Why Secularism and not Democracy should be the First Goal in Middle East ?

The Arab Spring, which began with the intention of securing greater political freedoms and overthrowing autocratic regimes in the Middle East, is soon going to complete three years. Popular protests with sometimes violent overtones led to political reversals in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and Libya. Protests still continue in Syria, Algeria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon and they show no signs of abating quickly.While it may have begun with good intentions, we would be living in denial if we still believe that the Arab Spring continues to be a force of justice and freedom.The motivations behind the Arab Spring have slowly but surely been hijacked and overshadowed by external factors aimed at stamping their dominance in an area of strategic importance to the rest of the world.

Democracy may be good in general, but is the Middle East ready to adopt democracy? This is the bigger question. Democracy may be easy to obtain as the Arab Spring has shown, but much more difficult to sustain.Middle East has always seen tensions and power struggles because of Shia Sunni factionalism. Countries that are Sunni controlled tend to ally with each other, and likewise for Shia dominated countries. In some countries, Shia minorities rule over Sunni majority populations and vice versa. This situation of minorities ruling over majorities has become possible as a result of outside support from either Shia dominated Iran or Sunni dominated Saudi Arabia, whichever the case may be.Hence, the Arab Spring has directly resulted in a rise of opportunism for changing these power balances.It has become a breeding ground for yet another civil war between Shia and Sunni Muslims and is no longer a just revolution.And funding for these revolutions comes easily from oil money.

In such a factional environment, it is possible for only two kinds of political orders to survive and rule. Either one has to be rich and autocratic or one has to be an Islamist. Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, Bashar al-Assad, Muammar Gaddafi etc were all rich and autocratic leaders who would crush any political opposition by force.On the positive side, they were also more secular. But since the Arab Spring is being fought for greater political freedom, the autocrats are sidestepped, and the Islamists are alleviated to power.This only further stokes religious tensions, and results in sectarian clashes.However, if the country has a homogeneous population and is either overwhelmingly Sunni or Shia, then these tensions are either absent or very low-key.

So should democracy be the goal for Arab Spring? My answer is NO. Any democratic implementations in the Middle East will only bring Islamists to power and deliver a killer blow to reformist and liberal movements.It would indeed mean taking several steps back and not forward.

What is needed more urgently is a Secular order.Middle East politics should learn to grow above Shia Sunni factionalism and be inclusive towards people of all castes and creeds.Let there be a Unity government in all these countries with appropriate representations from all factions.Let geopolitical alliances stop being governed by factional agendas, but by economic relations.And this change cannot come from the top. It requires an overwhelming change in social and religious mindset.Th bravehearts of Middle East who came out in the streets to protest, need to make sure that they do not let their movement for freedom be hijacked by vested interests.Let the Arab Spring be a social movement for Secularism first and Democracy only second.Because Democracy in Middle East cannot survive without Secularism.Turkey is proof of this!!

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Zuchhini Wrapped Cutlets

Zuchhini Wrapped Cutlets

Zuchhini Wrapped Cutlets

We all have these lazy moments when we feel like cooking without a recipe. Moments when we just rummage our pantry and refrigerator for whatever’s available and rustle up something with those ingredients. And I think everyone will agree with me on this; these on-the-spot dishes are most often our most creative dishes and something we feel truly proud of :)

So the dish I am describing today came from one such lazy inspiration ;) . In my refrigerator, I had some frozen peas, a packet of sweet corn, zuchhini and pomegranate.The zuchhini definitely needed some love and attention as it had been lying ignored for a long time. At the back of my head, I could vaguely remember some TV recipe for zuchhini wraps.This led me to the idea of zuchhini wraps with fillings of mashed peas and mashed corns. And I also decided to throw in some pomegranate seeds into the wrap for a fruity angle to the flavour.

For this recipe, first boil the corn and peas separately. Next mash the peas and grind the corns to form a coarse paste. Season both the mashed mixes with salt and pepper. Next cut the zuchhini into long rectangular slices using a suitable slicer. I must add here, that getting the perfect slices comes with practise, so don’t get disheartened if you end up with uneven slices. Now spread the pea mix on some slices and the corn mix on others. On top of this, spread a layer of cheese (use cheese with liquid or semi-solid texture). Throw in a few pomegranate seeds and roll the slice (just like you would roll a Roulade). Use some cheese to bind the free end of the roll. Shallow fry in a pan from both sides until they catch a light golden colour. Enjoy with cheese sauce :)

Zuchhini by itself is kind of tasteless. The primary flavour comes from the filling. If you are a non-vegetarian, you can also experiment with minced chicken or mutton stuffings.

All the best with your Zuchhini Experiments!! :)

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Pindi Chole

Pindi Chole

Pindi Chole with Garnish

Pindi Chole is a very popular Punjabi chole preparation, that is served predominantly with puri and bhatura. It gets it’s name from Rawalpindi (now in Pakistan) from where it originated. Pindi Chole generally has a darker hue than the other chole preparations and it is a dry dish, with only a small quantity of the gravy coating the chana (chickpeas).

During Ramzaan, we daily have Chole in post-fast meals, primarily because chickpeas are a great source of proteins.Pindi Chole has a more elaborate preparation than the traditional Chole Masala. The highlight of the recipe is that the chana is cooked twice.Typical Pindi Chole is made only with chickpeas, but in my preparation I have also used kala chana (black grams). First, boil the chana in a pressure cooker with adequate water, salt to taste, 1-2 tea bags (for dark colour) and little bit of tamarind or amla (for sourness). This should take 25-30 mins on a medium flame. Meanwhile, in a kadhai, add oil and flavour with some whole spices (bay leaves, cloves, green cardamoms, black cardamom). Add finely chopped onions and cook until translucent.Add ginger paste and cook until raw smell goes away. Add the drained chana and season with red chilli powder, garam masala and chana masala (available pre-packaged). If the chana gets too dry, you can add little bit of the chana water that was used for boiling. Cook this for 2-3 minutes and finally garnish with tomato and onion slices, slit green chillies and coriander leaves.

Chana Dal Salad for Ramzaan

Chana Dal Salad

At home for Ramzaan , we usually have pindi chole along with chana dal salad.This is a very simple salad made with chana dal that is soaked overnight. The chana dal is mixed with finely chopped onions, diced tomatoes, chopped cucumber, chopped green chillies, lemon juice and salt to taste.

Pindi Chole can be either had alone or along with any bread preparations (roti, paratha, puri, bhatura etc). So do prepare this in your homes and enjoy it with your family :)

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Pasta Pomodoro

Pasta with Tomato Sauce

Pasta with Tomato Sauce

My Mummy and Italians have one thing in common. Both take great pride in their tomatoes :) . My mother creates a huge fuss whenever buying tomatoes, picks every single piece by hand, and rejects any tomato that has even the smallest patch of yellow or green :) .No one in our family has yet managed to wrap our heads around WHY she has such a fondness for tomatoes :) . Coming to Italy, some of the world’s finest quality tomatoes are grown here.Tomatoes are a common ingredient in most of the traditional Italian dishes and the quality of the tomatoes can make or break the flavour of the dish. Perfect Italian tomatoes are fresh, bright red and not too sour.

Pasta Pomodoro or pasta with tomato sauce is one of the simple and traditional Italian dishes. Tomato sauce can be prepared in several ways, and consequently this dish too has several varities. Check out my recipe for the tomato sauce.Also for the pasta, I have used the Fusilli variety. To make this dish, boil the pasta till al-dente. Take little bit of olive oil or butter in a pan, add the tomato sauce and cook for 2-3 min. At this stage, you can also add cream or grated parmesan cheese if you want the pasta to be creamy. Finally add the boiled pasta and season with Italian seasoning (dried oregano, parsley,basil,salt etc.). Pasta Pomodoro is ready to serve. And oh, did I mention..this dish is incredibly light and healthy :)

Ending this with a popular food quote

Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.

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Early Trends for General Elections

As we all know, General Elections in India are very much around the corner. As the political climate heats up, we will soon start to see political debates picking up steam on online media. So the other day, I just did a quick random check on Google Trends to see which political camp is trending online. Here are some results.

Namo_Rahul

Narendra Modi vs. Rahul Gandhi

From the BJP camp, Narendra Modi is pretty much crowned as their Prime Ministerial candidate. However, from the Congress side, there are still confusing signals, so I have randomly selected Rahul Gandhi as the next major opponent.As the graph shows, Namo far outruns Rahul Gandhi, as far as public interest goes.

Congress_BJP

Congress vs. BJP

The two major national parties, Congress and BJP are almost neck to neck, with the BJP having a narrow lead.

Rahul_Congress

Rahul Gandhi vs. Congress

Now, ever since Narendra Modi was crowned as the BJP Campaign Committee head, there has been a lot of buzz and debate about the emergence of the personality cult in Indian Politics. So I also decided to generate a trending graph of Rahul Gandhi vs his party, the Congress. As can be seen, both are trending at same pace.

Namo_BJP

Narendra Modi vs. BJP

Now this is the interesting graph, albeit not a surprising one. A trending comparison of Narendra Modi vs his party, shows that Narendra Modi is generating far more interest in the public imagination than the BJP.

Personally, I feel that the emergence of the personality cult in Indian Politics is not a new phenomenon. Political parties in India have traditionally fought elections in the name of their most charismatic leader. eg Congress has been fighting elections under the Gandhi family name since ages.Similarly, for the numerous other regional parties, their leader is often the most recognizable face of the party.And greater the charisma of their leader, the better are the winning chances for that party.Well, as the trends above clearly show, Narendra Modi is generating not only more interest than his closest contender, but also more interest than his own party.

 

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Egg Samosa

Egg Samosa

Egg Samosa

Samosa is not just a very popular Indian snack but also a very versatile one.Different parts of the country have different preparations for samosa. While in the north, aloo samosas are very popular, in the south, onion samosas find more takers. Samosas can not only have different kinds of fillings (potato, onion, chicken, mutton etc.), but can also be shaped in more than one unique way. Although predominantly a savoury snack, Samosas can also be prepared in the sweet form. Yes, in short I believe that an entire book can be written on Samosas :) .

But today, I am going to talk only about Egg Samosa. This recipe is straight from mummy’s kitchen, as I haven’t really come across it anywhere else :) . This used to be one of our “look-forward-to” and “eat-as-many-as-you-can” snacks in the Ramzaan meals :) .Preparation for egg samosas is a very simple, three-step process. First step is to make the scrambled egg (egg, chopped onions, coriander leaves, green chilli, salt) and allow it to cool. The scrambled egg should be properly scrambled and should not have too much moisture (so no tomatoes please!). Next step is to make the samosa dough (maida, little oil, water, salt). Last step is to roll the dough into roughly 5″ diameter, put the filling in center, moisten the circumference with water and then finally fold into a semi-circle, and tightly press the edges. Deep fry until light golden brown.

You can also get hold of special samosa cutters from the market. These cutters are basically used for getting more even and styled edges. Samosas can also be shaped as cones instead of semi-circles as I have described above.

For those of you who have never had this before, Egg Samosa may sound a little strange in the beginning. But trust me, when you eat it, you will be in heaven :) . So do prepare this in your homes too!!

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Movie Catch Up Time

I was skimming through my movie collection this week to kill time and found these three movies which I had never seen before. Generally, before watching a movie, I read the plot summary in imdb, just to make sure that it’s worth my time and interest. But since my broadband had ditched me , I dived straight in. And out of the three I saw, two were really good :) while one ended in regret….deep regret!! Here are the movie reviews.

Chariots of Fire (1981) : This is a sports movie, based on two British sprinters trying to make it big in the 1924 Olympics, the physical and emotional struggles they face while they prepare and their ultimate triumph. The theme song from this movie has a really catchy tune and it was played repeatedly in the London Olympics 2012. If you watched Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and felt let down by the over-the-top dramatization and pathetic editing, then give this movie a try. It does not take the audience on a make-believe emotional ride, but is inspirational nevertheless, living up to the adage of “short and sweet”.

The Last King of Scotland (2006) : This movie is based on the regime of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who became  a household name for terror worldwide. The script weaves a fictional tale (loosely based on real life) set on the background of historical facts.A Scottish doctor who comes to Uganda to help the poor, becomes friends and then foes with Idi Amin, and narrowly escapes from the jaws of death. Now I had heard all kinds of horrible stories about Idi Amin(the jerk used to keep severed body parts in his fridge). Thankfully, the viewers are spared these gory details. The screenplay includes several violence scenes but little on human torture. Watch it, if you want to know more about Idi Amin.

Secretary (2002) : Now, this is the one I ended up regretting watching :( . This movie is about a young girl who is recently released from a mental hospital and who takes up a job as secretary in a law firm.Her relationship with her over bearing boss soon evolves into a typical Dominant Submissive Relationship, and that’s the underlying theme of the movie. Frankly, I had no idea where the movie was headed, until it was too late. I had a sick vomiting sensation for one whole day after watching this.However, if you are a fan of the Fifty Shades trilogy which has been on the best-sellers list for quite sometime now, then this movie will probably be worth your attention.

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The Godfather Weekend

The Godfather

The Godfather

Last weekend, the broadband connection in my flat went kaput! :( .Deprived of my primary mind/time/soul occupying agent, I settled down comfily with my portable hard drive which holds my prized movie collection. There was nothing better to do, as it was raining like dogs and cats outside. And I decided to watch Godfather, all the three parts, which promised to provide me with 9 hours of effortless entertainment.

This was only the second time I was seeing Godfather, a movie which I know all guys swear by, or at least the ones who consider themselves as macho ;) .Last time when I saw this movie, all I could remember at the end was the relentless and exhausting violence and bloodshed. This time I thought I would keep a watch out for the more subtler things.So I have compiled this list of quotes below, which I find kind of wise, witty and inspiring (btw, I love collecting movie quotes and dialogues :) ).And, I hope you would enjoy these quotes as much as I did :)

A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.

I’m gonna make him an offer he won’t refuse.

Mr. Corleone never asks a second favor once he’s refused the first, understood?

Mr Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news at once.

If anything in this life is certain – if history has taught us anything – it’s that you can kill “anybody”.

Finance is a gun. Politics is knowing when to pull the trigger.

Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment.

It’s dangerous to be an honest man.

Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

Power wears out those who do not have it.

Never let anyone know what you are thinking.

Your enemies always get strong on what you leave behind.

The higher I go, the crookeder it becomes.

It’s not personal. It’s business.

Friends and money are like oil and water.

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Pesto Pasta

Pasta with Pesto Sauce

Pasta with Pesto Sauce

I love everything that speaks, smells or looks even remotely Pasta. It’s not only my ideal comfort food but also my first preference whenever I have to cook something in a hurry. In fact, I am so addicted to it as a bachelor, that I may run short of rice and flour in my pantry, but Pasta will always be well stocked ;)

Simplicity is the corner stone of my food philosophy; and that’s what you have in Pesto Pasta. Pesto Pasta is a cold pasta dish and tastes best with spaghetti pasta. To make this, cook pasta till al-dente, drain and mix in the pesto sauce. Check out my Pesto Sauce recipe here. There’s no need to add any olive oil, as pesto sauce already contains lots of olive oil. You can also optionally sprinkle grated parmesan cheese(if you can afford it’s exorbitant price) on top, if you like your pasta with creamy texture. One can also add olives and cherry tomatoes to the pesto pasta for more variety.

Enjoy yummy Pesto Pasta with your family. It can be served as a main dish and is great for bonding over family meals.

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A Saucy Affair

Pesto Sauce and Tomato Sauce

Pesto Sauce and Tomato Sauce

I am a big fan of Italian cuisine, and sauces form a crucial component for a majority of Italian dishes. They are used for dressing meat and vegetable dishes and also for dressing my evergreen favourite dish, Pasta. Two such famous mother sauces in Italian cuisine are Pesto Sauce and Tomato Sauce.

The key ingredients for Pesto Sauce is Parsley leaves, few Basil leaves, a handful of nuts (preferably walnuts or pinenuts),garlic cloves (2-3), salt to taste and a good helping of olive oil (mind you, no water!!).All these ingredients (minus the olive oil) are first coarsely grinded in a mixer and then olive oil is added little by little, till the herbs and the nuts are finely grinded. A key tip to get the pesto sauce with perfect consistency is to add a generous helping of olive oil. Olive oil when used sparingly, makes the pesto sauce sticky and hard. And don’t worry about the excess oil. Olive oil is edible and considered as good for health.

As for the tomato sauce, there are several ways to prepare it. I have used the classic combination of tomato and basil.First immerse the tomatoes in simmering water for 5 minutes, then remove and peel off the skin .Now dice the tomatoes and cook in a pan with little bit of olive oil. Add a handful of fresh basil leaves and thinly sliced garlic (optional). Add salt and sugar to taste. Cook for around 10-15 minutes, until the tomatoes are soft.

Store the sauces in glass jars and refrigerate. They should stay fresh for at least a week.

If you have a busy lifestyle, then these homemade sauces are not just a money saver, but also a massive time saver. And when used as dressing for pasta, they taste just as yummy :)

I will soon be posting about my pasta recipes made using these sauces. Till then, Bon Apetite :)

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