Monday, June 25, 2012

Be Afraid, be very afraid of the Bombay Prohibition Act

I can bet that all Bombaywallahs emotions must be rather stimulated in the last couple of weeks. The goings on with the right honourable ACP Vasant Dhoble, the `who knows if it was a rave’ at Juhu and the persecution of Priti Chandriani for selling liquor chocolates clearly show that we live in exciting times. Are we heading into a downward spiral of Talibanisation or is this `crackdown’ justified or should the `archaic’ law be changed, are just some of the questions all of us are asking.

I thought I should investigate. I am a washed up lawyer, but I can still read a legal book and make some sense of it. So, off I went to the law book seller to buy a copy of the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949 which I then spent some time reading, digesting and putting down in hopefully a logical, easily understandable form.

Before I get into analysing the Act, I must make my position clear. First, the Act is extremely harsh, stringent and straight forward in its rigidity and control. Secondly, the law is the law and it should be fairly implemented across the board. Thirdly, is it `archaic’ or `Taliban’ like? I am not so sure if either term could be applied. On the one hand we support something like a ban on smoking, but by the same token a crackdown on drinking with or without a permit seems unacceptable. We want chewing tobacco and the various `Pan Parags’ or `Guthkas’ banned. So in our minds, banning certain things is not `Talibanisation’ but regulating drinking is? Passing a legislation banning smoking is not regarded as archaic for reasons I cannot understand. Health of the consumer is of no relevance as there are plenty of things that should be banned on grounds of health – anything that contains trans fats for example. So using words like `archaic’ or `Taliban’ to condemn the Act sounds like faulty logic to me. Fourthly, I believe there should be legal age for drinking. This could be done by removing the detailed legislation we have today and replacing it with a simpler set of laws. One where shops selling alcohol are regulated and consumption or purchase is only on basis of an ID showing you are over a base age.

As an overview, to put it simply and succinctly, the law has an overarching principle that only those with permits can manufacture, trade in as vendors, buy, possess and consume alcohol. This is not wholly different in Western Europe, the USA and most non Muslim countries. Even there, the manufacture of alcohol is heavily regulated and taxed. Restaurants or shops selling alcohol have to be licensed. Serving alcohol to an under aged person invites severe penalties. The key differences are: (i) the concept of a `permit room’ (ii) the fact that despite your age, you have to have a permit to consume alcohol (iii) a vendor has to maintain elaborate registers and (iv) you as an individual cannot possess more than 12 units of alcohol.

Let’s now deal with our Act which applies to the whole of Maharashtra. It’s much simpler to analyse our Act having regard to the differences I have set out in the preceding paragraph. Any establishment serving hard alcohol has to have a segregated area which is known as the `permit room’. Of course the whole restaurant may be a `permit room’ too. Alcohol can only be served in this area. Only a permit holder can enter this area. Non permit holders cannot be present here even if they are not drinking. This is of course absolutely never followed. You can walk into any restaurant serving alcohol and you will find no divide, no permit room. This means that children and non permit holders can all sit together. The restaurant will serve alcohol to any patron [not a child] throughout the restaurant area. With this almost universal breach of the licensing conditions, once the powers that be decide to crack the whip every restaurant will run into problems. Huge problems. The permit room concept needs to go.

The second big problem area is the requirement that an individual has to have a permit. It follows that if you have a permit you can enter a permit room and drink. You can also buy alcohol from a vendor. With a permit you can store and transport alcohol. More on that later. To get a permit you have to be 25 or more. You need a certification from a doctor that you need to consume liquor for the preservation of your health and then you apply for a permit with a fee, address proof, age proof and a photograph. You get a yearly permit for just Rs 100/- and a lifetime permit for a bargain of Rs 1,000/-. Once you have this, you can drink. Besides a regular permit, there are several types of permits on offer. A temporary permit which lasts up to 24 months; an Emergency permit where you require to show dire emergency to consume alcohol; a Special permit available to diplomats; a Visitors permit for guys who don’t live in Maharashtra but are only visiting; an Interim permit which lasts for a day and a Tourists permit which is available to non Indians.  

As a permit holder [a regular permit] you can at any time only posses 12 Units of alcohol [sub Rule (6) of Rule 70D of the Bombay Foreign Liquor Rules 1953]. 1 unit is 750 ml of hard liquor or 1500 ml of wine or 2600 ml of beer. Anything more than 12 units will invite prosecution. Before reading further please take stock of the booze at home!! If you want to buy some alcohol, you need to go to a liquor vendor and give him your permit. Be aware that you can only buy enough to make up the 12 units you are entitled to. You cannot have more than 12. Alas, there can be no wine connoisseurs in Maharashtra with a large cellar containing several hundred bottles of wine. Maharashtra promotes the growing of grapes and manufacture of wine!

When go to a shop to buy your permitted quota of alcohol, the vendor is supposed to enter your permit details in his register before he hands over your liquor. The same is true when you consume alcohol in a restaurant – a permit number must be entered against your purchase. Of course no one obeys any of this. Not only can you buy as many units as you like but to make matters worse, you don’t really even need a permit. All vendors and restaurants have literally hundreds of permit numbers that they fill into the registers every time they sell you the booze. What this means is two things. Firstly, if you are foolish or naive enough to give a vendor or restaurant your number, he will add your permit to his database and use the number for his sales. Thus, you will find that you have bought not 12 but hundreds of units clearly breaching the law. On the flip side is that fact that there are literally hundreds of permit holders who are buying booze far far in excess of their allowance. Imagine what would happen if Dhoble puts two and two together, off to jail my friend and no defence!

As a permit holder you can offer any part of the liquor possessed by you to any other permit holder. You could also transport your permitted quota at will. If your permit is suspended or revoked for any reason, you have to return the alcohol. You cannot continue to hold it. You will get your money back after expenses are deducted.

As a permit holder you have great immunity. You can buy, transport and consume the alcohol without much risk. I suggest you get yourself and your spouse a lifetime permit as soon as possible. If you have more than 12 bottles of booze, drink the excess quickly before Dhoble turns up. It’s not that difficult getting a permit, get one soon, and get a lifetime permit.

Priti Chandriani is in a pickle if you ask me. For those of you who don’t know what happened to her do read this. The complaint against her was clearly motivated, which has been confirmed by the Police who say they were acting on a ‘tip off’. Priti had some 20 units of alcohol at home. More than the 12 units allowed. [I like the way I have morphed into units instead of bottles] To make matters worse she had no liquor permit. She lived with her parents. They had no permits either. Big problem if you ask me. To compound the problem, she was making liquor chocolates. She claims they were for her personal consumption. During my research for this post, I read The Special Permits And License Rules, 1952. Rule 6 which was introduced in April 1974, clearly states that any person desiring to manufacture liquor chocolates and desiring to sell them to permit holders shall have to apply for a license to do so. Therefore, the law clearly contemplated in 1974, (surely not as far back in time to qualify as archaic), states that liquor chocolate manufacturers needed to be licensed. I do hope she is able to demonstrate that she does not sell the chocolates. If she did sell them she would really be in trouble, holding booze without a permit and selling chocolates without one too!! Not a happy position.

The Special Permits And License Rules, 1952 provide that liquor chocolates can be sold to only permit holders. On one level, this is logical, though not entirely sensible. Today imported liquor chocolates are openly and legitimately sold in upmarket stores. There is not a single restriction of anyone purchasing them. So obviously this Rule too is only breached and never followed, till poor Priti got into a pickle. 

This takes me to my question. You cannot consume alcohol without a permit, this much is clear. For the moment, leave alone the fact that none of these regulations are complied with. Assume you do not have a permit and you are in a restaurant [I am talking of a non Jain one here please] and you order a Risotto or Beef Bourguignon both of which have wine as an essential ingredient or a Steak Diane which has Brandy or a Christmas Cake which has Rum and Brandy or anything with a Red wine or White Wine sauce, could you be in breach of the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949? What happens if your underage son or daughter eats any of these dishes? Big big trouble if Dhoble is around.

Is this really what is intended by the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949? Do we really need it with such a great degree of useless compliance requirements? I really think not. I think that manufacture and sale of alcohol should be regulated, but more sensibly. The requirements to have permits for individuals should be done away with. Let there be a general law that persons below a benchmark age should not be served alcohol. Let’s do away with stuff like licensing of liquor chocolates and believing that  ‘liquor laden’ food can get you intoxicated. Let’s just grow up a bit.

As I have said earlier, the complete flouting of the law by all concerned, whether it is vendors, restaurateurs and us punters is now the norm. To reverse this situation and make everyone comply is a huge task and one which our enforcement authorities cannot possibly undertake. After all these years of slippage it’s probably best to change the law on the lines I suggested. Has Dhoble and the Excise authorities who arrested Priti done any wrong or acted beyond the law. Reading reports, I do not think so. I just think that this ad hoc application of the law has caused, and will continue to cause, huge unhappiness as feelings of vindictiveness, high-handedness and what appears to be a class war takes centre stage. Also it’s just so unfair to single out one or two when wholesale breach is the order of the day. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tokenism. Who is not guilty?

Symbolism and tokenism to encourage and facilitate vote bank politics, and, to a lesser extent, being politically correct are deeply ingrained in all our politicians, government servants, wannabe government servants like union leaders of public service undertakings [PSU]. What am I driving at? How often have you had the privilege of visiting a government office or PSU office and seen the photographs of our icons adorning the walls. Depending on where you are you have S Radhakrishnan, Indira Gandhi, the almost obligatory M K Gandhi, J L Nehru and Dr. B R Ambedkar. If you enter the main branch of the State Bank of India in State Bank Buildings you will see an imposing Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj complete with ramparts and orange flags in the background.  

In many instances if you enter elevators you will get a selection of India finest Gods with all the attendant regalia. Sandalwood garlands [these have some permanency] Marigold garlands and smouldering incense sticks with falling ash. The choice of God is often a function of the liftman’s tokenism; you could have a Krishna or even a Balaji. Quite often humans are elevated to Godlike status and you have Sai Baba sitting with his leg crossed over, Sathya Sai Baba blessing you and other very human characters like Aniruddh Baba, a favourite among Maharashtrians. 

Why do we have to publically display our personal religious beliefs? Is it exhibitionism? Is it a sense of deep insecurity whereby we believe that all our success are not due to our own hard work or brain power but due do divine and human intervention? Is it because the liftman has no faith in the elevator manufacturer or the elevators maintenance?

Tokenism unfortunately, also forms a huge part of public life, where having a Dalit or a woman or a member of the minority community as the President of India has been the norm. We had Gianni Zail Singh a Sardar, several Muslims and now a woman as Presidents. Mercifully, this seems to be on the wane with the selection [as I write] of a very mainstream, seemingly competent, seasoned politician Mr Pranab Mukherjee as the most likely candidate to post of President of India. 

Our very own Anna Hazardous has his share of tokenisms to keep the pot boiling. He always has a very Muslim looking Muslim on stage with him as well as a token woman and often an adorable child will present him with a glass of orange juice or fresh lime when he is breaking one of his fasts. Three ticks in one frame of the idiot box!

Tokenism touches and affects all parts of our lives both public and personal. Look at the half hearted toe touching all `respectful’ young Indians indulge in. Or the automatic, unthinking head bowing when passing a place of worship. Or the the kitty party brigade who pat themselves on the back for raising Rs 1 lakh for an orphanage while abusing the child maid they employ. Or security checks at any of our theatres or malls – tokenism at its best!

I read a wonderful snippet in the newspapers in the days following the fire at Mantralaya in Bombay. Apparently, on the 6th floor of the building there was an urn containing Mr. J L Nehru’s ashes. The fire particularly affected the 6th floor. The papers reported in terse terms that, “there are reports that urn containing Pandit Nehru ashes, kept in the sixth floor of Mantralaya, has been damaged in the incident.” The `incident’ of course being the huge fire. My question is why should Mr. J L Nehru’s ashes be kept in the Mantralaya in Bombay 48 years after he died? Anyway, as the cliché goes ashes to ashes dust to dust.

The `middia’ [media] which today is all pervasive, invades our homes at 9 pm every weekday night, also has its more than fair share of tokenisms. Whether it is having the obligatory publicity hungry Prahlad Kakkar and Mahesh Bhat appearing ad nauseum and holding forth on all sorts of issues to the `middia’ taking rather bizarre stands in pumping up matters which are only at best mildly interesting all have to do with tokenism.

Take the latest example of the fire at Mantralaya which I refereed to earlier. The Indian flag [now always referred to as the `Tricolour’ which is factually wrong, but anyway] is hoisted every morning and lowered every evening on top of the building. Being India, there is dedicated staff with their own room to do this task. Being government employees they are obviously entitled to all privileges which you and I would never dream of. When the fire was raging, these chaps did not leave their room but hung on there, till they got orders mind you, to lower the flag and keep it away. Our `middia’  latched on to the `feel good’ `positive’ story and have gone on to use all sorts of superlatives to describe the valiant efforts, bravery, dedication to duty and so on and so forth of these men who lowered the flag. Do we really have to get so carried away? I presume these chaps will soon be on TV being interviewed.

I often wonder if this tokenism is getting worse, and I find the answer is almost always, yes, it is. The `middia’ which is so influential and has the potential of really lifting us out of tokenism, mediocrity and making us think, has spectacularly failed us as have our political leaders. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Satyamev Jayate

Opinion is divided on several aspects of Satyamev Jayate the new `reality’ show by Aamir Khan. Strictly, this is not supposed to be a critical assessment or review of the show. However, there are a few troubling aspects and a question I keep asking myself.

I find the first 7 episodes of the show to be shocking in how really violent they are. I accept that what the show portrays is largely a correct picture of India. Consider the violence covered. Episode 1 dealt with Female Foeticide, violent? Episode 2 was on Child Sexual Abuse, violent? Episode 3 on the Big Fat Indian Wedding was tame in comparison. Episode 4 covered healthcare, thankfully tame again. Episode 5 had the violence of the `Khap’ killings and hate crimes. Episode 6 once again was a damp squib discussing the travails of being handicapped. Episode 7 was full on violence again, wife beating. Aamir was back to form, thank God! 5 of 7 shows being horribly violent. This in a land that gave birth to M K Gandhi? I don’t mean to knock Aamir on this, but, India is really an extremely brutal and violent country and its inhabitants are certainly not peace loving. Each of the practices dealt with on the show are practices that have prevailed from times immemorial in India. No amount of religion, God, prayers and education have reduced any of these primitive violent practices. So do not fool yourself that India is a land of peace, religion, yoga and love. It is not.

I do not have the stomach to watch an entire episode and neither do I have the time to watch every episode. I have on occasion sat in and watched parts of the show, the latest being the recent one on spouse abuse. I find the typically Indian, [is `Tapori' the correct word?] filmy and Bollywood practice of clapping, bizarre. One interviewee on the show, a woman who had been abused by her husband, spoke of the time when, fed up of the constant violence, she finally retaliated and hit back. Loud applause, or as we say `Taaliyan’, enthusiastically led by Aamir. At another point in the show the same woman said that now her identity is not merely merely that of a daughter or wife [or words to that effect], she is now known as `Shanno the taxi driver’. `Taaliyan’ again. Could the producers please get a little more serious, especially when dealing with such blood curdling topics and remove the needless applause and grandstanding from the show?

Critics and analysts of this show should be a little fairer on poor old Aamir. His show cannot possibly change these practices in India. They are deeply ingrained. Frankly, even if the greatest Indian Sachin, along with Aamir and Anna Hazardous for good measure, co-hosted the show, it would not make those practices/problems disappear. It will take time. This show, all said and done is a step in the right direction.

I now come to my question. A few days ago when the twin shocks of the petrol price increase by Rs 7.5 and the fact that the US Dollar was almost Rs 57 a close friend S, told me that with the Governments inaction in dealing with the economic crisis India would be pushed back 20 years. I told him, not to worry and India was 200 years behind the Western world in any event. My reason for saying so? Well, India was widely regarded [until our Nanny decided to throw out the baby and the bathwater by completely screwing up our economy] as one of the best investment opportunities. Leading FII, fund houses, investors and MNC all flocked to our country to get a slice of our markets. The middle class in India would, according to those in the know, be the `drivers’ of our growth. I may be paraphrasing here, but I am sure you get my drift. Is this not the same middle class guilty of the horrors portrayed on the show? Not that the rich and upper class are not, no, I am not condoning or excluding them, but I am only saying that the great middle class is all of what India’s future is supposed to be, and most importantly, the great middle class vastly outnumbers the rich and the upper class. So it’s this great mass of people guilty of such brutish crimes that are going to take India into the future. Is there really a future? Are we not really living in the dark ages with all this brutality at so many levels in daily life? Are we leading these delightfully dichotomous and dual lives of great consumerism and aspirational purchasing one the one hand and conservatism and violence that could only exist in the dark ages? So, will this great India Shining we live in, continue to be a land where we aspire to buy the latest SUV and continue to trash our wives and kill female foetuses. Is this our only future? I am not a social scientist, but I leave you with these questions.

Scary if you ask me. Very very scary. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Marketing gimmick or con job

Getting an MBA is an ambition for many young people. They study very hard to try and get admission to a good management school. India boasts of the IIM’s which, I have been led to believe, offer world class education. Management graduates are supposed to be worth their weight in Gold, and we all know how expensive that is! Gillette is one of the world’s best FMCG companies owning several large brands. I presume only the smartest management graduates from India as well as abroad am selected and get employed by such good companies.  

I had gone to Pali Market and on the way back, as is my wont, stopped off at Modern Stores. This stop is essential for two reasons. The first is to step into their newly air-conditioned store and get some relief from the oppressive heat and humidity. The second is to exchange some banter with Bharat, Mulchand and their Dad who own the store. I also go there to buy provisions, but that is by the way. On this particular morning when I walked in there was much excitement. Mulchand had worked up quite lather and was fuming. “Sir!! Look at this! How can we run the business? How can we answer customers??”  Bharat was equally upset and said “All these MNC’s are cheats!!” I thought that this was a fairly unusual level of excitement, so I asked what the matter was. An Oral B toothbrush was thrust into my hands and this is what I saw.

“Now turn it over and have a look at the MRP [maximum retail price]” said Mulchand, still excited. I did and this is what I saw.

“How much are we supposed to sell this brush for?” Mulchand asked? I thought for a moment, did my calculations 46 – 12 = 34. “Rs 34/-“was my answer. Both Mulchand and Bharat smiled at each other and told me to have a look at the fine print. This is what I saw.

I was aghast. There was in reality no discount at all on the tooth brush. The sleeve on the brush had the “Rs 12/- Off” and not the actual package. The very small print on the front of the sleeve had no corresponding asterisk on the MRP printed on the reverse. It was obviously a huge bait which some foolish non vigilant customer would fall for. After going home, on looking more carefully the customer would realise he had not got a discount and be rather upset. What sense does the statement “vs a regular flat trim toothbrush” mean? Why is the price of this so called regular flat trim toothbrush pegged at Rs 58/-?  It seems obvious that the toothbrush was not selling in the desired i.e. `projected’ quantities. So methinks, the smart management graduates decided to put on this sleeve promising this nonexistent discount to lure gullible customers. Shocking!

Is this what MBA graduates presumably from top management schools working in a Fortune 500 FMCG company can think of? Is this a sales strategy? Is this what Management graduates have studied for? How vigilant is a consumer supposed to be?

No wonder they were upset. As I write, I myself have worked up quite a lather, if you pardon the pun.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pulled Pork

I have seen countless programmes on television such as `Man Versus Food’ with Adam Richman who tries to eat gargantuan portions of food in his travels across America. One of the things he eats is the Pulled Pork sandwich. Similarly, other food travel programs on America often feature Pulled Pork. You see television hosts wax eloquent about this. Always made my mouth water. Pulled Pork is a pork shoulder that is slow cooked over low heat for a long time. The result is the meat literally sheds and is heavily flavoured with the smoke from the barbeque. I longed to make this but had no ability to cook the meat over a barbeque for the required 6-8 hours. Pulled Pork, I believed, was best cooked in a restaurant; a home cook would find it difficult. It remained a wish.

Then I bought the new book by Michael Ruhlman an excellent food writer. His book had a fascinating recipe for Pulled Pork which could be made at home. This got my mind working and I dug out a Pulled Pork recipe from Marcus Wareing’s book. It was amazing how similar they were except they approached the cooking from different sides. More on this later. Armed with the recipe we set out to meet Anup Hukumchand at Highland Cold Storage at Dadar to buy our pork shoulder. On looking at the recipe Anup knew exactly what we needed and instructed one of his butchers to work on a shoulder. First he removed the leg and part of the ribs attached to the shoulder. Then he took of the skin. We were left with a 2.4 kg shoulder [also known as Boston Butt in America] with the internal bone still inside. We were now ready to cook the beast.

Early next morning I fired up the Webber and built a strong fire. Then the shoulder went on for 10 minutes each side to sear on the high heat. Then a further 30 minutes each side with the barbeque covered. This results in a much gentler heat and the smoke stays inside adding flavour.

Hot grill

Skin side


Post searing

Once the barbequing was done, the shoulder, which was still fairly raw, went into a large Le Creuset Casserole [Dutch Oven]. It was now 9 a.m. I added a half quantity of sauce [recipe follows] covered the pot and put into the oven heated to 110 degrees centigrade, which is really slow. I was rather apprehensive about the minimal quantity of liquid in the pot, but, as it turned out, my fears were unfounded. After 3 ½ hours I took out the pot, at the risk of a hernia, and opened the lid. The meat had released a lot of water. I turned the piece, covered the pot, risked a hernia again, and back it went into the oven for another 3 ½ hours.  

I must caution you to not try and make this at home if you have a mother or father living with you. They will be absolutely agonised with the fact the oven will be on for some 7 hours, all that electricity being used would drive them mad.

By 4 p.m. I pulled the pot out. The meat was absolutely beautifully cooked. It offered no resistance at all to a fork. There was no way I could have turned or lifted the meat out of the pot, it just fell apart and shredded. The central bone came out and was discarded. I shredded the meat and tasted it. The sauce had become a bit watery. So I ladled out the liquid and put into a separate pan and reduced it a bit and poured it back in. Now it really tasted delicious. The smoke from the barbeque was strong and persistent, which I am really surprised by.

In the Dutch oven for slow cooking

After 7 hours. Note the release of juices

Beautifully shredded

Never having eaten Pulled Pork I had no idea what it should taste like. In a moment of inspiration, I realised a favourite cousin lives in North Carolina USA one of the barbeque capitals of America asking her family for help. This is what I asked:

“The question I have is how should a North Carolina pulled pork sauce, liquid, liquor taste?

Should it be predominantly sour with some red chilly black pepper and almost no sweet and quite liquid?

Should it be tomatoey sweet sour reddish syrupy?

Should it be equally sweet sour spicy and quite liquid?
If I am totally wrong, what should it be?”

Sid, my cousin’s son, promptly replied logically and knowledgeably. God Bless him. The reproducible parts of his reply are:

“There are two main styles of NC bbq:  eastern and western.  Western is a red sauce, more sweet than sour, more viscous.  My favorite is the eastern style, it is vinegar based a clearish liquid, has red chili flakes in it, has a spicy kick, and is not very viscous at all.”

The rest of his reply shall remain secret, as this is family blog! He is a funny and spunky young man. We had made the Eastern style. The Ruhlman recipe starts with the meat being barbequed and is then cooked in an oven. Wareings recipe differs inasmuch as he wants you to cook the meat in a low flame and thereafter barbeque it. I have my doubts if this would work simply because the meat is just so soft after cooking that handling it is impossible.  

Pulled Pork is eaten in a sandwich or in a bun. We thought that `Pao’ would be an appropriate vehicle for the meat. So Pulled Pork with Pao and accompanying Coleslaw. To wash this all down a couple of glasses of cold beer and maybe some cold crisp Gavi white wine. A few moments of fantasy, thinking of a barbeque on a North Carolina porch in the setting sun. Thought, I won’t be drinking iced tea, the traditional drink in America, even in my fantasy!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Pickles & home made Chilli Pickle

You must have seen this rather bizarre advertisement that appears in our morning papers. This is for a new brand of pickle and to hook `health conscious’ wannabes, the manufacturer says the pickle is made with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Not only that, the pickle is touted as being cholesterol free. Now that got my goat. Cholesterol free!! Really. Talk about up-selling and gullible customers.

Cholesterol is found only in animal products. Thus, meat, fish, eggs, milk and milk products all have varying degrees of Cholesterol. No oil made from peanut, sunflower, rapeseed, mustard, sesame, palm or coconut has cholesterol. Unless you are making a non vegetarian pickle, which by itself is rare, you don’t have cholesterol in pickles. But here is a crafty manufacturer riding on gullible, innocent and uneducated customers whose instincts are triggered by buzz words and not their God - given brains.

Have you ever realised what pickling actually does? It is a process by which inhospitable conditions are created to prevent microbes from spoiling food. Just one of the ways to achieve this is by adding high proportion of salt or oil or both. Fermentation is another method.

While on the subject of pickles, you must have read about the kitchen garden we have. Last week, we had a lot of chilli that was ripe. After picking most of it, we had 200 grams of chilli. This was too much to use in daily cooking. So we decided to make a chilli pickle. I got a recipe from one of my favourite Aunts who, being from the old school, actually makes pickle at home. It was an extremely simple recipe. I was touched by the measurement. People don’t have weighing scales at home. Therefore things are measured by volume. The only ingredient measured by weight is the pickle, because the vegetable vendor has a scale! The other ingredients are measured by a `Wati’ or `Katori’ which is a small bowl. 1 `Wati’ should contain about 200 grams.

We adjusted the recipe to the 200 grams of chilli we had. We have a jar of chilli pickle maturing. I hope it turns out well. This one has no cholesterol and it’s organic, no chemical fertiliser was used in growing the chilli.    

Some of the Chilli

Clockwise from top left - Haldi, Hing, Salt, Fenugreek, Mustard Daal and Oil

The final pickle

Here is the Recipe

500 grams fresh green chilli
½ Wati or 100 grams of Mustard `Daal’. This is available at most Indian style grocers
2 Teaspoons Methi or Fenugreek seeds
1 Wati or 200 grams salt [I suggest you add about 200 grams at first and if needed add more later]
4 Teaspoons Hing or Asefotida powder
3 Teaspoons Haldi or Turmeric powder
1 Wati or 200 grams oil


Wash and thoroughly dry the chilli. Remove the stalks and chop into 1 cm lengths. Place in large heatproof mixing bowl. Not plastic.

Add the Mustard Daal, Salt and Haldi. Mix.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan, add the Hing to the hot oil, add the Methi and give it a bit of a stir. Don’t let the Methi burn. Pour the oil into the mixing bowl and mix the chilli mixture well.

Once cool fill it in a clean jar and keep away in a cupboard for about 6 days to mature.

After 6 days give it a taste and you could adjust the salt and if you like add some lime juice. Once matured keep in the fridge.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

More on salt.

You may have read a previous piece on salt. Well, this is another story about salt.

When I was in school, 1970 – 1980 life was simple, paranoia was minimum. I clearly remember that `short break’ which was between 11.00 am and 11.20 am was spent buying things to eat from the hawkers who set up outside the school gate. If we had more money we loved to buy imported chewing gums whose wrappers had a `transfer’ on the inside. You wet your hand and put the wrapper on it and, lo and behold, you had a tattoo. If we had less money we bought either something called `Bor’ [often spelt `Ber’ which is an widely popular berry also with the botanical name Ziziphus] or boiled green channa spiced up with a onion, coriander, salt chilli powder mixture and a dash of lime or, depending on the season a `Peru’ [Guava] with lashings of the salt chilli powder mixture or `Kairi’ [raw Mango] also with lashings of salt chilli powder mixture.

`Long break’ was devoted to playing in what was called the back garden, a large municipal ground which had been cleverly cordoned off so that only Campion [my school] Fort Convent and St Anne’s students could use it. Lunch had already been eaten, surreptitiously, during class [the illegality with the tension of being caught was such a thrill].

Today, I believe, all this has changed, drastically. Today children are taken to school by their parents. In my day if a parent came to school it was a matter of extreme embarrassment. It meant you had done something wrong in class and your parent was called for a bollocking by the Principal. This of course meant a subsequent bollocking at home for you. Today children are virtually locked into school. Getting inside a school is like entering Fort Knox. Everybody is paranoid about kidnapping, sexual molestation and what have you. What are the chances of a child in the 7th or 8th standard going for a walk during the lunch break today? Zero I would imagine.

Anyway, how many of you remember eating some tangy, sour fruit with salt chilli powder mixture? What about the simple pleasure of eating a `Bhutta’ [Corn] with salt chilli powder mixture smeared on it with a cut lime during the monsoon. Now with the hybrids `Bhutta’ is available year round. Remember the salt chilli powder mixture? Remember making it at home? Well I do and I am sure many of you all do too.

This afternoon while I was at the neighbourhood grocer `Modern Stores’ I saw two plastic bottles on the counter which caught my eye. I casually picked them up and found to my amazement they were flavoured salt with the rather silly brand name `Tata Salt Flavoritz’. A combination of flavour and flavour, how juevenile. I was most intrigued. I looked at them a little more carefully. This is a new product which is a brand extension of Tata Salt. Salt with Paprika [Chilli powder to you and me]. This cost a staggering Rs. 45 for 60 grams which translates to Rs. 750 per kilo. This is for salt and red chilli powder! If you bought a half kilo of salt which would cost about Rs 8 and a half kilo of chilli powder which would cost about Rs 150, the combined product would cost you just about Rs. 158. All you have to do is mix the salt and chilli powder, both perfectly normal ingredients which every one of us has at home. No rocket science.

Have we become so utterly lazy that we cannot mix two powders? Are yummy mummys now just so daft and brain damaged that they cannot mix these two things? Have we lost all sense of proportion that we need to pay Rs 750 per kilo for a powder that costs just Rs 158 if bought separately.

What is going on? I don’t blame the manufacturer. Obviously, some sort of market research and survey must have led Tata Chemicals to believe that there is a market for a product like this. In other words Tata Chemicals research clearly shows that lazy, daft, and thoroughly incompetent moms exist who cannot mix salt and chilli powder and, that there exists a market where this can be pre-packaged and sold at a huge profit. Is the company wrong? I certainly don’t think so. Have we lost all sense of reason. I think yes. Shame on us.   

If you are really interested and want to rush out and buy them, they are available in three variants. Have a look at

Monday, June 4, 2012


First, an apology. Sorry! 

I have neglected the blog for the past two weeks. I am sure you must have been hugely entertained by the goings on in our Bharat.

Immediately on my return things went pear shaped in India for our Nanny, the Government, both local and national. First off our local Nanny raided a `Rave’ that never was. How utterly scandalous. Our newspapers were beside themselves with excitement. You all know what happened ultimately, people were charged with drinking without a permit! Then it was the shame at the IPL. Shah Rukh Khan had the temerity to get drunk and abuse a poor watchman at the Wankhede Stadium. Immediately wall to wall TV coverage, insanity and shouting. 

Then our Nanny decided to raise petrol prices, a move devoid of rational thinking. Equally irrationally, the opposition, both within and outside the Government wanted a roll back. More wall to wall TV coverage, more insanity and shouting. Within a week a roll back is announced a grand Rs 2 per litre. I save Rs 100 every time I top my tank, enough for one beer at home. 

While the Nanny is in the throes of this excitement, Anna Hazardous and gang step up with over the top allegations saying that Manmohan Singh is, gasp, corrupt!!!! Now that is really the limit, you will be jailed for even typing Manmohan Singh, without the words `whose honesty and integrity is beyond question’ following. Frankly, I believe he is honest, but that is about it, totally and absolutely ineffectual, but honest. Still more wall to wall TV coverage, still more insanity and shouting.

All this of course is totally meaningless. The real issues, of which there are many, are to be glossed over. There is however one bit of silver lining. I am happy to see Abhsheik `BJ’ Singhvi back on TV. Apparently, it’s now been decided that getting a `BJ’ is a private matter so he is off the hook. Looking for inspiration in the middle of all this `tamasha’ was difficult.

Anyway, I am now refreshed and normal service should be resumed.