Iftar parties and religious pluralism : Why Ahmedabad amazes me sometimes

Being vegetarians (or the more than ocassional egg eaters), it is pretty funny, that my husband and  I really long to taste Iftar food. Iftar is the meal taken by Muslims, during the fasting month of Ramzan, when they break the fast at sunset. Iftar specialities are most certainly non-vegetarian, and I am sure many squeamish vegetarians will totally avoid certain localities during Ramzan because of the sight, smell or even the knowledge of the meats around.

But we are not squeamish, and so we set out to explore the special street food places in Ahmedabad, to get a sense of the festival. We passed the famous Sayed Siddhi Mosque, went through Teen Darwaza and Lal Darwaza and all the landmarks of the old city of Ahmedabad. And we could sense, could smell the lovely biriyanis and the cooking meats. Surprisingly, for vegetarians, we find the smell very pleasant. Like my husband says, we enjoy being ‘passive non-vegetarians.’

When we asked a passerby to direct us to ‘Batiyar Gali’, he almost looked surprised. Maybe we just didnt look like the kind of people who would go to the most happening street food place of Iftar.

After seeing and smelling to our hearts content, we finally went in for dinner. While we still wanted vegetarian food, we did not want to eat in any of the exclusively vegetarian gujarati dining places which abound. We wanted to eat veg food in a non veg place. We find such food has a faintly exotic flavor to it.

And so we went into a restaurant advertising Iftar special, but also having a small sign saying Veg Food attached below. And then we come across a surprise in the menu. Under vegetarian section, there were some kebaba : hara bhara kebab, Veg kebab etc, and then there was a Jain Kebab.

Jains are an ultra strict vegetarian community in India. In fact, not only are they not supposed to eat meat or eggs, they are not even supposed to eat onions, garlic, potatoes and a whole host of other things. It is because of the influence of Jains (and some other strictly Hindu vegetarians) that Ahmedabad has a reputation of being a ‘non-veg’ averse place. This is the city where KFC opened a veg only outlet, where lots of the popular food franchises have veg only outlets. In fact it is a bit difficult to even buy eggs here, because one needs to go to ‘egg only’ shops.

But within Ahmedabad, it is understood that while the newer city is largely vegetarian, the Old city, which has historically been heavily influenced by Islam is definitely a non-veggie’s dream destination. My explorations on the Iftar walk had  definitely convinced me of this.

But still, here was a restaurant, almost exclusively catering to the non-vegetarian, who had taken the pains to add a Jain item to their menu. It was just one dish. It was probably sound business strategy to ensure that mixed crowds came in to the hotel. And most strict Jains may not even step into a restaurant which serves so much meat. I know a lot of my conservative Hindu relatives would not have stepped in there.  But to me it seemed like a delightfully inclusive gesture. It truly showed me how different communities continue to live together.


Can we gift a kitchen set to a boy?

I was stocking up some birthday presents recently, expecting a slew of birthdays in the coming months. One of the items I purchased was a kitchen set. As I was packing it away, I suddenly wondered, most of the upcoming birthdays are for young boys. Will I be able to give a kitchen set to a boy as a present??

There has been a million discussions on gender stereotypes in toys before, and as for myself, I am very determined that my daughters toys will not reflect these stereotypes. If I had a son, I would welcome somebody giving him a kitchen set. Better still, I would have bought it myself. But still, I hesitate to actually hand it over to a boy. I feel that it warrants an explanation from me to the parent as to why I am giving that particular gift, when I would actually give it unthinkingly to a girl. Handing an item like that to a boy seems like a political statement, whereas to a girl, it is perfectly normal, even desirable.

There has been extensive debates on gender equality in India in the recent past, and one of the major themes which emerge is that until we start teaching the boys that it is also their responsibility to share in what is perceived as ‘women’s work’, nay, that it is desirable to do this work, then gender equality is a myth. The slogan of teach your daughter it is good to go out and play is meaningless, if it is not accompanied by teach your son it is ok to cook. So why can boys not play with kitchen sets?

My daughter, is, to use a stereotype, quite ‘tomboyish’, and I am somehow confident that she will find a space for herself. We are definitely encouraging a lot of girls to break gender stereotypes, and girls wear jeans, trousers etc. Many young girls I know are going to football, tennis and whatever classes, as well as traditional song and dance (which they were earlier expected to attend). But where are boys ever expected to break their stereotypes. Do they have any role models for cooking. Yeah superchefs like Sanjeev Kapoor are great, but these men cook for the world. It is part of their business, they earn money through cooking.  DO they ever see a man doing their daily breakfast and agonizing over what to pack in their school dabbas.

It is an extremely problematic way of breaking stereotypes if only one group is encouraged to do what the other group is always doing. By saying that, we are essentially saying, it is great to be outdoorsy and adventurous. Yes, but it is also great to be homely and play with dolls. Neither is better than the other, and I should have the right to choose what I want to do, when I want to do it, irrespective of whether I am a little boy or little girl.

So yeah, back to my earlier question? Can I give the kitchen set to a boy. I think  I will now. And I endeavor to give it, not as a statement, but as a perfectly normal gift. Will any of you think of giving this gift now?

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : W is for Women’s Day and why does it get so many mens backs up


I have never celebrated womens day in a personal way. Not because I don’t beleive in it, but because for me in my personal journey of empowerment, one day does not always significantly matter. That being said, I don’t doubt the enormous significance of this day, and definitely use it to express solidarity to all with other women I know, to individualls, to people who are driving social movements as well as personal journeys of empowerment.


I was therefore a bit surprised to read on my FB page about some men complaining about womens day and how women are getting too empowered these days. Now I know social media forces me to read some arguments I find really stupid or crass, or some downright misogynist comments, but mostly I have learnt to ignore them. I pass over stupid comments which say stuff like women can prosper only if they dont sabotage each other, and as long as mother  in law and daughter in law cannot get along how can women prosper. I want to challenge these people to think deeper about the arguments they are making, to understand certain underlying issues which mediate relationships between women as well, but I dont have the energy to have these arguments on Facebook.


This year, I read something far more disturbing. Someone had shared the story of a man, who committed suicide, because his wife had complained against him and his family for dowry and even threatened to complain against his father and brother for rape. According to him all these charges were false, his wife was not happy with him and wanted to torture him this way. And he felt as long as he lived his family would continue to suffer, and therefore decided to end it all.


This is truly a sad story and if it is true, I really feel bad for the man and his family. But this article I read went on to argue that for his parents, womens day is now a bad day because it took away his son. It is laws like Dowry prevention act which drove their son to suicide. It is a bad law which is being misused by women.


Now blaming women’s empowerment or progressive laws for this mans issues is mind boggling. I am sure dowry act  or the domestic violence act can be misused, but a far greater concern is how underused it is, how despite there being so many issues of dowry harassment or domestic violence, so few reach the police and still fewer are pursued by the police. I am sure even laws relating to homicide and murder can be misused and falsely accuse someone, but surely we are not protesting against their misuse, why then do we need to protest so much against something which acknowledges womens issues and tries to reach out to them. Even on the issue of sexual harassment at workplace, I remember attending a talk on this by a senior HR person who spoke about how they implemented these policies in the workplace, and how he was proud that not once has it been misused to frame someone falsely. I told him it was great that no one was falsely accused, but was he really sure it was being used fullly. Was it being underused? He had no answer for that, he had no way of even knowing if his policies and redressal systems could be underused.


I am, in my own way, a feminist, but I am the last one to say the feminist movement has solved every issue. We have a long way to go in truly understanding lived experiences of every kind of women and including them within our ideology. But at least I thought we had acheived the step of convincing the world that women were entitled to basic human rights. But have we really, if every progressive legislation (never mind that these legislations are very seldom progressively interpreted or implemented)is challenged because it has a potential for misuse.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : V is for Vadams and summer holidays


Summer holidays in South India are or used to be punctuated by the vadam making sessions. Vadam (Sandige in Kannada, Vadiyalu in Telugu) is a condiment typically prepared in summer. The batter is made, the condiments moulded  and sundried and they are then kept away for the rest of the year. As and when needed, they are fried and eaten. They are a great, crunchy side dish to have with any form of rice.


Now of course fully fried, properly sundried vadam is great. But the batter and the half sun dried vadam is also great. What is more, it is slightly illegitimate to eat. Grandmothers who make the vadam painstakingly are not particularly happy if you end up eating half of what they prepare even before it has been made properly. Specially javarsi (pearl millet) vadam tastes divine when the top layer is dried, but you can still bit into wet sticky millet below. With the delicate seasoning of cumin and chilies added to the batter, the taste really cannot be described.


So there is a guilty pleasure in almost stealing the half dried (arakaachal) vadam. It is almost an apocryphal tale for most of us as children that a kid was asked by his granmother to protect the vadams from the crows as they were drying in the terrace, and the kid ate up most of the vadams and then pretended that the crows had eaten them up. I think most of us have at least uttered this kind of lie once, as we tried to steal some vadam.


Vadams making is almost something cultural which seems to be ingrained in our grandmothers. The first thing my grandmother said when she saw my house in Ahmedabad was that with such a big terrace and no shortage of sun in the summer, I wish I could come and make vadams here.


These days I dont know if people make vadams at home at all. I have a huge terrace and the Ahmedabad sun is all waiting to be tapped into for vadam making. But I have never had the pateince to make them myself. And now there are plenty of people willing to sell vadams specially for the NRI crowd, so there seems ot be no point in making it at home. But I miss this part of my childhood. Shop vadams are all very well, but how can you taste the vadam atvery step of  preparation if you simplly buy it off a shop. Maybe if for nothing other than to give Migu an experience of stealing vadam, I will start making my own vadams.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : U is for Upma, kozhakattai and other typical South Indian tiffins


You really have to be a South Indian to understand the value of upma and tiffins. In the north, tiffin seems to mean anything which is packed to be consumed later, either at school or workplace, and from what I see, it is mostly roti, puris or variations thereof. Of course, with idli and dosa batter being available in most supermarkets now, people are venturing to pack these items too, but largely they stick to what is familiar.


When I was growing up my tiffin dabba consisted almost exclusively of a very non-tiffin item : curd rice. I have blogged earlier about how this is comfort food for most South Indians and I must be one of the many who carried this item to school everyday throughout my school life. In fact, during those brief ocassions when I had to carry a tiffin dabba to work, I again ended up carrying this item only. ‘


When I explained this to my Delhi raised husband, he was stunned. According to him curd rice was almost never carried to school because the tiffin dabba is kept with the school books and carrying curd rice means you risk ruining your books. The concept of having a separate basket which would carry your dabba, water bottle, napkin and spoon seemed alien to him, whereas almost all of us at school always carried our food separately from our books.


Which brings me to upma, a very typical tiffin item.Upma is made with a wide variety of base items :powdered  rice, vermicilli, beaten rice,  wheat, semolina. Basic principles of making it are the same, dry roast the base, and then add it to boiling water and let it cook. Your base items decides the extent of water which is added to ensure it is well cooked. One needs to be careful with the water because cooking in less water makes the upma very hard and unpalatable, and pouring excessive water will make it overcooked and feeling like tasteless  porridge.  With rice, there is also a variation called upma kozhakattai where you cook the rice half way as in upma, then make it into small balls (like dumplings) and then steam it. It is a kind of cross between upma and idlli and being double cooked makes it very soft and is a favorite of my daughter.


As a matter of fact, I personally have disliked upma for most of my life. I realized its value onlly when I had to daily pack a tiffin for my daughter and I knew that no matter how much I tried my parathas and puris would never be great and what is more I didnt have the energy to make them everyday. Upma, in its various forms can be alternated for most of the week, and allows me to plan breakfast accordingly.


Upma is easy to make, easy to carry and generally not so messy to eat (as long as you have a spoon). It requires little preparation time (no need to soak and grind batter). In fact it is generally regarded as a kind of item you offer to unexpected visitors, because it hardly takes time to make. A point of South Indian protocol : If you are have invited a person to eat and have had plenty of time to prepare for their visit, it is bad form to serve them upma, because upma is almost exclusively made for guests only when they drop in suddenly.

So upma is definitely not a fine dining item. Be that as it may, it is definitely a very quintessential south indian item.  I havent seen variations of this in other parts of India, and although I have not travelled the world so much I doubt if there is any equivalent of upma anywhere.


And while we are at it, can anyone enlighten me on why this name. It is the same in all south indian languages (upma in Tamil, Uphittu in Kannada and Uppupindi in Telugu). Roughly translated it means salt and flour, but we rarely use fully ground flour in it.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : T is for Taken for Granted and what it means in relationships


Taken for granted!! In any intense relationship there is a stage when people take each other for granted. When said that way, it kind of seems like a bad thing to do. We reallly ought not to take our near and dear ones for granted.


Paradoxically, it is definitely this taken for granted phase which proves the depth of the relationship. When my husband complains to me about any specific behavior of mine, I tell him that I do it because I am so comfortable with him. He is the exception to my rule and the fact that he is the exception shows how much I value him. For instance I am very much a hands off person when it comes to managing people, and at work, I expect people to be responsble for themselves and their tasks. I almost certainly dont micro manage. But when it comes to sharing responsiblity with my husband, despite the fact that I hate to be micro managed, I sometimes end up micromanaging him. And when he complains about it, my way of explaining the behavior is that I never would do it to anybody but him. It is as though he is being conferred a special honor by being the recipient of such behavior. His rejoinder is that he would rather be made the exception to face other kinds of behavior which is far more pleasant.


Of course being taken for granted by a person you love is really a privelege. It definitely means you have a meaningful as well as resilient relationship with the person, because every time you end up taking them for granted, you are testing the relationship. And in my own relationship with my husband, the biggest threat we hold over each others head is not that we will walk away or break the relationship, but that we will stop taking each other for granted. It is not even a threat we articulate openly, but if one person is stopping to take the other for granted, that is definitely a sign that something is awry and needs to be discussed.

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A to Z Blogging Challenge : S is for social media and the challenges it poses to relationships

I think I would be starting off with the biggest cliche if I state that social media has transformed relationships big time. Not only has it opened up new avenues to build and nurture existing and new relationships, it has impacted every relationship we have. I am sure most of you have realized what it feels like to have your parents or scary aunts and uncles on our facebook list, to whom we dont really want to reveal our life secrets, but end up doing nevertheless.


But more importantly the freedom and scope it offers you tests many relationships too. It makes you confront certain realities about attitudes of friends and family which you could safely shove away in otherwise periodic interactions. I may know many friends and families who say a nasty word about Anushka Sharma for Virat Kohli’s underperformance in the world cup. But without twitter of fb, I dont hear people say it and I can choose to ignore it and still continue some semblance of social interaction with people. Similarly people can express political opinions, their views regarding some public issue on twitter and it gets to my attention. With languages being rarely temperate on these platforms, it is sometimes scary to realize people who you love and respect may have some fanatical views which are frankly appalling to you. I dont exempt myself from this list. I am sure some of my own views are so radical that friends and family may find it quite difficult even to acknowledge.


I know we are supposed to understand that different people have different views and reconcile to the differences. But that maturity to deal with differences in social media is quite hard. In a face to face argument, we may still reach some point of compromise and understanding. FB arguments only keep getting more heated. You can choose to ignore unpalatable views but doing it every time you log in and see something which you disagree with is much more difficult.


This gets specially difficult with intergenerational friendships (or mostly with older generation family members on your list). I dont know if it is just an Indian thing, but I feel elders still have a lot of issues with public disagreement from someone they treat as a junior. I have myself had this experience of constantly being treated as a child by some people on my list, for whom my views remain rantings of a little child who should not be taken seriously. Worse, a counter from me on some view they have expressed, even if perfectly factual is seen as a hit on their ego and they lash out demanding complete obedience/acceptance for me.


This seriously impacts the relationship itself. I have withdrawn from or even unfriended people from my list not because I no longer care to be in touch with them, but because they just refuse to treat me as an adult who has thought through issues and has an opinion on them. A constant infantalizing of me, and therefore disregard for my opinion is quite disrespectful.


I think the challenge with dealing with social media influenced relationships is that disagreements on FB cannot be laid aside like you would probably do sledging in a cricket or any sports field. In sledging you can always say you dont mean it, but in FB, you do mean most of what you share or discuss. Accepting people warts and all, and continuing to treat them with the same poise and equanomity of before is going to take some time.

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