Chai near a bus-stop

(I invited Pooja Susan Thomas, a doctoral student at IIT Gandhinagar to write a piece for my blog. When I asked Pooja to send me a bio-note she  shared a brilliant news that she is into writing a non-fiction work on “ How to procrastinate your Ph.D”?

Here’s to years of rambling, discussions, criticisms and laughter over several cups of tea from the past and the experience of having chai on your own...)

From where I stand, across the road, I can see the milk froth into steam as it is poured from the bhagona to the pan. The crowd around the kitliwalla drew closer to the kerosene stove hissing away its displeasure at being overworked. The conversation grew more rapid, the words keeping tempo with that hunger for a cup of chai. Some men seemed absorbed in conversation, a rumour of a property deal, the prospect of farming land that may fetch a good price with the hint of a marriage alliance, damn that bus that does not come, perhaps because of the waterlogging that used to happen in the area, which reminds one of the fight that broke out at the Panchayat office in the evening, a love affair they say of a Patel girl with some Rabari boy.

Even as, from the corner of the eye, they watch him slit another packet of fattened milk (twenty two rupees now), pour it into the pan, add water from a much scrubbed plastic jug, then sugar, and pounded ginger. They watch the milk protest, rise, and threaten to trespass the edge of control but relentlessly, his long broad spoon churns and stirs its very insides till the colour darkens, its waters thicken, and the air is weighed down by the smell of ginger. He wipes his hands, and turns to put his mortar and pestle, still flecked with some of that root, in a basin full of water under the platform on which his stove submits to his workmanship. He washes his spoon and keeps it aside and pulls out the cloth tucked into his waist. He holds the hot pan to raise it and pour gentle amber into the pot covered with a strainer.

There is silence as he raises the pot and streams the chai, fragrant with dust, ginger and some spice, into the pan. He briskly stirs it again with his spoon, triumphantly rings the spoon against the edge of its frayed aluminium, and raises it once more till it froths, fumes and slides into the pot. The men have now stopped talking, in anticipation. The driver of the bus that will never come decides it is time to keep an eye on the proceedings; the conductor walks by slapping his thigh with the steel box of ticket chits and pushes his way to the front, right next to the stove, and asks dryly, ho gaya? He is not from here, his village is in UP, his tongue has yet to find its way around the language of his work.

In response, the man stirs his tea again, taps the spoon twice against the pan and the conversation that had begun to stir is abandoned for the cup of tea. Hands are stretched out to receive a tiny chipped cup in a saucer into which tea spills over in a gesture of plenty. Heads bend over saucers, cups held aside for the moment as the chai cools and is soon sucked up. Some shared their tea, pouring a little bit into an extra saucer. Still slurping, they turned when they hear a woman’s voice. She asked for some chai, in Hindi. They watched her curiously as she tried to pour the extra tea back into the cup. They watched her balancing her cup and recede to the back where she thought she could drink unnoticed. But even the chai walla paused his performance to turn and stare at a woman drinking tea in a stall full of men in the middle of nowhere.

The driver is finally awake. He gives his cup to the boy who is running around picking up after the men who are now satisfied. There is nothing else to wait for, he decides, and walks to the bus to coax it out of its slumber. He looks around and catches sight of the woman who had been waiting for the bus drinking tea. Jaldi, he urges, irritatedly.

©itiriti

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Food Trail @ Landour

LandourLandour continues to be one of my favourite getaway destinations from Delhi. Nestled far away from Mussorie it enjoys the advantage of  the greatest views, pines dotting the walkways, pleasant landscapes and some unforgettable  trails if you like to explore hill station on foot.  Landour takes its name from Llanddowror, a village in Carmarthenshire in Southwest Wales.  It was built in 1825 as a sanatorium for the British Army Officers and presently this quaint hill station is house to  Ruskin Bond, Tom Alter, Victor Banerjee and many others. This hill station till a few years back boasted of few guest houses, and home stays. Our favourite hault was Devdarwoods located at an uphill near Sister’s Bazaar (interestingly the name owes to the nurses who stayed here during colonial times) where P and I stayed for a rent of Rs 600 inclusive of a complimentary breakfast spread which included toasts with an amazing range of preserves (apricot, plum, gooseberry), and peanut butter.

Cut to 2013. K and I settled to stay at a beautiful homestay of Bhatty’s which is a good fifteen to twenty-minute hike from the Main gate of Woodstock School or from Sister’s Bazaar.

Study Corner of our room @ Bhatty's

Study Corner of our room @ Bhatty’s

We were welcomed over a breakfast of crisp toasts and preserves from Prakash. Prakash’s store @ Sister’s Bazaar sells a variety of preserves, chutney, jelly, peanut butter and  I strongly recommend Apricot, Plum and Gooseberry preserve. The store also boasts of baking fresh breads and banana walnut cake.

We had a list of places to try out. Mrs Bhatty recommended us to try out Chhaya Cafe and DP has been insisting to try out their Chicken Pot Pie ever since her trip to Landour. K and I walked down to Landour Bazaar to place order for a pair of hand crafted leather shoes. Instead we placed orders for a range of colourful shoes. While K bagged two pairs of yellow and red shoes in her kitty, I settled for beige, and blue coloured shoes. The shoes are priced between Rs 350-700. If you are staying in Landour for two to three days please order yourself a pair of these hand crafted leather shoes and sandals available in a variety of colours.

Chhaya Cafe

After that we settled for a lunch at Chhaya Cafe. Chhaya Cafe is located at Malanghar Hill. You can enjoy a sunny afternoon lunch of Chicken Pot Pie, some Fresh Lime Water and a good array of freshly bakes in this small cafe managed by women.

Chicken Pot Pie

Chicken Pot Pie is a Chhaya Speciality and is served with a fresh salad. Other options include Mediterranean Platter, and Sandwiches. The Cafe is wi-fi enabled; to avert free wi-fi users, there is a request to order dishes within every one hour use of wi-fi facilities. Interesting indeed! We enjoyed the decor of Chhaya Cafe. True to its name which means shelter, the cafe has a huge tree painted in the ceiling and tree motifs adorn some of the tables. A box of chalks are kept in some tables for enthusiastic artists.  A meal for two would be a little over 500 INR.

Table Chhaya Cafe

After wrapping our lunch here, we walked up to St. Paul’s Church and settled for a coffee break at Emily’s- the restaurant of newly restored Rokeby Manor. Emily’s is a new addition in Landour’s landscape with Rokeby Manor being transformed into a pretty place. Such “pretty” transformations in quiet hill stations like Landour have invited quite a few intruders in terms of increase in traffic in the road leading to Sister’s Bazaar from Landour Bazaar. While I secretly wanted the calm and peace one enjoyed the steep walk from Landour Bazaar to St. Paul’s Church I cherished the welcome change that Emily’s have brought in Landour. Emily’s is a must visit. The smell of freshly prepared bread welcomed us as we entered Emily’s.

Emily's

To begin with we ordered a Sticky Toffee Pudding and Coffee.

Sticky Pudding

Next day we settled for Shepherd’s Pie, Penne in Pesto Basil Sauce and Cappuccino. While we have no complaints about the food, interesting bit was a charity amount of Rs 5 that we were charged in the bill. Interesting Initiative! A Friend suggested that we should have tried their Indian menu as well and if we had our way we might even settle for their Dinner. Compared to other eating out options, prices are a little steep. The main courses are from Rs 350 onwards. So a meal for two with coffee, and taxes will cost Rs 1000+ for two people.

A trip to Landour is incomplete without a tea/ coffee break at Char Dukan adjacent to St. Paul’s Church. Literally four cafes offer a variety of options from pancakes to waffles to piping hot Maggie. The icing of the trip was some beautiful kebabs ( shammi, sheekh ) we had at dinners at Bhatty’s. The best surprise was potato shammi kebab with freshly made mint dip and some lovely spinach dal. While I will try out my version of spinach dal this weekend, to reminiscence about the good times in Landour last weekend, if you are planning to take a weekend break with some great food you have to explore Landour.

How to Reach Landour from Delhi/ New Delhi:

By Train : It is an overnight journey from Delhi/ New Delhi to Dehradun. Either board The  Mussorie Express from Old Delhi or settle for The New Delhi- Dehradun Express which leaves New Delhi Railway Station at 11.55pm.

By Bus: Volvo Buses to Mussorie can be booked from ISBT Delhi. Taxis are available from Mussorie to Sister’s Bazaar.

Dehradun- Landour, Sister’s Bazaar

Book yourself a taxi from the prepaid taxi booth near Dehradun Station. It costs us Rs 1010.

©itiriti

Unwinding @ Three Windows @ Khoj

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True to its name this cafe is a welcome break if you want to have a quiet breakfast reading your newspaper or favourite book, work on your pending deadlines over a bowl of cold spinach soup and quiche and finally in the evening take a coffee break with some freshly baked cakes. The place is much more than food and literally so… You have to experience Three Windows @ KHOJ…

You can also place customised order for group lunches, birthday parties or business lunches as well. As you enter Khirki Extension, you have to park near Sai Baba Temple and walk down to KHOJ office.  The cafe’s  brunch has become a hit with the regulars.

You can check their facebook page for previous brunches. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Three-Windows-at-Khoj/242313559247463

The white decor of the cafe complements the no fussy food it serves. With a long table of 9-10 covers and two tables of four covers each, it is the perfect location to hold a one day discussion for reading groups, business lunches and blogger’s meet.  For group meetings you can order from their regular menu which includes a veg/non-veg soup, quiche and sandwiches, and desserts. The all day breakfast menu is quite tempting as well. It includes an interesting combination of nice pancakes, paranthas, and fruit salad with Yoghurt and Honey.  For egg- lovers there is a nice range as well.

The items are moderately priced between Rs 100-200 and the servings are quite generous. I tried their Quiche with Salad. The onion pickle on the side was a welcome change along with Garden Green Soup. I am a self- proclaimed Spinach fan and I am in love with their Spinach Cold Soup. A nice filling lunch ( like mine) will cost you Rs 290.  With Free Wi-Fi, this is a perfect place to unwind and work. I am all set to go there and work on a section of an essay. What about you?

If you are still wondering where to step out in the coming weekend or a quite place to getaway to work in the weekdays drop by @ Three Windows @ KHOJ.

The cafe is open from 9am-7pm.

Location: S-17 Khirki Extension, New Delhi-110017.

For customised parties and meetings contact Arti @ 9871309111. Please make reservations during weekends.

©itiriti

Gahana Bori

( Comment: I invited Dr. Utsa Ray to  write about Gahana bori- a speciality of Midnapore District in West Bengal.

Dr Utsa Ray is a historian of modern South Asia with a focus on the histories of class-formation, consumption, and taste. Her broad areas of study include Modern South Asia, Modern World, Globalization, Nationalism, Culinary Cultures, and Gender. Her essays have been published in Modern Asian Studies, Indian Economic and Social History Review (forthcoming), and her book Culinary Culture in Colonial India: A Cosmopolitan Platter and the Middle Class is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

In this piece she traces the history of Gahana Bori, its makers and how it was received. Happy Reading!)

Gahana boris are a decorative and ornamented sundried cones of lentil paste. The chief ingredient for gahana bori is moth bean. Moth bean is primarily used because of its viscosity. Moth bean is soaked in water the night before making bori so that its skin comes off easily next morning. This soaked bean when ground gives out a sticky texture required for making gahana bori. The batter for bori usually has a creamy consistency. It needs to be constantly stirred so that the batter is fluffy and the resultant bori is light and white in texture. At first poppy seeds are spread out on a large plate. Then the batter is tied up in a cloth with holes in the bottom. A cone is then tied to this cloth and moved clockwise on the poppy seeds to create motifs. Gahana bori is then sun dried thoroughly. These are made in winter because moist weather is not conducive to making gahana bori. Mostly gahana bori is designed in the form of paisley or different ornaments like necklace, tiara, earrings or bracelets or lotus. However, animal motifs like elephant, butterfly, deer, peacock, fish or parrot are also not uncommon.

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Gahana bori was and still is specifically made in eastern Medinipur. Women of mahishya caste in Tamluk, Mahishadal, Sutahata, Nandigram and Mayna are adept in making gahana bori. Gahana bori, which was first specific to three families, soon acquired a wider spread. Of course, its popularity had much to do with its eye-catching designs as well as crisp taste. However, the way gahana bori was praised by Rabindranath Tagore, his nephew Abanindranath Tagore and Abanindranath’s disciple Nandalal Bose, one of the finest artists of Bengal school speaks much about its becoming a fine art. This fine art originated in Medinipur but it became a pride of Bengal.

Once gahana bori earned this title of being a fine art, it could no longer remain confined to the platter of ordinary men and women of eastern Medinipur. The bori was no longer a simple delectable to be devoured. It was a product which yielded ultimate aesthetic pleasure and needed to be preserved. Abanindranath Tagore thus wrote in an undated letter: “These ‘nakashi’ boris from the Lakhsa village of Medinipur are not only a visual delight but also whet one’s appetite. However, grinding this bori with one’s teeth or cooking it in the form of curry is equivalent to fry and eat a fine piece of art.” Rabindranath Tagore too exclaimed that “these were to be seen and not for consumption”.1

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On the one hand we do see this appreciation of gahana bori as part of a larger history of Bengal although the presence of gahana bori before late 19th century is not warranted by any historical evidence. On the other hand gahana bori is still celebrated as the part and parcel of everyday life of a very specific region of Bengal. At that level the making of gahana bori is as much about the nitty-gritty of domesticity as it is about a sense of pride in this local art of Medinipur. To describe this phenomenon of ornamented bori as a form of sub-regional consciousness would be an overstatement. However, there is no doubt that alongside the claim of a universal aesthetic, local appreciations and regional pride never ceased to be associated with gahana bori.

Notes

1 Salilkumar Bandopadhyay, Rabindranath o Loksanskriti (Kolkata: Dey’s Publishing, 1994), p.237, first published in 1983;

Photo @ Shyamal Bera

©itiriti