Paromita Vohra: Dial N for Neyappam

Jun 12, 2016, 06:44 IST | Paromita Vohra

My Malyali friend called me and said: "Hey, Google is crowdsourcing a sweet's name beginning with N for the latest version of its mobile OS, Android N. Guess what the Indian contender is?"

My Malyali friend called me and said: "Hey, Google is crowdsourcing a sweet's name beginning with N for the latest version of its mobile OS, Android N. Guess what the Indian contender is?"

Although, I really don't like sweets, and also don't like parochialism and hyper-patriotism, like many Indians I get a foolish Raj Koothrapalli sized grin when I see Indian cultural items in a friendly, but unexpectedly international, context. So, I enthusiastically entered the discussion, searching rapidly in my mind for an Indian sweet beginning with N. "Is it Neyyapam?" I asked, impressing my friend. This greedy knowledge is one of the byproducts of working with people from all over, besides being a cutter-outer of recipes from the Sunday papers which, yes milaad, I am, so sue me.

The Neyappam at Ram Ashray, Matunga
The Neyappam at Ram Ashray, Matunga

Some people (aka my North Indian relatives) will complain that Neyappam is not Indian enough, basically because they haven't heard of it and it isn't commonly eaten all across India. That's not true. Neyappam is a homey dessert, a compact, prim, doughnut without a hole, made with rice flour, jaggery, elaichi, grated coconut and ghee, in a special pan with precise pockets, like the moon's face, one for each Neyappam. Up North we make a version called gulgula, with wheat flour, raisins, sugar and sometimes, over-ripe blackening bananas, fried in oil like pakodas. Some form of this recipe is eaten all over the country. A friend has invented a 'modern' recipe, adding grated apple and cinnamon to the batter, which is quite delicious.

Anyway, what other sweet begins with N? Some people have lobbied for Nankhatai, which is really a biscuit, so, please. In a stellar Indian move, a special kind of whataboutery, some people have tried to subvert the situation by offering Naan as an option. Perhaps it is in the hope that the people who, you know, own Google, will not be able to guess that this is not actually a sweet, and then maybe they can be accused of typical Western misrepresentation or misappropriation or whatever miscellaneousation of Indian culture on a slow news day.

I'm disappointed that the media did not rally the citizenry around to vote on this. But the Kerala government did exhort all Indians to push, push, push via its Twitter handle. However, we all know, the baby that emerges probably won't be called Neyappam. My Malyali friend's cousin, a true karmayogi, voted but said to her manfully: Nutella will probably win.

Spoken with the stoicism of one who probably already had his hopes for Laddoo dashed by Lollipop. The day upstart Nutella is announced, the skies will surely pour down in grief. We will drown our sorrows in hot-sweet Neyappam or gulgulas, which go well with rain, and steel ourselves for a long wait. Because there is no Indian sweet that beings with O. P for Peda is a possibility but my Malyali friend spoke my feelings out loud when she said, I will not upgrade my OS to Peda if it comes.

So, we must wait, for R, when a case will be made for Rasgulla. This may come to naught because Bengalis and Odiyas will start fighting about who invented it, scaring the rest of us (even quarter-Bongs like me), opening a small door for my preferred candidate: Rabdi is coming.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

The views expressed in these columns are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.

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