Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The tragedy of BIMARU

My last post had started by my referring to the BIMARU States. The great Wikipedia informs us that BIMARU is an acronym formed from the first letters of the names of the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. It was coined by Ashish Bose a demographer in the mid-1980s when he wrote a paper for Rajiv Gandhi. Later, Orissa was added, and, the acronym became BIMAROU. BIMARU has a resemblance to a Hindi word "Bimar" which means sick. This was used to refer to the poor economic conditions within those states.

Over the past few weeks I have been reading columns written by Manish Sabharwal in the Indian Express. Sabharwal is the promoter and CEO of TeamLease a company that is listed on the NSE. I have extracted a paragraph from the TeamLease website, which, best describes what TeamLease does.

It is a one-stop provider of human resources services to various industries and diverse functional roles, offering staffing, payroll processing, recruitment, compliance and training services. TeamLease set in motion the larger company mission of ‘Putting India to Work’ by focusing on its vision of 3 E’s – Employment, Employability and Education. 

The Company in partnership with the Government of Gujarat, set up TeamLease Skills University (TLSU), India’s first vocational university, at Vadodara. In FY2015, TeamLease rolled out NETAP (National Employability through Apprenticeship Program) to provide on-the-job training to apprentices. The company at present has over 170,000 associates/trainees spread across the country and has till date given employment to 1.6+ million people with an aim to hire millions more.  

This is most impressive. Sabharwal himself has impeccable educational credentials culminating with a degree from Wharton. Being the Founder and CEO of TeamLease, I believe Sabharwal knows what he is talking about.

Now, however you look at it, the BIMARU States are, shall we say, backward. Their chief ministers are not awe inspiring by any stretch of the imagination. You have such worthies as Yogi Adityanath, Laloo Prasad, Akhilesh Yadav, Mulayam Singh, Charan Singh, N D Tewari, Rabri Devi, V P Singh and so on who have been Chief Ministers of the BIMARU States. I believe none of the chief ministers have contributed to raising standards in the BIMARU States even close to as much as standards have been raised in most other Indian States. What do I mean by standards? The basic stuff, education, healthcare, employment, female infanticide, law and order, raising of agrarian indicators to state a few.

I must point out that all BIMARU Chief Misters, irrespective of their political affiliation are simply of a mediaeval, traditional, archaic, antediluvian, call it what you like, mindset. Every political party is guilty, without exception. Even V P Singh, who was an economic reformer, was so out of date that he introduced the Mandal reforms. So terrible were these that there were riots in the country and V P Singh was voted out.

Just for those who may not have been around, the Mandal Commission was established on 1 January 1979 by the government under Prime Minister Charan Singh with a mandate to "identify the socially or educationally backward classes" of India. You will no doubt recall that Charan Singh is a worthy who was also the UP Chief Minister. The Commission formulated the concept of Other Backward Classes [OBC] and recommended reservations of 49% of the seats in Universities for OBC’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.  

Just how disastrous this path i.e. the non upliftment of the BIMARU States has been was brought into very sharp focus when I read Sabharwal. His ability to keep matters simple, not pontificate, and, make a point lucidly without criticizing, is refreshing.

Sabharwal points out that there is a great need for the youth in the country to learn English as it’s a hugely important vocational skill. We all know that there is huge migration from the BIMARU States to the larger cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Obviously, this is caused by having little or no employment opportunities in the BIMARU States. He cites the example of a migrant who is comfortable with English. This person as a security guard could easily handle the office reception desk at lunch time. How many times have we seen this. Thus, though he is a security guard, his knowing English could fetch him a wage that is more than 100% higher than a non-English speaking security guard. Similarly, a driver who can read a Google Map [Uber Ola] earns much more as opposed to a kali peeli driver. Take the case of a mason or plumber who can use WhatsApp whether in English or a local language. Sabharwal goes on to write that a migrant from UP without the English language skills will get a salary of Rs 8000/- as a packer or loader while a migrant from the North East would get Rs. 20,000/- because they start in the office.

This disparity, dear readers, is lifelong. Imagine the knock-on effects for the next generation. The loaders child will be so disadvantaged as compared to the North East migrant’s child who is brought up with so much more money and a different outlook to life. To push the point a little more, in all probability Mrs. North East will also be working earning a similar wage. Mrs. UP will probably not be working at all consequent to the social mores, education and so on. Now think again of how the children will develop.

While all this is happening, do remember that the BIMARU States have the highest population, highest fertility rates, below national average literacy and highest corruption. A truly deadly cocktail.

Just this made me scratch my head and comprehend how utterly correct Sabharwal is. How often we have seen watchmen at receptions? How much hospitality i.e. front of house in a restaurant is from the Seven Sister States. How often have we seen masons taking photos on their phones and sending them by WhatsApp to their contractors? This has become de rigueur. I believe that what we see is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s just the smart set that reach Mumbai, Delhi and so on. I guess that there are lakhs still struggling not knowing English or even having what are today basic skills.

The continuing march of the computer, whether as a smart phone, or a handheld device that a Blue Dart delivery boy uses, or a POS machine at a shop is unstoppable. And, all these devices use English as an interface. As I write, I appreciate how all pervasive the need for English is.

The point I am making is that because of the fact that the BIMARU States operate at a different level, they have fallen behind and will continue to fall way behind. For the reasons I have stated in the preceding paragraphs, the gap will only increase. With the persistent agenda of promoting Hinduism, Nationalism, Ram Temple, Morality and what not, it is the people in the BIMARU States who are simply being bypassed. Of course, ironically, the BIMARU States with their huge populations give us our governments. Its democracy at work, unfortunately. We all know that “Convent Education” has been a massive boost to all of us. It is just in the last decade or so that newer “secular” schools have really come into their own. By persecuting Christian Missionaries, especially in the BIMARU States, they are effectively cutting their noses to spite their faces. How many schools imparting English skills are going to be set up in these states is anybody’s guess. I believe it will be miniscule when compared to non BIMARU States.

Take another aspect. Utterly horrifying at many levels.

After years of wooing investment, Bihar managed to convince Carlsberg to set up a greenfield state of the art brewery in Bihar at a cost of USD 25 Million. Soon after it was set up, the Chief Minister another very worthy – Nitish Kumar – became a champion of prohibition and the plant has shut down. Mind you prohibition was implemented in April 2016 by the then JD(U)-RJD-Congress “Maha Gatbandhan” or ‘grand alliance’ government. United Breweries and Diageo are facing a similar problem in Bihar. We all know the terrible effects of unemployment.

Fine, so there is prohibition in Bihar, but, now brace yourself. According to reports, a disproportionate percentage of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBC’s are in jail for offences relation to prohibition. To clarify, if the percentage of OBC’s in Bihar is say 15% of the population, the OBC’s comprise of 30% of the people jailed for violating prohibition. I find this mind fucking on so many levels.

Honestly, in Mumbai, do we care or even know if someone is a SC or ST or an OBC. Is the waiter in a restaurant distinguishable and do we care or ask or check his CV to ascertain if he is an OBC? Secondly, how are such records even maintained by jail staff? So, if you are jailed are you supposed to say Hindu, Brahmin or Parsi or Muslim Shia? Is this for real? I can understand in the USA describing an individual as Caucasian or Hispanic or Black but caste? On the other hand, we all read of the horrific crimes taking place in the BIMARU States – rapes, killings, khaap killings, lynching’s for carrying beef and so on. No arrests are made. But as far as prohibition is concerned, thousands are jailed. Boggles my mind honestly.

But then I comfort myself by working out in my head – BIMARU.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Religion and public spaces

A few days ago, the social media had worked up a real lather. A Minister in one of the BIMARU States [Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh] said that public places should not be used for Namaz. Before I proceed, it is my view that, generally, a very large proportion of the gruesome crimes - rapes, murders, juvenile killings, shooting uncooperative DJ’s, Khaap killings, honour killings, et al – happen in the BIMARU states. Please don’t say Kathua; that is an exception in that it happened in Kashmir. Getting back to the point, the statement by the Minister was obviously made shortly before Ramzan is to start and made with some degree of mischief. I believe Ramzan starts on 15th May 2018. Even more obviously, the statement had an equal degree of support as well as condemnation, which lead to the lather on social media.

Some of our more intellectual and erudite folks opined that while the statement was worthy of condemnation, the Minister had a point, no religious festivals, celebrations should be held in public spaces. This caused even more uproar as the discussion instantly turned into the usual garbage of Hindu dominance, Hindu agenda on the one hand and appeasement of minorities and so on, on the other.

However, all this din and noise got me thinking. Has anyone on either side of the argument, even bothered to understand and think what use of public spaces for religion could mean? How far is the concept to be taken? That is the point I shall seek to make in this post.

A few disclaimers and assumptions.

·       I am not a `Bhakt’ or a `Muslim’ supporter. Yes, I did vote for the BJP.

·       I do not practice any religion, do not have a pooja room or visit temples.

·       In principle I agree that no religion should use public spaces and the `ban’ on the use should apply across all.

·       This is not a Hindu v/s Muslim argument.

Have got over the disclaimers and assumptions, let me now set down the facts i.e. the problem.

First up the Muslims. There are 52 Fridays in a year. Many places see roads shut on Fridays especially for the afternoon Namaz. As a rough estimate, let us add another 5 days when roads are blocked. This could be Ramzan Idd falling on a non-Friday or Bakri Idd also on a non-Friday. I also make allowance for the sermons that are held during Muharram and the last day of Muharram when there are processions with men whipping themselves or beating their chests. So, aggregating this, we have 57 days of public spaces being used.

Let’s turn to our Hindus. 10 days Ganapati, add another 10 days for Dusshera or Durga Pooja. 2 days for Holi which is `celebrated’ with gay abandon by cutting trees, having bonfires, throwing colour and generally engaging in loutish behavior. You could throw in the hitherto unknown, but now all pervasive, Chaat Pooja which is celebrated by our BIMARU sisters on Mumbai beaches. Would 2 days for Diwali be adequate? We do celebrate by lighting firecrackers on the streets. No. Please please don’t get into the smoke, pollution argument. Please also don’t get into the noise scares sick people and terrifies puppies. All that is in a different post. It is a different subject. I would add 5 days here too as allowance for festivals I may have forgotten. Hindus aggregate 27 days of use of public space.

Catholics are a small part of our population. But they do have their Midnight Mass and Novena every Wednesday at Mahim. Strictly speaking they do not block streets. They may cause traffic jams as the sheer force of numbers clogs roads. But I am sure you will agree that the Bandra Fair is use of public space, though not necessarily by Catholics but hawkers who set up stalls on the way to Mount Mary. So, shall we give them a total of 5 days or 9 days for Bandra Fair?

Our Dalit friends come to Shivaji Park in Mumbai to commemorate and remember the death anniversary of Dr B R Ambedkar on 6th December. Shivaji Park is public space and the Dalits really and truly make a mess for 3 days in a public space.

The Sikhs are generally a more private lot, but at times, like the Catholics they cause traffic jams at their Gurdwaras. Let’s allot 3 days to them.

Don’t forget our Jain brothers. If you live next to a Jain Derasar, the first thing you should do is sell your home. A Jain will give you a premium for the privilege of living next to the Derasar. They have processions and horse drawn silver chariots all using public spaces. Let’s allot 3 days to them too.

The grand total of days that I have reached is 98 days in a year when public spaces are used for religious purposes. Frankly, that is a lot, an enormous number. I can bet you would never have thought it would be such a substantial number. To put it differently, this is a problem and should be addressed.

The question is how should it be addressed? What really is the use of public space?

Please do note that I am leaving out wholly religious cities from this argument. By wholly religious cities I would mean Tirupati, Shirdi, Nathdwara, Varanasi, Mathura, Ajmer, Amritsar and the cities where the Kumbh Mela is held and so on. In those cities there is a tacit understanding that you visit them knowing full well that because of religion public spaces are usurped.

To me, clearly, blocking roads for Namaz is use of public space as is slaughter of goats out in the open at Bakri Idd. Equally, purloining of roads to make Ganapati, & Pooja pandals, pandals for Garba during Navratri is use of public space. Fire crackers on the street or Chaat pooja on the beach should not be permitted either. Cutting trees for Holi is similar. Cooking a Langar in a pandal on a street is use of public space as is the entire Ambedkar remembrance on 6th December. These are instances that are rather more clear cut and easy to understand. A prevention of use of public spaces should, ideally, apply to all these.

The problem I have is the argument of our erudite intellectuals who say that use of public spaces should apply equally. Assume, for the purpose of argument, that there is no Ganapati or Pooja pandal on the road. Now comes the matter of bringing the Ganapati or Durga idol to its shrine as well as the visarjan of the idol after 1 days. How does one deal with this? Should you use a road? Should the people be allowed to dance and move at a snail’s pace or should they simply drive at normal speed? Can they carry the idol on their shoulders and walk or on a cart and push the cart? Would this be use of public space? Should immersion not happen at a beach or river?

Take the case of Mass or Novena or Bandra Fair. Admittedly, these are held inside the Church. The problem is caused by one, scores of people attending and two by the attendant hawkers, beggars and assorted bodies that simply gather at these spots. All this happens in a public space. How does one deal with this?

Is the use of public space to be dealt with or viewed on distinct levels? To clarify, for example, Namaz and pandals are not permitted on public spaces. However, are processions and attendant hawkers permitted? To amplify, lets say that there is legitimate permission given to hold a religious function at a public space – say a Baba Ramdev or Nirankari or Catholic gathering at the MMRDA ground at BKC – but the roads are clogged on account of traffic, is the grant of permission correct? How do we deal with an amalgam of religion in non public spaces while the attendant hoopla does use public space?

Just as I was reviewing this piece, another thought popped into my mind. Should weddings with dancing and bands on our roads be allowed? Is that not use of public space? It may not be religious but all the same.

To conclude, I agree that public spaces should not be used for religion and this should apply across all religions. However, for God’s sake [no pun intended] let us understand the contours of the argument before shooting off missives or spouting on TV or social media.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Experiments with Mutton Kheema Pattice or Puff's

I remember a time in the early to mid-1970’s when my dear departed father, Senior Mrs. Stonethrower and my kid sister all in the back seat and, me, a cook and driver acting as frontal air bags were packed into the Ambassador car we owned and set off for Poona. Those were simple times. Everyone owned either a Fiat – later Premier Padmini – or an Ambassador. Some poor lost South Indians who had moved to Bombay owned Standard Heralds. The mechanics of these cars was from the early 1950’s, when things were even more simple and unreliable. The journey to Poona included, if you were lucky, just one scheduled stop, at a picturesque spot, where we would all get out. The bonnet would be opened to allow the radiator to cool. The tea would be brought out. For some reason, the Thermos was always filled with strong sweet coffee. I presume coffee was thought to be a better reviver of tired bodies on these drives. To eat, invariably, there would be Mutton Pattice from the now long gone Gourdon, a restaurant and cakeshop at Churchgate. Those Mutton Pattice were, if I remember correctly, small and round, much like a cup cake. They were delicious, at once crunchy and flaky with the Puff Pasty outside, moist, spicy and meaty with the ‘Kheema’ inside.

Times passed, Gourdon, deteriorated and shut. Mutton Pattice were then bought from RTI and later a very good Mutton Pattice was sold by Oriental Bakery at Grant Road East. I remember eating the Mutton Pattice from Oriental when I was in College in the early 1980’s. Today, alas, I am sorry to say that getting a good Mutton Pattice is virtually impossible. The ratio of filling to pasty is such that all you end up with is lots and lots of pastry. The filling, whatever there is, has little meat and a lot of filler being onion, or coriander or even French Beans. Several reasons for the precipitous decline in quality. Firstly, the price of meat has gone up as has the price of other inputs. Customers are not willing to pay and have competing food that they can buy, the choice is much more.

Before going further, a bit of background following my research. A Mutton Pattice is available in two basic forms in Mumbai. One has Puff Pastry on the outside and is crisp, layered and flaky. The other is with mashed potato on the outside, soft. This soft version is rarer and is generally sold by Irani restaurants and Parsi food outlets. The puff pastry version is much more widely sold. Many people refer to the puff pastry version as a Puff. Also, the fillings of either pattice could be ‘mutton’ or more correctly goat mince, or chicken mince or even curried vegetables.

The word ‘Pattice’ itself is said to be a bastardisation or Gujjuisation [please note I am NOT calling Gujjus bastards] of the English word Patty. A Patty is a small flat cake of food, often minced meat. So, a Hamburger has a Patty. The word Patty was somehow changed to ‘Pettis’ as in `Ragda Pettis’ a classic Mumbai street side snack where you have a mashed Potato Patty served with curried Garbanzo Beans or ‘Channa’. So, Patty became ‘Pettis’ and then ‘Pattice’.

I do like a good Mutton Pattice, so HRH the Queen of Kutch and I thought of making our own. What is so difficult? You need to make a decent ‘Kheema’ which is not rocket science. Push comes to shove, you could also simply go to the restaurant that serves your favorite Kheema, pack a few plates and Bob’s Your Uncle. And, you need to get some Puff Pastry. Of course, you need to have a functioning oven to bake the Pattice.

I guess that for most of my readers, getting Puff Pastry poses the biggest challenge. No worries. The best place to get Puff Pastry is Paris Bakery, 278, Dr Cawasji Hormusji Street, Our Lady Of Dollors Church Lane, Marine Lines, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400002. Their phone number is 022 2208 6619. If you are going towards Churchgate Station and are on Marine Lines, on your left is the Our Lady Of Dollors Church. Stop your car there and walk into the lane. They will sell you raw Puff Pastry. It’s called “Khaari Nu Cross”. Call before you go and order it. Alternatively, if you live in Bandra, go to the bakeries on Bazar Road, and ask them nicely. They will sell you the stuff too. Keep it chilled.

Once you have made your Kheema, make sure it is robustly spiced, has enough lime and is really tasty. Chill it. Do remember that the Kheema should be reasonably dry and not liquidy. The Kheema should be able to hold its shape. If the Kheema is too wet, dry it out. If it is very oily, drain off the oil. Roll out your Puff Pastry. Fill in the Kheema, and enclose the Kheema in pastry. Make a couple of holes to let steam out, egg wash the pastry and bake in a 200 C oven till lovely and golden. Remove, let it sit a bit get your cold beers out or a bracing Gin & Tonic. Cut a big slice and enjoy.

We made a family sized one with 500 grams of Kheema. To accompany this, in a moment of creativity, we made Jellied Kachumber. Tomato Water, Onion water, lime, Green Chilly and Coriander. Jellied and eaten cold with the hot Kheema Pattice.

The family sized Kheema Pattice

A beautiful slice. Lots of Kheema, crisp Pastry.

The Jelled Kachumber

This was a very good meal.

I really do suggest you try this. The results are just so satisfying.