Monday, September 15, 2008

The forgotten map

The forgotten map reminds us how the destination that we have reached today is a result of the decisions we have made in the past or the choices that we have made at every given point in the past.Even the choice of being at a given place at a given time which might seem unimportant can have an impact on our lives.These choices that we make also imply all the choices that we did not make and all the paths that we decided not to take.We would never know what our lives could be like if we had made those choices thus our lives are not only the result of the choices that we made but also the paths we decided not to take.
Society as a collective body has taken several decisions as the author states,we have shunned the path of spirituality,feeling and understanding and have chosen instead to tread the path of knowledge,science,economics etc. We do tend to believe that the route we have taken is the right one,infact we do not even consider all the other options we had and all the other bifurcations we could have taken.Glorifying our progress,we tend to turn a blind eye to the fact that maybe chosing a different route or outlook could have given us better results.We have chosen the material outlook where money and technology are our prime concerns but all of us do often feel that something is missing from our lives,we are never happy with what we have achieved or what we possess or how much we possess.There seems to be an emptiness which is leading to warped minds and mental illnesses,maybe we are ignoring a very essential aspect of our lives,downsizing it.Mental illnesses like schizophrenia and depression are constant reminders of what we are mission out on,reminders of the fact that maybe we should not neglect essentials like spiritualitly,emotions,interpersonal relations,which are part of the road we have long neglected and slowly forgotten.
Also,we can clearly see how history is a matter of perception and not bare facts as its often claimed to be.In the example of comparision between Newton and Goeth we see how Newton is praises as a great scientist and hero whereas hardly anyone knows about goeth!This was probably because Newtons thoughts corresponded closly with the path that we have decided to taken whereas Goeth has been forgotten,just like the forgotten path even though both of them might have done equally important work.
The author also speaks about how different eras have had varying languages or thought processes i.e the people at that given point of time,atleast the majority of them thought a certain thing was important,maybe it was spirituality,politics,progress in the scientific field or economics.This also i feel would have a major impact on history not only from a point of view of glorifying or playing down certain aspects or happenings but also for example if in the 1900s scientific development was the predominant mood we could expect to fond several instances of progress in technology and this would in turn play down other happenings such as wars or maybe this would affect the way wars were documented or fought!which again would lead to different outcomes.
Finally,the author states that there is a vast difference between knowledge and understanding and that we must experience to understand whereas knowledge is detached.Understanding is the matrix that amalgamates knowledge into something more complete and concrete.Maybe the time has come when we need to reflect not only on what we have done and the path we have taken but also all that we have shunned or missed out on,to amalgamate the both and complete our world.

IDLI STEAMER- through ages


The origin of the favourite breakfast item, ‘idli’ (sometimes spelt with a fancy ‘y’) is not known. The name is said to have its origin in the Tamil phrase ‘ittu avi’ (ittu-‘laid’ or ’kept’ and avi- ‘steam cook’ i.e. ‘kept or laid steam cooked’)

It is logical to surmise it is a simplified variant of the ‘Kanchipuram idli’

(or kudalai idli – name based on the flower basket of bamboo thatch and leaves used to steam cook the dough). For centuries, the preparation was confined to temples, especially in North Tamil Nadu, where these idlis provided an all-time, any-time alternative to other offerings that were plain rice based and had an advantage in terms of some keeping qualities, remaining fresh up to another day, a boon for many pilgrims. Also the idlis were wholesome in terms of carbohydrates, proteins and fat content.

The dough is a ground, wet- mix of rice, urad dhal kept fermented through over night storage. It is then spiced with jeera, pepper, salt, chopped dry ginger topped with a generous helping of pure ghee, This mixture, is poured to fill a few bamboo knit flower baskets- small cylinders of 4-5” dia and a foot long, open only at the top- These are kept hung inside a huge earthen pot that is filled with some water to generate the steam needed to cook the dough inside the porous baskets, The pot had a lid with holes that can be plugged or kept open to regulate the steam.

To day’s idli is a simplified version for popular consumption, sumptuous enough and easy on the purse. Mass consumption, basically as a breakfast item happened as a result of commercial activity and urbanization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that encouraged the ‘tiffin’ ( fillers between meals) habit. Coupled with coffee drinking, promoted by many coffee- clubs (primitive restaurants) idlis were actively supported by the growing urban middle class. Politics or poetry, movies or music, career or counseling- every thing got lined up over a plate of steaming idlies and hot coffee. So much so that idli habit got spread as an all time safe refreshment – a day long affair in Nandyal-AP ( ‘Idly Ramiah’ as the joint was fondly known) to a 24 hour mass ritual in the business areas of Madurai.

As the main item is an ever-green formula (some sanctity and respect got attached to this fluffy white entity), the sizes vary these days, from the ‘big brothers’ in Andhra to the ‘mini-idlis’ in some urban cities. The side dishes have also come a long way. Originally the fare was confined to a coconut-gram mix chutney, sambhar ( usually with onions) and some chilly-dhal in gingely oil paste, Now you get some variety of chutneys and powders– mint, coriander, tomato and dhal, you name it you get it!

The utensils varied in shape and make according to consumption. From earth pots to brass cauldrons and iron pans to cozy stainless steel containers. The vital unit, the trays with shallow, hemi-spherical pits with perforations/ holes to allow steam percolation have not changed in shape. Years ago, wet cloth was spread over the pits to facilitate easy removal, but now light greasing of the trays does the trick.

Left over idli dough, further fermented, needed dilution and hence got converted as ‘oothappams’. Further refinements in the dough led to the ‘dosas’ that have become popular, so popular that a new genre of non-vegetarian fare has appeared, but that is another story altogether- a biography with more ‘masala’, one would tend to muse.