Anupama S Mani


My attempts to clear the photos saved on my phone got derailed once again. As I was going through them, I got distracted by this one. I remember the great time we had with our friends and their family at this Goa resort last winter but these two boards put up next to each other had stood out like the proverbial eyesore.

This was the first time I had seen the option of spelling ‘strictly’ four ways, forget ‘necessary’ and the way the sentences are split.

Please do not take it otherwise. I am no Angrez (English). Years of editing has affected my vision in such a way that errors seem to pop out. It does not matter if it is English or Hindi, mistakes rankle equally. 

I fail to understand why people who spend money and effort to get a billboard or signage painted and fixed, do not spend a few minutes checking the spelling themselves or getting them checked. I shall talk about the error-filled menu cards of restaurants some other time when I start visiting them again and humoring myself with the blunders.

All of us have seen scores of such examples of faulty spellings sent, resent, forwarded and re-forwarded on Whatsapp, but I am sharing with you the following which I had not seen earlier. These are on our very own Bharatiya (Indian) boards and mere spelling errors; no misinformation, no wisecracks, no wrong meanings not wrong usage either.

I guess the one who tells the painter what to write as well as the painter himself, treat English as a phonetic language and write the words as they say it. If it was left to these geniuses, some of these words chosen off the cuff, would have spelled something like:

anuff (enough)
eejy (easy)
kauphy (coffee)
t (tea)
mairij (marriage)
nees (niece)
neyber (neighbour)
phijix (physics)
pheymas (famous)
praublam (problem)
tuff (tough) etc.
and simplified English language. 

Read also
What did you do in the lockdown?
Washing Hands- Give soap a chance

Most of us have seen signboards saying Ledis and Gens/Jens but…

Painters of food stall signboards are perhaps the best inventors.

The articles shown below aren’t literally edible even though the writer goes by their alternate usage.

I wonder if a tippler painted it after having one too many. Don’t miss the endorsement by the Punjab Police! 

I did not know tasting those things is also a way of diagnosing ailments.

Why this attachment with the four letter body waste? 

He writes as he speaks.

This one is the best because it spells ‘belt’ and ‘ear’ in the conventional way but has given fresh life to English with the other spellings he/she has invented. 

Chooridaar, skirt, frock, leggings, if you please!

If the lawyers choose to introduce themselves as such, I don’t think any of us should say much except Amen.

All this grooming and self-care, now try your luck in Bollywood.

Jo bola wohich likhne ka (Write exactly as I say), would thunder the Hindi film hero in his Bambaiyya (Mumbai) accent. The poor painter just did that to earn his bread.

Now believe me, this writer is not exactly to blame. The word ‘anal‘ with the first ‘a’ spoken like the ‘a’ in ‘align’, ‘about’, ‘arrange’, means fire in Hindi and shanti is silence/peace/quiet. He would certainly not have meant that the product puts out the fire if your rear end is spitting out flames like a rocket.

Private business owners are not the only ones. Look at the laudable effort of the sarkari (government) agencies too. 

Names of Mumbai Roads

You tell me, is that even a way to clean yourself? Actually I do have a few questions about it, but I don’t think it is proper to ask them.

According to Times of India, troubled by the wrongly spelled names of prominent places on the signboards put up across the city by the Tourism Department and the Public Works Department (PWD) in Lucknow, a local school boy SM Ayaan Rizvi, (then 12), had written a letter to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on April 7, 2018, to get the spellings corrected. He had included pictures of many such signboards. Fortunately, action was taken and the spellings corrected.

In the end, let us also honour the efforts of this gentleman from our cousin and neighbour country, who wishes to market his skill as a cock, as he himself says.

More from Anupama S Mani
It’s the time to chaat
Yet another one more time


                                         Back to the Future

Now that unlock ki prakriya (the process of unlocking) is in its fourth phase, I feel brave enough to talk about the time during lockdown. The virus and the humans now seem to have got used to each other. It brings me immense solace when my doctor friend says that with time not only have we found ways to survive the attack, but the virus too has gone less virulent. Apparently the virus senses that to survive, it needs a host and if it feeds off all of them, it would lose its very existence. Wise thought though still scary!

Fortunately, most of the people I know, did not have to face difficulty of travel, major treatments or any other crisis during the lockdown period except, of course, the all-pervading sense of concern and a lot of precaution. They sometimes shared what they were doing. Whatever news was left, was filled in by the news channels which continued to make me ask back – What, now? In these days?

With the malls, stores, pubs, discos, clubs, restaurants, craft and bookstores closed, people had to rely on their own ingenuity to keep themselves and the children busy and entertained. After the initial shock, days fell into a pattern of housework, eating, complaining and some other activity. There was no sense of any idle work. No goals, nothing else to do. Nothing that made you forget to eat or sleep.

Everyone got busy. Work did not stop, only the venues changed and for a big percentage of people, it was work from home and online meetings. Yet for the rest of the time, they were so many physical things to do at home or to tackle in the mind. They were making up for the free time they had yearned for. They followed their old interests, picked up new hobbies, tried out new activities. While some carefully chose how to spend time, the others were either wayward or simply  unsure.

Cloistered in their homes, surrounded by members of the family whom they had learned to distance before this, and now willy-nilly, had to spend most of their waking hours with, they all decided that it was the right time to ‘let the passion surface’. After all, how many times can you have Happy hours in a day?

The topmost spot went to social networking. People called up children, parents, siblings, friends and relatives to ask about their well-being. They exchanged warnings or tales of vulnerability and sent audio and video messages to the ones they had not talked to for, maybe, months and years.  

The Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions leave not much to guess what most of us did. Binge-watching films or drama series for hours together made up for the opportunities lost of watching what we had missed or mindless watching as a perfect escape to kill time.

To find some peace, baking was a strange choice. Instagram went aflame with photos of people baking cakes, flans, Focaccia cheese-topped veggies and what not. Naturally, the viewers oohed and aahed over them and made appropriate comments.

Crème caramel flan Photo Courtesy: Lily Pandeya

Close behind was the main kitchen activity-cooking. Such creativity! Such experiments! Healthy and nutritious meals during lockdown! The impressive fact is that the whole family seemed to have jumped in with a sense of adventure.

Then there were the ones who took great care of their mental health. They fed their minds with reading and writing or listening to music. They made and released online music videos. They played board games and solved puzzles.

They reminded you of the great minds who had done remarkable work during the quarantine days in the 16th and 17th century. 


When bubonic plague hit Florence in 1348, father and stepmother of Florentine writer and poet Giovanni Boccaccio succumbed to the disease. Boccaccio survived the outbreak by fleeing the city and hiding out in the Tuscan countryside. During this period, he wrote The Decameron, a collection of novellas framed as stories a group of friends tell each other while quarantined inside a villa during the plague.

When the plague hit London in  1592, playwright Thomas Nashe fled to the English countryside to avoid infection. This was the same time he wrote Summer’s Last Will and Testament, a play that reflects his experiences living through the pandemic. One famous passage reads:

Adieu, farewell earths blisse,
This world uncertaine is,
Fond are lifes lustful joyes,
Death proves them all but toyes,
None from his darts can flye;
I am sick, I must dye:
Lord, have mercy on us.

Shakespeare was an actor and shareholder with The King’s Men theater troupe when the bubonic plague forced London theatres to close in the early 17th century. The official rule was that after weeks, when the death toll crossed 30, public playhouses had to shut down. This meant that the theatre industry was paralyzed for much of 1606 when the plague returned to the city. After suddenly finding himself without a steady job and lots of free time, Shakespeare got to writing. He composed King LearMacbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra before the year was over.

In 1665, when Isaac Newton was in his early 20s, one of the last major outbreaks of the bubonic plague hit the country. Classes at Cambridge University were cancelled, so Newton retreated to his family estate roughly 60 miles away to continue his studies there. The young mathematician produced some of his best work during his year in quarantine, writing the papers that would become early calculus and developing his theories on optics while playing with prisms in his bedroom. This was also the time when his theory of gravity germinated.

The Scream painter Edvard Munch contracted Spanish flu around the beginning of 1919, while living in Norway. But instead of becoming one of its many victims, Munch lived to continue making great art. As soon as he felt physically capable, he gathered his painting supplies and began capturing his physical state. Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu shows him with thinning hair and a gaunt face sitting in front of his sickbed. (Wikipedia Commons)

                     The Scream by Edvard Munch

Similarly, in recent times, some people let loose their creative sides to draw, paint or sketch. This included the thousands of children who had to be kept out of their parents’ hair during this period 24×7 company with no respite. The online sale of paints, crafts material and subscription of videos soared.

I was relieved that the Chinese apps were banned because it put a stop to the continuously pinging of my phone with the tik-tok videos of poor jokes and husbands motion-photographed doing the household chores as evidence of creativity.

The houses of God on the street corners went silent and so the flowers which were duly plucked daily to be offered to them, bloomed and the birds sang.  These could have been great opportunities for ambitious photographers but alas, the only photos I was treated to, were of everything else.

Some others made good use of the time in organizing the house. Though sadly, there was almost no one who seemed to share my interest in needlework.

People took care of their plants in the broiling heat. They took the pets out and I was not surprised to see some so far unseen characters in our building being pulled by the leash as the happy dogs took them out for a walk.

With the gyms, parks, tennis and squash courts closed, the fitness conscious people took to yoga and exercises inside the house to keep their bodies healthy and agile. The YouTube views on the dance videos also became a popular choice.

Those who had a pair of running shoes and some ground to cover did some walking or running, and with the earphones emanating music they could enjoy some alone moments of fun and activity.

Not only that, with the golf courses closed, people like K S Asla, blessed not only with the sportsman’s heart, but good joints and enthusiasm too, chose to cycle during the morning hours of lockdown relaxation. And believe me, in the Chennai summer too!

IRAS officer K S Asla (in blue) and his cycling buddy Sanjay Aryavir, ex coast guard Lt Cdr                                          

                   Photo Courtesy: K S Asla

“Tum itne din baad mileBolo itne din kya kiya (You have met after many days…Say, what did you for so many days?), asked the beautiful Dimple Kapadia from Jackie Shroff in the Hindi movie Ram Lakhan, albeit in typical Bollywood style with lyrics, music, dance and much flicking of her heavy mane. And to a romantic’s delight, naturally, the suave hero replied, tera naam liya, tujhe yaad kiya (Took your name, remembered you). Alas, nothing so great happened in my life during the lockdown or later. I continue to be as scared as I was on March 24, that I dare not take ‘the’ name lest God forbid, it should feel that I am calling it.

I am among those harmless creatures who prefer a peaceful quiet life somewhere in one spot of this planet. So in the midst of the pandemic, the cyclone, floods, earthquakes, issues like survival of Rajasthan Government, the frequent social gatherings organized by or for the political elders in the southern states etc., I just stuck to the mundane and the ordinary activities.

I did not contribute to any more earth-shaking moments for the sake of the rest of my species. I existed during the lockdown and yes, worried, incessantly at that, about my present and future health, that of my dear ones whether near or afar, and wondered how they survived not just the threat but the fear too of this unforeseen time.

In my ordinary life baking and cooking have to be followed by a great deal of washing up. With the maid not coming, I stuck to preparing simple food, in the name of health, homemade and nutrition. For me the only sorrow was that family packs of instant noodles had disappeared from the sellers’ stocks before I could think of them.

The practical side of my brain also warned me when good times return I’d have neither the inclination nor the energy to regularly serve gourmet meals. Not only that, to burn up all that flour, butter and sugar, I would have to move my bums, surely not a welcome thought in this heat and humidity. My excuse – no one enjoys failed experiments in food served. In fact, from the pictures I received, nobody ever talked about whether the cake was soft, the others asked for a second helping of the dish or actually suggested that this be made more often.   

I guess instead of jab main chhota bachcha tha (when I was a small kid) stories would now begin with jab lockdown hua tha (when there was the lockdown), everyone would have his version to tell about that time.

Only I would announce with confidence that was the only time in my life I really got scared for you, and for me!

                                                                     Now, that is me!


Look for humour, for good things, for hope, for the silver lining, suggest the wise whatsapp forwards. I do not have to give it any thought. My silver lining is- everybody is washing hands. In these difficult times of dreaded COVID 19, which has taken hundreds of precious lives and affected millions in body and mind, the life-saving instruction is- Don’t wash your hands off washing your hands.

In a non- COVID situation I would have been shamelessly gleeful if on their own people started to wash hands, properly and often, with soap. Wow! Sadly, now they are being forced to learn it to stay healthy, to keep the virus at bay.

No, I am neither a doctor, nor a health worker, nor do I work for a soap/detergent company. But most of my life I have had a constant struggle with trying to convince or make sure that people, especially those around me whether employed or eager to help, wash hands before touching anything – food, utensils, water bottles, ice, refrigerator, clean clothes, babies or even me. They have felt as if they were doing me a big favour by giving in to my crazy whim of using soap too with water. It has caused a slight bitter aftertaste to the others, maybe soiling of my relations with them too, but then doesn’t everything fresh and clean come with a price tag?

Last year we went to the hospital to visit the newborn grandson of RJ, a close friend. (I understand it is safer to leave newborns alone but the fear of hurting the family’s sentiment took over.) As the baby was brought in from the nursery, a beaming RJ distributed cash to the staff around him as reward and then turned to dip his finger in the spoonful of honey to give the customary first lick to the newborn. (Doctors tell us honey can be dangerous to newborns as it might contain botulism spores, causing serious respiratory problems.) As a reflex I asked aapne haath dhoye (Did you wash your hands)? He said, “Yes”. I said, “Par aapne to note chhuye they. (But you touched the notes.) His wife, a deeply religious lady and who I am very fond of, with a hint of irritation in her voice said, “Us se kya hota hai, who to paise hain.” (How does that matter? That is money.) Forced by habit, I carried on, “Pata nahin kis kis ne chhuye they.” (We don’t know who had touched them before that.) Fortunately, his son, the baby’s father, stopped the conversation at that point, insisting that his father wash his hands before the ritual and I quietly slipped out of the room to escape the repercussions of the scene.

Ma was the inspiration 

As a child, I saw my mother hundreds of thousands of times. She would stand at the kitchen sink with a bar of soap slowly rubbing her hands over it, turning it over and over under a thin stream of running water, then making a little balloon of foam, rubbing her hands and then the tap, before standing the bar under the water stream to wash it, placing it in the dish, again washed a couple of time daily, then washing the lather off her hands and the tap. She would then cup her hand, fill it with water, close the tap with one hand and pour the water on the other hand to wash that hand. Yes, you are right, the whole process took a few minutes. Anything one asked for, the common refrain was “Ma haath dho lengi, tab. (After Ma has washed hands).

Go to the bathroom, wash your hands and face with soap before going to bed, immediately after getting up as also after entering the house, were the habits I just followed and never questioned. Washing did not mean mere rinsing with water but right and proper with soap.

My father was a vet who treated dogs, cats, other small animals and birds. So every time he examined an animal, he would go and wash his hands. There was no competition between the two parents in the matter of washing hands because of course, Ma was the winner by several and needless to say, longer sessions.

Of course, my mother had taken her fetish to sublime levels. If a freshly washed garment fell on ground due to wind, or while taking it off the line, off it went to the laundry pile, to be washed again. Similar fate was assured for a clean utensil which slipped out of the hand and fell on the floor. To avoid that I became an expert in catching a utensil mid-air before it could land in a crash or removing clothes from the line without dropping them.

She had inherited this from her mother. My grandmother taught by French nuns in her school in Rangoon, trained us kids how to sit with our hands in our laps or in the folds of the shawl and not to touch anything unnecessarily.

As we grew up, the availability of 24- hour running water became a thing of the past in Chandigarh, and the supply was regulated. So a huge bucket washed early in the morning and filled with water, was kept near the sink for washing hands.

The preferred way was to ask another member of the family to pour the water but if you had to do it alone, there was a rule. The mug had to be hung inside the bucket with the handle outside so that by no mistake a drop of soapy water would fall in the water. Luckily, the Sintex days came but no doubt, the tank was also washed regularly and refilled.

And all this while, no fancy perfumed or cream bars, just Lifebuoy, with its famous carbolic soap USP. We were a frugal bunch, but when it came to Lifebuoy, it was bought in dozens. If there was one thing, which surely did not invite any reprimand, it was the excess use of soap.

Washing hands was something which came naturally in the family. Before starting homework, especially any drawing, picking up your knitting or embroidery, you washed hands, so that the work in progress was not soiled. You also washed hands after oiling or combing your hair or body, putting on or taking off socks and shoes, doing a household chore, working on experiments in gardening or touching our naughty Samoyed. The rigour was not followed by any hand lotion application. Clean hands meant clean and that is that. Believe me, I do not even remember the existence of hand lotions in my childhood. Charmis cream was the thing in our house but you do not touch anything with cream on hands, or do you? (It would attract dust.)

But now knowing of the WHO 20-second rule for washing hands with soap and water in 2020, I feel vindicated. Finally there is one thing I have doing right all my life after all.

Test of others 

So did they wash hands became my standard of hygiene while evaluating people. The earliest memory is my favourite aunt coming back from the market and immediately making balls of kneaded dough without washing her hands to help my mother make rotis. The look on my mother’s face is etched in my brain. For me, it was with great difficulty that I swallowed the roti that my friend made, after merely rinsing her hands with water, shaking the water droplets off her hands just as we came back from the tailor’s. And thousands of times, idle hands of people patting their hair, touching the inside or outside of their ears or nose, picking their teeth with their nails or cleaning the dandruff out of them, touching or playing with their pets, clapping mosquitoes to death, men scratching,.…. and then touching something else, yuk!  

(In fact, the sad decision of not to keep a dog even though I love most breeds, is due to the cruel fact that I’d go crazy washing hands after touching it, feeding it, or playing with it.)

Maybe the habit of eating with hands does give more satisfaction. But why do people – (mostly) men take the namkeen from the bowl or the packet, or jhal muri from the cone in their hand first, before they aim it into their mouths. Hands are dusted on the sofa fabric. The cleaner ones might wipe them on a napkin or handkerchief. And then, they go about their usual business. Who washes hands after eating popcorn in the cinema or golgappe on the street? Everybody touches the notes, doors, railings, goods in the stores.

Ever seen anybody washing hands after touching currency notes, even if they look very soiled and stained? The valuable pieces of paper have passed the invaluable hands and thumbs touched with spit of people with respiratory, skin, oral, infections. Are they clean? 

Have you ever been left with a burning sensation because somebody ate something with chillies in it with hand or smoked a cigarette before they shook hands with you? Several years ago I went for a dental X-ray in a clinic set up in a house. The technician thrust the tiny piece of film inside my mouth and as the edges dug into my jaw, her fingers reeking of garlic stung my gums, my eyes watered and my throat let out a squeaky protest. I am sure she had not washed her hands before she left the kitchen.

I am told a bar of soap is the old fashioned way of washing hands. The safer more hygienic way is liquid soap in a squirt bottle.  Of course, the squirt is better because you do not touch the nozzle. Yet, the two doctors I checked with said a bar is no less clean and safe. It keeps dissolving so the next person is not washing his hands in your germs. The detergents in liquid soap might even be stronger so that a drop is enough, but that can be harsher on your skin. And companies which sell both bar and liquid soap with the same name do not ever try to tell you that their own bar is inferior to their liquid product.

Sanitizers, we are told, are a healthier option. But does everyone use enough amount to wet the whole hand? It is convenient to carry small bottles when going out, take a couple of drops of the perfumed liquid in palm, rub it on the palms which makes me wonder if the hands have indeed been touched by the liquid.

Some years ago a pranic healing practitioner had insisted on an alternative sanitizer made of 1/3 volume each of vodka, rose water and water. She, however, did not appreciate my remark that vodka has better uses and should be replaced by the cheaper option of soap.

To give credit where it is due, people as a rule wash their hands before saying their prayers, though not with soap necessarily.As Dr Internet has said– Wash your hands and say your prayers because God and germs are everywhere.

Maybe post-COVID times on this planet would see more hand washing or would they just be forgotten meme 2020 resume se missing hai kyonki hum sirf sabun se haath dho rahe they. (The year 2020 is missing from my resume because I was merely washing hands with soap.) and then wash them only on the Global Handwashing Day (October 15).

Tangy, salty, sweet, hot, spicy, crunchy you can choose the degrees according to your taste and palate. This is about chaat, one of my favourite food items, no, maybe of most of the people, in the Indian sub-continent.

What used to be purely street food being sold on khomchas (conical stands made of lightweight cane), thelas (carts) on streets and tiny hole-like corners in marketplaces, has slowly found a prime spot in various chaat bhandaars (storehouses of chaat) exclusively selling these items or mithai (Indian sweets) shops. Chaat has now been elevated to a level where you can find it on the tables of famous restaurants too.

This is neither a sponsored piece (though I would gladly have done that) nor a food review, not even a research paper. It is about a unique food category that the Indian sub-continent offers and anyone can try even on a full stomach.

Chaat comes from chaatna, the Hindi word for licking, whether you lick the dona/pattal  (bowl made out of dried leaves) or paper plates clean or your fingers. It is not against etiquette. The clicking of your tongue against your palate as you taste the spicy delicious snack i.e. chatkhare lena, is a reflex action to that. 

Chaat, a purely vegetarian addictive food item, comprises a variety of snacks which you might not refuse even though you just had your meal. It does not include mini meals of combinations like pav bhaji, idli sambar, Chhole bhature or dal ke cheele etc.

I do not know who invented it and how it started, though legend has it that it spread from Uttar Pradesh to the rest of the country where it took the regional flavor and now the people there like it in that avatar. Every city in Uttar Pradesh whether it is Lucknow, Kanpur, Agra, Mathura, Meerut or Allahabad, claims that it has the best chaat and their lovers cannot be argued with. Delhi is also credited with being the place of origin of some kinds of chaat. In the southern states, most of the chaat sellers are from Bihar and they seem to be making good money in this business. Such is the hold and fame of chaat sellers that every area in a city has its own famous joint even though some are undeniably better than others. Every chaat seller also swears by his secret spice mix. 

Although Oxford English Dictionary describes chaat as a South Asian dish consisting of fruit or vegetables with spices,,

yet most of the chaat items have a crisp and crunchy deep fried (who doesn’t love that) base of refined flour and semolina or dals (pulses). Further calories are added in the form of lightly spiced, sweet-sour imli (tamarind) chutney, hot coriander and mint chutney, sweetened yogurt, a spoonful of boiled chickpeas or black gram, boiled potatoes, small or large pinches of black salt, and powders of red chillies, coriander seeds, roasted cumin seeds, dried mangoes and chaat masala. Whatever the appearance of this heap, it is very rarely that somebody does not enjoy a ‘plate of chaat’.

During our summer holidays at my Nani’s (mother’s mother) place in Dehradun, all of us kept our fingers crossed that Kuldeep mama’s annual visit would coincide with ours. The reason – every evening he would stop Tan Tan Uncle (the chaat seller who would play on his griddle with his spatula to notify his arrival) and treat us to chaat before our grandfather returned from the court and chided us for eating spicy, unhealthy food.

There are hundreds of variants but here goes the basic list for you to choose from today:

Aloo tikki: (potato patties) Boiled potatoes flattened into tikkis (discs) and shallow fried till they are crisp, served with imli (tamarind) chutney and yogurt and with or without chhole, that is magic. In Mumbai they are served with a spicy curry of boiled white peas and called ragda patties. Even global food joint McDonald’s has cashed it with its McAloo Tikki Burger sold in India.

Matar ki tikki: In Lucknow and some other cities of Uttar Pradesh, boiled and mashed white peas are made into tikkis and shallow fried. They are served with a liberal squeeze of lemon juice, julienned ginger and dry spices.

Samosas: Who hasn’t heard of the chai- samosa combo? Travelling from the Middle East to the Indian sub-continent and far beyond it, this triangular stuffed cone known by different names in different countries, continues to be everyone’s favourite. In India it is generally filled with boiled and spiced potatoes and peas. Hot samosas coming out of scalding oil are eaten with or without chutney and chhole. A quick snack and favourite of students or those on a budget is samosa sandwiched between two slices of bread.


The slightly heavier kachori, is the deep-fried flaky puffed up sister of samosas, stuffed with spicy moong or urad dal paste. Bangladeshis swear by its cousin Dhakai chaat. Kachori or khasta is eaten with spiced potatoes and imli chutney.

Papri chaat: This is made of thin discs or crackers of deep-fried dough. It is very popular in Punjab where the papri is wafer thin and extra crunchy. The crackers are dipped in tamarind chutney and on that go yogurt and boiled potatoes and black gram, of course, powdered spices too, according to how much your system can take.


Sev papri: This variation of papri chaat has an addition-small, thin, fried crunchy gramflour noodles and green chutney.

Golgappe: This is the only item eaten with different fillings in different parts of India where it is known by different names too- pani batashe, gupchup, pani puri, puchka. A purely Indian invention, golgappas are hollow balls of deep fried dough. A little hole is broken into the crust and the ball filled with black gram and boiled potatoes in Delhi and Punjab, boiled white peas in Uttar Pradesh, and boiled potatoes and onions in Hyderabad and then everywhere, a touch of tamarind chutney, then dipped in spiced water to fill it. The water can have the dominant flavor of tamarind, lemon juice, hot spices or asafoetida. You open your mouth wide to eat it as a whole. Broken midway, it is not kind to your clothes.

Earlier, the water used to be stored in earthernware pots and stirred many times to prevent the spice mix from settling down. These days it is kept in plastic/glass/stainless steel containers.

Some golgappa – lovers fill golgappas  with various juices or vodka for cocktail or dinner parties, but honestly, nothing is as good as the water with the right balance of spices.

I practically behave like an idiot giving up all pretence of being wise and mature, when a mound of stuffed golgappas is in front of me. It brings me no shame in admitting that one reason I love Amitaji is because she is extra considerate and always has golgappas ready for me whenever I visit their house. Does she know the reason for informing her before the visit?

Dahi chutney ke golgappe are just what the name says. The golgappas are not filled with water but with sweet yogurt and imli chutney.

Pakoras: Vegetable fritters i.e. vegetables diced or cut in roundels, coated with lightly spiced gramflour (instead of refined flour as in the west), deep fried and served with mostly green chutney. The choice of vegetables is endless, but potatoes, onions, cauliflower and paneer (Indian cottage cheese) are the traditional ones. This is perhaps the quickest chaat item to make at home too and thus very few people eat them outside.


Palak ki chaat– The first time I had it was in Lucknow. Whole spinach leaves coated in besan (chickpea flour) batter and deep fried are like palak ke pakore. But they areserved with the chutneys and if you like, yogurt on top, which differentiates them from  pakoras

Mangodi is deep fried balls of soaked and ground moong dal. Green chutney is the favoured accompaniment. A variant is Ram ke laddoo which are made with a paste of moong+ chana (black gram) dals.

Dahi wada (or dahi bhalle): Urad dal is soaked and ground, made into balls or doughnut shapes and fried. These are soaked in hot water to soften them, then squeezed and put in yogurt. They soak in the goodness of slightly sweet and salty yogurt and are served with chutneys and spices. Dahi vada is a popular item on the dinner menus too. By the way, to me the homemade dahi wada tastes better because the ones sold in shops are sickly sweet as if they have been dipped in sugar syrup.


Then come the two stone-heavy items:

Raj kachori –A huge golgappa, the size of a puri, filled with moong sprouts, boiled potatoes, chickpeas, crushed bhalle, yogurt and chutney. So heavy is this, that one Raj kachori can easily make a meal for a grown-up.


Basket chaat – Also called lachchha tokri, it is a tart like small bowl made of grated, pressed and fried potatoes and filled with nearly the same ingredients as the Raj kachori and unarguably as heavy too.


Matar ki chaat is a curry of white peas served with chutneys and spices. A variant, masala puri, is said to have originated in Karnataka and is popular in all the southern states. I wonder if my two former colleagues in Hyderabad Manjula and Anuradha remember our evening chai breaks during the link shift when we’d go to Ramu’s cart round the corner for chai but after polishing off a plate of masala puri at another cart.  

In the end I take up the case of bhelpuri, with its own identity. Such is the fame of this dish that Vir Sanghvi  has written a piece on bhelpuri in his column Rude Food and it is included in his book Rude Food: The Collected Food Writings of Vir Sanghvi (By the way, he has also done so for samosas and traced the history of this food item, which reminded me how much we used to enjoy my mother’s mutton keema samosas as kids before she realised that exposing us to a large variety of laboriously cooked items at home would mean risk spending nearly all her waking hours toiling in the kitchen the rest of her life). The only chaat dish which is not fried, it is not wrong to say that this puffed rice salad mix is perhaps the healthiest among them all as well. 


Puffed rice is the base in which are mixed sev, roasted or fried peanuts, diced onions, boiled potatoes and tomatoes, tamarind and coriander chutneys. The mix is thoroughly tossed and then served in a paper cone. Sometimes papri or potato chips are also added to give an extra crunch. Counted as a Mumbai speciality, it has its Bengali version- the jhalmuri (hot puffed rice) and churmuri in parts of Karnataka. Maybe this too had migrated to Mumbai with the workers from UP.

Salty, tangy, sweet spicy, and crunchy, it gets soggy fast. These days dry bhel mixture, chutneys and spices are packaged and sold by Indian snack industry giants. You just add the fresh veggies and hey presto, bhelpuri is ready. Some people like their bhel with sev or yogurt.  

Nowadays the very health-conscious among us have shunned all the above-mentioned foodstuffs and moved to fruit and vegetable chaat with corn, beetroot, cucumber, even bananas and grapes, cottage cheese, mixed with oats and cornflakes with low sugar chutneys. But for me, nothing beats the original criminally calorie-rich, traditional version with very little nutritive value. My only issue is that some chaat seller also pile up grated carrots, beets and radish, boondi (tiny fried globules of chickpea flour) and pomegranate seeds on the top especially on dahi wada or papdi, totally killing the feel of the crunch of the crispy fried base under it.

Although not a fan of fancy variants of chaat myself, I have several times kind of hoodwinked my son when he was small. Once in a while if he pushed the bowl of dal away, I would make him dal chaat. A layer of thickened dal on crisp toasted white bread, topped with tamarind and green chutneys, finely chopped onions and tomatoes with chaat masala sprinkled on it and the little boy would happily polish that off and even give me a lovely smile.

A couple of points of caution, however, about chaat-

My years of chatora (chaat gourmand, if you please) experience has taught me that it is always safe to eat chaat from a place where everything finishes by the end of the day. The seller does not refrigerate anything and does not use or mix stale food the next day. Who hasn’t complained about stale potatoes in samosas at least once in his/her lifetime even from the best of places?

All the items used in chaat are touched, stirred, dipped spoons in, again and again by the chaatwala which, if he is not careful, may actually breed germs.

The golgappe water can be a carrier of water-borne diseases especially in the monsoon season. The mischief-maker can be the ice, the water itself, or if the preparation is stale.

Yet, a friend had once complained that she used bottled water to make golgappe water but the result did not taste as good as the street chaatwala’s with his wet, wrinkled hands wiped on the much-used red rag on his shoulder as he serves you, dipping each golgappa in the pitcher of extra-spicy water while you stand around the cart waiting for your turn and having eaten, move away fanning your burning open mouth with your hands and breathing in air to soothe your scalding breath.

The photos tell the story as an Indonesian friend Imelda sits down to taste a golgappa for the first time in her life.

Should I open my mouth this wide?
Hope Melicor (left, from Phillipines) encourages her to put it in her mouth at one go.


Imelda struggles to keep her mouth shut as the ball breaks releasing the spicy tangy water.

Photos courtesy: Ruchira Tewari, who used to magically conjure up a huge bowlful of golgappas, with the accompaniments, for the girl gang’s pooled lunches when we were in Berlin, Germany, together. 

When I published my post the week before last, I thought I had shared all the interesting English words which were invented in India and which I knew. Yet within a few hours, some more started to play in my mind, and I for one, could not resist sharing them with you, thus this part II. 

Co-brother: It started whenMr. Rakesh Misra pointed out the invention of the word co-brother and I am thankful to him for this. Co-brother is what the relation between the husbands of two sisters (Saandhu) is called in our country.However, when it comes to parents in law (samdhi) addressing each other, Wiktionary says they can be ‘co-parents in law’.

Mugging: Cambridge dictionary says ‘mugging is an act of attacking someone and stealing their money’, but do not be surprised to hear the word being used for rote learning in our country. We also say ‘mug it up for the exams’. I do not know if the etymology has the Hindi magga as the origin or vice versa.

Arranged marriage: Marriages are ‘arranged’ when the match is found by the parents of the young man or woman. They may do it with the help of relatives, friends, matrimonial advertisements or mediators and base it on several factors like caste, occupation, age, family background etc. The custom was also prevalent among the nobility in England in the Elizabethan times. “The major difference to Elizabethan wedding customs to a modern day marriage is that the woman had very little, if any, choice in who her husband might be. Marriages were frequently arranged so that both families involved would benefit. Marriages would be arranged to bring prestige or wealth for the family. The children of landowners would be expected to marry to increase the size of the acreage. A surprising fact is that young men were treated in a similar way as to women! Many couples would meet for the first time on their wedding day.( ). So, is arranged marriage a blind date for life? Remember, the parents of most of us had arranged marriages.


Love marriage: This obviously is the opposite of arranged marriage. This also means the couple fell in love, might have dated and been together for some time before they decided to take the plunge, with or without the approval of their families. There is also the surmise that the way Bollywood celebrates love marriages, it might be one of the factors for its growing popularity in our country.

Self arranged marriage: Only when Kalpana asked me a few months ago, I became aware of this third term.Put simply, this means the couple in question meant business. They chose their future spouses themselves, without any search operations by their parents or having fallen for each other.

Convent-educated: When talking of marriages, this expression came to my mind because in matrimonial ads in our newspapers this is still a popular qualification required for the brides. ‘Convent-educated’ or even ‘convented’ means somebody studied in a school which had English as the medium of instruction. Most of the times schools use the word ‘convent’ in their names even though there is no nun teaching there.  

Homely: Do not be surprised to find the words ‘wanted a fair, beautiful homely girl’ in a matrimonial ad under brides wanted columns. Little do these people realise their words contradict each other. Homely (for a person), according to Merriam Webster Dictionary is ‘plain or unattractive in appearance.’ Collins Dictionary says ‘if you say that someone is homely, you mean that they are not very attractive to look at, e.g. The man was homely and overweight.’ It gets worse when you look at the synonyms and the antonyms for homely. I am sure nobody would want his daughter to be labeled as ugly, unappealing, unattractive when the opposite of homely is attractive, lovely, beautiful, comely. I guess what the advertiser wants to say is that the girl in question knows how to take care of the house.

These advertisements also sometimes say innocent divorcee. Does that mean the young man/woman in question was granted a divorce on grounds of incompatibility and not because they did something punishable by law and illegal or were unfaithful/cruel to their partner?

Another word used for divorced/widowed people looking for spouses a second time is ‘no encumbrances’. That points to the fact that children from a previous marriage could be a tricky situation to tackle for the new spouse, so hey, I am free. I wonder what their children to be born in future think of that.

We also use the word ‘issueless’ for people who have no children. Prime dictionaries do not mention the word, but Wordnik is liberal enough to explain the word the way we understand it i.e. having no issue or progeny, lacking children.

More better: Madhu didi(officially Dr (Col) Madhu Bhadauria) pointed out how some of us give weight to their words by putting two comparatives together. More easier, less worse, more higher. My ‘research’ tells me we can put two such words together only in situations like this-

Q: How many better people we need to hire? Are there enough?

A: No, we need more better people. (Jakub Marian’s language learning, science & art).

Yet it gives so much pleasure when a child happy with what you have given to/done for him/her, beams at you and says in all sincerity, “Auntie, you are the bestest.” At that time there seems to be nothing wrong with the word. And that takes me to the use of the word auntie.

Uncle, auntie: I have said earlier that it is kind of impolite to call someone older to you by his/her name so everyone is a bhaiyya (brother) or didi (sister). Children are taught to say doctor uncleguard unclesaamne wali (the neighbor who lives in the flat/house opposite) auntie when the age gap is of several years. Everyone in their parents’ circle gets the title of uncle or auntie. In fact if my son called Shalini auntie and Amitabh uncle Mrs. and Mr. Sinha, even I might be horrified. The first time the absurdity hit me was when as a newly-wed I was invited to dinner by my husband’s colleague. Their son, who I later came to know, was three years younger to me, announced our arrival- “Mani uncle, aunty aa gaye.” Is it because we try to value relations? So, it does not surprise me when Amitaji’s grandson calls me dadi although given my own son’s age and position in life now, if I heard of becoming a dadi in reality, I might be a little perplexed.

Expired: When somebody says, “My grandmother expired,” that is because he feels died or passed away is too strong. He wants to soften the impact with his knowledge of English. Products expire but human beings do not.  And in the written form it might be he/she left for his/her heavenly abode. Really? Suppose I asked why if the deceased had an apartment in heaven all along, he/she chose to live on Earth, the grieving family might just send me where he/she has gone, with all the euphemism-lovers standing behind them and solemnly nodding their approval.

Tiffin box: The memories of the excitement over tiffin boxes opening and the eagerness to know what everyone had brought, then sharing it with friends, in school, brings a smile on everyone’s face.And what fun it was if you managed to stealthily open your dabba and finish your lunch when the teacher was still in class.Cambridge Dictionary says tiffin (noun) is ‘old use or Indian English’, a small meal, especially one that you eat in the middle of the day. The container, mostly two or three tiered which is used to carry it, is called a tiffin box. Earlier they used to be sturdy steel or aluminium stackable containers closed with a clip. Nowadays you also get stylish electric lunch boxes so that you can heat your food.

One by two: A very Indianexpression coined for use in Indian restaurants to order soup or dishes when they can be split in two to serve two people.

Head bath: It doesn’t matter what the rest of the world understands it as, head bath in India means washing your hair. Therefore, on days of festivals or auspicious days, one has to have a head-bath.

Lathi charge: When I read in the Cambridge dictionary explaining the word as a noun, Indian English, an occasion when a large group of police run forward in an attacking movement carrying their sticks, I felt as if it took the gruesome seriousness out of lathicharge, because mere running forward is not enough; they use it too on the mostly hapless crowd gathered to challenge the official diktat.

I have a doubt: We Indians do not raise questions, we express our doubts, e.g. saying ‘I have a doubt’ when somebody has finished speaking while in fact, we have a question to ask. Even the teachers ask after a lesson- any doubts?  Are they asking about the veracity of the information given in the class? No, they are also asking if anyone has a question.

Rowdy sheeter: Noun, Indian English, is a person who has a criminal record, says the Cambridge dictionary clearly. That would be a history-sheeter, curiously enough another Indian English ‘police term’ (Collins). The concept of “history-sheeter” has origins in the colonial era rule and its police surveillance codes. The legal codes allowed pre-emptive penalties against those listed as “history sheeters”, and these codes were copied into the post-independent Indian Penal Code Sections 109 and 110. The Indian states such as Rajasthan list a person as a “history sheeter” when “his or her criminal record reaches or exceeds thirty offenses.”

I am not an English teacher but having worked as a sub-editor for more than two decades, the reflex action is to pick out a word as soon as it pricks the mind with its unnaturalness. 

One such word has been handwash for wash basin used in most of the tiffin centres and small restaurants in southern parts of India. I wish I could show a photo but given the situation, it looks like I am not going to a tiffin centre any time soon.

As we know, hair or kesh is one of the five Ks introduced by the tenth guru Govind Singh for all followers of Sikhism. So how do you tell the difference between a non-Sikh and a Sikh if both are clean-shaven or have short hair? You call the Sikh man cut surd. I find the expression a little strange, but I understand that it has been used for decades now, and how dare I challenge that?

We often say the ATM machine kharab hai/mein cash nahin hai (is out of order/has no cash) even though the abbreviation ATM itself means Automated Teller Machine. And then of course, there is the use of PIN number for Personal Identification number.

By the way, the headline used to be the catchphrase of my son’s chemistry teacher in middle school for repeat. He must have used it all his teaching life and is probably still using it.  So if some of his students pick it up and you hear it some time in your life, you should be pleased that you knew how it was invented. Bless him!