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Religion is about a lot more than God, and that is more visible in India than anywhere else. I'm a non-believer and have belief in God was all there was to religion. Then I could just ignore it. But there's much more to it than that religion and give people a sense of community, often even unity and shapes cultures and cuisines and art. On the flipside, it can lead to our worst tribalistic instincts and divide people just as it can unite them.


I often say on the show that people contain multitudes. India contains multitudes. And when it comes to religion, this is actually more true of India than perhaps any other place in the world. All the religions in the world exist here, even thrive here, and we have more gods and goddesses in India than even spices. And indeed, the one area that most reflects this incredible melting pot of a nation is our food. And whether or not you believe in God, I think we can both agree that Indian food can be divine and religion has played a part in that.


Welcome to the Scene and The Unseen, our weekly podcast on economics, politics and behavioral science. Please welcome your host of Obama. Welcome to the scene in The Unseen. My guest today is a prolific columnist and author of Shobana Narayan Shoba, just come out with a fascinating book called Food and Faith A Pilgrim's Journey Through India in Food. Invade Cuba travels to 15 places of worship in the subcontinent and writes about the food you get. Now, this is not just a book about travel or food.


It's also about our history and our society. And it worked for me at multiple levels, mainly because the author's own explorations, her intellectual and emotional journey, were so much a part of the writing. I was delighted to have Shoba on the show and we had a freewheeling conversation that is as much about religion and Indian society as about food. I found it in more ways than one to be a watering discussion. Before we begin, though, let's take a quick commercial break.


As many of you know, I'll soon be coming out with a fourth volume anthology of the scene on the unseen books organized around the themes of politics, history, economics and society and culture. These days, I'm wading through over three million words of conversation from all my episodes so far to curate the best bits. And for this to happen, I needed transcripts. And that was made possible by a remarkable young startup called Chief. That Chief Adaptive Dotcom is a digital platform that allows companies to outsource work to their network of freelancers and tech chiefs.


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Sure, welcome to the scene of The Unseen. Thank you so much for having me on this show. I loved reading your book, but before we kind of get to the book, I'm also sort of fascinated by your journey in the sense that I've read your column for many years and so on. And whenever I read anything by you, I mean the three things I would typically associated with are for travel and writing. And of course, you write a lot about food and travel, but you've also, you know, done journalism in Colombia and so on.


So tell me a little bit about your background and your sort of journey of living in different places in the world and how that affected what you do.


I grew up in Chennai and I was one of those kids who knew early on that I wanted to be a writer even while I was in college and women's Christian college. And then I used to wait for the Indian Express. And aside, there was this wonderful magazine called Aside in Chennai, which was run by Janet KeyBank A and those days there were no emails. So I walked up to her and said, Can I write the when she agreed and I used to write columns occasionally for the Indian Express, which at that time was edited by Raj Mohan Gandhi.


So very illustrious man, as you know. So as a college student, I wrote as a school student I wrote poetry. So I was one of those kids who just has written all her life. I took a detour in college when I went abroad to complete my undergraduate. I studied art and culture and I have since developed an interest in that. I went to a women's college to Mount Holyoke where I did that, and then after a master's in Fine Arts, I finally returned to journalism at the Columbia School.


It was a one year program. It was a boot camp. In other words, you had to ride in the back of a police car to do police reporting. You had to go to the criminal courts to write about law and trials and things like that. But I have always been drawn to memoir. And my first break in food writing came when The New York Times announced a competition. They took a half page. Having said that, eight hundred and fifty words about food.


And if your essays chosen by Ruth Reisen, who was then the restaurant critic of The New York Times, we will give you a thousand dollar coupon to use as you wish. So as an impoverished student, the appeal of getting a thousand dollars to dine in New York was very irresistible. So I discovered, you know, I'm writing a hundred and fifty words and making an essay in that in some ways harder than writing a 50 words, which is what you and I do for our letters and blogs and a column.


So condensing a narrative and a hundred and fifty words was difficult. I did it and I won the prize. I should have dug up the same way so I could have left to you. But it was about India, 1986. I want to study in America, but my grandparents will not allow me. Finally, the elders decided that they when they asked me to prepare a feast, one that they are sure I will fail because I don't know cooking.


And so I take up the challenge and then I describe the feast and it's Lionhead. So there was bean, the roasted Enayat with perennial seeds, and then there was the russum piping hot with a sprinkling of coriander leaves on top. There was rice served with streams of mist on top and golden years. So essentially it was a practice and food writing for the practice and describing food in a very condensed. So when I won the award, I got this thousand dollar coupon with a in the way.


And Ruth Reichl, who went on from The Times to edit Gourmet with the Late Great Gourmet, as I call it, she said, Why don't you expand this one to see what I say and make it in two thousand five hundred words. And that was how the food writing began. They called it the God of Small Things, and it was published in Gourmet and Beginner's Luck. It won the James Beard Award for the MFK Fisher Award for Distinguished Food.


Writing was big and that was how I first learned about MFA. Fisher and I went on to read her book and then just kept writing about food for food and wine Bonapartist Me while I was in Manhattan and then moved to India and thought about food as well for me.


Well, that's quite a mind blowing story. To do it in 150 words seems to me almost impossible to this matter. I think also often called Spice Girls famous quote about when he wrote a letter to someone and he said, you know, quote, Apologies for sending you a long letter. I did not have time to write you a short one. So yes. Yes.


I think anyone who's ever written to avoid going over that line knows exactly how hard it is. And while you were describing it to me to. So, you know, even though we just had my brunch, my mouth was kind of watering right away, so, you know, what is it that drew you to food writing in particular? Like what was it that the challenge came up and you liked food and you liked writing and you said that, you know, combine these two and try it out?


Or were you already reading food writers? If so, who were the writers, food writers in other ways who you really enjoyed and thought that they might, you know, shine a light on the kind of writing that you want to do. So what was that process of evolving as a writer and and then as a food writer? Because it strikes me that, you know, when one starts writing about food, you sort of begin by writing about the sensory experience of the food, the smell, the taste, the look of it, all of that.


But then you move on, as indeed you have in this book, you move on to the wider cultural and social significances and the resonances that food carries. So, you know, was that there from the start or is that something that you kind of that evolved within your writing as well?


Thank you. So as you know, there are two types of food writing. One is the writing of recipes and cookbooks, and the other is the kind of work that I do. I'm not a good cook in my kitchen. And I stumbled on food writing, unlike writing in general. But I was one of those kids who wrote who do I think did and come naturally to me violent. And I wrote about Sarbaz and music and, you know, whatever.


They did the same to me to do. Who do I think literally was a big fortunate happenstance, discovery of a skill that I didn't know existed because all in pursuit of thousand dollars of a food coupon. And since then I have worked at it. I think food writing is different from cooking. I don't think the two are together in order to write about food. You don't need to be a good cook. You need to have a good palate.


And as Mr. Fisher said, you need to have the capacity to eat prodigious amounts of food. And as you are eating it to think about it, you need to have taste and you need to have good day to. So they're so Meenakshi Mouth classic book. Amitabha with every Tamilian has and carries the three volume is the precision. It is about use of this particular type of drive. Cook for this particular amount and he will describe how you become writer after that, which means to make cool.


There are ways in which you make call before, for example in Tamil cooking that is a dish called beans, but which is beans in which you put the Tamil Cardale and you grind it and then you put it then and then you steam it. And then she describes how you cool it. You put em. In the olden days, my grandmother would put it out on a nice cloth and also naughty and cool it. So that is a very precise type of cookbook kind of observation.


How you cool, how you cook, how long you cook, and what is the smell that emanates when it is done. The kind of writing I do involves being support Isaiah Berlin, the Fox and the hedgehog, you need to have a wide spectrum. The surface area has to be quite large and you need to be able to connect history and philosophy and feminism for me and sensuality and India. So that's what my kind of writing does. And how did I cultivate that skill, as I think that reading a lot, as you say, I was introduced after the writing to all the big American writers and KTAR is a must read if you are an Indian food writer.


I read some of this column for the Gisli. I read that Harold McGee, who wrote an encyclopedia about food and then I mean, I have a long list. While engorgement is one of the pleasures was to be exposed to food writer. So Fuchsia Dunlop cooks books on Chinese cooking is one that I've read Michael Pollan, of course, although now he's overused. But there's a wonderful book called The Man Who Is Everything, written by Geoffrey Steingarten. He was the food columnist for Vogue and he wrote this fantastic book of essays called The Man Who Ate Everything.


And then in it, for example, he will take French fries and he will conduct an experiment to see which is the best kind of French fry and how you make it. So those are that I love a book called The Beast The Food of the Islamic World by a woman called Unmistakeably. And if I'm pronouncing it right and what is fantastic about that is as a vegetarian, you tend to basically keep away. I mean, you think that books that focus on non vegetarian food are not useful to you.


But this book, for example, even though I don't eat meat kebab, she places them side by side by side and then describes how a Turkish about different from the Iranian kebab, from an Iraqi about kebab in Iraq. And it was an experience of description of the kind that is very useful to me and of history and mellul and stories and community and family and cooking. Cooking. This comes last in a way. So that was good. And then once you get into it again, becomes columns will introduce me to my Massola staff.


These are Sanskrit texts from the old Capitolio, talks about it a lot. So these are the things I did. And then there's an Indian book by Colin Taylor, Cenacle piece. And that's a wonderful book because it's anchored in food history in India in a very scholarly way. So, for example, there are recipes for barbecued rat and there are recipes that basically convince you that we were not the prudes that we have become in terms of our attitude towards animals.


Certainly the culture and our attitudes towards meat and other attitudes towards cooking and the whole purity and non purity that has invaded romantical kitchens. So that was good. So then I can give you a longer list if you like, but that's a start.


Yeah. And you've actually, you know, with this until you actually you said you can't cook, but you've provided a feast of reading for my listeners and for me because I'm sure many of these books are now going to get gobbled up by us. And of course, we share our admiration of Vikram Doctor. He's a good friend. He's been on the show, in fact, talking about the Indian ness of Indian food, what's the name of the episode?


And it was all about almost everything that we consider Indian is from somewhere else. So I kind of have a question also about how writing about something can shape a person like at the obvious level. Like this is, again, a sort of a two part question. I mean, it's really the same question, but two different directions. And one is obviously that one would expect that when you begin writing about food, obviously your palate will get more refined because you will pay more attention and be more mindful about all the individual things that go into what you are eating in the processes and so on.


So did that happen with you? In the second part is the kind of food writing that you have done would also then mean to do not only expanding your palate, but also expanding your mind because you want to make these cultural connections, these social connections, historical connections, all of that. I would imagine that it then incentivizes you to read much more widely and almost in that sense and become a different person than who you would have been if you weren't a food writer.


Is there something to that?


The short answer I meant is that, yes, it changed my palate. It changed my values in a very specific way and forced me to pay attention to what I was eating, gobbling up. So it also defined in sharp focus that I was using a whole spectrum of this because I happened to be a vegetarian and I have not been able to eat meat or fish or chicken. A friend of mine said this best. He said eat. Meat, if you want to, just before you die, because then the amount of time that you spent regretting will be released.


So that said, I realized that spectrum is lost to me. But what I think what being vegetarian does is that it forces you to pay attention to all the other flavors because you are losing out on something. So how do you eat is the question, how do you eat if you want to write about food and how do you take notes? How do you keep momentum or not? Very slowly start by eating very slowly, start by savoring the food.


And I think that restaurant menus, for example, I always read them because they give me a way of in India, less so. But certainly in other countries, you can tell the chefs influence on the menu in the way they have dismissed. So, for example, brief, does he use the word boiled or braised potatoes? Does he use the word sauteed beans or does you still say what is the difference between. I mean, just like computer technology has very specific words, cooking has specific words.


And the question I always emphasise that is it's reflected in the taste of the food. Chinese food, for example, is entirely about braised sauteed vegetables, cabbage, the taste of cabbage, and do it for different reasons. See how it plays differently. The other thing I always pay attention to is the environment and restaurants are a great place for that. For example, in India there is a notion that the chef or the cook's temperament matters, which is why if you go to a restaurant kitchens or if you go to temple kitchens, they will sense the lodge, for example, or they will be peaceful music playing in the background.


Some of my grandparents, friends, they would not eat outside food because they said that in some way call, and particularly in the festival, means the thought of the chef matters and it will influence how you eat and influence your body. I have interviewed chefs in New York. You go into restaurant kitchens of Daniel Boulud or John George or it is a hellhole. People are screaming, cursing. The food that comes out is sublime. So that's the other thing is that the menu matters.


How does the chef's temperament get translated to the waiter who describes the food to us? There's that whole chain and I pay attention to that. And how does it and the way what people choose. I studied psychology when I was in college and undergraduate. There was a very cool study where people would look at the menu and the first person, if they call out what you want, you will sort of be forced to call out something else, even if you actually wanted that this dish to be different.


So the psychology of ordering of food and restaurants and the psychology of eating is what I pay attention to. History is a very obvious one. And but that doesn't come in. The activity was the act of eating. It is about using the fork or the foreign using the hand, the tactility of the fingers, which is how we did the culture that invented chopsticks. And why did China invent chopsticks as opposed to the spoon? So those are the those are the kinds of questions you ponder while you are at the table.


And I love eating at restaurants and because of all these things. The history comes afterwards. The history is not linked to dish, in my view, the history was linked to a cuisine. So the Middle East is fascinating to me because I think some of the best writers of Middle Eastern cuisine are women, but it's such a male centric culture. So how did that happen? And then the learning about, for example, there was a wonderful cookbook, a remarkable book.


And Vilaseca George, I believe it was, and the Syrian Christians for is heavily systematic. I don't like this. But what you got out of that cookbook was the millions of Syrian Christians. And as somebody who spent a lot of time in their life, was a wonderful read for that reason. So to answer your question about political cultivations, I think of slowing down and paying attention, making connections as disparate as you can would be. The three things I do in terms of how it has expanded me is that the slowing down, paying attention, bring making the solid connections force you to each of those has like a fourth factor output, which forces you to read for different types of books.


They come back and research for different types of things. So that's that's fascinating.


My other sort of observation about a lot of your writing is that in one sense, even when you're writing about food, it is like in this book, I got this sense in more senses and the fact that you just went to all these different sites, but that it's a travel book and it's not just a travel book in the sense that it is about travel. It is your travel book in the sense that it is about your journey, not just your sort of physical journey through space, but also how you are evolving and changing.


Now, before I get to the book, what I was wondering about was that you've lived in different countries, in different parts of your life. You have also written extensively about, you know, first settling into America, then, you know, coming back to India and settling in here. And it strikes me that someone who travels like that, who is sort of in a sense, I wouldn't say uprooted because these are all choices that you made.


But someone who chooses to live somewhere else and then come back somewhere else is forced to do something that others who stay in one place are not, which is to constantly re-examine themselves, reexamine their sense of self, their self of identity and all of that, which in the context of religion, obviously there's a lot of in this book, which I'll ask you a little bit in a general sense, you know, what has that kind of exploration been like?


Because it always takes me that, you know, we always assume that individuals are what individuals are. Right. As if it's a you know, you are a fixed person at a given point in time. But the point is that, you know, if you had a different set of experiences, you would be a fundamentally different person. How do you think all of the ship do you know? Was it easy to settle into another culture? How did it make you look at your own identity as an immigrant and as someone born a Hindu?


You know, did it make you more open? Did it, you know, like so some some immigrants to the US, for example, become more assertive about their cultural roots and all of that. Tell me a little bit about how that journey happened for you.


So the gift of being an immigrant is that you study two cultures or three cultures all the time and it forces you to compare, which is a gift for a writer, because really writing is about the best way to illustrate what you want to say to your reader, as you've just said with Pascale, is to compare or feel sure the other the price of being an immigrant is that you are always a person who you you don't have roots. So that is broadly in my life.


And I think it's helpful for me because I grew up until I moved to America at age 20. I was a teenager. And as I know from your previous podcast acquisitional, for example, Samay is a very rooted city. It is conservative. It used to be when I was growing up. But that was a gift because it gave you a certain set of parameters that were unchanging and that you thought was true for the rest of the world. So you go from that to America, where I lived for the next 18 years or 18 years in America.


But I was moving all around. So I, I sometimes wonder if I went as a fresh off the boat person and landed in Massachusetts in a very liberal college. And as a result, I became a Democrat by philosophy. I was just thinking, had I landed in Memphis or Georgia, would my philosophy and politics have become Republican? I have no answer to that. But I think those are the kinds of questions that I ask is that am I a Democratic and a liberal because of where I landed?


And I think what happens when you are hungry to leave your hometown as I was? I know it was stifling to me because I grew up in a fairly large family that everybody had an opinion about. How much? I should put in my head and how long the hair should be, what I should be and how I should dress, so I was ready to sleep. And then you go and land as a tabula rasa, which I was, and Thorpe and the influences.


You're like a child, you're like an infant. And the influences that they shape you and they as they shaped me, I think the my deep rooted sort of reflexive taking up with the underdog, whoever the underdog is of the moment comes from my time in Massachusetts, which is very liberal and Democratic and has a strong social conscience, conscience, my liberal politics, feminism. Mount Holyoke is one of the seven sisters. And it was so I became I went from a mother who said a woman is like a creeper and you have to sort of creep and bind yourself to your new family, to this place where feminism has argued.


And I and I became I am a feminist. So I think. For anyone who leaves home, whether within a country like a lot of my friends in Bangalore have come from the north of a different country, it forces you to better take your parents and your family and your community off that pedestal and see them for the people with clay feet, people you love, but people with clay feet that they are. And it forces you to question everything.


And I think that is a point of going going away from home. And some of us take advantage of it, as I did and some of us don't. And I think we've shared it with the other team. For a lot of Indians who went to America in the 60s and 70s, we became more Indian and became more encapsulated within their culture. And I wasn't like that. I didn't see the point of living abroad if you were not me.


And being an artist helps. So I was what my sense was, gay people. My closest friend was a lesbian who colored her hair purple, so. Okay, so if you don't take the odds and no matter but I think once you have a family, then there's a tendency to go inward and kind of freeze yourself when you left India. That's what happens to a lot of Americans. After that, I moved to Singapore, which is a different sort of experience.


Singapore was a bubble. It had the effect of three fantastic looking cultures, which was at the art of cooking and the Chinese cooking and the Indian cooking. So it had that. But then that living in Singapore as an immigrant was the bubble. And then I had a choice of moving to Sydney or Bangalore, but my husband could not then send those samples over here. So we ended up in Bangalore is a very genteel, welcoming city, which is a city of immigrants.


So it's happy that they landed here. So I think that being an immigrant forces you to examine and question constantly. Is a state of dissatisfaction really up most of your time? And for a person to live with that angst is not a happy thing, but it helps with the right thing.


So, yeah, I'll take a detour here and point out something that which I loved about your book, which is that it's full of so many light touches, has got a conversational tone. And I was just reminded of that. When you mention having gay friends and a lesbian friend and there's a delightful anecdote in your book about, you know, how your lesbian friend was once accosted by another girl who wanted to convert to Christianity and said, why don't you come out and talk with me for a couple of minutes?


And your friend told that girl that I'll come out with you. But here's the thing. You know, either you'll save my soul or seduce you.


So that's a kind of delightful in your book is full of these light, charming moments that you don't make a personal allowance. So despite, you know, if any of my listeners are not interested in either side of it, you can still have fun. So that's sort of your third if they're for you. Let's kind of now go closer to the book. Like you've described this book as a book about Hinduism written by a sceptical Hindu. Now, before we talk about the book and about Hinduism, I want to talk about the sceptical Hindu.


You know, in your afterword, you write about how, quote, religion is an inheritance and a choice. Stop Stockwood. And it's interesting how it shifts from one to the other for you, like you've written about how as a teenager, you were an atheist and agnostic in your 20s and 30s and you turn to religion again later in life. So much so that in the introduction of this book you wrote, quote, It defines who I am, perhaps not as much as feminism and certainly not as much as being a writer or a mother.


Stop good and distance to unpack here. But I'll just ask you about religion and people that, you know, what has been the role of religion in your life and what's kind of, you know, just as you made metaphysical homecoming by, you know, settling in India, it seems that your journey with regard to religion is also, you know, gradually come that kind of circle or not fully. So tell me a little bit about the role religion has played in your life and the different ways in which you think about it.


So my mother is what is called a three video brassica, by which I mean she was it's the feminine goddess. So I grew up with this and this. I grew up in a home which was she became this after my brother and I left home. She said she got hold of religion when her children left home. Possibly that is the trajectory that many people will follow because most people take to religion when they get older. I am similar in that.


So I'm not in the best shape. I'm sort of in the middle in terms of the usefulness of religion. A long time ago, maybe two decades ago, there was a cover story in Time magazine about religion then, and it made this case about how people who had faith and it was largely Christian faith, because Time magazine was for the Western world and there was a whole slew of benefits that were listed out. Who will have better marriages? You will have better health.


You will have better relationships within the community. Your community will be higher. And again, these are narratives that coming up now, they say to people, gratitude, a gratitude journal, you will have this and this and this. But I remember I was not part of the self-help genre. I was not paying attention to that. But so this really sort of caught me out of the blue and said, my God, it's TIME magazine says religion is so great, I better start looking at it.


And I felt that way and I just didn't pay attention. But so you have two strands. One is because perhaps because my mother was so deeply spiritual, I sort of rebelled against this and then intellectually seeing the benefits of faith, but then faced, as I have come to learn, is a felt experience. It's not a cerebral experience. It is a visceral experience. And I don't I'm not there yet. I think it would be wonderful to have that visceral experience where monks and the Maila have experienced transcendence.


When they see the Ganga, they just I mean, and here we are saying, you know, in California, drugs have become legally. They imagine if you can achieve that without drugs. So that's what religion and I've seen it time and time again now. OK, so let's say I come to a point where I admit faith as a as an idea into my life, which faith? Buddhism and Hinduism are both seductive to me. Monotheistic faiths don't attract me as much.


Hinduism is a marvelous place because of that. It is a faith that still has not given up the very ancient animistic roots with rock star worship, with trees. We have Sacred Meditech, which has written this wonderful book on sacred trees and sacred growth. You know, we beyond the original tree huggers, we are the original rock worshippers and zero worshipers. And that connects us not just to our own basically, but to pass them in Egypt where, you know, the pyramids were built.


My father passed away recently and the death ceremonies that surround an Indian death are very similar to sending off a pharaoh to the next life. So we sent my father off with a cow image, with an umbrella, with slippers, with clothes, with his favorite food. I think that's so wonderful. The rituals that I disdained as a child are so meaningful to me now that we are living more and more in a world where we have a life of sort of meaning.


Life has been the vestiges of the rituals that connected us to milestones. You know, in African cultures, when a man reaches a certain age which send them off to the hunt and they would have these marks and tattoos on it, we still have that, but we have forgotten them. So if you admit faith as essential to your well-being as I have come to believe, then you have to choose your faith. And as an adult, you can.


And I chose the faith that I was born into. I haven't found enough to give it up. And I like the fact that there are women goddesses. There aren't too many states in which there are women. But I think that was a key element, which makes me like Hinduism. And I specifically like the Hinduism of the left handed, but as my mother would call it, which is that in Bengali, which is that in Kerala, which is there in Nepal, and I went to see the goddess, the left hand of God is something it embraces what Carl Jung called the shadow, which is the quote unquote the the so-called bad parts of yourself, the things that you suppress.


It embraces sacrifice, animal sacrifice. It embraces blood wine. Madou, the goddess, drink blood and wine. It embraces all of the things that have been sanitized out of, you know, the how should we call it the Mediapart Hindu. So I. I like the fact that. But I like to know my the tantric goddess who cut off her head and down to zonk on corpses. So the reason to embrace this is intellectual. For me, the reason to embrace Hinduism is the marvelous variety and the fact that I am interested in Carl Jung and dreams and transcendence and how to end the whole, you know, marijuana if you have to say it to that effect of Federoff and the fact that people are in Bangalore amidst the one of the most interesting things that I've attended recently is a firework.


And if you like, we can talk about that. Yeah, we'll come back to it, there's so much to unpack here, and this is what fascinates me about everything that you've just said and which you've written about in your book, is this notion of faith, of the instrumental qualities of it, where you point out that, you know, like you point to the Time magazine article that it can help us lead more fulfilling lives and we are happier and so on and so forth, thereby pointing out how, you know, faith is useful.


I mean, faith is important because it is useful. It doesn't matter if it's true or not, as long as it's useful. And this brings me to a very interesting thought, because I often get semantic about, you know, it is I'm an agnostic. People think of them as separate points on a continuum. But you can actually be at least an agnostic at the same time because it has to do with belief. And an atheist is someone who has an absence of belief.


He doesn't believe that there's no God. There's simply an absence of belief, you know, much as a you know, not collecting stamps is not a hobby. Similarly, it's not a belief itself. It's an absence. And while it isn't deals with belief, agnosticism deals with knowledge. And what it means is an agnostic holds a position that you cannot know whether there is a God on orders, epistemic humility. So it is possible to be both an atheist and an agnostic if you look at it technically, because you can both not belief and at the same time accept that there are some things you cannot know.


And the interesting addition to that is that besides being an atheist and an agnostic, you can now be a person of faith also because without believing and accepting that you cannot know, you can still embrace faith because of the utility it has in your life. And you know, that sense that you're part of a community, the comfort that you get from these rituals and traditions. I mean, in fact, again, just thinking aloud, it reminds me of a book by Stephen Landsburg called The Big Questions, in which he says that most people who profess to believe in God actually don't believe in God.


You know, they see they believe. But if it comes to the crunch, you know, so again, I mean, it seems to be coming from the way of thinking that religion is useful, even if it isn't true. So what's your sense of you know, you've been to all these places, you've mingled with all these religious people in the sense of this kind of balance between usefulness and belief? What are your observations?


So I both agree and disagree with Karl Marx statement about religion being the opiate of the masses or the opium of the masses. He was right. It is actually it has the benefit that of comfort and otherworldliness that a drug give. But what touched me was the way I devoted the truly faithful believe that God has nothing to do with us. It's a very particular thing. You know, I saw women and Byerly doing underproduction where you roll around the temples and saying whatever Muruga and it was her you from her peers, from her demeanor, from the supplicant ce with which she ruled and from the eyes which were tuned in with God.


If you were not paying attention to the surroundings, you could tell the fervor with which she believed that if she did this particular thing, that's her problem. Whatever that specific problem was, whether it was son or daughter being sick would be solved. So it is a connection, this sort of connection I need. You know, and I thought this countless times, I mean, mostly in South Indian Temple, because I could tune in very quickly to the nuances of it.


So you go to the palpation was made for the God and the priest would go out every day and call lots of Beevor, lots of there are three time and you're calling as if you're calling your son who is playing the cricket field. And I know you're writing a book and cricket to come back. So it is a it is a feat of imagination. And the word that is used by my mother is hard enough. Parvaneh in somewhere. So.


Okay, so assuming are a sceptic like I am, why not cultivate faith just to improve your imagination is the question I have. I mean, I think there are many ways to do it. The art of drawing that are books about it, how to. And there are lots of people in the West who have made a fortune by teaching you how to cultivate your creativity. But the tools are a great way where you can look at a grain of rice and see a universe.


You look at stone and see the ship are the destroyer of the universe. You hold the Nataraja force in your body, the medium, and then you become the goddess as so many bathmat the importance of it and they demonstrate. And the best Cuttack, as my friend Maduna tried in Bangladesh, some of the finest cutters choreographies are the creations were done by a Muslim mahlab who pretended he was Krishna and Oradea. So these are these flights of fancy that will help you no matter what area of life that you would like to be part of.


So there are two things I find that religion is about. Break it all down to one is Bhavna or imagination, the other is another yourself, sellenger self-surrender has to do with it's not about giving up on theban, it is about applying for a job at Apple or Microsoft, doing the best you can and then, you know, having the space with the manager and the mathematical genius and that something is beyond my spectrum that will help me. And the bodies have that.


And usually they are down and out. Usually somebody is sick. It is visiting a temple. This is you see, if you go beyond the praying and everything, it is about being caught in the quagmire of hope. Sangeet, the stand in the temple, in any temple, and you're surrounded by murdering people. And it's as if you are in a cloud of dreams, fear and hope. And they have all come to this one place to solve this, to solve the problem.


And if you are a feeling person like me, you will feel that. And then that's the transition from the result of this event then. And I truly believe what Diana said in all her books about the of theatre, that the crossing and the more you go, more you subjugate yourself, the more you get rid of the ego mind and get into the feeling, mind you, you will be touched. And as I am, it is a privilege to be touched in that I am very sort of intrigued by the role of both rituals and for doing that.


I mean, food, of course, is a part of some rituals also, but, you know, deep associations with each of these places and will kind of talk about some of them. But what it kind of, again, strikes me is that, you know, again, when I teach my writing course to go back to that and of the people who participate, that if you want to, you know, have one useful Haak in terms of building a routine housebuilder ritual around your writing.


So, you know, in the sense that you get up at the same time, you make a cup of coffee, you sit at the same place, you listen to the same playlist, and you're more likely to get into the writing groove. And the reason for that is actually a scientific one. You know, neurologists would say neurons that fire together, wire together. So when these things kind of come together, they can work together. And it seems that there is a deep truth there.


Which religion hit upon because you have all of these things coming together. You have ritual coming together, you have food coming together. You have, you know, certain ways of doing things, different customs in different places like the Sufis in H.M.S. world and do all of those things. You have these separate, distinct rituals and therefore strikes me that it doesn't really matter whether there is a God or not or whether you know what the religion holds out. Those facts are true or not.


What is true is that all of these, they can come together and they can kind of put you in a particular state of mind, which can, as you so eloquently put it, make the whole experience visceral. In fact, I was going to ask you earlier when you were talking about how food can be affected by how is presented and everything around it. You know, you've mentioned at one point in your book that if you were asked, you know, if you had one meal to have before you left the planet, what would you have?


And you mentioned breakfast in hurried world, especially the Somoza's. Do you think part of the reason that tasted so good to you is everything that was around it as well? You know, so are all these things also part of religion? That religion is not just about the bland fact of there being a God and everything associated with that, but all of these local things also play a part in that hundred percent.


And I think that this is why they say when we offer it to the God, we call it maybe them and it becomes for Saddam ostracod after the drive has left. And a hundred percent, I believe, the taste of the food, the divinity associated with it, the feeling that what you are having is the God's blessing contributes to your wellbeing. So I actually after these trips of mine, I'm a little I have started looking at this notion of the energy around the food, energy around the clock a little bit more carefully, having come to a conclusion yet.


But I actually think there is something to the fact what we Hindus have discovered in India and what the people have discovered in every state is that the Melio surrounding the food and the preparation matter and it makes a difference and it is a subtle difference. Perhaps we have lost the art of recognizing it, but I have come to believe there is a difference and I am trying in small ways to think about experiments to figure out that difference. But I wanted to add, I'm sure if you haven't done this already, for us to have the Paris Review interviews which are available online for free, I'm sure you know them, but they are great examples of the routines and superstitions that writers develop.


And one that stuck to my mind was the finest. Hemingway, of course, is the great one who wrote. And then the writing was. He would stop and then go out drinking and come back the next day, but the other one was I think Dan Brown got these shoes that were anti-gravity shoes and would sort of hang on the ceiling upside down. So I think that a routine. But that was your for your students. And yet and I think I've answered the other question about that.


Yeah, that's fantastic. In fact, I do say that it does it work cities. As you know, the Paris Review interviews were called out to my students. They talk about the having the interview also because he said some really interesting things in that I haven't read the Dan Brown interview, but I know Will, and this is probably a good time then to you know, before we get down to the book to talk about the craft of writing like you are someone who has been a prolific columnist.


You've kind of written all these years. You also written a bunch of books. So what is kind of the process like? What is the column process like? Do you face writer's block? Do you have to deal with it? And, you know, how has you know, looking back over the years, how has sort of your craft evolved and the way you approach? I mean, let's talk about columns first. You know, can you can you give me some insight on that?


Yeah. So I go from the details to the Broadway show. I actually believe, in Hemingway's words, kill your darlings. So then if you write a paragraph that you're very proud of, you need to look at it again and you need to kill your darlings. By which he meant that when you fall in love with your own writing examiner, it's a little bit more critical life. I also know things like don't use the same word in the same paragraph or with them two, two or three sentences that the authorities should be your best friend because it will actually force you to look at.


So if you're struggling for a word, look at it. And therefore, as it does, it may enlighten you on how to actually present at the beginning and end at the most important aspects of a column, especially the end, because I believe in this age of soundbytes, think about coming up with a sound bite, a one line sound bite which encapsulates your column that is probably the most important sentence of life, like a poker player. Don't reveal your hand at all at once.


So a New York Times editor once told me that in the first paragraph you're pretty much written the whole essay. Don't read. I have so much to do. It gradually do a little bit of zigzag to maintain the tension. These are the things that all of us learned when to do it enough. As far as my column that that was known to both of us described my column. He was my first editor and he said it is a thing using the small everyday act to come up with a big picture.


So that has been sort of how I approach column writing where you use simple things to come up with the bigger philosophical, whether it's philosophical or a larger picture. And that's how that's how I think. And that's how I view the column. What do I do for that? So there are many kinds of columns. You are one who links events to philosophy. I am not an event or philosophy person, partially because I'm not a politics junkie like so many columnists are in this country.


I am much more of everyday things, small things, linking it to a bigger truth so that in that itself there are two types of columns. If you would like to be my by multiple columnists, I have no words for you. If you would like to be sort of a humorist, a little bit playful. Again, what I said about seeing the universe in a grain of sand type of columnists, I would say, first of all, when you stand in the line, don't look at my form.


But the people around you, whether and you're going to buy food, try your best not to use after covid, stop ordering on Amazon, actually go out to your money and find people, because in order to write about life as I do, you have to engage with life and more and more these days, it's become very easy to sit at home and look at the computer all day. And the problem with that is that you don't get flashes of insight, which only come when you're bored, when you are minded agents, and you have to force yourself to give yourself that moment of idleness when you're not checking your smartphone.


So I don't I for example, a few things I have done. I removed Facebook, Twitter all from my home. I go through life phases of the month when I disengage in men, which is easy to do if you have a smartphone. I mute WhatsApp messages. So notifications muting is a very important thing. I love my phone. So if you're addicted to checking your phone as I am, at least use the notifications whenever possible. Forget your phone at home when you go out.


So these are ways in which you engage with the presence, then you engage with people. Talking to people is a good one. Try to compartmentalize your life so that your writing time. Do the former do I use the Pomodoro technique, which is twenty minutes without surfing the Internet and stuff like that. I used to have an app called Freedom which is installed where you basically shut off. Your computer and you can't open chrome and nothing will happen. So I have been known to do that.


Usually the way I write a column and I did a weekly column for a minute was that be on the lookout for an idea that is somewhat topical because nobody cares about. So essentially have a sentence for festivals that come up, have some notion of what's going on in the world and tangentially be on the lookout for that idea. And usually the idea would be they would make notes long hand on airport paper. And because you're on deadline, I would sit down to write the column and finish it in the span of a day.


800 words is easy to do in a span of a day if you have enough notes. Sometimes there were times when there would be writer's block, but one study actually has to study was examining the words of people who were forced to write and the words the people who wrote when the muse was sitting on their shoulder. So basically you've got a control group of 60 people and said, OK, right. And then control the experimental group of 50 people who are all right when you have the urge to write.


And the output was there was no difference. So I said, you know, I don't feel like writing. This is bad writing. All this negative narratives that come into your head. You just that I used to think of that study and said, you know what, I may think this is stupid and bad, but that's good when people look at it. Guess what the study said there'll be no difference. So that's how I forced myself to say.


So I think attention is the most important thing a writer has. What you train your attention to focus on is priceless for a writer and to make it sound, you know, focus attention on things that matter. I mean, go to Carteris or go to concerts because guess what? There are a few places and insightful site. Everybody says, should I get inside when I listen to Hindustani music or Carnatic music? And I think they're sitting back and letting your mind wander is a very special thing.


And you have to figure out ways to do that, whether you end up being a birdwatcher like me and standing in the balcony and looking out all your eyes. I know running. I mean, I know the group figured out a way for you to be bored.


This is all fantastic and very wise advice, you know, especially that bit about how, you know, if you're forced to write a lot, that'll actually help you. Because the one thing that I keep seeing is that what leads to excellence operations lead to excellence. You keep doing something again and again and again and again. And that's much more likely to happen if you force yourself to do it rather than if you just sit around and wait for the muse to strike you, as you said.


And, you know, since you sort of now created this framework of what kind of columnists and everyone around kind of columnists, I would just tell my readers that please don't be an my kind of columnists, because people who write about politics and economics do nothing to change the world. But being a shabaan around kind of columnists gives you a shot at changing the way people live their lives in, you know, all the small pleasures, like some of the things you pointed out and indeed about eating food.


And now it's time to talk about your book. But let's take a quick commercial break and come back after that.


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Welcome back to the scene in The Unseen. I'm chatting with Shobana around about her delightful book, Food and Faith. Zubari spoken a lot about her personal journey before the break. And now, as we come to the book, I'd like to sort of begin by asking you, how did you conceive of this book like you've written about food before, in the past, throughout your career? You know, you've spoken about your sort of relationship with religion and how it gradually changed.


But how did the idea for this particular book actually come about and how did you decide to approach it?


So the food writing Angel was Ruth Rosen, who? Rocked my career in food writing as far as the taste goes about, they after my first book, Monsoon Diaby, which is called a memoir with recipes that come out and they come in the company. Mahadevan, who used to be with Penguin at that time, took me out for coffee. I was living in New York then and she said, You've written this book on Food and Penguin. I published it in India.


Why don't you write a book called Sacred Food and we'll come up with a list of temples and you will visit the temples and write about the sacred food. So this was 2003 and it's taken me this long to come for the book to actually be finished because I was moving continents and countries at that time. So family vision of the book was a largely Hindu and with a diverse and a few others, I pretty much stuck to her vision and the way that the logistics of it coming out with me, getting mad at me and they didn't let me say I will write essays about this province on Sunday, which was at that time taking off.


So some of the chapters were published a minute and then a lot of the other stuff was added on by me, the research and for example, that the Nepal chapter. So there were many chapters that were not written about this before. So that was how it came about and it was choosing the temple. This became a big dilemma. For example, Tripathy Balaji Temple, like those are very, very famous. And for that I chose not to include them because a lot had been written about them.


There's a Zen temple which serves to create Brassard that. So that was an obvious. That was partly because I for whatever reason, I couldn't resist that temple. And I believe that everybody says the God has to call you when I wasn't called. So that was an business. But the facade was there was no way for us to be without seeming forced. So that was so that was how it happened. So thanks to an editor.


And what was the experience like of going to all of these temples? Like some of them, like you pointed out, when you were young and you were actually growing up in China, you had visited some of these in the past because your family was fairly religious, but now you're visiting them again and looking at them in a different way. In a sense. You know, one could if there's a throng of people at the Camela or at the temple in Forteo, wherever you are, one could actually shine the spotlight from on high on you and say it here.


Someone who's looking at all of this very differently from everybody else, that you're taking a step back, you're getting metall, you're trying to be descriptive of, you know, you're focusing your attention, as it were. So what was that process like? Like as a writer who's writing about all of this, do you think about possible narratives in mind? Do you do pre research and kind of go there? What are you looking at? What are you looking for?


Yeah, so that's yes, definitely a lot of research in the choice of the temple and also how to approach temple, which was different. India has this wonderful thing, Costella Purana, which is the regional story of that particular problem. That is most of those books are available insitute you have to go there and most of them are in the regional language. So I quickly discovered that it was hard to do that, the kind of Internet research that they do because they are simply not available.


So if you go to Jagannath, there is a ten volume set on the map to the temple not available elsewhere. You can find it online. Badlapur and other family members are in a double and very slim volume, so you have to end up. So I started by saying a lot of research will be done, but the research would be done in the size of the temple and in the planning of the trip, whether to plan it during a festival or not.


Trying to find a contact in the temple because are going there for two, three days. You want to speak to the priest, you would want to speak to the local scholar. So the research was mostly logistical and finding experts in the place and then going there talking as much as possible to ten different priests and different scholars, usually somebody from the board of trustees who happen to be a custodian of that temple and then buying as many books locally as possible and then coming back and actually doing the research and sifting through the mounds of the beauty is in religion.


There's so much material available in India because even the humblest of temples will have the of brother. So then the question becomes it's a terrific job, really reading up on everything and figuring out what is it that I want to say about all this, that so that it doesn't end up becoming another descriptive book on television. So the point of view became really important. And so but here's something I tell you. If anyone in your business, in your the I know you have a ton of listeners.


If anyone in your listenership is wondering about this and they're saying, you know what, I'm 35 years old. I've had I mean, I got laid off my father saying whatever it is that I've figured out, if I have it in me to be. Become one of the people I would say give yourself an experiment of visiting 10 samples in 2020. What does it matter with to the large sample elimination? I will guarantee that it will raise questions and I will guarantee that if we change you, you may not end up people.


I am not as devout as I would like to be. I think, though, the experiment of visiting temples in sequins in a consistent way with discipline would change you. And I think it's a good experiment because this is a faith are very special because they have had implants from hundreds of thousands of people who have come there carrying their hopes and dreams. And you can say what you like, but that makes the place sacred. That gives the place of gravitas.


That is why it is a place of worship that you speak with your soul and not with your head.


So so I'm kind of both atheist, an agnostic and not open to faith. But I would say this is terrific advice anyway, because I think, you know, and one gets sort of a rich feeling of this through your book that I imagine anyone who does visit any of these temples, especially at a time when there are lots of pilgrims and so on, will, you know, get a better sense of the necessity and the impact of religion and maybe a deeper understanding into our culture and so on.


And I don't think faith needs to necessarily be a part of that experience in terms of becoming faithful yourself. But, you know, as an experience, I think it would be incredible. Another thing that I loved about your book, like when I first got your book, I have to be honest, I looked at all these chapters and they all have the names of these places. And I thought, OK, is going to each of these places is going to describe the food.


That's great. I'm going to enjoy that. I didn't expect more, but I got much more. And one of the things I got is that through the book, you are sort of meditating on these deeper questions which have often cropped up in my own thinking and some that haven't. So how I'd like to kind of structure the rest of this episode is examine some of these deeper questions first and then we'll talk about the specific places in the mouthwatering food to describe there.


Because if you talk about the food first, people might just go off to eat.


And who's going to listen to the rest of the soup? Yes. My first question, again, comes from, you know, something that you said right at the start, that you are becoming more of a Hindu in terms of, you know, Hinduism playing a part in your life. But you're also a feminist and that's a big part of who you are. And it's inescapable that so much of Hinduism and of course, Hinduism contains multitudes, which also will discuss it's there are so many things that are so beautiful and deep and inspiring, but there are also so many misogynistic elements to it.


I recently read it. You're going to be robotically, which is a fabulous book about, you know, feministic of epics. And you also mentioned during this time that you've been travelling that there are no women priests and at various places that are restrictions on what women can or cannot do. How does how did you reconcile all of this for yourself?


Frankly, I haven't met the hypocrisies and the misogyny and the male predominance in all of them for sure. But everything is you can't escape it. I told you, my father passed on recently and the police in that in an attempt to explain the rituals to us, he said, Arvydas, the passage of modern democracy, which I knew you, Budzinski will attend, see? And if not, if you don't die in Garci, what is the antidote to that today?


In a place where your son and I have two girls and I'm a daughter and I'm thinking, what about the daughter? And so it is it at every stage. And for example, the daughter is not supposed to do all the commission writes. I have to go. I hope they will do it for me. And the settlement rascal's the redrum. There is a Geopark redrum is a very famous Shave's monster. I asked the priest, why do you say only males should pass the monster?


Why can't a woman stand and he flips? He sort of said he said this in Tamil. He said in English, Parvathy mother, you yourself are like Blavatsky. Why do you need the tent? I didn't buy that. So I am very attuned to the hypocrisy of this. I think religion is important, but the religious, the way the closest the people who have high levels of religion, the pious are full of pettiness and hypocrisy. And it's hard to turn away from that.


And I really don't know how to wrap my head around a myth. I think the only way to do it is that with everything that is great comes happiness. The castle was a great painter, misogynous to the cause. Paul Grogan is an investment giant. Left his. The front runner rate of the heathy Vincent Van Gogh had made it so the only way to resolve it is to have this holistic view that life is this way and you take the good and leave out the bad.


But that doesn't mean that I have been able to look away from the hypocrisies.


And also, what sort of you've pointed out at various points in time is true. This book is The Presence of cost. For example, you write about one temple where the Brahmans are eating separately. You talk about at one point the five great sins of Hinduism, which include killing a Brahmin. And of course, you point out that like almost everything that has come about in the religion is kind of contextual. It was meant to be five rules for people who are living with their guru and the guru shishya emperor.


And therefore, there was you know, one of the other rules was you shall not covet your guru, his wife, and extremely specific and toward the temples, as you describe. You do see this, that there is sort of, you know, Brahmins are elevated in this kind of way. And again, this is one sort of ugly aspect that one can't help noticing. And I think, you know, if any of my listeners are sort of wondering why I am stressing on the negative aspect, it always struck me because they lead to cognitive dissonance.


And there are many other good things which we'll also talk about, including the food. Again, would you approve should this be the same as to the misogyny that, you know, you don't have to accept the whole you know, there are some things which are wrong with it.


Sure. So cost is a big topic in India. And I tried to stay away from it in my book. But it's hard to admit, I think, that the gift of being an immigrant, you know what I learned at the DNA level, we are all the same. I have a barbell approach to this whole topic. One is that I don't believe in even the notion of national identity and boundaries at the DNA level. We are all the same.


But I do believe now in what I have come to call the tribal identity, which is something that is linked to rituals linked to milestones of your life. It is linked to community and it can be a building community does not about all your village because it comes from this whole village notion of this is my community, but currently my housing community. So I believe that there is a place for community. But I also believe that the one community at the DNA level.


So then how does one reconcile with that be? I actually was able to reconcile with the caste notions that predominate faith and religion. What helped me was dealing with craftspeople in India. I have a love of textiles and I was going around for a website that I created called Project Loon, where we documented handloom classes. And then you go to court and you talk to the Weavers and the Dio's or when you go to Kanchipuram and talk with them. But it is entirely Class-Based.


They say it without any shade of judgment. That is none of the political overtones that we associate with that. It is they do this type of embroidery. In fact, they do discuss this type of and they discussed is that they are disgusted. And I understand the word for it, but I forgot to write the words for it. But I said, well, that identity is linked to cast. And this is not about I can sit in an ivory tower in Bombay or Bangura is all wrong.


But the other part of the a long way of destroying these segregation's that have come about so naturally for these people and that and they still live in that. So actually working with caste people is a is a way to wrap your head, as Laila Dempsey has done as a teenager who founded Bandy's has done so. They understand in a very intuitive, very easy way that this is how it is in India and the overtones that we give about the hierarchy that we give is absent, that it is kind of a lack something that is one way to resolve it in your head if you are viscerally against this.


But Nostromo, as they call as I am. So that's a good way.


I had a great episode on this with the Krishna, which link from the Señores for all my listeners, moving on to something, you know, that I do sort of deeply admired about the culture of this country, which I guess in a sense you can call Hinduism also because it can just mean so many other things, which is the incredible diversity. And one of the things you point out is not just diversity in the traditional sense that we have. So, you know, so many thousands of gods just like that, because Buffier, will you choose your God depending on what your proclivity is.


But also, this is not just a diversity across space. It's also a diversity across time. Like you point out that, you know, we have these animistic traditions which survive these big and historic traditions that survive. It's like, you know, the last 30 centuries of, you know, this subcontinent's evolution in religious terms. All exists still today in early. And you've also seen, you know, different aspects of this in the same place. It's not that beauty is just one kind of thing you point out about either the origin myths of beauty, go to Jainism, Buddhism, to different sects of Hinduism's.


Everyone's got a different origin story. That's so incredibly fascinating. So tell me about your experience, because at an intellectual level, we, of course, know that the diversity is out there. But you experienced it at a visceral level as well. So tell me a bit about that.


So the incredible thing about India, but if you look at it through my lens is that God syndrom the earth and I mean that quite literally. I mean, men and women dressing themselves as gods and taking part in a procession. If you go to the other great hotbeds of civilization, which came up with philosophies and ideas and invented faith, Egypt, for example, Greece, for example, to go to Greece, nobody pays to be with nobody prays to Athena or Rapallo or Aphrodite.


They have all but disappeared. Greece has cut itself off from its past. That was so powerful. I mean, it saved Western civilization. But you go there now and that country has just cut itself off from that. But you go to Egypt, which was the start of the Fertile Crescent where Egypt that there was Nile and Euphrates were the seeds of where it all began. But you go there or Horus or any of those gods absence and we Egypt, you go to Cairo, they have shown themselves of their past, India happily.


We still wear the clothes that our forefathers wear that you now only see in the Museum of Metropolitan denied all the world. We still have traditions which continue and rituals and superstitions and links to seasons that. So in that sense, the long arc of civilization has not ended. In India, the narrative continues that we are not at the last chapter. Let us this. What happened was they had their chapters as something that had ended up cut and now you have Harry Potter that and the other the it is a test them in the middle, whereas in India it is a deadlock.


And it to quote Martin Luther, the mark is long and I hope I think it will bend towards justice even in the current political cauldron. So I am very proud of India that all our states together have figured out a way not to catharsis from the past. The sacred and the profane live concomitantly in India. We have not cut ourselves from that. So that's wonderful. And you see that everywhere you I was talking about the sidewalk walking ceremony, which touched me so deeply it happened.


And Shivaji Nagar, which is has one of the most powerful churches in Bangladesh and the Feast of the happened, said it is largely occupied by Muslim merchants and the Hindu group. What happened with. The goddess comes into a man on a Mubasher night, the first new moon night, he dresses himself in a fabulous country. But I'm savvy. He believes he's the guy he was lipstick. He wears makeup and stumbling on the face and he walks around the neighborhood collecting money.


And there is a group that follows him into that religious fervor, builds up. And then they all ended with him walking over fire and a lot of dancing and shaking and ecstatic devotees walking behind him and then inside the house where he enters, that is a mound of meat. And this goddess, he calls himself Mangala Palmistry, which is a very old tribal goddess, Laxmi, all that came back and he takes arms full of the meat and puts it into his mouth and distributed to his body.


I mean, this and this is like I don't know, but Tolkin book got some sort of a Steven Spielberg fantasy thing. Man dressing as a woman, you have the cross-dressing thing that all of the things that my daughter talks about now as being politically relevant, the him his agenda, everything is contained in. So how can you tell me that this religion, as it is practiced in India, is not relevant to the questions of our time? If a man can become a woman for one night, if a human can become a God for one night, if you can convince yourself to walk over fire and then nothing happens to you, if you can serve meat as an offering, as a place for them in this whole vegetarian mafia country that you sometimes become, it's all there.


You just need to know where to find it.


Yeah, you know, I'm non vegetarian, so armfuls of meat sounds really nice to me, talking now about a different kind of diversity, which is food diversity and which is another sort of a positive impact of all these different sort of temples in the cultures that they preserve. And at one point in your wonderful chapter on Beauty, which was one of my favorite chapters from your book, you write, quote, It is easy to be flippant or cynical about temple food, the same list of dishes cooked in the same field for centuries, feeding masses of people while the Lord.


What are the virtues? Does it have an important one has to do with the preservation of indigenous seed varieties. At the Juggernaut Temple, for instance, one of the offerings is made with Green Party for Green Party to be available throughout the year. Specific seed varieties that ripen at different times must be grown around the temple. At the very least, this promotes biodiversity. India used to have one lakh varieties of rice. Today, most of us eat basmati and in the South Sudan, Missouri Rice Temple Kitchen specificly choose local and indigenous varieties of rice such as much and gelato.


I hope I'm pronouncing that right, that rice and parboiled stopcock. And this reminds me of something that, you know, Vikram Doctor, when he was in an episode with me a couple of years back, spoke about Cavendish bananas, but he, you know, spoke about how we imported bananas out to the U.S. and then they sent us back this homogenized version of the banana called Cavendish Bananas, which are spread everywhere because of reasons of, you know, economies of scale and marketing and so on.


And all the local varieties are drying up. But then it strikes me that when one speaks of oldest temple cultures and the food that is around them, you know, one, they evolved to make use of local produce because back then you could not travel so much as all that you had, and to therefore, by becoming ossified and ossification is generally a bad thing.


And I'll come to that as well. But by becoming ossified, we are actually preserving the sort of food diversity of our country. Is there something to this, do you think?


Religion also plays a part in a sense of keeping something alive, something good like food diversity, which would not otherwise have been the case, not just food, but cultural traditions, the clothes we wear to temples and mostly saris, I mean, nowadays wear this as somebody who loves handloom. So many young women wear saris to the temple and for weddings. So Yuk's organized, preserved in temples festivals in Karnataka. David Schulman wrote this wonderful essay for the New York Review of Books on the Kuryakin, which happened in temple premises where you create the universe and destroy it in 31 days.


So this is a play that goes over 31 nights and it happens in temples. So temples of cauldrons, of culture and tradition. And I think we who have become sanitized and removed from our faith have forgotten that along with the hypocrisy and along with this preaching and becoming religious, they are the ones who are preserving, as you say, the food. The only one term rythm uses a particular type of banana called Malabar Brown, which is, as you said, not found.


There you go. You have bananas in Bangalore. You don't get that. But thanks to that temple, visit me will still get bananas that are indigenous and local and. We're appalled by them using the power base and so tempers, I think our faces of faith deserve music, the dance because of textiles and rituals. And so, yes, I think that we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater in our attempt to become agnostic. We forget all the good things they've done as well.


My next question is really about a cultural difference between countries like, you know, religion can play the same role in all our lives. You know, back in the day, it probably originated as the God of the gaps, whatever. You don't understand, you use religion to explain it. And over time you understand more and more it know all over the world, you know, religion plays the role of sort of, you know, forming communities where people find comfort and, you know, the good aspects of being part of a tribe.


But there's something about India that's different. Now, for a moment, I'll take you back. And this is a diversion. So used to be a professional poker player once. And I would spend a fair bit of time in Macao, but I would go to play tournaments. And Macau, by the way, I think about 15 years ago over Las Vegas, has a big gambling destination in the world, partly because of Chinese love to gamble. So I remember on a weekday afternoon I went to the Venetian and the Venetian in Macau is not only built to be a replica of the one in Vegas, but it is the largest gaming floor in the world.


There are rows and rows and rows of slot machines and all of that happening. And I went there on a weekday afternoon and the place was packed and it was all Chinese pensioners who are standing at the slot machines and they're sitting there for hours and hours and hours and their gambling, gambling, gambling, gambling. And it's a big part of the culture that I mean, if anyone from China is listening to this, I hope I'm not simplifying. I'm just sharing an experience and not seeing that all the Chinese are necessarily like this.


But I got reminded of this when I read this passage in your book where in your chapter on Europea, you write, quote, The elderly in China play mahjong. American senior citizens go on cruises and play golf. Europeans visit museums, food, wineries, indited Michelin star restaurants, Indian elders visit temples, stop quote. And elsewhere in your book, you've spoken about how people often have this urge towards the end of their lives that they want to die in Choshi.


You know, tell me a little bit about this, because this does, to an extent, seems something that is much more an Indian thing than, you know. Is it because we have less sources of comfort and solace and so on, because not many of our elders can go around on luxury cruises and dining and Michelin star restaurants like European leaders may be able to do? You know, it seems that in this sense, the role of religion is so much deeper here than elsewhere.


Do you think that's true?


So I have a theory and I don't know if it's true. I have a theory that is this because of the trajectory of our economy that we are in, that religion still holds sway. And I wonder if we become richer, like, say, China or Taiwan or Japan, where their wealth will engender us to forget the gods, because I think you have to be, in some senses, a developing country for religion to take hold. So that is my macro theory, is that the reason religion holds sway in India in the way it does, it has to do with the economic trajectory that are the point of the economic sadequee that we are in.


Once our GDP goes up and once we become like, say, Japan, perhaps we will forget, say, as many rich countries have forgotten, then we will find other inventions that seek to soothe us. So that's my answer to that idea. And I think it has more to do with economics than to do with geography. It has to do with the time on the graph where we are at that point in the graph. And I think Europe used to be like that.


Every country in the world that had if you follow the economic activity of every country, I feel and again, this is my theory, that they will point to that economic activity where the countries were deeply devout and religious. As they became wealthier, they lost. They gave up their faith and they became more scientific. They became more rational. And they found money as well as a God religion that when in that past. So they are still not there yet?




I have spent far more time in casinos and in temples, but I sincerely hope that I sincerely hope that our elderly don't go from temples to slot machines. That would just be horrifying, you know, which might have kind of happened elsewhere. My next question is about the commercialization of religion, which you've written about in separate parts of your book. Like at one point in your chapter on POLONY, you know, you write about how the way, you know, devotees are treated and it's such an organized set up and all of that.


And at one point you write, quote, I have tried long and hard to make my peace with the hierarchical structure of Hinduism and indeed all religions. Perhaps I should just bring them. Down from the pedestal, bring them down from the realm of the divine to the realm of the commercial building as a spectacle, stop court and much later in your chapter on Jeopardy! Right. Quote, I haven't figured out my stance with respect to offerings for good.


Flowers will get crushed. Sweets will aid and abet India's rising number of diabetics and really does the God part of all the stuff, the offerings of money, clothes, food or flowers end up in the pockets of the priest or the temple. So why do we persist getting these objects as an offering to God when he doesn't need a thing and only wants us to be purified to good. And I'll point out to all my listeners that it is Shoba who use the pronoun he for God.


I didn't do that. I always reflexively say she just to be nice if, say, the good version of it.


So it's just something that like I realized that there was a lot about this experience, especially the food and the sort of, you know, the other almost mystical experiences which were amazing. But at the same time, you are viewing and writing about and commenting on all this crash commercialization that's happening in a separate part of the book you write about. You know, I think during the Comilla chapter, you write about how everything in the world is so set up for the tourists you'll have and, you know, an American and a Swiss and whatever, and there'll be people giving them guns and all of that.


Does this commercial aspect of this whole religion thing disturb you a bit because you have true believers flocking to places which mean, for all you know, not be bound by true believers at all?


Yeah, yeah. Very good question. But that's the one that deserves to be India's million Iraqis. There are countless Dustbuster they've gotten. They deserve to settle for how much we sell five months after his death. So if you are an artist, as I was saying, to be a commercialism is always a very a stepmother. And you always do it with suspicion that you do it with suspicion. So that said, so I learned to do with one is that anything that we consider pure and otherworldly comes with commercialization that we will always have trouble dealing with.


And I use that as a very specific example to point that out. There are countless deserving artists who don't achieve the stature that all these so-called name brand artists do. So how do you make your peace with that? The great thing, and this is true with that and the true with temples, is that even today you can go to Bhubaneshwar in Orissa, you can go near the river and you will find a small yogini fine with nobody there, not even a priest.


And I have visited the site which was destroyed. So and you can commune with the divine in silence and solitude that is available to you even today in Kerala. You can go to temples there. That is a place. There is no hierarchy, there is no moneygrubbing. And so then the question becomes, do you visit the rock star temples of the report you to drive, but not the blood of the name brand temples, or do you forget them?


I would say if you are likely uncomfortable with the commercialization of temples, you just don't go to those temples. Don't put your rupees as part of their coffers. Don't visit the temples that have countless tourists anyway. So then that the next level becomes. If you also believe, like Binayak wrote about in her book, that these stars are places of worship, carry energy, and part of the pilgrimage is to exceedances energy and perhaps get healed by it.


That's the purpose of going to that. The big temples, the Guruvayoor chameleon, learn everything is to get your energy and your healing from the energy that sounds so like good that you choose your battles and you do. You choose what you if you are sick, if you want to be healed by from, God forbid, the cancer and by all means, go follow your faith. If your mom tells you, go visit way, go and get the healing energy from it.


But if you just want to commune with the divine, I mean as lovers of what goes on with including yours, I'm sure you have listened to somehow this is what guys and how can you explain meditation? This is a felt experience. It's not hard to articulate. So if you want to just have the felt experience, what the woman needs to see that Yogini Temple go to Maharastra. If the village outside the Bombay are small signs where nobody will bother you.


So you can experience the non-commercial aspect of faith if you want to. And in fact, you may experience faith in those non-commercial signs. The Roadside and Nashik, where there's a sibling and a beautiful banyan tree, you go to bed and experience the wind and you may be touched in a way that you can't articulate. And that to me is an experience of the divine and. The beauty is that whenever you are, you can access it, even in Italy, where, you know, Christianity was played such a huge role and all the baroque images of Christ are now in the museums.


You go to Florence, you can go to the museum or you can go to those giant cathedrals, the Vatican, or you can go to a small church, listen to the mass singing and be touched by it.


Well, there's such wisdom in that, you know, being able to relate to religion and all of us movies. And you mentioned Sam Harris. I should point out to my listeners that I'm, by the way, a big fan of his podcast. I think, you know, he's again, a master of the craft of the interview, whatever one might think of his views other ways, but actually downloaded his meditation app, I think it's called the Waking Up app, and it's a subscription thing.


And I've been paying for it for the last five months, but haven't actually sat down for a single session. So it's like you take a gym membership for a year and then you never go just as as writer's block, I guess, says meditate. There was a book. So sort of my last question before we get to the food to do, obviously keep throwing up tangential questions even when we talk about the food. But this last question is about you've spoken to your book and it's a truism, almost a cliche, that Hinduism contains so much.


There is so much within it. But what we have seen in the last few years and building up over the last few decades is political Hinduism or what is called Hindutva today, which is a very strident version of Hinduism, which almost tries to mimic sort of the Abrahamic one book approach. And, you know, and it's strident, it's full of certainties. It's also built on negatives. Instead of a positive view of what the world should be like, it's built on negatives like and, you know, no love Djihad don't slaughter cows and so on and so forth.


And some of their political grievances might well be legitimate, but a lot of what they stand for is having a toxic effect on our society. So what are your sort of feelings on what's happening out there? And and should Hindus be outraged at what is being done in the name of Hinduism?


I think you should. I am certainly. And the problem in India now and I have a friend who's the president and the Times of India in Bangalore, and she was saying that families in India are being torn apart by because of what is happening. So you have the mother who says she's out and about the masses, that that was the judgment was passed. And you have the daughter who is horrified by the same judgment, didn't used to be like that.


I think what is happening currently is that when you promote faith over national identity, it is a very slippery slope. And I think it is that I personally think it is a very dangerous thing what we are doing. I think what I say in the book is a question, and if I can read it out, I would omit is the word that a parliamentarian in Goa said that he's a devout Hindu, but inside his house, but outside he is an Indian person, the Hindu last.


That's how it is. I think that's a good way to view religion. Faith is private. Faith may happen in temples and churches and mosques and public. But in a sense, what are you after the end of the day? Or you want to connect with the divine, you want to connect with your God and Jesus are long gone. And why are you making why are you drawing your community and why the aircraft and spacecraft into this what should be a very private, solemn, sacred act?




And you said, you know, Jesus allowed. And that immediately reminded me of another sort of question that I had for you. So I'll ask it now, which is that, you know, the things in Hinduism is that there are so many things to choose from. And indeed, their data is spread across this book at one point to speak about your experiences. And in the US, where, you know, there was this fight between South Indians and North Indians about rigidity to have for the temple.


And the only one they could actually agree on was Ganapathy. And just thinking about all the different choices open to your ideas from Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh, Ganapathy, Lakshmi, Durga and so on. And it strikes me that the way that you choose a favorite deity, like apart from it coming down to you like a football club, loyalty often comes down to some people. But apart from that, if you actually choose it, it sort of strikes me that it reveals something about that youso much in the same way that we choose who is a cricketing hero.


So, you know, my cricketing hero being Rahul Dravid, for example, will no doubt reveal something about me and so on and so forth. So which do you feel most drawn to and why do you think that is really very easy, Ali?


Calima Because I think she's dark in a country that worships fairness. She embraces her shadow in a way that Lakshmi and that is with the and all the goody goody gods don't see is more tribal and links to the fertility goddesses of your life to connect us to who we were as a civilization. And she's a. Yes, Gloria got. So I love that, I love the female body of God, and so I have to go to the northeast, which I have not done.




Maybe a separate book on that. Let's talk about some of the places that you visit with the book, not all of them, because we do want people to kind of buy the book, which they should anyway, because I don't think a podcast episode, however long, can capture more than a sliver of it. But your first chapter is an order. And of course, we all associate would it be with the cuisine and all of that. And I was struck by your beautiful description of the classic iconic masala dosa as good having a good feeling to stymie or to talk about when police stop.


Good. So can you elaborate on what the feeling of the masala dosa has to do with fighting Romanism?


Yeah, so that's so just I got from a book by detail. It is on the cuisine. Basically what happened was Outback's Brahmins are not allowed to eat onion, so they wanted to bring potato filling was kept outside and they would eat them, do some dip in the potato, feeling like a charity. But they wanted onions so they figured out a way to have their cake and eat it. Do I have the ability to do so? They made this masala filling with onions and then they would pull it out so that they could biathletes this thinking that nobody knows that they are eating onions.


So that was all that was invented according to the research I did. And I love the idea of it. And now, of course, it would have been my father's has become a global commodity. So geotagged, I'm sure. Yeah.


So all costis people listening to this will now be forced to stop eating masala dosa as if you have to do whatever your ideals are. And I was fascinated by the description of how basically, you know, there are eight spiritual centers and Europe who run the temple two years at a time. And during the transition they do what is called a number of malware. They feed, you know, 15000 people, which is quite mad. And you've described their delicacy as beings, brinjal, cooked in coconut oil, which is one of their specialties.


And I was kind of amused by this because on the one hand, you point out how they don't want to use foreign ingredients. So everything has to be local and Cincotti, as it were. But at the same time, they're cooking this with red chilies, which come from Mexico and sesame seeds, which, you know, went from Indonesia to China and India. And that really sort of amused me of how, you know, it is impossible to be a purely Indian in that sense in any way except inside cooking.


I think that if you look at that actually around what they call the Shah of the Shah, I think even today the funerary rice and I discussed this with the scholar, actually the funerary rice in India is a much better preserved than the matter dates, for example, or the other places aside, because people are afraid of the boats and the Shah that we become. And so this element of fear forced them, the priest and the Brahmin who were in charge of passing it from generation to generation to preserve the cooking associated with all these death rituals, and not so much with the as you say, the temple cooking even was diluted and certainly managed foods, but at one point had certain prescriptions which are no longer valid in this day where we have Babaji Indian subcontinent.


But, you know, really cooking has been preserved in the original form.


And another thing that struck me, and this is sort of a profound observation, you make a different point in the book and it seems to me to be true of religion fundamentally at all rituals that evolved for specific local reasons, but then are given a veneer of morality or myth. For example, at one point you point out whole again, I'll quote from your chapter called Traditional Hindus in Europe don't eat certain foods during the monsoon months, a tradition of abstinence that seems at odds in this age when New Zealand apples and oranges are airlifted to every region of India.


They call this chatter massive, what the phrase means for want austerity and perhaps began out of necessity. You have to hunker down in one place during the monsoon and certain foods would simply not have been available. The protocol itself seems rather strict and forbidding, but intuitive. Once you get used to it, stop quote. And later on, you talk about the myth that built around it where you see Good Narada as Brahma the creator, about the importance of the charter, monsieur to Mama said.


And now this is these are Brahmas words, so-called Chatwood Monsieur is a period of four months during which Lord Vishnu is believed to take rest in the shoot Sadhguru and Milky Ocean. So quite naturally, all the oceans, rivers and ponds are believed to attain divinity due to the presence of Lord Vishnu during this period. Stop God. And this is something that seems to crop up in different parts of your book where different. Things evolve in the religion because of what are local factors, but then almost as if to rationalize them and why they are part of the religion, all these myths and all kind of get built around.


So is this a pattern you started noticing more and more while writing the book and you know.


Yeah, and this person and the biggest example of that, of course, is the gods that were originally worshipped, which was Indras, the God of Thunder. So every faith that even the choice of gods to worship is the pattern, every faith was invented, I believe, in the face of natural danger by roaming nomads. So if you look at the earth, for example, there's a lot of thunder and lightning. And here you had Indra, who's now dropped once.


I think electricity was invented and houses were invented and they were not so worried about that. And then Indra lost his mojo as it was. And then so now the gods of the moment miracle. The Rugare within is an old God who went past tribal survives a newcomer and with snow in the long span of time. So I think this invention that happened that I'm fascinated because they made sense. For example, again, that is one tradition where after a child is born for a certain number of days, the family should not be quarantine.


And even today, I know Hindus in my building complex who follow that without realizing that tradition. Probably that rule probably came about because of infection and that doesn't exist anymore. Even today, the mother, after going to visit a condolence visit to her friend, will come back and take a bath again, invented. Because if you go in a village to a place where there were dead bodies, the danger of infection. But we have these mindless things that we follow that don't make sense anymore.


And and once you get into this religion, you will see, as you just pointed out, that said the other Muslims, that they kind of defend it now because it's so we know different from the value and the Kito diet that we follow. I think doing eating certain food for a month will tell you what your body is capable of. They just so I have no quarrel with that. But you're right. And that the macro point you make of invention's becoming irrelevant and still being followed exists in all all over India.




And in fact, I followed both the Ketu and the intermittent fasting at different points in time. And the thing with intermittent fasting is that all religions have some form of fasting on the other building that is actually good for the body in different ways. And religions figured this out and there may have been other mythologies and stories around it, but it's the right thing to do. And I leave my listeners with an interesting exercise before we move on to the next point, which is that to think about it and make a list of traditions which, you know, of food, which the original reason no longer exists for life might have evolved, but they sort of continue to the present day.


And I'll move on to my next question, which is from your Goshi chapter, where I loved your first paragraph. So I'm going to take a tangent as we get to where you write, quote, Audette Go is floating down the river. Ganga, she is a black and white Holstein Friesian go like the one I own in Bengaluru. She floats sideways, legs spread eagle, half of officers visible, even though it is dark. Seven p.m.. I wish I could see that she looks peaceful, but her teeth are buried as if it stopped.


Good. And this is a delightful parable by itself and partly because of, you know, that half sentence like the one I own in Bangalore. And that's, of course, something that you've written an entire book about. So, you know, so that our listeners can get familiar with a little more of your work and not just this book. Let's take a brief tangent while you tell me about your fascination with goals and how you came to own one year.


Thank you for plugging my previous book, which is called The Covers of Bangalore in India. Are you in Bangalore? In Foreign Countries? The book is about how a woman who sells milk in Bangalore to the Army cantonment opposite my house, she would bring a meltdown and sell it approached me one day and said, Do you want to buy fresh milk? And I was using animals back then. I decided I would buy Fleshman from her and we became friends.


And later she approached me and said, I want a loan for sixty thousand rupees to buy a cow. And she does the hard sell and says, you know, you should be lucky that I approached you because the Dean family below who live below you would have killed to get a cow. But I'm asking you instead. So there was all the hard selling happening. And then here is where the long tradition touches me. My father and father in law at that time were both turning eighty one.


And everybody in my extended household was on my answer saying you should do Godyn, which is very, very important for this particular life. I said so. I said, maybe God is handing this goddamn thing in my hand. And of course all this prescription said that goes on has to be the basic to a Brahmin. Sano was not a Brahmin, she was a woman. And Barkov. No. They should go, but they did it anyway, so what I did was I gave her a loan but ended up becoming a gift of seventy five thousand rupees to buy the cow and then continue her business.


And I gave her the advance that was paid for the book as a kind of a thank you as well. And it was a wonderful exercise in writing the book. And it also began as a series of columns. I think it really touched people because I had readers who came in some daily and who said, I want to donate 30000 rupees to this woman. And I suddenly thought, oh, God damn, I shouldn't think I'm doing this commission business.


So we had people who Messala who are from my readers and they did the book. But this book is about karma, but it's also about why cows are so important in Hinduism to the point where the common word in which we begin an invocation by asking for your gotra glutamine Scotian. Which question do you belong to? That's the root of the word. And of course, all the rivers go down with the Wolverton. Goken Any word that begins with Google has a link to a cow.


And that's why cows if once you start looking at southeastern India and again, the fascinating thing is why are we obsessed with cows and not the most stories of the species that originated in Turkey? You go to Turkey, nobody cares about that. So, again, why have we preserve this the way that begins with the words about the cow and the fundraises orchard as the sun rose like the cows walk out of cowshed. So in scriptures, in colloquial language, cows are everywhere and we have somehow managed to preserve it.


And now cows are part of politics. This is the sad fact.


But you're not a rhetorical question that you just asked. Is it an answer to that, you know, Wilkos or secret for us? You know, why do cows play such a big role in our society, so much so that, you know, even Mahatma Gandhi wrote about it in in Swaraj and so on. So it was a political issue for a lot longer than recently. In fact, all of the pet issues of modern political Hindutva, whether they are love jihad or cow slaughter or whatever, have been issues for like more than a century, you know, but what's the big deal like?


I'm trying to think of the proximate local cause for it. Like, was it the one domestic animal from which they got milk and they played a lot of plays, a lot of value in that. And there was all those factors fed into it. But why us? Why only us?


So the nomads worship the horses because when the horses need grass and they live by the rules, you have to move on. Every civilization, whether it is in Death Valley or Mesopotamia, had animals that were part of their lives. So ostensibly you could have the goat as the primary animal, sort of the cow because the goat gives milk as well. I think in India, the reason we worship cows is that we figured out ways to use cow dung.


So to use that, but we figured out ways to make every aspect of the cow count a fermentation. I think using that, that he not just a dude, but that he and the buttermilk I think the killer app was the key. I think in the end it meant to be and find the cow. And that was that was the fork in the road to be created and that forever then since then the cow was only infected.


So again, it comes back to food and someone who just got back, gotten back on the Kito diet and was on it for a long time, a couple of years ago. I'm happy to see that. I'm quite happy to consider here something holy. But I'm not sure that, you know, my reverence would extend to the source of the key. And my next question is whether or not you've kind of pointed out about how, you know, in your chapter on Goshi about how the state of the Congo, which we don't need to elaborate upon, you start the chapter with the Calculatingly that I think there's a dead buffalo somewhere and people are helping themselves with the dead buffalo right next to them and so on.


And you talk about the different myths and origin stories like the Pagoda Corona myth and all of that. And again, I was kind of wondering about desertification of the Ganga as a whole river. Would it possibly come about? Because the people whose narrative version of Hinduism, quote unquote, Hinduism won out over the centuries were the people who lived in the Ganges Plain. Like I did an episode with Tony Joseph, who wrote that wonderful book called The Indians.


And in that he points out how that, you know, basically till 2000 years ago till about, you know, zero because already I don't even know what to call it. But still that year there was actually there were centuries of intermingling between all the people in the subcontinent. But then a particular school of thinking about religion wins out. And that's a school of thought which is strong in the Ganges plain, which is why when you look at the Dianetics.


It's from the back then you'll see there's a lot of an togami, which is why, you know, David Drake once said that the Han Chinese are one big population, but Indians on one big population. They're a collection of many, many small populations because of the and Togami brought about by the court system, which was a profound and mindblowing insight for me when I heard about it from its and its scientific fact. So good. Part of the reason for why the Ganga, you know, got this holy status is because of that, because of people who were living there.


Their narrative was a winning narrative for, you know, all these centuries.


Yeah, history is written by the winners, is what you are saying. And you are saying, I hadn't quite thought of it in that way because once when you live in South India, the Ganga does not loom large in your imagination as it does if you lived in the garden. But it totally makes sense. And as you know in the book, I have also asked if you visited the river so much, how can you handle this pollution? How can you pollute?


And I think the thing I came up with was the idea of Public Citizen Gandhi. The river can be dirty, but she's still here. And in India, as with many cultures, including Bashour, we have this iconic image of a bird with two heads facing in opposite directions. We call it going to be burn down in the south. And I think that idea of the time Gandhi is an excellent example of two headed bird who is able to hold two contradictory ideas in your head.


And I also ask in the book I said, would the Ganga have been better served if she had been a he if he had if it had been a son and sort of a daughter? Because, again, with this whole focus on the boy child in India, would we have taken better care of this river had it been a men? But these are speculations. All our rulers are women and all that. We call her mother Ganga, and the mother is somebody you take for granted.


You don't hear a mother. So having been a father or son, would we have taken better care of this the way that we also love?


And so, again, I don't know the answer, but I raised the question in that chapter and that image that you painted in the chapter about, you know, all these people taking a holy dip in the Ganges, as is a dead buffalo floating just beside them. It also struck me as a powerful metaphor for how we normalise all that is ugly about our society, that for these people, the buffalo is invisible to them because are in the holy Ganges.


And similarly in our society, we are surrounded by so much that is ugly and toxic and it doesn't exist. It's it's the unseen, as it were, you know. Do you think that it makes sense at that level to talk about this a lot on this?


I think why are we so outraged by Catholic priests becoming being pedophiles? I think anything that religion does, we tend to think of it as the perversion of faith to be more pure, more holy, more good. We ascribe a morality to the people who are surrounding faith that perhaps it doesn't exist, as we have discovered time and time again, every bit. It is the mullahs who are issuing the fatwas. It is the holiest of men who are raping children.


And here it is the you know, the what is the Hinduism correlation to exist at multiple levels. So is it a fallacy is what I'm asking. Maybe we shouldn't. Maybe we should say the humans who practice faith and are devout are just as bad as the rest of us. Maybe that's the argument itself is flawed. What the what we ascribe to them, we expect them to be holier than thou when they are not. Fascinating.


Let's move on to the slightly more cheerful subject of food now, where in this chapter on Choshi, at one point you write one among many delightful sentences. In the book you write, quote, Chopin's Nocturnes have nothing on the sounds of Jilib and actually sizzling in oil right next to each other. Stop. Good. And a little later, you write Good and impressive man. Leaders are into one leaf bowl and the casualty in another. Now comes a dilemma.


How to stand balances two balls in one hand and eat with the other. The others around me are doing just fine. Having years of practice has stopped good. Obviously mouth is already watering, even though I am on guitar and I can't have all of this. But this is. Tell me your experience. You know, eating this food and you know how all of that was.


I wish I could be a the I would love to have, as are Allahabad or any of I think I could live there. And just for the food and coffee, especially what the tank at the bottom had one temple. You have the builders and every morning you have these beautifully dressed male priest who were just Doce as it should be worn with the captain between your legs and little else on top, which is again what makes sense for a tropical country like India and are and you go a some Rennard, which is the hottest state, and you have these many young boys that they've seen their full sleeve shirt and you're thinking, what are you thinking?


Why don't you wear those like all your ancestors did? But that's my pet peeve with respect to extend the food at North Indian Temples to me was amazing, perhaps because I grew up here in the South and I used to buy some napalm and everything. I found poor to be a fantastic food. I found Sassy definitely had what they would be. My top critics worry the Vogue is what is most famous about it. But again, because they make an attempt to hold onto the root vegetables and tubers that are indigenous of India and also the spices that are indigenous, I would say the simple food and not the spicy food that I like.


The movie was put is as a put down as a food temple. It fell below Casy because he was a gastronome paradise. I mean, I do. I have to. Yeah.


Yeah. And you've also spoken about how, you know, Beras can be considered by some as a fertility tonic. And, you know, someone told you caught a good bit. I should make your tongue slap a stop. Oh, yes, yes, yes. And you I'm not I'm not one who likes knees. I think of my like you said earlier, my desert island for the last four years and without a but now I would make an exception to this data.


Well, look, I'm not a desert person either, but if I ever go to cacio promise to try the better. You also talk about this as a mirror is Besanko Gauchito, Antón, David Pung. So, you know, there was a time and, you know, I'll take the stand in to ask you a question that, you know, David gives the impression and anbang, of course, is from the cannabis plant and gives the impression of Hindus and the religion is being really chilled out having fun.


And you go back and you've spoken about how there is so much erotica, not just in Cogito and Argentina, Allura and wherever, but even in our midst. And you've quoted some stuff about, you know, very Ronchi action between gods that is happening, which I won't read out now because who knows, we might have a family audience. Are the children listening to this?


And so what kind of happened? Because, you know, you get the sense that there is sort of one way of interpreting Hinduism or living Hinduism or living the culture of a land which is full of fun, which is joyful, which is, you know, embracing the sensual pleasures as they often seem to regard to food. But at the same time, there's also a clash between a certain kind of almost a new puritanism that has kind of come up, which frowns upon all these pleasures.


What's your sense of this evolution? Are the two coexisting or is there actually a kind of a clash between them with the one losing out?


Well, I think it was a clash. My answer and my theory would be it was a clash of civilizations. And I would blame, to a large extent, being colonized on it or the reason for the Puritanism. I think that when you had colonial masters who had whose gaze was very different and who ascribe value judgments to the way we dress and the way we lived even today, the white man as an immigrant, I can tell you when you live around white men, you develop a complex that somehow you have to live up to them.


And there's a certain sense of inferiority. So I think colonizing India would say the British gave of the railways and the culture and everything, but they just took away a lot. And what by. One of the things they took away was a sense of self consciousness about their body and the Towsley that the, you know, the prudishness of about the breasts and the body and the Saudis and everything. And as you point out in the book, the sensuousness of faith was lost, was short, was cut off because our colonial masters would not have any of the Victorian norms that they used to wear if the body was bounded, cossetted and sort of you know, we say in India today that the girls are asked to cover their bodies and everything.


I think that the Victorians, they handed it down to, I suppose after you see some of the old photographs of type of and it's very self-confident. It's very accepting of their own body. So I would blame the clash of civilizations when the colonial colonisation of India happened that led to this culture, as you see, puritanism and prudishness. No, absolutely.


And this is something many people don't realise. I think that this prudishness is somehow unscary, as it were, part of our culture. I did a great episode on Cerrillo with the monarchy where he spoke about this as well, that, you know, we were colonized. The women used to walk around breasted and, you know, it wasn't the talk about something erotic or something that will make the men lose control or something that should involve any kind of shame.


And all of that changed with the Victorian values of the British, which somehow magically then became part of our sanskar. So I kind of not look at the next couple of chapters in detail, though. I love them. You know, in a Jamaah, you talk about Casoria budget, which is all vegetarian. But there's also the story about how Shahjahan mixed, you know, the blood of a little guy, your blood in there. And and you also talk about how Bush started the tradition of the buddy dig a cauldron so big that you could feed 15000 people from that one cauldron, which was delightful in ballooning.


You write about the bunch of Britain or the five nectars. And again, how they composed is all local circumstances. And it's all automated production now, which is, you know, the changing times. Once upon a time, you you know, people used to prepare it by stamping on it. Now, I was interested by something that I read in the chapter after that, which is about mullion, which is about the benis Israelis. And they're right at the start.


You speak about how you were talking to an aunt of yours about the Jewish people and she wasn't so familiar with them. And then you had to tell her that you remember in Cauchy, there was a place called Jew Town where the Jews were from. And she remarked, of course you don't wear good cardamom was available. Stockwood and that association of people with the food, you know, how strong is that in different parts of the country? And I don't just mean religion with Oakford, with different people in different places, with certain kinds of food.


And the other danger that then comes about is the danger of essentialism. Now, when we are describing something, it is natural to try to get to the essence of it. For example, when you write about the Seek's, that one of the beautiful things about the Sikhs, which we think of and which fills even me with emotion when I think of all that they have done, is a langurs there, you know, that whole tradition of service, of feeding people and all of that.


And as you've pointed out, different things about each of the religions, which many differ. That's on the one hand, you can look at these sort of these attributes that you associate with the religion of particular foods that you associate with the religion. But where do you cross the line into essentialism where you're simplifying too much and perhaps do a disservice to the complexity of a tradition is something you've thought about?


Yeah, I think the essentialism comes about when you have to explain the faith to a mass audience, not a follower or a group that is local and standing in front of you. I think what happens with television, the media or now with YouTube where people are looking for takeaways, and I do that too, in my book I that ended up there with the people with once you get into the sacred cultural life hacks or anything, you are forced to explain, you're forced to leave out the nuances of the sound bite.


So I think that when you get into that culture, what you see becomes the norm. And the question is, is that good or bad? And I don't think it is bad, but I haven't made up my mind about it because on the one hand, it would be great for me to understand the past these days. And one bad example. But that is what that would be essentialism. It would leave out all of the nuances of it, but at least I would have a semblance of some knowledge on it.


I think unfortunately or fortunately, we are moving towards a time when this will become more and more. As you know, there are apps that say or don't have the time to read a book, could be the paragraph and will condense it before you don't have the time to scan magazines. We will give it to you. And there's one called Blankest where you blink and you'll get some knowledge. So essentialism is the future of our time, I think, which is hard to escape this year, perhaps both a feature and a bug in different ways.


And in that chapter on Jules, you talk about how this shirt.


I love it was, you know, a delightful little throwaway line about how chicken soup is sometimes known as Jewish penicillin, which speaks to the medical properties and how a particular ritual that they have involves what might well be Bujar. So that's interesting to me. And also how the Romans might actually be many Israelis, you know, similarities such as, you know, uptick or an uptick, an uptick. It is, by the way, a bit of a name from that.


And we might have adapted to UPD. So that's a very interesting speculation which listeners might enjoy. Let me move on to now talking about if I can interject.


So to your point about chicken soup and penicillin in several hospitals, when I say fossicked, we give them Rustem. And one of my pet projects is to find out what different states or regions have as their chicken soup, quote, unquote. The problem. I mean, what would help a sick child in my rush to get, for example, not and not even my family as they call up or not, they've got a different blood. For example, what would a child in Gallowgate?


Probably a fish of some sort. So that would be a fun exercise to go to different parts and find out what is the equivalent food that you give when the child is sick.


The group I, the Rassam, that's what you get as a community specifically to when you're sick. Oh, sure.


I'll confess to you that I got chicken soup.


You know, it's the privilege of growing up in a certain kind of family, I guess. But, you know, I love son and I'm interested in finding this out. And can I ask our listeners if they have answers to these questions, to maybe write to you on Twitter or something that you want to be fantastic?


What did you eat as a kid when you were sick? What did your mom give you? Not even what you ate. What did your mother give you? What a wonderful question.


Yes. So please, guys, you heard it here. Please take Shuba and let her know. Maybe we'll just start to trade with her. So it's all in one place. I'll move on to, you know, another of my favorite dishes, which is again, no, just talking about it and reading your description of it is tempting me to come out of Quito, which is when you talk about Madurai and you're talking about the president, you talk at length about the survey to do so.


There is so incredibly unique and all of that.


Tell me a little bit about that. In Madrid was one of the few temples there. It was the same irreplaceable. And I as I've told you before, I prefer Saverys to sleep. So that's what blew me away. But also that it was unusual. And this I asked the police, then why have you chosen to do this? Dosa is the one that I swear to God is about the size of a diet of Kaitaia, the one that all beside them is about the size of the personal fansites, up maybe slightly smaller, but the one that is also this huge and it is bestriding and contains all good things.


It was my favorite brassard them to eat. So I asked the priest, then why did you choose this Dorsay? And he said it is a larger version of the city Malverde that you went to like biology. And so the what kind of a borrowing of a tradition then making it your own. And the other thing that I loved about this library, I agree that it is not a rock star temple, but it is a holy it has a holy history.


So I went with all good intentions to write about Minnucci, the warrior goddess who rode the horse and the conquered armies.


But then somebody told me about the other temple. But the more interesting to fathom and that's what made the book. And what's your favorite kind of of it?


Because my friends in Bangalore, in Chennai will often argue about what is the best kind of thoughts and so on and so forth. And I love having those in Bangalore whenever I go there especially empty. I don't know, because I don't actually anyplace out there. Odegaard empty. I just love the do.


So you don't get stuff like that in Bombay where you stylised you should go to see theatre or central to syndrome's. They have a very good Benito's stuff. You should have ettlin Bremen's coffee and some bit.


But the do say you should go to the dinner table and are wonderful and I looking to go on the tangent from sort of the subject of food and you know, go to paragraph that you've written in the chapter on Madurai, which I found fascinating because it underscored the point I kind of keep making the kind of work that you do ships you. For example, I wrote a post about this in my new. Talk about how the form that it used to work in will shape your work and therefore the work that you chose to do will shape you.


So a simple decision about what form you take and change the person that you are. For example, I have to think differently when I'm doing a three hour long form conversation podcast. And if I was doing like 15 minute things, I think, you know, my thinking on any subject would be far shallower than and I was reminded of that by this fascinating paragraph from that chapter. I'll read it out court. In a 2015 paper published in the journal Neuroimaging, a team of scientists from the Center for Mine Brain Sciences at the University of Toronto, Italy, studied the brains of professional Vedic Sanskrit pundits in India who were used to memorising and reciting 40000 200000 word oral texts and discovered.


And now this is a quote from the study massive grey matter density and cortical thickness increase. That cause drops in the brains of the Vedic peace, somewhat similar to what was seen in London taxi drivers in previous studies. The paper, which is available online, is fascinating not only because it describes how the word is being exchanged, but also because it talks about the subjects and the training stop quote. And I don't really have a question here, but I absolutely loved your observation after this that these are not people who could have gotten that grey matter because they got it in their genes and they descended from some particular family or whatever.


The boys were more or less picked in a kind of random way. They could just come from anywhere. And obviously, these are boys only and they could really come from anywhere. And they're bringing genes to because of the kind of study and the work that they did, which is so fascinating to me. And something that I just wanted to point out to listeners, that the things that you do shapes who you are in, you know, fundamental doobies that can even be physiological.


So this was quite a sort of material moment for me. You have any further thoughts on this?


Yeah. So this is something Wendy Doniger points out in one of her books that she says India as a civilization has should be at the differences within society and that these should be the is just hard to do. And that's how it was transmitted for hundreds of thousands of years. And stability is when it started being written down. And her point was that this would be literature was preserved unchanged with the meter and the way of information for hundreds of thousands of years, contradicting the point of view that says if you want to remember something and if you want to preserve it, weighted don't.


So in there was a living example of how the culture preserved many texts, all the brominated, all the videos for hundreds of thousands of years just by listening. So we as a as a culture have a propensity for remembering things and we should not squander it. Even the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is one of the oldest books in the world. It was preserved as writing on stone tablets. There was no oral passing on Brazil. Here, India, we passed on orally of music.


It was all oral. So as a culture, if you believe that there are traits that belong to a culture or listening and remembering is one of us and we should seize it and embrace it and make it our own.


Yeah, and maybe we should kind of make a conscious effort to do it, you know, like meditating students will often tell me that there are so many good apps that can use a Granularly or the Hemingway app and should I do that? And my answer always is that if it helps you, please use it. If it brings value, please use it. But at the same time, you have to learn to think for yourself about what is good writing and what isn't and how you want to write.


And you know, you you can't lose the ability to sort of think for yourself as as, you know, you and I have been forced to do for so many years and writing hundreds and hundreds of columns. So after your moderate chapter, you had a great chapter on an interesting brief chapter on Guohua. But I was struck by the skort, which I'm going to ask you to elaborate upon, where you quoted a good article. No one telling you, quote, Portugal did a great favor.


We were cut off from the shackles of Indian tradition. We were forced to look outside, stop quote. Tell me a little bit about this. And I presume at least part of this is in the context of food. And just another aside, I remember when I would spend time in McComb, a car was also once colonized by the Portuguese and I'd actually noticed some similarities and certain items of theirs and what you could get in Goa. So, you know, but, you know, just elaborate on his point for me, because, again, I found this quite fascinating.


Yeah. So, I mean, Goa is a place that all of India love. I think my view into Goa was shaped largely by the events and drug addicts. The designer who showed me how in his own village and Gold Valley, the ancient tribal traditions coexisted with the Hindu past and present.


And what Geragos said about what I think. The what my takeaway was from his quote is that any time you have water, in a sense, made Goerens immigrants in their own land because you come in as a conqueror and you enforce the canons on the people. And then what happens is as citizens, you're forced to choose between your master and your tradition and a lot of going to Portugal as a mother tongue. I quote Mario Menander saying, what it is, is my mother tongue.


So what ends up happening to differentiate us from tequila? But the colonization was more religious, the same Thomas and everything was that Goerens felt very adept and easy about adopting music from Portugal clothes the language, and it cuts off the shackles of the past. And what he was saying and I could and anyone who wants to go out and even today sing it because you see the very avant garde in their thinking and the fashions they follow restaurants they open, the life they lead.


It's a symbiotic culture which has a little bit of the Portugal influence, the people of the Hindus without the customs. So it's a very joie de vivre. So I love that. And I think that's why most Indians love go and go that often.


Yeah, it's a fascinating example of being exposed to the world without actually having to go anywhere. It's almost kind of right here. A lot better than me. No, no, I can't say it better than you.


Your book has so many wonderful moments. I'll quote another bit word for to get back to food because who can resist it? And this is from your chapter about the Rwanda program, which has a subtitle of The Elephant, Gord's Fried Dumplings. And you write her about any of them and you say good terracotta. You know, before I embark upon this quote, almost South Indian listeners, please forgive my pronunciations. Remember that I am, after all, an omelet.


OK, could go to the correct temple is known for its junior up of dumplings made with rice, flour, coconut jaggery. He died in Jakarta movement Quish Banana, a local variety known as Polonium 210. They are loosely mixed in chain to bats and fried inchy or oil on a slowly the temple makes 50000 such dumplings, a number that can rise to 170000 during festivals, according to Mohun, through many unusual four temples, these unia bombs are cooked in front of the data in an alcove rather than in a separate secret chamber.


And in another part in your chapter on Burri, you know you've written about the sort of elaborate work that goes into making the chopping block. The chopping block, by the way, has fifty six ingredients, which is why it's called Chopan Bogda Amuthan means useful. No Chaplinesque 56 in Hindi. And you speak about how goat no outsider is allowed inside the temple kitchen except the 1000 male cooks who make 56 different kinds of offerings called Tubmanburg to serve to the gods six times a day.


The list of dishes isn't just 56. It runs through the hundreds. The Lord, along with his family, likes variety, the sweet dishes alone out of over fifty types, including several types of letters. Poor key to making the same day. But it's a nightmare. Thankfully, there are also boiled rice dishes, lentil based ones, vegetable couriers and the permutations and combinations. Food is central to worship in this temple because you see Lord Vishnu deign to stop God.


And I'm just fascinated by the scale of this very often. Read about how, you know, churches in Europe were built to be so grand because they wanted that to give, you know, devoted a sense of how grand religion is so that they would feel that sense of awe towards God. You know, and just reading about the kind of scale at which this kind of cooking is being done. And it's not just these thousand cooks. Later on, you point out about how the kitchens are spread out over an acre and you have 200 junior cooks who are not allowed to enter the kitchens, who are doing the prep work, and they're creating hundreds of coconuts while chanting the name of the Lord and they also chopping vegetables.


This is crazy. The scale is mind blowing. Although you didn't go into the kitchen and you didn't know many of the other kitchens, what was and you also, of course, in the West entered the commercial kitchens of some of the best restaurants in the world. Give me a sense of how that feeling was about entering this kitchen, seeing this work.


So remember that experiment? I said go to a temple during the course of this year if you just want to see if you have it in you to become or devout, I would say start with food, because it is a majestic, marvelous temple in every sense of the word. It is a temple with a history and an amalgamation that is so fantastic. It is has every faith that was prominent in India of the time being part of the temple. And as far as the cooking goes, it was very it is very something you couldn't enter, but.


They have and to two are would fired stuff underneath each of the two legs, I'm told, is a fantastic design with with many triangles. And one of the most poignant things during that trip was one of the first cook. I mean, the two others told me that if I think even for a moment that I am the one cooking the name but the shadow, because actually this goddess was cooking the food and the you know, it's hard to convey that in a book.


But he actually believed that he wasn't his stance. His eyes told me so to me that there's a sublimation of ego. You know, in many temples, the priests become holier than thou. They think I'm doing God's work and therefore I am holy. But better than that, I think when you are cooking Temple's food, you don't have the grandiosity of coming. That comes with a priest who stands and does the chanting and throwing flowers in front of God.


So in a sense, I found remember we talked about being holier than thou in the list, but not having the hypocrisies and the petty. But then the cooks have said that you want to experience divine sublimation of the ego through humility in the presence of the divine top to the temple and in Jagannath body, especially because it's a very they believe clearly, deeply in the tantric notion that our mine. But mine is a very prominent number. And you have never had no staff.


No graha the planets. And they have nine pots stacked on top of each other and on these wood fires and they each cook and each of the families that are able to sell it and make money off of it. We simply cooks. I found what I was looking for and what we talked about earlier, which is where you are truly humble, authentically humble and not kind of showing up and saying, I'm a messenger of God and therefore I'm better than these guys, actually, by the best of the divine, literally and figuratively.


I can just cooking, just chopping endless vegetables or whatever the processes are as a kind of sad that in itself, I guess, you know, if you're just there you go like a physical meditation, almost.


You're just, you know, doing the same thing again and again. I also love the chapter on the Camela. And I have a question based on that, where at one point you quote the gentleman called Swami of Deshon and Ovett. He's talking about diversity, which is spoken about before. And he says, quote, Hinduism is a very diverse religion with many parts to God. Bujar meditation, yoga, pranayam pilgrimage as far as jumping and Satsang, the cumbias where all this diversity comes together.


But more than this, I was struck by something that, again, the same swami of the Asian and JI said a little before that where he says, quote, The Kumbh Mela is a symbol of our secular democracy in action. For example, most of the Hindu religious offerings used in the package by Muslim craftsmen and the music bands of Muslim and Christian performers Stopcock and elsewhere, you speak about how, you know, attachment Sharif, when you go or in the churches of Goa, Hindus are taking part everywhere and they are kind of sort of involved.


And so it seems to me that whereas in politics we have developed almost an exclusionary view of religion in our culture, there is an embrace of, you know, of everything. And this seems to me to be a strange kind of contradiction. I mean, I remember I once said politician and thinker jumping around on my show Episode 149, and I said something about India being an illiberal society because of the misogyny and cost and whatever. And he said, no.


It's also if you look at it another way, it's also a very liberal society, because in our lived experience of avy assimilate everything from everywhere in that, there's also a lot of tolerance there. And both of these are, of course, true. But what is your sense of going to all of these places that you know is the only view of religion? You see this open, warm embrace that takes everybody in, or do you also sort of see the other side of it?


Yeah, I'll go back, first of all, I'm blown away that you remember that not that was Episode 149. We clearly have a phenomenal memory for forcing a compliment on that. But to answer your question, I'm going back to the gun debate on that, which is the eagle who's with two heads looking and on either direction. And I think that both I would agree with Mr. Dippin that that intrinsically, if you are born in this hut in India, you are raised.


It's part of the water we drink and this tolerance. And I'll give you specific examples, I think, to all the president, they call it in economics. My mother, for example, when the judgment was first suggested and you see her, she is a devout Hindu. But because my brother had many Muslim friends, she visited their homes and became friendly with them. So I think that if you look at the way these festivals are done, I wish I could attend Bombay organised 30, but I'm told it's the same there where the craftsmen of all faiths make different parts of the giant ideal and for example, the chariots are made by.


So I think that on the one hand, we have the politics of religion that is being used to win elections. But in Bangalore, where I live, Hindus attend Infantry's and pray to their mother when they want children. The address, Durga, is the Ganga could be, as they call it. I love Sufi music. If you live to see our lived experience, it's hard not to be tolerant and embracing of all faiths because guess what? They have so much to offer.


How can you not partake when it's available to you on offer? And in India we have the glory of multiple faiths and that is mentioned. You would be stupid to not absorb. And I think in Hindu it is. And I think the Indians who live in communities where all the major faiths are jostling side by side, that experience of India is very different from ours. Who will read, who watch the news and therefore form opinions about the politics of religion and without much of a lived experience.


So I think, yes, I agree with Mr Narayan that as a nation we are deeply tolerant and that will eventually be our salvation.


Yeah, I did an episode with Arjun Malhotra recently. She's written a remarkable book on partition, and one of the sort of points that came up there was that, you know, when we hate each other, what we are hearing is abstractions, you know, an abstract notion of the other. But what we embrace of the other are all the concrete little things. And to me, a lot of these concrete things are, you know, they're in the food where, you know, what we eat is actually the most assimilative melting pot that you can possibly imagine.


And, you know, one would hope that one day Indian politics can become a little bit more like Indian food. So, you know, I've taken enough of your time and I let you go soon and also, you know, just direct all the listeners to please partake in the feast. That is in your writing in this wonderful book. Did writing this book sort of, you know, what were your big learning moments during this book? You went in obviously already knowing a lot about food, having a deep sense of the history, having a sense of the nation as well.


You've been to many of these temples before, but, you know, are there any big sort of learnings for you, revelations for your insights for you or anything that deepened your understanding in the process of going through all of these places and immersing yourself in these experiences?


For me, it was that the importance of ritual and I saw it in temples. I it in the church, I saw it and the one Islamic shrine that I visited. And I think that if there was one thing that I have changed, my attitude towards it is that I believe that humans invented rituals to mark milestones in life, must transition from one stage of life to another to mark a celebration or a sorrow. And in urban India, certainly.


And if you are of a certain rational, I would humbly say I met much of your audience, much of your listenership, such as myself, where you live in the mind of the cerebral world, we are in danger of giving up to us. And again, you are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Yes, sure. To have superstitions that may seem nonsensical to you, but when you are designing the tool, as I once did, and when you are saying they are superstitions and intolerant and you know, are based on parliamentary consultations and things like that, you also give up rituals that are linked to when a daughter.


Leave home or when the sun goes to college, something to mark that will be it is so much a part of us. If you go to an airport, people welcome somebody with the garment that does a ritual. And we don't do that so-called educated people stuff that when a woman is pregnant, the neighbors bring her favorite foods that does a. So I would say if I had a plea or or an entreaty to your listeners, I would say find your rituals and, you know, figure it out and make it up if you must.


But we have such a rich vein of rituals in our culture. Find one that you like, OK, if you are not a survivor, find a rock, collect a few rocks and they pour some water over it and then put it on her to see. But that's not a tool. They could give you some. It will give you the meditative state that time had it saw a flood. Wow. And they have it. Why not use it?


Well, you've given me, you know, through the book and through this organization, you've given me so much to think about and process. Sugar, thank you so much for coming on the show.


Thank you so much for having me on. This is a podcast I've enjoyed so much as a listener. It is a privilege, an honor that you invited me to come on this show. And I'm deeply grateful. Thank you. Thank you.


If you enjoyed listening to this episode, head on over to your nearest bookstore, online or offline. And by Shobana, Iran's wonderful book, Food and Feed the Pilgrims Journey Through India, this will be a link from the Señores. And other books will also be link that you can follow Shobha on Twitter at Shobana and you can follow me at where my Amitav Artemy. You can browse past episodes of the scene in The Unseen Acción, Unseen Dot, and thank you for listening.


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