Friday, July 31, 2009

Kerala Food: Jackfruit chips curry, something rarely made

Jackfruits, which grow along the Western Ghats of India and in some parts of South India, are really huge. They have many culinary applications. See Jackfruit, the jumbo

As I have mentioned in my post Gold color chips and a golden hearted Lady

fried chips made from the fruits are common and available in many shops. Properly made, they are an excellent anytime snack.

But curries made with the chips? Well, that is not common. Not only with gravy but sautéed and even ‘puzhuk’. We used to have these at Olavipe occasionally. You know, for a different taste.

The other day my wife, Annie (see photo), made jackfruit chips curry at our Chennai residence after a long time, and everyone liked it. This is something that goes well with rice, chapathis, pooris, appams, puttu and so on. It is quite simple to make. You can serve ‘chakka’ curry anywhere in the world if you have the jackfruit chips with you.

An indicative recipe is given below:

1. Keep one and a half cups of fried jackfruit chips in water till they are well soaked. This may take about an hour.

2. Fry two onions long cut, add to it two tomatoes quartered, one green chilli round cut, two or three flakes of garlic and salt to taste.

3. When the above is cooked, add the powders – coriander, chilli and turmeric – and garam masala to taste. Add curry leaves. Fry well.

4. Add the chips along with the water in which they were soaked, add more water for gravy if required, and bring to boil.

Jackfruit chips

Curried jackfruit chips.
Photos by me.
Click to enlarge.

Jackfruit chips add taste to meat curry as well. Use it instead of potatoes.

Well, if it doesn’t work out, don’t blame me. I can always say that the quality of the jackfruit chips may not have been good. Incidentally, thicker chips are better for use in the curry.

Related post:

Giant fruits from a small tree

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

History: Gingee, a fort of love and valour

How many countless men have lived and loved, fought and died at Gingee (Chenji, Jinji), possibly the oldest surviving fort in South India? It is located about 160kms from Chennai, in Villipuram District, near Pondicherry.

Shivaji had called Gingee the most impregnable fort in India. But it changed hands several times since the Cholas originally built it in 9c CE. The control passed on to Vijayanagar, Nayaks, Marathas, Bijapur, Moghuls, Carnatic Nawabs, Mysore, French and the British.

There were two Rajput kings as well at Gingee, under the suzerainty of the Nawab of Arcot - Raja Sawrup Singh and his son Raja De Singh. The former was appointed by Emperor Aurangazeb. The dispute over payment of arrears of revenue and the matter of succession after the death of Sawrup Singh led to a war.
The Nawab’s forces that marched to Gingee consisted of 8,000 horsemen and 10,000 soldiers. The 22 years old De Singh defended his land with a cavalry of 350 horses and 500 foot soldiers.

The valiant young ruler died (either killed in battle of committing suicideto escape capture) on 3rd October 1714 and that was the end of the war. Ballads are still sung in the area about the bravery of De Singh. The young Raja was cremated with full honours as ordered by the victorious Nawab of Arcot.

Mr. CK Gariyali IAS, who was the Collector of Villipuram in the 1980s writes, “Equally famous is his [De Singh’s] horse that has been buried in Gingee close to his master. The character of Raja De Singh is reminiscent of the stories of Maharana Pratap of Chittoor and his horse Chetak.”
Articles on Gingee by the former Collector can be accessed at Two specific sites are:
We should be grateful to him for recording many details about Gingee.

Raja De Singh’s wife committed sati (the practice of a wife immolating herself on her husband’s funeral pyre). It is claimed that the Nawab of Arcot built a town and named it Ranipet to honor the lady. I have not been able to find out her name.

A European priest, Father Pinments, referred to Gingee as the "Troy of the East".

Reproduced below are some recent pictures (©KO Isaac) of Gingee by KO Isaac, President of the Photographic Society of Madras:

All photos ©KO Isaac. Click to enlarge.
Also see:

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cuisine: How hot is hot chilli pepper?

I didn’t know what a Scoville Scale is. Even my tenyears old know-all granddaughter Nonee didn’t know. So I looked it up on the Internet. It is a measure of the hotness of chilli pepper based on the capsaicin content. The method was developed by an American chemist, Wilbur Scoville in 1912.

Pure capsaicin has a value of 15,000,000 – 16,000,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). It is against this the heat range of different chilli peppers is compared. At the bottom of the scale comes bell pepper with zero capsaicin content. For a comparative statement of the SHU of various chilli peppers, see:

Another method which is used now to gauge the hotness of peppers is the High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) It is also known as the Gillett Method. The results are expressed in pungency units stipulated by the American Spice Trade Association (ASTA). They can be multiplied by 15 to roughly arrive at the equivalent Scoville Units.

But for experienced cooks all these are not very relevant. They know the pungency rates of the chilli peppers that are regularly used. The cook at home would be thoroughly confused if one suggests the Scoville Scale check. Only when a new variety of pepper is to be used, or brand is changed the cooks have to run trials.

Which is the hottest chilli pepper?

In English it is appropriately named King Cobra Chilli - the Naga Jolokia of Assam and other North-eastern states of India. See the image on the left. Other names for it include Bhut Jolokia, Ghost Chilli, Ghost Pepper, and Naga Morich.

But an interesting phenomenon is that the same specie grown in other parts of India is found to be almost 50% less hot. Apparently the climatic conditions have considerable impact on the SHU of chilli peppers.

What uses do chilli peppers have other than for cooking?

It has several medicinal properties as a pain remedy. It is considered to be a body coolant possibly because of the perspiration it induces. There is also a view that chilli pepper is a blood thinner, and reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels and therefore good for cardiac patients. For health and dietary benefits, see:

Then we have the Law Enforcement Grade irritant spray with a SHU of 855,000 – 1,050,000 (compared to 350,00 – 580,000 of Naga Jolokia). It is effective in mob control and for personal protection from attacks. Recently it was reported that Indian Defence scientists have developed a method to use chilli powder in hand grenades, again for riot control. It is also said that burning chilli keeps wild elephants away in forest areas.

In India, chilli pepper is used for decoration as well. There is also a belief that chilli wards off evil spirits. Understandably, even the demons may be scared of Naga Jolokia, the Ghost Chilli.

Photo credits: Top, by me from Olavipe. Copyright reserved. Bottom, from Wikipedia.

Click to enlarge.

Also see:

Photos: Kerala chillies

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Controversy: The frisking of Dr. Kalam at New Delhi airport

Reports say that Continental Airlines have apologized for publicly frisking Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, former President of India and a world renowned scientist while he was boarding their Flight CO-083 on April 21. The expression of regret seems to be run-of-the-mill stuff – no offense meant, this is our policy, do fly with us again.

The incident took place not in Delhi, Iowa, USA, but at Delhi, India. The Continental staff was told who the personage was and that according to the rules he was not to be subjected to a security check. Still they went ahead with the body search, brazenly flouting the applicable law of the country. Is the belated apology by the carrier the end of the matter?

One can understand America’s security concerns after 9/11. The protective measures they adopted after that tragedy have been effective. There has not been a single terror attack in that country since then. But body searching someone like Dr. Kalam is over-reaction. And it is not acceptable.

Some of the Americans are prone to develop a mindset that leans towards phobia. In the 1950s there was Senator Joseph McCarthy looking under carpets for Communists. The level of this Red Scare rose to such alarming proportions that an old baseball team, Cincinnati Reds, even had to change its name!

So much for the Americans. But what about the Indian officials at the airport? Dr. Kalam reportedly asked them not to make an issue of the incident. That, an expression of his magnanimity and humility, was only his personal opinion. The situation involved national pride. Possibly the Indian security men on the spot did not have the confidence to act. So they took the escape route – reported the matter to the higher authorities, in this case the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS).

I would like to imagine how a Head Constable from the erstwhile Travancore Police would have handled the situation. (Travancore was a former native state and is now part of Kerala State. Its police was famous for handling difficult positions with comparative ease.) He would have asked the man who was about to frisk the former President for his passport, or gun license/permit if he was carrying side arms. Just to unsettle the person. If that was not on, he would have taken the man in for an alcohol test, saying that he smelt of liquor.

Maybe all that is not exactly according to the specific rules. But wasn’t there someone at the airport with the authority to prevent the flight from taking off till the Commander of the aircraft or a senior airline official apologized? That would have inconvenienced the passengers including Dr. Kalam, but justifiable in a matter of National honor. It doesn’t matter to us how the Americans treat their past Presidents, but we respect them.

And what did the BCAS do? Weeks later they sent a show cause notice to the airlines. That was reportedly ignored. Only when the issue came up before the Parliament, did the BCAS rush to file an FIR. I am of the view that the entire episode should be thoroughly investigated and appropriate action taken.

There was an ‘opinion’ piece in a major National newspaper which said that we have too many VVIPs floating around. I agree. But that is not the point. As long as a person is on the list, he should be given the prescribed treatment.

The entire nation stands by Dr. Kalam. Such is the esteem the country has for him.

Monday, July 20, 2009

More photos of periwinkle, a versatile medicinal plant

Read details at

Health, Gardening: Periwinkle, a wonder plant

Photos by me from Olavipe. Copyright reserved.

Click to enlarge.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

DK Pattammal: A tribute

‘Aduvome pallu paduvome, Ananda sutantiram adaindu vittom enru…’

The song from many, many moons ago came rushing to my mind when I learned that DK Pattammal had died at Chennai yesterday (July 16). She had rendered much greater pieces of course, but this one was a favorite of mine during school days.

With the passing away of Pattammal, an era in Carnatic music has ended. It was an epoch of women power, a period when three glittering stars shone so brightly. These ladies – MS Subbalakshmi (1916-2004), DK Pattammal (1919-2009), and ML Vasanthakumari (1928-1990) - were known as the classical triumvirate.

All the three were great exponents of Carnatic music. But Pattammal was unique. She was a trail blazer. In the first half of the last century ladies from orthodox Brahmin families were not permitted to sing in public. When Columbia Records (?) wanted record little Alamelu’s songs (her pet name was Pattu and that became Pattammal later), her father refused. He was finally persuaded by friends and relatives to give consent. Pattambal was ten years old at that time.

Soon she was on the radio and at the age of fourteen gave her first public concert, at the Mahila Samaj at Egmore, Chennai. Then she went on to conquer the world, performing in many places in India, USA, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland and other countries.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Pattammal was that she broke into the then strictly male bastion of Ragam, Thanam, Pallavi, the most difficult portion to render in Carnatic music. She excelled in this area and came to be called ‘Pallavi Pattammal’.

Pattammal specialized in devotional and patriotic songs. Her rendering of Muthuswami Dikshitar and Subrahmanya Bharati compositions were soul and blood stirring. She was highly selective about singing in films – no romantic pieces or duets.

Many honours and awards came to DK Pattammal. Quite naturally. These included Padma Bhushan (1971) and Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian honor (1998).

The singer is gone now, but her immortal songs remain.

The photo is from a disc cover of Tamil Movie USA. To see their Pattammal collection you can visit

Related post:

M.S. Subbalakshmi – The Queen of Song

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

France: The sound of Indian military boots again

I felt so proud watching on TV the Indian contingent leading the Bastille Day parade in Paris yesterday. The boys marched perfectly as the strains of ‘Kadam kadam badaye ja..’ and ‘Sare jahan se acha…’ reverberated along the Avenue des Champs-Elysees.

I wonder how many of the millions who watched the parade on July 14 knew the historic significance of the Indian soldiers’ presence in France for the ceremony. The Indian Army had sacrificed much to save France and Western Europe from the Germans. According to Peter Francis, Commonwealth Graves Commission, “"Very few people are aware of the role Indian troops played in both world wars."

In the First World War the Indians fought mostly in Western Europe and the Middle East. In the Second World War the 2.5 million-strong Indian Army saw action mainly in the Middle East, Africa, Italy and the Eastern Theater.

About 140,000 Indian troops – 90,000 on the front line and the rest auxiliary - fought in France and Belgium during World War I. Some of them were in the fray within a month of the outbreak of hostilities. They were at Neuve Chapelle, and at Ypres where Khudadad Khan (see photo) won the Victoria Cross – the first Indian to gain that honor.

The British Indian Army won 13,000 medals in the Great War. That included 12 Victoria Crosses. (The Second World War tally was 30 Victoria Crosses.) But the toll was high. The estimates of Indian sepoys who died or were missing in action on the Western Front differ from 48,000 to 65,000. There are memorials for them at several locations in Europe. The one at Neuve Chapelle is perhaps the best known. (See

What drove those brave men to fight far from home for a cause which may not have been very clear in their minds? The Indian National Congress was supporting the British war effort on the conviction that it was the best bet for India’s independence. Did the recruits, mostly from the villages, understand that? Alternatively, had they developed a tremendous loyalty to King Emperor George V about 60 years after India’s First War of Independence? Or did they put themselves on the chopping line for the pay of eleven rupees per month?

In this context an article, India and the Western Front by Dr David Omissi in the BBC’s World Wars series ( is interesting. He quotes a letter one Indar Singh wrote home from Somme in September 1916, 'It is quite impossible that I should return alive. [But] don't be grieved at my death, because I shall die arms in hand, wearing the warrior's clothes. This is the most happy death that anyone can die'. Izzat?

Sikh machine gunners at Flanders.

I must mention here the two great novels which were inspired by World War I. They are, All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and Across The Black Waters by Mulk Raj Anand.

Perhaps the most famous poem of that war is In Flanders Fields by a Canadian, Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 - 1918). Here is a quote from it, which is relevant to the Indian soldiers who died there too:

‘We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.’

Poppies grow on those fields now. Do those flowers represent the dead soldiers?

(Photos from Wikimedia Commons.)

Related posts:

Great soldiers never die…


Mahe - Petite France in Kerala.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Kerala politics: Confused Comrades

Can you think of an Indian being punished in India for donating blood to Indian soldiers? Sometimes the Communists do such things. They have their own logic, though people outside the organization may not comprehend it.

The Communists have been active in India for 80 years. Their professed motive of uplifting the downtrodden was, and continues to be, commendable. The people’s struggle, they call it. And India is a country with a colossal population of oppressed people – apparently an ideal ground for effectively proving the Communist doctrine.

Yet, in eight decades what has happened to the movement? It has managed to consolidate in a few isolated locations and even that position appears to be rather shaky now. Their vote share in the National elections is about 5 or 6%.

What brought about this situation? The Comrades failed to identify who ‘the people’ are and what problems they face. A fraction of organized workers do not represent the people of India; they are among the fortunate few. There is a suffering India from which the high flying leaders seem to be far removed.

One hoped that with the battering they took in the recent Parliament elections the Comrades, particularly the CPI (M), would objectively analyze the causes and take corrective steps. All their recent policies, starting with scuttling the proposal to make Jyothi Basu the Prime Minister, to the much touted Third Front and election strategies turned out to be fiascoes.

Further, in the recent months the major asset the Communists had – the conviction that they would always fight corruption and communalism – was unnecessarily compromised. A different approach and choice words, particularly in the Lavelin case which was committed to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by the Kerala High Court, would have given the Party much more credibility.

I have personally known, and in several cases genuinely respected some of the Communist leaders of yesteryears, including EMS Namboodiripad. For me it is sad to see the chaos created by the Party’s present bosses.

Instead of tackling the real problems facing the Party, the CPI (M) has reduced them to the struggle between VS Achudanandan (VS), Chief Minister of Kerala, and the State’s Party Secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. Disciplinary action has been taken against VS by demoting him from the Polit Bureau (PB). But he is allowed to continue as Chief Minister. The Party Secretary goes unscathed.

Does any one really believe that this solution would effectively solve the problems of the Party? In this process, have the Marxists lost or forgotten or buried the national perspective?

The action presents a strange juxtaposition. VS would be chairing the meetings of the Council of Ministers but he would be outranked by the Home Minister who is a Member of the PB. Who will have the final word in explaining the policies of the government to the people? The Chief Minister or the Home Minister?

A brief note on VS: I have personally suffered as a result of his ‘vettinirathal’ (scorched earth) policy in the 1990s, which saw party activists destroying agricultural crops on reclaimed lands though I have not done any reclamation. But one has to admit that, even at the age of 86, he is a fighter. He may lack finesse, but he is an icon for the party cadre. His fights against corruption have projected him as a hero.

VS was carrying the Red Flag and fighting for the Communist cause before some of the kings and kingmakers of the Party today were born. He was a victim of severe police brutality. It is said that once the authorities were about to bury him, thinking he was dead from the torture inflicted on him. He is one of the few surviving leaders from among those who formed the CPI (M) in 1964.

In 1962, during the Chinese War, VS was jailed along with other Left leaders. While in prison he donated blood for the war effort. That was against the then Party policy and, as punishment, he was demoted from the Central Committee.

Strange are the ways of some political parties.

Also see:

Kerala: Left with empty granaries