Origin of the suffix ‘-gate’

Those who have been following the news closely know by now that ‘Coalgate’ has nothing to do with the toothpaste. In the same way, Porngate does not refer to a gate which opens into a place where porn is legally available.


The usage of gate implies that it is synonymous with a scam. These days it could mean any scam, irrespective of the magnitude. But when it was first used, it was meant to indicate an episode in American politics that had grave repercussions.


The suffix owes its origin to the Watergate scandal in 1972 in the United States, which led to the ouster of that nation’s president. Watergate was the name of an office complex in Washington DC. It headquartered the Democratic National Committee.


The then president Richard Nixon was running for re-election. The Republican Party’s committee to re-elect the president had hired five men to break into the Democratic Party office in the Watergate complex. These men were arrested and indicted for conspiracy, burglary and violation of federal wiretapping laws. This proved to be just the beginning of the exposure of Nixon’s illegal acts, which eventually cost him his presidency.


In the elections, Nixon defeated his Democratic opponent George McGovern to return to power, but the investigations that followed the Watergate break-in pulled him down. It was revealed that Nixon’s staff had commissioned and executed illegal acts, and were guilty of campaignfraud, political espionage and sabotage, break-ins, improper tax audits and unauthorised wiretapping. The Washington Post carried a spate of articles on the investigations and attributed them to an anonymous source they called Deep Throat.


After two years of investigation, Nixon and his aides were implicated. Nixon resigned in August 1974, the only US president to resign from office.From then on the suffix gate has been appended to scams and scandals. It was used by the National Lampoon magazine in 1973 for a satirical story about an imagined Russian scandal, which the writer called Volgagate


Nixon’s former speech writer William Safire is said to have popularised the use of -gate. Safire was also a New York Times columnist, grammarian and lexicographer, and used the suffix indiscriminately in his columns for all scandals large and frivolous. Some suspect that in doing so, Safire wanted to make all scandals sound as big as Watergate. In the process, he aimed at restoring Nixon’s image. His earliest use of -gate was in 1974 when he wrote of Vietgate, a proposed pardon of the Watergate criminals and Vietnam War draft dodgers. In a 1996 magazine piece, Noam Cohen assembled 20 -gates coined by Safire. Cohen wrote that Safire might have been “rehabilitating Nixon by relentlessly tarring his successors with the same rhetorical brush—diminished guilt by association.”


Writer and journalist Eric Alterman in his book Sound and Fury: The Making of Punditocracy, claims that Safire admitted to him to the intention of popularising – gate. As Alterman puts it, “Psychologically, he may have been seeking to minimise the relative importance of the crimes committed by his former boss with this silliness.”


Without doubt, Safire has succeeded. Nearly 40 years later, in India we continue to use -gate as shorthand for political scandals: Porngate for the incident where Karnataka MLAs were caught on camera watching sex videos while the assembly was in session. We also use it for scandals of bigger magnitude like with Coalgate, where a Comptroller and Auditor-General report has blamed the UPA government for not auctioning coal and causing losses of up to Rs 10.7 lakh crore to the exchequer.



Girisha Unbound

The differently abled boy, India’s first London Paralympics medal-winner, realised his sporting prowess when he jumped over a barbed wire fence to escape a stick-wielding father.


It was a desperate bid to escape a thrashing by his father that helped Paralympics silver medallist H N Girisha discover that he could jump really high. Since he had a deformity in his leg, his parents were overprotective and wouldn’t let him play. But the naughty boy would defy them, spending most of his time playing in the fields with his friends. One day, when he was six, his father spotted him playing, and reached for a stick to spank him. Young Girisha started running, the father in hot pursuit. Before he knew it, the boy found himself facing the barbed wire at the edge of the field. To his father’s shock, instead of stopping, his son leapt right.


“Girisha tells us that the incident changed his life. After this one jump he realised his strength was high jump, and he has been practising since that day,” his mother Jayamma told Talk. Despite his disability, Girisha would easily jump over wires and ropes, to the amazement of his playmates, none of whom could match him. “He used to tie a rope in the courtyard and jump over it. He often dragged his younger brother Satish along and ask him to do similar jumps. Satish would fall, and then the two would end up fighting,” recalls Jayamma with amusement.


Girisha’s mother recalls how her first son’s birth brought a mix of joy and sorrow. “His father’s brother has only daughters, our eldest too is a daughter. While we were happy to finally have a son, we were saddened to find he was deformed,” she says.


The concerned family wouldn’t let him play or run around fearing he would hurt himself. But the boy was adamant, and went on to make hisfamily proud by bringing India its first medal at London Paralympics by winning the high jump silver in a career-best performance.


Born into an impoverished farm labourer’s family, Girisha Hosanagara Nagarajegowda studied at a school in his village Hosanagara in Hassan district. Jayamma says the credit for his success ought to go to his teachers, who encouraged him and took sent him to take part in sports meets, where he had to compete with able-bodied participants. “His teachers never discriminated against him. From the fourth standard onwards, they have been taking him for sports events, which he kept winning, at the district and state level. While we as parents were scared that he would get hurt, his teachers never held him back,” she says.


When Girisha joined college, he represented Mysore University. His brother Satish recalls an occasion when Girisha faced opposition from his competitors who were no match for him. “At a university event, there some competitors said that he should compete only at meets held for the disabled. But the university backed Girisha and he continued to represent it and win medals,” Satish says.


According to Satish, it was his brother’s dream to compete in the Olympics, but its eligibility criteria did not allow him to do so. Girisha didn’t qualify for the Beijing Paralympics, and had since set his eyes on London, says Satish.


His family’s money worries meant he couldn’t focus on sports full-time, and was forced to take up a job. Between 2008 and 2010, he underwent BPO and soft skills training at Samarthana, an NGOthat works with the differently abled. He then took up a job with ING Vysya Bank, which eventually gave him a sponsorship of Rs 80,000 so he could make it to the Paralympics qualifying round in Kuwait. Not one to disappoint, Girisha returned with a gold medal.


Paralympics he had to keep away from work, but couldn’t get more than two months’ leave. So he had to give up his job to train full-time under Evgeny Nikitin, a Ukrainian trainer employed with Sports Authority of India’s South Centre in Bangalore, and national-record holding high-jumper Sahana Kumari.


Speaking to the media, Girisha’s father Nagarajegowda recalled how when the doctor told him his son needed surgery to correct his deformity, he had two emotions: fear and worry. He refused to get Girisha operated upon because he couldn’t afford it, and also because he didn’t what would happen to him after the surgery. The emotional father had said, “I never expected my son could do this. Now I know I made a huge mistake. Look at him, he has made us proud.”


You can read the story also ahttp://talkmag.in/cms/news/sports/item/159-girisha-unbound

Pop Fiction and Mediocrity

The most startling thing about ‘mass’ Indian English fiction is not that it’s mediocre, but that the very people who write and promote it also find it so.



While regional Indian literature boasts a wild and richly sordid tradition filled with gun-toting detectives, voluptuous spies and lovelorn ghosts, Indian English writing has very little to offer in comparison.


Instead, what it does offer for the most part is a bland affair called ‘popular fiction’. Says Mita Kapur, founder of literary agency Siyahi, “We still have to learn how to churn out pulp. There are no Indian pulp fiction writers in English.”


Pop fiction books, or ‘mass market’ books, are a mixed bag of college romances, cubicle battles and the odd mythology-inspired thriller. A good majority deal with urban relationships or life at the IITs and management schools, their plots clearly implying that they are aimed at the new English reader living in a metro with a corporate job (or aspiring to one), and looking for stories he can relate to.


The strategy has worked and sales have broken all records. Now, every publisher wants a share in the profits and is promoting these books usually priced between Rs 100 to 150.


Writers like Ravinder Singh, who start with publishers like Srishti, who seem to publish almost everything that goes to them, have now been picked up by Penguin for their imprint Metro Reads.


There is no doubt these books are selling, but a consensus among people in the publishing business is that most titles are mediocre. But what’s surprising, as Talk learned, is that even enthusiastic promoters of this genre share that view.


Ahmed Faiyaz, founder of Bangalore-based Grey Oak Westland Publishers, which has released several such titles, is candid in his assessment of the genre his imprint specialises in. “It appears there’s a rat race in the publishing industry which is bringing to fore heaps of mediocre paperbacks. There is an unprecedented focus by even the biggest names to churn out these ‘affordable bestsellers’. When there is a disproportionate focus on sales, the quality of the book definitely suffers,” he says.


Faiyaz, who has also authored a couple of titles along these lines (Love, Life & All That Jazz… and Another Chance) firmly believes the majority of what gets published is sub-standard in terms of plot, quality of writing and editing.


Faiyaz suggests that these books continue to sell for the same reason bad movies become hits. “If Housefull or Singham are blockbusters, it’s because they are affordable entertainment options to a mainstream audience who prefer logic-defying entertainment. Many people in India need a break from their difficult and monotonous lives, and these books give them a breather. They’re accessible, affordable and written in a language ;they’re used to speaking in. The writing is not necessarily good, but it works with the target audience,” he says.


Samit Basu, who has written well-received sci-fi and fantasy books like Turbulence and The Simoqin Prophecies, too resorts to a movie analogy to explain the success of badly written books. “I find the most commercially successful Bollywood movies of the last few years unwatchable, despite being a great lover of lowbrow material, action and comedy in general. It’s an issue of poor quality, not the nature or subject of the story being told,” he says. He is optimistic that over the years the writing will improve.


Tuhin A Sinha’s books That Thing Called Love, and The Edge of Desire have been bestsellers. Yet, the writer today laments that the boom has led to a decline in quality.


“A lot of people have turned authors just for the kick of being called authors. Similarly new publishers who don’t know a thing about editing have come up. Most of these books make for good display on  Facebook walls rather than on book shelves,” he says.


Siyahi’s Mita, who has been a literary agent for both literary writers and popular fiction writers, feels new writers and publishers lack patience. “Instead of improving their writing and evolving as writers, they want to write quickly and get published quickly. The publishers too are looking at immediate sales,” she says.


She vouches for many good editors, but also says bad editors get away with shoddy work. Many mediocre authors she rejects manage to get published later, and send her copies of their books. “It was their way of making a point and saying that I am a first class bitch!” she told Talk.


However, she admits to enjoying reading popular fiction. “I don’t want to act like a pseudo-intellectual and say that I only read literary fiction. As a reader, I enjoy mass market books as well. Some of the writing is good and the plots are racy and gripping,” she says.


Tuhin feels the new English-language reader is not discerning. Mita though, takes a big picture view and blames the readers’ consumerist impulses. “We live in a world that believes in use and throw. People want a quick two-hour read,” she says.


She is afraid the attitude of the publishers may mar the image of the Indian publishing industry globally. “We should not compromise on standards. Instead of being myopic, Indian English publishing should step back and take a long, hard look at itself.”


What is disconcerting is the conservative, rightwing nature of such novels. Amish Tripathi’s Meluha series and Ashwin Sanghi’s Chanakya’s Chant are all blatantly repackaging Hindu myths. This is dangerous. These novels are like FMCG products. Just like higher consumption of potato chips does not mean as a society we are eating better, the record sales of these novels does not mean we as a society are reading better. Like junk food, this trend reflects urban lifestyles.”

– S Anand, publisher of the independent imprint Navayana, who considers himself lucky if a book he publishes sells 3,000 copies a year

What pop?

Talk asked writer Jeet Thayil whose book Narcopolis has been long listed for Man Booker Prize 2012, what he thought of popular fiction in India.

His reply: “I don’t think of it at all”


You can also read the artcile at http://talkmag.in/cms/culture/books/item/145-let-them-read-crap

Origin of the word ‘Guru’

From an equal of gods to the expert next door

I once visited a house in a remote village. The entrance had a picture of a woman with bobbed hair. She wore a sari with a sleeveless blouse. There was a garland around the picture and vermillion was smeared on it. When I wondered aloud who she was, the matriarch of the house said, “She is our guru.” The word only confused me. ‘Guru’ is now used to denote so many kinds of people. The woman could be a saint, a political leader or even an expert in a certain subject. The matriarch added, “She is my sons’ teacher. She taught them in school. My sons owe everything to her. So we worship her picture every Guru Poornima.”


Here in a village, ‘guru’ still meant a teacher or mentor. Unaffected by modern English usage, for the family, the word had retained its ageold meaning. ‘Guru’ in Sanskrit means heavy or weighty. It could also translate into ‘someone who is knowledgeable’, perhaps the reason it was used to describe a teacher. ‘Guru’ is also used for the planet Jupiter, said to be the heaviest of the planets. In mythology, Brihaspati or Jupiter is considered the supreme teacher, or the Guru of the Gods.



The Advayataraka Upanishad splits the word into two to explain its meaning. It says that the syllable ‘gu’ stands for darkness and ‘ru’ for the one who dispels it. So, the one who has the power to remove darkness is a ‘guru.’ The Skanda Purana, the largest of the puranic texts, says “Guru Brahmaa Gurur Vishnu, Gurur Devo Maheswara, Gurur Sakshat Param Brahma, Tasmai Shri Guruve Namaha.” These lines hold the guru in a position equal to that of the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe.


This devotion for the guru prevailed across castes and creeds in ancient India. The mystic poet Kabir writes, “Guru Govind donokhade, Kaake lagoon paaye. Balihari guru aapne, Govind diyo bataaye.” (If my guru and God were to stand before me, who should I bow to first? Well, I choose my teacher because it is he who introduced God to me’).


A guru is not necessarily restricted to a teacher in childhood, but one you can meet at any point in your life. In that sense, the word refers to anyone who guides and inspires. In the Mahabharatha, though Dronacharya was Arjuna’s guru in childhood, it is Krishna who becomes his guru on the battlefield. He not only drives Arjuna’s chariot in Kurukshetra, but also boosts his morale and inspires him. Among Kannadigas in Bangalore, ‘guru’ is even used to address a friend.


Starting in the middle of the 20th century, ‘guru’ is being used in English for both mentor and expert. In 1966, the word was similarly used in Canadian English. Some attribute this usage to communications theorist Marshall McLuhan. It gained popularity in the 1990s when it was used for computer experts. We now hear about gurus in every walk of life (management guru, fashion guru and even love guru). The word is used so loosely that it is considered part of slang.


This article is published in TALK magazine, in my column Keywords. You can read it at http://talkmag.in/cms/columns/keywords/item/143-guru

Why is Organic Food expensive?

Pushed by big retail and peddled by celebrities, organic food—safe, good, wholesome stuff that ought to be within the reach of everyone—is today a lifestyle fad. Why is chemical-free produce so fashionable, and so expensive?


There’s no escaping it. Organic is everywhere these days—the papers are full of nutrition experts singing hallelujahs to organic food, on TV there’s a celebrity passionately recommending organic as a ‘way of life’, and just about every other corporate type you encounter harbours the dream of taking up organic farming some day.

The big retail chains have their dedicated shelves for organic food, and some of the biggest corporate houses are considering ‘getting into’ the organic business in a big way.TV commercials like the one for Sahara Q scare you with visuals of hospital beds and wheel chairs, presumably the fate that awaits you if you are still refusing to go organic.

True, by now we have all heard enough horror stories to know that chemical fertilisers and pesticides are bad for us, and nature knows best when it comes to growing food. But why then is ‘organic’ less food and more style statement, and importantly, why is it so expensive that even a leading fashion guru (read on) says he can’t afford it? Is safe food and good health the prerogative of the superrich?Why is this pesticide-free food unaffordable and unavailable to most people in the country?

pic courtesy: Krishna Prasad

Pay for the frills


Not surprisingly, consumers have to shell out more for organic food for the same reason they do so for fashion labels: branding andpackaging. According to marketing expert Harish Bijoor, organic produce is niche, and “whatever is niche is expensive, and whatever is expensive is chic.” The very definition of chic is that it should differentiate itself from mass products. Organic food fits the bill, not just because it tastes and looks different from those produced using chemical methods, but also because of its celebrity quotient. Bijoor points out that companies promoting organic produce have packaged and branded them well, which allows them to charge a premium.

Companies that market organic food claim that packaging has to do more with competition than profit margins. “We need to package well to meet international standards and compete with countries like Germany,which is in No 1 in export. In the domestic market, conventional food is packaged well and we have to compete with them too,” says Mukesh Gupta, executive director of Morarka Organic Foods Pvt Ltd, which owns popular organic brands like Down to Earth and Back to Basics. He admits that organic products are branded as lifestyle products, but insists that his company’s products are value for money.

The branding-packaging factor is also affecting small-scale producers of organic food. G Krishna Prasad, director of farmer’s group Sahaja Samruddha, says, “Our farmer’s group sells a particular kind of rice for Rs 40 a kg. We supply the same grains to the retail chains too. The same product is packed well and sold for Rs 65 a kg. Of this, only Rs 30 goes to the farmer. When we want to sell our produce in malls, they demand a 40 per cent commission.”

N Balasubramanian, CEO of Sresta Natural Bioproducts Private Limited, which owns the organic food brand 24 Letter Mantra, blames the retail outlets as well for the higher prices. “Since organic food is a new category, retailers expect higher margins compared to conventional products,” he says.


Consumers who like it pricey


Krishna Prasad holds the loose purse-strings of its well-off consumers equally responsible for the high pricing of organic food. “When the products are reasonably priced, people don’t appreciate it. So, we are forced to brand them and sell,” he says.

Prasad has been selling traditional rice varieties long before the organic movement gained momentum. When he first attempted to sell the Navara and Kari rice varieties years ago, there weren’t many takers. Navara rice is traditionally gifted to young brides in Andhra by their mothers. Prasad tested the rice in the lab and found it rich in iron, so he branded it as ‘rice for pregnant women’. Sales shot up. He reveals another of his secrets, behind his bestselling ‘diabetics’ rice.’ “Kari rice has a bran layer, which is nothing but digestible fibre. People knew about its benefits in the olden days too, but I had to call it ‘diabetics’ rice’ for city-dwellers to accept it.

Kavitha Kuruganti, national convenor of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), agrees that branding has driven up the price of organic foodstuff.“These days we want everything branded.This kind of marketing has to change,” she says.

Fashion choreographer Prasad Bidappa believes people are willing to spend more on organic food because they consider it fashionable.“When someone reads of a New Yorkbased dietician talk of organic food, they go for it. Hollywood and celebrities like Madonna have popularised the concept of organic food,” he says

Bidappa does not believe in ‘going organic’ simply because he finds it too expensive.“It is priced almost two and a half times more than the regular food. It is not viable,”he says.

The certification facto

Krishna Prasad holds the loose purse-strings of its well-off consumers equally responsible for the high pricing of organic food. “When the products are reasonably priced, people don’t appreciate it. So, we are forced to brand them and sell,” he says.

Fashion choreographer Prasad Bidappa believes people are willing to spend more on organic food because they consider it fashionable. “When someone reads of a New Yorkbased dietician talk of organic food, they go for it. Hollywood and celebrities like Madonna have popularised the concept of organic food,” he says.

Bidappa does not believe in ‘going organic’ simply because he finds it too expensive.“It is priced almost two and a half times more than the regular food. It is not viable,” he says.

Most organic farming done in India is done keeping export in mind. The products are targeted at the European market, where there is a high level of awareness about organic food,and an equally high demand. The catch is that the EU is stringent with quality control, and insists specific types of certification on produce it imports from India. “When certification comes into the picture, the prices escalate,” explains Kavitha.

Prasad of Sahaja Samruddha, who works with traditional farmers, finds the demands of EU-style bureaucracy—with its accompanying tribe of ‘experts’ and ‘consultants’ cumbersome enough to call the certification regime “a mafia.”

This certification is very expensive and a lengthy procedure with a lot of paper-work. The cost is automatically passed on to the consumer. This EU style of certification should not be applied to food for the domestic market,” he complains.

Vijay Grover, the founder of Bangalore Organic Store, testifies to the price difference caused by certification. “Our store keeps both branded certified produces and also produce from local farmers. The certified ones are definitely more expensive,” he says.

Certifying agencies say certification is a must only if the produce is to be exported to Europe, Japan or US. “There is no law in India that asks for certification if the produce is to be sold in the domestic market,” says Vasudeva, quality manager at IMO Control,an international quality assurance and certifying company for agricultural produce. However, most high-end branded organic produce in the Indian market does have expensive international certification.

Vasudeva suggests that the certification helps companies build a brand image and give assurance to the people. “When the consumer sees the certification, they are convinced that the product is genuine,” he says. He says that the cost of certification is about two percent of the total turnover, which is passed on to the consumers. However, he admits that it is not viable for small farmers, or even those who have 10 acres of farm land.

Sresta CEO Balasubramanian agrees that certification adds on to the cost. “Farm and production methods must comply with certain standards, which may require the modification of facilities. Employees must be hired to maintain the quality and keep the product ready for inspection at any time,” he says

Recently, yielding to agitations by organic farmer’s groups, the central government has recognised the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), a cheaper form of certification. Kavitha points out that under this system, a group of farmers is certified collectively, and instead of an external agency keeping an eye on the farms, the checks are kept by the farmers themselves. In addition, there are random checks by a third party too. “If any one farmer is found to be cheating, the certification for the entire group is cancelled. So the farmers make sure that they and their counterparts are sincere,” she says.


 No state support


Karnataka was the first state to come up with an Organic Farming Policy which sought to put farmers’ interest first. The policy has since been deemed a failure. The BJP government then renamed it the Amruta Bhoomi Project, but it never really took off. Last year, the government announced a budget of Rs 206 crore to promote organic farming in the state, but not a paisa was released. This year, Rs 200 crore has been allotted again; it has to be seen if anything will come of it.

Critics like Prasad say that the government is only interested in boosting revenueearning export of organic produce rather than encouraging local farmers who cater to the domestic market. Further, he points out how many schemes that aresupposedly meant to help the farmer actually end up benefiting the big retail chains. He recalls a scheme by the horticulture department, where Rs one crore loan was offered to “promote organic farming”. “I went there, but they asked for something like a guarantee of Rs 50 lakh, which our farmers could not provide. I went back after six months and asked who have taken the loan. They revealed the names of some big retail chains run by MNCs,” he says

With no subsidy from the government, organic farmers find it difficult to match the prices of the produce from chemical farms. “The government gives subsidy on seeds, urea and pesticides to farmers using chemical methods. Their yield too is much higher. At the most, what we get is a supply of vermicompost once in a year.” He further points out that organic farmers do not even get loans easily, unlike conventional farmers, all of which add to the cost factor, and discourage those who want to take up organic farming.


Transport and labour


Organic farmers Talk spoke to recall that in the initial years of shifting to this method, the yields were lower than of conventional farming.It takes two to three years for the soil to regain the nutrients it has lost due to chemical methods.While the low yields put pressure on the farmers to mark up their prices, transport costs further add to it, owing to the smaller quantities they produce.

It takes two to three years for the soil to regain the nutrients it has lost due to chemical methods.While the low yields put pressure on the farmers to mark up their prices, transport costs further add to it, owing to the smaller quantities they produce.

Organic at regular prices

Manorama’s organisation runs a shop called Vaanya in Sirsi in Uttar Kannada district.Surprisingly, they manage to sell organic produce at market rates.Manorama says this is partly because they are selling at a lower margin, given that they are trying to promote the concept, and they don’t incur the heavy transportcharges a city like Bangalore pays for its farm produce.

Kavitha suggests we buy organic produce from local farmers, and not from big stores and brands. “We could go to farmer markets and buy directly. Here the costs are higher by only 10-15 per cent when compared to regular produce. It is a win-win situation for both the consumer and the cultivator,” she says.

Grover of Bangalore Organic Store echoes her views, and insists that many customers who have tried organic products from local farms keep away from the branded ones. “They try the local ones and if they find it the same,they buy again. They buy it purely on trust,” he says.

IMO Control’s Vasudeva too agrees that one needn’t worry about certification if there’s a rapport between the seller and the buyer. “If there is a neighbourhood farmer or farmer’s organisation you trust, you can buy it from him at a lower price.”

s origin might have been as an international fad, but today there is a general consensus that organic food is good for you, and the environment. And for farmers who give up conventional farming in favour of less lucrative organic, a helping hand from urban consumers would be  welcome.



The origin of the word ‘Exodus’

When a large group of people leave a place suddenly—the way the North Easterners left Bangalore last week-we use the word ‘exodus’. It’s a word with a more storied past thanmost—and not just in terms of Biblical associations, and a history well worth revisiting.


The word was originally ‘exodos’ in Greek. It comes from the two Greek words, exo, meaning ‘out’ and hodos meaning ‘way’. Exodos became ‘exodus’in Latin and was passed on to English.


Early Greek theatre also has a part called exodos. It was the last part of a tragic play when the final action took place and the deity intervened. The word gained popularity when the Jewish holy book Torah (also the Greek Old Testament in the Christian Bible) was translated into Greek from Hebrew and Aramaic around 300 BC, and named the Septuagint. The translators named the second book of the Torah ‘Exodos’, based on the main event in the book, which is the departure of the Israelites from Egypt.


According to the Book of Exodus, the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and tormented.They prayed to their God to get them out of Egypt. It is then that God sent Moses to lead them. Ten deadly plagues affected Egypt, after which the pharaoh had to relent and let Moses take the people out of the country.


When the people reached the Red Sea, Moses held his staff over the waters and the sea divided into two walls of water, letting the people pass through it.The pharaoh’s soldiers had followed them with the intention of capturing them and taking them back to Egypt.


But after the Israelites had crossed the sea, the waters fell back, drowning the soldiers. The Israelites had got out of Egypt and were free from slavery. This story plays a central role in Judaism, and it is in memory of it that the Jews celebrate the festival of Passover. After entering the English language, for several centuries ‘Exodus’ was used as a proper noun to denote the book which popularised it.In the early 17th century however,it became a common noun.It then came to be used to denote people undertaking a journey to escape a hostile environment.


After World War II, many Jews in Germany and Austria were living in fear and in inhuman conditions. Many of them sneaked out and escaped to Palestine. In 1947, over 4,500 Jews boarded a ship to go to Palestine. This ship was called SS Exodus.


At that time, the British were responsible for the administration of Palestine and seized the ship, deporting the Jews back to Europe. SS Exodus was the largest ever ship of illegal Jewish immigrants, and brought international attention to the plight of Jewish refugees. The next year, in 1948, the state of Israel was created and thousands of Jews migrated from Europe to Israel.


The word, which is so intimately associated with Jewish history, has become such an integral part of the English language that we use it to describe people fleeing from natural or manmade calamities everywhere.

The origin of the word ‘Biryani.’

There is no Eid without biryani, and wherever there is biryani there is Eid (festivity). The word biryani has its origins to the Persian word ‘birian’ which means frying before cooking. It entered the Oxford English dictionary in 1932, where it is described as an Indian dish made with highly seasoned rice and meat, fish, or vegetables.


There are various theories about the origin of biryani. While some believe that the Mughal cooks invented it, some others believe that the Arab merchants brought the dish to India. Lizzie Collingham in her book Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, says that the Persian dish pilau was transformed into biryani in India. Akbar, who is known to have merged Indian culture with Persian traditions, extended this process of synthesis to his kitchen as well. The Persians marinated meat in curd. The Mughal cooks added spices, almonds, garlic and onions to the curd to make a thick coating on the meat. They then cooked the meat briefly and poured it into a pot. Like the Persians who partially cooked rice for pilau, the Mughal cooks did the same and added the rice to the meat. Saffron soaked in milk was added for the colour and aroma. It was then cooked like the pilau with coal on the lid and below. The resultant biryani was spicier and more aromatic. The Ain-i-Akbari, a chronicle of Akbar’s time too talks of the tweaking of Persian dishes to include Indian flavours.


Spanish traveler Sebestain Manrique in his travelogue describes the food sold in the markets in Lahore in 1641. He says, “Among these dishes the principal and most substantial were the aromatic Mongol bringes (biryanis) and Persian pilaus of different hues.”


Aurangzeb too was a great lover of biryani and sought out the best cooks. He once asked his son to send Sulaiman, who cooked biryani to work in the imperial kitchens. When his son refused, a frustrated Aurangzeb asked his son to send Sulaiman’s pupil who was as skilled as him.


With the expansion of the Mughal Empire the biryani too reached newer regions and took newer forms. It became the spicier Hyderabadi biryani in the court of the Nizams. When the British deposed the Nawab of Lucknow Wajid Ali Khan to Kolkata, he was unable to meet the meat expenses. His cooks added potatoes to the biryani. Till this day, the biryani in Kolkata has potatoes. The Hindu bookkeepers of the Muslim rulers made a vegetarian biryani and called it Tahiri biryani.


There are also theories that dishes like the biryani existed even before the time of Mughals. 11th century Persian traveler Al-biruni in his Takht-Al-Hind describes Indian dishes which are very similar to the biryani. Some scholars argue that the Arab merchants first brought the dish to the Malabar Coast. Perhaps that’s why the Kerala biryani tastes different from the Mughlai biryani. Some texts mention that the Tamils made a dish like biryani called Oon Sor in 2AD to feed the military. It was made with rice, ghee, turmeric, pepper and bay leaf.


With time the biryani has been evolving. These days we have the readymade biryani mix where one has to simply add the rice and meat for a hassle free biryani. The microwave ovens too come with a biryani option in their auto-cook menus, where one has to simply add all the ingredients in a dish and keep it in the oven. Perhaps, the evolving nature of the biryani has made it so popular that we don’t mind eating an Andhra biryani on a plantain leaf or a home-delivered biryani in a paper box.



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