Corrupted Dosa

Recently read a post ‘Online delivery of Masala Dosas is a food ‘hate-crime’. North India must apologise. Its indeed a hate crime!!!  Even the paper thin Dosa is a hate crime the North Indians must tender an apology for!!!

A Dosa is a thin pancake like a crepe originating from South India, made from a fermented batter of lentils and rice.

The paper-thin Dosa is the corrupted form of Dosa.  In my childhood Amma made Dosa on a ten-inch dia stone girdle.  It was thick – the least it was five times thicker lighter and spongier than its paper-thin cousin. These Dosas were characterised by the holes left by the steam evaporating on cooking from the batter.

I joined Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar (Thamizh Nadu) in 1971 at the age of nine where Dosa was served twice a week – Sunday breakfast and Thursday diner.  The Sunday Dosa was with Sambar and Chutney, but the Thursday Dinner was the best – rarest of rarest combination – Dosa with Chicken Masala Curry – one of the best combinations I have had in my life.  Here too it was the thick and fluffy Dosa which combined well with the gravy.

My introduction to the paper-thin Dosa was at the National Defence Academy.  It never tasted anywhere near what I had at home or at school.  It was too crispy for my liking.  I called it the ‘Corrupt version of the poor Dosa.’  Though corrupt, it was lapped up by the North Indians and the South Indians too followed suit and the thick and original Dosa disappeared from most South Indian restaurants and homes.  Some restaurants now serve it as ‘Set Dosa.’

I recall an incident narrated by Veteran Colonel MA Mathai.  After marriage, on settling in their first military abode in 1985, he and his wife Sainu decided to invite all officers of their Regiment for a Dosa Brunch.  In the morning Sainu made Dosas the way her mother made them – thick and stout.  Neither Captain Mathai nor the officers were too happy about it.

After our marriage, we established our first home at Devlali, Maharashtra in 1989.  During our settling down days, Marina said she intended to make Dosa on the following Sunday and she inquired as to what I wanted with it.  I asked for my most relished combination with Dosa – chicken masala curry.  “What an unpalatable combination?” was Marina’s reply.  I told her that the thick Dosa made on a granite griddle, served with chicken masala curry was the best combination for Dosa that I had ever had.  She did not believe me until we relished it that Sunday evening.

During our Pan-India tour as part of the Long Gunnery Staff Course (LGSC) in 1990, at Jabalpur Railway Station, our coach was stationed adjacent to the main platform.  After the industrial visits, while I was strolling on the railway platform in the evening, I came across tow young men from Kerala selling Dosas. They narrated their story as to how they came to Jabalpur and established their business. 

The two unemployed high-school graduate lads landed at Jabalpur on the recommendation of a close relative who was employed with the Ordnance Factory.  They searched for a job and joined the restaurant on the railway platform as dishwashers.  Few months into their work, the restaurant owner was impressed with their dedication and asked them “Can you make Dosas?  There is a lot of demand for it.  There are no good Dosa vends in town.” They took the bait. 

The two men travelled to Kerala to return with a heavy grinder, girdles and other utensils needed to make Dosa.  They commenced their Dosa selling in the restaurant and soon the place became a favourite haunt of the powerful, wealthy and influential people of Jabalpur.  The restaurant owner now came out with a new business model for them.  “You sell your Dosas here and all the money is yours?”

Too tempting an offer to reject!!  They again took the bait.  They sold hundreds of Dosas every evening, collected the cash, went back to their home to soak the rice and lentil overnight.  Next morning, they ground the rice and lentil and fermented it till evening.  In the evening, they established their girdle on the platform, in front of the restaurant.  People came in droves to buy Dosas.  Many sent their tiffin carriers for home delivery. 

The biggest question in their minds was “Why did the owner allow us to sell Dosas and take all the money?”

A month into the new venture, they gathered enough courage to ask the question to the restaurant owner.  “Customers who buy Dosas from you buy coffee too.  I sell over a hundred coffee every evening and I make a Rupee on every coffee. “

The restaurant owner did not kill the geese that laid golden eggs for him, he nurtured them!!!!

Running Away From Studies

We were about 30 of us who landed at Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar, Thamizh Nadu from Kerala in July 1971, armed with little communication skill in our mother tongue Malayalam.  English, Hindi and Thamizh were alien to us.  First language and medium of education at our school was English.  We started with the English Alphabets under Ms Sheila Cherian and graduated to Wren & Martin and English Today by Ridout. We had to study Thamizh or Hindi as our second and third languages.

Thamizh as a second language was out of question as it required us to cram the Thirukkurals onward.  Thamizh poems, and ancient literature are not easy to understand. Hence we were given Hindi as a second language.  As expected we all fared badly and was the nightmare for us during the Grade 10 public exam.  Only the God Almighty and the examiner who evaluated our answer sheets know as to how we managed to pass.  It was all about cramming to the last alphabet and reproducing them on paper. Luckily we did not have to study a second language in our grade 11 and 12.

Thamizh was our third language, taught to us by Mr MV Somasundaram and Mr K Ekambaram.  We commenced with grade 1 Thamizh textbook in grade 5.  The only saving grace was that they put an end to our agony in grade 8 with a grade 4 Thamizh textbook.

We from the 1979 Batch were the very first batch to face the brunt of 10+2 education by Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) India – an extra year of studies.  Our previous batch graduated from school in 1977 on completion of grade 11.

Grade 12 was a bugbear for my likes who were pathetic with academics and who never achieved any academic glory while at school.

Why did I join the National Defence Academy (NDA) and later serve the Indian Army for over two decades?

The truth is that I ran away from studies.  The bonus of getting through the NDA entrance examination was that we joined the NDA after our grade 11.  We did not have to go through grade 12 and the culminating public exam.  What a relief!!!.

We were made to believe at school that the training at NDA was more about outdoor activities – Physical Training (PT,) games, drill, weapon training, equitation training, military tactics, etc – and that the academic component was very minimal.  On joining the Academy, reality dawned on us.  We had to graduate in a Bachelors’ Degree programme, covering over 30 subjects ranging from Engineering Drawing to International Relations to be awarded a degree from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU.)  This is the only Bachelor’s Degree JNU confers as JNU is India’s premier research university.

Gods had to settle the scores with my academic pursuits, especially linguistics.  How could they spare me from the rigours of Hindi and Thamizh?

I was commissioned in the Regiment of Artillery of the Indian Army – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River.) The Regiment then had an interesting class composition. One battery (consisting of six Bofors Guns, and about 150 soldiers) was of North Indian Brahmins; the second had Jats mostly from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh; and the third was manned by the soldiers from the four Southern States. Now I had to master Hindi the way the Brahmins and Jats spoke and also Thamizh as it was the medium of communication for the South Indian Soldiers.

At the end of it, commanding a Regiment and retiring after two decades of military service which I joined primarily to run away from studies – the reality was that neither did I stop studying nor did I stop running!!

Even while commanding the Regiment, I continued studying as we received  modern high-tech radars, survey equipment, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones), etc which I had never heard of until then.  In order to command the Regiment, I had to master all the modern military gadgets and the only way out was to learn about them and operate them.  This meant I had to pore over volumes of operational and maintenance manuals.

My studies did not end with my hanging my military boots.  It continued and will continue for ever. 

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young – Henry Ford.