The Great Chutney Nation

If you hail from India, especially the South, one thing you could not have missed – or in more recent times, one thing you should not have missed – is something that we so fondly call, chutney. Yada, yada, chutney has become world-famous and it’s reach and popularity has – well, not crossed that of the Pizza – but at least, it had its reach, right? πŸ˜›

Oh yeah, like pizzas, chutney varieties are numerous actually. Thankfully though, no restaurant – as far as I know – provides you with a full list of chutneys and gives you the freedom of choice. One of the hardest things I find in the pizza restaurants is choosing the right pizza πŸ˜›

Chutneys, ah, they come in red, white and green mostly in all the south Indian restaurants. The red, white and green, I used to think, signify the tricolor (almost) and I used to get patriotic at the thought of the “patriotic flavor” (or fervor πŸ˜‰ of the restaurants. It was not until I began understanding the workings of a restaurant – many times a bourgeoisie capitalism – that I knew it was just an attractive decoration to the plate. πŸ˜›

Yesterday, as I was musing about the chutneys and this post, I couldn’t help asking my mom how many varieties she knew of. She paused a moment before answering, and then said, “Fifteen or so.” My mom probably learnt the art of making chutneys from my paternal grandmother, and by personal experience, I know my grandma knows at least 3 times as much as my mom knows. Down here in South India, every household mom/woman would know at least 5 or more varities of chutneys. Don’t be surprised if they knew 10 or even more – it’s quite common πŸ˜›

As for me, I dislike a large section of the chutney varieties. My personal favorites are just a handful of them – and my dad’s preparation of one specific chutney is a top ranker. Be it dosa, idli, vadai, uthapam – or in rare cases, even if it sounds funny and strange, chappathi – chutney makes a good combo with all of these. (Yeah, the last one is surely awkward, but I know people who do that – chappathi+chutney) πŸ˜›

I believe chutneys sprang up somewhere in South Asia. They remain most popular and common here in South Asia, Southern India but their fame has spread far and wide across the globe. Wikipedia says chutneys began traveling continents as early as the 17th or 18th century.

Here’s a sample of what Wikipedia says about the Chutney varities in India:

My taste buds are usually tinkled by the mention of pizzas and garlic bread. This time, I guess for the first time, they are tinkled by all this talk about chutney. Hope Mom and Grandma never get to know of this because my image back home is “the chutney hater” πŸ˜›


Feeling Lighter By The Hour

I sat in front of my laptop about four hours straight – not giving myself a break even if for a few minutes. It was somewhat important, the work I was doing. I finally designed my nth web presence – the last one having gone out of context several months ago πŸ˜›

But something strange happened actually. Usually, when I complete these web-page designs that I rarely get to do these days, a sense of accomplishment comes, succeeded by triumph and pride. Exhaustion takes a back seat all of a sudden after the completion and I get excited about the new design that I did.

This evening, however, all I was left with was a very strange feeling. I felt very light. I felt as if a huge burden had been removed off my brain. Well, yeah, that’s a cavity zone – almost empty, by the way πŸ˜‰ – but still, you know, the feeling was very relieving to note. While in almost every previous case, I felt pride, today, I felt stunningly humbled and I felt like surrendering to something unknown and inexplicable.

Yeah, I was exhausted by a wee bit, but that was probably not the reason. I was excited to a certain extent too – about my new webpage which I plan to use to get more freelance assignments and client leads. But there is this strange feeling of having been humbled rather than being humble on our own. Things are getting clearer and simpler. May be it’s a compound effect of a lot of things since morning, or may be it’s just a feeling. Whatever it is, it is awesome to feel lighter, simpler, and tranquil – which kind of gives a sense of having done what is best not caring for the result.

My two cents. Thanks for reading. πŸ™‚ Hope by the next post, we get back to our usual satirical routine πŸ˜›

Meet Dr.Panini, PhD Sanskrit Grammar :P

Studying a language is completely different from studying the grammar of the language. I remember my English grammar classes with some book we used to call Main Course Book and a Supplementary. Strangely, back then things seemed to be somewhat manageable. This year in college, however, I was introduced to a juggernaut of Sanskrit Literate. My professors introduced this man as Dr. Panini, PhD Sanskrit Grammar. Little did I know, that this short, stout, dhoti-clad man with unknown mannerisms would soon turn out into the most feared master I’ve ever known.

You know, people might not understand why grammar is such a complex, tough and rigorous process. In the development of a language, the spoken version develops first. May be the written version comes along later. But grammar is a set of rules that explains the β€œwhat and why” of the spoken/written version. So, when I write this sentence, I know which word comes where and how, but that’s out of practice – of reading and writing.

But, like the Indian government trying to table the LokPal Bill without modifying the draft copy and subsequently passing it, trying to table a Grammar – for a language that was already several millenniums old – and then making it the best work to date in the field of logical grammar – now that is something one would actually call impossible.

Dr. Panini, that short, smart man did it. And he did that something like 3000 years before our time.

Sanskrit, is a comparatively expansive language. If I write it as sentences, probably the reader might not appreciate the work of Panini – and I sincerely don’t want to see him get angry about my presentation here, even though people say he was very humble and understanding). So here’s a bucket list of what Panini did (which in my opinion are humanely impossible tasks!!) πŸ˜€

1. Composed, segregated and prepared a list of about 2100 root words in Sanskrit. Two thousand plus. He put them under ten different subheads, called conjugations (in English, of course).

2. Accounted for the ten different tenses/moods (like present, past, future, Sanskrit has ten tenses/moods, including one archaic form, which is extinct today. Yeah some people say Sanskrit itself is extinct, but we know that’s not true for now πŸ˜‰

3. Showed how all the 21 case-forms (called Declensions) occur or form from different nouns and pronouns through very brief rules.

4. Showed the way root verbs conjugate to form the different tenses/moods.

5. Threw light on usage of what we fondly refer to as karakas, samasas (not samosas, mate!) and sandhi (joints).

6. Prepared and charted out rules, regulations and exceptional cases for all the above.

7. Found out rules that applied only to Classical and not to Vedic – a humongous task possible only if you knew every nook and corner of the Vedas. (note: Three Vedas (excluding Atharva), each running to more or less 10,000 verses, having several hundred thousand words)

8. Did these all in such a brief manner that till today, researchers are breaking their head over several of his rules.

Now on to some interesting trivia πŸ˜›

Panini’s work of Grammar is called the Ashthadhyaayi. It is called so because it is classified into eight volumes, so to speak. The eight volumes contain a sum total of 3,959 rules (called sutras). Now, if you were to see them, you’d find them to be nothing more than half a sentence long. Or a quarter. Or sometimes even less. Or sometimes, just a letter. (Yeah, that’s actually true, not a joke).

And to think there was no proper writing form back then in his time! Yeah, I mean, he did not sit down and write with a pen and paper and then edit the manuscript and then figured the errors and published an errata πŸ˜› He actually used his disciples to memorize parts of the grammar and then compiled it thoroughly and rigorously.Or that’s how we think he might have done.

But what impresses modern day scholars most is the inherent logical and analytical application in the Ashthadhyaayi. If you are something like me – a nonsense programmer so to say – you’d know the meaning of “if…then…else” statements. These are conditional statements which work if certain conditions are met. There are exception and we define them too. This method was adopted by Panini (or was it the other way around? :P) and you’ll find loads of conditions, exceptions and more conditions in the work. Even more surprising thing is, each of them fits the bill perfectly.

Brevity, they say, is the soul of wit. If that be the case, Panini would be the greatest wit-maker πŸ˜› Yeah, sure, there are about three thousand and four hundred rules to define a 6000+ year old language. But these rules are extremely brief – sometimes to the extent where it looks like Panini himself would not be able to decipher the meaning exactly πŸ˜›

These rules, nevertheless, are what have made Sanskrit stay intact. There is no colloquial version of Sanskrit to this day, although Sanskrit has had its own Prakrit version way back during the Vedic times.

Most scholars of the twentieth century too – like Naom Chomsky – have accepted and acknowledge the magnificence of Panini and his work. In fact, Artificial Intelligence – or put simply, how machines think – is being analyzed through the lens of linguistics (in special reference to Paniniyan Grammar). Huge research work is going on in various top-notch universities across the globe – mostly overseas – where Paninian syntax methods are being studied to figure out a way to create the thinking machine.

Panini worked just on Grammar. But his work is so engulfing that it has almost touched every aspect of analytical thought process. He was brief, spoke a few words and letters in grammar. The expanse, however, seems immeasurable. Also, quite importantly, he acknowledged that his predecessors paved him a clear way. As Newton said, “If I have seen further than others, it’s by standing on the shoulders of giants”, Panini dutifully acknowledges giants preceding him. That greatness took him to heights he himself never probably envisioned. Today, Sanskrit grammar is synonymous with Panini. And in the context of world grammar, Panini stands tall, and probably alone at the numero uno spot.

As a lighter stuff, here’s something interesting about the name Panini:

One, Zero, Everything, Nothing.

In the beginning, the non-existent existed.

Everything was engulfed in nothingness.

From that nothing, came everything.

Ignorance itself is known only through the knowledge of ignorance

Now, I know philosophy is an oxymoronic subject – no offence. Especially when it comes to the Indian version, codified predominantly in the Sanskrit texts that I am subjected to read – which I usually don’t – the statements made are wonderfully… well, oxymoronic. The ambiguity is virtually non-existent but there is a huge level of self-contradictoriness. Welcome to what you have to go through before knowing the supreme πŸ˜›

A non-existent thing is something that never existed, which is why it is called non-existent. Now if you say β€œnon-existence exists” that makes it perfectly imperfect. How can something that never exist, exist? Okay, so we twist the words. We say, in the Indianized version of the English, Non-existence is there. That is calls for an existence. If you say something IS, it means it exists. Again, back to square one. (or zero, as we’ll see later).

Quite a lot of times I’ve come across one famous passage in the tenth mandala of Rg Veda – the last mandala, so to speak. There’s this Naasadeeya Sukta (talking about the origin of everything) wherein, we find statements like: Everything was engulfed in nothingness.

Again we are set to face similar problems here. Problems that my professor calls β€œhair-splitting” till you decipher them; problems that explain why more than seventy percent of his head is bald.

If it was nothingness that was everything, this means there was nothing actually. Null. Void. Zero. How come this resulted in the entire cosmic creation – which is everything for us? Was zero the cause of the one which is the cause of the many, then?

And finally the whole concept of ignorance and knowledge – the reasons for bandha (bondage) and moksha (liberation) in toto – came breaking down like a deck of cards. I have heard this one said before in Samkhya – to be aware of one’s ignorance itself is indicative of knowledge. This is because, in order to be aware means to be knowing. The jiva knows itself to be ignorant. And this is where I knew I was also quite ignorant about the ways of philosophy. πŸ˜›

(Note: Underneath all these seemingly dual-edged statements, the fact remains that these are only pathways to understanding the one underlying principle/concept – everything is one, interconnected and indeed the same thing. Call it whatever. The whole of perceivable and imperceivable universe is One.)

Miscellaneous Ramblings…

I seem to have lost touch with writing something serious and grave, even when my life takes on an unknown turn, with no sense of direction. I thought to begin this post as a total rambling – as this is the last place I know where I can pour out having run out of all other places and people πŸ˜› – but I knew serious writing was not my cup of tea – until it is time to confuse my cousin with writings on philosophy.

So, as usual, it’s yet another time of the day when I problems plague us and there is no clear solution whatsoever. After having searched high and low (yeah, you can include the middle layer too), I decided the shores of my city would provide me with a solution to my predicaments.

You know it’s a calamity when you don’t remember why you go to college. The case, I guess, is same when you have no clear idea of how you are going to manage things – like studying for the semester that’s fast approaching and the new job assignment. To top all these, what’s really awesome, is relationship troubles where the only thing I know is I am back to square one. (to the unacquainted, relationship means a lot of things; just cut out the boy-girl love thing okay? that, too, is not my cup of tea) πŸ˜›

Well, having decided the sea would answer, I took the bus that took me to the beach. I walked past the long lines of shops and reached the shore. One thing I noticed was, I had chosen the wrong day – Sunday. πŸ˜› Half of the metropolitan population was out here.

I walked along the shore and kept walking. Waves came and went. And came again and went. But what was impressive was, even the sea decided to make something funny out of the situ. It took me about two-kilometers to learn that the waves and the water were not offering me any kind of a solution. πŸ˜›

But, you know, that was probably the solution. There is no problem quite really. It is obviously just a passing phase. Problems are defined by us. If I take them as something else – a lesson, a task, a valuable experience – I would not have to walk along the shore again – but still, it’s nice doing that, which is why I’m goin’ again sometime πŸ˜‰

But there are things I learnt:

The almost-empty purse in my pant pocket never got wet despite thigh-high waves lashing at me. And the headphone I hoped would go awol, was also very much proper. Damn πŸ˜› I at least thought I’d get a new earphones – this one’s bugging me a lot πŸ˜›

The Punjabi guy I met in the bus was a picture of what a normal man should be like – jovial, sometimes serious (while talking about Hindi and Tamil Nadu – dangerous combination) and smart – but very humble enough.

Soda Craving and An Illumination

I don’t really know when I tasted soda for the first time. It must have been Mum who introduced me to it, because as far as I can remember, it was she who talked about soda to me. By soda, I don’t mean the new, flavorless ones – Lehar (by Pepsi) or some other branded soda (!). I mean the old ones, the ones that were quite popular in the past, and still remain so, albeit, in the rural areas.

The goli soda is by far the most popular soda out here. Or at least, the name has stayed strong and remains fresh in the minds of the people. For the past few days, or more precisely, for one and a half weeks exactly, soda has become an important part of my life. I’ve been in constant quest for this elixir – yeah, it has almost come to that level now! – and through this craving and subsequent search, I’ve realized some importantly grave things about the status of soda in my city. πŸ˜› Things that are not good for me πŸ˜›

One of the first things I knew was that the types of soda has come down. Previously, I believe, there used to be plenty of lemon soda, ginger soda, panneer soda and the normal soda. Things like Limca have effectively removed the market for the lemon versions. Today, ginger soda is hard to find – as I realized sometime back when my Mum asked for it – and the only soda I have found so far is the panneer soda.Β 

Personally, I love it. One of my cousins, introduced me to it. And since that day, I’ve been a great fan of panneer soda – cold, please.

Okay, now for the observations. Soda is fast becoming extinct. Yeah, Lehar is very much alive and thriving, but it’s for the guys who want to dilute their alcohol and spirit. Or in the rare case when I want to prepare nimbu soda which I had almost everyday in Ahmedabad.

Technically soda is just aerated water. Looks plain transparent like water, is as viscous as water and is very much water – except for two things: the gas and the flavor. The tang of panneer soda is still lingering in my tongue right now. πŸ˜›

The number of shops that are opting out of soda subscription (:P) is increasing everyday. From my quests so far, I’ve found that of 10 shops that sell cold drinks, only a couple sell soda too. The goli soda, which usually has different varieties, has been reduced to having just one. Above all, my soda craving has reached new heights after learning about this apparent endangered state of soda!! πŸ˜›

Meet Mister Hunger Strike

After much deliberation, I decided it was no harm writing about the Indian political system – or more clearly, the tale of hunger strikes. It was a somewhat late realization that my writing here does not affect me, you, or the Indian political system in anyway πŸ˜›

We Indians are not strangers to fasting. In fact, if we accept the Vedic civilization to be one of the oldest civilizations that existed on the face of earth, it would automatically follow that upavaas (fasting) is an in-born tendency amongst us. Be it for health or for wealth (read as Indian corruption money in Swiss Banks), hunger strikes have proven to be quite effective throughout history.

Personally, my hunger strikes have not lasted for more than a few hours. They have been on the grounds of displaying anger, albeit, the stomach wins all the time. πŸ˜›

From Bhagat Singh and Gandhi to Anna Hazare and Anna Hazare (yeah, twice because he went on two hunger strikes to save the nation), Mister Hunger Strike has really struck well.

But as is the usual case in my country, the red-tape on implementation of laws and rules and bills is the only thing that works perfectly – any rule you want to bring in will take so long that you’d probably be six feet underground by the time it gets implemented!!

This is why, even though Bhagat went on hunger strikes for better treatment of political prisoners a long time back, it is only today that we know of prisoners being given access to cellphones, televisions and sometimes even the keys to the cells they are supposed to dwell in.

Democracy can escape wars of the worlds, but to escape from a hunger strike in modern times – now that’s what we call impossible. Of course, the credit does not reside with one person, one organization or one nation (no, you should not treat this as a case of US intervention) – it’s with an entire team, where media plays a very pivotal role – not just in creating beautifully crafted breaking news items, but also making sure the public is bombarded with the hottest of the hot news on the wire. After all, we are still a republican democracy and at least on paper, the public is the ruler of the land. πŸ˜€

Now, as we wait to see how things turn out after Team Anna’s calculated and surgical strike, it becomes a proven fact that hunger strikes can make a hell out of governments in power. πŸ˜€ Something many nations can actually take a lot of inspiration from.

By the way, I hear some noise emanating from the lower end of my torso.. apparently from the stomach. May be it thinks I am on a hunger strike too and the grumbles are nothing but the disapprovals of the stomach. Let me go feed it for now πŸ˜›

(photo credits – Quicktake)