Biriyani Chaya

Brown ring test – How many of you remember this from Chemistry class? I still remember fellow blogger and friend Pradeep’s dad N Balakrishnan Nair teaching me the basics of testing for nitrates in chemistry class. Add ferrous sulphate solution followed by concentrated sulphuric acid to the nitrate. A brown ring forms at the junction of the two liquids. Positive ID.

How many of you have seen, ordered or drunk a Biryani Chaya? You get this only in certain hotels at Calicut, one of them being the old Sagar, next to the KSRTC stand. Well, you get a glass with three layers, the dark tea layer, the mixed lighter colored layer & the milk froth layer on top, each separate from the other. Sometimes you can also discern the faint sugar layer at the bottom. You look at it, marvel at the technique of the tea man and then put in the spoon that is provided, to stir and complete the regular glass of tea….Soon these are going to be things of the past!!! The trick is somewhat like this. Pour milk in glass, hold a long spoon and dribble tea by the spoon handle/stem so that it goes straight to the bottom. I guess this came from SE Asia to India through the many from Malabar who worked in Burmese or Malay tea plantations, they must have seen this done in Burma.

Thai Coconut iced tea – Strangely this has not caught on in India even though we have such exotic uses for coconut milk in Kerala. Here Coconut milk is used instead of regular milk and the layering is always done for effect. But you do not make a layer in the middle like Calicut Biryani tea. Sometimes you add condensed or evaporated milk on top and stir in some star anise powder.

Saigon tea is similar to Thai tea, but well it had another connection apparently during the Vietnam War.

The most famous street in the east, the Rue Catinat, had been renamed Tu Do, for Independence. Bar (bars had exotic names – ‘we try harder’ was one) girls hung out of doorways and yelled to passing Westerners, "You buy me Saigon tea?"

Saigon tea was a flavored concoction that was the expensive ticket to a bar girl's company. A veteran recounts - Saigon Tea is the term the GI's used to refer to what the bar girls drank when they encouraged a lonely soldier to buy them a drink. Some of the more naive soldiers would become angry when they found out that the booze was really tea and that their attempts to get the girls drunk and seduce them were for naught. They were getting screwed but only metaphorically. I don't remember what it cost but it wasn't cheap. The girls would allow various degrees of groping depending on how much tea you bought (and $ you spent!).

Authors note – The research into Saigon tea was fascinating – how the girls hoodwinked the round eyed Charlee’s for many dollars worth of drinks during the 60’s – Saigon tea $1.35 to $2.00 each, every 10-15 minutes, served in thimble size glasses, only for the bar girls. Once you stopped buying the tea, she moved to the next GI Joe.

Sagar photo – Freebird on flickr
Coconut tea – Easy home cooking


Burgers oursourced

Normally I don’t think too much about outsourcing, mainly because it is a fact of today’s life. If you can’t do it efficiently at the right price, find somebody else who can. Then again, man has always wanted to profit from life and will take every short cut possible. Some gain and some will lose at the end of the day, whatever said & done. That’s it in a nut shell. Also, I agree, I have also been prey to some real terrible call centre support staff (they didn’t solve the issue at hand in those cases or wasted a lot of my time) out there in my mater-land, but it is ok with me, these things would & should take a while to stabilize.

But some days ago, when my wife told me that the drive in lane of burger outlets was getting outsourced, it was a revelation. I have always avoided drive in ordering, my 2nd son says it is cool to order drive-in, but I find it better to walk up to the counter and explain what I want. In any case, I always do better, face to face, without the American accent…BTW I have still not mastered ‘mayonnaise’.

This funny video that some bright chap uploaded on Youtube is quite interesting, worth checking out. See the ‘now hiring’ board prominently posted.

But here are the facts, BK outsources, but not the drive in line as you see on the video.. It all started with a Desi who took over as CIO of Burger King.

With annual revenues of over $2 billion, Burger King is the world’s second largest fast food hamburger chain. Since taking over as CIO in March 2005, Rajesh ‘Raj’ Rawal has drafted in help in the form of MindTree – a mid-tier India-based outsourcing company he had previously used when CIO of the Cendant Car Rental Group, owner of the Avis and Budget brands. What they do is - Aside from their involvement in several specific projects, they provide typical [software] maintenance and support activities & they have already saved millions for BK.

Mc Donald’s and Wendy’s both competitors to BK on the other hand, outsource their ‘drive in’ counter, but to call centers in USA (as of now).

Mc Donald’s – The call center’s job is to take orders and relay them back to the relevant restaurants through the Internet. Santa Maria-based Bronco Communications handles calls from 40 Mac restaurants scattered around the country, while Illinois-based Verety has hired home-based agents to do the job. McDonald’s claims this system decreases the time between orders by a few seconds & the agents are paid only the minimum wages. Their system flashes the number of minutes they were away on a break, and they have to click on a pop-up that appears every now and then in around 1.75 seconds to show that they are on the job.

Wendy’sAn order took just 66 seconds to be delivered! Wendy's says the call center is paying off. Drive-through sales jumped 12 percent at the six stores that installed multiple drive-through lanes that are connected to a call center, according to Kevin Fritton , executive vice president of 256 Operating Associates , which runs the call center and 14 Wendy's restaurants in New Hampshire and Vermont. The call-center employees, who earn about $8.50 an hour, are trained to urge customers to add items to their order and are timed on how long each call takes. It also helps reduce robbery via the drive in window.

“When I thought about call centers, I thought about how I'd wait for hours on hold with someone in Bangladesh trying to get computer help," Fritton said. But Fritton eventually agreed to fly to Colorado and sit for an hour in a rival's parking lot and see what the technology could do. He watched car after car zoom through a McDonald's drive-through at a rate he'd never seen -- more than 125 cars during lunch hour. At the time, Fritton's stores were doing about 85 cars an hour during lunchtime – anyway he made the switch.

So that was a bit about the outsourced burger, but well, when you read that childbirth has been outsourced to surrogate mothers in India, you do end up rolling your eyes. Child rearing had from historic times been outsourced to nannies by some, this is another story though!!

Backyard cricket

Watching Yuvraj hit six sixers was fascinating. Even though it was a so-so TUV online view, it exhilarated me, got the blood coursing through the old and brittle tubes, through those walls scaled with I am sure, plaques from all the cholesterol deposits…

I learnt the first cricket lessons from my dad in Koduvayur – Palakkad. Dad used to play for Madras Presidency College in his heydays and he taught us batting & bowling in the longish front yard that served as our makeshift cricket pitch. The first cricket bat was fashioned out of a reaper – plank from some packing material by our ‘karyasthan’ Eecharan who had come from Pallavur for some work. Thus we crafted our front foot drives up the slope in front of the house. One had to be careful bowling out there, behind the batsman was the front portico of the house and a number of windows that just cried out to be broken. From the beginning we were warned that should a window get broken, we would get grounded…Actually I can’t remember breaking any windows of that house. It was funny – a few hundred yards away was the border wall separating the Koduvayur market and behind the walls was where the butchers killed & skinned the sheep. On this side of the wall were the two brothers swatting a tennis ball with dad.

At Pallavur, it was much better; there was plenty of space and on vacations, plenty of players. First we had a round of seven stones, a game where seven flat stones are piled up and you knocked them down with a tennis ball. (How the game is played is well explained here and I am sure most of you know anyway. But did you know that it is also popular in Africa and the Middle East? Take a look at what this Jordanian blogger says. It is called 7sang in Iran and sab3 hjaar in Arabic). After everybody got bored with that and had snacks and tea, we started the serious cricket game which usually ended in much arguments, especially with the umpire on LBW decisions. Some days when the umpire was a very young kid, we did away with the LBW rule as we learned that a glowering batman ensured that he was never given out. The boy/girl simply got too scared to make the objective decision.

Then came the teenage periods and college days when it was real cricket with the regular kit and well, that was another zone altogether.

But after my children started growing up, we took up home cricket again, mainly while on vacations at Pallavur and Calicut. This normally included me, my two sons and anybody else who was around. Thus cricket remained in our lifeline. All of us eagerly followed the travails of the Indian cricket team, from sorrow to shame to the odd yipeed victory. From Chandra, Bedi and Gavaskar to today’s Sreesanth & Yuvraj Singh..

It really went up a notch while at the UK. We had a backyard where we had a decent lawn, a small fish pond and a garden. But we soon figured out that it was a wonderful cricket pitch, what with the granite stone pathway serving as our own Lord’s pitch. The fence corner served as the wicket and for months we sounded the boards with gay abandon. First it was with tennis balls, but we found that the balls bounced off the pitch when you pitched short or when snicked and landed in the backyard of the houses bordering us. If there were people around, they tossed the ball back to us, if not we had to stealthily lift he boards, sneak in and get them from those backyards (I am sure some CCTV footage – i.e. if somebody had monitoring- would have caught us doing that). Some houses were out of bounds, especially the one behind us, the woman there who was more a walking chimney (you see - most English smoke outside the house these days – so they are always wandering about in the yard) and not very easy to deal with. She got irritated with the ball landing in her yard and shocking her out of her smoke filled reveries.

The tennis ball soon changed to cricket balls and we became expert at bowling fast, full and furious. The rule was not to allow the ball to hit the boards or it made a huge racket like an exploding cracker. The other rule was to hit the ball along the ground. Oh! England is really the home to Cricket, we could even buy swinging balls with two dissimilar surfaces so you can perfect your out & in swing. We were cover driving and on driving with gusto, and perfecting the art of the dead block. Spin bowling – both off and leg were very effective so long as you did not bounce the ball too much and well, the game went on till about 8 PM on summer days, the only days when it was dry & warm outside. We played through early winter even, especially when the bigger boy was home for holidays. Fully covered with jackets and thick trousers, we continued enthusiastically with our form of cricket.

This went on, until one day when I got a little irritated (like road rage, it was ball rage maybe) for some reason and smacked the ball with gusto, right into the next yard. The ball landed on the glass roof of our neighbor’s newly built conservatory (the glass structure with white borders). Mercifully nothing broke, my son ran away and I was left to answer and apologize to the irritated man. He politely came by and stated grimly that the ‘missus’ was not too happy about the prospects of a cricket ball landing on their newly built ₤8,000 conservatory. We got the point fast and switched back to tennis balls and sneaking into others yards for the edged ball.

With that we stopped backyard cricket with the cricket ball – soon we moved to the USA and that was it. Cricket now remains on the video screens and in our minds. To this day I am sure that our UK neighbors would have heaved a sigh of relief when a 40 foot container of stuff and the curry making, noisy family of cricket players moved far away, across the Atlantic.

Finding ‘Nemo’ - Lost in translation

No, this is not about Nemo the fish or the movie ‘Finding Nemo’ though I enjoyed that animated movie very much…As usual, at certain moments I felt sad for the Nemo family and my son was making fun of my teary eyes, ah ! Well, I am one of those sentimental guys – not much that can be done about it!!

Verne’s ‘20000 leagues under the sea’ written in 1869 has a special corner in my heart. This was the book that I read many a time to my second son when he was a child. At that time, the story was paramount, not the characters or the politics. Indeed, I never even sensed the messages, simply because I read the ‘English’ version (based on Leiws P Mercier’s ‘orribly tainted translation) of the story that deliberately took away a good amount of what Verne had written in the original French. In the latter book The Mysterious Island written in 1875, where the Indian connections of Capt. Nemo are established, the WHG Kingston translation removed all negative (from British eyes) connections, because Verne wrote in support of India’s struggle against the British. Some say over 25% of Verne’s work did not appear in the first translations which went on to become popular text. The first proper translations of Verne’s works were made by an American Sydney Kravitz in the 1950’s, after the sun had set on the English empire (Until then Brits had a huge control of the publishing world)!!

So this is about Jules Verne’s Nemo (from two books ‘20,000 leagues under the sea’ and Mysterious island) and what Nemo had to do with India…I started checking this out after seeing the ‘League of extraordinary gentlemen’ where Naseeruddin Shah played the role of Nemo - as a prince from India and I wondered, ‘what exactly did Jules Verne have in mind’? The research proved pretty interesting!! Verne actually unmasked Nemo in his second book ‘The Mysterious Island’.

Certainly, Nemo is Verne’s alter ego. The name Nemo can be traced to Greek myth and Homer's Odyssey. When the Cyclops asks Odysseus his name, he replies "Nemo," which is Latin for "nobody. Did you know that in all the previous public performances and plays of ‘20000 leagues…’, Nemo is characterized as an European? It took many years, until 2003, when Nemo was played by Naseeruddin Shah an Indian, in the movie ‘The league of extraordinary gentlemen’.

Nemo captained his submarine ‘Nautilus’ as a weapon against tyranny and oppression worldwide.When Verne first started to plan the character of Nemo, it was to be that of a Polish Nobleman who planned vengeance against the Russians (Polish Uprising against the Russians set the backdrop). Verne’s publisher was not happy as this would have meant a ban of the book in Russia and may have created problems with the good relationship between France & Russia at that time. It was thus that Verne became a person of mysterious origins in ‘2000 leagues..’ but with hints of Indian ancestry while rescuing some South Indians near Ceylon. Later on, in the ‘Mysterious Island’, Nemo at his death bed unmasks himself in more detail.

Jules Verne first mentioned India in ‘20000 leagues’. Then it was ‘Around the world in 80 days’ in 1873, Nemo in ‘Mysterious Island’ 1874, ‘The steam House’ and finally ‘Begums millions’ in 1879. Even though he wrote about India, British rule & travels to India with exacting details, he traveled only to a few places in Europe and once to the USA!! Obviously he hated British Subjugation of the Indian masses and found the ‘Sepoy mutiny’ somewhat of a parallel to the Polish Insurrection (young poles incited against the forced conscription to the Russian army). The Sepoy mutiny is covered in more detail in Verne’s ‘The steam house’.

But Verne like many Europeans had always thought of India as a mysterious place, and it has been reported in the past that
In 1839 he tried to run away from home, taking a position as a ship's boy on a vessel bound for India. He was recaptured by his father at Paimboeuf, down the coast from Nantes; in the face of whose displeasure he is supposed to have promised his mother 'je ne voyagerai plus qu'en reve' ('I will no longer travel except in my dreams').

Let us now look at how the Verne message gets lost in translation to English - Take a look at the way the distortion was done(the wrong but popular version in Italics)

The British yoke had weighed perhaps too heavily on the Hindu population. Prince Dakkar became the spokesman for the malcontents. He instilled in them all the hatred that he felt for the foreigners. He traveled not only to the still independent areas on the Indian Peninsula but also to those regions directly subject to British administration. He recalled the great days of Tippo Saïb who had died heroically at Seringapatam in the defense of his country. In 1857, the great Sepoy revolt broke out. Prince Dakkar was its soul. He organized the immense uprising, and he devoted both his talents and his wealth to this cause. (trans. Sidney Kravitz, 2001 Wesleyan UP, 590-91)

Instigated by princes equally ambitious and less sagacious and more unscrupulous than he was, the people of India were persuaded that they might successfully rise against their English rulers who had brought them out of a state of anarchy and constant warfare and misery, and had established peace and prosperity in their country. Their ignorance and gross superstition made them the facile tools of their designing chiefs. In 1857 the great sepoy revolt broke out. Prince Dakkar, under the belief that he should thereby have the opportunity of attaining the object of his long-cherished ambitions, was easily drawn into it. He forthwith devoted his talents and wealth to the service of this cause. (1986 Signet Classic, 463)
Here, Verne’s chastising commentary on the British rule in India is transformed into a glowing testimonial to their “civilizing” influence. The anti-colonial revolt is now attributed to ambitious and “designing” Indian princes who turned the ignorant masses against their enlightened foreign rulers. Details of how it was finally brought to light can be found in this link detailing Millers thoughts.

So who was Nemo really?? (Kravitz translation) For the full chapter 58 of ‘The mysterious Island’,
check this link.

Captain Nemo was an Indian prince, the Prince Dakkar, the son of the rajah of the then independent territory of Bundelkund, and nephew of the hero of India, Tippo Saib. His father sent him, when ten years old, to Europe, where he received a complete education; and it was the secret intention of the rajah to have his son able some day to engage in equal combat with those whom he considered as the oppressors of his country. He hated the only country where he had never wished to set foot, the only nation whose advances he had refused: he hated England more and more as he admired her. This Indian summed up in his own person all the fierce hatred of the vanquished against the victor. The son of one of those sovereigns whose submission to the United Kingdom was only nominal, the prince of the family of Tippo-Saib, educated in ideas of reclamation and vengeance, with a deep-seated love for his poetic country weighed down with the chains of England, wished never to place his foot on that land, to him accursed, that land to which India owed her subjection. This artist, this savant, this man was Indian to the heart, Indian in his desire for vengeance, Indian in the hope which he cherished of being able some day to re-establish the rights of his country, of driving on the stranger, of making it independent. In 1857 the Sepoy mutiny broke forth. Prince Dakkar was its soul. He organized that immense uprising. He placed his talents and his wealth at the service of that cause. He gave himself; he fought in the first rank; he risked his life as the humblest of those heroes who had risen to free their country; he was wounded ten times in twenty battles, and was unable to find death when the last soldiers of independence fell before the English guns. Prince Dakkar, unable to die, returned again to his mountains in Bundelkund. There, thenceforward alone, he conceived an immense disgust against all who bore the name of man—a hatred and a horror of the civilized world—and wishing to fly from it, he collected the wreck of his fortune, gathered together twenty of his most faithful companions, and one day disappeared.

Question – How did the Hindu Rajput prince become a nephew of Muslim Tippu Sultan and get depicted as a Sikh in the books? A chap called Santosh Menon explains - Hindu families in punjab sometimes initiated the eldest son into the Sikh faith; Sikhism being a martial religion in some sense and sikhs being the defenders of the faith and the land - more or less. it is actually possible for Nemo to be Tipu's nephew. In fact it is quite easily explained. There are several parallels of Muslim/Moghul monarchs marrying the daughters of Rajput/Hindu Kings in Indian history. And possibly vice-versa. Many of these were intended to achieve alliances between the kingdoms sometimes in the face of a perceived common enemy – though Tippu operated in Karnataka whereas Bundelkhand was in Central India!!

So where is
Bundelkhand ? It is a region around 80 deg. East and 25 deg. North between Jhansi and Allahabad. They have a website!!
Prof Swati Dasgupta, a Verne researcher adds - India attracted renewed attention in France during the 1857 ‘sepoy mutiny’ or first war of independence, as it should more properly be called. Jules Verne often evoked that unsuccessful rebellion on which de Valdezen, the French consul general in Calcutta at the time, had extensively reported. The widespread tendency in France not to make any difference between Muslims and other Indians who were all until recently labelled ‘Hindus’ accounts for this historical inconsistency and has allowed some researchers to speculate that Nemo may have been, in Verne's thinking, none other than the vanished Marahta leader Nana Sahib. Clearly Verne shared the widespread sympathy that the French public felt for the cause of Indian independence which they often related to their own Republican revolutionary past.


In Around the world in 80 days there is an episode about Aouda (Auoudad)– a kingdom in India. It was inserted after Verne learnt of his wife flirting with an Indian prince!!

Jules Verne’s ideas of the future have been so prophetic…try this excerpt from

"Paris in the 20th Century" is an often cited example of this as it describes air conditioning, automobiles, the internet, television, and other modern conveniences very similar to their real world counterparts. In Paris in the Twentieth Century, published for the first time in 1994, Verne described fax machines, gas-powered cars and an elevated mass transit system. None of these existed when he wrote the book in 1863.

Another good example is "From the Earth to the Moon", which is uncannily similar to the real
Apollo Program, as three astronauts are launched from the Florida peninsula and recovered through a splash landing- He nailed many details perfectly. In his version (From the Earth to the Moon, 1865, and its sequel, All Around the Moon, 1870), an aluminum craft launched from central Florida achieves a speed of 24,500 miles per hour, circles the moon and splashes down in the Pacific. A century later Apollo 8, made of aluminum and traveling at 24,500 miles an hour, took off from central Florida. It circled the moon and splashed down in the Pacific.

Before he died in 1905, Verne had depicted- a world eerily like ours: airplanes, movies, guided missiles, submarines, the electric chair, air conditioning and the fax machine. Even Islamic terrorists make their precocious debut in Invasion Of the Sea (1905), in which they face off against Western technocrats!!

Verne never studied science formally. Pushed to get a law degree by his lawyer father, he toiled as a stockbroker. He sucked in scientific knowledge from 15 newspapers a day, as well as half a dozen magazines and the bulletins of various scientific and geographic societies. His genius lay in extrapolation.

Sydney Kravitz was a professional scientist and engineer. He spent fourteen years translating The Mysterious Island, correctly.
Lewis Mercier and WHG Kingston, were instrumental in providing dastardly translations – How did they do it? Here is the answer.

Another nice article on the
Politics of Capt Nemo by Anil Menon!!

A brilliant essay -Journey to the Center of Jules Verne… and Us
by Walter McDougall

Steamhouse – has many other names ‘End of Nana Sahib’, ‘The demon of Cawnpore’, Tigers & Traitors.

A nice
Fortune article

Pictures from various sites - thanks