Tuesday, May 23, 2017

North & South at loggerheads

5 years 4 months and 23 days ago, I had this epiphany which made me drill down to the strain between the people divided geographically in the same country i.e. India. This geographic areas namely being the North and the South. The drill down was mandated at that time due to my sudden acquaintance with people from all across the country. Before this I had not interacted majorly (nothing beyond pleasantries) with anyone belonging from outside of Jammu & Kashmir. All my friends at school and college were from the city. It is strange how we stay cocooned in our little world and we form a certain picture of the places and people that are not a part of our world. I had many pre conceived notions about people outside of J&K. But moving to a different place – a potpourri of all cultures and people from different ethnicity, taught me a lot. It taught me that whatever stereotypes of different Indian states I have in my mind are all bullshit. There are basically just two categories you can categorize people in – good and bad. Everything else is nothing but a sham. This was my belief until...

Until I was a spectator of the ground reality. So here I am reporting directly from the south. The notions and typecasts that the people here have about the northern states have invoked different emotions from me at different times. And they have ranged from funny to bizarre and anger to downright hurt. In general everyone’s good, helping and very sweet. But some instances highlighted to me the deep routed prejudice that seems to be etched in the minds of people. So here goes the first incident - the atmosphere is light, coffee us strong, conversations flow and the topic somehow turns towards kids. A new dad comments on the pressures involved in raising a baby and how paternity leave should be introduced. I remind him that it was brought about in picture until Maneka Gandhi dismissed it by stating that men will probably consider it to be a vacation. The next statement I heard resulted in an open mouth for 30 seconds kind of situation for me. He said that she should not generalize men like this, maybe people from Delhi or Bihar do this but here people are decent and sensible. Even though the states he mentioned are considerably far from my place but I somehow sensed that he had just wanted to say “North”, people from North but refrained from saying it because of my presence there. I wanted to correct him, show my anger, and present him with convincing arguments to counterfeit his views but all these thoughts were so messed up in my head because of a burst of different emotions that I thought it best to be quiet. It was difficult but I managed. Also the tone of his voice had a strange finality to it, like this was it. Period. He had just assumed it to be the truth and it would be hard if not difficult to change his mind on it.

When my anger got cooled off, I got to thinking about how it was not his mistake. His negative opinion about men from Bihar and Delhi was not formed overnight. It was probably after years of hearing troublesome news and stereotypical images portrayed in the movies. Delhi is no stranger to bearing the brunt of bad reviews. From rape capital to arrogant people. Delhi is on the lowest possible position on any list. Similarly Bihar also does not top the charts on the popularity quotient. Any person from Bihar is inevitably assumed to be a gang member or a criminal or simply a laborer. While Bihar is comparatively a poor state with a considerable amount of lawlessness, it in no way signifies that it is devoid of decent population of people. People do not stop going to Mexico because of all the drug trafficking and crimes. Detroit is one of the most unsafe state in USA but that did not deter Chrysler to set up its business functions there. I happen to have met many people from Bihar in the last few years and they have shattered all the misconceptions and stereotypes I had in my head about Bihar. People from Bihar are smart, extremely sharp and intelligent, civil service aspirants, Dhoni fans, pronounce sort as short (which I find adorable by the way), have immense knowledge about politics and cricket, are extremely helpful and make mind-blowing chokha with sattu ke paranthe. I strongly feel we should stop using the term Bihari like a derogatory term and use it like we use the terms Gujarati, Marathi, Kashmiri, Punjabi or Oriya! Change starts with an individual and spreads slowly. It is really time we stop behaving like small scattered communities and come together as Indians. Stop saying things like “what is this North Indian doing here in South” and “Why is this South Indian in North”. We are Indians and we are entitled to visit and enjoy every state from ladakh to Trivandrum and everything in-between. I am beyond offended when people after hearing I am from Jammu & Kashmir comment “Goodness! You came here from so far”. All I can say is people can cross seven seas, go to the moon or even Mars but my two hop plane journey from my hometown is far!

Now coming to the other incident, this time we were coming back from lunch. In the lift slowing moving towards our destination, suddenly the lift door opens in-between and a girl walks in. She is dressed smartly and taking animatedly on the phone. She gives up talking on the phone after entering the lift and gets down one floor before our destination. As soon as she leaves, people around me start talking in telugu about the girl. Something Something North Something Something Something ridiculous Something Something fancy Something Something Clothes Something Something Something and laughing. I ask my colleague about the joke but he just shrugs it off. But I am far from shrugging it off, so I try to find the cause of the humor. The girl was dressed in a comparatively fashionable manner which makes her a minority in the crowd of simple dresses usually seen. But I must iterate that she was in no way dressed in an overtly fashionable way, trust me, simple shirt and trousers combo with open hair and a dash of eyeliner, which by the way is also my staple dressing style for office. Maybe that’s the reason why the joke on her pinched me. I just did not like that how they simply deduced that she was a Northie (as if it was written on her forehead) and used it in a very unpleasant way. I agree that there are certain telltale characteristics by means of which we can identify people of different sect but I feel that they used be used to admire different cultures and the ethnic potpourri we call India. We all feel that we and our culture is the best, there is nothing wrong in that though. The wrong comes when we decide that other cultures are blasphemous. It’s not just about Bihar or Delhi, people have something or the other associated with every state and sect. Even a corporate set up, which is supposed to be very Cosmo is not safe from the north south politics. It is a very general belief that a person from North, working under a manger from South is doomed. The reverse of this situation also holds truth. Go to quora or any major MNC’s confession page on Facebook, you will see tons and tons of stories on how a manger from North, did not recommend a South Indian team member for an onsite opportunity and how a South Indian manger gave a very bad rating to North Indian team member even though he slogged all year long! These stories are not entirely false, all this does happen, mostly because people are not given a chance to prove themselves and decisions are taken based on pre conceived notions.

Up until now I was analyzing the situation from a neutral state, which was equally distributed with people from all over India. But since some months I am a minority in a southern city and I feel like an outsider. Which is ridiculous because there should be no reason to feel like an outsider in your own country. I personally love being here, drowning in the culture and cuisine. I eat curd rice with the same gusto I have for rajma chawal. My family enjoys idli vada sambhar even more than aalu parantha. I am slowly warming up to South Indian movies as well and man, are they good! It’s the prejudice people have in their minds that leaves a bitter taste. This prejudice needs to be removed for good from all our minds irrespective of the topography we are in or belong to. So we need to stop making fun of people mixing gun powder with rice for lunch and similarly we need to stop ridiculing roti sabzi by saying its breakfast food. We proudly share the video clip from Namaste London in which Akshay bashes the foreigner and enlightens that India has more than 1500 hundred languages but we do not refrain from making fun of distinctive accents that people from various states have. We love imitating UK, USA, European accents but leave no stone upturned to humiliate our fellow people. We assume a girl to be “fast” if she is dressed in something that is outside our comfort zone, god forbid if she has a tattoo or something, which would border on being scandalous. Making judgments from afar without actually getting to know the person personally is more wrong that any word in my vocabulary can justify.

The bottom-line is there are no good or bad communities, there are no stereotypes and moreover there is always an exception to the rule. We are all individuals and while our culture, rituals and ethnicity define our lifestyle and habits, how we ultimately turn out as a human entirely depends on us and the etiquettes we have. Let’s have an open heart and embrace people as they are, strictly on the basis of how they are rather than from where they belong to.


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 sautés, 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.