I’m not great at languages. The two languages I can speak fluently in – Kannada and English – I learnt them both before I was four.

I learnt Hindi in school but speak a mix of highly sanskritised Hindi (textbook Hindi) and bombay Hindi (from movies) with a thick kannada accent. As for other languages, the less I say the better.

I spent four years studying in Tamil Nadu so sometimes people assume I know Tamil (it also has to do with my name and face, I guess!). The truth, however, is that by the time I graduated from IIT Madras, I had barely learnt to distinguish between Tamil and Telugu – the two “new” languages i had been massively exposed to during my time there.

Basically I didn’t bother learning Tamil when I lived in madras in 2000-4 because I didn’t really need to. Most people on campus spoke at least basic English. Most outsiders I interacted with were shopkeepers, restaurant waiters and auto drivers, all of whom could speak broken English at least. And since I’m inherently not good at picking up languages, I just didn’t bother.

Before we started out Tamil Nadu trip yesterday my wife (who happens to be good at languages) was wondering how I would fare on this front. “Let’s see how you can put your four years of living in TN to good use”, she said. I told her I hoped to mostly get by with English, and broken Tamil.

After yesterdays lunch she had been impressed. “Not bad. With just words for one and two you managed to manage the conversation”. “Yeah that’s how I managed in chennai”, I replied.

High expectations having thus been set, I’ve had to try and live up to them later on in the trip. My biggest issue is that I end up speaking “assembly language”. I know the words but not the word forms or grammar, and so what I speak can sound funny.

“Instead of asking the shopkeeper what that is, you ended up asking where that is”, my wife informed me yesterday. I had at least got the message across. This kind of faux pas, largely because I can’t speak prepositions and other word forms, continued.

This morning we were at an Adyar ananda Bhavan (a chennai based Tamil Nadu style food chain restaurant) for breakfast. I confidently decided the waiter there might know English and started speaking in English. To our horror, for the rest of the breakfast he spoke to us in Hindi! “If you don’t know Tamil but look Indian you must be Hindi types”, he must have decided.

We tried to talk to him henceforth in our broken Tamil, but he had made his decision. Hindi it was for us.

Then, in the afternoon, at lunch in a “mess” in karaikudi, I was again struggling to speak Tamil with the waitress (to link back to yesterdays post – she was a middle aged woman. Again a cohort I don’t normally see among bangalore waiters). Suddenly I ended up speaking a few Hindi words!

I quickly realised what had happened – Tamil and Hindi are both languages I can’t think in. For both, I “think in Kannada” and translate to the respective language before speaking. And somewhere my wiring had gone wrong today and instead of translating to Tamil I translated to Hindi.

Later on in the conversation she said something quickly. I caught a few words but couldn’t catch the prepositions and ended up entirely misunderstanding her. Apparently she said “the sambar is hot”. And I replied “no, I don’t need hot rice. Pour the sambar on this only”.

And so it’s been going.

Rameshwaram Cafe – Review

I’m just back home after belting a Garlic Roast Dose at Rameshwaram Cafe. This was the first time I went there, though you may not believe that since I’ve already written an entire blogpost on “Hosur cuisine”. Having eaten there once, I’m not sure I’ll describe Rameshwaram Cafe as “Hosur cuisine” any more. I’d instead call it “netflix cuisine”.

A few years back, when Netflix started making its originals, there were a bunch of articles and blogposts on how Netflix “used data and machine learning to craft its shows”. If you look at the trajectory of Netflix, initially that was novel and people loved its shows. Over a period of time, that didn’t scale, since it led to a whole bunch of “premium mediocre” shows.

Oh, on this note, you should read this article on how “everything is becoming the same“. And more AI and ML might just accelerate the trend.

Back to Rameshwaram. We were in the middle of our breakfasts, wife having “ghee pudi masala dose” and me having “garlic roast dose” (basically the same thing, except that my dose had Bangalore-style red garlic chutney smeared in, while wife’s had Tamil-style chutney puDi).

Someone wearing the Rameshwaram Cafe uniform approached us with the pickup line of “you guys come here often right?”. We replied that it’s our first time there, and he proceeded to ask us how we found it.

“Dose is fine but I don’t like the sambar”, I started off. “Yes, that’s because we make the sambar in Tamil style. You must like the Kannada style sambar, but we don’t make that here”, he said. We chitchatted for another minute when I excused myself to go get a second helping of chutney (yes, the initial quantity of chutney served there is grossly inefficient).

Essentially, Rameshwaram Cafe is the application of data and analytics and ML to restaurant menu building. Everything here is a conscious choice. The idli, vaDe and sambar are Tamil-style (thankfully the menu board said “40 rupees for a pair“, so I figured it must be tithi vaDe and stayed away from it). The dose is Bangalore style. Chutney taste is in between, but served Tamil style (small quantities of multiple varieties). I half expected to be turned away when I asked for extra chutney but most of the staff speaks Kannada, so they empathised.

The coffee was good. I didn’t really feel like having anything else – the iDli and vaDe on others’ plates didn’t look appetising at all. And so we came home.

Will we go back? It will depend on the circumstance. This will NEVER be everyday food like the nearby SN is for us. The dose was good while I ate it, but I don’t like the aftertaste. It’s not a place I would avoid (like if it were on a highway, or if I needed to eat at midnight when no other darshinis are open, I would go). However, it’s not a place I would seek out and go.

And the more I think about it, the more “premium mediocre” it is. Because they seem to have used data and analytics to find their menu (some items Bangalore style and some Tamil style – and it seems to be a very deliberate choice), the food by definition will not be spectacular. However, the place is hygienic, has pretty good operations and does well on the business aspects, so it is “premium”. And will continue to do well – just that I won’t go there too often.

“This has never happened to me”, my wife said as we were walking out. “I’ve never seen the restaurant manager at a place like this take customer feedback. And that feels odd. Places like this are supposed to be like ‘this is what we make. take it or leave it'”. Then again, she has never been a fan of fusion cuisines.

Hosur cuisine

Some 6-7 months back my office shifted from a relatively quiet semi-residential lane in Indiranagar to the slam-bang commercial area of Residency Road. This meant that Udupi Vaibhava, situated next to our old office and had served many of us rather well, suddenly lost a bunch of business. We, however, needed something to find something.

On the first day in the new office I visited good ol’ Konark next door for “tiffin” and coffee. Food was good but transaction cost (of sitting down and waiting) was rather high. And then people in office started raving about this “IDC Kitchen” across the road, and a week later I went there for breakfast.

I asked for idli-vaDe, and the first look of the vaDe gave me the jitters – instead of one large vaDe, there were two tiny vaDes, the sort we make at death ceremonies here in Bangalore. The idli looked dense as well. “Oh gosh, this is Tamil-style food”, I thought. And then I found that the sambar was red and sweet, of the kind you normally find in Bangalore. It was a bit of a relief.

Yet, the food was confusing. Some of it was evidently Tamil style (the “pODi iDli” and stuff), but it wasn’t quite entirely Tamil style. The dosé was thin. Chutney was neither thick nor thin. Very very very confusing.

And then a few days later a friend insisted we have breakfast at “Cafe Amudham” in Siddapura, insisting the dosé there was excellent. I didn’t want to have a dosé that day, so I asked for iDli-vaDe, and once again it was insanely dense iDlis, but normal sized vaDes. The sambar was more Bangalore style as well – again massively confusing.

Based on these two data points (and that yet-to-be-sampled data point that is Rameshwaram Cafe), I hereby declare that there exists a new cuisine that I call “Hosur cuisine”. It is basically a mix of Bangalore and classic Tamil cuisines. It is like the chromosomes of the two cuisines having undergone a random crossover (and some mutations), and so different restaurants serving this cuisine have adopted different aspects of the cuisines of the two  states – the style of sambar, density of idli, thickness of dosé, size of vaDe, number of chutneys served, etc.

And recently, having got quite bored of IDC (I’ve pretty much stopped eating there now), I tried the Virinchi Cafe next door to that. They make thick dosés but have drumstick in their otherwise red sambar. Incredibly confusing, and I can say that this is yet another “strand” of the Hosur cuisine crossover.

In any case, I’ve been brewing over this blogpost for a few days now, and then I saw Sandesh’s excellent dissection of Rameshwaram Cafe, and decided it’s time to put this down.

I’m yet to visit a Rameshwaram Cafe – the only one within my orbit is in JP Nagar 2nd phase, but it’s way too close to SN Refreshments to give it a try (and I have breakfast at SN some 2-3 times a week at least!). I suppose that is yet another random crossover of the Bangalore and Tamil food styles .

PS: This blogpost has absolutely NOTHING to do with my grandmother-in-law who is from Hosur

Super Deluxe

In my four years in Madras (2000-4), I learnt just about enough Tamil to watch a Tamil movie with subtitles. Without subtitles is still a bit of a stretch for me, but the fact that streaming sites offer all movies with subtitles means I can watch Tamil movies now.

At the end, I didn’t like Super Deluxe. I thought it was an incredibly weird movie. The last half an hour was beyond bizarre. Rather, the entire movie is weird (which is good in a way we’ll come to in a bit), but there is a point where there is a step-change in the weirdness.

The wife had watched the movie some 2-3 weeks back, and I was watching it on Friday night. Around the time when she finished the movie she was watching and was going to bed, she peered into my laptop and said “it’s going to get super weird now”. “As if it isn’t weird enough already”, I replied. In hindsight, she was right. She had peered into my laptop right at the moment when the weirdness goes to yet another level.

It’s not often that I watch movies, since most movies simply fail to hold my attention. The problem is that most plots are rather predictable, and it is rather easy to second-guess what happens in each scene. It is the information theoretic concept of “surprise”.

Surprise is maximised when the least probable thing happens at every point in time. And when the least probable thing doesn’t happen, there isn’t a story, so filmmakers overindex on surprises and making sure the less probable thing will happen. So if you indulge in a small bit of second order thinking, the surprises aren’t surprising any more, and the movie becomes boring.

Super Deluxe establishes pretty early on that the plot is going to be rather weird. And when you think the scene has been set with sufficient weirdness in each story (there are four intertwined stories in the movie, as per modern fashion), the next time the movie comes back to the story, the story is shown to get weirder. And so you begin to expect weirdness. And this, in a way, makes the movie less predictable.

The reason a weird movie is less predictable is that at each scene it is simply impossible for the view to even think of the possibilities. And in a movie that gets progressively weirder like this one, every time you think you have listed out the possibilities and predicted what happens, what follows is something from outside your “consideration set”. And that keeps you engaged, and wanting to see what happens.

The problem with a progressively weird movie is that at some point it needs to end. And it needs to end in a coherent way. Well, it is possible sometimes to leave the viewer hanging, but some filmmakers see the need to provide a coherent ending.

And so what usually happens is that at some point in time the plot gets so remarkably simplified that everything suddenly falls in place (though nowhere as beautifully as things fall in place at the end of a Wodehouse novel). Another thing that can happen is that weirdness it taken up a notch, so that things fall in place at a “meta level”, at which point the movie can end.

The thing with Super Deluxe is that both these things happen! On one side the weirdness is taken up several notches. And on the other the plots get so oversimplified that things just fall in place. And that makes you finish the movie with a rather bitter taste in the mouth, feeling thoroughly unsatisfied.

That the “ending” of the movie (where things get really weird AND really simplified) lasts half an hour doesn’t help matters.


So for dinner yesterday, among other things, I bought a Baklava. It’s the first time I’m having it and I wonder if I’d be wrong if I were to call it the king of sweets.

Thinking about it, calling the Baklava king may not be all that inaccurate – given that I now think that the Indian sweet Badusha is derived from the Baklava. I haven’t checked anywhere but my guess is that “Badusha” comes from “Badshah” or king, and refers to the Mughal emperors who came from Central Asia.

And the Baklava, we know, comes from the region that broadly includes Turkey and Central Asia.

And I think the reason the Badusha, unlike the Baklava, lacks dry fruits is that it’s usually mass-produced – it’s a common sight at wedding receptions, and costs cannot be allowed to soar. Maybe, you might have South Indian Sweet Shops selling Baklava soon. You never know.

On a side-note I wonder why the Jahangir (Jangri in Tamil – clearly a derivative of Jahangir; imarti in Hindi) is called Jahangir. Wonder if it came to Karnataka in Emperor Jehangir’s time.

Alco Haalu

Does anyone know why the colloquial name for liquor in Kannada is “oil” (eNNe) while the corresponding word in Tamil is “water” (thaNNi)?

Is there some kind of a caste/class origin to it, with me being biased given that most Tamilians I know are upper caste/class, and that there is a different colloquial word that is in vogue among other classes? Because “eNNe” has more of a working-class feel to it (the name, that is), and one that has been appropriated by all sections of society.

While on the topic, I learn that the Gult word for alcohol is medicine (mandu)!! Fantastic!

What is the colloquial name for alcohol in your language, and what does it mean? Put it down in the comments here.

PS: and does anyone know why alcohol bottles are sold in black polythene covers? Never seen these things being used elsewhere so if you see a black polythene cover you know there’s a good probability it’ll contain a bottle of alcohol

Search Keywords for April

As you might have figured out by now, this is a monthly feature on my blog – I collect the most interesting set of search key-phrases that lead to my blog and put them here. Here is this month’s list:

  • neha jain skimpy
  • skimpy vijaya atulya jackasses
  • arranged market opinion 2009
  • arushi nehra petromax
  • cory doctorow terrorist statistical argument
  • films on dream and daydream
  • history of south indian breakfast
  • influence of dutch on south indian food
  • isb chutiya
  • savita bhabhi in tamil
  • siddharth tata part of the tata family?
  • south indian restaurants norwich
  • the defference between english medium and hindi medium schools
  • vimax pills india gurgaon