Centuries-old treat adds sweetness to India’s most colorful festival

Centuries-old treat adds sweetness to India’s most colorful festival
Gujiya, a hallmark of holi, is a crescent-shaped pastry filled with a soft and sweet filling like coconuts, cashews and khoya, or milk solids. (Unsplash)
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Updated 25 March 2024
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Centuries-old treat adds sweetness to India’s most colorful festival

Centuries-old treat adds sweetness to India’s most colorful festival
  • Millions of Indians celebrate Holi on Monday to mark the beginning of spring
  • Indian women spend hours in the kitchen to make the sweet and crispy treat known as gujiya

Patna, Bihar: As millions of people celebrate Holi, the festival of colors, on Monday, Indians are also serving the sweet fried pastry known as gujiya at their tables to mark the arrival of spring.

Crispy and flaky on the outside, gujiya is a crescent-shaped pastry with a soft and sweet filling including coconut, cashews and khoya, or milk solids. In India, the crumbly treat is a hallmark of Holi.

Every year, Holi starts on the evening of the last full moon in the lunar month of Phalguna. The festival that also symbolizes the triumph of good over evil sees people smearing bright colors on friends and family, lighting bonfires and dancing to traditional music.

It is also the flavors of gujiya that remind people of Holi festivities.

“Holi festival is incomplete without gujiya and will lose its charm if this sweet dish is not there,” Ambrish Kumar, a political journalist and food show host, told Arab News.

“This is a dish which until a decade ago was only prepared at home and was not available in restaurants.”

The sweet pastry varies in different states, each version with its own dough, fillings and names. While it is known as gujiya in the northern states like Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, people in other parts of the country have different names: it is pedakiya in Bihar, ghughra in Gujarat and somasi in Tamil Nadu.

Though there is no definitive history to gujiya or its association to Holi, Kumar said it may have been derived from the Turkish baklava or the Central Asian samsa, the predecessor to a samosa. While the baklava may have been brought by Muslim traders in the 13th or 14th centuries, samsa was likely brought by chefs employed in the kitchens of the Mughal Empire around the 15th or 16th centuries.

“Samosa came from the Arab world with the Mughals and it is filled with meat and fried in the same way gujiya is done … There is also a similarity between Turkish baklava and gujiya,” he said.

The preparation at home is what makes the dish important, Kumar added, as women would often make extra efforts to prepare the festive treat.

For 69-year-old Kanchan Mala, gujiya has been part of her Holi routine for decades.

“My mother introduced me to this dish when I was a kid and I have been making this dish every Holi for over 50 years,” Mala told Arab News.

Since her marriage in the late 1960s, Mala has been spending hours with other women in her extended family to make gujiya for Holi, as it was the only dish that they cannot buy in the market. But she noticed how much the times have changed now. 

“Girls are getting educated and professionally active, they don’t have time to spend hours preparing the dish. They now order the dish from outside,” said Mala, who is from Mokama town in Bihar.

“Despite the change, the primacy of gujiya remains intact in the festival. We still serve gujiya to our guests when they come to play Holi.”

Kiran Raj is also among those intent on keeping gujiya at the table for Holi, as she has prepared the dish for the last four decades.

“So long I am active, I will keep on making the dish during the festival,” Raj told Arab News.

“But whether you prepare it at home or buy it from outside, gujiya’s relevance during Holi will remain intact. Gujiya appears on the horizon with the onset of Holi and disappears with the festival. This is the tradition and it will continue.”


Mobile internet down, troops on streets as Bangladeshi students clash with police

Mobile internet down, troops on streets as Bangladeshi students clash with police
Updated 12 sec ago
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Mobile internet down, troops on streets as Bangladeshi students clash with police

Mobile internet down, troops on streets as Bangladeshi students clash with police
  • At least 11 people killed in violent clashes across Bangladesh’s main cities

DHAKA: Mobile internet services were down, businesses closed, and public transportation was disrupted across Bangladeshi cities on Thursday, as authorities ordered troops on to the streets amid deadly clashes with protesting students.
University students have been rallying to demand the removal of government employment quotas after the High Court reinstated a rule that reserves the bulk of jobs for descendants of those who fought in the country’s 1971 liberation war.
Under the quota system, 56 percent of public service jobs are reserved for specific groups, including women, marginalized communities, and children and grandchildren of freedom fighters — for whom the government earmarks 30 percent of the posts.
Clashes with police and government supporters began on Sunday after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina undermined the students’ cause by suggesting that they supported the “razakars,” or those who had collaborated with the Pakistani military, an enemy occupying force, during the 1971 war.
Since Wednesday, educational institutions, campuses and students’ dormitories have been shut across the country, forcing students on to the streets.
Tensions escalated early on Thursday and about 6,000 border guards were sent to assist police.
“Considering the present situation, we have deployed additional forces to maintain law and order, and protect the people’s lives and properties,” Inamul Huq Sagar, spokesperson at the police headquarters, told Arab News.
“During emergency situations, we always deploy an additional number of forces.”
Authorities have also shut down mobile internet to prevent further mobilization through social media, with Telecommunications Minister Zunaid Ahmed Palak telling reporters services “will be brought back to normal when the situation improves.”
At least 11 people have been killed and hundreds injured since the clashes broke out across Bangladesh’s main cities, according to local media reports.
Most of the violence took place in Dhaka, where students announced a “complete shutdown,” urging private sector workers and businesses to close operations for the day.
“The complete shutdown is a call from the students to the people not to go to offices, and businesses to remain closed. People will stay at home. All the students are on the streets now,” Umama Fatima, coordinator of Students Against Discrimination, one of the protest organizers, told Arab News.
“The protest is underway everywhere in the capital and across the country. In many places, police and the ruling party’s student wing, Bangladesh Chatra League, attacked the protesting students. As I heard, at least four students died in Dhaka on Thursday during clashes with police.”
More than a quarter of Bangladesh’s 170 million population is aged between 15 and 29. Unemployment is highest in this group, contributing 83 percent of the total jobless figure in the country.
The quotas for well-paid government jobs hit them directly.
Mohammad Nahid Islam, another Students Against Discrimination coordinator, told Arab News earlier this week that the protest was not seeking an end to the quota system, merely its reform, so that it continues to protect marginalized groups, but does not disproportionately distribute public service jobs prioritizing the descendants of the 1971 fighters.
“We are demanding the reform by reserving some quota for the underprivileged population,” he said. “We are demanding job recruitment on the basis of merit.”


Indonesian president secures UAE deal on new capital’s financial center

Indonesian president secures UAE deal on new capital’s financial center
Updated 5 min 43 sec ago
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Indonesian president secures UAE deal on new capital’s financial center

Indonesian president secures UAE deal on new capital’s financial center
  • Widodo awarded Order of Zayed for strengthening UAE-Indonesian relations
  • First phase of the new capital megaproject is scheduled for completion in 2024

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo secured a deal during his UAE trip to involve Dubai’s financial hub in the new capital project, Nusantara, his office said on Thursday.

Widodo arrived in the UAE on a two-day working visit on Tuesday and was hosted by the Gulf state’s president, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

The two countries agreed to “significant bilateral cooperation in various sectors,” Indonesia’s Cabinet Secretariat said in a statement, as it listed eight agreements signed during the trip, including in the areas of renewable energy, tourism ecosystems, payments systems, and the “MoU (memorandum of understanding) between the international financial hub Dubai International Financial Centre Authority and the Nusantara National Capital Authority.”

Southeast Asia’s largest economy is relocating its capital to Borneo island to replace the overcrowded and sinking Jakarta on Java island, with the $33 billion megaproject scheduled for completion in 2045.

The mammoth undertaking is expected to mostly rely on private investors, with government funding planned to cover 20 percent of the total expenditure.

“In the field of strategic investment, the UEA’s contribution is increasingly significant in the development of the Indonesian Capital City,” Widodo said on X.

While construction works are underway and the central government expected to begin operations in the new city in 2024, the new capital has begun work on its financial center area, where Indonesia’s largest state-owned banks — Bank Mandiri, Bank Rakyat Indonesia, and Bank Negara Indonesia — broke ground on their new corporate offices earlier this year.

The financial center will cover 260 hectares within the city’s broader business district.

Through the MoU between Dubai International Financial Centre and Nusantara Capital City Authority, Indonesia and the UAE are “forming a new framework to ultimately grow the two financial ecosystems,” DIFC governor Essa Kazim said, the UAE state news agency reported on Thursday.

“As the UAE and Indonesia collaborate and innovate to drive economic growth and social impact in both countries, DIFC as MEASA’s (the Middle East, Africa, and Southern Asia) global leading financial center, is perfectly positioned to facilitate significant opportunities by way of this strategic partnership,” he said.

The ambitious move to relocate the capital from Jakarta about 2,000 km away in the middle of a forest is a flagship project for Widodo, who officially launched it in 2019.

The first phase of construction is scheduled for completion in 2024, in what has been widely seen as the president’s attempt to seal his legacy before the end of his second and final term in office in October this year.

During the UAE trip, Sheikh Mohamed presented Widodo with the Order of Zayed for his efforts in strengthening UAE-Indonesian relations.

The order is the highest civilian honor in the UAE and is bestowed upon leaders and heads of state.

During Widodo’s second term, the countries signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in July 2022 — Indonesia’s first free trade deal with a Middle Eastern country.

“Building upon the close and enduring ties between the UAE and Indonesia, we explored opportunities to further expand our economic partnership,” Sheikh Mohamed said on X.

“I extend my sincere thanks to President Widodo for his tireless efforts during his time in office to strengthen the bonds between our two nations.”


British public were failed by flawed planning for COVID pandemic, inquiry finds

A person holds a placard with an image of former PM Rishi Sunak promoting the government’s “Eat out to help out” scheme.
A person holds a placard with an image of former PM Rishi Sunak promoting the government’s “Eat out to help out” scheme.
Updated 17 min 34 sec ago
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British public were failed by flawed planning for COVID pandemic, inquiry finds

A person holds a placard with an image of former PM Rishi Sunak promoting the government’s “Eat out to help out” scheme.
  • Britain recorded one of the world’s highest number of fatalities from COVID with more than 230,000 deaths reported by December 2023
  • Nation’s finances are still suffering from economic consequences

LONDON: Britain let down its citizens by leaving the nation ill-prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic because of significantly flawed planning and failures by ministers and scientific experts, a public inquiry concluded in a scathing report on Thursday.
Britain recorded one of the world’s highest number of fatalities from COVID with more than 230,000 deaths reported by December 2023, while the nation’s finances are still suffering from the economic consequences.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered an inquiry in May 2021, and its first report, which examined the nation’s preparedness for an outbreak, was damning.
“Had the UK been better prepared for and more resilient to the pandemic, some of the financial and human cost may have been avoided,” the report by the inquiry chair, former judge Heather Hallett, said in the report.
“The inquiry has no hesitation in concluding that the processes, planning and policy of the civil contingency structures within the UK government and devolved administrations and civil service failed their citizens.”
The inquiry found there had been a “lack of adequate leadership” with “groupthink” clouding expert advice. Ministers had not been given a broad enough range of opinions, and then had failed to sufficiently challenge what they did receive.
A flawed 2011 strategy, which had underpinned the nation’s preparations for such an emergency, had prepared for only one type of pandemic — influenza.
It was outdated, had focused on dealing with the impact of an outbreak rather than trying to prevent its spread, and had not taken into account the economic and social impact, the report said. That strategy was virtually abandoned on its first encounter with COVID.
“The Secretaries of State for Health ... who adhered to the strategy, the experts and officials who advised them to do so, and the governments of the devolved nations that adopted it, all bear responsibility for failing to have these flaws examined and rectified,” the report said.
Radical reform
Hallett made 10 recommendations, saying preparation for a civil emergency should be treated the same way as a threat from a hostile state.
“There must be radical reform. Never again can a disease be allowed to lead to so many deaths and so much suffering,” she said in her introduction to the report.
Her inquiry’s first module has only examined Britain’s preparedness, and later reports will provide assessments of the more politically charged issues of decision-making during the pandemic against a backdrop of widespread accusations of government incompetence.
Johnson himself was forced from office in July 2022, with revelations of parties during COVID lockdowns among the many scandals that ended his premiership. A parliamentary committee later concluded he had misled lawmakers over the parties.
Rishi Sunak, the finance minister during the pandemic who later became prime minister, was also fined for breaking lockdown rules at the time.
“We know that for lives to be saved in the future, lessons must be learnt from the mistakes of the past,” Brenda Doherty said on behalf of the campaign group COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK ahead of the report’s release.
“Sadly, nobody knows the true cost of the government’s failure to prepare as we do.”


Passenger train derails in India, killing at least 2 passengers and injuring 20 others

Passenger train derails in India, killing at least 2 passengers and injuring 20 others
Updated 35 min 2 sec ago
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Passenger train derails in India, killing at least 2 passengers and injuring 20 others

Passenger train derails in India, killing at least 2 passengers and injuring 20 others
  • Last year, a train crash in eastern India killed over 280 people in one of the country’s deadliest accidents in decades
  • In June, a cargo train rammed into a passenger train in the eastern state of West Bengal, killing nine people and injuring dozens of others

LUCKNOW, India: A passenger train derailed on Thursday in northern India, killing at least two passengers and injuring 20 others, a railroad official said. The cause of the accident is being investigated.
Naveen Kumar, a state relief commissioner, said rescuers and ambulances have reached the site of the accident.
The train was on its way to Dibrugarh, a town in northeastern Assam state, from the northern city of Chandigarh when it derailed near the town of Gonda, causing some coaches to overturn.
Television images showed scores of passengers standing next to derailed coaches waiting for rescuers.
In June, a cargo train rammed into a passenger train in the eastern state of West Bengal, killing nine people and injuring dozens of others. Investigators said the driver of the cargo train, who was among the dead, disregarded a signal and caused the collision.
Last year, a train crash in eastern India killed over 280 people in one of the country’s deadliest accidents in decades.
More than 12 million people ride 14,000 trains across India daily, traveling on 64,000 kilometers (40,000 miles) of track. Despite government efforts to improve rail safety, several hundred accidents happen annually, most blamed on human error or outdated signaling equipment.


North Korea launching more trash balloons: Seoul military

North Korea launching more trash balloons: Seoul military
Updated 18 July 2024
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North Korea launching more trash balloons: Seoul military

North Korea launching more trash balloons: Seoul military
  • This is the eighth round of trash-carrying balloons launched by Pyongyang since late May
  • In response to the trash balloons, Seoul has fully suspended a tension-reducing military deal

SEOUL: North Korea is launching more balloons believed to be carrying trash toward the South, Seoul’s military said Thursday, in the latest round of a tit-for-tat balloon war between the two Koreas.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North was “launching (suspected) trash balloons aimed at the South once again,” adding they were currently floating across the border.
“Citizens are advised to be cautious of falling debris. If you find any fallen balloons do not touch them and report them to the nearest military unit or police station,” it added.
Seoul city authorities issued an alert to residents Thursday, saying “a suspected balloon from North Korea is confirmed to have entered the airspace of Northern Gyeonggi province. Citizens should be cautious of outside activities.”
This is the eighth round of trash-carrying balloons launched by Pyongyang since late May.
The nuclear-armed North has already sent more than a thousand of the balloons south, calling it retaliation for ones carrying anti-regime propaganda floated northwards by activists south of the border.
In response to the trash balloons, Seoul has fully suspended a tension-reducing military deal and restarted some propaganda broadcasts from loudspeakers along the border.
It has also carried out live-fire drills in some border areas.
The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said last week that more “dirty leaflets” from South Korean “scum” had been found in the North’s territory along the border, warning they would pay “a very high price.”
Kim Yo Jong, a key regime spokesperson, went on to say that North Korean military personnel were “now making an all-out search, throwing into fire and disposing of the found rubbishes,” according to a statement from the official Korean Central News Agency.