Thursday, 21 February 2008

Bhajji and the Beast

Sorry for the long delay in updating my blog. I thought that a good place to start is on cricket, India and food - three of my favourite things. Most of you would have been aware of the recent tensions between the Aussies and Indians that exploded at the Sydney Test Match. I was fortunate enough to see VVS Laxman's delightful century with my good mate Lib. The controversy surrounds the interaction between Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds. I don't want to dwell on the racism aspect of the furore but on the culture clash - i want to discuss the "racism meets food card".

Are we really happy to indulge in other people's food but want nothing to do with the people themselves?

Harbhajan is nicknamed Bhaji by Indians and the Turbanator by Westerners. In the picture below my friend Jamie, and his wife Anne, were stalking the Indian cricket team in Canberra. They were able to get some photos of Bhajji, sans black turban.

Bhajji's are commonly served as entrees in Indian restaurants. They are vegetables battered in chickpea flour and deep fried. My mum would often make bhaijis using onion, potato and cauliflower. We would dip the hot little vegies into sweet chilli sauce. Yummy.

Indian nicknames are curious. I have always found the use of the name "Baby" to refer to certain middle aged Malayalee men a little bit uncomfortable. My dad was known as Jimmy. He was a Jacob. I wonder what he would think of my cricketing nickname, "Scary Spice"?

Aussie nicknames are often dictated by shorten a name and adding an "O", like "Dave-O". Original it ain't. What I do love about some Aussie nicknames is the link to English rhyming slang or one's that have a cryptic edge. Cricketer Adam Gilchrist is known as Gilly by the public and "Churchy" by his team mates. Why? A young autograph hunter once approached Gilchrist and said: 'Excuse me Eric Gilchurch, can I have your autograph?".

Back to Bhajji. One of the strange cultural anomalies that was highlighted by the clashes at the Sydney Test Match is that India is becoming more like Australia and vice versa. This was exposed when some of the Aussie cricketers were involved in filming a Bollywood film at the SCG and at the same time the Indian players were playing beach volley-ball down the road at Bondi Beach.

Blond, fit and very fast bowler Brett Lee seems to have transended the hostility between the two sides and countries. His foray into Bollywood, and duets with Asha Bhosle, has shown his ability to see difference as an opportunity for connection. Lee has used his very blondness, good looks and cricket talent to create a wonderfully open and charming persona within the Indian context. Watch the film clip:

Perhaps the clash between Singh and Symonds has nothing to do with culture. Maybe they're two aggressive and passionate sports people who rub up against each other the wrong way. What has changed is that the Indian cricketers are willing to give as good as they get. The soft gentle gandhian like sterotype of the Indian is being eroded. I suspect that there will be a lot more clashes between these two cultures to come. The cricket field is one place that the public will be privy to the clash.

So do you think that we'll see the day when Andrew Symonds (the only brown man in the Aussie cricket team) and Harbhjan Singh do a commercial together eating Bhajjis?