Recipe — aloo-phulkopi bhaji

Posted in culture, food by jrahman on October 17, 2017


Heat couple of tablespoon of mustard oil, and fry couple of medium-sized potatoes cut into small cubes until they are golden brown.  Set aside.

In the same oil, throw in four (less if you aren’t Desi) dry red chillies, one teaspoon of whole cumin seed, and couple of bay leaves. Couple of minutes later, add a finely chopped medium-sized onion.  Fry till golden brown.

Add a medium-sized cauliflower chopped into very small florets.  Stir couple of times and add salt.  Reduce heat and saute for three minutes.  Add potatoes and peas.  Reduce heat to very low, and cook covered for a few minutes.

Uncover.  Check for salt.  Turn the heat high.  Stir fry until vegetables are browned.  Add three chopped spring onions before removing.

*Chitrita Banerjee, Bengali Cooking: seasons and festivals.


Heat two tablespoons of ghee.  Fry for a few seconds one and half teaspoon of white cumin seed, quarter teaspoon of black cumin seed, and half teaspoon black mustard seed.

Add one large potato cut into small cubes, and stir-fry for five minutes.

Add one teaspoon salt, one teaspoon chilli powder, one teaspoon turmeric powder, and one teaspoon coriander powder.

Add a medium cauliflower split into florets.

Stir to mix the ingredients well.  Add three tablespoon of whisked yogurt and simmer until vegetables are cooked.  A few minutes before ending, add one teaspoon of garam masala and one table spoon of fresh coriander leaves.

*Joyce Westrip, Moghul Cooking: India’s courtly cuisine.

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Stranger things

Posted in Bollywood, culture, movies by jrahman on January 22, 2017

If Shakespeare was writing it today, Hamlet might well have said to his friend Horatio that there are stranger things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.  Strangers in strange lands, that is how many of us feel about the world we live in.  Being a quantitative, analytical person using well established frameworks and models to make sense of the world, I can not possibly think of a stranger thing than the reality of President Trump.

No.  That’s not right.

I can think of far stranger things.  Stranger things that are far more uplifting than politics.  What is strange but that which is difficult to explain?  What is then stranger than how people fall in, after failing in and falling out of, love?

Falling in love, that’s dime a dozen, though romantic tragedies are bigger hits than happily-ever-afters.  Falling out of love, that’s rarer, definitely not quite your standard traditional Bollywood fair.  Love outside loveless marriage — that only used to happen in arty stuff starring Shabana Azmi.  Except for that Big B vehicle to extricate himself from a real life triangle, how many mainstream Bollywood pics  about extramarital affair can you think of?

Of course, traditions change.  Bollywood changed forever with Dil Chahta Hai.  And what better way to show that than through how love and marriage are treated in two Karan Johar directed Shah Rukh Khan starrers named after yesteryear hits?


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So long, Obama

Posted in culture, people, politics by jrahman on January 18, 2017

Consciously or otherwise, most of us tend to compartmentalise our existence into home and work.  On the first front, above everything else, I consider myself a father first.  And on the second, well, let’s just say that I have been a bureaucratic functionary for most my working life.  On both, I cannot stress how much there is to learn from the outgoing American president.

Anyone who has ever worked in any bureaucracy would know to choose cock ups over conspiracies.  Well, it’s remarkable how few cock ups — I am talking about executive failures such as Katrina, not policy failures like Vietnam or ethical breaches like Watergate — there has been under Barack Obama.

Hats off Mr Chief Executive.

It’s been slightly over 10 years that I first saw the beginning of the Obama campaign.  I emailed my then wife that there was this really cool guy running for presidency, too bad he won’t get it.  Upon joining me in DC a few weeks later, she saw him and said that I was wrong, that this guy would make it all the way.  A few years later, while expecting our son, the mother-to-be read Obama’s memoir.  Barack was in the running for middle name right till the morning of his birth (losing out to his maternal grandfather).

Much has been written about the mercurial nature of Obama’s rise, his intellect, or oratory, or his policy and political legacy.  And I am sure much more will be.  But to me, it is much more striking how this ‘skinny boy with a funny name’ overcame his personal demons and with equal partnership with Michelle Obama raised two kids.

I am never going to have as demanding a ‘work’ as Mr Obama.  But I do have the privilege — and it is a privilege, not a right — to be a father.  I will reflect on his experience.

So long, Barack.

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Recipe — goat rezala

Posted in culture, food, Uncategorized by jrahman on April 10, 2016

There appears to be a lot of variation in how people make rezala.  Mine is definitely not authentic as I tend to improvise a lot while cooking this, which these days is regrettably rare.  Back in the day, however, this had never failed.  Go ahead, give it a shot.


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Love is just a four letter word

Posted in comedy, culture, music, romance, society, TV by jrahman on February 9, 2016

I was 14 when a Dhanmondi girl first told me about Valentine’s Day — no, not asking me for a date, rather informing me about hers.  In the quarter century since, in and out of relationships, the day has never really resonated with me.  Call me unromantic?  Not so fast.  You see, I do love rom coms, particularly on the small screen.

And could there be a better show to showcase my case?


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Degenerating the Faith (2)

Posted in books, classics, culture, faith, history, Muslim world, society by jrahman on December 5, 2015

Part 1.

Classical Muslim scholars used to divide travel and travel writing into two categories. First is what they called rihla — a description of what the traveller did, saw or experienced.  Ibn Battuta’s travelogues are the best known in this genre.  However, rihla can also be more than mere narratives and descriptions. They can form the basis of scientific enquiry.  An example of this kind of rihla is the 11th century polymath Al Biruni’s description of India.  Travelling under the protection of Mahmud of Ghazni, Al Biruni studied sciences and mathematics and wrote Tarikh al Hind — one of the most comprehensive books on pre-Islam subcontinent. In fact, great rihla, according to the scholars, had to have some analysis as well as description.

There is another tradition of travel and travel writing among the learned Muslims of yore, that of safr.  Safr is the word for travel or journey in most north and east Indian languages, including Bangla.  To the 11th century Sufi philosopher Al-Ghazali, safr meant any travelling through which a person evolves.  To him, safr meant as well as the physical act of travelling somewhere, mixing with the inhabitants of that land, imbibing oneself with their customs and ways, and evolving into a person closer to Allah.

Al-Ghazali further categorised travellers: those who travel seeking knowledge, the best kind; the Hajis; the immigrants — the Prophet himself was an immigrant; and the refugees, the worst kind.

What is the line between an immigrant and a refugee?  Salman Rushdie and VS Naipaul have both written about the uprooting involved in migration.  Both have noted that at some level or other, all migrants are really refugees.  But for Naipaul, the uprooting is mostly a bad thing.  Rushdie is open to the possibility of migration leading to something new.  Migrants are works of translation, he writes.

Those of you who have read the Quran probably have done so in translation.  Translation then can’t always be bad.


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Degenerating the Faith

Posted in books, classics, culture, current affairs, faith, society by jrahman on December 2, 2015

Being a Bangladeshi student in the urban west of the 1990s wasn’t easy.

Leaving home for a strange place — whether from a village in Maheshkhali for Dhaka University, or from Dhaka to foreign cities — is difficult for anyone in their late teens.  And at any age, student or otherwise, it is hard to move to a city.  Cities, metropoles that are cosmopolitan, dense with information to overload all the senses, and yet a depressing place where you are likely to be all alone amid the teeming multitude.  You seek to belong, because you find solace as part of something that is bigger than your mundane existence.


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Posted in books, comedy, culture, Drama, romance, sci-fi, thriller, TV by jrahman on October 6, 2015

I wrote about television waybackwhen, and tried to read philosophy even earlier.  Considering vision and philosophy translate similarly in Bangla, it’s only natural that I would pick up Everything I Know I Learned from TV: philosophy for the unrepentant couch potato at first sight.  And I read it in on weekend nearly a decade ago.

Anyone who likes to watch TV and read books should get this little gem.  Let me just note the shows and ideas covered.


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Recipe – duck vindaloo

Posted in culture, food by jrahman on December 28, 2014

Apparently the Portuguese used pork, which for obvious reasons I have not tried.  But the British liked duck.  Not sure when and how the Sylhetis turned it into a beef dish, but I like duck.

Soak a dozen or so dried red chillies* in hot water for 20 minutes, then drain and then grind using a mortar-pestle (yes, you can use a food processor, but I like mortar-pestle).  Add a dozen or so black peppercorn, one teaspoon cumin seed, one tablespoon coriander seed, and half a teaspoon fennel seed to the grind.  Once you’ve ground all that to a paste, add one tablespoon tamarind water and one tablespoon white vinegar.  Keep grinding until the paste is very smooth.

Cut the bird into 2cm cubes.  Place the cubes in a wide, flat dish and evenly coat with the paste.  Scatter one decent sized cinnamon stick, three bay leaves, three star anise and six cloves.  Stir really well.  Set aside for at least an hour, longer if possible.

Fry couple of medium-sized onions, chopped, in four table spoons of mustard oil in a heavy based pan.  Add the marinated bird cubes and cook over high heat, stirring constantly, for three minutes or so.  Add water to barely cover, salt and jaggery to taste, cover, and cook in low heat until cubes are meltingly tender.


*Use more if you want to turn up the heat, keeping in mind that the spices interact in a non-linear way in this dish.

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The East African diary

Posted in development, economics, travel, Uncategorized by jrahman on December 22, 2013

Notes from a trip (with some specifics omitted).


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