Puttu, for the uninitiated, is steamed rice cake that takes different shapes based on the utensil mould one chooses to use. While traditionally the fluffy rice cake was steamed inside a scooped-out bamboo stem and adorned with grated coconut at either ends, today, the market has many convenient puttu moulds including the ubiquitous cylindrical ones as well as those shaped like a half-broken coconut shell.
Puttu also has variants, some stuffed with chicken, beef, what you may. When it comes to ingenuity in cuisine, Malayalis have a sparkling home-grown culture of ‘juggad’ that puts the Punjabis to shame. Traditionally savoured with chickpea or lentil curry or pulped with steamed or raw banana into a gleaming yellow lump, puttu also finds its way into contented bellies with pappadam and ghee. Juggad, again, at work.
There is no contending that puttu fetches instant resonance with the Malayali psyche. The trouble when it is served in-flight is that it can be outright messy. For starters, using fork, spoon or any such paraphernalia is not only cumbersome, it is a ghastly culinary crime. Puttu must be relished with fingers and signed off with a swift act of licking clean.
Now, picture this on board the Air India Express flight. As it is, Malayalis are arguably the most stereotyped of people in the world. We delight others with our extremes.
If the newly anointed Federal Minister of State for Civil Aviation, a Malayali nonetheless, believes that serving puttu will draw the masses into the fold of Air India Express, can he be more mistaken? Why not kappa (steamed tapioca) — once the state’s staple food — and beef curry, sir?
The joke that is doing the rounds is that if you board Air India Express to Kerala, the welcoming party has to dispatch three cars — one each to Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Calicut — and sad as it is to repeat — an ambulance to Mangalore. So much for the carrier’s flight safety and punctuality credentials!
The contention of Malayalis is not about what is served on board the flight; after all, we are known to travel with packed lunch, dinner and 4pm snacks — all for the three-hour flight. It is not uncommon to see Malayali passengers sit back, take out their meal of rice, fish curry and chutney, neatly stuffed into a steamed banana leaf, and gobble it down, as cabin crew members stare helplessly.
The issue, Mr Minister, isn’t food. The trouble is that you have given one more symbol to stereotype Malayalees.
Imagine the chuckle in the boardrooms of Air India Express in Delhi and Mumbai as they think of Malayalees, already derogated as Mallus, pining for puttu. Mr Minister, you just made us a Puttu Republic.
On the flip side, what would be interesting to watch is who gets to serve the puttu on flights. If it is an elaborate ploy to give more business to in-flight catering companies, this whole puttu-kadala appeasement has a bigger remit.
Mr Minister, to start with, if you really want Malayalis to flock to the carrier, simply serve us free-flowing beverage.
We have an invincible track-record there, supported by our spirited government, and rest assured, watch Air India Express take wings. Are you game for that?
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