Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Rushdie slams Indian Govt

Author takes to social networking site to criticize Indian authorities over Jaipur fiasco The author of ‘The Satanic Verses’ said the government was “pandering” to extremist Muslim groups and failed to protect freedom of speech after alleged threats of violence forced him to withdraw from the Jaipur Literature Festival, the largest in Asia. A subsequent appearance by the Booker-prize winner via video link at the Festival was also cancelled at the last minute after organizers received death threats and police warned of violence inside the venue. Local media, quoting eye-witnesses, said a group of Muslim men had infiltrated the crowd shortly before the session and were seen intimidating members of the audience to leave. Organizers were aghast over how the group managed to enter the venue which had been secured by private security personnel as well as a police cordon. In a TV interview Sir Salman said he believed the government had sought to stop him from appearing at the festival to win Muslim votes in its key Uttar Pradesh state election campaign and had fabricated intelligence reports of assassination plots to stop him to force his withdrawal. He said the arts were under assault from both Hindu and Muslim extremists and that “if it goes on, India will cease to be a free country.” India had been the first country in the world to ban his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses, ahead of Muslim countries which denounced it as ‘blasphemous’, and today lagged behind countries like Turkey, Egypt and Libya which have lifted the ban. Commentators said his forced withdrawal from the festival was a "black stain" on India’s reputation as the world's largest democracy, while one adviser said it had raised serious questions over the festival's future. David Godwin, one of Britain’s top literay agents told The Daily Telegraph, "This is a watershed moment for the festival. How can it go forward and where can it go forward? It is an issue now and must be resolved. They have built a huge festival and it is terrible to see it jeopardised but these are serious issues." Sir Salman had originally been slated to be the festival’s headline author alongside the likes of Sir David Hare, Tom Stoppard and Oprah Winfrey but was forced to pull out after India’s most influential islamic seminary called on the government to stop him entering the country. Plans for him to appear at the end of the festival were also abandoned after police intelligence reports claimed a team of hired assassins were travelling to Jaipur to kill him; those reports were later revealed to be false. - Vijitha Alles

Bollywood looks for a fight

After the IPL and Formula One, Mixed Martial Arts is set to take India by storm
After bankrolling glamorous cricket and motor sports leagues in India, Bollywood has turned its attention to the world of mixed martial arts with a series of events featuring local fighters squaring off against international opponents.
Actor Sanjay Dutt and entrepreneur Raj Kundra have launched the Super Fight League with events scheduled for Mumbai, Chandigarh and New Delhi.
The first event in Mumbai on March 11 will be headlined by veteran kickboxer and mixed martial artist Bob 'The Beast' Sapp and English fighter James Thompson.
Kundra, who with his actress wife Shilpa Shetty owns the Rajasthan Royals franchise in cricket's Indian Premier League, said the SFL was signing up established MMA fighters from across the world to take on local talent.
"I am very passionate about all sports. I enjoy football, cricket and I have been watching mixed martial arts for the last five years," Kundra told Reuters in an interview. "It is coming for the first time to India and I am confident it will be big."
Kundra accepted that initially it would be difficult to realise financial gains from the full contact combat sport in India but he believed its growing global popularity made it a good long-term investment.
After struggling to gain mainstream acceptance, MMA has become one of the world's fastest growing sports with sponsorship and media revenue starting to pour in.
The U.S.-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world's biggest MMA promotion, signed a seven-year multi-media deal with TV network Fox in August that will net a reported $90-100 million in rights annually.
Asian promotion ONE Fighting Championship, which has hefty financial backing from Middle East investors, is also capitalising on MMA's growing popularity and tied up lucrative deals with sponsors and broadcasters across the region.
"Honestly, I am really not doing this because of business since it is not like cricket where you can go, sell and make your money back," Kundra said.
"This is going to be a long-term view and I don't think I am going to really recover anything in the
next few years.
"This is more of setting up the brand and then we will go into valuation afterwards."
Sports & Entertainment
League revenues will come from advertising and sponsors while deals with websites and broadcasters were being worked out, Kundra said. The idea was lucrative enough for established fighters to sign on the dotted line, he added.
"Each fighter has a different deal. The fighters that are contracted to us get X amount of dollars per fight to turn up and next to win," he said.
"The big international fighters could charge anything between $20,000 to $1 million to turn up and fight."
The Indian Premier League dazzled fans with the exciting Twenty20 format, player auctions, post-game parties and heavy advertising.
Celebrity owners play a large part in pumping up the IPL's image and include Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani, Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan, as well as spirits and airline magnate Vijay Mallya.
Shah Rukh also became the co-owner of the Mumbai franchise in a recently launched motorsport league.
Kundra, whose business ventures and investments range from mining to real estate and renewable energy to entertainment and hospitality, said the SFL would be similar to the cricket league in terms of being an attractive mix of sports and entertainment.
"I own a cricket team and I own this league as well. The biggest difference between the two is that cricket happens over two months and my league will be once a month," he quipped.
"There are 10, 20, 30 movies that get released every month end. So mine let's just say this is another movie that comes out once a month."
-  Sudipto Ganguly/Reuters India

‘Ammi’s Curry in a Hurry’

Affordable and eclectic Sri Lankan food served with a twist
A favourite aphorism of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent is “there’s nothing like my mother’s cooking” as they delve into a KFC Bargain Bucket or a (Tuesdays only) half-price vegetarian deli at McDonald’s.  Much as the indigenous population are given to complaining about the eternally inclement weather and exaggerate the achievements of it’s supposedly ‘No 1’ Cricket team, South Asians have made an art out of getting all nostalgic about ‘Momma’s’ or ‘Ammi’s (Sri Lankan for ‘mother’) – cooking.
And now a new Asian restaurant in London is preparing to draw on that nostalgia with a mixture of authentic South Asian dishes prepared swiftly at a cost that would put the Saver Menu at McD’s to shame; both in terms of flavourful variety and price.  ‘Ammi’s Curry in a Hurry’ on Kilburn High Street launched 21st January and will serve up a myriad array of curries, mains and ‘Short Eats’ as they are called in Sri Lanka; from such stables as mutton rolls and fish cutlets to ‘Ammis Chicken Curry’ – prepared according to an age old recipe concocted by Ammi dearest and handed down the generations – and Kottu Roti; the ultimate in Sri Lankan street food.
The concept is the brainchild of Niroch Fernando, a graduate of Corden Bleu and a chef formerly attached to no less a corporate culinary behemoth as Caprice Holdings who, not content with forging a career with the company behind such gastronomic institutions as Daphne’s, Jay Sheekey, Scott’s and Le Caprice, decided to up sticks and return to his roots.  Niroch says, “I grew up partly in Sri Lanka and my taste in food has always been coloured by the eclectic dishes of Sri Lanka and the amazing food cooked at home by my mother and father.  The most amazing thing about Sri Lankan food however is the fact that every single person has their own, unique interpretation about how to prepare and serve any of the numerous dishes that make up Sri Lankan cuisine.  My intention is to put my own twist on these amazing dishes”.
The individuality in the dishes is immediately apparent as the guests tuck into the tasting menu prepared by a furiously focussed Niroch and his team.  Alongside the usual suspects such as the beautifully meaty mutton rolls and fish cutlets, there are delightful little miniature ‘Pol Roti’ – flat breads made of flour and coconut shavings – bathed in ‘Lunu Miris; Sri Lanka’s famed onion and chilli based concoction.  Mains included the usual suspects – from chicken and mutton curry to cashew salads and fried aubergines – all prepared not only with a modern twist but with an eye on healthy living as well, with minimal use of oil and coconut milk; two ingredients considered essential in the preparation of Sri Lankan food but whose effects on the waistline are far more profound in the relatively sedentary lifestyle of foodies in London.
And in a move that will no doubt be welcomed by Sri Lankans as well as all Londoners, the menu at ‘Ammi’s Curry in a Hurry’ also features some surprising delights long associated with mothers in Sri Lanka including Iced Coffee and Chocolate Biscuit Pudding, here made with dark chocolate as opposed milk chocolate and to exquisite effect as well.  And to boot, the menu will indeed not burn a hole in your wallet, especially in these straitened times.
Sri Lankan restaurants in London are among the most disappointing in the capital, weighed down by a lack of competition and a resultant dearth of innovation or excitement about food preparation and service.  It is a great shame, particularly given the fact that Sri Lanka boasts such great culinary traditions.
At first glance and in a seemingly single sweep, ‘Ammi’s Curry in a Hurry’ is set to change the entire landscape.
-    Vijitha Alles

‘Chinaman’ wins 2012 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature

Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunathilake has won the 2012 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature for his critically acclaimed novel ‘Chinaman’.  The $50,000 prize was presented to Karunathilake during a ceremony at the Jaipur Literary Festival which closed Sunday.  
The title of the novel refers to the relatively rare breed of spinner in Cricket, a game which enjoys near divine status in Karunathilake’s homeland.  At the heart of ‘Chinaman’ is the legend of the peculiarly named Sri Lankan bowler Pradeep Sivanathan Mathew and cricket itself which the author uses as a fitting metaphor to explore a lost life and a muddled history.  
Accepting the prestigious award, Karunatilaka said the fortunes of his novel were very closely linked to the fortunes of his country's cricket team to whom he wished to dedicate the win. “We have performed dismally this past year. The time we lost the World Cup was when my novel was accepted for publication,” he said.
The Guardian review of the book says, “No knowledge of or interest in the game of cricket is strictly necessary to appreciate the power and the delights of this novel about a dying alcoholic and retired sportswriter WG (“Wije”) Karunasena, who decides that he will use what remains of his life to make a documentary about Sri Lankan cricket and, in particular, about a neglected but brilliant figure from its margins: PS Mathew. Wije's obsession with Mathew may form the spine of the book, but it does it in a way that makes it possible to focus on the obsession rather than the cricket if you're so inclined.”
The president of the jury, writer and commentator Ira Pandey, said the jury's decision was “unanimous.”  She said the jury received 52 books in June last year. “Seeing the pile some of the jury members almost fainted! We finally made a short list of 6 books. It took us just half an hour to reach a unanimous decision. This has been a most congenial and delightful experience which taught me a great deal about the South Asia region,” Ms. Pandey said.
Besides Chinaman the final short list included U.R. Ananthamurthy's Bharathipura, Chandrakanta's A Street in Srinagar,Usha K.R's Monkey-man, Tabish Khair's The Thing About Thugs and Kavery Nambisan's The Story that Must Not Be Told.
Jury members included Dr. Alastair Niven, Principal of Cumberland Lodge, Windsor, Faiza S Khan a columnist and critic, author Marie Brenner and Fakrul Alam, Professor at Dhaka University.
According to the organisers, “the prize brings South Asian writing to a new global audience through a celebration of the achievements of South Asian writers, and aims to raise awareness of South Asian culture around the world.”
- Vijitha Alles

‘Foodistan’: Culinary diplomacy on TV

It's being billed as an "epic battle" between India and Pakistan.
But instead of being fought on the battleground, it's being fought in the kitchen.
The armies comprise eight professional chefs from each country, fighting to conquer the taste buds of judges.
This is Foodistan - a new show that begins on Indian television channel NDTV Good Times on Monday night.
The programme-makers say it's a cook-off between "highly talented chefs from Asia's two most culturally rich countries".
"India and Pakistan are two nations which share a common passion for good food," says Smeeta Chakrabarti, chief executive officer of NDTV Lifestyle.
"And this love for food is something that binds the two nations in spite of their numerous differences."
Actress Ira Dubey, one of the hosts of the 26-part show filmed over 40 days in October and November, told the BBC: "The atmosphere on the sets was bubbling, quite literally.
"It's an India-Pakistan show, so there was crazy competition, but there was also a crazy kind of brotherhood. There was great rivalry, but at the end of the day we are also brothers."
The participants were all professional chefs with at least eight years of work experience and the food they were asked to cook was the sub-continental cuisine popularly known as Mughlai food.
Among the contestants was India's Nimish Bhatia, who has been a chef for nearly a decade now.
"It was good fun to be part of this competition, it was very exciting, very enjoyable. It was also very nice to meet people from across the border. We have the same food, the same culture, but we are separated by this border."
Mr Bhatia said there was a lot of bonhomie on the sets and it was not about winning or losing, but it was about having fun.
"There was competition in the kitchen, but it was not a competition between good and bad, it was a competition between good and good."
Pakistan's Mohammad Ikram is the chef de cuisine at the Dumpukht restaurant in Lahore. He says they were made to feel very welcome in India and were well looked after. "It felt like we never even left Pakistan," he says.
"The judges appreciated my cooking a lot. They loved my ras malai (a milk dessert), my rice biriyani and my fish tikka."But Mohd Ikram's butter chicken, the staple in many Indian and Pakistani restaurants, didn't go down well with the judges.
"The food in Pakistan is different from the food here," he said.
"The Indian curry looks more colourful, whereas we fry our gravy a lot more so our butter chicken looks and tastes different. The judges are more used to eating the Indian variety so they didn't much like what I cooked."
'Incredibly competitive'
Well-known Indian food critic Vir Sanghvi, one of the three judges on the show, said they tried as much as possible to level the playing field by asking the contestants to cook food that's shared between the two countries.
But, he said, it was "like a competition between English and European cuisines".
"Pakistani cuisine is essentially Punjabi with influences of Sindhi, Afghani and Balochi cooking. But the range and variety of Indian cuisine is more diverse. There are 26 different kinds of cuisines in India. Indian food uses coconut and tamarind and many other things which the Pakistani chefs have never used."
Mr Sanghvi says there was a lot of bonhomie between the chefs from the two sides but once the action shifted to the kitchen, "it became incredibly competitive".
"It was quite intense. Passions ran high and they fought to the last pinch of salt.
"We had chefs crying on several occasions, we even had one chef walk out of the set. One of the contestants was very dismissive of British judge Merrilees Parker; one Pakistani contestant accused Sonia Jehan (Pakistani actress and judge on the show) of not being patriotic enough.
"There was a lot of drama."
With 16 chefs, three judges and two hosts, the "culinary encounter between India and Pakistan" promises to be "an exciting battle".
The food fight has begun.

- Geeta Pandey, BBC News, Delhi