26 years of 26 January

Today is 26 January.

The date reminds me that I have turned 26 ( I have been obsessed with this number now). And then, it occurs to me that today is India’s Republic day. At 1 am in the night, it gets me wondering – what has this day meant to me and what does this day really mean to me today?

Till the age of 8, the word Republic day brought this product to my mind.

 Although it was compulsory for students to come to school( there used to be an attendance call) on R-Day, I wondered why many of my friends skipped it every year ( Childhood Idiot Instance # 1). Mind you, Good Day biscuits were a delicacy back then, so this was pretty good incentive for me to toil through the sun-rays while contributing to the ‘large-audience-is-present-for-you’ effect  for our R-Day chief guest. I believed my teacher for 5 years when she said that only students who attend the event get these biscuits. Turns out, no one comes and schools are left with huge inventory of biscuits and have no choice but to distribute to everyone later.Or they played a huge joke on me by lying to me despite planning to give these to everyone anyway. (Childhood Idiot Instance # 2).

I stopped attending R-Day at school after that due to 2 reasons –

  1. I grew smarter
  2. The biscuits became worse. Some unheard  brand that even dogs wouldn’t touch.

I narrated my predicament to my father on how I had nothing to do on Republic Day. He had a solution – he would take me with him to his office R-Day celebrations. This was a better prospect since I realized that I got an incentive upgrade. This :

Kaju Katli! Government offices are really generous when it comes to spending public money for refreshments on such occasions. I used to quietly sneak the table where plates filled with samosas, chips,amongst other things, and stealthily eat just the Kaju Katlis from every plate, leaving everything else untouched. I do not regret that act to date. ( Childhood Smartness Instance #1)

I grew up and then my social science teachers taught me ( or rather thought so) the importance of Republic day by dictating answers to ‘thought-provoking’ questions like

  1. Republic Day is celebrated on _______
  2. On what day is Republic Day celebrated ?
  3. Write a short note on Republic Day.

Retrospective FML.

It saddens me to say that Sunny Deol in Border inspired me to study about our country and its constitution more than my social studies teachers.Sorry teachers. I love and respect you to death for making me who I am, but I still stand by this. Not your fault, but doesn’t make it untrue. It is altogether another fact that Suniel Shetty almost grossed me out in the same movie with this immortal hideous act.

Fast forward the next few R-Days which I spent sleeping at home, although this was the image I dreamt of.

I have always been fascinated with how so much precision in movement is possible. These soldiers make me beam with pride – the only feeling that has stayed constant in my mind about R-Day since then.   It was for these people ( and for the yummy breakfast) that I used to wake up every R-Day in hostel ( and wake other people up) at IIT.

I finished my studies and joined a school in Govandi, Mumbai as a Teach for India fellow, I was suddenly on the other side of the table – organize a school republic day function, make kids rehearse the same song every year. I did that for the first year without any complaints – wake up at 6 am, get to school,make sure students stand in line, tell them the same lies my teachers told me about the sweets- I did it all.

In the second year, the same thing happened. Smooth start to the day as the tri-color was hoisted by the chief guest at 8 am sharp. He then stepped on to the stage to deliver an R-Day speech.

The guest was Abu Azmi – the MLA of the Mankhurd Shivaji Nagar.( You might better remember him as the father-in-law of Ayesha Takia).

The man who ruined it all for me – Abu Azmi

The man delivered a hate speech, targeted to arouse the sentiments of 600 young Muslim children and incite hate. Yes, I have been a live witness to a hate speech and I could do nothing about it.(I even had it on tape for sometime before deleting it)

I have never attended any Republic Day celebration anywhere after that.

Today, if I think about what the Republic Day really means to me, my mind occasionally does remind me of these words –


WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

But I do know that these words just stay on paper. I cannot talk about the word secular when such moronic websites and their patrons are allowed to exist.( Do pay it a visit for comic effect, though).  A country that works for a few vested interests cannot be ever called socialist. When courts work on weekends for a rich actor, but not for the poor thief who stole to feed his family, justice cannot be talked about. If I have to fear about what I write (which I honestly have, and probably if some read this post, I can expect some ‘adarsh-liberal’ snide remarks directed at me)  , liberty is non-existent.

I don’t think I need to elaborate. I have tried very hard not to sound skeptical about our country, but once in a few years, the frustration does come out.

So what am I going to do this R-Day?

Sleep a bit more than usual and then, work, as if it was a normal day. Convince friends and young people to work on problems that matter. Hopefully, get some of them to work with me, by directing them to this page.

Happy R-Day !





I turn 26 today – a number that evokes mixed feelings whenever I encounter it. While being equal to the number of matches that Arsenal won en-route to glory in 2003-04, it is also associated with not-so-pleasant events like the Chennai Tsunami of 2004, the Bhuj Earthquake of 2001, and the horrific 2008 attack on Mumbai, the city I call home.

I have essentially been trying to figure out what I feel about turning 26. Few starting thoughts –

  1. I am officially in my late 20s. My age will now be rounded to 30 instead of 20.
  2. I have officially lived 1/3rd of the lifespan I want to lead. I have never wanted to live beyond 78. 79 is a prime number, and I hate prime numbers. Anything above 80 sounds too old.
  3. I look at fresh graduates and refer to them as ‘ the next generation’.
  4. Year 27 is also the year of least pressure. Even in the event that I die, I get to join the 27 Club. ( and be the only member who is not a musician or an alcoholic or a drug addict)

Those are rather sickening thoughts. I should stop now.

But writing again after so long feels so good. Never mind the shitty organization, coherence and in some cases, absence of ideas so far. Will be back with something better and hopefully less sickening soon.










Time-Bound Schooling – Is it really necessary?

Every week, I sift through many articles lamenting the state of education in the country. One of the raging debates concerns the issue of testing students regularly to find out their progress and level. In this article , Wendy Kopp , founder of Teach for America, argues about the need for testing students to figure out where they really lie on the “ladder of education”. As a person who believes that numbers always make life simpler and give students ( and the teacher) a definite direction to proceed and a definite goal to meet, I really welcome the thoughts that Wendy puts forward.

However, two questions emerge and I am yet to find a satisfactory answer to either of them despite going through dozens of scholarly research articles in education journals. I list them forward with the hope that someone would enlighten me.

  • Who decides what these levels are ?
  • On what basis have these levels been mapped to a person’s age?

These questions must be answered because the effectiveness of many education systems in the world is measured under the assumption that the age-skill mapping is an accurate one. If the child has the skills he is “supposed to know”, the system is deemed to have succeeded and if not, the system is deemed to have failed and becomes a subject of criticism ( as is the case in India ).

What if the measuring chart itself was wrong ?

What if the basis did not arise out of supply of grey cells and thinking ability and instead was derived based on what the demands of the society were ?

I can assert for a fact that the age-skill scale does not have a statistical basis like the Intelligence Quotient scale, more popularly called the IQ scale does. If that were indeed the case, given that so many people in the world struggle in Class 5 Math ( as PISA assessments reveal)  , doing long division should not have been a grade 5 standard. ( I chose this particular concept as I have had a harrowing experience trying to teach it in 3 days , and it has been one of the hardest things to teach students conceptually. It, incidentally is a part of the PISA assessment).

The Common Core Standards Initiative , which is referenced earlier in Wendy’s article states its mission as :

To provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy

The idea is simple. The common cores are probably prepared not keeping in mind what the brain is capable of  doing at that age, but rather what is needed at that age so that the student is on track to ensure that his / her communities are best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.  To put it simply, some self appointed representatives of the community decided that by age 21 , every kid should be part of the workforce. If they need to be at the workforce by 21, they should have finished their education between ages 5 – 21 ( thank heavens they spared us from ages 1-5). 15 years seems to be a reasonable time-frame, doesn’t it?

Except that it isn’t. If you do some simple math,  counting the time needed to finish an Indian high school science textbook,  devoting at least 30 classroom minutes to teach each concept, you would realize that it would take at least 2 years to finish the contents of the book. This is clearly unreasonable. However, our teachers are forced to “finish the syllabus”  and hence, opt the easy way out. They teach to the test and assign all other stuff as homework. I won’t really blame them for doing this.

For every person who scores an A in class, there are probably ten equally smart classmates , who score Bs and Cs. People may argue that it was because they did not work hard. I believe that they worked hard, but the unrealistic burden placed on them led them to lose motivation. Lack of hard work was not inherent, but was rather forced due to a system which gave little incentives for working hard. Recently there have been developments towards helping students  learn at their own pace, albeit for a short period of time. The idea is to “integrate” these “slow learners” back into the “mainstream majority”. What people fail to realize is that the so called “slow learners” are actually now  the “mainstream majority” and we are either consciously ignoring this or are still blatantly unaware of this trend.

I do not reject the hypothesis that lack of good teachers is one of the major challenges education systems throughout the world face. All I suggest is that  it is equally likely that  the standards which we use to assess our students’ level are unrealistic ones. In the current system, such cases are treated as failures / underachievers. The more politically correct among us choose to call them lower performing / lower order students but words matter little here. The writing on the wall currently says they are stupid, by using a wrong scale to measure their performance. Maybe the average human brain does not need to so much by class 5. There are going to be exceptions, but these are a very small fraction of the student populace.  Those students will anyway figure out their path in life.

Increasing the time a student has to study may be a solution. I doubt our society would incur a massive loss , if students finish high school by age 20 instead of age 16.  Critics may again say that these students fundamentally would not have wanted school to be such a big fraction of their life. I differ. May be if they were given the time that their minds needed to learn at a steady pace, they wouldn’t have hated schools so much. Maybe the high achiever who spent his time with books as this was his only way towards a better life, would have relaxed and tried to have a life.  To me, this seems a win-win.

Ek dum first-class

Every morning is a struggle for me. Not because I have to work. But because I have to travel to work. More precisely , travel in the Mumbai local train to work. With the aim of adding a bit of comfort,  I shelled out a few extra bucks to get a first class season pass , which turned out less than half the fare of any means of road transport in rush hour. In fact , I am beginning to believe that in Mumbai , possessing a personal vehicle is the most useless thing you can do in life . You are anyway not going to reach on time , your butt is literally going to be taken on the ride of a lifetime on our crater ridden roads. In contrast , trains , although equally bad in terms of physical discomfort , are bang on when it comes to efficiency .  You are at least spared the obnoxious smell of armpits , and instead soothed with varying scents of cologne.

Before I deviate to further levels of grossness, let me come back to my point. I initially loved the decor of the first class compartment because never in the 23 years of my existence had I traveled in one before. The cushioned seats  and the well dressed people presented a sharp contrast to the chaos I had experienced in the normal compartments all these years. The beautiful, fair-complexioned faces on the other side the grilled partition , were an added attraction.

However, I soon began to see the other side of life in a first class coach. People in general do not care about what is happening around them , for they are too busy playing Temple Run in their smartphones. The luxury of the “fourth seat”  is most visibly absent in the first class compartment. Our big old seths believe that since they have paid so much for the ticket, they deserve to sit comfortably with their legs spread out in an obscenely inviting way. Of course they forget that everyone else in the compartment also has paid the same amount for getting in.

These are still quirks I can live with. But what irritates me the most is the way people are treated ad judged. Any man with a not-so-polished appearance is looked down upon by almost everyone around.  The sheer sense of superiority which the  dudes in their neatly pressed shirts and well polished shoes seem to possess when they summarily deduce that if a man is not formally dressed , he definitely is not first class compartment material, is appalling. The chutzpah with which  the words “Ye first class hai, tumhare liye nahiin hai ”  are uttered based just on visual judgement is shocking to say the least.

Like every other day , yesterday , a man in his mid fifties boarded the train. A semi dark complexion , ill-fitting trousers poorly tucked into a shirt full of creases, chappals stained with mud – as disorganized and filthy as one can get. As soon as he boarded, a young guy, standing at the door told him , with the air of owning the compartment :

Ye first class hai , agle station pe utar ke second class mein chad jaana.”

The old man paid little heed to his words. As the next station arrived, the young guy repeated his words. This time , the old man reached to his pocket, took out a torn wallet , and showed him his ticket which read “FIRST CLASS SEASON TICKET”. He replied quite politely yet strongly , ” Mind your own business and learn your place in this world “.  The expression on both the old man’s and the young guy’s face was priceless and one that I will remember for times to come. A lesson had been taught, in a manner fitting the behavior that drew the response.

First class , my foot.


The lost art of writing

This man really set the alarm bells ringing when I read this about him in the newspaper

Sanjay has forgotten how to write and is completely dependent on fellow inmates even to write simple names of items that are to be procured from the jail canteen.

According to the sources, Sanjay Dutt has not written anything for the last 30 years. His servants used to write for him. He seems to have lost the practice to write as he has only signed for a long time.

Although I tried to convince myself that this could never happen to me, a quick reflection was enough to tell me that this was definitely something that could happen to me.

I used to write a lot when I was young. I still remember my sheer frustration during holidays  when I was done with playing : My fingers felt the burning desire to catch hold of a pen and write something. Although things that I wrote were unlikely to land me anywhere close to the league of even the lowliest of authors, writing certainly gave me a sense of achievement and satisfaction. The act of penning down paragraphs, admiring my handwriting and the beautiful curves associated with it brought with it a delight which very few things can bring today.

Although I started this off as a hobby and a way to kill time, little did I know that this would give me a very valuable skill for the days to come. I aced almost every school exam because all you have to do in an Indian examination is write. The meaning never matters. The strict south Indian upbringing that emphasized good handwriting and the fact that I also understood a bit of what I wrote  aided my cause .While my friends left no stone unturned in cursing the subjects Hindi and Social Science, I actually loved writing the exams for those subjects. Consequently, I fared quite well till my tenth grade and my love for putting pen to paper and writing something was at its zenith.

Post tenth grade , however, things changed. I had to answer for an objective examination where I had to just circle bubbles with a pencil. In the eleventh grade, we got a computer at home and things were never the same. Typing became the in-thing and the keyboard replaced the pen. My interest in writing dwindled and by the time I was in college , most assignments were submitted online and exams hardly involved writing continuous paragraphs. I hardly ever wrote a paragraph or more out of my interest.

Then came Facebook, to worsen matters further. Today, even on the odd day when I feel like writing, I cannot think of more than a line or two. Whenever I have an interesting thought, instead of “how about writing a few paragraphs on this” my reaction is “how about putting an interesting status message about this”.  Even writing this blog post has been a stretch of my mind to its fullest limits and still all I could do was come up with around 2-3 ill-constructed paragraphs.

Perhaps it is really high time that I buy that diary that I have always wanted and fill it with creases of ink from the fountain pen that I always loved writing with and continue writing my thoughts down rather than typing them first. The pen may not be mightier but is definitely smoother than a keyboard.


A Shift in Power ?

Quizzing has always been the sport ( if I may dare refer to it as such) of the chosen few. While quizzers would argue otherwise, the fact that most of its followers fit very standard stereotypes usually assigned to nerds has few counterarguments.To the outsider,  these are usually men who get together and discuss weird stuff, while making obscene comments and questions , amused at their pun making abilities. However, to the quizzer, he ( she being deliberately omitted)  is indulging in a serious social activity involving an important exchange of information and display of grey matter coupled with an amazing sense of humor. Nerds love this activity  because here your masculinity is measured by the question cracks and the wisecracks you make and not the size of your biceps or the number of push ups you can do.

Traditionally, quizzing has never found a lot of female enthusiasts. Of course, they do exist, but they are much less than the numbers in other literary activities like speaking and debating ( which however, fail to qualify as a sport). This lack of participation and appreciation from the fairer sex has led quizzing to lose its share of the literary pie.The few leftover potential quizzers from the male fraternity, in a bid to befriend their female counterparts , have been strategically( and rightly so )  turning more towards music and dance, which are perceived to be traditional female strongholds.

However, I observed something earlier today morning that provided a ray of hope. A group of 4-5 girls from my school were fighting to team up with a boy who had earlier displayed his intelligence by narrating the capital cities of the world. Mind you, these are girls who otherwise desist sitting near boys, as if they were another race. And in another interesting development, the boy who generally is very soft-spoken, felt infinitely machismo and was gleaming with pride on seeing that he was so much in demand . This new-found attention by the opposite sex, seemed to have kindled an interest so strong in him that he asked me for more books to read and ‘sharpen his mind’. ( I might be reading too much into an otherwise ordinary event, but an observation nonetheless)

When asked what they liked about the event today,they replied that the suspense when the question is read,  the pumped up fists on getting a right answer and the disappointment and embarrassment on not getting an obvious answer makes quizzing extremely exciting . Everytime a team got the right answer , they felt good and every time they saw a high-five being exchanged, it made them feel inspired.Clearly,  modern quizzing provides as much of an adrenaline rush as any other sport does and deserves its name right up there with the soccers and the basketballs. It is a classic showman sport if done the right way and is finally beginning to find takers.

The time has arrived for quizzing to rise and come out of the shadow . It deserves a fair share of takers and it seems that it is only a matter of time till that happens. Perhaps smart , in particular , quiz smart, is the new sexy. The day when trivia libraries would replace the gymnasiums is probably not far away.For the sake of the wonderful sport that quizzing is, I sincerely hope so.

A Letter to the IUPAC President

Today, we were discussing  the evolution of the Metric System. Mehak was extremely annoyed at the decision of the scientists at IUPAC to fix the  length of 1 metre at its current length. She constantly asked me why they chose that particular length for the metre and not any other. I had no reason that I could explain within the limits of a 5th grade curriculum. The idea of explaining the distance light travels or the idea of cycles of an excited Caesium ion did cross my mind and I was contemplating explaining it  but saner heads prevailed.  In order to temporarily get over with it,  I asked her to write a letter to the IUPAC president if she had any issues with the metre. I thought things would be over and that Mehak would stop pestering me about a trivial issue ( or so I thought) . And as I expected , Mehak did not utter a word after that and was occupied with work throughout the day. When the school bell rang and students left home, Mehak quietly came to me and handed me a piece of paper. She had actually written a letter to the IUPAC President asking him to change the length of a metre. And wonderfully enough, she also gives an interesting suggestion and backs her suggestion with a very cogent line of reasoning.
If the length of the metre annoys her so much, I wonder what would happen if she sees American textbooks filled with archaic units of measurement. Considering she wants to study abroad when she grows up, God save the authors of those textbooks. Be prepared for a barrage of mails from Mehak. ImageImage

Why this kolaveri on the Tiger?

Of late, I have come to believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion.  I was not like that before. If the works of Carl Jung are to be believed , I am an INTJ (  a rational, with a heavy tone of judgement ). I was convinced by people around me that it is not okay to pass a judgement without having all the facts in front of you, and  it seemed quite a fair point to make.   The recent death of Balasaheb Thackeray,  led to a variety of reactions and opinions , which statements  ranging from the standard “RIP Balasaheb”  from his followers to “I hate Balasaheb” from his haters. One particular reaction captured my attention and I have been fixated with it for the past 2 hours. Here it goes ( for full post click here):

It is a disgrace that Bombay is shut today. It is a disgrace that Thackeray is being wrapped in the national tricolor. It is a disgrace that he is being given state honors in his death. And it is a disgrace that none of our political leaders, celebrities, or media personalities seem to think any of this is a disgrace. And that if they do they are terrified of saying so

I am not a Marathi manoos. In fact I can hardly  speak Marathi.I probably belong to the group that was number two on Balasaheb’s hitlist. I, in fact do not agree with most of his principles. But the above comment stuns me in particular because of the shades of human hypocrisy that it reveals, and amuses me because of the fallacious reasoning employed by the post.

It is a disgrace that Bombay is shut today: Yeah ,there are lots of interesting things to do on a Sunday. An internet user like you did not have food stocked at home. Or wait, you did , but you are suddenly more concerned about  the livelihood means of the  average Maharashtrian, which has been jeopardized by the bandh . Somehow,  he was  never visible to you before. He was never visible to you when you bought that expensive mobile ( 90 percent of whose applications you do not use) or when you spent 300 odd bucks on an Old Monk.

It is a disgrace that Thackeray is being wrapped in the national tricolor:  If by disgrace, you mean unlawful , let me bring to your kind notice that the Indian Flag code has no set criteria on who deserve state honors. It is the discretion of the government you elected ( The more likely scenario is that you were probably too cool  to vote , rationalizing  that everyone is corrupt).If you mean he has done nothing to deserve this , I recommend reading this post. It provides more than a compelling case about why he fully deserves it.

The above post probably negates the next two sentences as well and makes them irrelevant.

And it is a disgrace that none of our political leaders, celebrities, or media personalities seem to think any of this is a disgrace.And that if they do they are terrified of saying so:   I certainly am terrified,  but you definitely seem very brave and I can see your bravery through a  post from a remote undisclosed location. Kudos!  If he you accuse him of using fear, you are guilty of  succumbing to that fear despite being an educated citizen ( attempting to show off that great education you received through this post) .

Some people still argue about the killings that he incited, the riots that he spread. I do not justify them at all. The man was definitely not a saint.  But neither are you and me.What baffles and irritates me is that we use different value systems to judge similar situations . We follow a capitalist ideology and thrive on a consumerist culture, the root of all economic discontent/disparity and crimes, but we rationalise those personal acts because those acts lead to personal convenience, something we value the most.Those acts seem insignificant because there is no direct causal link and the cause effect relationship traverses several intermediate links. But we leave no stone unturned in criticizing someone else who did a similar thing for the sole reason that it inconvenienced us. We were happy going behind a certain Anna Hazare when he organized a bandh against a  cause which we felt affected us.  Thackeray did the same thing for a cause that affected over 10 million people in Maharashtra . It is sad that you weren’t a part of that populace but if you read the post above, you shall know what he fought for.The man had his vices, he did commit unpardonable offences which should definitely be highlighted. But he does deserve a better evaluation , rather than being projected as a war criminal. After all,  we live in a nation and a culture where even a Kasab gets a shot at a  fair trial.


A genius can come from anywhere

I wanted to write this post a long time back, but I kept on deferring it not because of paucity of time , but because I was never in the mood to give full justice to it. Today happened to be one of those days where I felt like writing, and here I go. This is the first in a series of posts about various students in my class – a Grade 5 classroom in Shivaji Nagar, Govandi, where I teach Math and Science and the limited fundae of life I have to about 50 students.

Amazing Aftab:  When I read his previous teacher’s comments about him , saying he was way above other students in terms of reading levels and grade requisite skills, and that he needed to be in a separate classroom with students of his ‘kind’, I was almost convinced about sending him to another class. But somehow I could relate so much to him that I decided to keep him in my class. He tops class in almost every class  (by a margin that would earn him an AP in IIT ). He scored more than what I did when I was a fourth grader in the State Scholarship Exam. ( I am truly intimidated by this lad)  He never shirks from work, and his handwriting at the top of the answer pile ( He is Roll Number 1, first even in that) , makes the mundane job of checking papers interesting.

My challenge in setting every higher order test is to try to force Aftab make a mistake, especially in Math. But the lad never misses, something that both thrills and annoys me. Just to appeal to his mathematical bent of mind , I taught him factorization once, and now he factorizes cubic polynomials( Grade Level 5). The other day when he  finished work fast, I gave him a combinatorial problem : to find the number of ways to arrange 3 different things. I was pretty confident he would take a lot of time to do this and that I could meanwhile concentrate on teaching to the struggling students in my class . But the boy not only finished for 3 things, he also started hypothesizing how 4 things can be arranged in = 4! ways. Phew!

Finally , I took the easy way.


I handed him  the famous Russian mathematics book : “Mathematical circles” and have asked him to work on it.He waits everyday after school to master the prerequisites , and after finishing his work, takes out this book and gets on task.  The book has managed to relieve me of some of my “problems” with him , but I am pretty sure he will be back asking for more.

Holding him to high expectations has really brought out the best in him .  If not anything , Aftab has shown me one thing :

Not everyone can be a genius , but a genius can come from anywhere.

Banana leaf v/s Buffet

I have been obsessed with attending weddings ever since childhood. I really don’t care about who weds whom. I don’t even bother standing in a long queues just to give an envelop containing Rs. 10 n + 1 ( n belonging to the set of positive integers) . I hate posing for a photograph with two strangers in front of lights whose intensity would put  floodlights of  cricket stadiums to shame.  I simply do the thing that matters to me the most – head straight to the food counter, the moment I enter the  hall – without even a hint of shame . 99 percent of the people present ( i.e everyone except the bride and the groom’s immediate family) at the reception  come to do exactly the same thing, but are ashamed to admit it.In fact, if you ever want to distinguish Indians from others in a crowd, the magic words to be used are ‘free’ or ‘food’. Indians jump at anything that sounds even remotely close to any of these words and if used together , stampede management squads might be required.

Being a country with probably the  highest per-capita marriage expenditure in the world , you can expect to see a lavish dinner even from households who struggle to meet even basic daily needs. Hence, the prospect of such nice delicious food makes us  ever ready to attend weddings , no matter how hectic my schedule for the day is. Growing up in a traditional south Indian house, with daily meals consisting typically of rice, curd, rasam , sambhar , vegetable curry , idli or dosa, I have hence always preferred north Indian wedding dinners, where you have lavish delicious buffet dinners and  a menu so elaborate that you have to plan what you eat, in order not to fill your tummy too early and miss out on a majority of the dishes. I have  never liked the south Indian wedding food menu. The reason is that the south Indian  menu essentially consists of the same things I eat at home, thus offering no scope of a refreshing new flavour or dish to look forward to.

However,  after attending hundreds of North Indian buffets and a few south Indian dinners, I have recently  realized that a south Indian wedding food system is much more elaborately thought out and planned than what it seems . While its north Indian counterpart, invariably offers more choice, variety  and taste, the south Indian variety has these clear advantages , which can never be overlooked :

(1) Health : A typical south Indian wedding dinner has all components of a healthy meal – minimal oil and fats used for cooking , appropriate fiber and nutrients. The food is also hygienically served in a banana leaf, which is known to be a good practice, besides being easy to dispose. Moreover, the menu encompasses all the four basic tastes – bitterness ( Yes, you have karela fries on the menu !!) , sourness , sweetness and saltiness , in perfect balance, thus giving the ultimate exercise to your tongue and other senses. There are even portions of flavoured ginger paste to aid in digestion. Compare this to the tasty, yet heavy and fatty North Indian food, with excessive usage of oil/ghee and spices.  The following day invariably becomes a frustrating day for your bowel system

(2) Personal Attention : Although nowadays almost all Indian wedding dinners have begun to adopt this , the practice of coming to you and asking you whether you want something more, is essentially south Indian. It makes you feel important, it treats you with much more respect. Buffet is more like “‘ we know you only care about food. So go to that corner there, eat and leave. We dont care as well. ” Although true, we don’t like to hear the truth.

(3) Timing : South Indian weddings are typically held early in the morning or just before noon. Thus , food is  served in the afternoon as lunch in comparison to the north Indian counterpart which serve supper/dinner. The lunches are a no-nonsense affair, held in batches according to dinner hall seating capacity, and you are expected to eat quickly without talking and leave, making way for the next batch of people to begin their lunch. The entire exercise is generally over in around an hour. People eat quietly, then leave for work. Contrary to this, north Indian dinners are very disorganized, with people coming in when they wish to, talking more, eating less. And because the dinner is held too late, not only are you tired by the end of the day, it also affects your work next day.

(4) Efficient Supply Chain : I find the system of food being served far more efficient than the self-service method used in North Indian buffets. Although labor intensive, the servers are really efficient and quick in serving food. It is akin to an assembly line for food with minimal bottlenecks. In order to ask for extras, all you need to give is a signal, which is relayed almost instantaneously to the source of your desired food item , who arrives in a jiffy. Buffet on the other hand is very clumsy. Because of unpredictable arrival times of people for dinner, you often have to face situations where you need to stand in queue just to take a single dish. I have seen that even multiple counters of the same food item does little to solve this problem.

(5) Wastage : Last , but not the least, food wastage in south Indian weddings is far lesser that the north Indian ones. South Indian menus don’t try to please everyone through variety, but through quality. Sort of like mother’s food, which has only two choices – take it or leave it. The North Indian menu, in its attempt to please everyone’s taste and liking, results in heavy wastage despite proper estimation and planning. Not to the forget that they are damn expensive as well.

MInimalist, yet efficient

I  still prefer a north Indian dinner over a south Indian any day, because my tongue rules over my brain. But then, I feel it is time the north Indian wedding system learnt from the south and gives me a chance to eat healthy and delicious food in an efficient way.

PS: Use of the words North Indian and South Indian is due to a large number of observations by the author. It refers to families of that origin and not the location of the weddings