April 30, 2011

Jigarthanda, Anjappar and food reviews

If you are from the Madurai region you would be familiar with jigarthanda.
It is a form of falooda.
Jigarthanda is served in a tall glass with layers of thickened milk, rose syrup, china grass and ice cream. Most people like to drink it but some street-corer shops offer you a steel spoon with which to relish the layered contents.
On a stuffy summer's evening, this speciality of Madurai is a delight. If you are new to this city, all you need to do is to slow down at a busy junction and look for a nook that is crowded and you are sure to have located the popular jigarthanda joint.
I have sampled the stuff at different joints in Madurai and found that there are variations of it. The most recent experience was the cooler that was sold by Muslims. The ordinary jigarthanda which cost ten rupees was more like a juice while the special, priced at thirty rupees had a generous layer of semiya and a big scoop of ice-cream.
Here in our city, there is a jigarthanda outlet outside Murugan Idli Shop in Besant Nagar. I am yet to check it out. I also have an invitation from a group of entrepreneurs to sample the jigarthanda at their restaurant in K. K. Nagar.
Perhaps, a foodie should start a jigarthanda listing web site that should help us navigate the best spots in Madurai. (A Facebook group records the recipe!)
I think our city needs a restaurant review web site that is no-nonsense in content and blunt in its reviews - in addition to the many web sites, blogs and burps that foodies refer to.
More so because restaurants are opening and closing like kariveppillai in boiling oil. Many are rich in d├ęcor and low on quality of food, high on branding and average on service.
Last week, dining at an Anjappar restaurant in T. Nagar I witnessed a diner rattle the stewards and the manager. As soon as the chicken curry was served at the table, the young woman stirred it to find it contained a few thin shreds of meat. She blew a fuse. The manager tried to defend but she would have none of it.
'Serve us well or we will walk out,' she said sternly.
The couple got an extra plate of chicken curry in minutes.

April 23, 2011

Picnics on ECR

Summer picnics.
I wonder how many of us get excited about organising one and then going out with family and friends to enjoy it.
At this time of the year I get calls from friends who bank on me to suggest weekend picnic ideas. They are looking for day trips that are simple and interesting.
Interesting for children who are now on holiday.
My suggestions are often biased. Biased towards a bit of history and heritage and the environment.
No, I am not suggesting another bout of an educational exercise for kids who must have had enough of their exams and preparations for a new academic year.
But if the picnics can also be journeys of discovery then there is a plus in them!
The East Coast Road (ECR) is my favourite suggestion as it must be for many, many families.
This region offers so many little nooks to discover and journeys that can break with a picnic lunch!
You could 'discover' the Buckingham Canal from the Thiruvanmiyur point to the Marakkanam lake. Once a busy transport route, there are little vestiges of the past that may interest you. The locks are one of them. At Kelambakkam, at Muttukadu, at Thiruvidanthai . . .
Pick up a map before you set out. Cruise along the ECR when you get close to each of these spots. Park your car and walk across to the edge of the Canal. There are always surprises.
If you start early in the day you will find a host of birds at the Kelambakkam point. You may even see people busy working on a few salt pans in this area.
At Muttukadu, walk past the Boating Place of TN Tourism, alongside the Canal and you will get a nice view of the locks. When the Indian boats sailed here and the wind died down (which was often) the boat-hands would walk along either bank and pull the boat, using ropes tied to it, doing so till the wind picked up again!
Well, this is one of the many suggestions for a summer holiday day trip.
Yes, it is not meant for easy-go picnickers.
A weekend that is just a little different out in the open is what you will remember.

April 16, 2011

TN Elections: Educated go out to vote

There was a positive feature to Elections 2011 in the two constituencies I chose to focus on  Voting Day, April 13.

Many young people stood in the queue to cast their ballot. As did many ‘upwardly mobile’ people.

This is perhaps the first time in many, many years that I have witnessed this trend at the polling booths in the Mylapore-Adyar neighbourhoods.

Though the neighboruhoods now fall under two constituencies since a new one called Velachery was carved out and Adyar now comes under it, the character and colour of these areas is pretty much common.

I chose not to be in the queue at 8 a.m. but to catch up with the news. And when I did walk out at 11 a.m. and walked past two polling booths, there were at least 30 to 50 people at each polling station. Working couples in their 40s, young professionals, senior citizens and many women.

Many people came in their latest cars, cursed the heat but chose to stand in the queue though some who decided they were VIPs walked past the police to the booth and were challenged by seniors in the queue. “This is one day when all of us are equal!” piped up one old man.

The trend was quite similar is many places. People seemed determined to vote.

But as the first round of voting trends came out it was evident that less than 70% of the electorate in the neighbourhood had cast their ballot. So while the turnout of the educated and the well-off was positive, there were many people who were partying in Bangalore or watching television at home or simply could not be bothered because they had not received the Voter Slip at the doorstep.

There were many hiccups. Names not listed in the electoral rolls. Pictures missing in the rolls. Mix-ups in booth numbering. Lazy poll officials. Officials who discouraged you from opting for 49(O). And yet, I got to know that many people made an effort to negotiate these hiccups. Or gave up after an argument.

The new MLAs will be known only a month later. If you start to engage with him or her from then on, you will be going beyond merely voting.

April 09, 2011

T N Elections: beyond the vote

In the heart of Colachel, which hugs the sea in Kanyakumari district, a cavalcade of union minister and Congress (I) leader, G. K. Vasan grinds to a stop at a traffic junction for an impromptu election speech.
The act takes place in the searing April heat for fifteen minutes but all those who have gathered and are passing by stop to listen and then disperse as the caravan heads to Nagercoil.
In his simple office in Colachel,  Fr. J. Joseph sits back and talks about the involvement of the Christian community in politics and in state elections. Midway, he picks up a spiral-bound file and says, "This has all the information that empowers our people."
The Catholic priest, a Vicar Forane who oversees six parish units in this region refers to a conscious effort by the Church and the community leaders to database all the schemes and projects due to this community which enables people to address politicians and officials and engage them.
Caste, religion and community continues to play a huge role in electoral politics and it shows in the 2011 state elections.
So what role do you play in your constituency?
In a few days, the state goes to the polls. On April 13.
And we will have the opportunity to exercise what is perhaps the biggest gift of democracy.
How many of us will really take the trouble to cast the ballot?
How many of us have given some time and thought to the election process? Who are the candidates? What do they stand for? Who really deserves to be supported? Or do we need to demonstrate our disapproval?
I am a tad unhappy with the overly tight regulations that the Election Commission has brought to bear on the campaigns. There are no posters around that will help us to put a face to a name. To know who the candidates are. There are no spaces where candidates and parties can post their agendas and promises and hang their symbols.
Elections are celebrations too. And campaigns need to communicate.
And while civil society is jumping up to hold fasts and take part in candlelight processions for a Hazare, it does not even contemplate hosting community meets for candidates in the fray and for residents in the local constituency.
This is the time for small and active groups to engage with the candidates in a constituency. And to build systems that will be in place when a new legislator is elected to represent you and me so that the engagement moves forward in the days to come.

April 02, 2011

TN Elections 2011: Meet the Candidates

You organise a New Year party in your apartment complex.
You do your two-bit for a Go Green campaign in your office. You join the walk on the Marina for your Rotary Club's anti-obesity drive.
How about doing your two-bit during this election?
Look around you and you will find an opportunity you should not miss.
There is positive-ness in the air.
Small groups of people are coming together to host face-to-face meetings with the candidates who are seeking your votes and promising you a few good things, a few hollow things and a few tall things.
These people, who live in your neighbourhood are creating a platform. A space where candidates and voters can meet in a less sticky atmosphere. Away from the heat of a campaign.
These are the platforms where you and I can engage with the men and women who want to be our reps.
You can listen to what they have to say and make decisions, collaborate, persuade and challenge.
All this can be done in a civil manner.
You can even help make them raise issues and adopt those which your community feels are important.
The campaign slogans have already become stale. Scams, dynastic rule, price rise, goondagiri. . .yes these are issues at one level. But candidates hardly talk about constituency-level issues.
Traffic management. Environment degradation. Plans for kuppams and slums. Budgets for local civic projects. Law and order.
This is where you come in. You and your community will know these better than the candidates. Raise them. Push them. Or try to understand them.
Hopefully, these meetings will not end with the campaigns. They must be regular and make the new MLA accountable.
That process starts now.