Saturday, July 31, 2004

A monsoon cloud cover in Jaipur!

For the last two days, we have had a monsoon cloud cover in Jaipur. Nothing like the ones in Assam or the Western Ghats, still, it has been such a relief from the searing heat and humidity for several days earlier. Don't really know how long it wil persist but prayers, even official, are being sent incessantly. However, agriculture experts believe that the damage has already been done because the showers didn't arrive in time for the sowing season.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Finer grain redefines culture

A report for Hindustan Times that I wrote on how changing food habits in Rajasthan over the years has harmed the culture associated with the traditional food:

Here is some food for thought. Changing food habits, like your switch from coarse millet to leavened bread, has caused irreparable damage to Rajasthan’s cultural fabric. Many folk songs and proverbs associated with endemic food habits of the state are now lost for good because of its changing food platter.

An ongoing study being conducted by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) is presently trying to document the cultural loss. “Rajasthan has traditionally been a coarse grain, such as millets and barley, consumer and that has been reflected in its history,” said Varsha Joshi, an IDS associate fellow. “But since the 1970s, intervention from the Centre propped up wheat cultivation that brought about a drastic shift in the food pattern,” she added.

Rice and wheat, Joshi informed, has been documented as a “privileged” commodity in many folk songs and proverbs. “We have songs that mention how a sweet porridge of wheat and jaggery is cooked only on special occasions like when a married lady returns to her brother,” said Joshi. “Now because of the changing food habits, for most of the youngsters these songs are a bygone. It is only the aged who remember them,” she added.

The study has also archived some samples of some folk songs for further reference. Though not easy to quantify, Joshi said that the loss was “immense”. “They were folk songs with a focus on food, ones that were sung at festivals. If you sit with three generations, the loss will show,” she added.

The thrust on cultivating wheat has also led to a decline in the “common resource property”. “At one point of time sangri was abundant. Today it is sold at Rs 100 for a kilogram,” said Joshi. Also phog, a rye-like seed, that was consumed with curd for its cooling properties. “Few in the urban areas have any idea of it,” she added.

Not only this. The changing food platter has also affected our health. “Because we no longer consume coarse grains but a fine variety of wheat, the level of micronutrients and fibre has gone down. Heart disorders, diabetes and gall bladder stones are becoming increasingly common,” said Joshi. “Now the doctors advise us to have a more fibrous diet,” she added.

Presently, work is on to document how certain food items were consumed because of its health benefits. Like rotis made out of millet that were always consumed with clarified butter and buttermilk to ease digestion. “What I am hinting at is that those in the centre framing policies must keep the region-specific contexts in mind,” said Joshi.

Here is an example of a folk song where a lady returns to her home on Holi and is treated to wheat porridge by her brother and to millet porridge by her mother:

Holi ke din chaar
Bai ey begi ajaey pavani
Mharo veer ranthavey bai ke lapsi
Mhari bhavaj bajrio ko kheech raey

A sample of a proverb that states wheat is consumed by the merchant community and coarse grains by the farmers:

Kurra karsa khai, ghaun jimaey bania.”

Saturday, July 10, 2004

How about an instant chai machine?

I did this story yesterday about a guy from Haryana, not an affluent family, who has designed a fascinating tea-making machine that also has an alarm function to give you tea when you want it! The Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network has now taken it up to evolve a sleek and more efficient model out of the original design:

This success story does not have a happy beginning. Ashok Dhiman’s mother was unwell and it was up to him, the youngest in the family, to help her with all the household chores. And the first task of the day was to make tea for the family. That is where Dhiman, a resident of Panchkula in Haryana, put on his thinking cap. Why not have a machine that would make tea automatically, in the required quantity and at the required time?

He did exactly that. A former Industrial Training Institute (ITI) trainee, Dhiman created a machine in March last year that was designed to prepare tea, Indian style, in the required quantity. It even had an alarm function so that the user could get a steaming cup while in bed. The Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network (GIAN, North) cell in Jaipur has now adopted the project to incubate it into a success story. The creation has already been patented.

A snazzier model, like your microwave, complete with push buttons and programmable logic control is expected to hit the market countrywide around Diwali this year. The prototype of this model is expected to be readied by the end of this month, a GIAN official informed. Priced at around Rs 6,000, it will require advanced booking. “The machine could be any executive’s office furniture. It will be designed in way so that you can keep it in your drawing room and not your backyard,” he said.

The first model was crude and had basic functions such as mixing the ingredients and bring the water to a lukewarm temperature. The second model corrected that and made it possible to boil the water and switch it off immediately, using sensors, to save electricity. The third model is expected to be entirely automatic and have a capacity for five cups of tea. “It will not take more than five minutes to do so,” the official claimed.

“We are expecting an enormous demand but we do not want to produce it en masse. We have received around 50 orders from Jaipur already,” he added. Only around 100 pieces are expected to be ready by Diwali.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Some of the books in my dream library

Just wanted to share a few books that I long to have in my library. You will notice all of them are centred on Iran! Wish I had the money to get all of them... That will have to wait, alas!

So Many Enemies, So Little Time: An American Woman in All the Wrong Places (Harper Collins, March 2004)
By Elinor Burkett

In Search of Zarathustra: Across Iran and Central Asia to Find the World's First Prophet (Vintage Books, March 2004)
By Paul Kriwaczek)

Shah of Shahs (Knopf Publishing Group, December 1985)
By Ryszard Kapuscinski

Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith (Simon and Schuster Adult Publishing Group, January 2000)
By Gina Barkhordar Nahai

Answering Only to God: The Struggle Between Religion and Democracy in Post-Revolutionary Iran (Henry Holt and Company, Incorporated, February 2003)
By Geneive Abdo and Jonathan Lyons

Being Modern in Iran (Columbia University Press, January 2000)
By Fariba Adelkhanh and Jonathan Derrick

Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran (Crown Publishing Group, August 2004)
By Roya Hakakian

Spirituality in the Land of the Noble: How Iran Shaped the World's Religions (Oneworld Publications, March 2004)
By Richard C Foltz