The common binding factor in India between submarines, strategists and scientists appears to be the indigenous, handmade, earthy, culinary delight, the ‘Samosa’. Be it at the inner sanctum-sanctorum of any high security establishment, the cramped submarine wardroom or the corridors of the Submarine Training School where the greenhorn is taught the delicate art of devouring Samosas, to the operations rooms of military facilities, this sumptuous, crunchy and superlatively delightful tasty Samosa in a variety of art forms is omni-present as a universal snack to pleasure the hungry palate. In fact, World Samosa Day is celebrated on 05th September every year and the day is solely dedicated to this crunchy, oily snack. Be it any time of the year, whether summer, winter or rainy season, samosas are our saviours. This dish directly touches the soul and brings a lot of happiness. The best way to enjoy it is with a hot cup of tea or coffee.
With the likely extinction of “Poories, Parathas & Pakoras” in the Army sooner than later in order to reduce obesity, the very existence of the Samosa in the Navy now lies in question…
Events bear testimony to the fact that technology has often been thrust upon India repeatedly in the past, whether it was in the form of ageing frigates of the Royal Navy, or other ships and submarines of Russian origin. Even in the case of the Samosa, it actually originated in Central Asia in the 10th century in its original form called the Sambosa. It was only in the late 13th or the 14th centuries that it found its way into India through traders and merchants involved in trade. Sambosas are a popular entrée, appetizer, or snack in the local cuisines of the Arabian Peninsula, Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, the Mediterranean, Indian sub-continent, the Horn of Africa, East Africa, North Africa, and South Africa even today. The Indian Samosa largely remains the same even today with stuffing as it was introduced in the 13th century with the only addition from the original that it is often accompanied by a mint chutney.
Military leaders have always been confronted with the conflict between use of lessons learnt from previous campaigns and employment of new technology and strategies. With the likely extinction of “Poories, Parathas & Pakoras” in the Army sooner than later in order to reduce obesity, the very existence of the Samosa in the Navy now lies in question as it passes a diktat to reduce serving of fried snacks at social gatherings. A prospect likely to cause extreme gloom and send ripples within the submarine, scientific and strategic communities as all these remain intertwined.
Human nature tends to resist change, always wanting to stay with the familiar. Hence traditional and institutional thinking often makes one don mental blinders which reinforces proclivity. Very often we have read in history and practically seen too that despite realistic experience on ships, submarines or aircraft, leaders tend to have fixed ideas about operational strategy like whether to serve Samosas to the visiting Admiral or some other snack: as put across very lucidly by an old sea dog recently, that, “Senior officers only have opinions, whereas, the real ideas germinate from the junior officer”. In this case, we need to quickly evaluate strategies and search for an alternative to the revered Samosa, as banishing it figuratively from the Navy, may be an idea that has germinated from the higher echelons but not likely to be an option cherished by the fun loving lower echelons.
This takes me to the confines of my wardroom on the submarine during my junior days. It was common knowledge that Samosas could not be made onboard by the chefs due to the frying involved. So the method devised by the chefs and stewards was to deep freeze the Samosas prior to sailing out and then just bake them before being served. I can’t imagine the pleasure we got in eating Samosas at sea sometime into the third week of our sea sortie.
On one such occasion, when I was briefly the Base Commander of a Submarine Base, a conference was held on the eve of the Flag Officer’s inspection by the Commodore in command. The minute by minute program of the visiting staff was being chalked out and every department was being given duties and responsibilities to showcase the operational readiness of the Base in providing support to our submarines dependent on us. As each departmental head jotted down his points with alacrity, I observed that they had missed out the seaman branch points. I was quick to ask, “Sir, what about my department”? To which the answer came, “You don’t have to worry, just make a variety of Samosas stuffed with kheema or paneer.” I immediately said that the plain and simple Samosa may not be the right snack for the visiting Admiral and that some other innovation similar to it like the momo or dimsum could be served. I got a steely glance of reprimand accompanied with the words, “Just do as I say and serve Samosas”, he further added that “We know that he loves this simple snack”. In fact, I was told that the outcome of the inspection could well depend on the size, shape, taste and flavour of the Samosa served.
As the discussions took a turn for the worse, the Canadians having studied our psyche produced the Samosa as a diplomatic weapon to cool our heated ongoing discussions…
We now jump a few years into the future to a boardroom setting, where the meeting on important issues pertaining to submarine launched ballistic missiles was in progress. I was on the uniformed side of the table facing the civilian scientists side having heated discussions on the forthcoming missile firing. Amid all those serious deliberations on missile strategy and launch modes/ codes leading to a high decibel barrage by both sides, when appeared the magical Samosa as a snack into the room. The immediate effect this had on the gathering was amazing and tempers cooled down suddenly smoothening the aggressive stance being taken by both sides as all paused to savour the culinary delight.
Another couple of years later, we jump into the strategic level round table conference being held at Halifax on prevention of incidents at sea in the Indian Ocean mediated by the Canadians with representatives from the Indian and Pakistan Navies amongst some others from our littoral countries. The Q&A session was going to generate immense heat as both the rival navies had sent their best to argue their country’s points of view with yours truly as the only Indian present. The coordinator at the Joint Operations Room in the Maritime Rescue Centre at Halifax had warned me that there was a possibility of a heated exchange. As the discussions took a turn for the worse, the Canadians having studied our psyche produced the Samosa as a diplomatic weapon to cool our heated ongoing discussions between the Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi representatives. They had our region pegged right with the common Samosa.
Rather than banning the Samosa just to keep up with the current trend, it would be more fruitful to jointly evolve an alternative and advanced evolved form of a technologically superior Samosa suitable to our very own needs and requirements. It is our attitude that requires changing, it took nearly six centuries to merely add just an accompaniment of mint chutney to the proverbial Samosa.
Tradition and innovation need not be seen at the opposite ends of the same samosa.
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