January 19, 2020
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The Subcontinental Menu

From biryani as prasad at a temple near Madurai to soap made of donkey's milk, read this and much more in The Subcontinental Menu this week.

The Subcontinental Menu
Illustration by Manjul
The Subcontinental Menu

Price of The Moon

All stories start somewhere; some as a phantasmagoric conversation between a king and a spirit. This story—an enduring, endearing after-school or bedside magazine—started the month bef­ore India’s Independence. Chandamama, the monthly packed with myths, mystery, magic, and a moral. Vikram and Betaal too. It was published in 10 Indian languages and English, an abiding companion before TV. Sadly, the Chandamama of B. Nagi Reddy, Chakrapani and K. Kutumba Rao couldn’t survive the digital boom, though current owners Geodesic had new-age plans. Well, the Mumbai-based software company got embroiled in a money laun­dering case, and the Bombay HC ordered the sale of the magazine’s intellectual property rights. Cha­n­da­mama is worth over Rs 25 crore. The sacks of illustrations and documents lying at a Mumbai warehouse? Priceless.

Return Darjeeling

When the colonial masters were playing dice with the subcontinent, Darjeeling was hived off as part of an agreement with the king in Kathmandu. The Treaty of Sugauli of 1815 established the boundary between the Hindu kingdom and the British East India Company. The king ceded territories won in earlier wars, such as Sikkim in the east and Kumaon and Garhwal in the west. More than a century on, nationalistic Gurkhas want the pact unpacked. Return Darjeeling and all those land the British took from Nepal, they say. An NGO is already doing a signature campaign, as a start. What next? Well, we know Gurkhas are among the finest soldiers anywhere, but this one will need diplomacy, more than the surgical precision of a khukri.

Biryani Is Prasad

Pongal, curd rice, chi­ck­p­eas, puliyogara, vada—the choice of offerings or prasadam in Tamil Nadu temples are normally limited to these. There’s an exception though. And it comes in the form of a biryani with 2,000kg of rice, mutton and chicken cooked overnight in 50 cauldrons over wood fires by an untiring posse of men as prasad for the faithful visiting the Muniyandi Swami temple in Vadakkampatti village near Madurai during its  winter festival. The biryani has been on the temple’s breakfast menu for over 80 years. Last year, 200 goats, 250 roosters and 1,800kg of rice went into the prasad—reflective of the Tamil appetite for biryani as restaurants serving this all-time favourite recorded revenues of Rs 4,500 crore a year in the state. Still, there’s more space at the table.

Donkey’s Milk Soap

How often do you bray about a shower, lathering out the grime with a bar of soap? Hee-haw, here is your chance to do it with soap made of donkey’s milk. This premium cake of wash, produced by Delhi-based startup Organiko, retails for Rs 499 apiece. A little stiff, no? Got to be, because donkey’s milk is the costliest dairy at Rs 2,000 a litre, and one animal yields not more than a litre a day. The milk is known to have medicinal properties—anti-ageing, anti-wrinkle and anti-bacterial infe­ctions. The firm sources its raw material from 25 beasts of burden at Dasna in Ghaziabad. The soap is a hit in southern India, as people there are aware of the health benefits. The north’s catching up too, if sales at a fair in Chandigarh are any indication. Up next: a face wash and a moisturiser.

Manto And Undying Prejudice

How Saadat Hasan Manto would have reacted to his adoptive country’s censor board refusing to clear a Made in India biopic on him? Perhaps he portended that Manto, featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the tortured writer, would fall into the same hostile India-Pak­istan trap that underpinned the comorbidity of his later life. Hence his words: “Hindus­tan had become free. Pakis­tan had become independent soon after its inception but man was still a slave in these countries—slave of prejudice.” Legions of Manto fans are trying to impress the Imran Khan government to allow Manto’s release.

The Eye-Catching, Mutant God

Call it the Moo Mutant, or the animal version of an animated one-eyed Minion. Or simply worship it as a miracle of god. That’s what locals at a village in West Bengal’s Bardhaman district are doing to a newborn calf with just one huge eye. The humans took over after its mother rejected it. Such oddities aren’t uncommon in the animal kingdom but a cow calf with an eye on its forehead spawns parallels with god Shiva’s fire-kindling ‘third eye’. Villagers believe it will bring luck and prosper­ity. Problem is, the animal’s survival is at stake as it doesn’t have a nose and gasps for breath.

Racing Bulls Which Better Bolt

They are modern-day techies but bullish about a tradition that dates back to when entertainment was a clatter of bull hooves. These people, mostly IT pros, decided to take the bull by its horns when Tamil Nadu erupted in 2017 to demand overturning a court order banning jallikattu. Success was on their side. And now, a side show of the famous jallikattu during Pongal is proving a boon for endangered native breeds, Kangayam bulls especially. Patrons are breeding and training Kangayams—at seven seconds for 100 metres, faster than Usain Bolt—for rekla or bullock cart races in the Tirupur-Coimbatore region. The spoils? The winners take home two-wheelers, gold necklaces and cash.

Shadow Of Immunity

It is rare for diplomats to be tried on criminal charges in another country, especially a mission where he had been posted earlier. But a former Sri Lankan ambassador to Washington, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, is being prosecuted in the US since last month. Wickramasuriya is former Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s first cousin and it is under his government that he was appointed Colo­mbo’s envoy to the US. He is being tried for five counts of offences that range from wire fraud and money laundering to immigration offences.

Under the Vienna Convention, a serving diplomat enjoys immunity that prevents governments of other countries from trying him on any criminal charge. But if diplomatic immunity is withdrawn by his government he can be treated as any ordinary citizen and prosecuted by foreign governments.

Sri Lankan media reports said this was the first time that a diplomat is being prosecuted by the country where he had served. The charges against Wic­­kramasuriya are two counts of wire fraud, two counts of money laundering and one count of visa fraud. According to the reports, the charges stem from allegations that in early 2013 Wickramasuriya and others embezzled about US $3,32,000 from the Sri Lankan government in connection with a property purchased in Washington that was intended to serve as the new Sri Lankan embassy.

The report said he was also charged with committing immigration fraud in connection with an immigration application he signed in the US in 2014.

Wickramasuriya was in the US attending to his tea export business when he was appointed the consul general to the Sri Lankan mission in Los Angeles in 2005. Three years later, he was appointed Sri Lankan ambassador to the US.

After the fraud came to light the US authorities requested the Sri Lankan government to withdraw Wickramasuriya’s diplomatic immunity. The Rajapaksa government ignored that and, instead, tried to transfer him to Canada as Lankan ambassador. But the Canadian government refused to accept the appointment. Subsequently, his diplomatic immunity was withdrawn by Colombo. Later, Wickaramasuriya filed an appeal in the Supreme Court asking for his immunity to be reinstated. Though the case is still pending, an attempt was made by Rajapaksa and his close aides to give back his immunity in the brief period that he became prime minister replacing Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Now that Ranil is back, it is unlikely that Wickramasuriya will get back his immunity in a hurry.

Illustrations by Manjul

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