Colours of life!

There’s a reason why we hail spring, why it’s so widely celebrated, odes written about its youthful exuberance. Spring is the season of hope, it’s all about celebrating rebirth or rejuvenation. Spring celebrates life. The fresh green leaves shooting out of branch browned by harsh winter, the colourful flowers blooming all over, the singing birds – the world seems to have awakened from the winter hibernation. Song of Spring is a colourful melody expressed so beautifully by none other than John Keats: 

And O and O,/ The daisies blow, / And the primroses are wakened;/ And the violets white/ Sit in silver light,/ And in the green buds are long in the spike end.

No wonder then Spring is blithely followed by lovingly playful Cupid. First, comes visiting Saint Valentine from the far West and we Indians paint the town red and pink to welcome him. Though many may not know who Saint Valentine is, Valentine’s Day has become the most important day on desi lovers’ calendar. It’s all about red roses and pink hearts or rather pink heart-shaped pastries and chocolates and trinkets and gifts followed by expensive dinners. Those already in love take a lot of pain to make their cherished one feel special. Those yearning for love, hope to find that special someone on Valentine’s day. While the florists and the bakers make hay, we are or imagine ourselves to be Cupid struck! Naysayers may cynically nod their head, but I feel great about dedicating a day to love. After all, love does make the world go around! 

Image courtesy Deccan Chronicle

Then comes our very own Holi that encapsulates the fun and frolic of Lord Krishna with his beloved Radha and his favourite Gopis. Though Holi also signifies the victory of good over evil, the triumph of Prahlada over the evil king Hiranyakashipu, it is the image of fair Radha playing with colours of love and passion with her dark mischievous lover Krishna in Braj Bhoomi (Vrindavan) that captures the popular imagination. Holi celebrates the many colours of love, the divine love of Radha Krishna – love of Krishna for his married distant relative Radha that is considered to be the epitome of love and adoration. Ironically, our society that frowns upon love that doesn’t fit into its narrow norm of caste, creed and morality, celebrates and embraces the divine love of Radha Krishna.

Even today, Holi in Vrindavan reflects the amorous love of Radha Krishna. It could be the Raslila’s being performed in every corner, the songs celebrating the Divine Love or gulal in so many colours, Vrindavan’s Holi does create an aura of mischievous, defiant love. Red, yellow, pink, purple and green gulal floating in the air create their magic. For Holi is all about celebrating love, the many colours of love and the many hues of life, shades that often leave us confounded. We so often witness during Holi red, yellow, green and purple coming together to create a hue that flouts all definition. Holi, the Spring festival, the festival of colours celebrates these varied defiant shades of love and life!

Food trails and many tales: Dishing wonders with waste

Zero Waste Cooking, the term is now in vogue. World has suddenly woken up to the fact that we waste a huge amount of food everyday and need to minimize it by changing our cooking style and eating habits. Average Americans waste 1 pound of food per person per day at the household level, according to USDA. I am sure we anglicized Indians with our penchant for western style fine dining are no better. But now suddenly the West has woken up to food waste and we Indians must toe the line and follow the trend! Therefore, we are bombarded with zero waste recipes, cooking styles and eating habits.

But, as a culture, didn’t we Indians always practice zero waste? Haven’t we laughed at our grandmothers and mothers for trying to squeeze the last bit from a toothpaste tube or pour the last drop of oil or ketchup from an almost empty bottle? And, when it comes to cooking with what many would toss out of the kitchen, we Bengali’s are the masters. We make yummy aloo ka chilka fry (aloor khosha bhaja), Chehki made with tender lauki chilka is a delicacy. We chop and put the stems of gobi in daal (khopir datar daal) that is both nutritious and delicious. The delicacies we make with the seed of ripe jackfruit and pumpkin seed are unparalleled. Kanchakolar khosha bata is a chutney that we make out of the chilka of green banana. There are so many more recipes where we use the so-called food waste and turn them into culinary delight!

Aloor Khosha Bhaja

Aloo is available in every Indian kitchen. Most of our dishes are incomplete without aloo. Use the potato peel or chilka for this quick recipe.

Image courtesy YouTube

Ingredients

1 cup potato peels, 1/2 tsp – poppy seeds, 1 tsp – vegetable oil, pinch of kalonji (nigella seeds), salt to taste

Method

  1. Wash the peels, bunch them together and roughly chop them.
  2. Heat oil in a wok and temper with nigella seeds. Add the chopped peel. Stir fry for 2 -3 mins on medium heat. Add salt and poppy seeds. Cook for another 2 mins, constantly stirring.
  3. Take it off fire and serve with steaming hot rice or with hot cup of tea.

Since a tiny virus has pushed the mighty human’s indoors, since we are forced to live with less and of many these ingredients may already be available in your kitchen, this is a good time to try out these recipes. Tea with aloor khosha bhaja should be quite a treat in the evening!

 Kanchakolar Khosha Bata 

Image Courtesy YouTube

Ingredients

  • 2 Raw Banana
  • 6 cloves Garlic
  • 1 Green Chilli
  • Salt to taste

Ingredients for seasoning:

  • 2 tablespoons Mustard oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kalonji (Onion Nigella Seeds)
  • 1 Dry Red Chillies

Steps

  1. Pressure cook the 2 raw bananas until soft. Once cooked, peel the skin. For this recipe we will be using the cooked and peeled skin and not the banana pulp (you can make a sabzi of your choice with raw banana).
  2. Blend the banana peel and the remaining ingredients into a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl and keep aside.
  3. In a small pan add the mustard oil. Once the oil is heated; add in the kalonji and the dry red chillies. Sauté on medium flame until the red chilies are roasted and browned then add in the peel paste and sauté on low heat for 2 to three minutes until the raw smell goes away.
  4. Serve the spicy and delicious Kanchakolar Khosha Bata with hot steamed rice or chapati.

Reclaiming Aadda – the lost art of a good conversation

The pleasures of growing up in a Bong joint family! Forever surrounded by Kaku, pishi, dida, cousins, so much pampering and conversations all around, storytelling, reading out to each other. I never lacked conversations growing up, till date nothing hooks me more than a good conversation. I miss those good old days, those conversations. Most of all I miss my kaku – a master story teller, a great conversationalist, in  whose room every evening would gather his friends and conversation would flow on art, literature, music, politics or football over cups of tea, moori makha, padad bajha or chop. There would be friendly banter, heated debates, enlightening dialogues with music playing in the background on the gramophone. My mom, and sometimes my pishi would heartily participate in the discussions. As a kid then I would sometimes peep in, take bite from my kaku’s plate. Though I couldn’t make sense of much of the conversation, I could feel charged atmosphere, the excitement around. Such was the magic of good conversation or Aadda!

Coffee Houser Aadda

The quintessential Bengali Aadda, that can be loosely translated as the art of conversation or discussion, probably emerged over a century ago when Bengali gentry (or bhodrolok) would congregate to discuss various issues ranging from art to politics to changing weather. Aadda, Coffee Houser Aadda, had a certain snob value about it. Prominent writers and thinkers would gather at a Coffee House talk about various existential and intellectual issues. Then there was Aadda in a drawing rooms or a living rooms, like the one in our family house.  Aadda, where boys of the neighbourhood gather on a staircase or parapet (rock), called Rockbaj Aadda, is considerably low brow. You wouldn’t want to be caught by your parents being part of Rockbaj Aadda.

Rockbaj Aadda

But no matter where the Aaddabaj (connoisseurs of Aadda) would gather, the spirit of Aadda, the free flow of conversation that was often intellectually stimulating, defies all definition. Usually a small group that could range from 3 to 10 people, Aadda could be dominated by one person or run into heated debates. It has been often said that these aimless Aaddas led to the downfall of Kolkata, once the intellectual capital of India. Maybe, or maybe Bengal fell from grace because Aadda lost its spirit somehow!

Aadda sessions in my kaku’s living room came to end with his untimely demise. I left home a few years after that. In college and university, we had our variants of Aadda, often literary discussion or idealistic talks about love and life ahead. Then real life happened, while struggling to fit into the real world, I did enjoy many animated conversations with my newfound friends over cups of coffee till wee hours. But people kept getting busier, drifting apart, conversations turned to long phone calls, online chats and somehow that spirit was lost. There was partying, there was pubbing and there was clubbing at the cost of a good conversation. Even families glued to their phone and social media forgot to talk.

Today, suddenly out of nowhere the world is inflicted by a novel virus that has pushed us indoors, shuts down pubs, clubs and malls. The term social distancing is suddenly in vogue. With nowhere to go we don’t have sassy pictures to post on social media, and the virus jokes and alerts are kind of getting on our nerves. While COVID is disrupting our lives, playing havoc with our schedule, maybe it’s giving us a chance to reconnect with our family and friends, revive the art of conversation. So why not use this family time as an opportunity to reclaim the magic of Aadda!

Khichdi – the delicious mish mash

Moong daler khichuri

Waking up to a rainy morning would always bring a smile to my face. Rainy day at school, playing in the rain, paper boats and Ma would make khichdi or khichuri as we Bongs’ call it, for lunch. Khichuri, served with maach bhaja (fish fry), jhiri jhiri aloo bhaja (crispy potato fry), begun bhaja (fried brinjal) or fried fish egg (Bengali version of caviar), topped with a spoonful of desi ghee, has been my favourite meal since. Khichuri and kosha mangsho (dry mutton curry) is a much awaited delicacy in Bengali households. But no matter what the accompaniments are, Khichuri has to be topped up with a spoonful of desi ghee, we Bongs prefer the flavourful cow ghee.

Khichuri or khichdi, a mish mash of rice, dal and sometimes veggies like aloo, matar and cauli flower, considered to be a humble meal in North India, is a feast for Bengalis. There are two popular variants of khichuri in Bengal – one with red masoor dal and the other made with roasted yellow moong dal. Masoor dal khichuri is usually made with onion, garlic, ginger and served hot on a rainy afternoon with all kinds of bhajas (fries).

Bhaja (roasted) moong dal khichuri is tempered with tej patta, jeera and other whole spices. We usually put aloo, matar, gobi and tamatar in moong dal khichuri. The same veggies along with beans or anything else that you fancy can be put in masoor dal khichuri as well. Moong dal khichuri is usually served as bhog during puja with a lavish accompaniment of labra (delicious and mild Bengali mixed veggie) or badhakopir torkari (cabbage curry), beguni (maida or corn flower coated brinjal fry), fried pumpkin and crispy aloo fry and chutney (made with tomato and dates). Relishing the cold moong dal khichuri with bhaja after pujo is an experience that I so look forward to.

Another variant of Khichuri is Neeler khichuri, cooked without haldi, that devotees of Lord Shiva in Bengal have every Monday of Sawan. I first had this khichuri at my masi’s place and enjoyed every bit of it. I also like the mildly flavoured North Indian khichdi, tempered with hing and jeera, served with dahi, achaar and papad. Though it is supposed to be a sick persons’ meal I can have it anytime. Be it healthy daliya ki khichdi that I often make or bland sabudana khichdi from Maharashtra, a staple when you are fasting in these parts, I love them all. Quite a khichdi fan I am!

Bisi bele bhaat

The South Indian variants of khichdi, Bisi bele bhaat in Karnataka and Pongal in Tamil Nadu, offer a different flavour. Though these are breakfast food in the South, Bisi bele bhaat and Pongal, served with dahi and papad make a tasty and nutritious meal anytime of the day. I am lucky to have a friend who often makes Bisi bele bhaat for me. It can be easily made with MTR’s Bisi bele bhaat masala. Though my friend usually gets the masala from Bangalore, you can check with the local MTR stores or you can try making your own masala.

Keema Khichdi is another awesome khichdi recipe that I plan to try some day. This aromatic Bohra delicacy is prepared with minced lamb, ginger-garlic paste, rice, moong dal and a melange of spices. Though its slightly time consuming this delectable khichdi is definitely worth a shot.

Love, Courtship, Dating, Tinder and more…

Love! The endearing emotion that survived centuries and generations. Once upon a time, men lost their kingdoms for love, forfeited their crown to be with the woman they loved. Battles were fought, cities were burnt down, lovers buried alive, yet love emerged triumphant! We embraced love, wooed our beloved, courted love, sometimes even knowing that it was doomed. So many beautiful poems and pieces of literature revolve around love and unrequited love.

As we move into the great 2020s, we continue to love and lose, we continue to woo. A lot however has changed with technology, with the world moving digital. Be it love or dating (modern equivalent to courtship), it has moved online. Instead of kingdoms and battles, young people often lose money to online frauds preying on love or loneliness of the generation now. First there were matrimonial sites, then came the dating apps which are now often referred to as ‘hook-up apps’. Technology is adding a new edge to these apps every day. So has love seized to exist, maybe it has in the way we once imagined it to be…?

I have once used these apps myself and was fortunate enough to meet somebody wonderful. But a lot has changed since then I am told. Stories of online dating that I hear about from my younger colleagues piqued my curiosity. 

I am talking to my 20-year-old colleague Riti Chakraborty on her experiences and views on love and dating.

  1. Why online? Don’t you meet young people offline?

It is not about being online. I like meeting new people in whichever way possible. Online dating sites streamline the whole process of meeting since I don’t go out often and socialise with other people, I don’t have the time.

  • Which are the popular dating apps now?

There are a lot of them. Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, Happn, OK cupid and the list goes on. My personal favourite is Hinge. Since it involves an extensive process of putting down prompts to simplify meeting new people, there is a lot of information available and it becomes easier to figure out various conversation starters.

  • Tell me about your experiences

I have had mixed experiences. I had not started online dating till a year back. In the beginning I had a hard time letting myself go and meet random, new people. However, some of the guys I had talked to, have remained friends till date. It got easier with time and I personally feel it has added to my self-confidence. Meeting new people, getting to know them has had an effect on me as a person and I feel I can talk easily to new people now.

  • I have heard about phrases like cat fishing and ghosting frequent associated with online dating. What do they really mean? Have you ever had such experience?

Online dating comes with its own set of random experiences. I have been ghosted, catfished, I have stood up boys, there is a lot to talk about. The one time I was catfished, I was supposed to meet a really cute guy and imagine my horror when a random person who looks vaguely like the boy I had been talking to, showed up! He couldn’t even speak proper English and was showing off his BMW for no reason. I stayed on for the first 15 minutes and had to put my perfectly healthy mother in the hospital (virtually) in front of him in order to get out of this debacle! It was a horrible end to my weekend.

  • Do you think it’s possible to find someone you want to be with through these sites?

I think anything can happen. People change all the time. I feel it is possible to meet someone I would want to be with through online dating. My last relationship started out on Instagram, so I can’t complain!

  • Sometimes online dating/chatting/sexting continue for months online. People are not interested in connecting offline. Why does that happen?

I honestly don’t know. It could be a number of things. Maybe they are insecure, or maybe they don’t want a physical relationship. It sounds absurd but many relationships also thrive virtually! I am not one of them, but I feel people who are not keen on meeting up physically just want someone to be there for them emotionally or mentally, and that’s the extent of their virtual relationship.

  • Your views on love and relationship.

I think the moment you declare ‘I have stopped looking for Love, I have stopped believing in Love, I do not want to be with anyone for a prolonged period of time’, love finds you. I have heard the same story from a number of my friends. The moment they stopped looking for love, they found someone worthwhile. On the other hand, relationships have become extremely flexible. There are polyamorous people who have multiple relationships at the same time, there are open relationships, there is the old school relationship, there are virtual relationships, relationships with 3 people at the same time, and so on and so forth. I think people just want their peace of mind, be it with one person or a few. The saying that ‘you cannot love 2 people at the same time’ is rapidly changing. My generation is more self-aware, more confident about themselves at the same time extremely dependent on other people. My own beliefs have changed over time, from being a one-man woman, to only wanting to date exclusively, to only talking and having fun with random people, I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I have not pinned my hopes down for a fairy-tale anymore.

  • Any advice, or word of caution for people seeking to date online

One should be extremely cautious of the people they talk to. Do as much background research as possible and check all their social media info. It becomes easy to spot catfishers and fake accounts once you get the hang of it. They have a certain way of talking, certain pictures etc that can be spotted with a little attention to detail. Online dating is fun and all but it can be a bit dangerous too. So a little caution and safety nets should always be at hand.

Love: Kal, Aaj aur Kal

Love is probably one of the most complex and endearing emotions! Love has been driving us since time immemorial. What haven’t we done for love? We have been silly, we have been brave, we have embarrassed ourselves, we have been petty, we have been generous, we have given it our all. No matter how badly we break our hearts, no matter how badly it hurts we manage to pick ourselves up. For, it is great to be in love, even if the subject of our love may not love us back with as much ardour. 

Falling in love! The first sight, the touch, the melody or that sound that stirs our emotion. When Romeo set eyes on Juliet or Ranjha on Heer, great love stories were made. Radha was drawn by the melody of Krishna’s flute. One image that made quite an impression on me is that of a young horse rider on a tempestuous night who seeks refuge in an old temple, encounters a beautiful maiden Tilottama there and loses his heart to her. This has been beautifully portrayed in the opening chapter of Durgeshnandini, an acclaimed Bengali historical romance by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay. While reading the novel as a teenager I wanted to be Tillomatta, to be loved and won over by the protagonist Jagat Singh.

The trepidation of falling in love has been so lyrically depicted by Rabindranath Tagore:

With the slightest touch and a few words / I sense the spring in my heart.

The addiction of Palash and Champa/ Leaves me reeling with the colors and tune of the spring.

Whatever comes close to my mind intermittently/ Paints the corners of it with dreams.

Swells the tune of anxiety whenever they drift far away/ I am left reeling all day with their sweet sounds like anklet rings.

From old temples and gardens, love moved to college campuses. In fifties and sixties, co-ed colleges helped cupid in scripting many a tales of love. The love stories then often started in a formal note as boys and girls rarely interacted with each other in those days. “During our college days girls would enter the class with the professor and would leave as soon as the professor walked out. We would address them as Miss,” recounts my dad. Yet so many of his friends married their college sweethearts.

Soon the magic of love melted away the formality and the stiffness. Love blossomed in college campuses and canteens. Office romance flourished. In college I would love to hang out in the canteen over coffee and samosas to be with the boy I fancied or just witness other love stories around me. Hanging out in the library together, walking hand in hand under starlit sky are some memories I will cherish forever. Though it’s those moments that matter now, the person seems to have faded in the background.

The bittersweet pangs of love! The wait for a letter or one brief phone call. Long distance calls were expensive then and telephone was kept in the drawing room ensuring that there was no privacy. Though the digital age away did away with letters and brought people closer in one sense, the pangs of love remain, or seem to have become more complicated.

Love sauntered from colleges to high schools, wandered around theatres, clubs and pubs, sometimes surprised us in lifts or corridors. One fine day, love decided to take the digital route. From college canteen and office parties dating moved online. Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and the rest brought the world to love’s feet. You could fall in love with anyone now, sitting in any corner of the world. Love letters gave way to chatting apps. At one time there were occasional tales of pen pals falling in love. Now there are so many tales of online love, many ending in heart breaks. Paradoxically enough, the digital world that brough us closer has also driven us apart. The endless chats and smart emojis come at the cost of real conversation. The digital persona often masks the real person creating a split.

The art of saying it right!

Courtesy sites.psu.edu

Saying what you want to say. Being understood or perceived the way you would like to be. Therein lies the challenge of communication and it’s much more than mere words!

Elated Arjun after winning Draupadi in a Swayamvara returned home to the potter’s cottage where Pandavas were living disguised as Brahmins. Yudhisthir, the eldest brother called out to their mother who was cooking and said, “Mother, see what we have brought today.” Kunti, without looking up replied, “Whatever it is, share it amongst yourself.”

Another instance from Mahabharata, where Guru Dronacharya was wreaking havoc on Pandavas with his divine weapons. Arjuna, the only one who could hold him, refused to fight his Guru. Dronacharya’s only weakness was his son Aswathhama. Wily Krishna asked Bheema to kill an elephant with the same name and then convinced Yudhisthir to twist the truth, “Aswathhama hatha (and then he murmured) iti Narova Kunjarova (don’t know whether it’s man or elephant).”

Courtesy Pinterest

These are fairly well-known instances of miscommunication. While the first one is unintended, the second instance is carefully thought through and deliberated upon. In the first case, Yudhisthir assumed his mother would look up from her cooking before responding, while Kunti assumed it would just be alms or a wild animal that the bothers had hunted down. Thus, Draupadi ended up with five husbands. The second instance led to the victory of Pandavas in the battle of Kurukshetra. History is full of such instances.

Courtesy CartoonStock

In today’s context, where everyone has an opinion thanks to social media, and fake news or misinformation can be spread at the click of a button, communication has become even more challenging. It’s important to understand and be aware that communication is not just about what we say, it’s about how we say and to whom it is said. Expressions, body language, tone – everything forms part of the communication. Basis how the words are said or delivered, the listener or the audience comprehends them. The same words can be understood and interpreted differently by different audience, sometimes the interpretations may be very different from what the speaker or the writer intended it to be. Years ago, in English literature class, while we were critically analyzing Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ our Professor humorously quipped, ‘Keats probably never even imagined that his poem would be open to so many different interpretations.’

Courtesy Frank and Ernest: Miscoomunication Comic Strips

An innocent statement can cause lot of damage if not addressed to the right audience. Remember Shashi Tharoor’s ‘cattle class’ tweet.  While ‘cattle class’ maybe a common enough jargon in the US, we sensitive Indians found it unacceptable. When you are a public figure or communicating in a public forum it is very important to understand and be aware of these sensitivities and nuances.

Today, technology has changed the whole game of communication. We live on social media where everybody is talking – expressing opinions, knowledge, wisdom or just showing off how cool their lives are. We often forget to listen, we forget the repercussions of the social media, the danger of exposing ourselves too much, of being interpreted in unfavorable manner. And what concerns me more is, while we are talking to everyone, we are forgetting to talk to the person next to us. Walking into a living room or a gathering where each person is focused on his phone or iPad is fairly common nowadays, especially among the younger lot.

I may be old fashioned, but nothing can replace a good chat with a friend over a cup of coffee or a heart to heart chat with a loved one. For it’s not just words, so much is said in between the words or even without. You can say so much just by looking into someone’s eyes or with a smile!!

Food trails & many tales: Intriguing flavours of Bohra Thaal

Food does so much more than just satiating our hunger. From a basic need that nurtures life, what we eat and how we eat has become an integral part of our culture and tradition. As civilizations evolved, and looking for food was no longer an everyday struggle, meals, at least on occasions, transformed into an art reflecting the very essence of a community and a region. Every cuisine is blended with history, values that our forefathers held dear and our own memories. Bohra Thaal or Bohri Thaal that offers an aromatic journey through Arab, Yemen and Africa blended with the spices from India, especially Gujarat, is a case in point. A part of Shiitism of Islam called Dawoodi, Bohras or Bohris in India are an affluent community residing mostly in Gujarat and Mumbai. The community is said to have arrived at the port of Cambay in Gujarat, from Egypt via Yemen. Their cuisine, and way it’s presented, canvases their diverse cultural heritage.

Thaal: image courtesy The Bohri Kitchen

Firm believer in the maxim, “The family that eats together, stays together” Bohras eat out of a thaal – one big platter with several dishes spread out that typically accommodates 8 people. “At one time the whole family would share a meal from one thaal, now it’s only during weddings and special occasions,” says my colleague and friend Dinaz who hails from the community.

Thaal is put on a tarakti (an elevated stand) placed on a square piece of cloth called a safra, laid out on the floor. Thaal should not be left unattended, so during a community meal, food is not served till all eight diners are seated. The portions served are just right for eight. Each dish is placed in the centre of the thaal and every member pulls his or her share. “During weddings we sometimes share a thaal with a complete stranger,” says Dinaz.

Image courtesy Indpaedia

“For us it’s very important to have our heads covered and hands washed both before and after the meal. During any festivities or when guests are invited home, once everyone is seated, the host goes around with a chelamchi lota (basin and jug) and washes the guests’ hands,” adds Dinaz.

While researching about this unique style of sharing meals I came across an interesting blog post by Dawoodi Bohra Women’s Association for Religious Freedom. Hailing thaal as the nucleus of Bohra community the post states that this style of eating traces back to the very origin of Islam, exemplifying human equality. The round shape of the thaal is significant as each person who sits around it, is equidistant from the food that is placed in the centre, that would be difficult to achieve in rectangular or square shape dining table.

Thaal is much more than a meal for the Dawoodi Bohra community. Dawoodi Bohras are believed to be an ethnic blend of Arabic, Persian, Yemeni, Egyptian, African Pakistani and Indian cultures and the cultural diversity is reflected in their exotic cuisines and flavours. “Our food will take you through the streets of Sana’a and Aden and give you an aroma of the Yemeni countryside. It will give you a glimpse of the indigenous rainbow cuisine that colours the streets of Africa, it will walk you through the fragrant Arabic, Persian and Egyptian suqs and snare your palette and back home it will capture the rich spices and tadkas that linger in every corner of India and Pakistan,” states the blog.

There’s something unique about the way Bohra’s serve the food. The meal begins with salt – a taste cleanser that activates all taste buds. “Salt is usually served by the youngest member of group,” says Dinaz. “Interestingly the first course that is served is a dessert, that we call mithaas.” Bohras consider it auspicious to begin their meal with a sweet dish. As they love ice cream it is served first, unless it’s celebration time, when the sodannu (cooked rice with ghee and sugar) comes first. Mithaas is followed by meat preparation called khaaraas or savoury dish.

In Bohra weddings, several courses of kharaas and mithaas are served alternately. On an ordinary day however, one round of starters and two desserts is the norm before the main course, or jaman is served. Jaman can include a meat dish, which is eaten with chapattis or parathas, and a rice dish that could be anything from a biriyani to kaari chaawal to dal chaawal palidu (lentil rice with curry). The usual accompaniment of a raita or soup could also be served with the rice. The jaman ends with another round of dessert. Dry fruits and paan (betel leaves) are a must. Salt is served again at the end of the meal to cleanse their tongues. Bohras believe salt can cure 72 diseases. “The last salt is served by the oldest member of the group,” says Dinaz.

Some signature mithaas are the malida, kharak halwa, thooli to name a few. While khaaraas comprises meat preparations which are fried or roasted rice dishes and more. A good thaal offers a combination of meat and rice.

Popularly served rice dishes are Bohra khichidi, kheema khichidi, Bohra biriyani, and of course dal chawal palidu, that draws on the Bohra’s exposure to Gujarati cuisine. Mughlai dishes like kebabs are also served at Dawoodi Bohra feast.

Bohra Khichda: Image courtesy Pinterest

Bohra khichda, another authentic dish, is a fusion of flavours from the Hyderabad-i halem in which the broken wheat is cooked with meat and lentils. 

Pehli Raat Thaal (New Years’ Eve Feast), served on the first day of Muharram, comes with 28 to 52 dishes. Bohra’s believe this distinctive tradition will ensure abundance in the following year.

Mumbai, home to many Bohras, has restaurants and food joints that have been developed around that concept of Thaal. The Bohri Kitchen (TBK) is the most famous one I am told.  I plan to check out the place when I am in Mumbai next.

For the love of Shawls

Manaswi in a papermache Jamawar

I grew up watching my dida and mom gracefully adorn a shawl in winters. They would just throw the shawl, or shaal as we call it Bengali, around them and it would look so elegant. When I was little, I would sneak into dida’s room, pull out her shawl and try to wrap it around me. The piece of garment would engulf me in it’s warm loving scent of dida. Once I grew up, I was drawn to (considered to be) more fashionable and convenient western winter wears like sweaters & jackets. Though I liked shawls, I found its westernized cousin stole more utilitarian. After all we hardly wear ethnic clothes in winters. If, at all, we wear a sari or lehenga for a winter wedding, it is sure to be teamed with a backless choli or skimpy blouse, no matter how cold.    

My almost forgotten love for shawls was rekindled by my friend and colleague Lovina Gujral and her collection of shawls. Watching her walk into office every day with a beautiful shawl thrown around her is a delight. “Between the three of us – my mom, my sister and I, we have 17 exclusive shawls,” says Lovina. “We have collected these over the years, a few from the time of my mother’s wedding,” she adds.

When I told Lovina I wanted to write on her shawls, she generously lent her best shawls for the shoot and my colleagues Manaswi, Puja & Riti gladly modeled for me 🙂

Puja sashaying a Kaani shawl

Lovina and her family has picked up a lot of shawls from a Kashmiri weaver, Ashraf Buch, who comes to Gurgaon every winter. “He brings with him a huge collection of authentic Kashmiri shawls – pashmina, jamawar, kaani. Depending on the fabric and the embroidery some of these shawls are priced over a lakh.” The shawls that Lovina wears are all hand embroidered, some of them take months to make. “He even has the less expensive shawls that cost a few thousands, but we always go for the authentic stuff,” says Lovina.

Kashmir has always been the home of shawls. The origin of shawls can be traced back to over 700 years. Though the words “shawl” and “pashmina” come from Kashmir, they originated from Hamedan, Iran. When Sayeed Ali Hamadani, the 14th century Sufi poet and scholar from Hamedan came to Ladakh, homeland of pashmina goats he found that the Ladakhi Kashmiri goats produced soft wool. He took some goat wool, made them into socks, which he gifted to the then king of Kashmir, Sultan Qutabdin. Later, Hamadani suggested to the king that they start a shawl weaving industry in Kashmir using this wool, thus came into being pashmina shawls. As a government official, Lovina’s father was posted in Kashmir for a while and that’s when the family got acquainted with many Kashmiri weavers and their weaving techniques.

The most expensive shahtoosh shawls of Kashmir are made from the under-fleece of the Tibetan antelope or Chiru. These shawls are so fine that even a very tightly woven shawl can be easily pulled through a small finger ring. “However, since these antelopes are an endangered species, shahtoosh shawls have been banned by the government,” says Lovina.

Riti in a shawl from Kutch, Gujarat

There’s an interesting story on how these intricate embroideries came into being. A certain peasant, Ali Baba once noticed the imprint of a fowl’s feet left on a white sheet. He embroidered the outline with coloured thread to enhance the effect and that is how the embroidered shawls were introduced. Silk and cotton thread are used for embroidery. The workmanship is so intricate and time consuming that some embroidered shawls take 2 to 4 years to complete.

 “An authentic shawl is a family heirloom; it can be passed down for generations. You need to know how to keep your shawls,” says Lovina. “We keep each shawl wrapped in a separate piece of fine cotton with a lot of dried neem leaves and red chillies between the folds. Pashminas and pure fabrics are prone to silver fish and these keep the pests at bay.”