Archive for February, 2010

Prakash Karat

February 6, 2010

Prakash Karat is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

He and I went to the same school in Chennai for several years — he was known as K.Prakash then. During that time, our houses were also within a few hundred yards of each other. I cannot remember us walking to school together ever but for several years we played tennis ball cricket in the evenings with another boy Mani whose dad owned the house in which Prakash’s apartment was located. Prakash supplied the bat. A tamarind tree was the stumps. I have fond memories of those times. I loved sweeping the ball to the leg side behind the wicket and Prakash always made appreciative comments of how well I connected the ball, which endeared me to him.

I also have the following memory of his first year in our school which he joined when his family came to Chennai from Burma (now Myanmar). He was quite ahead of us in academics which caused me quite some concern — my parents didn’t like it if I got anything but the top grades. However, much to my comfort, he slowly came down to the level of the rest of us, and I could beat him easily. He never talked about any of this during our evening play. We were not close but in whatever dealings we had, he was nothing but a perfect gentleman.

We had stopped playing cricket sometime before the final year of high school and I had no interaction with Prakash after that, except for reading one of his essays published in The Hindu, for which he had won a trip to the Tokyo Olympics. (This was in an essay competition called The Hindu-Hitachi essay competition.)

A few years ago, I accidentally saw a reference to Prakash on the Web, and came to know what all he has been doing after high school. (He goes by the name Prakash Karat now.) Here is more information about him:

I have fond memories of the time we spent as lads playing cricket together. [It was quite perceptive of him to admire my leg side strokes :-)] He was also nothing but a gentleman in all our dealings. Further, Prakash was on the right side of the tracks while we were growing up and could have settled into a comfortable and easy life. Instead, he has followed his heart and taken up what must be a difficult life. (It is not uncommon to find him being vilified in press and on the net.) My hat is off to him for this also.



February 5, 2010

I came to know about B.Ramakrishnan (“Ramki”) from his Website

which I discovered about a week ago while searching for a recipe for a particular South Indian vegetarian dish.

From Ramki’s Website, I came to know about the very interesting organization Couch Surfing .

Ramki is a member of this — this alone makes him interesting to me. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. What is more appealing to me is the iceberg itself, which in this case is simplifying and demystifying South Indian cooking (which by the way is the only cooking I care about). Cooking seems to have been Ramki’s passion for the last several years. ( After running a software business, Ramki retired early.)  His recipes (and just about everything serious he communicates) are presented in a Compact “One Page” format — please see his site for examples.

The one-pager allows one to readily see the big picture, enabling even a novice to adapt, substitute and be creative. (I used to plod through doing my taxes in the distant past. After several years of this, one year I drew a data flow diagram after which the ordeal eased.)

Each of Ramki’s one-pagers contains instructions not for a single dish but for a group of dishes, since what is presented are three columns with ingredients numbered 0 to 9 for each of the columns. There are also master instructions tying the whole thing together.  Thus, 123 makes one dish, 745 makes another dish, etc.(In 745, 7 is the ingredient from the first column, 4 is the ingredient from the second column, and 5 is the  ingredient from the first column.) While I don’t quite buy his claim that 9!**3 dishes are possible from each recipe (sorry Ramki), I am grateful that I can potentially make say 3 to 5 solid dishes from one recipe. This will empower me as never before. I have read somewhere that the advantage of calculus over algebra is that in the former when you solve a problem you have really solved a group of problems. I don’t know whether this is true or not. But definitely, Ramki is the Newton of cooking and the one-pager its calculus.

Ramki’s recipes are aimed at the rank beginner level, which suits me just fine.

My only beef with him is this: I wish he would define what a “pinch” and a “handful” are, in more precise terms.

Ramki had so much confidence in his technique that he bragged that he could single-handedly cook for 500 people a South Indian marriage feast in under 3 hours, starting from scratch. To his credit, he pulled this off in Jan. 2009 — the details including pictures are on his Website, which of course also contains a one-pager for the event (called 1 for 500), including recipes for the ten dishes he made and a shopping list, just in case someone else decides to repeat this challenge. Another unusual one-pager on the site is the one offering instructions on how to cook in a hotel room using sources of heat like an iron and a portable immersion heater. My understanding is that he is single. [Chennai girls, here is a man who can cook. What more do you want?] If he ever decides to settle down, I can see a one-pager proposal coming offering 9!**3 reasons why the woman should accept his offer 🙂 [I don’t mean to imply that Ramki is a braggart. Far from it, he seems quite humble and modest and has the ability to laugh at himself.]

He seems to have received quite a bit of press attention — from The Hindu, Anantha Vikatan, Dinakaran, and Eenadu. According to one of these, he has a restaurant in Kodambakkam, Chennai. He also offers cooking courses. If I ever make it to Chennai, I would love to take one of his classes. The Hindu reporter (a female and an apparent cooking novice) has written that his technique is ‘astonishingly liberating” — I concur. Another commenter has written that she and Ramki  have “bonded” over food, with him cooking and she eating 🙂 [A woman after my own heart.]

I have just started using his recipes. In the two or three days that I have used them, my grades on my dishes are mostly ‘C’s. However, I am less inclined to ditch the whole effort — this is progress for me. Which reminds me, it is time for me to go and improve the ‘venn pongal’ I made last night. (There is a Skinner incident I would like to add here but it has to wait.)

Ramki is more interesting than 90% of the people I come across. I wish him a lot of luck in all his endeavors.