By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How The President Of The Philippines Got Rid Of All Government Officials!

One of the exciting aspects of writing this  worldworthy online column is that the readers (so far!) are spread out in 50 different countries, stretching all over the world from Australia and New Zealand in the East to the USA and Canada in the West, and from Sweden and Finland in the North to South Africa and Chile in the South  --  and including even such unlikely lands as China, Croatia, Latvia, Mexico and Morocco!

And when I spot the Philippines on my readers-radar, I naturally can't help recalling a humorous article I had written long ago, in response to President Ferdinand Marcos' attitude towards bureaucrats (a tribe to which I myself belonged).  What happened actually was that in September 1972, when talking to a television audience in the context of the imposition of Martial Law, the President said that he would like to sack all bureaucrats if he could.  Obviously he didn't mean it word for word, and was perhaps only trying to strike a humorous pose in a grim situation where he would be shuffling a lot of civilian and military personnel to ensure compatibility with the new regime.  But his statement was reported widely in the whole world, and it provided excellent grist to my Shankar's Weekly mill!



(in same order as in text)

FMG  --  One of three vital imaginary characters I've mentioned earlier in this blog: please see: Filemaster-General And Ali Babu Go Away On Furlough! , Rulemaster-General Vs. Bulky Rules Commission , and The Taskmaster-General Tackles A Tricky Task.

PUC --  In the notes written in Govt. of India files (still being done substantially in English), an inward communication causing the context or issue being discussed is called Paper Under Consideration, or just PUC.   
DFMG, AFMG, HQF  --  Deputy FMG.  Assistant FMG,  Headquarters Filemaster.
Admn.  --  Administration.
Flag A  --  Thin slips of paper stencilled to the top of various papers referred to in the notes are called 'flags', marked A to Z. 



Shankar's Weekly
8 October 1972
Exit filemasters!

I HAVE no idea how the bureaucracy has been functioning in the Philippines, but I guess the office procedures there must have been more or less the same as in any other country.  If this presumption is correct, I expect that the following correspondence and notes would have materialized in the Government files before President Marcos told the TV audience about his decision to sack all bureaucrats.







Top Priority

Sept. 21, 1972

To the Filemaster-General, Manila


Subject :  Filemasters, resignation of.

The President is pleased to order that all Filemasters and their staff  (including the FMG and his staff) should submit their resignations immediately.  I am directed to request you to issue necessary instructions to all concerned in the matter, under intimation to this office.

This may kindly be treated as urgent.

Yours faithfully,

Signed  21-9-72

Private Secretary to the President.








DFMG may please see for immediate action.

Initialled   23/9







AFMG  --  Let me see disposal by 25/9.

Itd.  24/9



HQF  --  Notes, pl.

Itd.  25/9



Admn.  --  Pl. put up at once.

Itd. 25/9

HQ Filemaster








The PUC may kindly be perused at Flag A.  The President has been pleased to order that all Filemasters and their staff (including the FMG and his staff) should resign immediately.

In compliance with the above orders, I am hereby submitting my resignation, which may kindly be accepted.  HQF may kindly see the PUC for disposal.

Sd.  26/9/72

Dealing Assistant


I also beg to resign.  AFMG may kindly see PUC for necessary action.

Sd.  27/9



Same with me.  DFMG may like to see PUC for action, if any.

Sd.  27/9



I am also resigning herewith.    FMG may kindly see PUC for such action as he deems fit. 

Sd.  28/9



I am also resigning. The PUC may please be filed, if there is anybody in the office.

Sd.  28/9


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Crunching Groundnuts in Native India, & Homely Erdnussflips In Alien Setting!

After those cameos of mangoes and coconuts (May 19 and 23), here are some fond memories of peanuts  (which are called groundnuts in Indian languages, as also in several European languages).  Do meet those hungry monkeys and thirsty sailors again before taking off for Berlin and Bohemia! 



(in same order as in text)

Mysore  --  City in Karnataka State :  see Midsummer Memories Of Mangoes, etc.  (May 19).

Rajkot, Saurashtra  --  An inland city and a region in Gujarat, a State on the West Coast of India.

Mahatma Gandhi  --  Father of the Nation, famous for his severely austere lifestyle.

Cochin  --  Major port and harbour in Kerala State :  see Cameos Of Coconuts, etc. (May 23).

Paappads  --  Crisp, crunchy discs :  see  Mangoes, etc.  (May 18).

East Berlin, Czechoslovakia  --  Those were the days before several European nations disintegrated but the two Germanies got united.

Pilsner Urquell  --  Call it a sentiment if you like, but I think it's the best beer in the world!

Evening News, New Delhi
30 Nov. 1984
Bohemian nuts

MY son Vijay (11) has a great fascination for peanuts (as I do).  Every evening, when the two of us go out a walk, he stops in front of a certain peanut-seller at a bus-stop near my house. 

He buys a handful of unshelled, roasted nuts, cracking the shells open and crunching the core nuts as he walks.  Of course, I ask for and get my share!

Vijay daily revives many pleasant memories of peanuts in my mind, as do the innumerable peanut-sellers who ply their trade on the streets all over the  Capital.


I AM a tiny tot in Mysore, long ago.  I go with my parents and sisters to the zoo, and we feed peanuts to the monkeys.  The monkeys dexterously snap the shells open and eagerly crunch the nuts, and I watch in fascination. 

Perhaps it was this early childhood impression which gave me an everlasting liking for peanuts!

I live in Rajkot for a while, where the peanuts (like the ice-cream) are fabulous.  I am convinced that the best peanuts in the world are grown in Saurashtra in Gujarat State, though I haven't seen the whole world.  Call it a sentiment if you like, but that's what I honestly think.

And I remember that Mahatma Gandhi had some schooling in Rajkot, and I have an impression that peanuts were part of his staple diet, like orange juice and goat's milk.  I am not surprised really, for in my opinion he must have had the best peanuts in the world to give him a lifelong taste in his childhood!


I AM sitting in a bar in Cochin, drinking beer with some Norwegian sailors whose friendship I've picked up on the spot.  We crunch toasted paappads and salted peanuts, which go very well with the beer.  It's a session to remember!

I am on tour somewhere in India (it could be anywhere on this vast sub-continent), and I am starving because of undue pressures on my time.  I miss breakfast, lunch and dinner, and would go to bed terribly hungry, but for the packet of peanuts I always keep in my briefcase.  Around midnight I crunch the packet away and go to sleep peacefully.

I am living in London for a long while, and I am missing all the wayside peanut-sellers of the Indian cities, especially those of the Capital.  I buy nice-looking cellophane packets full of nicely salted peanuts (sometimes probably processed from nuts exported from India), but they don't taste half as good as the unshelled, freshly-roasted peanuts you can buy at any bus-stop back home in India!


I AM on a short visit to East Berlin , with the outside temperature at freezing point.  I feel fed up with the smell of meat and eggs, and my soul cries ut for a nice, homely vegetarian meal.

I buy a packet of what look like large popcorns, at a stall near the railway station.  It's called Erdnussflips in German, but is actually imported from Czechoslovakia.  I open the packet with some misgivings, but the contents are very familiar and friendly.

They happen to be exploded peanuts which somehow seem to be fried in pure vegetable oil.  I have no other way to describe them, and they taste like some dish prepared in a purely vegetarian family in India.  An answer to my prayers, certainly!

I buy a dozen packets and go back to my hotel.  I sit down in the bar, order the best Czech beer they have (Pilsner Urquell, of course!), and go to work on the marvellous flips.
A Bohemian meal. to be sure, but the best food I've had in several days  --  something never to be forgotten! 


PostScript, 2013
A Revelation About Erdnussflips!

As I had mentioned in those Delhiberations almost 30 years ago, the groundnut-puffs I crunched in Berlin had looked like large popcorns.  As a matter of fact, they had even tasted a bit like popcorns.  I didn't know why this was so, but it never occurred to me to find out the actual reason.

After keying in the above text, however, out of sheer curiosity I Googled for relevant information, and I had a remarkable revelation --  that corn flour is the main ingredient of Erdnussflips, though the product is named after groundnuts, which constitute only about 30 per cent of the inputs!

Anyway, this unplanned search has given me some fresh and interesting insights into the whole phenomenon, which I shall share with you in due course! 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cameos Of Coconut Drinks, Coconut Trees, And Kerala's Coconut Culture

After the midsummer memories of mangoes and monkeys (May 19), here come some more midsummer memories of coconuts and coconauts!! 

 Most of the culinary expressions explained below had figured in this column earlier --  Archives :  When French Cuisine Turned Totally Vegetarian! (10 Feb. 2013),  and the definitions are repeated here for ready reference. 

Glossary (In same order as in text)

 Coconut  --  A football-sized (or a little smaller) tropical fruit-like vegetable, growing in clusters on tall palm trees whose huge leaves resemble Venetian blinds.  A hard and hollow spherical kernel, covered by thick green husk, is lined inside with a layer of pure-white meat and contains a pale-gray translucent liquid.  The meat is quite thin and rather pulpy when the nut is very young, and grows much thicker and harder when the nut attains maturity on the tree.  So, tender coconuts are consumed as thirst-quenching drinks, usually at simple roadside stalls, and mature nuts are used for cooking.  Coconut oil is extracted by drying the fully-grown meat and crushing it well in a mill.

Chou En-lai  --  The first Premier of the People's Republic of China, who visited India in 1954 and 1960, pursuing the elusive goal of peaceful co-existence.

Madras  --  Earlier name of Chennai in South India, still very much in vogue, the two names peacefully co-existing in social  (though not legal) terms!

Kerala  --  A coastal state in South West India.

Avial  --  Salty mixture of small boiled pieces of several vegetables (such as pumpkins, potatoes, yams, carrots, green beans, etc.), generously laced with coconut oil.  A highlight of Kerala cuisine.

Olan  --  As defined in the old text below, boiled pumpkin slices served steaming hot, with a sprinkling of coconut oil.  Another speciality of Kerala! 

Pappadaams  --  Crisp wafer-thin discs of salty dried cereal-based dough, to be fried or toasted for eating  --  the Kerala brand of paappad, a generic North Indian expression I had explained in the preceding column (Midsummer Memories of Mangoes, etc., May 19).

Chutney  --  Hot green chillis and shredded coconut, ground together to form a thick, salty paste, standard accompaniment for idlis and several other light refreshments all over India. 

Idlis  --  Small white ultra-soft pancakes, cooked by steaming fermented yeasty batter made from rice and cereal powder  --  a marvel of South Indian cuisine! 

King Kong  --  Actually, the original black-and-white movie was made in 1933.  I have no idea why I thought it was 1940, which was the year in which, as a tiny tot, I saw it for the first and only time.

Cochin  --  Earlier name of Kochi, a major port and harbour in Kerala State, off the Arabian Sea.

Skol!  --  Norwegian expression meaning "Cheers!" in toasting contexts (also Swedish and  Danish).

Carlsberg, Tuborg  --  Well-known beer brands of Denmark.

Falken Lager  --  Actually a Swiss brand, though it sounds so Scandinavian when I tell this story!  


Evening News, New Delhi
6 July 1984


I HAD concluded  last Friday's Delhiberations with the refreshing movie recollction of Chou En-Lai's tasting tender-coconut water in the open air in India.

Soon after sending my copy to the Editor, I went to Madras for a couple of days;  and on the way I resolved to drink some fresh coconut water there, since one can hardly get any in the Capital these days.

But I had no time in Madras to stop anywhere and have a cool coconut drink.  On the way back to Delhi, I thought regretfully about the omission, and naturally some nostalgic memories of coconuts came flooding into my mind!

*               *               *

MY grandfather's house in a Kerala village --  I've just arrived on a brief visit.  A rustic coconut-feller is sent for early in the morning,  He climbs up a tall tree in the backyard and fells a few tender nuts.

He takes one and dexterously rips away part of the raw green husk on the shell.  He cuts open a large hole at the top, and I lift the nut above my face and, tilting my head backwards, drink up the delightful natural beverage. 

The nut-feller takes the shell back, neatly cleaves it into two halves with a heavy curved cast-iron knife, and hands them to me.  I scoop out the soft white meat inside the kernel and gorge myself greedily.

I ask for another nut, and the exercise is repeated.  And once more!

My grandfather advises me to have an oil-bath.  I soak my skin all over in coconut oil.  We send for a village masseur, and he gives me a vigorous rub-down.  I bathe in steaming hot water in the backyard.  A kind of sauna it is, and I feel ten years younger.

My grandmother prepares a delightful mid-day meal.  Among other things she makes avial (a mixed vegetable dish) and olan (boiled pumpkin slices served steaming hot).  She sprinkles generous quantities of coconut oil into the pots.

She fries pappadaams in coconut oil, and a delicate aroma fills the whole house.  And there's coconut chutney to go with idlis in the evening.  I go for a walk in the green fields, and note the cool shade provided by the dried coconut-leaf roofs on the farmers' huts. 

Down there in Kerala on the West Coast, it's coconut culture all the way!

*               *               *

I AM a schoolboy in a small port town called Cuddalore on the East Coast.  I specialize in climbing trees of all kinds.

But coconut trees somehow elude all my skills.  I go to the beach often and try to climb the shorter ones lining the sands, but can't make it.

I try to work up some inspiration by thinking of King Kong clambering up the Empire State Building in New York (1940 version, naturally).  But even that doesn't help.  Climbing the pillar-like palm trees calls for an intricate technique, and I give up the whole enterprise.

As a young college student I see a Hollywood film called Island In The Sun.  Harry Belafonte sings the title song, a delightful Calypso number.  Lolling about on the golden sands of a Caribbean beach, the dark hero wins the affections of snow-white Joan Fontaine.

But what captures my interest more than the lovely romance or the lilting music is the sight of the coconut trees swaying gently in the sea breeze against a deep-blue sky, with the sound track going 'swish, swish', which is another kind of music to my ears.

I see the movie once more, not for the romantic couple or the rhythmic Calypso, but for the sea and the sky and the rustling coconut leaves.

*               *               *

I AM spending a short holiday in Cochin, twenty years ago.  In a beer shop one evening I make friends with some jolly Norwegian sailors.

I invite them to a coconut party next day, and under the hot afternoon sun we trek on sandy tracks to a coconut grove.  We cut open dozens of tender green coconuts and gulp down the divine liquid.

The seamen keep saying Skol! as they drink and drink, and they declare it's a wonderful treat, something they will never forget.  Later on in the evening, they drag me into their ship anchored in the harbour, and we follow up with liberal doses of Carlsberg, Tuborg and Falken Lager.

Perhaps by now my Nordic friends would have forgotten many of their on-shore adventures all over the world.  But I like to imagine that they still remember, as I do, their coconautic fling in Cochin port!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Midsummer Memories Of Mangoes, Monkeys And Mysore

It's the middle of May, and the mango season has just started in India.  It will be in full swing within a couple of months.  So here's an article I wrote about mangoes nearly 30 years ago --  and it looks and sounds so fresh and true, as if I wrote it just this morning!


Glossary(In same order as in text)

British days  --  When India was just a colony of the British Empire, before it became independent in 1947.

Bungalow  --  In the British regime, the usual residence of senior officers  --   a mini-mansion with very spacious rooms and a vast surrounding compound where there were luxurious lawns and an amazing variety of trees (originally built for Englishmen, but later on accommodating Indians also) .

Jaamun  --  a delicious native Indian fruit  --   somewhat resembling grapes, but violet in color and having an unusual tongue-tingling taste.  Thought to be very close to the hearts of tree-bound monkeys in wild woodlands.

Rakesh Sharma  --  The first Indian spaceman, who has figured earlier in this column  please see Spaceviews And Skyviews (14 Nov. 2012), and India Looks Lovely (15 Nov. 2012).

Aam-paappad  --  In Hindi, 'aam' means mango, and 'paappad' is a paper-thin disk of dried salty paste made of soaked and ground cereals --  always plain in South India, often with shredded pepper and/or spices added in the North.  Meant to be toasted or fried for eating.  Aam-paappad is a dried sheet of mango pulp, usually just one or two millimeteres thick, and cut out as small rectangles.  Sometimes it's much thicker, and looks almost like a thin pocket book. To be eaten as it is, not processed further.

Aavakkaai  -- 'aava' is mustard, and 'kaai' is unripe fruit, in Telugu, which is the native language of Andhra Pradesh.

Andhra Pradesh  --  A State in South India, where the midsummer temperature is extremely high : not an ideal weather for gobbling up red-hot red-chillis!

Evening News, New Delhi
18 May 1984
Mango, mango!

OFFICIALLY the mango season has arrived all over India along with the midsummer  heat waves, but one hardly sees any juicy mangoes in the Capital's markets.

And what one takes home for the kids in the evening is only a handful of the fruit, never a basketful or even a big bagful, with the mango price competing with the mercury level to beat all previous records.

I'm ever so fond of telling you about the day-dreams I used to indulge in when I was a child or a young man, but I don't recall dreaming about mangoes in my childhood.  I just used to eat them by the dozen every day during the season!

They say the forbidden fruit tastes the best.  I don't know anything about that, because I never had to steal any fruit.

My father was an Executive Engineer in the British days, and we always lived in a big bungalow in some district town or other, with not less than 15 or 20 acres of fruit-laden woodlands surrounding it.

There were always huge baskets of mangoes in the house, but I never cared for their luscious contents.  I preferred to collect a few chosen friends from the school and directly raid by father's gardens.

We would dexterously climb up the mango,  jaamun and other trees like monkeys and, sitting on the highest branches, bite into the fruit.

We would imagine that we were members of the Swiss Family Robinson, and fruit never tasted better than on a tree-top, I can tell you!

Talking of mango trees, have you noticed that they are the shadiest ones in India?

Travelling across the vast plains of our country in long-distance trains, I've often wished I could get down at some small wayside station and just relax in the cool shade of the lush mango groves!

*               *               *

I WAS delighted to hear cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma tell a vast TV audience from the Salyut space station recently that the flat mango cakes (aam paappad) specially prepared for this mission by the food research institute in Mysore, was very much liked by his Russian friends on board.

I don't really know what special research efforts are required to make aam-paappad consumable in space.  But down here on terra firma, my grandmother, who was no research scholar, used to prepare the tastiest variety you could wish for.

Long before the flat succulent cakes she would spread on a piece of cloth on the terrace had dried under the hot sun, they were all gone, with we children hovering around like hungry monkeys!

*               *               *

I SUPPOSE nobody in the world would possibly like sour grapes, but we Indians do love sour mangoes, duly pickled. 

What I like best by way of pickled mango is a very special recipe of the South called aavakkaai.  It's not a product of the food experts in Mysore, but that of the whole culture of Andhra Pradesh. 

It's a genuine gastronomic explosive which foreigners and even most Indians would be well advised to approach with caution  --  green, sour mangoes cut in large pieces along with the kernel, and preserved in a vitriolic lotion made of powdered mustard, salt and the hottest roasted red chillies you can imagine! 

Even seasoned native connoisseurs of aavakkaai in Andhra Pradesh consume huge quantities of distilled butter to off-set the convulsive effects of this particular brand of TNT.

I wonder how our Russian friends in space would react if next time their Indian colleague produced a jar of hot-'n'-sour aavakkaai  instead of soft-'n'-sweet aam-paappad!   Do you hear me, Rakesh?


PostScript, 2013
My Mysore Connections

The food research institution mentioned by me in this article was the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore, which is a nice and hilly South Indian city where I had grown up during the first five years of my life.  And CFTRI is a constituent unit of CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi), of which I was the Financial  Adviser for five years from 1983 to '88.  As a tough and highly inquisitive fundmaster, I wasn't exactly a bosom-friend of the Institute's aggressive Director, Dr. Amla;  but after I wrote this article in my column in the evening paper in New Delhi, his attitude towards Finance did turn far more friendly!

Incidentally, amla happens to be the Hindi name for a sour fruit-like Indian vegetable, usually consumed only in the form of hot pickle --  and, like the jaamun fruit, it has also a tongue-tingling taste!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

German Chorus Shines Brightly In Indian Candle-light!

Just imagine a chorus of 40 musicians from a picturesque town in South Germany earnestly rendering a set of sacred songs in a magnificent church in far-away North India, and suddenly there's a massive power failure and no lights and loudspeakers! 

What would have been the result normally?  Of course, the concert would have come to a temporary standstill, and the large congregation would have become extremely restless and lost its concentration by the time the power and the performance were restored. 

But not in the case of the young musicians belonging to the Youth Chorus from Göppingen, who just went on performing without even pausing for a single moment!  --  which they could easily do because most of them knew the songs and scores by heart.  Here's my review of the intriguing event:


THE HINDU,  New Delhi
13 Jan. 1989

Versatile Choir From West Germany

Lovers of Western music in New Delhi have just had a rich bonus in the form of 'Youth Chorus' from the West German town of Göppingen, organized by the Max Mueller Bhavan, the India International Centre and the Delhi Music Sociery, in the IIC auditorium.

Led by the group's founder-director Heinz Rauser, the 40 choristers rendered various compositions pertaining to the Renaissance, Romantic and modern periods  --  mostly in German, with a few songs in French, Italian and English.  The concluding number, entitled Insalat Italiana, was a parody of an opera scene:  the text was made up of a long chain of Italian musical terms like piano, crescendo, espressivo, recitativo, con grazia, agitato, etc.,  and the music reflected the spirit of those expressions.  A very humorous climax, which drew a well-deserved ovation.

On Sunday, one had a glimpse of another dimension of this choir's potential, when they gave a totally different kind of performance in the Cathedral Church of the Redemption.  It consisted entirely of sacred songs (16th to 20th centuries), in German and Latin.  This was choral music par excellence

Special mention must be made of the fact that except for one or two singers, the members of the group had got all the songs by heart, and performed without holding the text or the score in their hands, which gave a very natural appearance to their recital.  This aspect hadn't escaped one's attention even on the previous day.  But on Sunday it proved to be a very crucial factor  --  because when a massive power failure plunged the church (and the whole city) in darkness for more than half an hour, the choir went on singing nonchalantly in dim candle-light.  (Six large candles were already burning when the power failed, and more were brought in soon).

In the event, far from being a distraction, the power failure actually improved the setting.  For with this transition the concert became far more poignant and impressive, as the Reverend Motilal, the Vicar of the Church, said in his thanksgiving speech after the recital. Perhaps on future occasions when such splendid performances are organized in the church, it may be a good idea to switch off the electricity and have only candle-light!