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Friday, February 21, 2014


I start this blog after making a good biriyani today 

The regal queen Mumtaz  wife of Shah Jehan the great Mughal emperor of India who built the Taj Mahal in her memory would had stepped into her Army barracks to view her soldiers and felt that many were undernourished ,she may have  instructed the royal chefs to concot a dish that would be wholesome but also easy to make and thus was born the Biriyani !
so goes a story of how Biriyani was born
A melding of meat in flavoured rice in its juices with the aroma of oriental spices ,
with such an origin how can the dish not be anything but exotic

Of course this was just one version of Biriyanis history one amongst many
In Farsi Persias language Beryan means roasted ,,the Persians had roasted thier rice with ghee and spices and stocked it with meat ,and they say with the Mughal invasion it traveled to North India and later to down south .
This is vehmently opposed by another school of thought which argues that the North of India were traditional wheat eaters and Biriyani had emerged from the rice eating south India

,OOnu Shoru which means meal rice in Tamil  was such a dish that existed in second century BC and was said to be  used to feed the armies !,
Another tale tells of Arab traders coming to Malabar by boat for trade had  brought their recipe of rice with mutton with them which slowly turned into the famous Malabari or Tellichery Biriyani .

The language Urdhu too they say emanated from the battle fields as a language of the armies but here too there are conflicting versions on this .
Biriyani was traditionally cooked in earthenware and was said to be even buried under hot sands to mature !

the Dum Pukth of Awadhi cuisine was known for this type of  slow cooking ,
basically most Indian cooking itself is  slow cooking where the spices blend and the juices meld into creating the unique flavours .
The present Dum biriyani is cooked in huge vessels where the half cooked rice and mutton get fully cooked in slow heat en-captured in  a sealed vessel over which coal or other source of heat is kept ,the air tight sealing is usually done with wheat based edible glue called maida which is pasted to the edges of the cover of the vessel .
The long thin flavored Basmati rice is traditionally used in most Biriyanis save some from the south like the Tellicherry or Malabari Biriyani which uses Khaima rice roasted in ghee ( short and stouter )
so do the Dindigul biriyani from Tamilnadu of which a subspeices is the now popular Thalakapettu Biriyani which is even copyrighted !

The Ambur Biriyani of Tamilnadu tradition-ed by the Arcot kings ,vassals of the Mughal emperor Aurangazeb is well known for its richness , they have two varieties rice in mutton  usually given in marriages of richer families and mutton in rice for more commoner ones !
The world famous Hyderabadi Biriyani is known for its unique quality and richness .
The Paradise restaurant is a well known eating joint for Hyderabadi Biriyani .
 I do remember going there once during a crowded lunch time and was guided to the tented terrace which had huge air coolers to ward of the hot Hyderabadi summer blending with the spicy Biriyani and burning its hungry  patrons !

In yesteryear Madras where I grew up a visit to the Buhari hotel  opposite the central station to taste their fine limbed Basmati biriyani and bite into their crunchy samosas was a special treat looked forwards to .

Todays Chennai has hundreds of Biriyani joints both eating places or those which give as take away packets at a phone call away ,

in Kochi in kerala  the Kaayikaans was the name of a very popular hotel in the bylanes of Mattancherry and a non descript small place tucked between duty free shops sold one of the most exotic Biriyanis served in green plantain leaves .one could see the legendary Kayikan himself in his  shirtless glory shimmering with pride as his satisfied patrons wend their belching way out ,
no luxury equivalent built by his sons in posh Ernakulam today could beat that original .
The kolkata biriyani brought to its shores by Wajid ali Shah the Nawab of Awadh who was exiled into Calcutta but  did not forget to bring his chef along specially  the one  known for his talent in Dum Pukth cooking style ,the chef in his  present dire straits of being a chef of an exiled Nawab would add potatoes to compensate for the paucity of mutton pieces and thus Kolkata biriyani was made richer by potatoe being  an important ingredient .

 in Ustaad Hotel a Malayalam  film on a small hotel in the Calicut beach known for its flavoured Biriyani ,Thilakan the veteran actor in his role as a cook cum owner of the hotel would ridicule the potatoe as a vegetable which left  its goddam taste in anything oneit was  pus it into  !

the film  Ustaad hotel itself was  styled after the Zains a homely small place in calicut beach known for its homely cuisine and biriyanis ,any self respecting Auto driver in kozhikode would thrum his way to Zains if his passenger happened to mention the word Biriyani

To me Biriyani has always been a favorite
,it is  literally vestigial and has brought back nostalgia to several incidents in my childhood where my tongue was tingled by its taste
there was a big family staying next to our house and among st the kumaraswamies there was one uncle who could make a mean  Biriyani with the deft of a hand and many an occasion we had tucked into the delights prepared by this artiste
mostly Biriyani chefs in marriages are all men and the main cook would   fling the spices in quit nonchalance while his minions sealed the huge cauldrons of rice boiling in gravy with thousands of boiling onions and tomatoes and sprinkle their tops with burning coals while their heavenly aroma would fill  the atmosphere ,then the great man would descend on the scene for his penultimate role of breaking the seal which was his befitting privilege and with a wrinkle of his creative nose would then declare his review as a good Biriyani fit for the Gods .

To me making a fine Biriyani has been a consistent struggle  over the ages

I had  graduated from making  reasonably good  fried rice where flicking the rice in the hot tawah with the sauces was a more kindergardenish effort than  to  attempt  on a Biriyani
over time after listening intently to varevah cooking and vachef and his Biriyani tips in the you tube I slowly learnt the art of making a passable Biriyani which would not be named otherwise by anyone eating it .
but still perfection eluded my trails and tribulations .

this blog comes as a celebration after a reasonably successful effort where I was even  complimented by my wife a well known Dum Biriyani expert !

From washing and soaking the fine Basmati rice in spices and leaving it if possible overnight for it to become tender to ,marinating the meat or chicken in yoghurt with some red chilly powder salt and spices to be soaked in it for hours
 I had  finely cut the  onions and fried them in hot oil till they became red in color the spices were then heated in oil with ginger and garlic to take their raw taste away and later mulched in a mortar and pestle  till they were ground to a fine powder ,adding them to the onions and adding tomatoes and later green chillies and the meat along with some ghee and saffron and allowing them to be  half cooked specially  the meat and to become a fine gravy .

To me cooking is  creativity  and like writing if I am in the mood for it turns out well ,
like all creative efforts it gets its soul only if one is passionate about it and .like the bhava of music the special effect comes only if it rises from within

The washed and soaked Basmati rice would then be half cooked in another vessel ( the timing of rice cooking is the most important one for a good Biriyani it should be taken off the fire when the rice starts dancing in the boiling water and is just slightly soft but not more later the rice separated from the water is transferred to the meat gravy pot and strewn in layers of meat and rice alternating ,and then the vessel is covered air tight with if possible some heat source on top or bottom or in oven and slow cooked for more than half an hour ,one cuts the fire but does not succumb to the temptation of opening the vessel as the rice and spices and meat would still keep melding into each other and then finally I did  open and slightly stir the layers together and out  emerged  a Biriyani worth its salt
I did it today
made my Biriyani

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Knowledge is Great

Knowledge is broadening to the mind beyond barriers of age or space it  can grow and be empowered at any time ,every input into the brain adds to its wisdom .
To me a physician by profession 55 years of age and committed to my specialty of Medical oncology knowledge broadens my professional skills and is more of a necessity rather  than a luxury .
Medical oncology today has progressed beyond beliefs ,from ten percent five year survival the yardstick used in cancer field it has grown to an astounding 70 percent or even more !
the paradigm changes that have swept oncology as a science is closely related to the discoveries in pure science in all its fields be it in Medical Genetics ,technology ,engineering  or biochemical advances and also consequent  progress in skills .
Molecular medicine and nano delivery of drugs have made oncology a specialty of hope 
but the goal of cure a for cancer  is still difficult to achieve in the present situation 
 Cancer could  become a lifestyle disease like Diabetes Mellitus or hypertension where one lives with it under control rather than curing it once for all .
to any practicing oncologist the world is a classroom with online sources available over a click there is immense material available for him ,the latest research papers published can be at his table ,he is aware of things happening by attending medical conferences regular continuing medical educations is now mandatory to many nations are a boon to his knowledge acquisition .
but all this pales into insignificance  before a full time live course ,there is nothing to beat studying and working in a reputed oncology center under professors and imbibing from the very best .
In today's oncology United kingdom definitely is considered as such a place where knife edge research is happening and many clinical trials are ongoing  ,many of the path breaking discoveries and molecules have sprung from this country .
It would be my ardent desire to work in such a center and learn and do a post graduate course in such an atmosphere to improve my knowledge and increase my skills so that it can contribute to my commitment to my patients .
to me being fifty five is not a barrier at all as my mind is sharp and rearing to learn more with my rich clinical experience and awareness of the intricacies of my profession every input is savored better and adds to my knowledge .
this would be my dream to do a full time course in medical oncology in the United kingdom .

Monday, February 10, 2014

Palluruthy Relief Centre

The Palluruthy Relief Settlement is a destitute center  being run by the corporation of Cochin .
It was started by the Maharajah of Cochin in 1941 and in 1968 was taken over by The Corporation of Cochin ,
it was a place to hold vagrants ,beggars,the  mentally subnormal and abnormal wandering individuals but it also was a sort of old age home with many of its long term  inmates reasonably normal .

homeless wanderers would be brought by the police and housed here ,
unlike a jail this was run more like an orphanage .
Many have gone back to their homes after they are housed here for months or even years with good food and sometimes treatment for their medical and psychiatric treatments, they become more saner and give whereabouts of their families ,their relatives on  hearing through media would  come to pick them back
 many were taken back in batches by the administrators themselves .
housed in two big dormitories one for females and other for males with  reasonably good food , there were centers of vocational rehabilitation in it and the inmates were  supported to exhibit their creative talents .
the center is run more transparently and with much dedication after the day to day affairs have been  managed for a long time by the Peoples council of social justice a law related social organisation with eminent lawyers and honorable judges and other notaries as its members .notable among them was Advocate Ms Bitty .
Dr Rangamani retired civil surgeon has been donning the role  of Project coordinator with commitment  for a long time ,her rich academic experience and professional expertise as a doctor has gone a long way in its running well  .
Both Premila and myself as already being involved in our charitable institution Shilpa society in the same area were also requested to join as Assistant project coordinators and we did so for a few years ,

we would go there weekly three to four days by turns and take medical rounds on the inmates and also run the clinic for medical problems of the inmates ,
Dr S.D Singh was the consultant psychiatrist who looked after the mental health problems with aid of two qualified psychologists and it also had round the clock trained nurses and attendants to manage the inmates
We knew many of the inmates by name
I still remember a few of them ,

there was a very old man called Pai who was very clean and neat ,
he was around 80 years and had been left there by his family for ever
 most of the time Pai would sleep under another bed on the floor as he preferred that coolness !
 he was very meticulous of his complaints which he would list methodically and would only be happy if the stethoscope was held on his chest ,
Pai was loved by most of the inmates specially there was a sort of father son relationship between one young man and pai strangely this young man had come from somewhere up  north and did not know Konkani which was  Pais language but his attachment to him was stunning ,he would rush to Pais side when we came to see him and dutifully help him sit up and allow us to examine him he would recount all Pais problem very seriously and the days Pai was sick he would almost cry !

there was one jolly old singer who would sing classical numbers slightly off tune ,he actually hailed from a very good family who were quite prosperous and housed nearby but had left him in this center but

 he was still cheerful expect on occasions he would be glum and gaze into the horizon with his thoughts .
Shaji was the smart all round Attender who would bathe the inmates serve them their food take them to hospitals if needed with help of other attendants he was very sincere and cheerful too .
in the  female side too there were some notables including a reasonably young lady who was very voluble and loved to preen herself there were mothers left here or wandered away from thier homes which was lost to their memories there were grandmothers who would walk with crutches and  many were on medications for their mental problems and would get into attacks of aggression at intervals when they would be shifted to mental hospitals which they hated and would sheepishly return after a few days
some would be delighted to see their families coming to pick them up bringing goodies for all inmates
talkative loud garish quite silent crazy pious rocking all types were there
 a microcosm of world outside
One suprise I had was when I went to the male bathing area once
This was an  open concreted area where a hose was used to get the water

 I once  saw the local Councillor in a  folded dhoti shirtless washing the inmates one by one using soap lather with so much dedication
 he laughed at my surprise and said
 hey Doctor all of us politicians are not so bad right ?
 yes I said
 I salute you sir

PRS is a great memory of love and service for us .

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Does he Know a Mothers Heart by Arun Shourie Book Review

Arun Shouries "Does He know a mothers Heart ....."
Economist ,Former minister ,MP ,scholar , Editor of the Indian express ,senior journalist ,and author of several books has written this book which I completed today .
Arun shourie and his wife Ms Anita Shourie have only one child who is afflicted with Spasticity ,in this book he recounts the travails of a parent with such a child ,his wife too suffers from parkinsonism .
One really is astounded at the amount of work in the several careers he had donned over the years in spite of all his personal problems .
The book is his  introspection on major scriptures of all religions  in his trying to understand  the travails he and his family have to go through and also on suffering and its cause .
His deep insights and scholarly research into the intricate depths of philosophical treasties is a heavy read at times but it’s a condensed gist that excudes the flavour of varied thoughts and his take on them .

Saturday, February 01, 2014

when it is time to die ....lyrics

The malayalam film Spirit directed by Ranjith has an unforgettable song in it ,lyrics are by Rafiq Ahmed  and was sung by Unni Menon

Melancholic and soul caressing lyrics I attempted to translate it for a wider audience as below


My Translation


In  the moment when  death reaches me please sit by my side for some time

To caress with my fingers numb with the hot coal heaped on me your  skin as its last touch

So that my last breath taken into me is filled with  your fragrance

When the moment death reaches me please sit by my side for some time


So as I close my eyes for the last time your vision is imprisoned in it forever

 that my ears which will hear no more melodies will finally shut by hearing your voice

 Your feelings can drench my body  burning  then with all  its knowledge  and its memories

When the moment  death reaches me please sit by my side for some time


So that  my lips scalded by your kisses can close spelling your name for the last time

My love ……let my soles cool by remembering its path to you

That’s is all needed for this body of mine covered by the earth to spring forth as a flower


In  the moment  death reaches me please sit by my side for some time …………….



The Malayalam version

Maranamethunna nerathu neeyente- arikil ithiri neram irikkane
kanalukal kori maravicha viraluka- orduvil ninne thalodi shamikkuvaan
oduvilaayi akathekkedukkum shwasa- kanikayil ninte ghandhamundaakuvaan

Maranamethunna nerathu neeyente- arikil ithiri neram irikkane ini

thurakkendathillatha kankalil priyathe nin mukham mungi kidakkuvaan oru swaram polumini edukkathoree chevikal nin swara mudhrayaal mooduvaaan arivumormayum kathum sirasil nin- haritha swachasmaranakal peyyuvaan Maranamethunna nerathu neeyente- arikil ithiri neram irikkane adharamaam chumbanathinte murivu nin madhura naam japathinaal kooduvaan pranayame ninnilekku nadonnoren vazhikal orthente paadham thanukkuvaan -2 athu matheeyudalmoodiya mannil ninnu pulkkodiyaayuyirthelkkuvaan

Maranamethunna nerathu neeyente- arikil ithiri neram irikkane







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