Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why apologise?

I wonder why, as a nation we are apologetic over most things. More so South Indians.  We are apologetic over our complexions, our idlis, our being Madrasi and yes, on eating rice.  There are fixtures in the minds of many that being descendents of Dravidian culture, we are short, dark complexioned and unsophisticated. And that all populace south of the Vindhyas are Madrasis, irrespective of whether they hail from the great city.
Over the years the little waves of change have created the new Dravidian, who has adopted much of the Northie culture, if only to prove himself or herself and to others that we are none the inferior. We have inculcated the mehndi ceremony and the sangeeth into our already long three day weddings. The wedding crowd do not sport the mind-blowing, vividly coloured traditional Kancheepuram silks, but they favour bling saris, the ghararas and lengha cholis, glitzy with an overkill of design and colour. The salwar kameez for instance which was exclusively the preserve of the North is here to stay in South India and this craze, fashion, or comfort garment  has trickled down to the lower echelons of society, where it is difficult to tell the mistress from the maid.
Just today a friend sent a book to me which was to be reviewed in Gym 3S. My fair complexioned,  good looking, voluptuous maid with her jil-jil salwar kameez, replete with “gold” jhumkis and a glittering bindi, opened the door. My friend’s driver bent double with his namaskaram and bade my maid “good morning” and gave her the book. “Amma had sent you this book madam.” Madam took it without a by-your-leave, flashing that million dollar smile and namaskaramed him with equal ardour. Hovering in the background aware of my simple cotton sari, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry…
And yes, removing rice from the daily menu has become another food fad for us. I find that the Gen-next have banished rice from the table and apart from the few morsels that they take if the curry served merits it, it is a strict no-no.  The Gen-Y will soon say “Rice? What’s that?” Chapattis, phulkas, parathas (never mind if they are layered with oil) have become ubiquitious in a daily diet. I have heard very lofty expressions from the younger generation who claim that they don’t cook rice in their homes and that they eat only chapattis and bread!  As if it gives them a badge of excellence for ‘graduating’ in their food habits! I love my rice and proclaim it with impunity, but my own family is not exempt from the exclusion of rice most times.
Rice to me (in small quantities) is a comfort food, in any form whether it is ven pongal, lime or tamarind rice or biriyani! It is ancient, sacred, benevolent and nourishing and is the second most eaten cereal grain in the world. I know a couple of nephews who went off carbohydrates and on a high protein (Atkins) diet and soon enough two of them developed gout, and had to face another health problem.  It’s not that I am advocating rice, as wheat grain is extremely nutritious and yes, has carbohydrates but what I’m trying to say is that you don’t discard  what you are used to in your daily diet. For God’s sake you need your carbs more so for the amount of energy expended these days, in multi-tasking. Though no one admittedly, heaps   mounds of rice on the plate as was the custom in the old days.
After a great deal of research, international dietetics and nutrition experts advise that the best way to diet is to eat the food of your region, food you are used to but in small quantities and of course exercising every day. Eating out is the order of the day, and since so much international cuisine is at your door, the  kids  look down upon simple home cooked fresh food.
It was a great experience to visit the IRRI, the International Rice Research Institute, on our visit to the Philippines some years ago. IRRI is playing a key role in helping provide solutions to some of the many problems faced by rice today. The goal of IRRI is to conserve, contribute and create rice species of the world. IRRI was established to help farmers in developing countries grow more rice on limited land with less water, less labor, and less chemical inputs, and to do so without harming the environment. It was amazing to look at the different varieties of rice laid out as exhibits.
The ancestor of rice is Gondwana’s Grass a wild weed grown about 130 million years ago! The thirteenth century Bengali poet Ramai Pandit describes more than 50 varieties of rice grown in Bengal!
So, whether you hail from the North, South, East or West, think twice before you say no to rice….and to the other factors so part of your heritage.

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