Saturday June 23, 2018
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Its all about the taste of India!

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Today, thousands of young professionals build their careers in cities where they were not born or raised. A study conducted by LinkedIn in 2014 found that Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai and Gurgaon are the top cities recruiting young talent from across India.

I hope such transplantation has led to greater exposure to and appreciation of different regional cuisines, customs and languages. In fact, many Indians who leave home for further study or job opportunities first experience India’s linguistic and culinary diversity on foreign soil.

Before leaving for the United States as a graduate student, I had never lived outside Kolkata. As a new graduate student in Florida, I experienced India’s diversity for the first time. What I write next is my personal experience. I have changed names and states of origin not because my friends can get offended but because my experience was not a unique one. Most students from India can attest to similar experiences.

India tends to rank second to China in sending student applications to graduate schools in the United States. The Wall Street Journal reports that in 2015, US schools received 676,484 applications from India. Most university campuses in the USA have Indian student organizations. Composed of students and led by students, these associations work as a cultural grounding for students who have recently left their country behind. The executive committees organize and celebrate major Indian festivals, like Diwali and Holi, and special days, like Independence Day and Republic Day. On the west coast of the US alone, there are two such organizations in Washington State, two in Oregon, and 16 in California. Members of the student organizations typically receive students from the airports upon arrival, make temporary accommodation arrangements with roommates, and help the new arrivals get their bearings in the first few weeks when the new country and a new academic system seem slightly disorienting.

In Florida, we were four girls from India and were all new to our new home. Excited and glad to be in our comfort zone (we’re all Indians after all), we sat down on the carpet in our yet unfurnished duplex apartment and tried to get to know each other.

What language would we speak?

Priya spoke Bengali. Chetana spoke Marathi. Sunita spoke Hindi. Gayatri spoke Telugu. English was the only common language. Everyone understood Hindi, but only one spoke it fluently.

According to the New World Encyclopedia, there are more than 400 languages in India and several hundred dialects. The Constitution of India recognizes 23 official languages. The currency is printed in 15 languages. Any job application form is printed in 3 languages–English, Hindi and a regional language. Most of the languages have their distinct alphabets, scripts, and vocabularies and can be as different from each other as English is from Chinese. (In later years, I have shared the meaning of diversity in the Indian context with my American friends and colleagues. Many of them working in college admissions offices can’t wrap their minds about the challenges such a range of diversity tends to pose.)

Now that English became the apartment’s lingua franca, as in urban India, we turned our attention to apartment rules and cooking turns.

Why not cook together?

Two are vegetarians and two are not.

Gayatri–a strict vegetarian from southern India–does not know the taste of onion and garlic. She has grown up eating dosa, sambhar and chutneys.

According to The Hindu-CNN-IBN State of the Nation Survey, conducted in 2006, 31% of Indians are exclusively vegetarians. Their food habits stem from “inherited cultural practice rather than individual belief.” While Brahmins in many states tend to be vegetarians, this study shows “regional location” often determines food habits; hence, coastal areas have more fish-eating communities than land-locked central and northern areas which have more vegetarian communities.

Since everyone ate vegetarian food in the Florida apartment, we decided to inaugurate our shared kitchen by cooking dal and rice on day one.

Once the dal was boiled and ready, each girl suggested spices for tadka, chhok, baghar, phoron… all meaning “seasoning” in their respective languages.

What would be the seasoning spices?

Gayatri suggested cumin and mustard seeds.

Sunita chose cumin seeds and green chillies.

Chetana brought mustard seeds and tomatoes.

Priya brought dry red chillies and ‘panch phoron’ seeds.

These were only four ways. If potatoes can be cooked in at least three hundred ways, as Shashi Tharoor writes in From Midnight to the Millennium, imagine the multiple seasonings possible to add flavour to an otherwise bland dal.

Soon enough Gayatri’s mustard seeds and Sunita’s green chillies locked horns. To dispel a gathering storm on the very first day of our comfort zone, Chetana and Priya called up Papa John’s and ordered a large all-veggie pizza with no onions.

Bhalo. Achha hain. Bagundi. Good. The evening ended well.

This was my first experience with the multiple ways an Indian identity can be understood. If language and food are essential traits of identity, then there are multiple ways of being Indian.

Credits: The Huffington Post

  • Pritam Go Green

    That’s the amount of diversity we as a Indians possess. Divided by cultures United by Nation. Even U.S knows the worth of Indian students.

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)