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‘Saada roti’ and its legacy in the Caribbean

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By Tony Deyal

In the elementary schools I attended in the fifties, this racist chant was common. Now, fifty years after Independence, making, buying, selling or eating roti is not limited to any one race. It is not the speed with which the roti “done” but the question, “Where de roti gone?” As we say in Trinidad, it “gone for higher”.

Now you can buy all the different variations of roti in Toronto, New York, Miami and wherever Trinidadians and other West Indians live, lime and labour.

In 1962, the roti best known outside of the home was the “dhal puri”. There is no such commodity in India, where a puri is either a flat, flaky bread cooked in ghee (clarified butter), or a dish made by mashing or grinding peas, vegetables or meat and cooking it in hot water.

The purists say that what we call a “dhal puri” is really a dhal paratha which is a stuffed roti but in Trinidad what is called a “paratha” is not stuffed and is known as a “buss-up-shut”, taking its name because of its likeness to a tattered shirt.  The version of roti that is the breakfast and dinner staple, is “saada” which means “homely”, “simple” or “rustic” in Hindi but, in South India, would be a “chappati”.

However, the Trinidad “roti” is made using baking powder as a leavening agent and not yeast which is used to make “nan”, the generic Hindi word for “bread”.  The first time I heard the name Kofi Annan I thought it was an Indian breakfast.

It is not surprising that the Indian indentured immigrants to Trinidad, coming in contact with the British and mingling with the other races and cultures that comprised the most cosmopolitan of countries of the Caribbean, should come up with some culinary innovations.

Although barra (or bara, a fried flatbread originally made from ground peas and flour) exists in India and in other places where curried channa (chick peas) is a staple, it is Trinidad that invented the “doubles”, a sandwich made by putting curried channa between two barras.

Now you can get doubles almost anywhere in the Caribbean, North America and Britain.  The “pulao” or mixed rice dish of India became “pelau” and was popular long before roti made the hit parade.  Even in music technology, the country that gave the world the steel pan also reputedly invented the “dhantal”, a percussion instrument that was fashioned out of the iron “bows” that yoked the oxen that pulled the cane-carts.

The dhantal and “chutney” music, another Trinidadian invention, go together like a roti with a Red Solo soft-drink or “curry duck” and a river “lime”. In politics, the combination of “rum” and roti characterized a unique form of garnering votes for elections that was not limited to race.

When Trinidad became Independent in 1962, we did not understand what was happening or appreciate what we had.  Boys and girls of East Indian descent leaving their rural villages to go to the city High Schools and Colleges had an especially rough time. We studied by rote and by roti. There was a lot of stuff to memorise but what has stayed in our memories longest was the shame that we were made to feel for taking our saada roti to school.

Saada roti was not well known outside the household.  Civilised people bought bread from the bakery or had enough money for sandwiches from the school’s “tuck” shop or the “parlours” or cake shops outside. We carried our food in oily, curry-soaked paper (one bag per week) bags or wrapped in brown paper and we huddled together, rotis held close to our mouths, hurriedly gulping down our food, sometimes with mouthfuls of paper, so ashamed were we.

It was “doubles” that served as the wedge that opened the floodgates for Indian food.  Doubles vendors were always around but increasingly there were more of them and their customers were not limited to Indians. Paratha was next to taste the limelight. It might be because of the name by which this roti is best known. “Buss-up-shut” captured the Trini imagination.

Paratha, which is also a misnomer in the classic Indian sense since it is not stuffed with anything, is made to separate into smaller, bite-sized pieces. Unlike the dhal puri, it cannot be used as a wrap but has to be served separately from the curry.

This requires a container. Interestingly the paratha went mainstream when containers became commonplace.  In a way it demonstrated that there is a link between food and technology, the barra and dhal puri needed only pieces of brown wrapping paper and paper bags which were common.

The paratha needed a container and became popular when these were available in Styrofoam, cardboard and plastic.

What about the saada roti as the breakfast food of choice of so many Trinidadians? Its present popularity has as much to do with health and changing lifestyles as with taste. In rural homes, the husbands worked and the wives, even if they laboured in the cane-fields, were still responsible for the home and the food. Work started from before four a.m. and the bread vans came much later so that roti was the fastest, easiest and, for most Indians, the only palatable solution.

However, with the new generation where both men and women work but despite the increased income still have to hustle early in the morning to avoid the traffic, it is easier to buy breakfast than wake up and cook. The rationale for continuing to want Indian food is that the last thing people give up is their food.  They are willing to change their language, their clothing and their external lifestyles but are very reluctant to part with their food which, for them, is the most important of comfort zones. In fact, under stress most people revert to their comfort foods.

The health fad also helped. The “chokhas” or pulped or mashed vegetables (“aloo” or potato, tomato, “baigan” or eggplant) that accompany the saada are healthier than bacon and eggs. Health-conscious Trinis eventually hopped onto the bandwagon.  Now, saada roti has become the breakfast dish of many people in both rural and metropolitan areas.
For lunch, you can also buy dhal (split-pea soup), rice and any of the curries or chokhas in the food courts of the many malls throughout the country.

In the intervening years between 1962 and today, there were two other phenomena that helped to take roti and other Trinidadian East-Indian products outside the country.  One was the migration of many skilled workers to other parts of the world. Because of Trinidad’s long established petroleum industry, there are Trinidadians working in every oil-producing country in the world.

Also, during the past fifty years many Trinidadians have migrated to the US and Canada.  These people, many of whom were of East Indian descent, missed their “home” food and eventually, some found a living making and selling “local” food to the others.

The other event is the rise of “chutney”, a hot and spicy music mix associated with Trinidadian Indian culture.  It is a unique combination of Hindi and Trinidadian English, calypso, soca and Indian melodies.  Increasingly it carved its own niche in the music world. While the song that took it over the national and global threshold was Sonny Mann’s “Lotala”, the indications were always clear that chutney would emerge as one of the country’s global cultural exports.

Today roti has come out of the closet or the safe, the brown paper bag and the dirt fireside or “chulha”.  You can get any variation in the supermarkets, not just in Trinidad but throughout the diaspora.  At the same time, there are signs that the tossed salad that Trinidad is, has been quietly fusing into the melting pot that it should be.

The emergence of roti is one of the contributors to a growing national unity of taste and culture, not what we put on the stage but our way of life and our values. It is only under the pressure of politics that we tend to become tribal. Hopefully, we can learn from the humblest and most homely of rotis and evolve beyond that, saada but wiser.

This article first appeared in the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce’s CONTACT Magazine

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Listening for Well-being : Arun Maira Talks About a Democracy in Crisis, Unsafe Social Media and More in his Latest Book

Maira asserts that we must learn to listen more deeply to 'people who are not like us' in our country because of their history, their culture, their religion, or their race.

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Arun Maira
Arun Maira (extreme left), during a public event in 2009. Wikimedia
  • Former Planning Commission member Arun Maira’s latest book is titled ‘Listening for Well-Being’
  • Maira observes that physical and verbal violence in the world and on social media is continuously growing
  • He also highlights the importance of ‘hearing each other’ in order to create truly inclusive and democratic societies

New Delhi, September 5, 2017 : Former Planning Commission member Arun Maira contends that “physical violence” in the real world and “verbal violence” on social media against people whom “we do not approve of” are increasing today. With such trends on the rise, the very idea of democracy finds itself in a crisis.

The solution?

“We need to listen more deeply to people who are not like us,” said the much-respected management consultant, talking of his latest book, “Listening for Well-Being”, and sharing his perspective on a wide range of issues that he deals with.

“Violence by people against those they dislike, for whatever reason, is increasing. It has become dangerous to post a personal view on any matter on social media. Responses are abusive. There is no respect for another’s dignity. People are also repeatedly threatened with physical violence.”

He said that gangs of trolls go after their victims viciously. “Social media has become a very violent space. Like the streets of a run-down city at night… not a safe space to roam around in.”

At the same time, streets in the physical world are becoming less safe too. “Any car or truck on the road can suddenly become a weapon of mass destruction in a ‘civilised’ country: in London, Berlin, Nice, or Barcelona,” Maira told IANS in an interview.

Maira said that with the rise of right-wing parties that are racist and anti-immigrant, there is great concern in the Western democratic world — in the US, the UK and Europe — that democracy is in a crisis.

In the US, for example, supporters of Donald Trump, Maira said, believe only what Trump says and watch only the news channels that share a similar ideology. On the other side are large numbers of US citizens who don’t believe what Trump says but they too have their own preferred news sources.

“They should listen to each other, and understand each other’s concerns. Only then can the country be inclusive. And also truly democratic — which means that everyone has an equal stake and an equal voice,” he noted.

In “Listening for Well-Being” (Rupa/Rs 500/182 Pages), Arun Maira shows his readers ways to use the power of listening. He analyses the causes for the decline in listening and proposes solutions to increase its depth in private and public discourse.

Drawing from his extensive experience as a leading strategist, he emphasises that by listening deeply, especially to people who are not like us, we can create a more inclusive, just, harmonious and sustainable world for everyone.

But it would be wrong to say that the decline in listening is only restricted to the Western world.

“We have the same issues in India too. We are a country with many diverse people. We are proud of our diversity. However, for our country to be truly democratic, all people must feel they are equal citizens.

“The need for citizens to listen to each other is much greater in India than in any other country because we are the most diverse country, and we want to be democratic. So, we must learn to listen more deeply to ‘people who are not like us’ in our country because of their history, their culture, their religion, or their race,” he maintained.

Maira also said that India is a country with a very long and rich history. And within the present boundaries of India are diverse people, with different cultures, different religions, and of different races.

“So, we cannot put too sharp a definition on who is an ‘Indian’ — the language they must speak, the religion they must follow, or the customs they must adopt. Because, then we will exclude many who do not have the same profiles, and say they are not Indians. Thus we can falsely, and dangerously, divide the country into ‘real Indians’ and those who are supposedly non-Indians. Indeed, such forces are rising in India,” he added.

Maira, 74, hoped that all his readers will appreciate that listening is essential to improve the world for everyone. He also maintained that it is not a complete solution to any of the world’s complex problems but by listening to other points of view, we can prevent conflict and also devise better solutions.

Born in Lahore, Arun Maira received his M.Sc. and B.Sc. in Physics from Delhi University’s St Stephen’s College. He has also authored two bestselling books previously, “Aeroplane While Flying: Reforming Institutions” and “Upstart in Government: Journeys of Change and Learning”. (IANS)

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Nazi Protests in American Soil and Obsession with Jews: “Unite the Right” Rally in Charlottesville (US) suffuses with Anti-Semitism and Anti-Black Racism Logic

This Saturday, However, was not like the usual Saturdays. In the world outside, Swastikas were being displayed and slogans were being shouted

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Anti Semitism and white supremacy
A man holding up a sign reading "Deplorables and Alt-Right Unite". Wikimedia
  • “Unite the Right” rally on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia was about protecting a statue of Robert E. Lee
  • The rally soon suffused with anti-black racism and anti-Semitism
  • President Trump blamed both the sides for the violence 

New Delhi, August 23, 2017: The “Unite the Right” rally On Saturday, August 12, in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was seemingly about protecting a statue of Robert E. Lee, spreading the message of white supremacy, was soon suffused with anti-black racism and anti-Semitism.

Saturday evening in a Jewish home is a sight to watch. Some look forward to restart their work, others pleased to use their cell phones again. Whatever it be, the end of Sabbath is an auspicious time when the holiness leaves, giving way to the regular week again. One makes the best of this time, to be able to deliver the approaching week happily, the reason why people at this time wish each other a “Shauva Tov,” or a good week.

This Saturday, However, was not like the usual Saturdays. In the world outside, Swastikas were being displayed and slogans were being shouted.

“I was in Israel and as I breathed the spices our sages teach us to comfort our soul while we lose our Shabbat spirits, this ritual barely prepared me for the news that was waiting on the other side. I turned my phone on, only to learn that a rally of White Supremacists and neo-Nazis took place in Charlottesville, Virginia and that those in attendance were shouting that ‘Jews will not replace us’ I realized immediately that it was not, in fact, going to be a shavua tov,” Said Jessica Spengler in a report published in Manhattan Jewish Experience website.

President Trump, two days later, blamed both the sides for the violence in Charlottesville. “I think there is blame on both sides. You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now,” He said, according to The New York Times report.

In a reaction to which, “Our president not only held counter-protesters to the same moral deficiency as the Nazis themselves but also claimed that not all people at the Unite The Right rally were antisemites. That might technically be true but not the kind of unequivocal condemnation of racism and bigotry we need to hear from the top,” Jessica mentioned.

ALSO READ: Jewish cemetery becomes the fresh hunt of rising Antisemitism in US

“I rarely speak of Israel as a safe haven also since America has been a safe option for Jews for as long as I’ve been alive. The 1800’s saw large waves of immigration to the land of Israel due to the pogroms occurring in Eastern Europe. The rising anti-Semitism reinforced in Europe by 20th century Fascism brought, even more, refugees to what would eventually become the Jewish State. But here’s the kicker: as a Jewish American, I never had to put myself in their shoes. After all, we live in America! But the images of white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching with swastikas in America in 2017 jolted me and got me thinking…maybe Israel is still needed as a safe haven even for us?” Jessica who’s herself a Jew living in America added.

Jessica believes it’s our responsibility to confront racism and all forms of bigotry, particularly anti-Semitism. She finds it important to speak against the bigotry in America but holds, that to continue to strengthen Israel is equally essential.

– prepared by Samiksha Goel of NewsGram. Twitter @goel_samiksha

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Book on Discrimination Against Dalits Creates Buzz in the US

The book details memories of growing up as a Dalit woman in India

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discrimination
Dalit or Untouchable Woman of Bombay (Mumbai) according to Indian Caste System - 1942. Wikimedia Commons
  • A highly touching account of caste-based discrimination in India is creating a buzz in publishing circles in the United States
  • The author of the book “Ants among Elephants”, Sujatha Gidla is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Madras and is currently working as a conductor with the New York subway
  • The book details memories of growing up as a Dalit woman in India and lists many instances of “discrimination and humiliations”.

New York, July 31, 2017: A highly anecdotal and touching account of caste-based discrimination in India by an “untouchable born in Andhra Pradesh”, who emigrated to the United States at the age of 26, is creating a buzz in publishing circles here.

The book, titled “Ants among Elephants”, has been written by Sujatha Gidla, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Madras, who is currently working as a conductor with the New York subway. The book details memories of growing up as a Dalit woman in India. Gidla also lists many instances of “discrimination and humiliations” that Dalits in India are customarily subjected to.

In the introduction of the book, the author writes that she was born in Kazipet, a small town in the then state of Andhra Pradesh. Her parents were college lecturers but they were “untouchables”.

According to excerpts available on the publisher’s website, Gidla compares the case of “untouchables” in India to the racism against blacks in the US.

Also ReadEssence of freedom: What independence means to dalits of India

“The untouchables, whose special role — whose hereditary duty — is to labour in the fields of others or to do other work that Hindu society considers filthy, are not allowed to live in the village at all. They must live outside the boundaries of the village proper. They are not allowed to enter temples.

“Not allowed to come near sources of drinking water used by other castes. Not allowed to eat sitting next to a caste Hindu or to use the same utensils. There are thousands of other such restrictions and indignities that vary from place to place. Every day in an Indian newspaper you can read of an untouchable beaten or killed for wearing sandals, for riding a bicycle,” Gidla writes.

Major US publications, including the New York Times, have reviewed the book and have commented on its “insightful” understanding of India’s social and cultural fabric.

According to a news report in NBC-2.com, Gidla’s grandparents converted to Christianity at the onset of the 20th century and were educated at Canadian missionary schools.

Gidla, too, with the help of Canadian missionaries, studied physics at the Regional Engineering College in Warangal, in what is Telangana today. She also pursued a researcher course in applied physics at IIT-Madras.

In the US, she initially worked as a developer in software design, then moved to banking but lost her job in 2009 during the economic crisis. Finally, she took up the job of a conductor at the New York subway.

The book has been published in the US by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan publishers, and is yet to enter the Indian market. (IANS)