Thursday, November 1, 2007

PM's childhood friend in Pakistan awaits visa to meet him

PM's childhood friend in Pakistan awaits visa to meet him Rashmi Talwar in Pakistan meets PM's friend ..........with Pix Lahore (Pakistan )February 27, 2007--------- Even as India and Pakistan struggle to achieve sustainable peace it is still not easy for a common man to get visa to each others country --be it the PM's childhood friend.... Raja Mohammed Ali (75) a schoolmate friend of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh from his ancestral village 'Gah' the birthplace of Prime Minister in Pakistan is longing to meet his childhood friend but is awaiting his visa for travel to India . Having studied with the Dr Manmohan Singh from class I to IV, Mohammed is restless to convey his desperation to meet his friend ever since they heard the first radio announcement declaring him PM of India in 2004. Before that the villagers never came to know the fate of the 'Kohli' family who had left the village well before partition , says Mohammed as he expresses his ignorance over Dr Manmohan's stint as Finance minister. The first words Mohammed uttered when he met this Amritsar resident --a place where Dr Manmohan Singh grew up --was "sadey Mohney ney jutti pai key nahi" (Did Our Mohna wear the shoes or not) made me wonder what he was talking about till he explained that he had sent a "tilley walli jutti" as a present to PM who had a childhood nickname 'Mohna'. Reminiscing the celebration in the ancestral village when Dr Manmohan Singh became the 17th PM of India Mohammed says "the whole village was agog with cries of "sada Mohna Hindustan da wazir-e-azam ban gaya "..... The same year the blessings continued as the village was declared a model village by Pakistan government. Hiding his overwhelming joy and nervousness Mohammed almost six feet tall, turned-out in his best 'wasket' and salwar kameez complete with a turban, shyly says—"I had especially come to meet the Indian Jatha that arrived in Katasraj with help from the only Hindu member of Zila council of Chakwal district, Pakistan Mr. Ravinder Kumar Chibber" and added "I was hoping to meet someone from Amritsar the hometown of PM". Recalling the time when he sent a "Tilley wali Jutti" to the PM with the 29-member delegation of Pakistan local council that crossed over to India in August the same year (2004) Mohammed said joyfully, “I had made the estimate of his (PM’s) foot-size from his television appearances that we collected together to watch in houses of friends and relatives in adjoining townships". Mohammed who lived merely 100 yards from Mohna's house says after 'Mohna' became PM he (PM) wrote to him asking about their "only girl" classmate Baqt Bano. She was the only daughter of her parents and since there were no sons to send to school, therefore her father had enrolled her in school where she became 'special' with all boy classmates, recalled Mohammed shyly. "I was distraught to tell the PM that she had died years ago and was married to one Khizar Hayat. And it was touching to note that 'Mohna' wrote back to the aggrieved family expressing his condolences on the demise of 'Bano'. Mohna called me 'Ali' and we were zamidaars while Mohna's family were dry fruit agents in Gallah mandi... "Mohna was very fond of marbles, gulli danda and often we used to play kabbadi ", recalls Mohammed. Ravinder Kumar who had accompanied Mohammed and claims to be from the family of Bhai Mati Das of Delhi who was beheaded with an 'arra' as he defied Aurangzeb and fearlessly propagated Sikhism said, that the 'village 'Gah' that falls in his district declared model village was now being inter-chained with the main Motorway to Islamabad . The school at which the PM studied was being renamed as "Manmohan Singh High School" He further informed that the Kohli Family's kachcha house was washed away; a remaining structure is being renovated. "The only girls' school is being upgraded, also a guest house and rural health centre have been established while the roads of the village have been metalled", he added. Interestingly, the schoolmate has also kept a carefully laminated photocopy of the primary village school register in which the name of Dr Manmohan Singh is written in Urdu son of Mr. Gurmukh Singh. His admission in Class I was recorded in 1937. The date of birth is registered as February 4, 1932 (4-2-1932) and the admission date is March 31, 1941 (31-3-1941). Mohammed said that along with him there were three other classmates of Manmohan Singh namely Ghulam Mohammed , Shah Wali Khan and Mohammed Ashraf and all were eagerly awaiting his arrival in their village to give him a "King's welcome" ......................................eom......................

Wednesday, October 31, 2007



New York May 15, 2007 ---------
-Sylvia Alexander took a ladle full of the batter and swished it onto a hotplate, expertly scrapping the extra batter with few drops of oil to make it ultra slim and rolled the golden DOSA. So far the dosa was Indian until she started filling in Smoked Turkey, with spinach, Jack Cheese and balsamic roasted onions on to it. Sylvia is a Trinidad/Tobago national and head chef at the famous Hampton chutney Co-- that has revolutionized the Indian dosa/uttapum into an American specialty and now Dosa and Uttapam are truly set to go ‘GLOBAL ’. ----------
. Giving apt competition to Pizzas, hot-dogs and Burgers a chain of three joints by the same company came up in last five years in New York at Amagansett in the long Island borough , another at the hip SoHo district and yet another at upstate West side and became hot on the gourmet lists in USA.
An American couple Gary and Isabel Mac Gurn started this extraordinary foray into essentially Indian cuisine and Americanized it with their indigenous fillings. Recalling their first meeting Isabel said they met each other at the kitchens of Siddha Yoga Meditation ashram in Ganeshpuri, India and loved dosas and dreamt of opening a Dosa/Uttapam joint back home in America. Having done seva - selfless service - in the ashram kitchen for nearly 6-years where devotees from all over India and around the world cooked for hundreds of people, Isabel says we learned the perfect art of dosa making and started small in 1987, by making Indian chutneys combining it with American ingredients and supplied them first to food markets in Hampton and then on to bigger markets --Fairways, Zabars, Balducci's and others in NYC.
''The chutneys turned into a big hit and subsequently we pooled in money, took small loans and approached a friend to rent a place and opened our first joint in Amagansett NY. Gary made the first dosas and uttapams and I served the customers! ", recalled Isabel with a smile.
After tandoori tikkas made famous by former US president Bill Clinton and Chinese cuisine that caught on to the world palate in its indigenous forms now it’s the turn of “new avatar ” of this Indian dish to go universal, she added. It is not surprising then that at no time of the day or night the place is empty. People of all nationalities flock to taste the dosa /uttapam or the even the fruit flavoured –'LASSIS ' in New York
The fillings indeed are extraordinary and unheard of --sample a dosa with - Calamata Olives, Arugula, Goat Cheese, Grilled Chicken, Roasted Peppers, balsamic roasted onions, grilled portobello mushrooms, spinach, scrambled eggs, jack cheese , avocado, Tuna fish, Cilantro Chutney Dressing or roasted tomato . "Many of our innovative customers enjoy using hands and 'finger- licking' techniques when we guide them to the best way to eat dosas ,' laughs Isabel .
Of course one can match the cuisine with another indigenous preparation of the Indian "lassi" with flavors of mango, strawberry or peach or even Indian 'chai' or special south Indian cardamom coffee . kiddies too have their special menus with avocado, grilled chicken , scrambled eggs or smoked turkey all combined with jack cheese .
Interestingly not a single Indian is among the entire set of chefs and other staff that prepare and serve this Indian cuisine. To which Isabel smiled and said they advertise for help not for nationalities!
On tapping an absolutely unexploited territory Isabel and Gary said –' we were confident to make a mark! "And our concoctions are definitely changing America's perception of traditional chutneys and other cuisines"!
Appreciably the joint has taken upon itself to educate people with a guided tour of their five flavours of famous chutneys through a maze of foods and sandwiches and suggests them to be eaten with varied combinations that are mostly and absolutely "un-Indian"!
Like 'cilantro' or green chutney with shrimp, chicken/ fish or advised to be added to black beans for quesadilla filling, folded into tuna fish or dip for tortilla chips.
While the 'mango' chutney is supposed to taste best with seafood/ lamb / pork!! The nuttiness of 'peanut' chutney with roasted chicken, soba noodles, stir fried or steamed vegetables, grilled shrimp or pretzels. The 'pumpkin' concoction with roast turkey or bagel or 'curry' chutney for marinating chicken, vegetables, shrimp or lobster and 'tomato' chutney adding zip to pasta !
What clinches the choice in their favour from rival eateries of pizza, hot dog or burger joints is the nutrition information that claims 189 calories for plain dosa /uttapum with carbo at 36 g and protein at 5g!
Gary and Isabel have however not forgotten their roots of learning as could be seen with 'Om Namah Shivaya' written in bold letters with pictures of gods and goddesses decorated with peacock feathers, a shivling, an oil glass chimney lamp serving as diya, on an embellished red prayer cloth in the special corner. The rest of the restaurant has copper wall ledges and bar stools for seating !
Devotional chants playing in the background that spells out the calming atmospheric ambience consonant with India . The fact that 'no' beef is used in the fillings and Isabel dressing up in a saree on some special occasions is something that totally keeps them grounded to their guru.
Joanne, a customer aptly describes the experience 'Though I loved the non- vegetarian dosa, I did walk away feeling a bit weird - the non-veg options seemed a bit of out character with the rest of the vibe. I always thought that a vegetarian diet went hand in hand with yoga and a more tapasic lifestyle. I guess I'm wrong'
Rashmi Talwar is a freelance writer for special magazine section of "The Tribune"