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The return of thali

The greatest joy of eating a thali meal is that it allows the diner to compose his own symphony of tastes and take delight in arranging the course-wise sequence as per preference, like bespoke tailoring.

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There was a time when almost everyone in India ate out of a thali. The word derives from thaal, a large circular tray, and has some connection with thal/sthal, a place. This is where food was traditionally “placed” for consumption. It was a paatra (literally a vessel or container), deriving from the Sanskrit word patra, meaning a leaf. The earliest thali was obviously fabricated with leaves. The biodegradable pattal and the banana leaves commonly used as a plate in southern and coastal India remind us of this lineage. Times change, and so do our eating habits. Indians gave up metallic thalis and adopted plates of porcelain, melamine, plastic, and stainless steel. They also stopped sitting cross-legged on the floor or on low stools and eating with their hands. Thali was slowly erased from our memory. For the present generation, it has become synonymous with a specific set meal.

Thali meals are prefixed with geographical indicators or a particular community tag. Gujarati, Jain, and Madrasi thalis are encountered all over the land. Gujarati thali is vegetarian, as is the Jain one, which adheres to even stricter commandments, eschewing garlic, onion, roots, and tubers that grow underground. The Madrasi thali is also vegetarian and comes in two versions: limited and full meals. Catering to North Indian patrons, the Udupi restaurants from Karnataka lost no time in introducing a North Indian thali with paneer, chhole, mah di daal, and a choice of bread: tandoori roti, paratha, or kulcha.

In recent years, the non-vegetarian South Indian thali has made a strong debut. Karaikudi-Chettinad recipes from Tamil Nadu and delicacies from Syrian Christian or Mopla Muslim repertoires in Kerala have won a small but loyal clientele. Andhra Pradesh took the lead in showcasing its ultra-hot meat and exceptional seafood in its regional thali. Restaurants like “Oh Calcutta” and “6 Bally Gunj” have popularised culinary classics from East (present-day Bangladesh) and West Bengal with tantalising menus that include fish, fowl, and flesh. The array of thalis that we can choose from is bewildering, with prices ranging from twenty rupees to a thousand times more.

The roadside kiosks and pushcarts sell a set thali with two parathas, dahi, and achar or three puris and sabzi for 20–30 rupees. Add a fiver and you could have a more substantial meal of four rotis, half a plate of chawal, two vegetables, and dal. In between, there are other options: kadhi chawal, rajma chawal, chhole kulche, and veg paneer biryani. At the other extreme are multi-starred eateries that offer a unique fine dining experience to their guests foreign. The Taj group was the first to introduce de lux thali in their speciality Indian restaurants a few decades back. There has been no looking back since.

From time to time, a curated thali strives to take on the degustation of classy European eateries. The prices are deterring even for the well-healed Rs. 7,500 excluding the wine pairing. If you like to tipple as you nibble that the bill may well soar to stratospheric heights of Rs 15,000 + without gratuities. There are compensations. The dishes you eat off of are made of silverware or bell metal, at least with gold-plated cutlery. Some of the dishes in curated thalis are rarely encountered in the public domain. At the Marwar-Mewar-Malwa fest at the Oberoi Delhi, Kr. Hemendra Singhji of Bhaisoragarh unveiled Hari Mirch ka Maans, Safed Kathhal, Shikar ke Alu, and Malwa Gosht, the rustic, robust ancestor of the much-hyped Lal Maans.

Some time back, a TV channel launched a travel come food show titled “Utsav Thali,” hosted by celebrity chef Kunal Kapur. The programme explored different regions of India to rediscover forgotten thalis (vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian), each with a distinct identity and allure of its own. From Trami in the Valley of Kashmir to Bohri thaal in Gujrat and the sadya spread on a banana leaf, it was a veritable mouth-watering feast for the eyes.

The greatest joy of eating a thali meal is that it allows the diner to compose his own symphony of tastes and take delight in arranging the course-wise sequence as per preference, like bespoke tailoring. The katori (small bowls) represent a wide chromatic spectrum that, most of the time, gives a clue to their taste and pungency of spices. Some items are hot while others are at room temperature or even cold.

Ratika and Richa, two enterprising Marwari sisters from Jaipur, have come up with the fascinating idea of shrinking the thali into a pocket-friendly “platter” that reminds one of the table d’hote price-fixe meals. The Cauldron Sisters, as they like to call themselves, have assembled or created some unusual thalis: the Parsi thali and the Banarasi thali. The platters, priced between Rs. 250-500 come to the table in a handcrafted basket adorned with a piece of handwoven fabric, with the edibles in clay pots.

The Thali continues to evolve. Those in search of the Thali Holy Grail can look forward to taste bud tickling multi-sensorial delights on this trail. Is this trend going to have an impact on the preparation and presentation of Indian food, or is there a twist in the tale awaiting us?

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‘Super Sniffer’ dog squad to protect Namibian cheetahs

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‘Super Sniffer’ dog squad to protect Namibian cheetahs

A five-month-old German Shepherd ‘Ilu’ is under training at Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force’s (ITBP) National Training Centre for Dogs to join the ‘Supper Sniffer’ squad in Madhya Pradesh. ‘Ilu’ will soon be deployed in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park to protect the recently released Namibian cheetahs from poachers.
She is among the six dogs that are being trained to protect the wildlife at various national parks of the country.
After the completion of the basic training for three months and an advance training for four months will help instil qualities like obedience, sniffing and tracking skills. The canines will get deployed on the job from April next year.
During the training, the dogs will be trained to detect tiger and leopard skins, bones, elephant tusks and other body parts, bear bile, Red Sanders, and several other illegal wildlife products.
Super sniffer squads trained at this camp have been deployed in national parks in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.
“Dogs develop an unbreakable bond with their handlers that makes them excellent in their job,” said Sanjeev Sharma, handler of Ilu, who is currently employed with the forest department at Kuno National Park.
Sharma further said that Illu is like a child to him. She was just two months old when he picked her here for training. As per the norms, dogs stay with the same handler from day one till their day of retirement.
“Ilu is not supposed to protect cheetahs because they can protect themselves, she will be deployed on the periphery of the national park along with forest guards to protect cheetahs and other animals from poachers,” said Sanjeev.
Ishwar Singh Duhan, Inspector General of Basic Training Center of Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force (BTC-ITBP) in Panchkula said that they are providing specialized training to the dogs that are to be deployed at Kuno National Park.
“The dogs will be trained to detect tiger skin and bones during the specialized training course. These dogs are being trained by us in collaboration with TRAFFIC (a wildlife trade monitoring network) and WWF-India (World Wide Fund for Nature India),” he said.

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IAF’s first woman SUKHOI-30 FLEET to take on China along LAC

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IAF’s first woman SuKHOI-30 FLEET to take on China along LAC

Amid the ongoing military deployment along the China front, Indian Air Force’s only female Weapon System Operator (WSO) in the deadly Sukhoi-30 fighter fleet on Tuesday said pilots in the eastern sector were ready to respond to any eventuality in the area and prove their mettle in real operations.
The fighter aircraft operations of the Su-30 fighter aircraft has been made more lethal with the induction of new weapons and electronic warfare systems. “Being part of any actual operation is what every fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force trains for because that is where we would get to show our mettle. Our pilots from various bases in the eastern sector are ready to respond in case of any eventuality, the women pilots said in Tezpur forward air base close to the China border in the eastern sector.
We are always ready for any kind of tasks and challenges that may come upon us,” Flight Lieutenant Tejaswi said during an interaction at the forward base.
The WSOs or wizzos are specialist officers required to fly in the rear cockpit of multirole Su-30 fighter aircraft and handle the sensors and weapons to be fired by the aircraft at enemy targets.
On being asked about how she felt about the deployment along LAC, Flight Lieutenant Sakshya Bajpai, “What runs through, our minds is not very different during demanding times because such operations are an execution of what we practice on a daily basis.”
Asked about the experience of fighter pilots during the multiple joint Army-Air Force joint operations during the recent wargames, another Su-30 fighter pilot said the experience of flying during these wargames was always very thrilling as it helps pilots to prepare better for carrying out actual operations.
“The training missions help us to get oriented and help us to get ready for any contingency and live up to our motto ‘Touch the Sky with Glory’.”

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8 lakh tuned into India’s first SC live streaming proceedings

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Supreme court

In a landmark moment in the history of the Indian judiciary, the Supreme Court on Tuesday live-streamed on YouTube its proceedings for the public to watch.
The proceedings were watched by more than eight lakh viewers. This step will go a long way in overcoming the barriers of distance and will provide citizens from every nook and corner of the country opportunity to watch the Supreme Court proceedings, said a statement issued by the Supreme Court.
It further stated that this is a humble beginning and the “attempts will now be made to live-stream proceedings in all important matters” until live-streaming of proceedings becomes the order of the day.
“Three Constitution Benches in Court nos. 1, 2 and 3 of the Supreme Court of India were sitting today simultaneously and the proceedings in these three Courts were being live streamed through YouTube and other T.V. Channels. Statistics show that more than eight lakh viewers watched the proceedings before the three Constitution Benches,” said the Supreme Court.
The decision to live stream the proceedings of the Constitution benches was taken by the Full Court on 20 September 2022 and soon thereafter trial runs were undertaken by the Registry.
The technical support teams ensured that the live streaming was without any obstruction or difficulty and was completely seamless, the statement added.

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Anger over F-16 deal with Pakistan: US rushes to placate India

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Anger over F-16 deal with Pakistan: US rushes to placate India

Hours after straight talk by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar about the US’ F-16 deal with Pakistan in Washington, the US has vowed deeper defence ties with India and committed to extend more support to it as ‘security provider’ in Indo-Pacific region amid growing China threat in what is being viewed by diplomats here as the Biden administration’s attempt to placate New Delhi. During bilateral talks with Jaishankar, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin sharply criticised China for “unprecedented provocations in the Taiwan Strait”. He also went on to lambast Beijing for its aggressive agenda across various geographies including the Indo-Pacific. Austin also assured to ramp up intelligence input sharing networks between the two countries to deal with any such challenge.  
Sources told The Daily Guardian that “the Pentagon chief spent a considerable amount of time during the meeting lashing out at China.” Austin said that “We are positioning the US and Indian militaries to operate and coordinate more closely together than ever.” This was another significant statement from the US Defence Secretary vowing deeper defence ties with India amid New Delhi venting anger over Washington’s F-16 deal with Islamabad. Sources said that the US pledging to enhance ties with India to thwart China’s challenge is a welcome step but, at the same time, the Biden administration must not supply arms or weapons to Pakistan whose nexus with terror organisation is no secret. The US is well aware that Pakistan based terror organisations are threat not only to the region but to the other parts of the world. “Supplying Pakistan jets will ultimately weaken the joint war against terrorism as a terror sponsor country is being strengthened,» say officials.    
Sources further said that Jaishankar apprised Austin of these views on Pakistan in the backdrop of the F-16 jet deal. “India will continue to highlight its concerns over the US-Pakistan defence deals like this in future,” sources told TDG, adding, “India cannot approve of Washington equipping Islamabad with weapons, even though it continues to cooperate with New Delhi in countering Beijing. It cannot take cover of its cooperation to counter China to help another problem creator Pakistan,” a diplomat says. 
Earlier, at a book launch function in Washington, Jaishankar expressed displeasure over the US’ approval this month of a US$450 million package to maintain and upgrade Pakistan’s F-16 fighter jets.“For someone to say, ‘I am doing this because it is all counterterrorism content’, and so, when you are talking of an aircraft like a capability of an F-16 where everybody knows … where they are deployed and their use, you are not fooling anybody by saying these things,” Jaishankar said in a veiled criticism of the Biden administration’s decision.
During the opening remarks in Washington, the Pentagon Chief also recalled his recent call with Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and said that the defence partnership between India and the US is going strong and strength to strength. According to sources, during that telephonic conversation, Rajnath Singh had also conveyed India’s concerns related to the American sustenance package for Pakistan’s F-16 fleet.  
Jaishankar on Saturday concluded the high-level United Nations General Assembly debate in New York. The EAM was in New York from September 18 to 24. Now he is in Washington in concluding part of the visit. 

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Shinzo Abe shall live on in hearts of millions, Modi at state funeral

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shinzo Abe shall live on in hearts of millions, Modi at state funeral

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday attended the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Nippon Budokan Hall in Tokyo.
Lauding former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday that Abe was a great leader and a phenomenal individual who strongly believed in India-Japan friendship.
“When I was in Tokyo earlier this year, little did I imagine I would be back for the solemn programme of former PM Abe’s state funeral. He was a great leader, a phenomenal individual and someone who believed in India-Japan friendship. He shall live on in the hearts of millions!” PM Modi is in Tokyo to attend the State funeral of the former Japanese PM which was held today at Nippon Budokan in the presence of several top world leaders.
After attending the State funeral, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Akie Abe, wife of Shinzo Abe at Akasaka Palace and conveyed his condolences on the tragic loss.
“Following the State Funeral, PM @narendramodi had a private meeting with Mrs. Akie Abe at Akasaka Palace. PM recalled his fond memories with “Abe San” and conveyed his heartfelt condolences on this tragic loss,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi tweeted.
PM Modi also met with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida and conveyed his deepest condolences on the demise of former Prime Minister Abe.
“Prime Minister also had a brief interaction with PM Kishida to reiterate his condolences,” Bagchi added.
“The two leaders had a productive exchange of views on further deepening bilateral relations. They also discussed a number of regional and global issues,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.
Both leaders renewed their commitment to further strengthening the India-Japan Special Strategic and Global Partnership and working together in the region and other international groupings.
The Prime Minister was seen along with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the funeral.

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Who is real Shiv Sena? SC leaves it to EC to decide

Ashish Sinha

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Who is real Shiv Sena? SC leaves it to EC to decide

The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Election Commission of India (ECI) to decide on rival claims made by groups led by Uddhav Thackeray and Chief Minister Eknath Shinde on which faction is the real Shiv Sena.
A five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud declined to stay proceedings before the Election Commission on the Shinde group’s claim for recognition as the ‘real’ Shiv Sena. The bench also comprising Justices M.R. Shah, Krishna Murari, Hima Kohli and P.S. Narasimha rejected the plea of the Uddhav Thackeray group seeking a stay on proceedings before the EC till the Supreme Court decides on the main issue pending before it.
“We direct that there would be no stay of the proceedings before the Election Commission of India. Accordingly, the Interlocutory Application is dismissed,” the bench stated in its order after a day-long hearing.

The ECI will now also look at the issue of allotment of Shiv Sena’s traditional bow and arrow symbol of the party.
Earlier, the apex court had verbally asked the poll panel not to take any precipitative action on the issue.
Thackeray group had filed an application before the top court seeking direction to restrain the Election Commission from deciding the claim raised by the Shinde faction for recognition as the official Shiv Sena party.
During the hearing, Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Thackeray group, argued that Shinde has incurred disqualification as his various acts amount to voluntary giving up of the party membership under Paragraph 2(1)(a) of the Tenth Schedule and also he has violated the party whip.
He said that allowing the Election Commission to decide Shinde’s claim can result in “irreparable damage” to the Thackeray group.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi also appearing for the Thackeray camp contended that “In whatever form the Shiv Sena exists today, they have no claim that they have merged with the BJP. You (Shinde group) have left the Shiv Sena, but you want the goodwill of Shiv Sena and so you won’t merge.”
Senior advocate Neeraj Kishan Kaul, appearing for the Shinde group, claimed that over 1.5 lakh party members had sent their representations to the Election Commission supporting the Shinde group.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Maharashtra Governor, told the bench that the Election Commission should be allowed to discharge its duties.
He said, “This is a political question and it is not the first time that such a split has happened and to decide which faction is the real party. It is the election commission which is equipped to look into this.”
The top court is seized of several petitions filed by rival groups of Shiv Sena in relation to the Maharashtra political crisis.
In August, the top court’s three-judge bench had referred to a five-judge Constitution bench the issues involved in the petition filed by rival groups of Shiv Sena in relation to the Maharashtra political crisis.

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