Sunday, February 05, 2006

Cricket and Curry...and Cracking India



"Whah ah you cookinh?"

"Um...Indian food."

"Is ih a cuh-ry?"

"Umm...yeah, sort of."

"Whah's ih, though?"

"Umm...vegetables...it's called sabji, I guess."

"Whah sauce ah you puttinh in?"

And that's when I usually sigh. It's bad enough to have everything Indian universally referred to as "curry". It's sort of worse when you're in a minority of some six Indians in London who know Tamil, and have to explain to a bewildered European (usually a curious Brit), what you're cooking. Yeah, they've heard of a few Hindi names, of which the most familiar is "curry". And after three years of third-language Hindi in the deep, dark, long-buried 6th, 7th and 8th standards (where the savaal-javaab were "Akhbar ke dharbhar mein navratan kaun-kaun thhey?" [Who were the nine gems of Akhbar's court?] and "Akhbar ke dharbhar mein navratan Birbal ... (etc. etc.) ... thhey." [The nine gems of Akhbar's court were Birbal, .... (etc. etc.)..."]), I'm just learning actual Hindi now, thanks to the multitude of North Indians in the University of Westminster, and the plethora of Bollywood films they've brought along! In Tamil, what I'm cooking would be kai or poriyal. But even understanding that Tamil is not a dialect of Hindi, or that all Indian languages are not dialects of each other, is a hard-to-grasp concept for a non-Indian. Understanding that we eat different kinds of food depending on where we come from is an impossible one!

I woke up at two in the afternoon today, and after chatting to my family on Skype, I'm sort of wondering whether I really want to go and make my cuh-rry now. So I opened http://www.espnstar.com/ and checked out Gavaskar slamming the Indian cricket team on its performance against Pakistan. A friend of mine once said "why do Indians stop one step short of perfection?" And that was when I wondered whether we do, really. Sometimes, it's like we are so unused to luck, we don't know what to do with it when we get it. If Australia had a team at 39-6, they'd be having them for tea. And India let Pakistan climb to 245 and then eventually win the test by over 300 runs.

I was watching Lagaan a few days ago and I was thinking "it's a good thing this was a movie." In real life, we all know how the game would have turned out, with tikouna lagaen, as the Brits say it. When something's in easy grasp, we slip up. You could have a steep rock face, jutting out to sea, to climb or be drowned in a whirlpool, and just before that final grasp, you'd probably just swoon and let go. Is it that we relax when things are just within arm's reach? Do we start planning the next step too soon? Were the cricketers thinking of the garlands and the celebrations in the street when they pounced on each other at the fall of the sixth wicket?

And then, I think of the last laugh the British had before they quit India. Cracking India. It was on the brink of Independence. The Swadeshi Movement began when Bengal was torn into two, so that children still ask, "amma, why is it called West Bengal though it's in the East?" But Project Crack India had much, much more far-reaching consequences. Forget the Kargil War. But think of the thousands of soldiers who have died of frostbite in the hostile India-Pakistan border. Think of the jawaans who swallow butter and then gasp, glugging down alcohol to keep warm. Think of the men who rub their hands and get as close as possible to fires and grates, eyes brimming over as they think of wives and children at home. The gash torn into the flesh of India has left a scar that can never heal - too much blood has spurted out from it.

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