The 111 dosas of Frankenstein Singh

Every evening, as you go for your daily constitutional, you pass a scrap metal yard. There, intact among the junk, an old Fiat car stands alone in a spot unto itself. You think to yourself, “There’s that ancient Fiat car again.”

One day, you notice a wheel missing from the old lady. You think, “That Fiat has a missing wheel.”

Two days later, both wheels on the far side are also gone, and the car has subsided on that end, leaving the vehicle anchored on a single, deflated wheel. “Oh no,” you think. “That old Fiat has lost three wheels now.”

But there’s worse to come. The following week, to your dismay, both left-side doors are stolen, exposing the interior. “Oh, poor Fiat!” you mutter. “What will they do to you next?”

The front and back seats are next to go, and soon enough, the steering wheel. Predictably, a month later, the remaining wheel and the entire body are gone except for the bonnet, which too disappears in a week. 

Here’s my question: will you think, “There’s a Fiat with body, wheels, steering, door, and seats missing.” Or will you more likely think, “There’s an automobile chassis. Wonder which car it belonged to?”

At which point of gradual dismantling does it become impossible to call a Fiat a Fiat? 

Let me add a twist of lime. If everything had gone except the body, would you have considered it a Fiat? If only the Fiat engine, the heart of the beast, had remained, would it have qualified as a Fiat?

You could do the same with any other object. For instance, try it with your desktop computer. Remove the keyboard, the trackpad, the mouse, the OS, the apps and so on, one component at a time. Ask yourself when it would become impossible to call it a computer anymore.

All of which brings me to Frankenstein Singh in his red turban, spokesperson of Amritsar’s outrageous Dosa Crush, named like a multiplayer online game, and metastasising rapidly across the Hindi belt. After murdering and dismembering the humble South Indian dosa, he has re-emerged with 111 terrifying new dosas by grafting bits and pieces of every cuisine known to man.

Dosa Crush raises an existential question: how many components of a dosa can you subtract or replace before it remains a dosa in name only?

If you were South Indian, as I am, you’d know that it’s actually dosai, derived from an earlier Sanskrit word, dosaka. We can fight over whether it existed as a soft, rice flour pancake in 1st century Tamil Nadu or was born in 12th century Udipi as a sunset-brown, circular thing made from a rice-urad batter. Food historians argue about such things but we may all agree that we recognise a dosa when we see something crisp and round rolled into a geometric shape—a cylinder, a cone, a triangle—with or without a savoury potato stuffing. 

It takes a borderline berserk Punjabi chef devoted to the doctrine of ki-pharak-painda to declare open season on the dosa and take it to dizzying heights (or depths) where no one before has dared go. In this orgy of shameless creativity, all condiments and spices are equal, mayonnaise may marry Schezwan sauce and call itself chop suey, and desi ghee and dhaniya are added after all other spice mixtures known to man have been heaped on.

I have watched in fascinated horror as the chef at their Nagpur branch assembled the Fire Dosa. After spreading a giant batter circle, he added butter, Schezwan sauce, chilly sauce, mayonnaise, tomato ketchup and liquid cheese, followed by supposedly signature spices traditionally handed down from father to son. Then came chopped chillies, onion, capsicum and tomatoes, mandatory dhaniya, a lot of paneer, corn—and finally a shower of grated cheese, lots of it. This exuberant free-for-all is cooked on top of the dosa but finally scooped up and poured into an earthenware pot—matka—adorned, we are told, like a bride, with long cheese strands. The dosa, peeled and rolled into a cone, is inverted into the pot’s mouth. 

And there you have it: the Matka Dosa.

Also available are 110 other riotous combinations, including, the Janak Janak Payal Dosa; the Pav Bhaji Dosa; the Maggi Cheese Dosa; the Lay Mayo Dosa, the French Fries Dosa, the Spring Roll Dosa, the Ghotala Dosa and the Apna Dosa.

If you have a soft spot for Chinese things, your dreams too will come true. The American Chopsuey Dosa, featuring an Indian variant of chopsuey; the Manchurian Dosa; the superior Paneer Manchurian Dosa; the Schezwan Dosa; the Paneer Schezwan Cheese Dosa. Needless to say, to be safe everything is smothered with Amul cheese at the end. 

Well, at least the dosa batter part is as per the original, you say. Right? Wrong. Punjabis are not accustomed to batters of rice and urad. So Frankenstein Singh has gone straight for the jugular and created an unheard of batter with besan (chickpea flour) and sooji (semolina).

Ki pharak painda?

You can reach C Y Gopinath at cygopi@gmail.com

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The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper

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