July 05, 2020
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Illustration by Manjul
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When Khaja Went Geo Hopping

The Khaja is the fairytale of the godly kitchen, a happily-ever-after to the satvik prasad of Jagannath. As one who appreciated the sweetmeat associated with the Puri god, it seemed that a geographical identification (GI) tag for those deep-fried fritters dunked in sugar syrup implied a reprehensible frivolity. It is recorded in the Swatwalipi; an offering to the gods at the 12th century shrine, or as part of the chappan bhog. But this great culinary performance failed to engage the modern, geo-political palate. The Puri Khaja lost its claim to the GI status to Bihar, which argued it was the Buddha who tasted the multi-layered Silao savoury and called it “Kha Ja”. There’s a quiet sadness that Odisha allowed Bihar to take a gastronomic licence away, much as Bengal did with the rosogolla.

Viral Cop Threads

Sense Venam, Sensitivity Venam, Sensibility Venam! This is classic Mammootty, from The King, now reproduced on the Kerala Police Facebook page as an answer to how to identify a fake post. Or take this rip­oste for an invite to join the “underworld”—a meme featuring Mohanlal, screaming “Vo… venda” (No, thanks). Well, men in k haki are not known for their wit but that is perhaps what sets the force from down south apart; their Facebook page more popular than NYPD’s with more than a million likes because of these raw, robust rib-ticklers. The stocks soared after Kerala Police sel­ected five from their ranks last summer to manage the account, which then was getting at best 100 views for a post. A meme advising people on the Nipah virus set the traction. And of course there’s also the agony aunt advice for the 20-somethings on love and marriage.

Patient Python

Never leave a snake wounded. So goes an old Assamese saying. Get it treated, we would say. That’s what vets at the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University did when foresters brought an injured five-and-half-feet Indian rock python. The poor reptile was out sunning this winter when a lawnmower’s blades caught it in cold blood—nicked the dorsum, causing a laceration 15-cm-long. The serpent was etherised with Sevoflurane, a gaseous, potent, safe and fast-acting anaesthetic, and a rare surgery was performed. The wound was cleaned, perforated muscles were sutured layer by layer and the skin was apposed in a two-and-half-hour-long procedure. The patient was discharged after 10 days. The hiss is back in the forests of Ponganamkadu in Thrissur.

Judge Anti-Saas-Bahu

Your Pakistani visa may get rejected the nth time but no one has henceforth been able to check the untrammeled entry of our saas-bahus into the zenana of our inhospitable neighbours. Not that they watch the soaps for the drama; these are popular for the ensemble: the over-the-top jewellery of the actresses, make-up and expensive clothes. Well, the terrestrial trespassing is seen with disdain by the mullahs and another powerful man—Pakistani chief justice Saqib Nisar. The country’s Supreme Court recently banned all Indian content from Pakistani TV channels, saying it “damages our culture”. The verdict follows a similar ban by the broadcasting regulator in 2016 on television and FM radio channels, which was later reinstated. So much for neighbourly bonhomie, the culture vultures are at it again.

Dear Croc, Rest In Peace

Anyone would shed real tears when a leg or an arm is caught between a crocodile’s jaws; a bite force more brutal than an indus­trial sledgehammer’s pounding. The jungle aphorism turned on its head when a 130-year-old, three-metre-long crocodile in a Chhattisgarh village died of natural causes. The whole of Bawamohatra turned up for the burial of their bel­o­ved, friendly neighbourhood Gangaram, carrying him on a tractor decked with garlands. He never displayed his crocodilian instincts on humans during his lifetime, and villagers say kids could swim around him without fear. Gangaram was worshipped, would eat rice and dal served as offering. And all because of this gentle croc (forgive the oxymoron) the sleepy village is known far and wide as magarmachhawala gaon.

A Firestarting Footnote

What has Billy Joel’s iconic We Didn’t Start the Fire got to do with Indian courts and honourable judges, you may ask. Well, the 30-year-old song underscoring epochs of the 20th century found mention in a Delhi High Court verdict on power theft, quoted to counter the defendant’s plea that he didn’t ‘start the fire’ of stealing electricity. Is it a manifestation of the judges’ eclectic interests or their knowledge of the fact that the indefatigable singer-songwriter from Hicksville is a known name in law for the judgment in the Billy Joel versus Various John Does of 1984?

The Himalayan Visitors

The Himalayan Griffon Vultures are, er, from the Himalayas. When a couple of them were spotted deep south—at the Penchikalpet forest range of Kumram Bheem Asifabad district in Telangana—they put many feather-friends in a flap. These long-distance fliers circled over a cliff of sedimentary rock before settling down atop a ledge near the top, cooed biologists. So what got these scavengers from the high mountains drift to the Indian Long Billed Vulture’s abode? A south-side cousin’s wedding? Nah, we are kidding. Winter migration is the plausible answer. The sightings, apparently only the fourth in southern India recorded since 2013, give hope to conservationists of these highly endangered birds.

Icon On Malala’s Wall

Malala Yousafzai, the world’s youngest Nobel Laureate, might have inadvertently waded into the choppy waters of Pakistani politics.

Malala’s choice of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto over other leaders as her icon could prove to be prickly for some politicians. She is studying philosophy, politics and economics—subjects that Bhutto studied in Oxford in the seventies. Interestingly, current PM Imran Khan, Bhutto’s contemporary in Oxford, also studied the same subjects. But he finds no mention in Malala’s recent interview with BBC.

Malala, the widely known education activist, revealed on Monday that she had a photo of Bhutto in her room in Oxford University. She also spoke about what she does in between writing and university life.

Malala ­revealed in an interview that she had a photo of Bhutto in her room at Oxford University.

“I think, for relaxing, it’s just spending time with friends, playing cricket or having a bit of gossip, or just going for lunch,” she said. Malala, who is  starting her second year in Oxford, has often talked about her love for cricket. “When I say I love cricket, I’m not that good,” she quickly added. A point to be noted for former cricketer Imran.  

Imran, who was the cricketing hero in his university days and later became captain of Pakistan’s cricket World Cup winning team in 1992, is now the country’s prime minister. But despite his current office, he hasn’t managed to make the cut to Malala’s icon list despite her being a cricket lover.

A Dawn report said, when asked what she did for fun, Malala expressed her liking for British comedy and sitcoms. “I recently watched The Black Adder. Sometimes I watch Yes, Minister. I also like Mind Your Language, which I know wouldn’t be welcome in the same way it was, but I find it funny,” she said.

As for her university room, Malala said her mother tells her off for being untidy. “I am not a big fan of posters, but I have a photo of Benazir Bhutto in my room,” she added.

Her icon’s choice isn’t surprising at all, though. Bhutto, after all, went on to become Pakistan’s first woman prime minister in 1993. Malala’s comments on Bhutto might not be seen as out of place by the cosmopolitan Imran. But who knows, they could raise more than an eyebrow among his nasty supporters.

Malala’s latest book, We are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World, was released worldwide last week. Malala, who is from Swat, has been living in Birmingham, since October 2012.

Illustrations by Manjul

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