Monday, April 28, 2014

Finally getting the look of my pizza right!

I've been fascinated with the idea of a home-cooked pizza made from scratch including the dough for some time now. The dough has become easy to do after we got the bread-maker. My ultimate aim was to make a pizza that looks something like the one on this page. However, all I could manage was anaemic pizzas without the beautiful chars on the edge of the crust.

I tried a lot of things. I was of course, severely handicapped by the lack of a wood-fired oven which gives you the high temperatures needed to make a good charred pizza. I also did not have access to the Caputo 00 flour that is supposed to give you just the right texture and the taste of the dough.

I had to make do with my regular home oven and 'maida', the all-purpose flour equivalent in India. Both these were poor substitutes for the originals. I however tried different things, making small tweaks here and there. Though the pizzas tasted really good, the right look somehow escaped me.

My experimenting had been restricted by the presence of my mother and the cook. They would have their own notions on what the right technique to cook such stuff was. And this would not allow me to experiment to my heart's content. Yesterday, my parents had to go out for lunch. I took the opportunity that this offered. I asked my cook to just make the tomato base - plain tomatoes and salt and leave.

One change I made to the dough was to add a tablespoon of vital wheat gluten for every cup of 'maida' I used. The gluten is supposed to allow the dough to stretch without breaking.

In earlier instances, I would let the oven heat and then put in the oven dish that held the pizza later. What I did yesterday was to let the dish heat inside the oven as well. I saw a tip from a pizzaiolo that the stone on which the pizza is placed in the oven needs to be very hot as well. So, I tried this and the results were well, not bad at all! Here are some pics:

Notice the slightly charred crust in the first pic and the craters in the edge of the crust in the second pic. By no means perfect but at least I am on the right track!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Modi must stop his below-the-belt barbs

Barring a miracle, Narendra Modi is going to be the next Prime Minister of this country. I guess everyone knows this. It is just the margin of seats that his party will win by in the end that the discussion is about. The debate is about whether the NDA will be able to form a government on its own or with a few other small parties and independents or would need the support of some major parties.

Why, then does Narendra Modi continue to make attacks on his opposition in an undignified manner? Why can't he show some statesmanship and only talk about the real issues that plague this country? He does that most of the time and when he does that, it makes so much sense. But every now and then, he will make a speech that will appeal to the rabble.

What, honestly, was the need to make the RSVP remark? What was the necessity of referring to the Gandhis as Dus numbris? Why play with the word shehzaada? All this does not behove a person who is on his way to lead a nation.

The opposition as well has done no better. The Gandhis themselves have made some very personal remarks. About the others, the less said the better.

Everyone agrees that this election is one in which the level of debate has been reduced to the gutter. Allegations and counter-allegations, digging up personal unsavoury pasts, making wild statements that go against the very fabric of the country have all become commonplace and these days, many of us are not even shocked or ashamed by such statements.

So, some (especially Modi bhakts) would argue that Modi had no choice but to resort to such gimmicks in order to appeal to the masses. They do not accept the argument that Vajpayee, that colossus that strode Indian politics for decades and who has no equal today in his party or others, did not need to stoop so low. He conquered nevertheless.

They say Vajpayee could not win the second election because he did not pander to the baser instincts of the electorate. I do not think it is is that simple. People win or lose elections based on a multitude of issues.

In his march to 7, Race Course Road, Modi must be more dignified. Let him not use the alibi that the attacks against him are undignified so he has no other choice. He needs to rise above this petty fighting and focus on issues. The expectations from him are sky high. Any performance that is less than superlative will be highly disappointing for the legions of followers he has amassed in the past few months.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

No, NOTA is not a wasted vote

I posted here a couple of days back that I was considering NOTA for both the Lok Sabha and the Assembly elections. A couple of my friends on Facebook commented that voting NOTA was a wasted vote. I do not agree that NOTA is a wasted vote.

NOTA, for those who are not aware, is a new option that is being introduced by the Election Commission in this election that stands for "None of the above". It basically means that the voter does not think that any of the candidates standing for the election are acceptable to him or her and that a better candidate is needed.

Note that the number of NOTA votes will not change the outcome of the election. So, for example, let's say that the number of people who vote for NOTA exceeds the number polled by any candidate. Even in that case, the candidate that polled the maximum number of votes would be declared elected.

However, this is a good first step. At least this way, people will get to know how many people did not consider any of the candidates worthy of being elected. The next logical step would be to have a re-election in the constituency if the votes for NOTA exceed those polled by any of the candidates with the rider that none of the candidates who stood earlier would be allowed to contest!

This gives a powerful weapon in the hands of the people to register their protest against candidates who are not fit to represent them in a legislative body.

Coming to the concept of a wasted vote. I really don't believe there is anything like a wasted vote. I have seen many people argue that a vote for anyone other than the winning candidate or a candidate who has a fighting chance of winning is a wasted vote. This is quite ridiculous. Every vote makes a statement. If I vote against a particular candidate I am stating explicitly that I don't agree with this candidate's viewpoint on one or more issues. If I vote for a particular candidate, I am stating explicitly that I support that candidate's views on issues close to my heart.

Then there is this whole debate about whether to vote for the candidate, the party he represents, local issues or specifically in this election, for the Prime Ministerial candidate. To each, his own is all I can say.

I only said I was considering NOTA. I had not decided. I have still not decided. I didn't even know the various candidates that were contesting from my constituencies until Kartik helpfully posted a lot of information in an earlier post on this blog. I am going to go through the links he has posted there in the next few days before I make up my mind. But no, if I go NOTA, it is not going to be a wasted vote.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Gandhi family must really stop this whole 'sacrifice' rhetoric - the media must also do its bit!

I was watching the news last evening and saw Priyanka Gandhi talk to a TV person. She was talking about how Varun Gandhi had 'betrayed' her family. Her contention was that Varun Gandhi's speeches some time back were very divisive. Then she said those magical words, "My father died for the unity of this country and I cannot forget that!"

I am sorry she lost her father at such a young age and I completely sympathise with her loss and genuinely feel that no youngster should go through this terrible time. However, to say that Rajiv Gandhi sacrificed his life for the unity of this country is to take things too far. Similar claims are repeatedly made by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

Did Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi really give up their life for the unity of this country? They were assassinated, obviously against their will. It was not like they were fighting at the borders of the country or in a counter-insurgency operation and they lost their lives.

Why then does the Congress always use this 'sacrifice' theme? I guess it tugs at the heartstrings of many gullible voters.

It sounds really vulgar that the Gandhis still use their personal loss to pursue selfish interests. The media encourages this as well.

By the way, the level to which media debates have degenerated to these days is appalling. I have stopped watching Times Now. All they have every evening are shouting matches where you can hardly hear a single word. NDTV is more civilised. Yes, I have read a lot of criticism of the way NDTV colours their news against Modi and the BJP. Well, Prannoy Roy was given a Padma award by the Congress government some time back. Obviously he must have done something for them to deserve this!

The internet and the television media these days are full of opinions rather than news. When I watch a news channel, I want a thoroughly accurate representation of facts without the personal biases of the newscaster to colour the news. Unfortunately all we hear these days are the personal views of the television channels. When it comes to Modi as well, the internet is filled with views and 'facts' from both sides of the Modi divide. Many people make up their mind based on these views. That is a dangerous trend. The internet is filled with dubious material. We must learn to differentiate between reliable sources and personal viewpoints.

I myself get confused after reading articles about Modi by different people. Sometimes I feel he could be good for the country and then sometimes, I swing the other way. Currently I think I am going to go with NOTA for both the assembly and the Lok Sabha!

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Accidental Prime Minister: Damning revelations

On the face of it, former Media Advisor to the PM, Sanjaya Baru's book, "The Accidental Prime Minister" does not contain anything new. It is common knowledge that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was almost subservient to the Congress President Sonia Gandhi.

However the book gives us never before insights into the extent to which the PMO's authority was completely eroded during his tenure. Some things mentioned in the book are quite startling.

"Principal Secretary in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) had regular meetings with Mrs Gandhi, and sought her instructions on important files to be signed by the PM." When Sonia Gandhi, in an extraordinary show of selflessness, did not accept the PM's post after the Congress' astounding victory in 2004, though some saw it as a supreme sacrifice, many people suspected that it was because she wanted power without the accompanying responsibility. This book proves it beyond doubt. For the PMO to be sending files to her for 'instructions' makes me feel embarrassed and angry at the way this august office has been insulted during the last ten years.

The other significant aspect that was brought out was the way the ministers in the cabinet treated the PM. Pranab Mukherjee, in his stint as External Affairs minister did not brief the PM after important meetings with foreign dignitaries. The PM had no clue on what was happening in such an important ministry! Important portfolio allocations were done without even consulting him.

Many other such instances have been documented in the book which leave us ashamed at the way our Government has been functioning all these years.

Any self-respecting person would have resigned when he realised that he was no more than a puppet. Unfortunately Manmohan Singh will go down history as one of the weakest Prime Minister India had. He was also probably the most honest. However, it is not enough to be honest when you are occupying the Prime Minister's chair. It is important to be strong and decisive. This facet of his tenure is likely to be overshadowed by his weakness.

Sonia Gandhi has done a great disservice to the nation by insulting the authority of the PM. She has shown that the Gandhis cannot allow others in the Congress to exercise their authority. She has shown that the Gandhis want complete power, power without the responsibility. In what seems to be an election where the Congress is likely to come up with their worst ever tally, it is unlikely that she or the Congress will learn any lessons. Servitude and a sense of entitlement are in the DNA of the Congress worker and the the first family. And DNA takes more than one election to change.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vajpayee's advice to Modi on following 'Rajdharma' - very significant

Rarely has an election has been as much about a single individual as it is in the 2014 election. Barring a few states, the entire country is divided into Modi lovers and Modi haters. Its all about this one man.

My stand on Modi is this: I believe he is responsible for the Gujarat riots. He could have saved many lives. He did not. There are many who believe that since the Supreme Court has absolved him of any wrongdoing, we cannot really hold him responsible for the riots. I do not believe that to be true. Courts absolving someone of a crime means that there is no evidence that he was guilty. It does not mean that he is not guilty.

Now, despite that, if you still want to vote for Modi, it is entirely up to you. I have no problem with that. If you believe that Modi is a strong leader, capable of giving this country a strong and efficient administration which would be in stark contrast to the incumbent government, go ahead and vote for him. My problem is with people who say that he is not guilty for the riots. Its like they don't want to say they've voted for someone who was responsible for the Gujarat massacre but they badly want to vote for Modi so, they like to believe he is not responsible.

Of course, there's a loony fringe in the country who want to vote for Modi because they believe he allowed the riots to happen. I really have no comment to make about them.

To the former, I would like to draw your attention to this video from a press conference in Gujarat after the riots. It is of the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

When asked what advice he had for the CM (Narendra Modi), Vajpayee says that the CM should follow "Rajdharma" which means looking after the people he is governing irrespective of caste, creed, religion etc. without any discrimination.

Why would Vajpayee make such a statement? I think it was because he believed that Modi did not follow "Rajdharma". As PM of the country, he was privy to a lot of information that the public does not know and he knew the ground realities and what actually happened. He then made this remark. I really don't need any more proof for Modi's guilt at not doing enough.

Modi sheepishly smiles through the remark and then adds, "Hum bhi to wahi kar rahe hain, sa'ab!" Vajpayee then says that he believes that Modi is doing this as well. Modi devotees have used this last line of Vajpayee to say that he endorsed Modi's actions during the riots. To me at least, it is obvious that he said the last line merely as a face saver to Modi. Modi kind of told him, "Boss, please don't strip me in public like this!" And Vajpayee left his undies on him.

Again, vote for Modi if you wish. But don't say he did all he could to prevent the riots. Modi could have prevented the riots from happening. He did not. Period.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Is this election about who is the least unacceptable?

There are two main contenders for the post of PM. Narendra Modi has already declared himself, rather pompously, the winner of this election. The other is Rahul Gandhi. There are of course, a number of people who hope they will be able to contain the BJP enough to not be able to have the numbers to be able to form the government. Arvind Kejriwal, Jayalalitha, Mayawati, Mamata Bannerjee and others genuinely believe that the BJP will not have the numbers and they will then have a realistic shot at Prime Ministership.

Strangely, I have not yet made up my mind on who I will vote for this election. I have strong reservations against each of the contenders.

Narendra Modi is currently the flavour of the season. It is considered rude, at least in my circles to say anything against him. Say one word against him and almost everyone around me protests.

People against Modi say that we cannot trust him as PM. If ever there was a situation that demanded that he be genuinely fair when it comes to Muslims, given his past record, we can never be sure what he will do. I do not believe that to be a problem. I do not believe he will do anything that is unfair to Muslims after what happened in Gujarat.

My real problem is that he did not do enough in Gujarat and willingly allowed / actively egged on the rioters, depending on your position on 2002. I believe that someone who is the Chief Minister of a state has the responsibility for making sure things like this do not happen. I do not want to vote for someone who at the very best, abdicated his responsibility entirely and at the very worst, carried out the worst pogrom we have seen in India. Retribution is my main reason.

Coming to the Congress, the corruption that they have institutionalised in the last ten years, the lackadaisical Prime Minister in Manmohan Singh and the thoroughly uninspiring PM candidate, Rahul Gandhi have probably thrown the Congress out of reckoning even before the first vote has been cast. Even senior leaders are looking for excuses to not contest these elections.

No one is really sure about the impact the Aam Aadmi Party and its maverick leader Arvind Kejriwal will have. I don't think anyone, even the AAP, believes that they have any chance of getting enough numbers to form the government, even with the support of others. But they will end up having a few seats and after May 16th, when counting is done, nothing will be impossible! Arvind Kejriwal had things going well for him until he formed the Delhi government. Sadly, he lost his way almost completely after that. He has squandered a golden opportunity at providing a genuinely honest alternative to the Indian people. I however believe that all is not lost. If he and his team mellow down, works within the system and stop shooting from their hips, they might still be able to gain the confidence of a larger number of Indian people.

The other candidates will find it very difficult to provide a stable government like in the past.

This brings me to the issues. At the end of the day when you do not have great leaders leading the teams, you go by the issues that are close to your heart. Most people have some issues which they consider important for them. They finally end up voting based on these issues. I have a few issues close to my heart. I might end up voting based on these.

One other option, espoused by good friend Kartik Thum, is that you should vote based on the candidates that are contesting from your particular constituency. Don't worry about who is the PM nominee. The Indian democratic system was designed for the voter to elect the local MP and then the MPs elect the PM. Let us be true to that system and elect the candidate we feel is the best for our constituency. This makes sense as well. I might end up doing that as well. I still don't know who the candidates are though. Once they are announced, I might actually do what Kartik suggests and vote for the best person in my constituency and leave the rest to him or her!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Politicians wearing skull caps: flawed symbolism

The Economist, in a widely quoted article says, "Unlike other BJP leaders, Mr Modi has refused to wear a Muslim skullcap and failed to condemn riots in Uttar Pradesh in 2013 when most of the victims were Muslim."

I am surprised that The Economist finds fault with Modi refusing to wear a skull cap. I have always found the practice of politicians indulging in symbolic acts such as wearing a skull cap or visiting places of worship other than their own to be terrible attempts at endearing themselves to followers of those religions. Just what are they trying to convey?

During the holy month of Ramzan,  it is nauseating to see politicians of all hues donning the skull cap, flashing an 'aadaab' while wishing Muslims a Happy Ramzan. Wishing is absolutely all right. But why dress like a Muslim? And you have that even more nauseating fever of hosting Iftar parties during this month. Do they really think Muslims like this kind of show? The real Muslim believes that the Indian politician is merely playing with their sentiments. Syed Shah Ali Hussaini, an average Indian Muslim asks "Should we not tell these crooks that a cap is used for “ibadat” (prayer) and not for “siyasat” (politics)?"

Similarly, you see people visiting Gurudwaras on Sikh festivals. All these are, in my opinion, unnecessary and do not have any impact on the people.

It is time Indian politicians move away from acts that are merely symbolic. It is time to do something that is more substantive and impactful.

What does the average Muslim want from the politicians?

He wants almost the same things any average Indian wants - food shelter, clothing and a decent shot at a better life. He couldn't care less about politicians wearing symbols of their religion.

I liked the fact that Modi refused the skull cap, offered by an over-enthusiastic Muslim leader. Of course, that does not absolve him of any of the wrong-doings in 2002. But I support him not accepting the skull cap.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Oh what a fall there was...

Last night was my dialysis after my regular weekly off. Since I don't dialyse on Tuesdays, I usually end up with twice as much fluid on Wednesday nights than other nights. I started my session with a 5 kg UF goal and a 3 step UF profile. I have pulled off 5 kg with ease in the past and did not expect this session to be any different.

I woke at about 4 a.m. with cramps in my right foot. Whenever my legs cramp, I find that standing alleviates the symptoms within a few seconds. I instantly got out of bed, still half asleep and stood next to my bed. The next thing I realised was that I was on the floor, my knees paining sharply and feeling very dizzy. I called out to Guruvulu, the tech who comes home to help with my dialysis. Poor guy! He must have been shocked to see me on the ground. He sprung up and helped me get up and get back on the bed.

By then I was completely in my senses and tried to piece together what had just happened. I figured that I must have stood up to relieve the cramps. In the process, my Blood Pressure might have plummeted and I must have lost consciousness. The impact of the knees hitting the ground might have startled me back to consciousness.

I considered it nothing short of a miracle that the needles did not come out of the sites. That would have been a horrible disaster.

I drank some cold water and lay on the bed, needles thankfully intact, enabling my blood to continue to go through the machine, recovering from the horrible fall I had just had. I couldn't sleep at all.

I began what could have been an endless cycle of depression. "I can't even stand properly now." "Look where I am headed." "One day of no dialysis and I am basically screwed."

I said to myself, "Stop right there! No need to get all depressed. This was a one time thing. Your BP went low. That's it."

That helped!

Once dialysis was terminated, I had my cup of Darjeeling Tea and went off for my daily morning swim! Proud of myself!