programmes on NDTV, the former Australian cricketer Dean Jones had observed that although Sachin Tendulkar had scored more runs in test cricket, Ricky Ponting’s runs were in a sense more valued than his because Ponting did not play against weak cricketing countries and accumulate relatively easy runs. That is, some runs are less valuable than others. In football, going by this logic, a goal scored against a relegation-threatened team  in the English Premier League is less valuable than one scored against Manchester United. Recently Ricky Ponting said that Brian Lara is a greater cricketer than Sachin Tendulkar because Lara’s contribution led to match victory more often than did Tendulkar’s. Thus if one scores a double century but the team loses the match, it is at best merely an individual’s achievement and does not amount to much. It has often been said that Rahul Dravid has been a greater “impact player” than Tendulkar. Kapil Dev’s 175 against Zimbabwe in the 1983 version of the cricket World Cup is among the cricket folklores because it changed the course of the match, which India won. In that match Kapil had come to bat when India was 5 wickets down with about sixty runs on board. If victory of the team is all that matters, then Italy, the 1982 World cup winners was the best team of the tournament, but many connoisseurs have always felt that Brazil which lost to Italy in the pre-quarter finals was the best team in that tournament. Was Argentina really the second best team in the 1990 world Cup? It was a team that was determined to win the Cup, and adopted a strategy that would teach a thing or two about defensive play to Mourinho today.

Let us now consider the matter of defeat in a team game such as football and an individual’s responsibility for it. Could one say with sound justification that Zico was responsible for Brazil’s defeat in that team’s quarter final match against France in FIFA World Cup, 1986, because his failure to score from the spot led to his team’s defeat? Can one hold Sachin Tendulkar responsible for India’s poor show in the current (2012 home series in India) test series? Or for that matter, captain MS Dhoni? Can one hold Ronaldo responsible for the defeat of Portugal in the semi-final of Euro 2012 for keeping himself for the last attempt during the penalty shoot-out? Reportedly it was his choice. Now if Real Madrid’s winning the La Liga crown last year could be attributed to Ronaldo’s goals, why can’t he be held responsible for Portugal’s defeat? Why can’t his failure to score goals be viewed as the cause of Potugal’s defeat in the 2010 version of the World Cup? That is how this great player’s contribution would look like if one buys Mourinho’s logic. Would Messi have been able to score so many goals had he not been supported by such outstanding midfielders as Iniesta and Xavi in particular? Blaming an individual player for a defeat in a team game like hockey or football is unfair, and at the same time crediting a single player for a victory by his team is equally unfair.

At the same time it would be incorrect to brush aside the Special One’s point of view. Messi says the almost the same thing: one’s individual accomplishments are not as satisfying when one’s team loses. Brazilian Ronaldo became the highest goal scorer in the World Cup finals in 2006, but Brazil, who was clearly the pre-tournament favourite to win that edition of the World Cup, did not go beyond the quarter final stage that year. Ronaldo’s record was not even a poor consolation for the team’s failure. Likewise Messi’s spectacular achievement could hardly compensate for Barcelona’s failure to win La Liga and the Champions’ League both. And Messi knows it very well and has said things to this effect on more than one occasion. In this connection, as an aside, one might think of a team’s ability to keep the ball with it by accurate passes, but that does not always lead to controlling the game. A team controls the game when it breaks up the opponent’s moves to attack and creates opportunities for its strikers to score. In its quarter final match against France in 2006 World Cup the Brazilians kept the ball with them much longer than did the French, but their passing was fruitless – it did not lead to creating opportunities for its forwards to score. Not just fruitless, after a while it was unpleasing too.

So Mourinho is both right and not quite right. Like we are in many things that we do, many things we think.  

Friday, March 22, 2013


A friend recently said in a seminar that at least in India, English is a predatory language, a real threat to our languages. For reasons we need not go into here, English is now the main language of international communication in many important domains. And for historical reasons, it is the language most accessible to us for international communication. Both these are unalterable facts. So we must live with the same; in fact we must make the best use of a situation which people like my friend think undesirable.

For a long time English was viewed as the language of the colonizer.  For Gandhiji, it created a group of Indian English-knowing middle men through whom the ruled could communicate with the rulers, and this situation which gave rise to a new group of exploiters. Post-independence, there was a demand by some influential political leaders to dispense with English altogether In India. National identity and pride were among the most important considerations for them when they demanded the banishment of English from the Indian soil. English was not considered to be an Indian language; therefore it was not listed in the 8th Schedule of our Constitution. But it has remained an associate official language of the Indian Union. Nehru called it as a “language of importance to India”. It has a place in the list of languages of Sahitya Akademi. English is the language of science education, commerce, law, and is the main language of higher education in the humanities and human sciences. It is the language of communication at the international level. It is the language of technology. Despite lack of government support, English medium schools have proliferated, and at the same time it must be stressed that often the quality of language education there is poor. For quite some time, there has been a growing demand for good English medium schools from the disadvantaged sections of the society and now the governments of many states are responding to this demand favourably. Antagonism towards English has already become a matter of the past. An analysis of the 2001 Census shows that “in India, English is the No.2 language behind Hindi (The Times of India, Mysore edn., March 14, 2010)”. Although only 2.3 lakh people use English as their primary language, 86 and 39 millions speak this language as their second and third language respectively. The total number of English speakers is over 125 million. It can hardly be dismissed today as the language of a small minority. Besides, if India has to gain from a globalizing world, then English cannot be eliminated from Indian life. 

Those who think the marginalization of the Indian languages and cultures is due to English, which according to them is spoken by a very small number of people in India (they can say so today ignoring such facts as those given above), would have to explain how this has become possible. “Westernization” of our society is more than merely cultural; it also involves absence of resistance to English. The story of the post-Independence period is that English has not been imposed on the Indians by their government. Neither has westernization been. People have opted for both English and westernization.

To understand the success of English in the Indian context, one has to see it from a historical perspective. In the nineteenth century some influential, English-educated Indians believed that English education would be beneficial for India. The colonizers had their own agenda in this regard; they wanted to create a group of Indians who could, on their behalf, function at the lower middle or lower levels of administration. But it must be stressed that English education would not have prevailed in India had it not received strong support from influential Indians. Their agenda was of course different, as indicated above. It is just that both parties wanted English education for their own reasons. They were convinced that traditional knowledge was very much inadequate to deal with the modern world. More than a hundred years after, we know that they were not really wrong. Would a constitution based on ideas such as democracy, citizens’ rights, etc. have been possible within the framework of our traditional legal system as articulated in Manusmriti and Arthashastra? I, for one, am skeptical.

However, what was really unfortunate was that the ordinary anglicized Indian, not the creative reformers, was influenced by the propaganda of some within the colonial administration that in terms of knowledge there was hardly anything of real value in our tradition. Merely because traditional knowledge was inadequate for a different world, it can hardly be said that that knowledge was of inferior quality. Such an attitude, to my mind, was the root cause of westernization and the marginalization of our own knowledge systems and literature. I have noticed the way literature in both Odia and Sanskrit was generally undervalued in my college days in the early sixties. Incidentally, there are still some among our intellectuals who believe that the literature written in the Indian languages is inferior to that produced in English in India.

There is a need to correct these impressions. But nothing can be done if we do not change our attitude to our languages and literatures. We should have respect for the same because they deserve respect. As for language, no language is inherently inferior to any other language. It is the communicative needs of the speakers of a language that makes it a minor or a major language. And as for our literatures, literatures of quite a few of our languages are about a thousand years old. The same are often quite rich.  We need to build some structures to encourage better understanding and appreciation of our literatures. We should have schools of literary studies where Indian literatures in translation, comparative literature, comparative aesthetics – Indian and western, and principles of literary criticism in more than one literary tradition would be studied. We need efforts to translate our regional literatures into English and other Indian languages as well, so that they reach a larger reading public and can be meaningfully compared with literatures produced in other languages.

We must realize that often in our country one uses English because it is possible to talk about a wide variety of topics in that language. We need to create discourses in our languages on a range of topics from football to western philosophy, from Indian classical music and dance to western classical music and dance, and from cooking to mysteries of the universe. We need to teach our languages and also English from a communicative perspective. Communication is a language-independent study, and it does not assign greater inherent weight to any particular language. The communication approach would sensitize learners to other cultures and other modes of discourse, and would develop in the learners an attitude of respect towards communicative strategies other than their own.

English has to be taught well. But it must be noted that it does not lead to setting up of English medium schools. Every subject does not have to be taught in English at every stage; English has to be taught as a second language scientifically and realistically. What are needed are trained teachers, proper teaching materials, time-tested teaching methods and class room strategies and the like.

Turning to a related matter, a language brings with it the culture of the people who ordinarily use that language. Our initial acquaintance with western culture was through English. Now it is not merely through the language. For years our people have been going to America and Europe to study or work there. So our experience of the western culture is much more direct now and the same has impacted our culture to a considerable extent. For instance, even in many small towns in parts of our country parents are addressed or referred to as papa and mummy. It is not unusual to see people even in some villages in our country performing religious rituals in their trousers, rather than in traditional clothes. In birthday celebrations candles are blown out and blowing out light in a ritual is considered inauspicious in our culture. Eating out is sometimes used as an escape from restrictions on food which have to be observed at home. The list is long and it shows that western culture has seeped into our daily life to such an extent that we do not even notice the same. However, one knows that in a culture contact situation some non-native cultural habits do become part of one’s life style. But there is good reason to be watchful. For instance, when a six year old is introduced to the notion of nuclear family through his text book in his English-medium school and understands that his grandparents are outsiders to his family, there is reason to wonder if there isn’t something for concern. The reason is that this gives him a perspective about who are his own and who aren’t, and it may have long term consequences at the societal level. Care has to be taken so that ideas and values that are not in consonance with our culture and are likely to have long term consequences in our social life are not disseminated through the text books among our learners at a very early stage when his (or her) critical intelligence has not developed to a stage when he can discriminate.

So let us teach English to every child and teach it well, but at the same time let us monitor our teaching materials so that the child is not alienated from his environment and culture very early in life. There is a time for everything: there is a time when the learner has to be aware that there are perspectives and cultures different from his own and that he must develop an understanding for them.