Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Deepika's Dips

A few days back I had tweeted in jest – is it ok to lust over someone who one has seen as a baby? The reference was to the young ‘Diva’ Deepika Padukone. As a toddler, she used to come regularly to my then boss’ apartment – neighbour of the Padukones in Bangalore - to play with their daughters.  After the “cleavage” controversy Deepika made news again by talking openly about her recent tryst with depression (click here to read article) .  This is the kind of new-age women – good looking, successful and sharp - who don’t hesitate to talk freely about her body, mind (and ‘soul’?) -  I like and, perhaps, given a chance may have fallen for :)

But, I won’t dwell here on how brave it was of Deepika to discuss problem of emotional dip with a journalist. Nor will I embark upon an analysis  of how or why actors (especially the women) are prone to psychological disorders  - as a lady columnist ( who started her career as an editor of a film-magazine)  did - sadly mixing up schizophrenia (of another talented and beautiful Bollywood actor of the 80s) with clinical depression.

At the outset, I must make the disclosure that I am neither a psychologist nor psychiatrist and, hence, not technically qualified to write on what is a subject for specialists.  Mine’s an entirely layman’s point of view – based on observations of people around me at work, family and social circles and, above all, myself.

What I found remarkable in Deepika’s case – apart from her own openness to recognise the problem and seek professional help – was the supportive role of her mother. According to Deepika’s own account – on one of her visits to Mumbai, her mother sensed something was amiss and on returning to Bangalore consulted a psychologist friend who flew down to assess her condition and put her on therapy.

Many of these psychological problems start early.  In today’s world conditions like ADD / ADHD are common-place.  Stress and anxiety sometimes manifest into other disorders like OCD. Timely intervention can save many a careers (and, in case, of acute depression even lives). Parents and teachers are best placed to identify it. But, they seldom do – either out of ignorance (very often) or shyness to accept that something could be wrong with their child or ward. Teachers are often afraid about hostile reactions from parents.  What are tackled are more obvious issues like Drugs and addictions – but that too not always in time.

Very often these are borderline disorders that don’t require any serious clinical intervention at all and can be solved by counselling and talk-therapy (like CBT – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) .  But, the problem is the lack of such resources in our schools and colleges and the lack of accessibility to competent professionals, also the taboo associated with seeing psychologist or psychiatrist in our society. 

There have been occasions – when I have advised young relatives and colleagues to seek professional help for their children. Needless to say not all have taken to it kindly – others listen politely to give it a royal ignore – but few have done it to good effect. The problem always is to find a good doctor or counsellor. But, with some effort help is usually not far to seek.

But, what bothers me a lot more are cases I have seen during my now fairly long work career – where very talented individuals have been trapped and often lost their way both in personal and professional life due to psychological issues.  As people tend to live away from home, in unitary families and often alone (without traditional support-systems), maintain stressful and punishing work schedules psychological issues are on the rise.  While the more progressive organisations have been alive to “Occupational Health” – it seldom includes psychological health.  Few organisations would allow Medical Reimbursement for consulting medical health professionals or psychiatry related medicines (in most cases – employees will be reluctant to claim it too for fear of their condition getting known).  Attitude of HR and senior management towards psychological conditions is also viewed with suspicion.

Yet, it is surprising how many people don’t attain their full potential or operate far below par – due to psychological issues (either of themselves or close family members ) pulling them back. Depression – often called the ‘common cold of the mind’ – is of course rampant – but there are also cases of Bi-polar Disorders, Anxiety and Panic Attacks or problems associated with mid-career or mid-life crisis that can become career-limiting. This is where employers have a responsibility to step in and provide professional help of a "shrink"as it were - to use an American parlance.

I myself – candidly – could have benefited from therapy.  My own first exposure to psychology was from a catholic priest of my school – who himself in the throes of ‘mid-life crisis’ took a sabbatical and went to the US to pursue a course in psychology. He returned to realise – many of his fellow face similar psychological issues and need help. This led to his setting up a Psychological Institute within the “order” – which was originally intended for the priests but now has a flourishing general practice.

Though for some a look at Deepika can be the best therapy to get out of depression – often  it requires more serious intervention than that . Ultimately, things can only improve with awareness. And, for that lovely Deepika has done more than her bit.

Take a bow Deepika. 

The article was first published in the The Daily_O Click here to read

Monday, January 05, 2015

The Yin and Yang of Anushka Sharma's Lips

[PK becomes Bollywood’s biggest grosser ever]

Let me start with a few confessions.  I have not seen PK nor have any intention of watching it. I hold nothing against those who went for it and loved it. I am happy for Raju Hirani and Aamir Khan that the movie has been the highest grosser. I can only feel  sorry  for those who tried to get it banned or withdrawn from the theatres  but didn’t succeed. And, finally I agree with Anushka Sharma that what she has done with her lips is entirely her business and she is fine as long as Virat Kohli doesn’t have a problem. Others are free to like or dislike her new look.

In fact, this last line pretty much sums up my position on all works of art – whether it’s a book, painting, sculpture, theatre or movie. Take them for what it’s worth – feel free to like, dislike or reject but don’t decide on behalf of others. If it is trash – the public themselves will reject it, which would be the biggest snub to the one who has written or made it. A bad product sinks without a trace and  giving it undue attention can only bestow it with an added lease of life (E.g.– by talking too much  about Anushka’s  missing pout – it can actually turn to be a fashion trend like size zero. Just saying.)

The debate in my judgment lies elsewhere. The dichotomy between faith and rationalism has been in built into every society and religion from time immemorial – just as the conflict between the head and the heart in human nature. This is at times manifest in religious texts itself. While the Gita and Upanishads in Hinduism are largely intellectual – the Ramayana relies more on mythical allegories. (Though sometimes  people can try to invent  pseudo scientific explanations to myths such as plastic surgery to an elephant God or IVF or test-tube conception for a virgin).  These are the 2 sides of the same coin – the Yin and the Yang as it were. I always cite the example of perhaps the greatest legal luminary India produced – who was at once a devotee of Sri Aurobindo (who was as cerebral as one can get) and a miracle spewing saffron-clad hair-raising Godman of Andhra Pradesh. And, you have the example of Vivekananda himself – who was pure brain and his own Guru – Ramakrishna an embodiment of Bhakti and mysticism.

Belief in miracles or the power of penance,  pilgrimage and rituals has been there from the inception of mankind. It, perhaps, stems from man’s realization of his own limitations and the existence of a larger power in the universe – beyond his control – against whom he is but as helpless as an ant. It is to protect himself against such a  force or the elements does he seek the shelter of ‘religion’. Now to question,  whether these devices work – would be as self-defeating as arguing with a votary of homeopathy about the scientific improbability of such a therapy working. Call it ‘placebo’ effect if you will – but it may have its utility. Again to quote Sri Ramakrishna  - “Vishwas-e Mila-e Vastu, tarkey bohu dur” (faith dissolves of things that arguments can’t resolve) or the bard “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio..”.

How religion has been exploited over the centuries for geo-political ambitions ends is not the subject of this discussion. As long as the human race exists there will always be a ‘spiritual bazaar’ – where brands and products will come and go. I daresay ‘sexcapades’ under  saintly garbs or cassocks of priesthood have also existed since ancient times – across religions and countries. But, it is the marketing and building huge commercial empires around them that is a relatively recent phenomenon and merits deeper inquiry.

It’s no mean task to manage multi-crore commercial empires (I had read somewhere, one Yoga Guru’s net worth is reportedly valued at Rs 14k crores). Having spent a better part of my working life in Consumer Products and Media industry  I know a thing or two about the challenges and complexity of running a business. Any executive of FMCG companies like HUL or ITC  will tell you  – managing the supply chain, sales, marketing of 100s of SKUs (stock keeping units) across a nationwide distribution network is no “sadhu’s” play. Similarly, operating a business model out of producing and selling audio-visual labels, publishing, web-retailing,  event management and marketing calls for a high level of expertise, core-competency and, above all, requires a commercial organization. The successful marketing of the Patanjali Ayurvedic range can give Himalaya Drugs or Dabur a serious  run for their money.  And, ask Ponytail Chaudhuri how difficult it is to create a chain of colleges and Preetha Reddy or Devi Shetty about  hospitals.. These businesses or institutions can’t be efficiently and effectively run by volunteers alone. Most of them have franchises both domestic and foreign which are source of substantial revenue streams which too have to be managed and the earnings judiciously invested to generate continuous returns to  fund future expansions – just as Chief of Treasury in a large corporation would do. Many banks, professional fund managers, financial advisors and brokers have large Ashrams as their key clients. And, no wonder some of them have to engage private armies to manage acres of prime real-estate.

Management of Religious Institutional Businesses can, therefore, be the subject of Business School case studies and, one day, may be offered as a course in Harvard or Stanford.  It is my thesis  many of these God-men and Gurus are fronts . Behind them are clever businessmen  who run a sophisticate operation. They first invest in creating a brand (perhaps, even engage marketing or image management consultants) and then exploit it as a pure commercial venture.

But, where does that leave the poor devotee or  ‘Bhakt’ ? That brings me back to another favourite quote of Sri Ramakrishna – “Jadio Amar Guru Shuri Baadi Jaye, tobu O amar guru Nityananda Roy” – roughly translated – even though my guru may visit a bar or a brothel, he will always remain my Guru.  In essence, once you have surrendered at the feet of the Guru -  by that act itself if you have moved one step up the spiritual ladder. And, that’s also the key both these Godmen use as also Amir Khan and Raju Hirani who make commercially successful movies out of them. One man’s faith is another man’s business – or put differently Anushka’s lips may be a turn you and me off – but as long as the movie is a box office hit – who cares ?

(Article first published in the @DailyO on January 5th, 2014)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Green Shoots or Lotus Bloom in Bengal

[A PTI report says BJP’s membership drive has touched the 10 lakh mark in West Bengal]

In a recent Bengali film “Buno-Haansh”, a young boy from a middle-class home, that had seen better times – gets embroiled with a cross-border counterfeit currency smuggling ring.  In one scene, his Bangladeshi counterpart says:  “Had it not been for corruption on both sides of the border (Bangladesh and West Bengal) ordinary Bengalis like you and me would have starved to death”.  A telling comment on the economic condition of Bengal – lack of industry, employment and income opportunity.

A couple of weeks back I was travelling on the Darjeeling Mail to Siliguri. In the coupe were 2 young BSF (Border Security Force) Officers. One of them received a call from his base-station - reporting a skirmish at the border post the night before that could potentially flare-up. The train was running 5 hours late and he was troubled about not being able to reach the spot early. Even I was feeling holed up and bored. So we got chatting.

The young officers lamented – coming to the Eastern borders for them was like a “punishment” posting. In the Western frontiers the terms of engagement are clear and there is rarely any political interference or fall-out of actions taken in the regular course of duty. But, in the East everything is politically charged and “sensitive”. The high population density, close proximity of the settlements and diffused boundaries add to the complexity.  And, the buck stops with the security forces, which are always at the receiving end from all quarters – whether their administrative bosses in Delhi or local political goons.

In the cross-border transactions  that takes place – the locals are but small pawns. They act as couriers, herdsmen (for cattle) or mere facilitators – but their livelihood depends almost entirely on such illegal activities. The real people behind these operations are big fishes – businessmen and politicians who live many miles away - may be even in other parts of the country. For example, from the breed of the cattle one can easily make out  they are not local and transported from distant  Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan in trucks across several inter-state borders – where they could have been easily intercepted – but no one does so  because it’s part of a large inter-state racket. The stakes in the cattle trade itself would be valued in millions of rupees. as imported cattle from India contribute significantly to Bangladesh’ GDP -  in  meat and leather trade both for domestic consumption and exports. Therefore,  any attempts to stop it is going to have huge economic,  political and even diplomatic repercussions and it is unlikely to change irrespective of whichever party is in power.

On illegal immigration – apparently agents have rack rates – from mere ration or election cards (now, probably Aadhar) to Passports. So much so, some ‘think-tanks’ believe it might be a better idea to issue “work-permits” to Bangladeshis to curb illegal immigration. But, either way they put further pressure on the already strained resources of the state – spawning more illicit business and, as some suspect, even terror conduits.

In the backdrop of such dire economic conditions – where there is very little value creation, if a Saradha did not happen it would probably have been invented. With rising cost of living and depleting income – the urban middle class and poor villagers were forced to liquidate inherited property and land.  Chit fund companies dipped into this fund – with the lure of unrealistic returns - duping them of their little remaining savings.

It is hard to believe two Finance Ministers of successive Governments - Ashim Dasgupta of the Left Front and Amit Mitra of Trinamool - both highly qualified Economists - didn’t see these scams taking place under their watch.  Young marketing executives travelling in rural areas were amazed to see army of collection agents employed by these Chit Fund companies to mobilize ‘deposits’.  Sucheta Dalal’s Money Life had carried a series of articles way back in – which was cited even in this humble blog.  (Read here

I agree with Mamata Banerjee on one count – that is, it’s not political parties alone that have benefited from the Saradhas of the world.  These Chit-Fund companies couldn’t have thrived without Media support and they were the main-stay of advertising for many local newspapers and TV channels.  For several years they were major sponsors of Durga Puja and Kali Puja in the state. So much so – they even reached out to the NRI Bengali community in overseas cultural festivals. Many ventured into film production as well.
But, undoubtedly most of the money went into political funding. If there are no Adanis or Ambanis – you needed a Sudipta Sen.  

So where does one go from here? Does the BJPs 10 lakh membership signify a new ray of hope? In ushering in Trinamool people also voted for change. But, after 5 years despondency has set in at least in urban Bengal.

When there is overall decline and decay – it’s difficult to isolate or insulate a few sections of the society from the rot.  Therefore, all institutions are beginning to fail. Once a centre of medical excellence – today a Bengali prefers to travel to Chennai, Vellore or Mumbai for treatment. Calcutta has long lost it pre-eminence in education and special trains are run to Bangalore and Pune in the college admissions season. The population of Bengali white-collar job-seekers has exponentially increased in other cities. One hears much more of Bengali on flights and shopping malls all over the country. Even in art and culture Bengal has long ceased to be in the forefront. The primary market for Bengal artists is also outside the state and abroad.

Calcutta has become a city of senior citizens. Youngsters who are left behind are wallowing in frustration and despair – many sinking into depression. Others either fall prey to nefarious activities like the protagonist in Buno-Haansh or join the gang of “tola-baaz” and local “syndicates” (hafta-collectors).

But, these very young  people when they  visit family members living outside Bengal or travel on vacations -  see how much the rest of India has moved ahead and long for a better life.  It is this sense of aspiration – especially of the younger generation – that Modi and BJP is trying to tap into.  But, whether this too turns out to be a chimera only time can tell.

For 40 years Bengal has chased a mirage. A senior journalist friend says Bengal politics has always been ruled by lumpens.  They only change their team “jerseys” from Red to Green and, which may probably turn to saffron in future.  In the 70s– when the “New Congress (Indira)” was on the ascendant there was a slogan  - “Chilam Naxal Holam, Nabo – Chakri Na Pele Abar Hobo “ (From Naxals – we have turned to Congress. But, if we don’t get the promised jobs – we will go back to our roots again).  So Green may change to Saffron – but only for a while if there is no economic regeneration. But, this time there will not be any more change in colour – the flower will just wither away and Bengal shall become a basket case beyond recovery.

Also read : Vote Bank Politics has come to stay in West Bengal

Article first published in @DailyO_ (click for link)


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Making haste slowly - 200 days of Modi Sarkar

I was unapologetic about rooting for Narendra Modi  through his Prime Ministerial campaign – though I don’t consider myself to be either a ‘Bhakt’ , as Modi fans are snidely called, or a "Hindutva" die-hard.  Now even after 7 months of his Premiership I still believe he is the best  we could have had.  However, in the same vein, I am not an unqualified supporter of the BJP. In fact, one of the reason for my admiring Modi is that he has been trying to reinvent and re-engineer the BJP for the 21st century – while the Congress and other regional parties have been regressing under the pressure of pseudo socialism, dynastic and identity politics.

Looking back,  I am not at all disappointed with what the Modi government has achieved in 200 days.   Modi’s foreign policy initiatives were well calibrated, as he realized establishing his profile globally would be essential for him to be the leader of an aspiring super-power.  Besides, he needed to build personal rapport and strike a chemistry with his international peers – given the negative image over-hand  he was burdened with (unfairly, I believe).  The criticism about his foreign tours, I think – were more out of envy and for outsmarting both his predecessors and the self-appointed foreign policy specialists of the country.

Also I don’t think much more could have been achieved on the internal front. The quiet progress made on governance – improvement in the government’s work culture, empowerment of the bureaucracy and building of business confidence have gone largely unnoticed by the domestic constituency obsessed with big ticket reforms.  Far from being cynical, I see merit in his ‘making haste slowly’ and even appreciate the so called “U-turns” in policy – which only shows his courage to accept mistakes and eschew election rhetoric  to do what is right for the country and the economy.

Contrary to what popular commentators (for whom there is only Left or Right and nothing in-between) and the opposition still recovering from psychological trauma after their total rout would like us to believe – those who voted for Modi – do not necessarily see him as a Messiah with a magic wand. Credit them with the minimum intelligence to differentiate between election rhetoric and what is practical in a real politik. Therefore,  much to their disappointment,  #Modi is still high on the ratings in post-poll satisfaction surveys.  If further proof were needed, look at the by-poll results of Jharkhand and even J&K.  On the global front – he has made his mark - and  world leaders are falling over each other trying  to woo him. Successive studies have placed him at the top or near the top of the pecking order of high performing leaders in the world today.

Difficult decisions have also been taken keeping them below the radar.  Be it rise in railway fare or neutralizing some of the reduction in oil bills through additional excise duty. His critics have in hindsight seen merit in the way the WTO negotiations were handled. After a lot of deft maneuvering through choppy political waters - the government seems close to passing GST and Insurance sector reforms. Private sector participation in Defence equipment Manufacture and PPP in Railways already cleared. 

While leading foreign policy from the front (as any Prime Minister ought to do) – he has been making good use of Sushma Swaraj in opening parallel fronts (eg with Vietnam and SAARC Countries) and even co-opting the President in Diplomacy. Though not exactly in the realm of "external affairs", holding elections in J & K was hugely significant from a strategic perspective.

The lot getting restless are the industrialists and businessmen who expected quick returns and  the large Lutyens’ Delhi community of media folks and self-styled left-lib intellectuals – feeling ignored by the new dispensation. The latter especially should realize – governments aren’t made or unmade at the India International Centre. Even foreign investors and governments are more patient and willing to give the new regime to settle down and get over the carry-forward legacies of the UPA as well as the present political dynamics before pumping  gas on  the accelerator.

But, my disappointment with Modi lies elsewhere.  Before, the elections – he had loftily said : to win elections you need a majority but to run the country you need everyone’s support. This indicated that he would seek a more inclusive and bipartisan approach to governance. Then came his famous – act of touching  the ground before entering parliament for the first time - calling it the temple of democracy. But,  this spirit has been less evident  in the style he has displayed so far.

Let’s start with the Government first. The unseemly rush to replace UPA appointed Governors was avoidable – especially where professionals (retired bureaucrats or intelligence officers)  with proven track-record were holding the posts and had just a few months of their terms left.  This was followed by the LOP (Leader of Opposition) controversy – where certainly Modi could have shown more grace and a spirit of accommodation. Similarly, one might ask if they really needed to rush through the judicial reforms bill ?

One can always argue these are minor dots in the life of a regime, which are easily forgotten. But, it does sully the atmosphere and made the Prime Minister lose some of the initial goodwill with which he could have started his Parliamentary innings. But, perhaps, it was necessary to send out some early signals that this government won’t be a push-over.

Next was the stand-off with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Surely the Thackerays had to be shown their place but the snub was too hard and for far too long. Abject humiliation – even of an enemy doesn’t help – even if the old adage of grace in victory is now passé.

Obviously, Modi and Amit Shah are working with a road-map and blue-print – which only the 2 of them know and even the RSS can only guess. Part of the plan must be to take advantage of this neo-Hindutva wave and establish a pan-India presence for BJP. Therefore, the vengeance with which the Modi-Shah duo is going into hitherto uncharted territories like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, North East and even J & K – shows they want to free themselves from the clutches of a handful of regional satraps and opportunistic allies.  

Personally, I don’t worry too much about the antics of the so-called “fringe elements”. It’s only a matter of time before Modi brings them under control, like he did with Togadia in Gujarat, as he settles his equations with the RSS. Therefore, winning these states with low RSS presence would also be key to his establishing an unquestionable supremacy. For me – the bigger irritants and distractions are Modi’s own trusted Ministers like Smriti Irani making news for the wrong reasons such as declaring Christmas as “Good Governance Day”. And, I wish he didn’t have to yield to RSS and party pressure in making some patently inappropriate choice of ministers. But, concerns voiced by the self-appointed guardians of democracy – that “secularism” and India’s plurality is at stake are both exaggerated and alarmist.

I would argue that – even if it were not for these ‘red-herrings’ , a recalcitrant opposition would find other excuses for disrupting governance. But, they can continue to do only for a sort while more till BJP populates the Rajya Sabha with their own members from the newly ‘conquered’ provinces.

Till then the government needs to stay its course and carry on with the development agenda – steadily, even if a bit slowly.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

China to Ludhiana

It was Vir Sanghvi who had coined the term Sino-Ludhianvi Cuisine. But, Butter Chicken had reached the nooks and corners of India much before Chow-Mien had meandered across to Punjab, I suspect.

Outside of Calcutta, “real Chinese” was available mainly in some of the 5 Stars – though not all. As a kid we used to hear stories about the Golden Dragon in Taj, Mumbai – which was the first to introduce Sichuan or Szechuan Cuisine (spelt as Shezwan – almost like Kashmiri Wazwan)  in India.  But, that was a distant dream. The closest, we humble Calcuttans managed to get was to The Ming Room on Park Street, which too allegedly served Szechuan Chinese. I remember going there for one of my earliest dates. Many years later – when I had the opportunity to visit China one discovered Sichuan food was nothing like what was palmed off in India and also not as hot as it was reputed to be. Food from other regions – Yunan for example was far more fiery (almost tongue numbing). Indian Shezwan – essentially used a lot of red-chilly powder or even chilli-paste (seldom the original Sichuan Peeper-corn) to make tangier for the desi-palate. In a way, I think this was the inspiration for Ludhianvi or Punjabi Chinese.

Strangely, of all places, Ranchi had small Chinese community and a couple of nice Chinese Restaurants near Doranda. We were told of them by by Ajit-Mama’s partner, Jimu-da (Dr P K Sur) of Allahabad – whose wife Binita-boudi was from Ranchi.  We went there on a road-trip from Calcutta to Daltongunj and still remember the Chop-Suey I had at a place also called Chung Wah. But, now those restaurants are extinct and the Ranchi Chinese people must have also moved elsewhere. On recent visits to Ranchi, I have tried looking in vain for true Hakka Chinese.

(Photo courtesy: Trip Advisor)

Dravidianisation of Chinese

My earliest recollection of a proper Chinese Meal outside of Calcutta was at Shinkow’s in Ooty. It was probably in 1973 or 74 and I was 13-14 then. Those days – people could still take long vacations. Like most Bengalis Abba too would try to club his annual leave with the Durga Puja holidays spilling over Kali-Puja / Diwali, which would give us a cool 4  -5 weeks break when we would go and camp in a place for a month. For these long holidays – we usually teamed up with my Aru-Mama’s family – as he and my Dad (both difficult people in their own way – but extremely methodical and stickler for order) got along famously. In Ooty, we were putting up at the house of A V Ananthakrishnan – a tycoon of the Shipping Industry of Madras and son in law of the legendary Sir C P Ramaswamy Iyer    a friend and business associate of Aru-Mama (Captain Ronnie Ghosh), who was in the merchant navy. Like good hosts, the Ananthakrishna’s drove down all the way from Chennai to settle us into the house and took us out for the first meal to Shinkow’s.

At Shinkow’s we were quite amused to find – one had to place the order by writing the item number from the menu card on a chit-pad (a practice which they still follow). We later discovered this was common in South India and Chicken 65 derived its name from being the 65th item on the Menu at Buhari’s restaurant.

Inside Shinkow's and Roast Pork
Contrary to our impression of all “Madrasis” are vegetarian – the Ananthakrishnas weren’t. But, the Chilli Chicken that arrived, much to our surprise, was not brown in colour (as we had expected) but red – much like Chicken 65, I would say. One can possibly call that - the Dravidianisation of Chinese.

Shinkow’s still remain our favourite and a mandatory stop in every visit to Ooty-Coonoor, which has now become quite regular for us. But, now we gorge on the pork and beef more – both, especially the latter, not easy to find in most Chinese restaurants. Shinkow’s have a limited range of cooking style. Most items have the red “masala” – called by various names. But, we like it that way – as  for us that’s what characterizes Shinkow’s or Nilgiris Chinese.

Nelson Wang
After Calcutta – Bangalore emerged as major centre for Indian Chinese. This is partly because of the large Tibetan settlement there. In fact, there used to be a restaurant near the junction of Brigade Road and MG Road – which local legend had it was owned by a sister of the Dalai Lama. Doubt if there was any truth to that rumour – but they made a very good fried acrid chicken, the only other place I had it was Kunga in Old China-Town Calcutta (they also ran the Chinese kitchen at The Calcutta Swimming Club in the 70s). The great Nelson Wang – is also supposed to have briefly worked at a restaurant in Bangalore’s Church Street area before moving to Bombay to make history.

Photo Courtesy: Samil Malhotra

Chinese Tadke-walla

The origin of “Punjabi Chinese” was, I believe, from Nirula’s in Connaught Place (also credited with invention of the Indian “Espresso” Coffee, which - milky and sweet – made frothy and ‘mouth scalding’ hot by injection of steam from a pressure jet -  is nothing like the Italian Espresso ). I first went to the Nirula’s Chinese Room in early 70s. We were on a family holiday in Delhi – when Mesho-babu (Amma’s elder cousin’s husband) was visiting on work from Calcutta and staying there. I was too young to understand – the shades of difference between Calcutta and Delhi Chinese. It was only much later did I realize – Nirula’s had started a whole new sub genre of Indian Chinese.  

That leaves the stories of the 2 Last Emperors of Chinese in India Baba Ling and Nelson Wang - but they deserve more than a chapter.

Baba Ling

Recipe: Cheat-Sheet - Sweet & Sour Vegetable:

  • Mixed Veggies (anything goes)   carrot, rench beans broccoli or cauliflower florets, button mushrooms (the more adventurous can try ribbed gourd or very tender bitter gourd too);
  •  1 medium bell pepper - red, green or yellow, chopped or cut into 1 inch square and finely chopped celery;
  • i medium onion quartered and layers separated;
  • 2/3 garlic cloves, ½ inch ginger;
  • While Vinegar (Or apple Cider); Dark Soya Sauce; Tomato Ketch-up;
  • Blanch Veggies and set aside in cold water to preserve colour (keep the veg stock for later use)
  • lightly fry the onion, garlic and ginger;
  • add the blanched vegetables; 
  • pour the sauce ingredients (soy, vinegar, ketchup - to taste) - add tea-spoon of sugar, salt and a pinch of pepper (can cheat with ready-made chilly-garlic sauce/paste or Tabasco);
  • Mix 2 heaped tsp of corn-flour in half a cup of water; mix and stir (don't let lumps form);
  • add some more vegetable stock if you need more sauce;
  • a pinch of aji-no-moto (MSG) always helps :)