Jun 21, 2008

Hungry Bhopali

At about 7am, though even 8 or 9 will do, head to the Jama Masjid. On the east side of the masjid, just off Itwara Road, is Kalyan Singh’s Swad Bhandar (0755-2731495). You will find it easily because of the crowd of people eating his famous, fresh and hot Bhopali poha with Sev and Jalebis. This is a breakfast you will find all over the city, in both old and new quarters. Walk down to Itwara Chowk and get yourself a cup of authentic Bhopali Sulemani chai (Rs 2) from Jamal Bhai’s chai ki dukaan. Served from a huge samovar, this tea is uniquely sweet and salty, with generous amounts of cream. At the same place, you can try toast with pure thick cream. Better still slowly savour a regal breakfast of delicious mutton biryani from famous briyan shop next to the Jamal Bhai with Bakre ka paya. Very few other cities in world will offer you Biryani for breakfast!

By lunchtime, make your way to one of three restaurants in Bhopal that offer Bhopali food on their menus. Two of these are in Koh-e-Fiza. The first is at the Noor-us-Sabah Palace(4223333, 4239996). The open-air restaurant here offers beautiful views of Bada Talab and retains a few Nawabi specialties from the menus that once dominated its kitchens. Try Bhopali chicken korma (Rs 255), a rich and spicy chicken gravy and khada masala ka gosht (Rs 255), a dish of mutton cooked with whole spices that included star anise. The former royal khansama Ustad Saeed Khan, who used to cook for HH Hamidullah Khan and still cooks authentic Nawabi food to order (c/o Imran, 09893036807), proudly talks about how Bhopal uniquely prizes and uses star anise and about Bhopal’s rotis, which have to be so thin that “kauwa kaan par baandhen, uda le jaye aur pata na chale”. Saeed Khan regularly cooks murgh mussallum, biryani and murgh rezala among other Bhopali dishes at the Noor-us-Sabah and also cooks on occasion at the Jehanuma Palace (2661100). Lunch at the Shahnama Restaurant at Jehanuma Palace could include delicious Bhopali mutton korma (Rs 260) and murgh rezala (Rs 270) as per recipes handed down from the days of the nawabs. One of the most precious of these is the Bhopali filfora (Rs 275), a most unique dish made of turkey breast, marinated and slow cooked. They make a very good Bater (quail) mussallum (Rs 225) at the Jehanuma too. The other place in Koh-e-Fiza, Filfora is also the only place where you can find delicious shahi piece (Rs 15) readymade, without having to order in advance. The superb dessert of fried bread soaked in custard and flavored with cardamom is among the best. Also try the excellent phirni here (Rs 15). Their boti (Rs 55) and shami kebabs (Rs 45) are succulent and soft, and their kormas spicy. They serve excellent biryani (Rs 55) complete with traditional burani (Rs 30). The menu is replete with Nawabi dishes like khada masala ka gosht, roghan josh (Rs 70 each), kaccha kebab (Rs 40) and murgh rezala (Rs 70). The service tends to be bad and slow, please take it as part of Bhopali tradition

For evening snack in the tiny chowk adjacent to the Jama Masjid try barfi rasmalai dona at Surendra Jain’s stall. He places crushed ice in a pattal bowl, pours sweet and thick rabri over it, topped with syrup and finished with a sprinkling of rose water. Try Fariyali Khichdi, a khichdi of cooked sabudana with a peanut or two, curry leaves, kothmir and chillies, topped with thin wafers, a good sprinkling of sev and spicy batata chips. Now it is time for what Bhopal was waiting for all day. Make your way to Chatori Gali in Ibrahimpura, a short walk from the Jama Masjid, by 7pm so you can be there when the lid of the nahari pot is opened and swoon in ecstasy. The entrance to Chatori Gali is marked by crowds hanging around the Jhilli Miyan Ke Bade Ke Bun Kabab. He takes the tenderest bade ka kebab, made from meat that has been pounded hour upon painstaking hour, stuffs it into a tiny bun and serves it with chutney and onions (Rs 3). Once you’ve had it you’ll agree that the world henceforth is divided into those who’ve eaten bun kebab and those who haven’t. Then get to Hotel Gazala, a few steps ahead in Chatori Gali, announced by thick stacks of kulcha tandoori. Mohammad Sarwar’s (09893191733) will give you rotis and a thick and peppery stew full of soft meat that brings tears of gratitude. Look at the unspeaking crowds in the gali around you engrossed in enjoying this most perfect dinner.

Still Hungry? Food Check List

- Hotel Gazala (09893191733), Chatori Gali, Ibrahimpura after 7pm for the fabulous nalli nihari (Rs 20), bhuna korma (Rs 10), special stew (Rs 20), nargisi kofta (Rs 15), bater (quail, Rs 50 apiece) and aloo-sabzi-dal-anda.
- Hotel Jameel, Ibrahimpura after 7pm for kebabs and fried chicken
- Manohar Dairy and Restaurant (2740465) Hamidia Road for Chaat, Dosa, Sweets and other Paneer based items
- Taste of Hyderabad (2533431) Jishan Complex, Emami Gate fluctuates in quality makes excellent khumani ka meetha, phirni, biryani and Bhopali mutton korma on a good day.
- Haji Lassiwala, Itwara Chowk - falooda is the world’s best.
- Ibrahimpura - Varki samosa at only a couple of stalls after 4pm - it is a layered samosa stuffed with spicy mutton keema
- Arif Bhai Bhajiye - Shabban Chouraha!
- Shahjahanabad Ka Badam Milk - only in winters.
- Laxmi Talkise Ki Namak Wali Chai.

- The mutton chaamp (Rs 80), keema kaleji (Rs 70) and bhuna gosht (Rs 80) at Hakeem Hotel (5252181), New Market, TT Nagar
- The Vegetarian menu at Bapu ki Kutia at Roshanpura T. T. Nagar
- The famous Cycle Soup Walla of No. 10 market in Arera Colony (now Sagar Ratna): Veg cheese soup, Triple Decker Cheese Sandwich, Veg Biryani made with Soya Koftas.
- 6 no. Stop Hawkers corner – Samose, Kachori, Chat
- Milan Sweets, M.P. Nagar, Zone I – Samose, Kachori, Chat
- Brajwasi New Market - Pani Puri
- Chole Kulche at 10 No Market thela

(Please contribute your tips. Let us make this a complete food guide of Bhopal)

Jun 13, 2008

In Solidarity

Why I am joining the Bhopalis in their fast for justice
By Indra Sinha

On July 26 2006, my friend Sathyu Sarangi called me in tears from Bhopal to tell me that our mutual friend, Sunil Kumar, had taken his life. Sathyu said that when they lifted Sunil down from the ceiling fan from which he had hanged himself, he was wearing a T-shirt that said, “No More Bhopals”.

Sunil was an orphan of the Union Carbide mass-gassing of Bhopal, losing his parents and three siblings on that night of terror. Aged 12, he began doing two jobs a day to bring up his surviving sister and baby brother Sanjay. He became a leader of the survivors’ struggle for justice and was one of the people I loved most in Bhopal.

The BBC reported, wrongly, that Sunil was the inspiration for Animal in my novel Animal’s People, but Animal certainly benefited from Sunil’s courage, sense of humour and ability to live on 4 rupees (£0.05) a day. Like Animal, Sunil heard voices in his head, and suffered nightmarish visions. You can read his story here.

On the day that Sunil died, Dow Chemical’s CEO Andrew Liveris visited the UN to deliver a much-publicised speech. Fireboats hired by Dow’s public relations agency jetted huge sprays aloft over the Hudson River as Liveris told the assembled diplomats “Lack of clean water is the single largest cause of disease in the world and more than 4,500 children die each day because of it … We are determined to win a victory over the problem of access to clean water for every person on earth … we need to bring to the fight the kinds of things companies like Dow do best.”

Stirring words. But when asked if he would clean up Bhopal, where the drinking wells of 20,000 people have been poisoned by chemicals abandoned by Dow’s subsidiary Union Carbide, causing an epidemic of cancers and hundreds of children to be born malformed and with brain damage, Liveris replied, “We don’t feel this is our responsibility”.

Liveris couldn’t be more wrong. Under the “polluter pays” principle enshrined in both Indian and US law, Union Carbide is responsible for cleaning up the contamination and compensating the thousands whose lives have been ruined. In buying Union Carbide’s assets, Dow also acquired its liabilities. Dow set aside $2.3bn to settle Union Carbide’s US asbestos liabilities. How then can it refuse to accept Union Carbide’s Indian liabilities?

The hard answer is that Indians are not quite as human as Americans. Dow paid $10m to settle out-of-court with an American child damaged by Dursban, a pesticide so dangerous that it has been banned for domestic use in the US. But Dow employees were found to have bribed Indian Ministry of Agriculture officials to license Dursban as safe for home use in India. If an Indian child dies I doubt if there’ll be $10m or even $10,000. As a Dow public affairs chief famously remarked of the paltry compensation paid to Union Carbide’s victims, “$500 is plenty good for an Indian”.

Why doesn’t the Indian government force Dow to clean up Bhopal? The Indian law ministry has advised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that Dow is indeed liable for Union Carbide’s misdeeds in Bhopal. It’s exactly what he doesn’t wish to hear. He and his ministers are in contortions to appease Dow, which has offered to invest $1bn in India if freed from its Bhopal liabilities. When news broke of this sordid backroom hustling, 280 legal professionals, among them retired judges and eminent lawyers, said the attempts to exculpate Dow were unconstitutional and illegal.

Earlier this year, 50 Bhopali survivors, many old and sick, walked 500 miles to Delhi to ask the prime minister for safe drinking water and to make Dow clean the factory. For two months Manmohan Singh left them camped on a sweltering pavement without a reply. When Bhopali women brought their damaged children to his house and chained themselves to his railings, he had them arrested. The policewomen who led them away wept.

When India’s prime minister finally gave a reply, it was all prevarication, no substance. The Bhopalis then declared that they would launch an indefinite hunger strike until their demand for justice was met.

On the eve of the fast, police beat up women and children as young as six years old who had gone to protest outside the prime minister’s office. The police said they’d been told to get tough. Many of us around the world rang to protest and I asked a Mr Muthukumaran of the prime minister’s office if Manmohan Singh had ordered the beatings. “Are you joking?” he replied. On the contrary, I had rarely been more serious.

As I write this the Bhopalis are still in jail, and we hear that Dow Chemical is sponsoring an exhibition called The Gallery of Good at the Cannes advertising festival. Next Monday, Dow will present The Chemistry of Socially Responsible Marketing, which is presumably the exquisite but staggeringly meaningless advertising campaign on which it has lavished upwards of $100m. Telling lies beautifully does not make them true. Wouldn’t it have been more socially responsible to use the money for cleaning up Bhopal?

See Paul Phare’s counter-campaign, A Glimpse Behind The Mask of Dow and please spread it far and wide.

I have spent much of the last five years writing a novel in which victims of a chemical disaster caused by a rogue corporation are sold out by their own politicians, triggering a desperate hunger strike. Animal’s People is set in the fictional city of Khaufpur, but whatever success it has had, it owes to the inspiring courage and spirit of the Bhopalis, and the descriptions of the hunger strike were drawn directly from the experiences of my friends.

Sunil is dead, but on their small stretch of pavement in Delhi, now battered by monsoon rain, nine others have sat down to begin an indefinite fast for justice. Among them are my old friend Sathyu and – grown up into a fine young man – Sunil’s baby brother, Sanjay.

How can I not join them? How can we all not support them?

• To join the fast for a period, or to register your support, please visit www.bhopal.net.
• Donations for medical care in Bhopal may be made at www.bhopal.org/donations
Various YouTube responses to Dow’s bid to buy itself some humanity

Jun 6, 2008

IPL in Bhopal

There was an Indian Petrol League (IPL) match played today, by the BJP team at Bhopal under the captaincy of Shivraj Singh Chauhan. However, the players were caught low on match fitness as reported:
Bhopale IPLSources said at around 2pm, Chauhan contacted his cabinet and asked all ministers in Bhopal to reach his official residence — 6 Shyamla Hills — in half-an-hour. When they arrived, the ministers found bicycles waiting for them. Briefed about the rally, at first the ministers were excited. After a brief practice session, they were to ride to the secretariat. Agriculture minister Gopal Bhargav and home minister Himmat Kothari rode up and down the garden at the CM's house to ensue they did not falter later.
Captain Shivraj Singh said during the pre-match (the unusually far sighted captain could see that he would not be able to speak after the match) press conference:
"... The Centre is asking states to reduce sales taxes, but we have little resources. The Centre has all the money. If the UPA-government wanted, they could have found ways to avoid this oil price hike. We will continue our protest till there is a roll-back in the hike. Or else they should quit." (However by evening, a 11% hike in Dearness Allowance for the state government employees – the BJP vote bank – was announced, in spite of the “little resources”)
Within minutes of start water resources minister Anup Mishra was seen being pushed on his bicycle by his security guards. He abandoned the endeavor soon and took a ride in his official car till the secretariat where he shifted to bicycle again. Panchayat and rural development minister Rustom Singh got off his bicycle and complained (No not about lack of cheer girls, stupid): "What will be the outcome of this? Nothing will come out of us riding bicycles." He started walking with his cycle.
Other ministers were pushed up by their security personnel. Food minister Akhand Pratap Singh fell twice from his bicycle, once near the CM house and again near the Radio station. The bicycles provided by BJP's youth wing did not have efficient brakes. Riding down, the ministers did not know how to control their speeding cycles and shouted: "Hat jao, hat jao. Cycle aa raha hai (Move out of the way. Bicycle is coming)". The foreign hand/conspiracy angle is being investigated in this incident. After the rally the cycles were loaded on a truck and returned the shop at Ibrahimpura. Some Bhopalis were heard saying that the circus in Bhopal usually arrives late after the monsoons, but due to the scheduled general elections, the shows were preponed this year.
On the other hand, the Kolkata team has been able to stump the foreign recruits in their IPL match.

Jun 2, 2008

Health Is Wealth

We always knew that the “Sarkari Haspatal” (Government Hospital) is the last resort for the hundreds of under privileged of the country. Very few came back intact from the encounter with this land mark of independent India’s babudom. Recently however, a study of seven African countries, published by the World Health Organization in 2000 concluded that it is the wealthier citizens – not the poorest – that benefit most from public healthcare, because health facilities are better in rich, urban areas. In Ghana the richest quintile directed almost 60% of its health spending to the public sector. In all countries, except South Africa, the best-off groups mainly used publicly subsidized health care, while the poor - less likely to seek medical help anyway - generally turned to the private sector simply because it was more accessible, though also more expensive. Then who exactly is benefiting from the huge network of government hospitals, especially in states like Madhya Pradesh, with official infant mortality rates are the highest in the country, was the perennial question.

Now we know. The Income Tax department raided 55 properties across the cities of Jabalpur, Indore and Bhopal on 30th May 2008 and the aftermath is still unraveling. The extent of cut backs is as follows – 10 to 15% of the total amount sanctioned would go to the secretariat during the sanctioning of money to Chief Medical Officer. Next 15 to 20% would go to supplier, another 10% for other expenses. If remaining amount is unable to buy the medicines, the medicines are only bought on paper. The costs of medicines procured in Madhya Pradesh are costlier by 11% to 267% as compared to states like Kerala or Tamil Nadu. A BJP official remarked from Delhi that if these raids continue, only four or five ministers would remain in Shivraj Singh Chauhan government. One among them went today.

The BJP government came to power after the self confessed corrupt government of Congress under Digvijay Singh.

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