‘But there’s onion in the upma’

You’ve got to be pristine in thought, word and deed when Ganapati Bappa’s visiting. And that goes for the food, too. The fridge is purged of all taamasik stuff a few days ahead. The onion and garlic drawer is out of bounds. So when gen Y pulls out some leftover upma from the fridge for breakfast on chaturthi morning gen X says, “But there’s onion in the upma!”

For decades, our annual family Ganesh in Mumbai used to come from the idol-making Khanvilkar family deep in the innards of Girgaum. They would make murtis big and small all year long from Pen’s famous clay, locally called chikaN maati, for sale on this special day.

Khanvilkar Senior would talk to my uncle and father saying how idol making was “God’s work,” as we waited for him to hand over our murti to us. Their work was worship – for worship. Everything was pristine in and around the workshop, he would say.

I understand there isn’t much demand for chikaN maati these days because they don’t make too many idols in Mumbai. They come from cheap, cheap China, I hear. When a Chinese-made bappa visits a home does gen X stop to think if the worker who put him together had had pork dumplings in his lunch break?

Here in New Zealand an exporter has retrofitted a factory to comply with halal requirements before exporting poultry to the Middle East. I wonder if a consumer there worries that a Kiwi factory worker may have wolfed down a ham sandwich for lunch.

Pristineness can’t hold candle to profit. Bappa knows. If he doesn’t mind a post-chow tamaasik burp while a worker gives him the finishing touches in a faraway land, I’m quite sure he won’t mind onion in the upma.

I don’t know about you but I’m off to help myself to some really pristine modaks.

Suspicious in Singapore

Dev Nadkarni

“If you see a suspicious package or a suspicious person please contact the train officer through the intercom near the exit,” says the electronic voice in my Singapore MRT railcar. It’s 8am on a Saturday and I’m headed downtown from Changi Airport, groggy after an all-night flight.

The alert repeats every once in a while in between announcements of approaching stations and cautioning us to mind the gap, London Underground style. But no one in the packed car is looking for anything – they’re all peering into their handhelds. Neither is anyone listening to the announcements – headphones and buds plugging their ears.

As the stations come and go, I notice there’s no exchange of glances. No acknowledging nods. No smiles. No hellos – humanoid silos of great ethnic diversity. This is the age of social media, you see.

I survey the faces lost wide-eyed in the world that is the brightly lit screen in their palms. Some smile. Some look slightly worried. Some are whispering into their pinhole mikes. Some are playing games as the train cruises on straight stretches when the other hand is no longer needed to hold the handrail.

A young woman facing the door seems to be chewing on her earphone cable. No, she isn’t. She’s perfected the art of holding the wire between her lips as she speaks softly, softly into the wire-embedded mic while blankly staring at the blackness outside, as the rake trundles through the city-state’s bowels.

Left to their devices this MRT ride, their destinations, the world itself may as well not exist.

“If you see a suspicious package or a suspicious person please contact the train officer through the intercom near the exit,” that deadpan electronic voice goes again. A chilling thought crosses my mind: what if someone spots me not peering into a device, instead exchanging a glance with them or simply looking around? I might be reported for suspicious activity.

I quickly reach for my iPhone and power its screen to life.