The Curious Case of Bihari Language and People: Part 3

September 27, 2012

A few months ago I had written a couple of posts on this theme. I am now continuing that thread with this post. Here are the links to the prior ones. Not mandatory to read these first, just clarifying.

http://santoshojha.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/the-curious-case-of-bihari-language-and-people-part-1/

http://santoshojha.wordpress.com/2010/08/08/the-curious-case-of-bihari-language-and-people-part-2/

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“ऊ देखिये, ऊ मऊग के, पीयर बुस्सर्ट पहिन के कईसे कुदक रहा है, बेंग की तरह भोरे-भोर! लगता है भोरा गया है की ऊ दिन कैसे उसको लंगटे कर ओकर कपार फार दिए थे हम.”

The sentence above is written in Devnagari and at first sight would seem to be Hindi both in the script and the meanings. However, I can bet that those non-Biharis reading this piece would hardly be able to figure out the meaning. So let me translate this in simple English.
“Just see that effeminate character, early in the morning he is jumping around like a toad in his yellow shirt. I think he has forgotten how I had stripped him that day and broken his skull.”
Let us  examine some simple words first. बुस-सर्ट  is the adaptation of bush-shirt. पीयर is the Biharification of peela, yellow. Like उज्जर is for white (=ujala), करिया is black (=kaala). Roll the words पीयर, उज्जर and करिया over your tongue and see how easy these are to pronounce and how “colourful” they  sound as compared with peela, ujalaa and kaala! Did I not tell you in my earlier posts that Bihari was indeed a very colourful language?
कपार फारना (break someone’s head) is a popular expression which is used even for the smallest of injuries caused the the vanquished. (Refer an earlier post of mine). कपार is an adaptation of the Sanskrit kapaal, however please do not break your heads trying to link कपार फारना with kapaal-bhaati made popular in the last decade by Swami Ramdev.
Bihari has its share of puns too. See the usage of भोर in the sentence. The former भोर (भोरे -भोरे , very early morning) is the Bihari adoption of the Sanskrit “bhor” as in pratahkaal. However the other भोर (भोरा) is the localization and simplification of bhula (dena). To forget. This is one explanation. The other plausible one is that once fresh morning dawns a Bihari forgets the unpleasant happenings of the previous day. So morning is the time to for forgetting.
बेंग is another interesting word. Of course it means a toad. I do not know what the Bihari word for frog is. (in fact I have difficulty myself in telling the difference between a toad and a frog in English even. बेंग to me not only brings to life the jumping of this creature but also in some ways imitates the sounds it makes while it is jumping around! The word for dog, कुक्कुर, is another interesting one. I wonder what the etymology of this word is. Enlightened readers, please throw some light!
“लंगटे करना” is a major pastime for the Bihari male. No, no, I am not saying that an average Bihari is any more lecherous than an average Indian. However this means to a Bihari is stripping someone’s of his dignity, and dignity is something a Bihari strongly cherishes.
And now for the most interesting word.
मऊग is an interesting word essentially used to deride anyone who has even a trace of feminine characteristics. The Bihari male is supposed to be macho, a MAN. The Bihari word for this is मरद. मऊग he cannot be. Of course मरद is the Biharification of Persian word “mard” which means a male. However, the opposite of मरद is not मऊग, but मउगी. Between मरद and मउगी lies the मऊग. As if in a no-man’s land. Or a no-woman’s land for that matter. For a male to be a man is of utmost importance. There is even a gentle reproach for a man who is not displaying courage. “मरदे ते नाहीं !”. (You are not man enough!). This phrase, by the way, is not pan-Bihari I think used only in Bhojpuri. It was just to give you an idea of the concept called मरद!
The other gender pairings are मरद-मेहरारू (husband-wife), छौंरा -छौंरी   (boy- girl). लौंडा and लौंडी (boy and girl) is popular across the Hindi speaking belt, however not so much in Bihar I think. Correct me if I am wrong. However, this bring me back to the मऊग. लौंडा’s dance is what the मरद of a baraat-party watch through the night in the villages. And invariably the लौंडा  was a मौग who was a clean-shaven young male wearing a false bosom wriggling his hips (and the false bosom of course) to the raunchiest of lyrics to keep the baraatis awake while the marriage was solemnized through the night. This certainly was the high point for any baraati till the 1970’s. Subsequently I have not been to a village wedding though I heard that real female dancers imported from Banaras had replaced the laundas.  I do not know what is the status now.

Musings on the Hawaii Chappal

August 1, 2012

The other day, during an utterly mindless and aimless browsing of the internet, I came across a four- year old news story. Bata announcing the sale of its brand “Hawaii” to a Brazilian company. Bata may be a Multinational (it is Canadian) but to Indians of my age group at least, Bata is (was?) very much Indian. Thanks to their excellent distribution network across smaller towns and those  very “modern” (for that era) Bata showrooms. These were the stores where black leather shoes were purchased at the beginning of the school academic year. They were expensive of course, all of Rs 35 (Rs 34.95 actually in true Bata pricing tradition; a “sub-nearest-rupee” pricing was long called Bata pricing) in the early seventies of last century. But what the hell, their shoes were widely reputed to be sturdy and resilient- up to a point at least-to the sturdy kicks we gave to the roadside gravel as we walked home in the evening from school. Parents knew their money was well-spent on a pair of Bata shoes. Money could be saved elsewhere like bargaining for the lowest rate for socks, vests etc. at the local hosiery store.

Anyway, coming back to the Hawaii which is the theme of this piece, the news of Bata selling off this “family heirloom” as it were was a bit of a shock to me. Hawaii chappals, those rubber slippers called “flip-flops” elsewhere in the English-speaking world were a part of growing-up those days. Kids in a middle class family ran around bare feet. With growing family affluence you were bought a pair of Hawaii chappals. Just like the relative affluence of a family moving to a toothbrush (from a neem twig). Or from the cooking pot to a pressure cooker. The surahi to refrigerator change was further up the socio-economic scale. If you do not understand what I mean you may not want to continue reading further.

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For those who still continue to read, and who may not have seen a Hawaii pair, let me describe them  to you. This footwear was nearly always white in colour with blue straps. I do not remember wearing anything but the blue and white combo. The white would get eroded over months of use and the underlying blue layering was exposed. That was still ok till even the blue wore off and all what you could see was the soil underneath. That was the time to replace the chappals. Occasionally the blue strap would give way. This was easily corrected depending on the location of damage. An errant strap-end which came out of the base could be refitted through some diligent coaxing with a blunt pencil or if broken at the joint where the two branches of the strap met (at the toe-hold) could be stitched up by the neighbourhood cobbler. It was utterly cool to show up with repaired chappals. And just in case the broken straps were beyond repair, you could have them replaced by new straps. The foot-wear seller would use an intricately-shaped tool which he would lubricate with some waxy substance to get the three ends of the new strap into each slipper. You could sometimes be in a situation where you were wearing a pair of chappals with the white base frayed and with spanking new blue straps.

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Hawaii chappals were the most comfortable footwear in the world. Ask me, I wore them for all my five years of my engineering classes. Except for the workshops where we were sternly warned to wear laced shoes, lest we hurt our toes.

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I have been travelling on work for the last 25 years. Initially, as a rookie, I stayed in lodges and cheap hotels and it was necessary to carry my Hawaii chappals while travelling. Always neatly wrapped in a sheet of the previous day’s newspaper and tucked inside a corner of my suitcase. When packing my bags home from hotels which did not provide the morning newspaper I would have to find some other means of wrapping them up neatly!

Over time, the hotels became fancier and they offered “carpet slippers” in a variety of designs and materials. But I continued- and I still do- carry my own chappals where I travel. It just makes you feel at home, does it not? You are no more in a different city,  you have carried the distinctively comfortable footwear along with you- your regular chappals.

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I still wear rubber slippers, but alas not Hawaii anymore. The wannabe Hawaiis come in a myriad of colours and materials. But what the hell, they are still reasonably comfortable!

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The pic above is stolen from the internet, I do not possess the blue and white Hawaiis anymore. Alas!


Aah the joys of Achaar!

July 31, 2012

Simple joys of life

In a post of mine earlier this year, I wondered what was pan-Indian about the “Indian cuisine” given the variety across the states, and indeed within a state as well. Havingdeeply reflected for several months I have realized that the two things most common- and loved- are achaar and chutney. For most of us no meal is complete without these. The source vegetable or fruit for either could vary, the preparation method could differ, they could be wet or dry, but their place on the Indian dining table remains constant.

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Among Biharis too, the achaar is ubiquitous. Several jars of achaar of different types adorn every kitchen shelf. For many housewives it was a matter of pride to be able to prepare and stock up varieties of achaar.  And it had multiple uses. Sample these:

Setting off on a longish train journey? In the days I was growing up you never knew how long a train journey would take, a fourteen-hour trip could take up to twenty four hours or even thirty four. So advance precautions were in order. The housewife would pack some achaar along with poori. And some aloo-bhujiya too if she had the time for this delicacy among tying up the hold-alls and arranging gifts for those we were going to visit.

Some in the family find the mandatory Saturday khichdi dinner too bland? Just plonk a portion of achaar on the cribber’s plate and watch him gobble up the khichdi with alacrity.

An honoured guest at home (eg son-in-law) had to be welcomed with tons of sweets or commonly haluwa. Lest he got sick of so much of mithaas, you served generous quantities of achaar on the side to balance the hyper-sweetness.

Pregnant daughter/daughter-in-law at home longing for something spicy to eat? No worries, help is at hand. Just serve her a some of the achaar at home.

Sattu ka paratha (makuni in Bhojpuri) to be spiced up? No problem, just pour into the sattu mix a portion of the spiced up oil from one of the achaar containers at home.

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All this may sounds casual, but I have seen with my own eyes as a kid the painstaking process of preparing achaar at home. It requires hours of preparation, days of curing, months of saving it up for years of consumption. Sounds confusing? Let me explain this to you.

Aam ka achaar was the most popular one in a Bihari household, and I believe it still is. Pitaji would shop for the right mangoes at just the right price. This would be brought home in a big jhola. He would have a look of glee on his face as if saying what a great bargain he had made.

Mai would get down to cutting the little mangoes- soaked in water for a while- in just the right way, dexterously removing the “stalky” end of the fruit which if left behind may spoil the eventual product. it would be dried in the blazing sun for a whole day. These would be spread on a clean cotton sari or a dhoti on the terrace or the bagichaa and left to dry under the blazing sun for the entire day. The children in the household were deputed to keep an eye on the mango pieces and to shoo away any adventurous birds which might want to sample the fruit or simply sit upon the spread.

Once dried, the inner white chhilka (the whitish thing encasing the non-existing guthli) would be removed as that could spoil the eventual end-product. This mass of cut and cleaned mango pieces was coated with haldi and salt and kept away overnight. Then a propriety mix of dried spices would be roasted and ground. Yellow sarson, haldi, lal mirch, ajwain, mangrail, methi, dhaniya, etc etc. This dry mix would be added to mango pieces in a shallow, large dish (paraat in Bhojpuri) and copious amount of oil would be added. Mustard oil was mandatory. How else would the achaar get its distinctive flavour! This well-spiced and well-oiled mass was placed into a large glass jar with a wide mouth. Hindi-speaking India calls this jar a martbaan, in Bhojpuri we call it a boiyyaam. I still remember those vessels with a glass lid with a neat orb perched on top serving as the handle. The jar would be placed in the sun for some fifteen consecutive days, placed outside in the morning and returned to the shelf in the kitchen by sunset. The jar would be gently shaken once in a while to ensure that the oil was adequately distributed across the jar. After fifteen days the achaar was ready to consume. The spice and oil ensured that it could last even for three years. Just some oil needed to be added once in a while and some occasional sunning of the achaar as well.

While mango achaar was the most popular achaar in Bhojpuri household there were some other common ones as well. The lethal looking, but extremely tasty laal mirch achaar, anwala, katahal, amda (distinct from anwala) and nimbu ka achaar. Kids were often asked to help in preparing the nimbu for the pickling process. The nimbu had to rid of its outer surface- probably to enable the spice to permeate inside- and this was a laborious process. It had to be scraped  against a stone or other such hard and rough surface. All hands on board for this activity!

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I knew I will miss India when I took a job outside India. I was leaving my family behind, so I would indeed miss them. I would miss the home food, though thankfully I have an Indian domestic help who cooks for me. So roti, sabzi is not an issue. But the problem is the taste! And I do miss intensely achaar and chutney. Chutney of the mooli-dhaniya-tamatar variety. And when life seems tough and monotonous, the dinner too insipid, eating alone a chore, I reach out for one of the factory-made achaar bottles I always keep. They are not quite the home-made stuff, but what the hell, their mere presence on my dinner plate brings back oodles of joy in life, and tons of taste in the meal!


Blast from the past: HUM KISISE KUM NAHIN

May 31, 2012

This post was initially written some years ago for my friend Atul’s popular blog, atulsongaday.me. This piece is reproduced here with his permission.  

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I have this blue rexine-clad diary of mine, now thirty-odd years old, which I still preserve. I was into my mid-teens when someone gave me this diary. Not that I wrote in it about the humdrum of small town India of the time, life was too humdrum in the city to write about. There was no TV station, not even a TV relay center in Jamshedpur. The day’s newspaper came in the evening from Calcutta (still Calcutta those days, not Kolkata!) as there was none from our city. No theatre of note, no hobby clubs, nothing whatsoever to engage a teenager those days.

However, there was one source of excitement, the Hindi cinema. Our town had five single screen cinemas (“talkies”, as they were called), three more if one counted the three cinemas on the town’s outskirts. Life revolved around Fridays, the day a new movie would get released. Not that new movies were released in our town the day they were in Bombay or Delhi. (As they would mention in the venerable trade broadsheet weekly, “Screen”, Bombay circuit, Delhi/ Punjab circuit or Nizam circuit (Hyderabad etc.). Never mind if the movie was being screened three months after the Bombay release, Fridays were most looked forward to!

I kept a record in my blue diary all the movies I had seen. Even the name of the cinema and the date.
Another section of the diary also recorded the countdown of songs in Binaca Geet Mala.

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1977 was a most interesting year for film buffs like me, that last few months of the year saw the release of two of the best movies I had ever seen, “Amar, Akbar, Anthony”, and “Hum Kisise Kam Nahin”. But the catch was that these movies got released in Jamshedpur close to my 10th standard (ICSE) exams. Using techniques I have discussed in my blog, I managed to see both just before the exams. That I got reasonably good marks is perhaps a testimony to the good feelings these movies suffused me with!

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Now coming to the song under discussion. As per my blue diary, I saw “Hum Kisise Kam Nahin” on 14th October 1977.

And what a movie it was! If there ever was a musical, this was one. Some nine songs, and each one of them a gem! From Rafi, to Kishore, to Asha, to RD. And all set to music by the great RD Burman.
Right from the word go when the logo of “Nasir Hussain Films” appeared with shayari in the background:

Kya ishq ne samjha hai, kya husn ne jaana hai,
Ham khaq-nasheenon ke, thokar mein zamana hai.”

Huge round of applause from the enraptured crowd in the cinema followed, but naturally.

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A summary of the story:

Sanjay (young Tariq played by Master Bunty) is (kind of) betrothed to Kaajal (Young Kaajal Kiran played by Baby Rani Bannerji); you should see the movie to know the circumstances. They are very much in love, and as all the 9 year olds in the Hindi cinema of yore, even sang heavy-duty numbers like “Kya hua tera vaada” with appropriate actions for lines like “dil ki tarah se haath miley hain, kaise bhala chhootengey kabhi.”

When Master Sanjay become Mr Sanjay, he realizes that Miss Kaajal has vanished from his life. Throw in Mr Rajesh (Rishi Kapoor) who is in love with Miss Sunita in London (Zeenat Aman in a guest appearance) but she is planned to be married off to Mr Ranjeet by her tyrant father (the great Ajit in a guest role).

Mr Sanjay’s and Miss Kaajal’s paths cross several times but the socio-economic divide between them is too acute for them to even get to know each other‘s pasts. And Mr Rajesh is trying to woo Miss Kaajal for an agenda of his (and a couple of villainous characters, Amjad Khan being one) own. He still pines for Miss Sunita.

The goal for him: a leather belt bulging with diamonds worth Rs 25 crores (in 1977, this was of some value!!)

Note: Please do notice the usage Mr Rajesh, Miss Kaajal etc. Hindi movies somehow do not accept the fact that it is perfectly OK to call someone Mr Singh or Miss Gupta or Mr Verma. A character is always identified by his/ her first name, never the surname lest the mention sully the character with caste implications! When child artistes are named in the credit rolls, they are always Master him and a Baby her.

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Never mind the story, this film is bursting with some great songs. Including the ones in the “All India Pop Competition” being conveniently held in Nainital where the entire dramatis personae of the movie is working, holidaying, plotting, romancing. The right guys get the right girls in the end, the right set of diamonds show up with the right claimant. All is well in the end as it ought to be.

The key highlight of the movie is Rafi’s song: “Kya hua tera vaada.”

This is the song which reunites Mr Sanjay and Miss Kaajal in a pub. (We, in the audience, had all lost hope that they would ever meet up.) But Master Sanjay and Baby Kaajal show up in a flashback-like sequence as Tariq sings.

The beauty of the song is that even in the then disco-ized environs of Bollywood, Rafi held his own with this somber number. This fetched him the National Playback Singer of the Year as well as the Filmfare award for the best male singer. Those I think were the last of his National and Filmfare awards. This was some 2-3 years before his demise.

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My blue diary records that other songs pipped “Kya hua tera vaada” to the post in the finals of “Binaca Geet Mala 1978”. It was placed at the 3rd position. The number one song of the year was Hemlata’s “Ankhiyon ke Jharokhe sey” from the eponymous film and the number two was Rafi’s own “Aadmi musafir hai” from Apnapan.

Pity!


Blast from the past: DON

May 3, 2012

This piece was originally written at Atul’s request for his immensely popular blog (over 5900 songs and thirty lakh hits at the last count) http://www.atulsongaday.me. I have not met Atul ever but somehow I have ended up writing a few pieces for his blog. These I have subsequently posted on my blog too with Atul’s permission.

In his blog Atul covers Hindi film songs- nearly all pre-1980. Each article has a short write up about a song a video link, and sometimes if a video is not available in case of some very obscure movie, then an audio link as well. It is a goldmine of information for a Hindi film music lover. In case you are one, visit Atul’s blog now before proceeding with reading the piece below!

“Khaike Paan Banaras Waala”:

If you are an Indian, and you have not been to Varanasi (or Banaras, or Kashi) you have not seen an important part of your heritage. If you are a foreigner interested in India and not been to Varanasi, you have not seen one of the key centers of the Indian essence. And if you have been to Varanasi, and not had a paan there, your visit to Varanasi was incomplete, please return to the city. I think I have gone off-track, this blog is about film songs. Sorry!

So let us begin from the very beginning.

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Once upon a time, many, many years ago there was a super smuggler by the name Don. He was handsome, powerful, rich, and had many henchmen (in fact a whole “galaxy” of them: Kamal Kapoor, Mac Mohan, Zubisco, Shetty etc etc. He had utter disdain for human life. He could shoot someone whose shoes he did not like (“Paon dekho iske, mujhey iskey jootey achhey nahin lagey“). (it is another matter that his third eye could see through the right heel of the killed man’s shoe. The deceased had tucked into it some major incriminating details about Don and his gang.) And after the kill Don nonchalantly requests his moll to get him a drink!

This, in turn, causes two pretty women to itch for his death. The first one, Helen, the fiance of the deceased, does remarkably well and ingratiates herself to Don in a matter of a few hours and enters his bedroom. Of course she wants to get the police to sweep in as she is seducing him with a great cabaret number (“yeh mera dil pyaar ka diwaana”). Unfortunately she becomes Don’s human shield in the police raid and loses her life. The other woman, the luscious Zeenat Aman, the deceased’s sister gets trained in martial arts and stage-manages her way into Don’s gang.

Don had one big enemy. The incorruptible, efficient, diligent police boss, Iftekhaar. (I would love to know the per cent of movies where this gentleman has not played a police officer.) And surprise, surprise, the upright cop wins, pretty much in the initial part of the movie when Don gets killed after a gory shoot-out. The catch is that only the dear cop knows Don is dead, no one else does. And that is great as the top cop wants to reach the rest of the gang. He spreads the news that the Don escaped from the police and is at large.

Lo and behold, he remembers meeting Vijay, who looks identical to Don. Who else can be Vijay in a Salim Javed movie but the great Amitabh Bachchan! The look-alike is traced out and the cop boss strikes a deal with him to act as Don in return for something dear to him (the look-alike). The return gift is that while Vijay is in Don’s den working like the Don and getting the gang exposed, the cop would take care of his two “adopted” kids (the adoption is another story, but very intrinsic to the plot of the movie).

Vijay is a rustic (presumably from a village near Varanasi, or maybe Varanasi City itself, it does not matter!) who earns a living in Bambai (Bombay or Mumbai) by dancing and singing on the streets (“Ee hai bambai nagariya, tu dekh babua“). One of his big loves is paan, he chews it almost constantly. Spitting the paan juice to his side, wiping his lips with his fingers and which in turn are wiped on his kurta. His concerns in life are very simple. Like fretting about his accompanying percussionist Shambhu who plays a beat not to Vijay’s liking. (“Ee Sambhu dholakia bada paaji hai, kaharwa chhod kuchh bajata hi nahin“, while Vijay’s request is to get into the teen-taal beat). On his meager earnings for the day he laments that it is low and would have difficulty making the two ends meet (“Ismey koi kya nahaaye, kya nichodey“). Another small regret he has is that during the training to be Don he is advised to refrain from chewing paan as Don never partook of this essential.

Anyway, Vijay is trained adequately and he reaches the Don’s den posing as an amnesiac. Amnesia to cover for his lack of knowledge about his gang members and his exploits and his habits. Very convenient, no?

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Back to Varanasi and its paan. Yours truly was funded by his parents to live in Varanasi for five years academic pursuits. (this incidentally was just a couple of years after Don was released in 1978). I enjoyed my pursuits, which much to the chagrin of my parents, were nearly all non-academic. I hugely enjoyed my stay in the famed city. I would not go into the details of that but just one confession. I was hardly a paan afficionado, but I took to it in Varanasi with gusto. The market place just outside the campus had two famed paan shops. They were known by the paanwallah‘s names. Keshav and Mahender. Their’s was a non-fussy paan. No fancy spices or sweetening agents like gulkand. Just some kattha, choona, supaari (geeli or saadi) and a laung if you wanted one). The magic lay in the precise formulation of the kattha and the choona. The quality of supaari and paan leaf being used. This was loving rolled into a triangle and passed to you. With some extra kattha/choona/supaari if you requested. A paan was not just a delight to the sensory buds, but merely being in the immediate vicinity to a paan shop was an experience by itself.

To start with you could catch up on the local politics.

Ee Bechu ke chunav mein iss saal inka saara panelwa haar jayega”. “Bechu” being the local speak for the university I was studying in, BHU aka Banaras Hindu University. Panelwa= Panel. Student politics was a hot item in the campus (and outside it) when I was studying there.

The other person would react: “Arey aap janbey nahin kartey, oo panelwa ko poora bhot mil raha hai Brahman chhatron ka aur poori IT ka.” My partial translation: Bhot= VOTE, IT is the abbreviated form of Institute of Technology of the BHU.

This exchange would continue while Keshav ji would keep preparing dozens and dozens of paan servings, all the while shaking his head and his body seated on his perch in the tiny paan shop.

Not that only BHU politics was discussed, even the city, national and international topics was brought into focus. But that is a long story, a subject matter of another post.

Such was the passion a paan induced. One last thing about the BHU paan. The paanwallah next to our hostel used to offer a “palang-tod paan” if he got the right price. I wonder now as to what a male-only hostel inmate would do after consuming the said offering. Palang= Bed or cot and Tod= break. So this palang-tod paan induces bed-breaking energy in the consumer! I leave it to you to guess what this could mean!

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I digressed again. So back to the story. I will keep it simple and short. Vijay, posing as Don, “learns” all he needs to “get out of amnesia”. “Mujhey sab kuchh yaad aa gaya hai“. He resumes life the way the real Don would have. His henchmen are impressed.

Just one catch, the whole world thinks of him as Don, only the good cop knows he is not Don. This one is a no-brainer to predict, the good cop dies and we have the whole world baying for Vijay’s blood. The (remaining) cops, the bad guys etc etc. But for Zeenie baby. She has been taken into confidence by the good cop before his death.

This post is not meant to be a narration of the story of Don. Suffice it to say that Don and Zeenie are running away late one evening from both the cops and the baddies and they find find refuge in a dhobi ghat which is populated by Vijay’s ilk, men from Varanasi. They are preparing for an evening session of bhang when they are stumped by the appearance of a western outfit clad Don (=Vijay) and the lissome white-skirted lady (Zeenie).

As you can guess, Vijay is offered glassfuls (and then lotafuls) of bhang which he consumes much to his girlfriend’s consternation. She beseeches him to leave, which he does as she tugs him off till the local paan wallahoffers him a Banarsi paan. That does something to Vijay. He has not had a paan for ages and he must have one. Now. And one more. And then some more. GF gives up when Vijay exclaims: “pehle paan phir gaan“.

And that is when he breaks out into that all-time hit song which you must see right now in this wonderful blog of Atul’s…….

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PS: That paan shop sequence also has a poster of Rajesh Khanna’s hit film “Dushmun” (released 1971 but then spelt as Dushman- I know as I have seen the movie). Was that the time when Don was active?


The Great “Indian” Cuisine

January 1, 2012

I have been wondering for the past few years; so what is Indian cuisine?

When I first moved to South India to take up my campus job, I had gone there “knowing” that I will need to live with the “Madrasi” cuisine. Hyderabad was my base city and I had to travel across Andhra Pradesh. I was bewildered with the cuisine variety. The stuff in Hyderabad (biryani, haleem, khubani ka meetha etc.) and that in coastal Andhra (the Andhra Meals, Chicken 65, Babai Idli in Vijayawada). And, by the way, you were lucky to get some edible stuff in the remote corners of Telengana (think towns like Belampalli, Mancherial etc)! Often I had to report to the company HQ in Chennai. The MADRAS! Here too the choices were amazing! Food made Iyengar style, Iyer style. “Military hotels” were diagonally opposite the preceding two cuisines. Then Chettinad stuff as well. What is “Madrasi” cuisine?

A large part of my recent life I have lived in Bangalore. I thought I knew all about the variety of state-wise cuisines till I discovered the food served in Bangalore is different from that in Mysore and totally different from the stuff in Mangalore. The Bijapur/ Gulbarga khana is something else. Not to speak of the Coorgi stuff (the meat of wild boar is a coveted delicacy here). I am sure Chikmagalur, Belgaum, Karwar etc would have their own distinctive flavours.

Take Rajasthan for example, a state I worked extensively in. There is the “saatwic” Marwari cuisine, the laal maas favoured by the Rajputs and then the fafdaas served in areas bordering MP.

I could go on-and-on showing-off my knowledge of India’s geography. But I will stop here. Just two more points.

Bihar is where I was born and raised in. Once, I tried a few months ago on my blog to champion the cause of the unheard “Bihari cuisine”. I was (am still) toying with the idea of starting a Bihari speciality restaurant chain. I have, since, realized that there is no such thing as Bihari cuisine. What I was discussing in my blog was Bhojpuri cuisine. Bhojpur is the region in Bihar where my parents hail from. The neighbouring geographies of Bihar; Bengal, Orissa, Nepal and Uttar Pradesh have their own distinct cuisines.

I now live away from India. When I talk to folks here in Hong Kong, or see people ordering food in the restaurants, I hear that they “loooooove” Indian food. And what is that lovely Indian food in their opinion? Naan, tandoori chicken and prawn vindaloo! (Some evolved ones may even mention samosa and “poppadums“.) I would love to know how many Indian households cook and serve naan/ tandoori chicken/ prawn vindaloo! And, pray, what is a vindaloo???

Now I am sticking my neck out here, please bear with me. For most Indians food is like religion. If you were to ask a Hindu to describe what “being-a-Hindu” means, will you get a uniform and cogent answer? If you do, let me know. I am still struggling with my thoughts on this subject. Similarly, if you ask Indians what cuisine they like, most are likely to mention Indian food. Now ask them to describe the cuisine. If you get a uniform and cogent answer out of a diversified sample, please let me know.

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Happy Mother’s Day

May 8, 2011

The hobble has accentuated over the years, but the activities remain undiminished, albeit a bit slow. The dementia has worsened over the years, but she does not forget to ask me for a repeat helping of the post-dinner dessert. If anything she asks even oftener than what she used to, thanks to her dementia. The voice and eyesight are substantially feebler, but her feistiness remains. I have a sure-shot cure for the eyesight, “Why don’t you clean your glasses, the greasy lenses are clouding your vision. And why do you need to wear your specs anyway, you neither read the newspapers not watch the TV.” She gives me a glare, “How do you think I will see the time” she yells as she gesture with her left hand making sure I see clearly that she is indeed wearing a watch. I don’t have the heart to tell her that she can barely read the watch- with or without her glasses- regularly confusing the minute hand for the hour and vice versa.

Regular readers of this blog would find this person familiar, yes, it is my mother, mai we call her, now into her 81st year. Mai, and Pitaji who is onto his 87th year live by themselves in Jamshedpur. They have regularly appeared in this blog, though I have not told them of all the posts on them I have written. Here are an older post on mai which they are both aware of, and here is another post which I have never told them about.

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I am in Jamshedpur for a day just to look them up. Travel to Jamshedpur from Bangalore is an arduous task. Jamshedpur does have an airport, but strangely it has no commercial flights! So I take a flight from Bangalore to Kolkata. A cab drive to Howrah and then take the train to Tatanagar. I reach home late evening on Friday, Pitaji is already asleep, mai is waiting outside in the verandah. “You must be tired, come and have your dinner.” I was indeed tired and I readily acquiesce to dinner. She hobbles across to the kitchen fixing things in the microwave as I change. “Leave it mai”, I exclaim rather rudely. “No, no, how can I leave it! You go and change!” I have not choice but to do what she says.

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Saturday at home- the only full day I have at home- goes in meeting people. Neighbours and relatives. Parents are in the background all the time.

We have a quiet dinner and we plan to sleep early. I have an early morning train to catch the following morning, after all. The return journey to Bangalore as tough. I have the 6.15am Steel City Superfast Express to catch. This will reach me in time to Howrah Station from where I can take a taxi-ride to the Kolkata airport to take my 2.30pm flight to Bangalore. The regular auto-wallah (tempo-wallah in Jamshedpur-speak) has been reached on his cell phone after multiple tries by Pitaji (after multiple reminders to Pitaji by Mai.) I have set my mobile alarm to 4.30am.

We are all set now.

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I was not been able to sleep. At all! I kept waking up with the fear that I may not be able to wake up in time for the train.

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Mai walks in at something like 3 am in the morning. She drapes me with another sheet over what I am already having. I can hear her muttering to herself, “Santosh must be feeling cold by now.” I do not react, and I quite welcome sheets two. It was slightly cold as it had indeed been raining throughout the night. Very off-season rains, they have been.

Thirty minutes later- and I am pretty deep asleep- Mai bends onto me and asks, “Don’t you need Poori and Sabzi for your journey, you have a long journey ahead.” I am very very irritable and I shoo her off, “Why don’t you let me sleep in PEACE!”

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Another 30 minutes, Pitaji walks in and announces that my cup of tea is ready and I should wake up. Mai is hanging around behind Pitaji. I was not told the following by either of them, but I knew the following:

  • Mai had had a bath at something like 3.45 in the morning
  • Prior to this she had swept and swabbed the floor.
  • She had changed into fresh clothes.
  • She had made cups of tea for me and her at that hour.
  • She offered me the good-luck bowlful of dahi and sugar. Never mind if I refused the sugared dahi. “You must have it”, she said, “Brings you good luck for your journey.”

I do remember this routine of Mai from the countless early morning departures of her many offsprings. No sweeping/swabbing/bathing after people leave.

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I have now placed my luggage in the waiting auto. Pitaji and Mai are around to see me off. I bend down and touch their feet. Mai pats me on my back and wishes me well. There is something to her touch that makes me clamber into the auto. I wave at her without getting into a discussion. I try my best to wipe my tears unseen. I don’t think my tears have escaped mai’s eyes as I do that.

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I reach Tatanagar station and get hold of the daily newspapers for the journey ahead. In each newspaper I see an ad or two announcing that today is the Mother’s Day.

I had not known this, and I am sure she does not either.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

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