Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Being Kashmiri And Dum Monj!

Recent shift in events have made a chef of sorts out of me. So while earlier my time was spent in reading gossip stories or series binge watching, it’s now replaced by recipes and subscription of various cooking channels. I have always enjoyed cooking, but only when it’s done leisurely. Cooking under pressure gives me jitters. When the time available is less, cooking seems like a chore rather than an unwinding exercise! Chopping and cutting drains out every ounce of energy you possess. When I found myself in this situation, I quickly switched on my Kashmiri brain and subscribed to Chandra aunty. Chandra Aunty has a Kashmiri pandit cuisine cooking channel on youtube and it has now become my favorite pastime!

Traditional Kashmiri recipes involve no onions or garlic (in some cases no tomatoes even!). You can pretty much do the math on how much time can be saved by Kashmiri style of cooking. Just put in the right proportion of spices, few saut├ęs, some close lid cooking and you are done! The dishes can be made spicy or non-spicy based on your preference. Red base dishes can be made with fiery Kashmiri chilies, yellow gravies are made with turmeric and given a distinctive taste by the use of schonth (Ginger powder) and baidhyan (fennel powder) plus there is a myriad of yakhni’s which are cooked in yoghurt based sauce.

Schonth and Baidhayan
Now everyone knows the irrevocable love Kashmiri’s have for mutton. The traditional spread of mutton dishes (which form an intrinsic part of the wazwan) is quite well known and easily available almost everywhere. The taste may not be up to the mark but at least names like roganjosh, kaliya, yakhni ring a bell. A Kashmiri bell! What most people don’t know is the fascination Kashmiri’s have with some special vegetables. They have their zu (which roughly translates to jaan in hindi) in monj (Knolkhol/Kohlrabi), hakh (collard greens) and nadur (lotus stem). It’s not that these are the only vegetables we like, hell we like vegetables so much that we even cook fruits like ‘em. So don’t be surprised to see apples cooked with bringals on our tables. Quinces or bum chooth as we call it is again a very special apple dish. Then we also cook up plums with potatoes or ghaad (fish) or spinach. Aah the sweet sour taste of cooked plums! And don’t get me started on our lure with dried up stuffs, drying vegetables was a necessity in the valley because of harsh and extreme winters. As the valley was cut-off, there was a dearth of fresh vegetables, hence all the drying up veggies started from September. Even though Kashmiri pandits do not live in Kashmir anymore, the love for hoek suen (dry veggies) remains. So you just name it and we will dry it! – Bringals (wagan hacch), bottle gourd (aal hacch), turnips (gogji hacch), tomatoes (tamatar hacch), morels (kangucch), fish (hogaard), water lily/lotus stems (Bum) and the list goes on.

In this picture we can see tomatoes, bringals & turnips
 Coming back to monj, hakh and nadur. The immense popularity of these vegetables can be attributed to the fact that they are a part of quintessential Kashmiri comfort food. Sadly they are not so readily available outside of Jammu and Kashmir. And if by some good deed done in your previous birth you do manage to find them your Kashmiri soul will dance away in hallelujah. I recently had this stroke of luck while grocery shopping, I could not believe what I saw and shouted at the top of my voice whilst turning around to hubby – Moonnnjjjj. Only hubby was nowhere nearby and I literally scared the living hell out of the person behind me with all my shouting! Now to give you an idea moonj usually looks something like this (picture added below). However the ones we got at the store were devoid of leaves. So we decided to make dum monj out of them which does not necessitate the need for leaves. Contrary to usual monj preparation which does not use many spices, dum monj is an elaborate dish usually prepared on special occasions like marriage, hawan or any other time you feel like drowning yourself in oil and spices.

Monj with sabaz sabaz hakh!
There are many online websites, blogs and even you tube channels through which one can easily get access to popular Kashmiri recipes. But it is difficult to find recipes for some typical dishes which are not made often. I could only find a handful of recipes for dum monj, so that’s the reason I decided to document the recipe on my blog. Maybe it will help me build up dwindling traffic of my sad little blog!

So, here goes.

1. First of all wash and cut the monjh. Traditionally it’s made into thick circular slices, but I choose to cut them into cubes because well no reason, just like that. The upper part of monj known as monj gab has a very respectable position, it is like the chicken leg piece of monjh.

2. Next step is to fry the pieces. Since this recipe involves thick pieces, deep frying is recommended. I just shallow fried as my pieces were small.

3. Once all the pieces are fried up, take about two tablespoons of oil on medium heat and add 3,4 cloves, a small piece of cinnamon and asafoetida or hing. Now reduce the heat and add two table spoons of Kashmiri red chilli powder and about one spoon of ginger powder. Make sure to add masala’s on low heat or else you will end up burning the spices and also have a sneezing fit. This is a very critical step because how your dish turns out will depend on this step. Raang kadun as it is known is Kashmiri, it should look fiery red. I did not have Kashmiri chilli powder so my dish did not quite make it to the mark in looks department.

When your oil is at right temperature, the masala's will bubble away beautifully
4. Now that the the masala’s have been added let them be for a few seconds and then add two cups of water. Now increase the heat and let the mixture come to a boil.

5. Add fried monj now and cover the lid. Let it cook for around 5 to 10 minutes until the gravy thickens and monj softens. Check the monj at regular intervals using a spatula, just like you would check a potato. Do not overcook.

6. Serve with plain white rice and sabut moong ki daal for a wholesome kashmiri meal.

I have not used any baidhayn (fennel powder) or garam masala in this recipe because I did not have any. Not sure if it is used in the recipe per se but mine turned out just fine without them too. Also would suggest to make it atleast 2-3 hours before eating as all the spices really infuse together and the gravy thickens naturally by then.
Adding a picture of aal yakhni (Bottle gourd) which I made, because I am just obscenely proud of it. Recipe for this can easily be found online.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Year It Was!

Like all good things, this year too is just about to come to an end. With the year-end, we have also come to this blog's 7th birthday! In terms of content this year has been the most dismal for the blog. I have written very few posts, I mean like I can literally count them on my fingers. I have been busier, been without a laptop, without an internet connection and still managed to churn out post after post for my beloved blog. But this time despite no such challenges there was no fire to write for months altogether.

When I look back I can see multiple reasons that amounted to this very dry spell on Rendezvous. Firstly, I started year 2016 on a very low note. I used to consider myself extremely self-sufficient but early months of 2016 really showed me what loneliness could do to you. I was suddenly left alone in a very unfamiliar zone and I had no cushion to fall back on. There was no one to talk to or share. Of course, friends were just a phone call away but everyone was busy in their own lives. Then there was this immense work pressure at office for few months which was good for loneliness but drained out all creative energies I might have had.

To add to this I faced rejections about my writing and writing style consecutively and that too in the most unprofessional way possible. First happened last year so that’s old news. The latest one affected me more because the opportunity arrived through a friend. Now this person with whom I was working was all praises for my work, snippets of which he had seen and read on my blog. His expectations from me were very different from my writing style but I am always up for any challenge. His initial talks and discussions with me gave me an idea about his passion towards the ecommerce site he was planning to open. After some discussions I agreed to work for the peanuts (in the name of monetary remuneration) he was offering.

I started to received loads of work from him. This did not involve just writing but major research, googling, picture hunting, burning midnight oil and what not! And he was huge on deadlines, before even assigning the work he made sure to let me know the delivery date. Believe it or not I once literally slogged myself and did not sleep an entire night to complete the work assigned. I have never sacrificed my sleep for anything! Not my board exams, not even any of my engineering exams (however underprepared I must have been), not for any lover, not even during my sisters' wedding!

Well after this all nighter, I received a list of changes that Mr Wannabe Perfectionist wanted me to incorporate. And my friends, that was the last I heard of him. I mean from messaging me, calling me and emailing me 10 times a day, he just vanished away in reallly thin air! I assumed him to be busy or something and decided to take a chill pill. After a couple of weeks while chatting with the common friend I came to know that Mr Wannabe was not too happy about my writing skills and I did not match up to a picture he had in mind. So, he had decided to move ahead (without letting me know, of course). He also happened to mention to my friend about how he once asked for a quick result and I stayed up all night completing it. He apparently found it very amusing. On the other hand, I was far from being amused. But a lady as I am, I only swore under my breath and took it in my stride.

But this was highest level of unprofessionalism I have ever encountered, I mean I know I ain't no Margaret Mitchell but just at least let me know that you are not digging my writing skills, suddenly cutting all ties is not a solution! No one expects this kind of behavior from an aspiring entrepreneur. Last I heard his endeavor is not going all that great and I am not surprised about it!

Moving on, these episodes of my rejections somehow had a very negative impact on me. I lost the confidence on my writing skills and drowned my sorrows in TV series, Web series and autobiographies of Padma Laxmi and her ex Mr Salman Rushdie. But the more I read, more I started to miss writing. I always had this dream of writing for someone - a website, any magazine, any start up, mostly just anything. Although I have received many opportunities for the same in the last 2 years, it has somehow always left me incomplete. With the excitement and efforts that I put in during writing, the pain of rejection for me has double the impact. So, for the sake of my self-respect, I have taken a decision to be content with only writing for my blog. This blog has stood by me in my happiest moments as well as in my lowest of low moments.

So here’s to new beginnings, smarter decisions and no more letting people taking me for a ride! Happy 7th Birthday to Rendezvous and a very Happy Near Year to all of you!


Thursday, December 15, 2016

An Observation!

Are we as a new generation becoming ultra-modern in our approach?
The modernity reflects in every aspect of our lives, be in the way we dress, the food we eat, the clothes we buy and the way we talk. Just look around yourself and you will see - a very similar approach we are following as a society.

I spend a lot of my time alone. And to spend this time nicely I am forever looking out for quint little cafe's where I can just unwind with a cup of coffee and a great book. But often this very exquisite rendezvous with myself turns into an observation exercise. I love analysing people sitting around me, listening to snippets of their communication, drooling over the food they order etc. Now I understand this makes me sound like a creep but this is something most of us do - irrespective of whether we admit it or not.

Anyhow moving on the thing that I realized after many occasions of my serious analysis is that there is a very considerable change that has come across in the last few years. And this change is having an exponential effect, slowly spreading its wings and becoming a part of our day to day approach. Now let’s discuss about these subtle changes in a little detail. I want you to think about any couple with kids, just think about the way they talk to the child. 8 out of 10 times you would recall parents talking and encouraging the kid to talk in English! Now I know many people with argue what is wrong with that? There isn’t. In fact, I am assuming that many parents do this so that their kids are more adaptable and aware. I say many because there is a section of people who purely do so to appear cool. Even that’s fine, to each his own! I mean who i am to judge how and in what way anyone wants to groom their kids. But my only qualm is how our mother tongues and regional languages suffer due to this. I feel it’s important to converse with kids in our mother language first. Common languages like Hindi and English are secondary. English anyhow kids will learn in school. I have an example to back this up! I had this south Indian family as my neighbors some time back. They had a beautiful little girl who only responded in broken Telugu. Her parents made it a point to speak to her only in their mother tongue. She faced issues when she joined school. Initially she had trouble understanding the teacher and other kids. But trust me in like two weeks she was speaking better Hindi than her parents! By the age of 5 she already knew three languages – Telugu, Hindi and English.

So all I am saying is that let the children get to know their culture, be close to their roots, have their own identities and be proud of their heritage. Once they are aware of their roots, it becomes more easier for them to adapt and shoe interest in new endevours!


Friday, November 25, 2016

Kashmir - From My Perspective

"Isn’t that a terrorist place?"
That’s usually the first sentence people utter when they hear I am from Jammu & Kashmir. And with the recent events that happened in the valley the amount of curiosity and questions increased by manifolds. Needless to say, the upfront support of a terrorist with such grandeur shocked people. Now in general very few people in India are acquainted or interested in what actually is the issue in Kashmir. Most of them have a haphazard view of the situation, typically from what they gauge through tit-bits of news. The news channels broadcast their breaking news on how people are turning in throngs for the funeral of a terrorist, how they are defying curfews to step out and protest for “Azadi”.

Since most people conceive Jammu and Kashmir as one entity, they automatically assume that my hometown is in dire consequences. I then have to give them a quick lesson in geography and explain that Jammu and Kashmir are situated at least 320 Km apart from each other. Kashmir has Muslims living in majority while Jammu is mostly inhabited by Hindus. They also doubtfully ask me whether I too support terrorists or have a soft spot for Pakistan. It is these type of questions that literally drive me mad with rage. My people and my community have suffered and are still suffering the brunt of the militancy that seems to have been made a law in Kashmir. And even a small doubt of being a perpetrator of this bullshit when actually we are the victims seems like a very unfair assumption to me.

I try my best to explain people that how in late eighties and early nighties there was a genocide like situation in Kashmir. During this time many Hindu’s were killed, raped and threatened. Thousands of Kashmiri Hindu families fled from Kashmir leaving behind their homes, jobs, farms, memories and numerous other little things. People have already lost interest by the time I reach to this point. But I get satisfied assuming that at least I have formulated a difference between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Hindus in their minds

The state of Jammu and Kashmir constitutes of Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh and several other small districts. The “azadi “propaganda that is in full swing is only concerted in Kashmir. The people of Jammu, Ladakh and other small places like Udhampur, Kishtawar, kathua etc are happy and proud to be associated with India. The hatred people of Kashmir carry for India and Indians has baffled me always. And it has not started in recent times. Contrary to what people believe or might force you to believe this has always been the case. Even before 90s, even before army (who supposedly commits atrocities on the people there) ever entered Kashmir. Though I have literally grown up hearing stories about prejudice against Hindu’s by elders, what solidified my belief was an interview I read of Mr. Salman Rushdie. In the interview Salman talks about the time his family visited Kashmir when he was 12, roughly around 1959-1960. Assumed to be a Hindu family they were denied food by the locals, but after getting to know that they are in fact Muslims they were attended with utmost hospitality. The entire interview can be found here.

What’s changed now is the fact that initially it was all a very hushed up affair and discussed only behind closed doors. But now it’s all in the open or rather on the internet. India and Indians are openly bad mouthed and blatant support and love for Pakistan is shown on Instagram and Facebook. I sometimes wonder will all Kashmiri Muslims holding important positions in India, students, business men (holding shops of Kashmiri handicrafts all across India) agree to leave India and settle in Pakistan instead, if they achieve their so called goal of attaining “azadi

Picture Courtesy - DNA

What baffles me is that all the separatist leaders hardly give two hoots about things like safety of people – they urge them to protest and throw stones at security officials even when curfew has been imposed. So that they can later make an issue of usage of pellet guns by security officials. They give orders for strikes and bandhs without considering the consequences of the same. They encourage students to pick up arms instead of books. And that is where the main issue of unrest in Kashmir lies – uneducated and unemployed youth. Those who studied did so mostly outside Kashmir (ironically in parts of India, from they want freedom from!) many work across India and abroad, away from all the tension and chaos focusing on their futures and success. But the youth left behind is the one suffering and failing to understand that throwing stones, shouting slogans, holding guns and even achieving the so called “azadi” is not going to help them. Schools and colleges remain closed, many have been burned down! But instead of encouraging children to study people there are using them to fuel the agitations. Here if I may quote an example of Kashmiri Pandits who had to shift base to camps after exodus in 90s. The first and the foremost thing every family however poor at that time did was to arrange and look for schools and colleges so that education of their children does not suffer. It is this crucial step that has helped them to find a strong foothold and rise again against all the odds.

Picture Courtesy -

I fail to understand the extent of brain-wash the people have been subjected to. How can they not see that violence and stone throwing is not doing any one any good. I remember watching an interview few days back when stone pelters were out on the streets. A kid hardly 14 or 15 was being asked by reporters on whether he wants an independent state or wants to go with Pakistan. He looked clueless and simply said “wo sab toh nhi pta, hume bola gya hai ki patthar maarne se azaadi mil jayegi”, “I don’t know all that, I have been told that by throwing stone I will get freedom”. Most of the common people there have no idea about the political aspects of the violence. They want to lead a peaceful life.

The state of Kashmir is going from bad to worse. There is no tourism whatsoever, people just don’t want to take a risk of visiting Kashmir given the unpredictable situation there. This has badly hit the people whose livelihood directly depends on the tourist flow in the valley. Houseboats, gardens, shikara’s, souvenir shops all remain deserted. Schools and colleges continue to remain closed for 3 days out of 5. Future of people especially students continues to remain bleak. The current situation however seems to approach a state of normality. Many people are attributing it to the recent demonetization move by our PM. In the dearth of 500/1000 notes, the funding for keeping up the violence alive and stone pelters on the road is proving difficult for the anti-social elements.

Here’s hoping for a better future and a concrete solution for Kashmir. The beautiful valley has suffered a lot. It’s overwhelming beauty needs to be devoured and enjoyed.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

They Shoot Single People, Don't They?

Have you ever noticed that the world we live-in was designed to be enjoyed in pairs? There are very few places where one would feel at ease with one’s own company. At the movies we have all sorts of combo offers but none for the poor single visitor. Dinning out with yourself or meal for one options are unheard of, except maybe for a few places we can count on our fingers. No fancy restaurant will ever server you half butter chilli noodles or half murg malai tikka. So you just cannot enjoy a proper 3 course meal all by yourself, unless of course you aspire to be a sumo wrestler.

What hurts more than absence of such places is the behavior a single person is subjected to, dare he/she venture out alone. The only way is it somewhat acceptable to be seen alone is if you are busy on a laptop or your smartphone or maybe busy reading something. That gives an illusion of you waiting for someone or leading such a busy life that you have to come alone for a quick bite. But god forbid if you are seen without any of the above mentioned props. Then the askance glances and pitiful looks you get will be unbearable.

Spotting a girl alone is a bigger risk because all the guys and uncles will automatically assume that she is 'asking for it'. They will leave no stone unturned to make her uncomfortable by approaching her to 'fill up' her loneliness. What people don’t get is that not everyone shopping, eating or watching a movie alone is a pariah. Sometimes it is circumstantial and other times purely by choice.
Once you grow up it is not always easy to find yourself in company of people who would love to accompany you to every mundane task you need to accomplish. Similarly at times you would rather be with yourself than be at the whims and fancies of others. Like when I go shopping I survey the options before shelling out money. I go from shop to shop and sometimes end up going to the first shop I entered. Successful implementation of this formula mandates that I have an understanding partner. But let’s be honest this is not everyone’s cup of tea. Most of the people just like to get in and get out while shopping. So, in order to not invite the wrath of an individual and put up with tantrums I prefer shopping alone. And when I get hungry I stop by to enjoy a meal solo. I also go to movies alone because not all people I hang out with share my taste for movies. SO what? Big Deal! 

Being alone, spending time with yourself teaches you so many things. It teaches you to be self-sufficient. To engage your energy with fruitful and creative ventures. It teaches you to observe, observe everything around you - people, nature, little children, cracks in the ceilings, dust on the walls, spider working on its web…. It also makes you appreciate company of people and the fact that nothing and no one should be taken for granted. Having little to no contact with the girls staying in my PG has taught me to be more considerate and attentive towards our bai. It is her I am totally dependent on in the mornings while getting ready. I bombard her with questions asking her opinion about my look of the day. And man is she critical or what! She gives me helpful advice like "keep the dupatta only on one side", "add a bindi" or "that belt is not matching" and once "hair is looking too oily". She maybe not have access to the latest issue of cosmo but for me she is a valuable fashion advisor. Under normal circumstances I would have laughed at the idea of a bai giving me fashion advice but now I have learned my lesson.

Agreed its great being in relationship or having a great bunch of friends to hang out and have fun with. But having experienced both I can tell you that being alone does not have to be a sad or a contemptable experience. Sometimes it is with yourself you can have the maximum fun. Cheers!

Love Sepo