Posts Tagged ‘culture’

The culture of opacity

August 16, 2017

One of the things, I think, that impedes my country in her progress, is our culture of opacity.

As a nation, we do not seem to like sharing information at all. Government offices, political leaders, even small businesses…how many of us like to share, openly, the information that we possess?

The first thing I notice when a business gets going is that the name of the founders are immediately hidden behind a wall of anonymity. Phone numbers are withheld, as are the names of those who run the show.

I find this refusal to share in the world of wildlife, too. When a rare bird, plant or animal is sighted, the threat from others is cited as a reason to make the information secret.

This would be a useful thing to do if the information were genuinely withheld from everyone else. But what actually happens is different. The information and the knowledge become instruments of power.

To know the man at the top, to know where X animal can be seen, to understand the workings and financial dealings of (to take an example) a hospital…these, then, become privileges granted to only a few.

Alas, information can never be kept entirely secret, either. Corruption and the cooking of figures soon becomes known; everyone knows about the place where one can see something special. But the information is not open to all; it remains in the hands of the privileged elite, and always kept a secret from the “mango public” (aam janta).

Even the process of this secret transmission of information vitiates it to some extent; the information is corrupted often.

This lack of transparency, this tendency to keep information to oneself and not share it…we have to overcome this in order that all of us may stride forward on the path to progress.

Thoughts about an Indian marriage

September 23, 2013

When a couple move from love tomarriage..they begin to navigate the thorny thickets of social customs, unspoken expectations, implicit equations, and the general interaction of personalities…marriage in India is not to one person but to the immediate, and extended, family…and is more complicated than any corporate management job!

August 22, 2013

As I got it, spelling mistakes and all.


Dear friends

Today while taking the morning coffee my thinking went about the
Kumbakonam degree coffee and about the degree associated. “Degree
coffee” is the certificate awarded to high standard of Kumbakonam
filer coffee.

Just because a coffee is prepared with Kumbakonam coffee powder, it
need not be the degree coffee. It has to be brewed in the special
manner, the method first started in Kumbakonam. We get Kumbakonam
degree coffee in a shop at Usman Road, T Nagar. We have to ask for it.

I had read elsewhere recently that the addition “degree” to the
Kumbakonam coffee was not only with the type of coffee seeds and
method of preparation, but also or more based on the DEGREE OF MILK.

I surfed for the details of Kumbakonam degree coffee. Today I thought
I will write about coffee.

1. Offering coffee

Coffee is something of a cultural icon in Kerala, Andhra, Karnataka
and Tamil Nadu today among all religions. It is customary to offer a
cup of coffee to any visitor.

2. Coffee brief history

Coffee was originally introduced by Baba Budan to South India in 17th
century and became very popular under the British Rule.

Until the middle of the 20th century traditional households would not
use granulated sugar but used jaggery or honey, instead in coffee.

3. Karupetti coffee and chakkara coffee
During my boyhood days we used to get what is called KARUPETTI to the
size of half the coconut and prepared in coconut shell using
PANAVELLAM. Chakkara coffee was the one using jagerry from sugarcane.
My father used to make a provision for karupetti- 4 numbers in the
provision list on those days. One by one karupetti will be broken to
bigger pieces and kept in tin for daily use near Kitchen Almirah

Now also in Chennai we get panam karupetti but very smaller but oval
in shape probably using bottom alone of the coconut shell. This is
sold mostly by street vendors near railway station like Tambaram,
Mambalam etc. It is sold in shops selling pooja items also. There one
can get it all the time.

Chukku coffee adding dry ginger, kurumulaku coffee adding pepper
powder is still common. These coffee use coffee powder, hot water and
either dried ginger or powdered pepper. While we are having cough,
kurumulaku coffee is felt very effective (even better than cough
syrups some times- The opinion could differ between persons)

4. Coffee powder.

On my boyhood days we used to get local coffee powder in tins and
brook bond in packets. The addition of chicory or anything about
chicory was never thought.

The sales man will pack ¼ kg or ½ kg in news paper from big tins and
in reaching home it was put in our small tin.

5. Coffee preparation

After well boiling about a litre of water in a copper pot, coffee
powder was added about three or four spoons. It was closed with a lid
for about five minutes.

Coffee water will be there at top, the sediments will remain at
bottom. The water at top was taken to other vessels with out stirring.
The sediments were some times used again pouring boiled water for 2nd
coffee. It had lesser taste comparing to first one.

Even now this method is followed in tea shops. In the sabarimala route
chukku coffee is served in this method getting coffee water.

In due course instead of karupetti we started using sugar. Probably
Karupetti would have come to the same price of sugar or its non

Filter coffee was something not much known in our houses in central
Kerala and coffee powder was something readily available in provision
shops till early 1955’s.

6. Coffee powder shops.

By 1955’s coffee powder shops started to appear in towns. Here
grinding machine was there, different type of coffee powders and still
nothing like FILTER TYPE GRINDING. The shop people will fry different
types of seeds to certain kilos, grind and keep ready in tins. It will
be packed in front of us by weighing.

7. Special grinding

Appearance of filter and special grinding started by 1960’s. The shop
people started asking whether for filter use. A coarse type grinding
was started for filter. Mostly it was Brahmins started using filter

Having a coffee filter and consuming filter coffee was considered an
ELEVATED STATUS even among Brahmins.

8. Poti kappiyo filtero( Whether normal coffee or filter coffee?)

The Brahmin hotels started asking about the coffee type to the
customers. Filter consumed time, more powder of quality. Hence
charging was some 50% more than powder coffee.

9 . More on Kumbakonam coffee

Kumbakonam Degree Coffee is a coffee beverage associated with the town
of Kumbakonam, India. Its specialty is the usage of PURE COW’S MILK

South Indian Kumbakonam Filter Coffee, also known as Filter Coffee is
a sweet milky coffee made from dark roasted coffee beans (70%-80%) and
chicory (20%-30%), especially popular in the southern states of Tamil
Nadu, Karnataka & Andhra Pradesh.

The most commonly used coffee beans are Arabica and Robusta grown in
the hills of Tamil Nadu (Nilgiris District, Yercaud and Kodaikanal),
Karnataka (Kodagu, Chikkamagaluru and Hassan), and Kerala (Malabar

Outside India, a coffee drink prepared using a filter may be known as
DRIP COFFEE as the water passes through the grounds solely by gravity
and not under pressure or in longer-term contact.

The upper cup of the filter is loaded with fresh ground coffee mixed
with chicory (~2 tablespoons of mixture per serving). The grounds are
gently compressed with the stemmed disc into a uniform layer across
the cup’s pierced bottom. With the press disc left in place, the upper
cup is nested into the top of the tumbler and boiling water is poured
inside. The lid is placed on top, and the device is left to slowly
drip the brewed coffee into the bottom. The chicory sort of holds on
to the hot water a little longer, lets the water extract more flavour
from the coffee powder. The brew is generally stronger than western
“drip style” coffee.

The resulting brew is very potent, and is traditionally consumed by
adding 1–2 tablespoons to a cup of boiling milk with the preferred
amount of sugar.

The coffee is served in tumbler with a dabarah – Coffee is typically
served after pouring back and forth between the dabarah and the
tumbler in huge arc-like motions of the hand.

This serves several purposes: mixing the ingredients (including sugar)
thoroughly; cooling the hot coffee down to a sipping temperature; and
most importantly, aerating the mix without introducing extra water
An anecdote related to the distance between the pouring and receiving
cup leads to the coffee’s another name “METER COFFEE”.

10. Degree coffee

A term often heard for high-quality coffee is Filter coffee. Milk
certified as pure with a lactometer was called degree milk owing to a
mistaken association with the thermometer. Coffee prepared with degree
milk became known as degree coffee.

Another explanation for Filter coffee is that chicory beans were used
to make the coffee finally became degree.

Yet another explanation is that, when coffee is decocted for the first
time, it is called as the first degree or simply as the “Degree
Coffee”. This has the strongest flavour and the necessary strength to
mix with milk without watering down the taste.

In less affluent households, in earlier days, coffee was decocted for
a second or third time from the same initial load; this became the
second degree coffee and naturally, is not as strong. Affluent
households drank first degree or the famous “Degree Coffee” only.

11. Nescafe and Bru.

By early 1970’s instant coffee appear. It had more welcoming though
cost was more. For sudden coffee preparation these instants help. By
seeing the flavour many confuse also with filter coffee. Today all
houses will have a packet of instant coffee

12. Coffee powder shops.

Today coffee powder shops different qualities like pebery, plantation,
robusto, and home mix ready roasted. Grinding is always to filter
standard. At one time roasting was done while one asked for coffee
powder. Now roasted and kept. The hot grinded coffee powder is

13. Decoction.
Now having refrigerator in all houses, coffee decoction is prepared
for 2-3 days requirement in medium filters and kept in closed
containers in fridge. Every morning and evening, what is required is
taken from the container.

However freshly prepared decoction has more flavour. Second decoction
and all are things of past.

14. Brook bond coffee powder

There are many who use the packed coffee powder in filter of the
companies and make filter coffee rather than using powder from shops.
I think the companies too now a grind to filter stage and not very

While in Trivandrum having no coffee powder shops near, my wife was
using the packed powder in filter for coffee.

Writer- R. Gopala Krishnan, 69, retired AGM Telecom, Trivandrum now at Chennai.

Memories from my college days

June 7, 2013

Kanian Chatterjee sent me a rendition of Robindro Songeet.

I listened to it, and my mind went back…to my college days. I was a student of English (Honours) and Philosophy, for my bachelor’s degree, at Gokhale Memorial Girls’ College. Bengalis being very artistic, we also had a lot of cultural events, and one of them was “bAyishE srAbON”, which is the death anniversary of that giant of Indian literature, Rabindranath Tagore (or to pronounce it the correct Bengali way, Robindronath Thakur.)

We would grind rice paste the previous day, and make “Alpona” (rangoli) on the stage and around it. Bengali girls are incredibly talented at this…and the designs are always exquisite. The white designs were rimmed around with “lAl maati” (red earth), and it proved a lovely counterpoint to the sarees of the college girls…more about that later.

The favourite flower for this occasion was always “rojoni gondhA” (tuberose)…long stalks of these flowers were arranged in tall mud or brass vases on both sides of the stage. They cast their heavy, heady fragrance across the whole hall for days…the name means, literally, “aroma of the night”. These are white, night-blooming flowers.

For the music, we had several people singing, several on the harmonium, and a sArangi player and a tabolchi (tabla player) were men brought in for the evening.

Our college was probably the only one in Kolkata which enforced a uniform; young women always had to wear white sarees with red borders (“sAda shAdi lAl pAt”) always made of cotton (there were hardly any sarees of artificial fibres…it was always more comfortable to wear cotton!)
I w
(There were, of course, many girls who were averse to being regimented like this, and especially for newly-married young women, white sarees were a cultural no-no. I led a strike in the college in my third year, and got the uniform rule rescinded to “only on cultural occasions”. The professors were shocked to find Deepa Viswanath, their star student, who never cut a class, suddenly turning into a “biplobi” or rebel!)

Like a flight of white birds, the graceful young women would settle on the stage. They would tune their voices to the harmonium, and the sweet-voiced singing would begin. I must say, however, that I felt then, and I feel now, that though the lyrics are always amazing, the music of Robindro Songeet is, far too often, dirge-like and very mournful, and used to put me off quite a bit!

As a Tamizh girl, my college was very proud of the fact that I could read and write Bengali, and sing Robindro Songeet. I was always given solo billing for two songs…”kOn AlO” from Chitrangada, and “choroNo dhorithE”.(On other occasions, an AdhUnik (modern song), “kOn sE AlOr sopno niyE”, was a must for me to sing). It was a great point that my Bengali pronunciation was very good, and they took as much pride in it as if they had taught me the language themselves, instead my learning it in my childhood, from my neighbours, our maids, and others around me!

The event over, we would adjourn to the college canteen for some of the traditional snacks….jhAlmUdi, alUr chop, ghUghni, lUchi/AlUr dom, and, of course, jolkhAbAr (bengali sweets, YUMMMMM!). Since I was a star, I could always ask a couple of classmates, and their mothers or grandmother, having merely heard about my singing Bengali songs, would send “peethe”, which was only a home-made sweet in those days.( I was not averse to roso molAi from one of the sweet shops, either!) I can say that my nickname of “baby elephant” when I got married was due to a large part to my love for Bengali sweets. My friends had a project to convert me into a non-vegetarian, and brought chicken and fish in various recipes to tempt me…but to this day, I have not found something tasty enough to convert me into a non-vegetarian. The food was served from large aluminum dishes; we ate them out of stitched leaf-plates. I honestly don’t remember much plastic (except for buckets and mugs and things like that) from my childhood or youth. JhAlmUdi was given in “tOngA”s…beautifully made paper packets. How I love, still, my puchkA and my jhAlmudi, all these years later!

Of course, the food was washed down with “chA”. It was made and served from huge kettles, and drunk out of “bhANd”, the unstable mud cups that could be thrown away after use. The cups imparted such a unique taste to the chA!

Many of the newly-married girls did wear AltA, red dye made from shoe flowers, on their feet; and dancers were allowed to wear it, too. The conversation, always in Bengali, with very little English, would ebb and flow around the hall, with the monsoon often wreaking its thunder and lightning outside, resulting, sometimes, in power cuts. The songs would then cut through the humid heat, and the spiralling smoke from the mud lamps and the agarbathies (incense sticks) would permeate the hall.

Life in college was full of music, dance and culture…I was too young for my years (I started my undergraduate degree in 1970 when I was 16)…. and was often teased unmercifully, but theSe are some happy memories from those years.

The culture of outsourcing

February 25, 2013

I am trying to articulate a theory that I have…that one of the reasons we, as a nation, don’t accomplish things, is our culture of Letting Someone Else Do It. We always delegate whatever we can (and several things we should not) to others. Power seems to be equal to Not Having To Do Things Oneself. There are always Anonymous Minions to carry out our mundane tasks. (I receive requests from so many people on this mailing list to unsubscribe them or add on another email id!) We do not feel empowered unless we do not have to do things ourselves. What we forget is that if we don’t do it ourselves, the other person assigned the task of doing it, will not do it as well. This, to me, explains the shoddy, chalta-hai ulture that vitiates much of our industry and endeavours.

Several senior managers I know are prime examples of Why-should-I-do-it-myself personalities. Whether it’s booking tickets,organizing an office party, or drawing up an agreement…it’s the myrmidions who have to slog through the details. I know someone who had the task of organizing a reunion of class members, and shovelled the whole task on to a hapless ex-colleague, who did such a shoddy job of things that at the end of the reunion, several others were left to sort out various messes and pay bills.

This culture extends everywhere, in every home, too. When we visit someone, they take great offence if we try to help out in the kitchen or try to carry in the used plates to the sink. “Oh, no, no, why do you do this?” we ask. The implication is that these tasks are somehow inferior, and one should not ask a guest to do them. (But of course, a hired menial can do them.) This puts such a negative light on doing any chores oneself. My daughter brought home a friend once (they were both 8 years old) who asked me, “Why do you make the phulkas yourself? In our house we have servants to do it.” Having servants to do work is not bad…but looking down on the work as “meniaL’ is definitely a bad attitude, I feel.

Every mother-in-law who does not want her son to cook or clean dishes, but expects her daughter-in-law to do it, is surely sowing the seeds for friction, not far in the future. Every mother who trains her child, whether son or daughter, to believe that cleaning and other household chores are beneath one, is laying the foundation for a lot of unhappiness and maladjustment. But…we continue to do so. How many Indian children do I know, who routinely do their share of household chores? Very, very few.

Every housewife knows, for sure, that hiring maids (and usually underpaying them) ensures that housework is shoddily done. But it’s such a prestige issue not to do it herself, and to blame the maids for bad work. Some of the mothers and grandmothers I know won’t even go outdoors to play with the children, but will send the child with a servant. No wonder the child comes back filled with the mindless gossip it hears.

The culture extends to the servant class, too. My maid, when I was hiring her, said, “But I won’t clean toilets”. She was flabbergasted when I told her I do clean my own toilets and the toilets in my daughter’s home, too. “But how can she let you do that?” she exclaimed….the underlying tenet being that cleaning toilets is not a job that one should do. Who, then, should do it? Of course our society has had an answer for it for ages…the Lower Castes, who not only clean our filth, that we should clean ourselves…. but receive (instead of good rewards and gratitude for helping us) our scorn and our contempt. I know so many housewives who want servants to clean their toilets, but will not let them use them…and see no irony or injustice in that.

If there is department in the government, there are officers, who delegate the task (say, laying of cables) to their juniors, who send men on to the road, who oversee the actual labourers, uneducated, lowly paid, and uninterested, who do the task as quickly and badly as they can get away with.

I wish we’d find a way to let someone else have babies for us. If only we had been able to outsource the process of having babies, such shoddy children would have been produced, that our population would have been well controlled, or even become extinct, by now…

Until the day comes when we learn to do our own work…we are not going to be effective or successful. The man who lets his accountant “take care of everything” is soon going to be parted from his money.

The irony, of course, is that so much of repetitive, brainless work is outsourced to us to do, and in the grand name of “information technology”, we Indians do it! When we are paid, we don’t mind. Event management is one industry that thrives on people not wanting to do things for themselves. There are services abroad which will remember family members’ birthdays and buy gifts for them! How ridiculous can things get?

I laugh when I see swanky cars on our roads…with a hired driver driving, and getting the enjoyment of driving the car! “The traffic is so bad!” is the explanation. Yes, the traffic is bad because the uneducated, underpaid drivers are driving…and because having a driver is a Status Symbol.

Corruption also, I feel, has its roots in this culture. If I have to book a friend’s ticket, I may ask him to do it himself…but if I can boast that “I have a person who can guarantee confirmed tickets”, then I am breeding corruption…I am bribing that person to get confirmed tickets at any cost. The presence of touts at any of our government offices is a testament to our reluctance to do things ourselves. When I can book tickets for myself on the internet, corruption in the Railway booking process does go down…except for the fact that the Railways website is so shoddily designed that it’s better to book through an “agent”.

The minute I do not want to do things myself, a middleman enters the picture. Costs go up, efficiency goes down, and transparency in the transaction vanishes.

We do not accord any dignity to labour…and try to place ourselves above it. I’ve seen so many parents bemoaning the fact that their children abroad “have to mow their own lawns”. Some of them even complain that when they go to visit their children, they are “made to do housework like servants”. What an attitude! One, it implies that a servant is an inferior being; two, it seems to postulate that one’s child’s home is not one where one, too, belongs, and does one’s share of the work quite happily. Surely, taking care of one’s own grandchildren, or cooking for them, can’t be such a distasteful task? When one thinks of all work as being “beneath one”, of course, it is.

I have expanded my theory into a post, and if I were an MBA graduate, with letters after my name, I would write a book and Become Phamus. But…I think I’ll wait for someone else to do it :))))

Images for Rajyotsava

November 1, 2012

I’ve spoken before of my friend who has now developed into a professional wildlife photographer. He got together with a team, and directed this video; the images are all from Karnataka:

The lyrics are written by H S Venkateshamurthy, and Ricky Kej is the music director.


is the Deccan Herald write-up about it.

It is being released today, on the occasion of Rajyostava Day.

Congrats, Amogh, and may other such efforts follow!

Polyglot English: my prediction

June 3, 2012

My friend Saritha Rai writes in the New York Times:

click here to read it

The first comment is wonderful, and, I suspect, written deliberately in pigdin English to underscore the commenter’s point!

My response to this:

Languages evolve, and routinely, some disappear. Where is Pali? Hebrew? or any of the other tongues that we do not even know of? People communicated with each other through whistling across the hillsides, I learnt once.

I feel that English itself is evolving into a series of local dialects; as it is now, we can hardly understand the language as spoken in Fiji, or Singapore, or South Africa…or for that matter, the English between, say, Punjab and Tamil Nadu varies so widely.

So…I feel that instead of a polyglot Babel, we will have polyglot English….and since I am not going to be around to find out….I am OK with the process of evolution! How else would you and I communicate, dear reader, when some of you speak Swedish, Punjabi, French, and other languages I don’t even know of?

Inverted Comma-ization….

February 1, 2012

I do not often indulge in nostalgia, being a person who enjoys the vibrancy of the present as much as the glow of the past. But once in a while….

It was saddening to read of

the closure of Hotel Brindavan, on M G Road

here is a link, with reviews, to the hotel

My cousin got married in this hotel.It was an oasis of peace on M G Road. Well, certainly, service and the quality of food at the restaurant and hotel had been dropping of late..just like at the erstwhile India Coffee House, that also once stood on the same road.

The value of everything seems to be reckoned only in money terms, in Bangalore, at least….there seems to be no value for heritage, history or culture…except if they can be marketed as “heritage”, “history”, and “culture”. Otherwise, it is all “real estate”. Sad at the inverted-commaization of our inheritance…we are now camera-toting tourists, treading over our own pasts, while commercial buildings of chrome, steel and glass mushroom in the spaces where gracious bungalows and majestic buildings stood. Cars bearing tycoons whizz by where immemorial trees shaded the roads. Truly public spaces are shrinking, and there is no plan for creating any more. Some things about Bangalore make me sad. Our quality of life has become much worse, and continues to deteriorate. Money talks, and commerce seems to be the only common language of our city.

Brightening our doorsteps…

September 22, 2011

I love rangOli and kOlam, the traditional art of door and floor decoration. Is it art? culture? tradition? hospitality?

…All of the above, I feel!

Here is a rangoli in front of the home of my friend, Alamelu Ramaswamy:

L rangoli 220911 D004

The colours and the warmth invite the passerby in….

The festivals of Navarathri and Deepavali are approaching, and I’ll see a variety of patterns adorning everyone’s doorstep….soon!

Momix in Botanica in St Louis

September 14, 2011

DnA ….that’s and

went to

this dance perforance, Momix in Botanica

in St.Louis yesterday.

here are some more stunning images

here is the review

A’s words? “It was a beautiful poetic interpretation of the artistry of nature
There were hornets hopping, swans preening, flowers playfully swaying, leaves falling to the ground (all portrayed so beautifully by people). And in the end as an encore, they did a sun flare dance,waving flexible orange foam sticks quickly to make flares. It was just incredible.”

Just in case you didn’t click on the link, here are some images, taken by Max Pucciariello:

momix in botanica 130911 stl 1

2 momix stl 130911

3 momix stl 130911

momix 4 stl 130911

Wish I’d been able to see this too! 🙂