Monday, 19 November 2012

Wasabi Kobi?

Wasabi Kobi Koshimbir

Among the first batch of students in the training college Shishir and I established, was a boy named Wasabi. He had joined after the term started, so I hadn’t handled his enrolment forms. For some weeks I thought his real name was Wasabi- how was I to know? We hadn’t yet become experts at distinguishing between Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese names and faces- any further than this and I traipse into typecasting…

Wasabi was a small but sharp, irrepressible boy, full of energy and with a dry sense of humour.  Every time I addressed him by his name, usually to indulgently or exasperatedly ask him to stop being naughty, disruptive, sit down or shut up, a snigger would slowly travel up and down the aisles of the class rapidly accelerating into jeering and the boy would go red in the face. Wondering why everyone teased him so much over his name, I asked a colleague – only to learn that Wasabi was not his real name. I still hadn’t got the implication, so was told that wasabi was the name of a hot Japanese sauce and Wasabi got the nickname, as he was piquant as!

The revelation hit me like wasabi in the nose. I burned at the bullying happening right under my nose, but more so at my ignorance! 

Well, that set me marching right back into the class and as it coincidence would have it, we were doing a basic communication module titled "Work in a socially diverse environment”- and I was facilitating the class as well as learning heaps myself. There was so much to learn about and to be aware of.

We were scared of calling anyone ‘young’ or ‘old’.  Terms used casually hitherto had to be re-examined if they amounted to name-calling, actions such as teasing or jesting could border on bullying.  The use of the masculine third person singular pronoun to indicate generic pronouns appeared to exclude or marginalise women, so various composite words and neologisms like s/he, he/she and even ‘they’ were used in a war on grammar. 

And ‘impaired’ and ‘challenged’ became new suffixes.

New fad? A social necessity to minimise social and institutional discrimination or offence? I had to find out. If only to avenge the years of merciless teasing for being ‘big’ or ‘horizontally challenged’ by loved ones and unloved, unloving ones.

Now I was on a mission to correct everything and anyone in my path. I revised all polices and procedures of the school purging them of the third person singular masculine pronoun that referred to students and teachers. Out went the practice of noting nicknames of international students on the official attendance sheets and result records. This was actually the best part of the exercise.  I didn’t mind learning to pronounce their names, as I was happy they were making an effort to pronounce mine!  Also, I used to feel sorry for those poor lost souls hitting a nadir of homesickness in the first month or so after coming to Australia, especially when they were rechristened – Elvis, Ozzy, Ringo and yes, I had even come across bovine names such as Bluebell and Buttercup.

But even in this decade, political correctness has met its nemesis.  Being politically incorrect today is a matter of pride to for some who deploy such meliorating strategies to describe their unorthodox and perhaps honest stance.

Verbose as it may seem, politically correct, inclusive and Plain language saw us through our acclimatisation process, but occasionally I do feel a smidgeon of uneasiness about the extent of correctness.

Can something be too correct?

Like the time while touring Japan and my 14 year old showed us a classic Engrishism in a guest satisfaction survey that asked tourists very politely if they had found the food - not enough, enough or too enough?!

Speaking of Japan, let me go back to our friend Wasabi – er, no! to our dish of the day - Wasabi Kobi

Kobi in Marathi is cabbage. Looking to introduce some heat into the cool cabbage koshimbir (salad) one day, I impulsively added a pinch of wasabi powder to it.  


2 cups finely shredded cabbage (don’t grate, just slice with a very sharp knife – bruised cabbage tastes bitter and smells bad)

½ cup grated carrot

½ cup diced tomatoes

½ cup chopped onion (you can use spring onions as well)

1 tbsp chopped coriander

A pinch of wasabi powder or paste

1 tsp lemon juice

Salt to taste

A pinch of sugar

A tsp EVOO (optional) or go ahead and give it proper rai-jeera-hing tadka with dahi ki mirchi.


Toss everything together in a large bowl and chill and serve.

The koshimbir goes well with rice and curries, masala pooris or even with pasta!

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