Posts Tagged ‘Motilal Nehru’

Mudde, saaru & mutton chops with the Maharaja

15 December 2012

Photo Caption

What other people eat—and how, and how much—has long been an object of human fascination; increasingly so in the age of the modern media, where food is the new sex, something you can ogle at, ooze over, fantasise and salivate about, all with your clothes on and without once touching or coming close to the piece de resistance.

The former India Today and CNN-IBN journalist Neha Prasada nee Seth has just done a lavishly produced coffee table book on how the blue blooded amongst us, i.e. the Rajas and Maharajas, did what every mortal must. Titled ‘Dining with the Maharajas‘ (Roli Books, Rs 4,000), the book captures the social history of the royal culinary traditions.

# Like, how the maharani of Tripura liked four different types of cuisine at one meal.

# Like, how the Nizam of Hyderabad, a lover of jalebi, had the size of his poison increased three times when advised by doctors that he could consume only three of them due to diabetes.

# Like, when Motilal Nehru was sent to Allahabad jail by the British, Mohammed Amir Ahmad Khan of the Mahmudabad princely family sent him biryani with a bottle of champagne to keep him going during his imprisonment.

At the hands of Neha Prasada and the photographer Ashima Narain, the high tables of the kingdoms of Hyderabad, Kashmir, Jodhpur, Mahmudabad, Patiala, Rampur, Tripura, Sailana and Udaipur are laid out. Also starring is the royal family of Mysore, in which Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar waxes eloquent on bisi bele baath. Excerpts:

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By NEHA PRASADA

As you travel to the south of India, your route will take you through dense plantations rich with fragrant cardamoms and cloves, spicy peppercorns, pungent red chillies, aromatic cinnamon, and bay leaves. This trail heavy with spices will lead you to the state of Karnataka, which boasts of one of India’s largest spice industries and at one time was part of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore.

This ancient land rich in tradition and culture has been ruled by the Wadiyar dynasty since 1399. Interestingly with each change in regime, Mysore’s palate has changed and imbibed new flavours.

From the second century to the third century AD, the state predominantly had a cuisine particular to the ruling Buddhists. Power changed hands when the Buddhists were defeated by the Jains in a debate and the Kannada Jain community held sway over everything including food habits in Mysore.

Finally it was in the tenth century that Hindu kings wrested power under the leadership of Shankaracharya and have continued to rule the kingdom.

The present representative of the Wadiyar Dynasty, Maharaja Srikantadatta Narasimharaja wadiyar explains, ‘With new influences coming in through foreign traders like Arabs, coupled with the decline of Vijaynagara, Muslim flavours were introduced and adapted by us. We added non-vegetarian dishes and new styles of cooking to our cuisine.”

New flavours were imbibed under the cultural influence of the Bahmani kings who were of Persian descent and rulers from Tamil Nadu who controlled the Deccan at different points in time….

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The Mysore royal family with its over 300-year-old food tradition has always treated food as much more than mere sustenance.

Says the 59-year-old custodian of this ancient family, ‘The basis of our food philosophy is that the five elements of nature which include the sky, wind, water, earth, and fire are involved in growing food. The human body needs these elements to keep functioning, thus food is the fuel of life.’

Ancient texts like the Paka Shastra, which elaborate on the art of cooking, were followed by the chefs of the royal kitchens. This knowledge was further passed down to future generations that served in the royal household.

‘These texts did not just tell you what to eat but how and when to eat it. For example, the vessels that were used to make the food had to be made of certain metals, which have beneficial properties when mixed with food,’ says Wadiyar.

Food was cooked and served in vessels made of copper and brass. Interestingly copper was also a safeguard for the royal family because if poison were added to the food, the copper would turn green. These texts also outlined the properties of each herb and spice that went into every recipe.

He explains, ‘We had separate cooks for the zenana or female quarters of the palace and separate for the mardana or male quarters because of recipes and ingredients prescribed in the texts were different for men and women.’

While ingredients like green cardamoms were used liberally in dishes prepared for women because it increased their fertility, mace was added to the recipes for the men because it boosted virility. Then there are recipes, which were medicinal in intent.

‘Curd and rice was recommended for cooling the body. Even now when elephants are in heat, this is included in their diet,’ he explains.

The palace kitchens were staffed with 150 chefs who cooked only vegetarian dishes and 25 chefs who cooked only non-vegetarian dishes. Each group was further divided into Muslim and Hindu cooks with their own special skill sets.

There were another twenty Brahmin cooks who had a separate kitchen, which was kept clean from meat, fish, poultry, and tamasic vegetables like onions and garlic. These Pandit chefs prepared the food for all religious ceremonies.

‘These cooks continued to serve the family loyally generation after generation. I believe that not even the best cooking school in the world can match up to the knowledge and experience you imbibe when born in a family of cooks,’ observes Wadiyar. He adds, ‘The cooks had their work cut out for them. Every day at least twenty people at in the mardana and twenty-five in the zenana. Also a minimum of twenty-five different dishes had to be served at any given meal’ .

***

In comparison, his diet is meagre and restricted to fruits and steamed ragi balls on most days. Wadiyar who is a self-confessed foodie has become extremely health conscious over the past few years and is particular about keeping his weight in check.

However, once in a while he does like to treat himself to local Mysore cuisine and his favourites include masala chops, cold mutton roast, and bisi bele bhat (rice cooked with lentils and vegetables).

Wadiyar remembers his thread ceremony, which is one of the most important rituals in a young Hindu boy’s life as he enters adulthood. He was ten years old at the time.

He recalls, ‘Two thousand visitors came from all over for my thread ceremony to Mysore, besides the 3000 local guests. The celebrations went on for three days where on the first and second day pure vegetarian food in great variety was served. Finally on the last day two banquets were organised. There was a reception for the foreigners in the Lalitha Mahal Palace where the menu included European food, while the second banquet was for the Indian rulers where local delicacies were served….

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During the summer months between April and May, the family would move to Fernhills Palace in the hill station of Ooty. The highlight of the season was the famed fox hunt organised by the Mysore royals, which was attended by royal families across India and British officers.

Relates Wadiyar, ‘For three generations my great grandfather, my grandfather, and my granduncle had the distinction of being the hunt masters for these meets. Each day at the beginning of the hunt a lavish breakfast would be organised at Fernhills Palace. After a day of chasing the fox, the participants would ride back for a late lunch where both local Indian and European food was served.’

The family’s hunting camps were famous and attracted many keen sportsmen from the royal families of India.

‘We would set up camp for almost 600 people at our hunting lodge in Kakanakote. Every evening after a day of hunting, banquets were organised for the participants by the palace staff. Two separate tents were put up to host these dinners, which included the first class tent for the heads of state, while the second class tent was for the accompanying officers on duty,’ remembers Wadiyar.

***

In the midst of all this activity, we are also invited for lunch to the private quarters of the family in the Bangalore Palace…. In a sunlit courtyard of the palace the chefs have set up their stoves and chopping boards. The trays of spices are a study of what sets apart Kannada cuisine from the rest of India especially the north.

Fiery red Badige chillies, vibrant green curry leaves, kokum (sour fruit native to western India) as dark as ebony, dried brown tamarind, mounds of snowy white coconut, and golden yellow turmeric powder add colour to the mosaic of spices like cardamoms, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns, and bay leaves.

Explains Wadiyar whose cooking skills are limited to whipping up a decent omelette, ‘We grow a lot of our spices like tamarind, kokum, and coconut on the palace grounds.’ His cooks have ground together special masalas and secret potions that have been passed from cook to cook, to go into the rich curries that are stewing in antique copper vessels.

‘The Mysore garam masala includes equal portions of cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon unlike the north Indian garam masala, which is made up of many more spices. Then we use something called the hatti masudi, which is a mixture of chillies and spices from the Nilgiris.’

The basic flavours in Kannada cuisine are that of coconut, jiggery, tamarind, and fragrant spices, which give the food a balance of sweet, sour, and spicy undertones. The locals who are predominantly rice eaters prefer BT rice which has more bite than a Basmati, while another popular cereal is ragi. Even the oil used for most dishes is rice oil. ‘Unlike north Indian cuisine we use oil sparingly which is why our food is much lighter,’ he adds.

The lunch is served in the family’s private drawing room where the walls are rich with the oils of European masters. The multi-course lunch includes spicy lamp chops masala a favourite of Wadiyar; an unusual horse gram curry called uili saru which is also prepared with mutton; country muddiya muttai made with mutton mince and eggs very similar to scotch eggs; a light fish curry meenu tanginakai saru; jhat phat fowl jhal frezi (quick and easy shredded fowl), and Anglo Indian classic; a coconut milk rich vegetable stew served with fluffy appams and baby appams (fried rice and gram cakes); and finally two rice preparations puliyogare or tamarind rice and bisi bele bhat. For dessert there is a creamy saabaki payasam made with sabut dana (sago) and milk to round off the meal.

As a devout Hindu the Mysore family observed every festival and puja in the Hindu holy calendar. This meant thousands of people were fed at such ceremonies in the palace.

He says, ‘We have ancient recipes that can serve one or multiples of hundreds. At any given religious ceremony at least a thousand people used to be fed. For our big festivals like Dussehra sometimes the numbers would go into lakhs.’

Even today the head of this dynasty has at least two havans or ceremonies every month and thirty-one priests are on his permanent payroll to observe these religious rites. Wadiyar explains, ‘I have only come so far in life by holding on to these traditions and culture.’

(Excerpted with the permission of the publishers)

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File photograph: Srikantatta Datta Wodeyar (right)performs ayudha pooja at the Mysore palace on the eighth day of Dasara in Mysore in October 2012 (Karnataka Photo News)

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Read reviews of the book: Vir Sanghvi, Sourish Bhattacharya

Buy the book here: Roli Books, Amazon, Flipkart

What the Gandhis could learn from the Nehrus

26 October 2010

With over 400 government initiatives, institutions, projects and programmes named after Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi, the historian Ramachandra Guha takes a trip down memory lane in the Hindustan Times:

“When, in the year 1974, Indira Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) became bitter political opponents, there was a peculiar poignancy to their rivalry. For JP and Jawaharlal Nehru had been close friends. So, independently, were JP’s wife Prabhavati and Nehru’s wife Kamala….

“Prabhavati had wished to start a school for girls and name it for Kamala Nehru. She had written to Jawaharlal asking whether he would inaugurate it. Nehru, in reply, said that he was delighted that this school was being planned, for he had long been an advocate of education for girls.

“But, he added, he had taken a vow that in the case of any school, project, or programme started in memory of his father (Motilal Nehru) or his wife, he would not participate in its inauguration. He asked Prabhavati to go ahead and start the school, with another chief guest if required. He added by way of consolation that when the place was up and running, he would come visit it anyway.”

Read the full article: That family feeling

More democratic India gets, less Congress does

6 September 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The Ace Political Expert (APE) is a veritable Wikipedia on democratic norms all over the world. He can tell you how the process of election takes place in Holland, reel off biodata of contesting candidates in Finland, and the process of recounting votes in Sivaganga.

APE also knows how democracy works in one of the oldest, largest political parties in the world.

As we settled down to have coffee on the lawns of Hotel Ramya, I said: “Sonia Gandhi has been elected president of the Congress for the fourth time. This must be a record of sorts. Can you tell me how the whole process of election operates in the Congress?’

“A bit of background is necessary to understand this,” said the APE, as he took his first sip of coffee. “The Indian National Congress (INC) Party was founded in 1885 by a foreigner, a Scotsman actually, Allan Octavian Hume, who arranged its first meeting in Bombay with the approval of the then viceroy Lord Dufferrin. Please note Congress has a history with foreigners since its inception!”

“That’s interesting.”

“In 1907, the party was split into two factions, one led by Balgangadhar Tilak called garam dal (hot faction) and the other by Gopalkrishna Gokhale called naram dal (the soft faction). It shows leaders were allowed to have radically opposite views. They didn’t have to toe the line of their bosses all the time. It was truly democratic then.”

“I am surprised to hear that.”

“One interesting fact was that some of the leaders who differed with the Congress split, set up their own party called Swaraj Party. Prominent among them were Annie Besant, Chittaranjan Das and even Motilal Nehru! It shows dissent was alive and kicking those days and they could even contest, fight election for the party presidentship.”

“Sounds unreal!”

“Though Congress was the single largest party, it had stalwart-leaders like Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Rajaji, Acharya Kripalani, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Sarojini Naidu among others bringing in divergent views. It was far from becoming a party belonging to a single feudal family run by its members.”

“Amazing.”

“In 1938 and 1939, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was elected as president of the party but was expelled for his socialistic views and Congress veered to becoming a pro-business party of Bajajs and Birlas! But what was significant they had elections for the post of the President.”

“Just can’t believe it!”

“After the World War I, Mahatma Gandhi was associated with the party as its spiritual leader and mass icon even as younger men and women became presidents of the Congress party after contesting and winning in elections. No son of Gandhi was anointed a youth Congress leader. For that matter, Kasturba Gandhi did not became president of the Congress Party to ‘assist’ the Mahatma.”

“Are we talking of the same party or what? Nobody from the Gandhi family had its members in any responsible position? Where did they go wrong?” I queried.

“It was after independence,  in fact quite some time after, when Prime Minister Nehru was getting old, they thought of  a younger person as  Congress president ‘to assist’ him  and what better person  than his own daughter?”

“Looks like the first steps of dynasty politics or modern politics era!”

“That’s how the Gandhi’s name entered Indian politics although it was quite a different Gandhi altogether. The Father of the Freedom Movement never aspired for any post nor ‘groomed’ his children for the coveted post!”

APE gulped down some cold water without touching the rim: “The INC after the split, etc became Congress (I),  “I” for Indira, named first time after a person. From then on, it was a matter of personal ambition of grooming sons, daughter-in law and grandsons with the party members working to make sure the same family stay in power even when out of power!”

“‘It’s all so nice to know history. Now only we know why there are 55 nominations to one person even as nobody dares to stand for election! One more thing; doesn’t the grand old party have norms for various posts?”

“Of course they have! Nobody can continue as President in taluk, district level and state level as chief for more than two terms…. except for the post of national president which is now a life term post! The INC, which  once believed in freedom of thought, action and practiced internal democratic traditions such as elections for various posts and had titans as its members is now populated with pygmies.”

The son stroke that didn’t strike Dhrutharashtra

30 August 2010

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: Ajji went on an impromptu fast on shravana shanivara.

Ajji! What’s the matter? Why, this lightning fast?”

“Every year I go on a fast on this day. This is a vratha invoking Ganesha to remove all the obstacles and grant us a trouble-free life ahead.”

Ajji! If I have a problem with my boss or in my office can I expect you will go on a fast to save me?”

“Why should I go on a fast to save you from punishment if you have done something for which you deserve punishment? I will go on a fast to make sure you pay for your sins!”

Ajji! Looks like I can’t depend on you. It seems Dasharatha would do anything for the sake of Sri Rama. Motilal Nehru did the same when his son Jawahar Lal had to sleep on the floor in jail during the freedom movement.”

“All examples of puthra vyamoha! The Dhrutharashtra-Duryodhana example would be more apt. At least Dhrutharashtra was blind and couldn’t see his son’s follies. But what of the others who can see their childrens’ paapa and yet are blinded by their puthra vyamoha?’

“Some people feel they are following Gandhiji by fasting.”

“Gandhiji did not use the powerful tool of upavasa or satyagraha for personal causes like promotions or preventing  law from taking its course. That is why the biggest empire in the world at that time, Britain, bowed to his dream of swarajya for India, no matter what S.L. Bhyrappa says now 60 years after enjoying freedom! Had Gandhiji fasted for silly personal reasons, he would have been a laughing stock and Britain would have humiliated him.

“When would fasting be a powerful tool Ajji?”

“When it is not used for personal gains. Prof De Ja Gow is a very learned and respected man, a writer and a past vice-chancellor.  Had he fasted for cleanliness in public life he would have done a singular service against corruption. People would have applauded him had he fasted against his son’s  actions or against the University.”

“That’s true.”

“I would have joined him in fasting even if it was not shivarathri! Had his son Dr J. Shashidhar Prasad been proved innocent, both father-son duo would have been revered in academic circles for different reasons. Prasad because he was innocent and DeJaGow for challenging the son to prove his innocence under the law of the land keeping his relation aside.”

“Unfortunately it didn’t happen that way.”

“Not many can do that. I sympathize with Prof DeJaGow. But the least he could have done was to allow law to go to its logical end and not trivialize this into a drama which lowered his own image. His one-day fast would have been apt had it been held at Bhoomi Geetha in Rangayana!”

“What about H.R. Bharadwaj, the governor?”

“His behavior with the vice-chancellor Prof V.G. Talwar was stupid, insensitive and deserves the highest condemnation by one and all. And one more thing….”

“What’s it, Ajji?”

“For heaven’s sake, this phoot-lawyri cum governor should change his name. It is an insult on two counts. One for the great rishi Bharadwaja and secondly for the Bharadwaja Gothra!”

“Ha, Ajji.”

“He behaved like a creep while ill-treating a learned VC of a University which had titans like Dr S. Radhkrishnan, Prof. K.N. Pannikkar and Dr K.M. Shrimali occupying his chair once.”

“True Ajji.”

“But tell me what will a Governor of such calibre understand the significance of either his own name or how to treat learned academicians when all he knows is how to please his political bosses and there lies his role in l’affaire Ottavio Quattrocchi!”


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