THE ART OF EATING A DOSA
I was at an Udipi restaurant at Connaught Place in New Delhi entertaining my American friend Gisella. . I enthusiastically plunged at the attractive looking masala dosa. Noticing me eating with my hands a young girl walked up to me and asked me if she could join me at my table. I agreed.
‘Sir I am sorry I almost barged in. But I know you are a well known creativity guru .I have attended your training workshops and I must say I am a fan of yours. You are so sophisticated’
‘Oh it’s okay .What is it that you wish to speak to me about” I asked.
‘Sir why do Tamilians insist on eating with their hands?It seems your community will never get sophistacated’
‘It all depends on your definition of sophistication’ I began
At this point my friend Gisella took out her I- phone and showed some scenes from an American TV programme of Andrew Zimmerman called BIZARRE FOODS. Andrew goes to the far corners of the world exploring local ‘ exotic’ cuisine, While in New Delhi he visits the Bukhara which ,he says., is among the 75 best in the world. At one point the waiter places a few Indian dishes at Andrews’ table and says ‘I am sure you will love Indian food’
‘But where are the spoons, forks and knives?’asks the bewildered Andrew.
‘Sir Indian food is designed to engage and delight all your senses including your sense of touch. We believe you must eat with hands to get the best out of our food’
My young companion was stunned.
A few days ago I read this interview of an American writer Wendy Doniger on Hinduism .I am giving an extract :
ST. What attracted you to study Hinduism?
WD: First, I became interested in ancient languages and learned Latin and Greek, and then discovered Sanskrit; and then my mother had rubbings from Angkor Wat in Cambodia in the house, and\ wanted to go there, and she gave me a copy of EM Forster’s novel A Passage to India, and finally, I discovered that I liked Indian food better than American food. You could eat with your fingers, too! I always hated knives and forks! And I loved Indian painting and sculpture, and architecture and clothing – you could wear purple and orange together, which no one would let me do when I dressed in western clothing – and music.
Eventually, when I lived in Calcutta, Ali Akbar Khan taught me to play the sarod, which is still my favourite instrument. And then, best of all, I loved the stories, which I first learned from a book by Rumer Godden.
Last week I was invited to an informal discussion about India. At one point the topic of India’s notorious traffic jams and high accident rates came up for discussion.
I replied that till the 1960’s people in the US also showed scant regard for traffic rules but things changed after that, One reason why this change might have happened is what is called Smeed’s law This law says that initially people do not obey traffic laws. But when a threshold level in number of vehicles is reached people tend to fall in line That happened in the US in the 1960’s.This law may not be enough to explain but I can say that the Mumbai people’s tendency to obey rules compared to most other cities may well be accounted for by Smeed’s law. In Mumbai the cost of not being careful on the roads can be very high.[ more about this in a later blog]
An application of this law in an entirely different context went like this.
I was at a party in Alexandria in Virginia. My host a Maharashtrian asked me why Telugu people do not mingle with people of other communities in his locality but are very friendly at Winnipeg where he resided two decades earlier.
‘I told him ‘ Two decades ago there were very few Telugu guys in any city. Hence if a Telugu guy wanted to socialize with Indians he had to necessarily meet Indians from other parts of India. In the wake of the IT boom Telugu people have migrated to the US in such large numbers. At this point a variant of Smeed’s law begins to operate. A Telugu guy who has time to socialize maybe once a week has enough and more Telugu friends to meet.’
I also added that once Maharastrians reach such a threshold level he also will be busy with his Marathi Mandal and have no time for a Tamilian like me !’
My friend took it in the right spirit .
The following hilarious incident happened at a locality in Atlanta a city with a strong Indian presence.
A white American was cruising in his car trying to locate the house of his friend Frank Gerson. Finding it difficult to locate the house he looked around and saw an Indian woman walking her dog.
‘Could you tell me if someone called Gerson lives in these parts ?’ he asked her.
‘I am sorry there are no foreigners living here’ was the Indian woman’s reply. Ironic indeed.
Maybe a day might come when the population of White Americans might reach the threshold level in that locality.