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Mouthpiece #30

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Vibha Sharma

July 16 · Issue #30 · View online
Weekly digest of Vibha Sharma

Being an Indian
There is an online magazine to which I have contributed my book reviews some 2-3 times. I keep getting their mail inviting contributions on the next month’s theme and sharing the link of the published issue. In the recent mail, they are inviting writings on the theme ‘My India’. Though I did not send them my entry but it made me think what does India mean to me actually?
What does being an Indian mean to me? What is Indian-ness? Never gave a thought to it. Is it hard to describe because it is an abstract noun or is it an emotion which is actually unknown to me? I cannot really answer this myself. Sometimes when we are in a certain place all our lives and that is the only sample space that we have seen, it is hard to think of anything beyond that. Moreover, we do not spare much thought to what is already ours, perhaps this is what permanence does to our mind. Our being and identity get ingrained and integrated with the thing, here, it is the country.
Having said that, we are no longer living isolated lives. We constantly get exposed to news, views, vistas and locales of the world beyond our own through innumerable platforms and media. When our world is living up to its not-so-newly acquired status of being a global village, it is not an anomaly to see people relocating, travelling and emigrating to lands far away from their birth place. While often various pictures of the foreign lands stare from the different screens that have become a part of the current times we are living in, I wonder what makes my country stand apart? Is it the sameness in all the locations or the uniqueness of every place that makes its citizens associate with it? I think it is a mix of both.
Mountains standing tall, gurgling rivers, fascinating verdure, luscious waves in seas and oceans, vibrantly multicoloured flora and fauna and the ecosystem they all constitute - is the sameness that nature has blessed all lands with. This in no way implies underestimating the uniqueness in this sameness too. Canadian Rockies, Swiss Alps, Himalayas, Ural, Atlas and so many others are breathtakingly beautiful in their own exclusive way and same is true about every single natural asset of any place. However, nature calms and works as a balming influence on whoever seeks its refuge and in that manner none is less than the rest.
Having said that, trees of peepal and amaltas, shrubs of chameli and raat ki raani and fragrance of tulsi are much more familiar to me than maple trees and Redwood trees; flowing waters of rivers Ganga and Kaveri know my journey of life much more than river Nile, Volga or Amazon; snow capped peaks of Himalayas and hills of Karnataka have inspired me much more than Alaska or Pamir; because they know me and I belong to them.
While grandeur of Indian weddings, colourful ensemble, festivals, cultural components like folk songs and dances and regional cuisines - are all unique features of India but all these have already been overly acknowledged, appreciated and written about. They need no further documentation or description. Moreover, I feel the achievement of a place lies in making one the most comfortable in one’s own skin : where one gets to speak one’s native language and can expect to be spoken back in the same vernacular, where awkwardness of the strangeness disappears just by addressing someone 'didi’ aur 'bhaiya’, where tasteful juicy mangoes make scalding summer somewhat bearable, where seasonal produce like yam (jimikand), sweet potato and colocasia(arabi) may not appear picture perfect but carry the taste which a beautifully decorated vegetable can never, where craving for boondi ladoos, pugge ki pinni, samosas, katchori and gol gappe can be satiated from any nearby sweet shop without having to compromise with french fries or potato wedges, where aerated drinks face tough competition from kanji, aam panna, jal jeera and our very own lassi, where visit to an Indian store is not an occasion but a routine and much more. These may sound very frivolous and insignificant things but aren’t these the things that our life is made up of?
Though I am not an acclaimed author, a star sportsperson or someone who has represented India on any platform yet whenever I hear my country winning any match whether cricket or hockey, I feel proud; whenever I get to read a path breaking book written by an Indian author, I feel happy; whenever I see any Indian making his/her mark on worldwide stage, I feel honoured. However, when I watch the news of violence, terrorism and disturbance in my country, I feel pained; whenever I witness lack of civil mannerism I feel guilty; whenever I come to know about the lackadaisical approach of our torch bearers, I feel cheated.
Perhaps the sum total of all this is what India is for me - the sense of belongingness, the feeling of connection and the emotion of being associated with some place so very deeply. 
Nothing new in Kitchen but still very special...
To celebrate the 30th mouthpiece, here is a special recipe that, I can say, got refined with every single iteration(preparation)of it. Rajmah is supposed to be a part of Sunday ritual in many of the Punjabi homes, but I think it comes out a little different in every kitchen. There is not much difference in the style of cooking in my parental and my marital home yet some changes are inevitable and as I started cooking independently, how my recipe of rajmah evolved, it feels as if it is an assimilation of the taste of those two kitchens.
I cannot pinpoint the exact time when I started enjoying the art of cooking which hasn’t remained restricted to the actual act of cooking rather which now entails every part of the process right from picking fresh produce, cleaning and chopping them, storing them appropriately, using them on the priority basis depending on their shelf life, choosing just sufficient ingredients and condiments; to cooking them at just the perfect temperature and for just that perfect time. As I do vegetable shopping for the whole week over the weekend, it takes me close to 2-3 hours just to arrange the purchased vegetables in the right state and in the right place. Just the sight of cleaned fresh coriander leaves makes my heart beam with joy because I know this means a tasteful dish of poha or sabudana khichdi, lip smacking aloo-parantha or fragrant rajmah.
Oh that reminds me, we were on Rajmah. For me the benchmark of cooking delicious rajmah is when even a stranger walking into the house could guess the main dish on the menu just from the fragrance that fills the whole house. I am happy to share that my rajmah has qualified this litmus test (if I may say so myself :)).
I know there are a few tips that are responsible for this wonderful result. But I will go through the recipe step-by-step.
I use Jammu or Kashmiri Rajmah (they are a little smaller in size than the other ones and are deep maroon in colour). I do not soak them overnight. After washing them, put them in pressure cooker with water just to cover them and salt and cook them for one whistle and 5-6 min on simmer. Turn off the gas and let the steam escape on its own. Open the lid and pour cold water (almost 3 times the quantity of the rajmah). During hot summer season I use the water from the refrigerator while in winter normal water at room temperature is good enough. Cook the rajmah for 2-3 whistles and then for 20 min on simmer. Turn off the gas and let the lid dislodge naturally.
This is for 1 cup of rajmah
For the masala
Onion : 4 (medium size)
Garlic : 6 pods
Ginger : 2 inch
Tomatoes : 4 (medium size)
Green chillies : 4
Coriander leaves : ¼ cup (finely chopped)
Cumin seeds : 1 tsp
Turmeric powder : ½ tsp
Chilli powder : ¼ tsp
Coriander powder : ½ tsp
Garam masala : ½ tsp
Salt : to taste
Oil : 4 tbsp
Make a paste of onions, garlic pods and green chillies together without adding water. Keep it aside. Use the same mixer jug to make a paste of tomatoes and ginger. Take a pan, put oil in it and warm it a little. Add cumin seeds to it and let them crackle. Now add the onion and fry it till it becomes golden brown in colour. Add turmeric powder, salt (some salt has been added while boiling the rajmah so be careful while adding salt), red chilli powder, coriander powder and fry for 2 more minutes. Now add tomato-ginger paste to it and fry while constantly stirring till it starts leaving the surface of the pan. Fry for 2 more minutes and turn off the gas. Put this fried masala in the cooker which contains boiled rajmah. Check the amount of water, depending on your preference - some like their rajmah watery while some like them dense. Now just before closing the lid put finely chopped coriander leaves and garam masala (even better if it is freshly ground). Fix the lid and pressure cook the whole thing for one more time. At this moment sit comfortably and let the aroma of rajmah fill every corner of your home.
Turn off the gas after two whistles and do not force release the steam. After opening the lid ensure that the consistency is what you desired. If it is too dense for your liking, boil some water and add to it and if it is too watery, then put the cooker (covered but not to be pressure cooked) on the stove and let the gravy reduce a little.
Serve rajmah with aromatic jeera basmati rice, boondi raita and onion salad. 
Book Review : The World Outside My Window
Title : The World Outside My Window
Author : Ruskin Bond
Publisher : Rupa
ISBN : 978-81-291-4179-8
No one does it better than Ruskin Bond - yes, here I am talking about the way he discusses and writes about nature. His knowledge about insects, birds, trees and flowers is not acquired through any biology book rather this is what he has garnered over the years by being an inseparable component of nature. ‘The World Outside My Window’ is yet another of his creations which actually opens a small window for the readers into the world that he enjoys to be a part of.
Through different sections on small insects, winged creatures and flora, he delightfully explains their unique characteristics and his personal interaction with some of them. One can find some lifecycles, adaptations, singing notes, viciousness, tenderness and much more in this book. A great book for students as a convenient guide for easily noticeable living creatures. A wonderful gift to those who love to understand the language that nature converses in.
The essence of his writing is beautifully conveyed through the concluding verse 'All is Life’.
Whether by accident or design,
We are here,
Let’s make the most of it, my friend.
Make happiness our pursuit,
Spread a little sunshine here and there.
Enjoy the flowers, the breeze,
Rivers, sea and sky,
Mountains and tall waving trees.
Greet the children passing by,
Talk to the old folk. Be kind, my friend.
Hold on, in times of pain and strife:
Until death comes, all is life.
After reading his books on nature, many things cross one’s mind - how most of us lead our lives unaware of so many of the living creatures that co-exist with us in the same domain; how the author is blessed with an eye, a heart and a pen to notice-acknowledge-appreciate-chronicle his connection with flora and fauna; and how his writings work wonderfully in alluring the readers towards natural environs.
Personally I enjoy reading Ruskin Bond is an understatement because his description of nature strums those chords deep inside me which rejoice with the rhythm that the divine musician creates. 
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