Frontiers to freedom

Is humour for one offensive to another? Is fun at one’s expense mirth for another? When does humour transgress limits to become a slight? Are we touchy when we are made fun of but can’t hold back a smile when another is being mocked? These were questions that  were bounced off in a debate on television yesterday. The context was a PIL (public interest litigation) by a Sikh group in the Supreme Court of India against the infamous ‘Sardarji’ jokes that stereotype male members of the Sikh community as being dim-witted.

The Americans for their English (‘Americans haven’t spoken English in ages’, Prof. Henry Higgins, immortalised on screen by Rex Harrison, famously said), the British for their accent (when attempting to speak in Indian languages, for instance), the Germans for their love of ‘organization’ and their lack of humour (see the delightful ‘Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines’) and Indians for their love of loudness – in everything from speech to honking on the road to colourful attire – are all stereotypes that humorists unapologetically milk to the hilt.

While artists of all genres (from stand-up comedians to actors, writers, painters and media-persons) are unanimous that they have the freedom to spoof whoever they wish, they stop short of political incorrectness. Certain communities (of which the brahmin community is not one) and certain religious adherents (of which the Hindu affiliates are not one) are sacrosanct, their sensibilities and sensitivities are not to be trifled with.  As for the rest the said actors, litterateurs et al refuse to be held responsible for thin-skinned audiences.

Can there be frontiers to freedom? Should there be? Wouldn’t talk of ‘limits’ to freedom become oxymoronic? Perhaps, an answer can be found in this ‘Fool’s Prattle’. Says D V Gundappa in his classic work of philosophy for the layperson, Mankuthimmana Kagga:

The roving bird responds to the call of its nest, the ambling cow lets the rope on its neck hold it back. What is life if not bound by any value?

Self-restraint and allowing oneself to be restrained by societal norms are limits that make freedom a happy choice for all and not just the ones who claim their right to it. To be civil is not to be unfree!


Food for the mind and the body: Project 365/6 [Jan. 17, 2012]

Food for thought: Of cab drivers and penguins: in the spirit of adventure

“Sir, you need three things: Good eyes, good brakes, and good luck.” – A Delhi cab driver to best selling author, Wilbur Smith, on how people manage to drive in Delhi. [See Aabhas Sharma’s interview with the author in ‘Business Standard,’ Jan. 17, 2012]


“[Penguins] came running up in twos and threes to greet us, and a more delightfully comical sight can scarcely be imagined …  Their interest was intense, and their haste to reach the ship was checked only by their childlike care in jumping over the little water leads between the floes; and, at last, when only a hundred yards or so intervened between them and ourselves, they would stand and stare in open-eyed astonishment, craning their necks to see all they could at a safe distance … Sometimes one of them would advance a little further with an inquiring squawk, and then overcome with its temerity it would retreat again to turn and stare and stand on tiptoe and flap its flippers and laughed at its own absurdity.” – Extract from an issue of ‘South Polar Times’ the first journal to be published from Antarctica, a pet venture of the indomitable Robert Falcon Scott, who reached the South Pole a hundred years ago, today. [See]

 Food for the palate: Mixed vegetable kuzhambu

Chop a miscellany of vegetables into cubes [potato, carrot, sweet pumpkin, sweet potato, beans, etc.]. Soak a small lime-sized ball of tamarind in water. Cook 3 ounces of split red gram, and vegetables, till well done.

Heat a teaspoon oil in a pan, splutter mustard, add a pinch of asafoetida, add the cooked gram and vegetables, squeeze out the tamarind, adding up to 6 ounces of water. Add kuzhambu powder bought off the shelf [or see preparation below]. Add salt to taste. Let boil till well meshed. Eat hot or cooled with rice, roti or dosa.

Kuzhambu powder:

Grind to a fine powder 4 ounces of coriander seeds, 2 ounces of split bengal gram, 8 ounces of whole red chilli, 1 ounce of fenugreek seeds, 1/2 ounce black pepper seeds, 4-5 cloves, an inch long stick of cinnamon, 1 green cardamom, a heaped teaspoon of turmeric powder. The powder here is sufficient for this dish, but can be prepared and stored in bulk for up to a month, without refrigeration.