Hot Head

The Right to Food

I remember what food rations meant in the 1960s and ‘70s. Long queues would form in front of the ration or fair price shops as soon as word got around that the trucks carrying wheat or rice had arrived. Sometimes, the arrival of food grain turned out to be plain rumour — causing great anger and anxiety amongst those who went back with empty bags. India was still not self-sufficient in food grain and was forced to import it from the US and other countries. Much of the wheat that India got from the US’s PL-480 was resent as it was rumoured to be for cattle.

The empowered courtesans of old

As a teenager in the Lucknow of the mid-’70s, I recall cycling once to the older part of the city famous for Awadhi cuisine and high culture. Accompanied by a friend who claimed to know the area well, we set out on a quest to find Lucknow’s famous red light locality. “That’s where we have to go,” my friend gestured enthusiastically towards a dark lane choked with the random clutter of small-time traffic.

The creeping Saudi tendril

When Cairo’s Tahrir Square erupted against President Mohammed Morsi’s attempts to usurp all powers, the divide was clearly visible. On one side were the Islamists, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, and on the other were the secularists, animated by Muslim liberals, Coptic Christians and many of those keen to protect the secular ethos of the Gamal Abdel Nasser era. Women provided the spine to this opposition to Morsi as they feared losing their rights once the sharia laws began to sideline existing ones.

The culturing of cuisine

“Your staple diet must be idlis and dosas?” was the rhetorical question from a cheery young waiter at Lahore’s Pearl Intercontinental when he learned I was from India. My prompt protest that, being from Delhi, I ate food similar to what was being served in the expansive breakfast buffet failed to convince him. “This is what we have been told. Try our nihari and halim. I am sure you would not get it in India, which I hear is vegetarian,” he went on.