Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fruit and Coconut Quick Bread

Randomly, I'll decide to bake. I started baking because of the lack of good cookies and cakes in Ahmedabad (I would go to Subway to satisfy my cookie desire...). I don't get time to bake regularly, but when inspiration strikes, I have the basic ingredients around to try stuff out. Music and food really go hand in hand. Majority of great ustads were also incredible cooks. For me, its more about the baking than the cooking.

Anyways, I found a recipe for pomegranate quick bread, didn't have all the ingredients, so I made some substitutions and came out with this - pineapple, apple, pomegranate coconut quick bread (aka fruit and coconut quickbread). It turned out great. A bit on the dense and moist side, but still delicious. I got to use my loaf pan for the first time =) The best part, it's def much healthy than the majority of the stuff I bake.

  • 2 cups sifted wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1/2 pomegranate arils
  • 1/2 of cup unsweetened applesauce (I used freshly blended apples) + olive oil (I filled 3/4 of the 1/2 cup with applesauce then the rest with olive oil and ended up adding a little bit more applesauce and oil while mixing)
So the applesauce/oil portions are not exact. When mixing I thought there was not enough liquid, so added a bit more. When replacing oil with applesauce, you should keep some oil, which is what I was trying to do. Applesauce makes baked goods as does wheat flour (compared to all purpose), which would explain my denser quick bread. Also I think I might have added a bit too much applesauce/oil as my bread is a bit on the too moist side.


1. Preheat oven to 180*C. Grease loaf pan - I sprayed mine using my new PAM baking spray.

2. Combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl; blend well.

3. Pour batter into loaf pan.

4. Bake for 45 minutes until top is firm and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. I baked mine for 53 min.

5. Allow loaf to cool before serving.

Great as a snack or for breakfast!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Power of Education - Three Cups of Tea

International trips are a chance to read. What better way to pass layover time between flights.

Like I said in a previous post, education has been a recurring theme. After the incident with my cousins, I read Three Cups of Tea.

Very often we look for bandage solutions, not going to the root of a problem. This book beautifully speaks of how peace cannot be achieved through coercion and arms, but requires a long-term effort that is based on non-violence and co-operation. How? Through education. It is well-established that madrassas promoting extremist Islamic ideas are the breeding grounds for future Taliban fighters. For every one that is killed, two more appear in his place.

I initially tried to write my own "review" or take on the book, but words came out all jumbled together. I think the comments of Ahmed Rashid, the author of Taliban: Militant Islam and Oil in Central Asia and Descent Into Chaos succinctly summarize. If you're looking for a book to read, consider this one.

"Three Cups of Tea is beautifully written. It is also a critically important book at this time in history. The governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan are both failing their students on a massive scale. The work Mortenson is doing, providing the poorest students with a balanced education, is making them much more difficult for the extremist madrassas to recruit."

To add to his comments; sitting in the West, we can easily speak of removing terrorism, but Greg through his schools in actually doing that. In way that is sustainable in the long-term and heals old wounds and misconceptions.

This book perfectly highlights the power of education. It has the power of create a terrorist or a peace-maker.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Commercialization of Indian Classical Music

When the Muslim dynasties came to India, the cultural fabric of the country dramatically changed. Food, clothing, architecture were all influenced and of course, music as well. Many beautiful forms of classical music emerged from the confluence of Hindu and Muslim cultures, including the khayal style of singing (prior to this dhrupad was the mainstay of vocal music) and the introduction of tabla.

Alongside these changes, came the commercialization of music. Until that point, classical music was found only in the temples. Music and dance were for the Divine. To hear it, the king went to the temple, the musicians did not come to the court. It is under Muslim rule, that music made its way into the courts, both Hindu and Muslim courts, and the objectives of the musician began to shift.

Classical music has always been described as a yoga or path to the Divine. Through rigourous and tirelessly worship of sound, a musician purified their notes and their souls, seeking to please and ultimately merge with God. In the temples, the human audience was not of importance - they sat behind the musicians; it was for God that the musician played. The power and depth of these artists, the energy they emitted has become that of legend. Their music was their devotion.

When the musician shifted his stage to the court, the King became the focus. If a particularly type of harkat or musical pattern invoked appreciation (which was often in the form of a gold coin), then more were added to the next performance. The King was to be pleased for he was the lifeline for the artist. The goal became materialistic and coinciding with this change, the power of the music diminished.

A story of Akbar and Tansen explains the phenomenon quite aptly.

Tansen was a legendary singer and the court musician of King Akbar. His prowess is still spoken of today and his influence and contribution to Indian classical music far-reaching.

Once the king said to Tansen, "I believe you are the greatest singer in the world."

"No, my king, you are are mistaken. My music is nothing compared to that of my Guru Swami Haridas."

"I wish to hear him sing, call him to my court."

"I am afraid that is not possible. He does not travel outside of his place. If you wish to hear him, you shall have to travel with me on a long journey into the forest and that too, in the guise of a commoner."

It was an unusual condition, but Akbar was adamant to hear the person who Tansen claimed to be better than him.

The king ordered for a disguises and the two set off. They travelled far into the forest, ultimately coming near remote hut along a river.

"We shall wait here," Tansen said, asking the king to rest after the long journey.

Soon they hear the most divine notes from the direction of the hut and the king was lost in a state of ecstasy. Slowly he made his way towards the source and found himself in front of saintly man dressed in a simple dhoti outside the hut.

As the last notes faded and silence descended upon them, the potency of the music remained with Akbar.

The singer opened his eyes and greeted the visitors. "Welcome, O King of India. Your wish has been fulfilled." Swami Haridas recognized the king, despite his peasantry clothing.

The king began to offer much wealth and land to him as recognition for his art, but Swami Haridas would have nothing of it.

Taking leave of his guru, Tansen and Akbar made their way back to the city.

"You sing magnificently, but there really is no comparison to that of your Guru," Akbar pointed out.

"That is no surprise as there is one major difference between us. I sing for you, my guru sings for God. "

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Beauty and Need of non-English Languages

There was an article a few weeks back in the Times of India on foreigners taking intensive Gujarati language classes in order to be able to read Gandhi for themselves and better understand his philosophy. This came as no surprise.

As a Hindi, Gujarati and English speaker and a student of French and Spanish, I have gotten a chance to explore language. I recall cringing at the English subtitles during songs in Hindi movies as they destroyed the beauty and nuances of the original words. Compared to these other languages, English just does not have the depth, an observation that many multi-lingual friends agree with.

Learning philosophy from Guruji, I am often confronted with this topic. While Guruji is fluent in English, his native tongue is Gujarati (along with Hindi and Urdu). To make it easier for me, he often teaches in English. Being taught in English basically means that Guruji does a mental translation from Gujarati to English before speaking. Many times, as the topics and ideas are complex, I ask Guruji to speak in Gujarati as he can explain the subject with greater ease. When he does this, I am mentally translating the Gujarati into English before comprehending. My first language was Gujarati and to this day, I still speak in Gujarati with my parents, but my vocabulary has been limited to common Gujarati, not inclusive of many philosophical words. With my philosophy classes, my vocabulary has grown, but without a doubt, my learning, particularly in the initial period, was slowed by language.

There was an article on BBC a while back on native vs non-native English speakers. It spoke of how native English speakers could not easily understand the English of non-native English speakers, while non-native speakers easily understood the English of non-native speakers, regardless of their nationality or native language. The way native English speakers understand the English is very difficult from non-native speakers and I see this divide very clearly in India and during my philosophy classes.

Guruji is not a native English speaker. In fact, he never formally learnt English. In every day situations, English communication is never problematic. However, there are times during philosophy lectures when I have to ask him to repeat a sentence, as I get thrown off by the grammar or the use of a particular word. The mental process to understand the meaning of the sentence is brought to a small stop because of something that a non-native speaker would probably not even notice.

Just a few days ago, he was speaking to me about the basis of yoga. The topic made its way to the difference between science and spirituality. The difference can be understood through correct understanding of the words vishmay and akarshan. In a Gujarati-English dictionary they are given similar meanings - wonder or surprise. However, the words have very connotations. One has a spiritual dimension, one a physical. English, as far as I know, does not have two separate word that have the same surface meaning, but different nuances - driving home the idea yet again that the English language is limited, particularly in its spiritual/ metaphysical vocabulary.

Even ghazals and poetry in Indic language cannot be justly translated into English. Nor can they be readily understood by a non-native speaker without study. When you think of how the world is rapidly losing its languages and immigrant children around the world, particularly in English speaking countries, are failing to learn their native tongues, there is an important question to be raised about how much of the world's cultural heritage we are losing.

I have been blessed in this aspect. I was raised in a home where Gujarati was and still is spoken today; I was taught Gujarati by my grandmother and continued to study it and earn academic credit for it through high school and have the opportunity to visit and live in Gujarat where I can practice my Gujarati to this day. I still remember the praise my siblings and I would garner after trips to India on the quality of our Gujarati.

But this is still not enough. My reading skills are on par with a small child and my spelling errors know no bounds. I know that at some point in my journey to learn and explore philosophy, particularly Indian philosophy, I too will need to go the way of the foreigners learning Indic languages. If I want to be able to make my own interpretations and develop my own understanding without an intermediary, who to some degree always inserts their own bias or understanding, I will have to vigorously learn the language. Until then, there shall be some handicap, which I continue to try to overcome by expanding my vocabulary and fluency.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Importance of Education - Story 1

A re-occurring theme as of late has been the power of knowledge and the importance of education as a mechanism for change.

One of the most imprinting experiences I had in Canada this past trip came rather unexpectedly. Every time I come to Toronto, which is quite infrequent, my little cousins (now 7 -12), repeatedly request my parents to have me stay at their home, making their case well before my arrival. My schedule and their school schedule generally clash dramatically meaning that during the previous two trips, I only spent about an hour or two with them. This time, I had window of free time, which I decided to spend with them.

As I went to pick them up, I recalled a previous trip, where they had shown me their mini-fridge full of junk food. I remembered the horror I felt in learning of their excessive sugar consumption and decided to inquire more about their eating habits this time and talk to them about healthy eating.

When I arrived at their door to pick them up, I waited as the eldest handed my uncle a diagram depicting the order in which the layers of lasagna were to be placed so that we would have a correctly assembled meal for dinner. After everyone was seat-belted in the car, I asked them about what they ate. Knowing them to be picky eaters, I was super surprised at what I heard.

The three of them proceeded in turn to tell me about their fruit and vegetable rich diet and their lack of chocolate consumption over the last two years.

"Did you see our fruit bowl?", the youngest asks.

"Right now we have clementines, apples and bananas. Every day we have at least 2 fruits for dessert and another fruit for a snack," the middle one explains.

"Okay, so you eat healthy food for lunch and dinner, what about breakfast?"

"Well, we both eat Cherrios, but HE doesn't like them. He eats Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms," says the eldest matter-of-factly, referring to the middle brother.

"Fruit Loops! and Lucky Charms?!" I exclaim.

"We tell him they aren't good for him, but he doesn't listen. Actually in school, they asked us to bring in our cereal and we tested them for sugar levels and nutrients and those cereals were the worst," the youngest adds in.

That's when I realized where this all was coming from. Through school and the child care programs, my cousins were learning about healthy eating. When they were in daycare, I remember the meal plans they were sent home, but that is a standard practice. In the US in particular (I personally don't feel its as bad in Canada), general obesity and child obesity rates have been on the climb. One reason cited is the increased child consumption of junk food and processed food. I was encouraged to hear that the school system was fighting back by teaching kids about healthy eating. They not only taught children, but brought the discussion home to the parents during parent-teacher meetings and letters. I was getting a chance to see the results in person.

I joined the girls in explaining to my cousin why he shouldn't eat Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms. We got him to promise that he would stop eating them and all three decided to tell their dad about buying better alternatives instead (as they don't go cereal shopping with him).

As you can imagine, I had a huge smile on my face throughout that conversation with my cousins. But the best part was yet to come. For dinner, we had lasagna full of mixed vegetables including peas and carrots. Again, the topic of fruits and vegetables came up.

"You better finish all those vegetables, don't just eat the cheese," I told them.

"Give her more peas," the brother says pointing to the youngest, who happens to wear glasses. "They're good for her eyes."

Her reply was icing on the cake.

"You're wrong. Beta carotene is good for your eyes and carrots have them, not peas. And anyways, I took extra vegetables"