Saturday, May 06, 2006
Forget Mysore pak. Forget Mysore masala dosa (if such a thing ever existed.) Even forget the Mysore palace. It’s Mysore only if it’s gobi manchoori. (Or manchuri, as some would have it). Sizzling like Helen, glistening brown like Silk Smita’s thighs and as masaledaar as a David Dhawan film, it’s the hottest craze in town. Teenagers swear by it, no college campus is complete without it (one young lad told me that it’s the best place to meet babes who seem to have a special affection for it), recipes for it are closely guarded state secrets and the other day my maid walloped it with a gusto that she normally reserves for ragi mudde and avrekai!
So what exactly is gobi manchuri? Would cauliflower have anything to do with it? Maybe. Is it something concocted by a Chinese monk to slay the mighty Mahishasoora? Could be. A union of the soya bean and the Bedige chili so incendiary that it set the Cauvery on fire? Perhaps. A favourite concubine of Genghis Khan? Who knows? The pedestrian definition will tell you it’s bite-sized florets of cauliflower dipped in a batter of maida and corn flour (or variations thereof), deep fried and then floated into a kind of a sauce/gravy made by frying onions, various little bits of greenery (anything from capsicum to green chili, I suspect) and swirled into a conspiracy by the Gang of Four – the Messrs. Soya, Vinegar, Chili and Tomato sauces. As the thick vicious brown gook begins to spits and seethe in time to the drip-drip-drip of your salivary glands, nameless brown, red and yellow powders (depending on how fiendish you like your tipple) are sprinkled in and stirred. An instant before the gobi can turn soggi, a generous handful of chopped dhania and to the triumphant clang of ladle to wok, your gobi manchuri is ready. What, you ask, disappointed, just another snack?
Ah, but you obviously didn’t ask a true Mysorean. If you had, you’d have been told that gobi manchuri is a way of being, a rite of passage, an attitude. If in Mumbai it’s time pass, in Mysore, it’s gobi manchuri. When a Mysorean’s dil mange more, it’s only for "gobi" (as it is fondly called). It is fusion food for the soul, banishes boredom, cures lassitude and a constant diet of it is known to toughen your innards to withstand the most blistering chili and the most virulent bacteria.
No one knows for sure but I’m told by Mr. Venkaatess of Imperial Chef (supposed to be one of the best gobi manchuri joints in the city) that the Kings Court Hotel introduced it to Mysore in 1995. How it managed to leap off the fancy-pants restaurant table and strut its stuff at every single street corner and market square remains a mystery but I first noticed it about three years ago when a cart selling it was edging out the usual bhelpuri-wallah near my house. At the time I’d sniggered, scoffing at the very thought of the refined Mysorean taste buds groomed on generations of bisi bele huli anna stooping to defile itself on such phoren slops.
Needless to say, I’ve had to eat my sniggers and was forced to cut my gobi manchuri milk teeth a few days ago while researching this piece. So, did the earth move for me? Let me put like this. It brought to mind the name of a rather popular dessert found in the better Udipi joints in Mumbai. Which said it all. Gadbad. I know I risk getting drummed out of my hometown, so let me hastily make amends by telling you that Mysore’s surrender to the invasion of the “gobi” is unconditional. Apart from the fact that no restaurant worth its salt-‘n-pepper will leave it out of its menu, my estimate is that there must be at least about 300-400 street-side carts across the city dedicated only to gobi manchuri. (You can also eat it with “Veg. Fride Rice” and “Veg. Noodles” but the connoisseurs prefer it on the rocks.) A full plate goes for Rs. 10 a pop, but like the chhota peg, the regulars prefer to go “by two”. Like the stars, the gobi carts come out at about 5.30 every evening, staying on till 10 and averaging about 50-60 plates on good day.
So what’s the magic of the “gobi”? I tried to figure it out but like Laloo’s aloo, no one really knows. But I suspect it’s a hit because it’s hot, it’s cheap, it speaks in a chat-pata street tongue and it’s instant (including in the way it kick starts your taste buds!). What more paisa-wasool could one ask for?
Finally, a word about the name. Gobi manchoori. The first part is easy enough and it’s unanimous that it means “cauliflower.” It’s the manchoori (or manchuri) that poses the 64-gobi question. The more pretentious joints tend to call it Gobi Manchurian or even –shudder! - Cauliflower Manchurian. So would that point to a Chinese ancestry? Maybe is one answer. A shrug of the shoulder implying who cares, just shut up and eat it is the most common. But the one that I found the most satisfactory came from - who else, but that reputed exponent of the gobi, Mr Venkatess. It’s really quite simple, he says. “Manchoori” (you don’t have the heart to interrupt and remind him that his menu says Manchurian) means that which a “Man” can eat with a “chhuri” (or “choori” which means anything used to spear a morsel – i.e. fork/knife etc.) So Man+choori = Manchoori. I gasped at the pure poetry and the irrefutable logic of that explanation. And dreamily walked out of the Imperial Chef, remembering when a crispy bit of fried gobi splendiferously dressed up in a happy khichdi of whatnots introduced me to a place called Mysore!
First, let’s see what this must seem like from where most of us – barring Bill Gates maybe? – spend most of our lives enviously gazing at what only a flimsy ol’ fence separates us from what must be Heaven. Also known as the Other Side. Or Where The Grass is Always Greener. So you are a corporate slave. Chained to the Eternal grind of Nine to Five, once lured in by the charms of the executive loo, now poisoned by perks, hopelessly trapped in expense accounts, willing vassal to the God of the Office with a View and exhaustedly sucking on a Dilbert after a long hard day of wishing your boss would turn into a eunuch permanently assigned to be Pamela Anderson’s bikini designer. (If he’s a she, then round-the-year PMS will do.)
And this friend walks in. He looks strange. His skin, once as fashionably tinged with the same too-many-eons-in-front-of-a-monitor grey as yours now has an odd glow. As if he’s been spending too much time listening to daises (or is it buttercups?) bloom. The walk, once a familiar rat-in-a-hurry scuttle-‘n-scurry, is now a lazy, loping stride as if from too many goofing-offs to smell babies’ breath. His eyes are stranger still – the phrase “serene, limpid pools” springs to mind. He looks younger, fitter, happier; a man with a new lease of life. And then, suddenly it hits you. It’s happened! The fellow has Crossed Over. He is now On the Other Side! He’s become One of Them! His Own Master. (Though, you can’t help thinking, how much fun it would be being His Own Mistress.) A carefree bird, laughing at your slack-jawed shock and chuckling, “Yup. It’s true. I gave it all up. I’m a free-lancer now.” You think you heard “freelancelot” and why not. Since he now dwells where tables are round because everyone’s a boss – their own. Where office and home merge into each other in one seamless, stress-free, set-your-own-pace, patchouli-scented, alfalfa-powered bliss. Where Time is not a hideous tick-tock mocking that you may have missed the bus (and that promotion) but a gentle steed that you mount to amble or gallop as fancy strikes you. Where life is a train that always stops when you want it to and you get off and as you stroll, you look down at your feet. And marvel – at how the grass has suddenly gotten so green - on your side of the railway line…
You’re jolted back to earth by the sound of your friend holding forth on the joys of learning to change diapers of your inner child. And as the noxious green bile of too many office coffees and envy rises up in a stinking, burning belch, you think how you’ve never hated anyone more or wanted anything more desperately than to be what he has become… Till one day, one fine, snap-‘n-crackle-kellog day, it happens to you too. Just like that, without any warning. This must be like dying, you think. One minute you’re a 6-figure, hot-stomach-shot-to-pieces, high-blood-pressure-powered Executive Vice-Whatnot and the next minute, you’re marmalading your toast at 10 o’clock on a Monday morning as you watch the sunlight dapple your pajama-ed thigh and thinking, “Should I first bath the rubber plant or clean my auras?” The day stretches in front of you like another beautiful unexplored, leafy glade and as you wonder whether you should turn left to watch some beans sprout or right to…. suddenly, you catch sight of your bare toes. Nestling softly in ….oh lord, can it be?…is it?….yes it is! Something tickly-soft and dewy-lush and glorious-green….oh, glory be….it’s grass…..as green…..no, greener than you ever seen it on that or any other side of that damned fence! Oh my God – you’ve just become a Freelancelot!
And soon, you are the envy of friends. “I wish I had your guts, yaar,” they whisper conspiratorially. The pale patch on your wrist where once your frenetic watch used to strap you to day-before-yesterday deadlines now fades away. Strangers cite you as the intrepid Livingstone who had the courage to throw it all up. Harried and hunch-over-too-many-presentations- backed corporate minions gaze at you with awe and whisper your name as The One Who became a Nike Shoe. Yes, you did it! You accept the applause with a secret smugness as you give away your power suits and your Gelusil in a grand gesture of renunciation. The months gently amble past. The contentment grows over you like a warm golden patina and everyone tells you how much nicer you’ve become and look. You preen and wallow in your newfound you-ness. And you discover Time - to shop for fresh coriander and have oil massages and make brinjal pickle and feng shui your loo and linger in art galleries and clean out your cupboards and air your creative spirit and take Hawaiian guitar lessons and gossip with your mum and worry about that hole in the ozone layer and bake banana bread and save the Alabama canebrake pitcher-plant and…Time, where once there was never enough, now lies at your feet in loyal, brimming bushelfuls…
Then slowly - a something, a niggling like a canker in your shoe. Tiny but bothersome. Popping up suddenly like a wrinkle. (Or a pimple, depending on whether you’re fourteen or forty.) A voice saying it wants to go back. Back to the prison, to the slop-from-the-Udipi-round-the-corner, to the LTA and HRA. Back to the other side of the Other Side. To the designation that you can look to know who you are, the visiting card to know what to say to that snooty-voiced, snotty-nosed bitch at the reception. “And you are from…?” I am a Freelancelot; you want to scream at her. Can you not see it in my buddha eyes, the noble insignia of my clan engraved indelibly on my peaceful brow? But it’s not that peaceful anymore. The Inner Child that you discovered has become the Inner Nag. That voice again. “Oh, so goofing off again, eh?” it sneers. “Do you know how much so-and-so got to make last year while you were smelling the rain?” “And did you ask if that was Life that just passed you by? My poor dear fool, yes!”
That’s the funny thing about heaven. And grass. You realize that it isn’t that divine once you get there. Or that green. So you are your own master - big deal. The only thing that means is that when you crack the whip, it smacks your own butt and ow, does it hurt. And this business about being the joys of being self-driven? Well, let me tell you it’s much more fun having a driver. That way you get to look at the scenery, somebody else’s license gets confiscated and you don’t have to worry about parking. And boy, do you miss not feeling guilty doing nothing and getting paid for it. And always having something/someone else other than yourself to blame for the way your life is – your boss, your job, the company, the office décor, your secretary’s way of saying “good morning”. Funny thing is, while they were flashing all that greenness at you, no one mentioned how cold it can get out there on those lawns. Without gratuity and pension and provident fund and whatnot to keep you warm and tanked up on that rainy day. And how scary and lonely without those salary cheques that you realize are like your parents. Always there to take for granted and always there no matter how bad a boy you’ve been. But most of all, they forgot to mention that you need to be a pretty decent runner – to run after people who’ve promised you money (yours that they owe you)/assignments/contacts/anything and how exhausting it can be to do all of this while wearing patient, polite not to mention a blazingly charming smile, when all you want to do is kick the person’s teeth in. (You know, that guy who said tomorrow never comes? He must have been a guy who makes out cheques to freelancers.)
As you glumly brood about the leanness of your bank balance and the not-ness of your body - did I mention what working within an arm’s length of the fridge and the potato-salli jar can do to your backside? – you get up to go for a walk. And as you moodily kick a passing pebble, you look down and suddenly you see it. Scruffy, brown and withered. Funny, you think, it looks just like scruffy, brown and withered….oh my god…could it be…yes it is…..grass! Shocked, you look up, across miles of more such withered, scruffy brown and suddenly there, in the not so far distance, a fence. And across the fence, shimmering in the sunshine, a patch of softest, dewiest, lush-est, greenest……
Moral of the story? The grass is always greener on whichever side of the fence you’re not.
Two monuments. One a tomb in Baroda, the final resting place of Ustad Faiyyaz Khan who tracing his lineage back to Tansen was one of the greatest of Hindustani classical music. The other, a magnificent palace in Mysore, built during the reign of Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV. Two monuments, miles apart in every way, but inextricably linked to teach us a very important lesson for the future of India.
I haven’t visited the Ustad’s tomb, but walk around the Mysore palace as I have done so many times and you will have no doubt that it was built by and for a Hindu king. Despite it being a breathtaking melting pot of Indo-Saracenic architecture designed by an Englishman called Henry Irwin. Despite the fact that the two main durbar halls are called the Diwan-e-Am and the Diwan-e-Khaas, there is no doubt that His Royal Highness Nalavadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar Bahadur IV, in whose reign this palace was completed in 1912 was a very Hindu king. Despite the fact that there are no less than 8 temples in the palace grounds, of which the Sri Prasanna Krishnaswami temple was built by this king’s grandfather because he felt that there was no temple dedicated to the Lord Krishna to whose vamsa, the Yadu vamsa, the Wodeyar dynasty traces its decent. The fact that the fabulous golden throne, which according to one version once belonged to the Pandavas, has a benediction that refers to the blessings of the Goddess Chamundeshwari on the monarch. And that lining one part of 155 ft wall of the awesome Diwan-e-Am is a series of 8 exquisite life-size paintings depicting the 8 avatars of the Goddess. And that all across the palace are stunning visual celebrations to her and other Hindu gods and goddesses.
But wait a minute. What is this? Under each of the 26 magnificent wall frescos all along the Peacock Pavilion that depict the splendour of the Dasara and the royal birthday processions are the names of the key figures of the maharajah’s durbar. Meticulously and painstakingly written in black ink and the yellowing originals lovingly preserved and framed in glass. What intrigued me was that amidst the Urs and the Raos, the Swamys and the Chettys, amidst the Ayyas, the Annas and the Appas – expected in the court of a South Indian king - there were liberal sprinklings of Abduls and Peer Sahibs and Baigs, even a Parsi called R. N. Boyce. (The imposing Commandant of the First Battalion of the Mysore Infantry is a Major Rana Jodha Rang Bahadur, his second and third in command Captain Mahomed Isshook and Lt. M. Jamaluddeen.) Amidst with a Arthashastra Visharada, a Sangeeta Sastraratna, a Rajasenabhushana and a Rajasevadhurina, grand titles of honour bestowed by the Maharajah on the most illustrious members of his court were a Siddiq-ul-Mulk, a Durbar Bakshi, an Arzbeg and a Huzur Bakshi.
So what was a Hindu King - and that too one whose dynasty had been so rudely interrupted by a Muslim – none other than Haider Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan – doing with so many signs of what our present day defenders of Hindu faith call “pseudo-secularism” in his court? Why was one of the most important posts in his durbar called “Huzur Secretary” and why was the administration of the affairs of the royal ladies called the Zenana Samukha, when the palace library was called the Saraswati Bhandar, the elephants and horse housed in the Ashwashala and Gajashalas and the armoury kept in the Ayudhshala? It is a well-known fact, that of all the king’s Diwans (a total of 12 during his reign), the one who shared the closest rapport with him was Sir Mirza Ismail, on whom he conferred the title on Amin-ul-Mulk. But one Muslim does not a secular make and do we not have our own token not one, but 2 - Sikander Bhakt and Mukhtar Naqvi Abbas -in the BJP?
But I was intrigued enough to want to investigate further and I did. And so I plunged into whatever documentation I could find about Krishnaraja Wodeyar and his court. There were enough examples he was perhaps one of the most enlightened and progressive monarchs of his time was evident. But, in the archives of the records of the Palace administration, I found this letter, addressed to the Maharajah:
“It has been the great good fortune of Your Highness’ petitioner not only to have been cherished and protected in this royal court, but to have been bestowed the high favour of a title at the hands of your Gracious Highness…..”
The title was “Aftab-e-Sitar” bestowed by the maharajah on the writer of the letter, one Barkatullah Khan. Palace musician from 1919 till his death in 1930. One of India’s great sitar players, one time guru to Kesarbai Kerkar and to the father of Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan, the greatest exponent of the Seniya sitar style in recent times. (Many years later, it was this same title that was conferred on Ustad Vilayat Khan by the late President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.) And as I researched further, unfolding in front of me was Krishnaraja Wodeyar’s and the Mysore court’s astonishing and unwavering patronage of Hindustani classical musicians. Many illustrious members of the Agra Gharana including Nattan Khan and Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan who was a guest of the Maharajah in Mysore for 10 years. The legendary Abdul Karim Khan whose shisyas include Sawai Gandharva, Roshanra Begum and Hirabai Barodekar. (It is said that though a devout Muslim, the Ustad would write '"OM TATSAT SAMAVEDAYA NAMAHA on his musical works and was perhaps the first North Indian musician to study Carnatic ragas and incorporate several of them into Hindustani music.) And Gauhar Jan, one of the greatest exponents of the thumri, the khayal and the ghazal, the toast of Calcutta where the saying went that “Calcutta without Gauhar was like a bride without her Shauhar (Husband)!” And the first Indian singer to have recorded her voice. She became a Mysore Palace musician staying on till her death in 1930. (Incidentally, Gauhar was actually an Anglo-Indian, born Angelina Yeoward, of Armenian-European-Jewish-Christian parentage.)
And this in the court of a king with a long tradition of patronage to Carnatic music where famed Carnatic musicians like Mysore Vasudevachar, Muttiah Bhaghavatar, Veene Sheshanna, T. Chowdiah and Bidaram Krishnappa flourished as court musicians.
In today’s terms, we would say this was just the gracious patronage of a Hindu king of Muslim musicians. But to the Maharaja, it was simply the appreciation and nurturing of another beautiful avatar of India’s great musical tradition. Just as for the musicians, it was an opportunity to perform before another great connoisseur and patron of their music.
And so it was many, many years ago one cool, soft, velvety Navratri night in Mysore, sitting in the magnificent Diwan-e-Am, ablaze with thousands of fairy lights that Faiyyaz Khan performed at Krishnaraja Wodeyar’s famed Dussera celebrations. It was a jugalbandhi between him and Ustad Hafiz Khan, the palace musician at the time. So enchanted was the Maharajah by the Ustad’s performance, that he bestowed on him the title of Aftab-e-Mausiqui, by which title the Ustad was thereafter known by.
And so in Krishnaraja Wodeyar’s beautiful garden bloomed many flowers, and he gave each its own special name to honour its uniqueness. An Aftab-e-mausiqui blossomed next to a Sangeetha Kalanidhi, an Aftab-e-Sitar spread its fragrance next to a Gayaka Shikhamani. While one filled the air with the beautiful, plaintive notes of “Babul Mora” in Raag Bhairavi - it is said that K. L. Saigal once approached Ustad Faiyyaz Khan to be his guru -, another praised the Goddess Chamundeshwari with 108 exquisite kirtis.
On March 31, 2002, during the frenzy of the post-Godhra riots, the tomb of Ustad Faiyaz Khan was desecrated and wreathed with burning tyres. But what was defiled was more just the memory of one of India’s greatest musicians, who under the pseudonym "Prempiya", composed songs called cheej, many of which are now inseparable from the celebration of Hindu festivals like Holi. Nor was it, as many would say, the despoiling of the great tradition of secularism in this country. To me, it was desecration of a great tradition of Hinduism lived out so beautifully by a Hindu king who, even while glorying in the vast, infinite landscape of his Hindutva, had room enough for one and all.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Other men gird their loins, Southie men gird their dhotis. Underestimated by the rest of the world as a mere garment, a foolish extension of the loincloth, it’s only the Southie male who knows that the dhoti can be much, much more. (Bringing to mind the opening line of Love Story. “What do you say about a one-and-ahalf-metre tundu ….”)
Well to start with, the Southie’s dhoti is a piece of minimalist art. No clumsy acres of cloth to be feverishly gathered and pleated, no frenzied crawling between and around the legs. Just a pithy bit of pristine whiteness, enough to go around the waist once, with some left over for the two ends to overlap - barely. It’s also a free spirit, secured by just one firm tuck at the waist, the rest left to hang free, unrestrained. Because the Southie knows that a dhoti is not just something to wear but to wield, much the way a skunk does his stink or a bimbo her cleavage. And so as Time dawned on mankind (somewhere between Mohenjo and Daro), the art of dhoti rattling came to be, the art of how to swagger, strut, scare, conquer and tame - all with a piece of cotton as bland as your granny’s khichdi. Which is why, like Sharon Stone’s hemline, the Southie’s dhoti is built to have the unfettered freedom to rise or fall, fold over or flap across, even cleave open to lay bare the magnificence of Southie machismo.
Naturally, this means that the Southie dhoti spends very little time being full length - i.e modestly covering its wearer from waist to toe - and a lot of its time being folded up to reveal calves, knees, thighs (and sometimes – gasp! – even more) depending on how things are going. Now before you leap to any rash conclusions about the Southie male’s secret exhibitionist tendencies (“we’d have never guessed with all that vibhuti!”) let me tell you that without knowing how and when to fold or unfold your dhoti (while wearing it, naturally) there’s no way you can rattle it. (Nor diddle your mundu.) It’s a bit like trying to wrestle without a partner or to tango without feet. And depending on your dexterity and timing, you can deploy your dhoti to play popular male sports like mine-is-bigger-than-yours, my-daddy-can-beat-up-your-daddy-not-to-mention-what-he-can-do-to-your-mummy and you-can-take-it-and-stick-it-up-you-know-where.
Needless to say, the art of dhoti rattling has been stitched into the Southie’s Y chromosone and there was a time when every good Southie boy worth his weight in mulgai pudi learnt it much before he learnt how to manage rasam on a banana leaf. Alas, with the invasion of the pant and the pyjama, it’s now a dying art in the cities, but is still alive and well where paddy is lush, the coconut tender, the jackfruit ripens like prickly, pregnant hippos and the air is laced with the fragrance of black hair gently wallowing in coconut oil.
Now though it is said that there are as many ways of diddling a dhoti (or wiggling your veshti) as there are recipes to make your idli batter rise, here are the few basic moves common to all schools.
1. The Buffalo Bhoothalingam Draw (Inspired by the Bucking-Bronco Kick.)
Used to answer the Call of the Testosterone. And when the call comes, to the swelling of the chest and the quivering of the moustache, (maybe even the clash of a few cymbals), in one lightning motion, you shoot out a leg backwards to kick the lower end of the dhoti upwards into a waiting hand. And before anyone can say Karaikudi Kunjukunju Mudaliar, the dhoti will lie trussed up at loin level and you are all set to defend the honour of gramam, gotram or garage mechanic. Can be accompanied by dialogues like “Yenna da, rascal!” or words to that effect, but the more stylish practictioners prefer to let the dhoti do all the talking.
(If your dhoti is already folded up, just go in reverse making sure that when you unfold it, you don’t yank the whole damn thing off. It requires years of practice to know and find the location of that little bit of dhoti that will do the trick.)
2. The I’m-the-King-of-Kondalampatti Klutch. Equivalent to pissing on territory and therefore normally used to fix who is the dominant male in this part of the jungle. At the sight of a threat, shoot out leg (always backwards), kick dhoti (always upwards) and instead of folding the whole thing up around loins, just hold up one end (sometimes both if the threat is severe) in hand to part the dhoti like the waters of the Red Sea and make way for two hairy (hopefully), muscular (hopefully), mard-key-bacchey legs which will then proceed to walk all over everybody. In days of yore, this was much more effective when done striding through paddy fields with a minion scurrying behind holding aloft a huge black umbrella to protect your beautiful black complexion from being ruined by the sun.
3. The Gird-of-the-Loin. Used before the commencement of anything from climbing a coconut tree to signing that corporate merger. (Also very useful while riding anything with two wheels – other than a woman, that is.) It signals that you’re now open for and mean business. A variation the B. Bhootalingam Draw, minus all the thunder and lightning and how high you fold the dhoti is determined by the complexity and seriousness of the task at hand. (WARNING: To be deployed without underwear only when unaware of presence of polite/female company and/or when answering an urgent call of nature.)
Which leaves us with just a couple of unanswered questions. The first - if the Southie’s dhoti spends so much of its time aping a miniskirt, what comes to mind is a question has so often haunted humanity about the Scottish kilt. What underwear? Well let’s just say that it has never been Venky’s secret. Because the Southie, never knowing how high his dhoti may ride, chooses his under-the-dhoti-wear remembering the Girl Scout motto. “Be prepared”. Hence the popular choice – despite the invasion of the briefer VIP or the even more dashing Jockey - continues to be what is called “drayers” - knee-length kacchas in dashing stripes or shorts in basic khaki – covering all matters that must remain private no matter what your dhoti may do in public.
And the second question is…. You know what they say about the Southie’s dhoti - that it’s like a coconut. Known to fall off but no one has ever seen one do so. So the second question is - how does it stay up? There are many whispered rumours. (And there are those who have been known to use a belt, but they are charlatans really, shunned and denounced by the real Makappuwamis) Some say that it is coffee, strong enough to put the hair on your chest and keep your dhoti on. Some say a daily dose of rice and buttermilk, enough to just distend your stomach to the required rotundity. Others say it’s avvakai pickle, hot enough to sear your dhoti into your middle….The truth is no one knows. My bet? Testosterone…..(FOOTNOTE: Now there may be some of you whose brow may be furrowed on account of my not having mentioned the lungi. I have just one word for it. Disgusting. A raucous, loutish, revolting genetic aberration that will never be recognized as a legitimate relation by any true aficionado of the Southie’s dhoti.)