Archive | July, 2011

Indian Kohinoor

29 Jul

In the watery sunlight,
With long hair and a comb,
She creates rainbows..


Hidden gem of Kolkata- Beck Bagan

26 Jul

Í love to travel, eat, write and cook.
I cook what I ate while I travelled. And when Im not not eating, Im busy planning my next meal. And when I’m not talking about food, I write about it. And what is better than Kolkata for some writing and food inspiration?

I had some brilliant Laksa curry on a trip to Kuala Lumpur a couple of years back. A soupy noodle broth, the cooking style is quite similar to that of Khow Suey. I remember coming back home and bookmarking the recipe online.So when I had to use some leftover coconut milk last night, I clicked onto the bookmark and the brilliant website bubbled open.

The Laksa curry recipe looked sinful.The smell of fresh lemongrass and basil leaves floating on the curry, wafted through my screen.

But what in Nigella’s (c’mon, she is a Goddess) name was Galangal? It sounded like Picasso of Spain- a cold watermelon and onion soup. Sounds wrong but oh-my, it’s a brilliant concoction.

And where do I find Galangal in Kolkata? I looked it up online. It belonged to the ginger family but with a sweeter and more citrusy taste.

Now there was a quick cook with the basic green curry sauce available in pretty looking jars in superstores with Thai writing on them or the old school. I decided to go the old school way and went on my little adventure.

Spencers, Bhagyalakshmi,Sharma’s store and Knick Knack. None had it. When I casually mentioned it at the supermarket in South of Kolkata they reacted like I was insulting their mother. Finally, the sous chef at a Thai restaurant leaked it- “Bekh Bagan.You get the world in there.”

Fruits, flower, vegetable vendors, potters and grocers, all crammed into microscopic spaces,the stalls seemed to barely be able to breathe but were surprisingly clean. The incense sticks wafted out little clouds of sandalwood and water sprinkled from a mud pot on the vegetables made them look deliciously juicy and ripe.

I wriggled my way to the recommended stall and hesitantly asked the man sitting in a lungi and vest amidst his piles of vegetables,”Dada, galangal ache?”

“Yes madam. Would you prefer the lesser, greater or powder style one?”

Just when I thought the sous chef was perhaps exagerrating, Karthik, the biggest vendor in Bekh Bagan, left me stumped.

With a turnover of more a lakh per month, Karthik has his very own printed business cards, a work mobile, home delivery services and there is more…a customer suggestion book!!! Some of his biggest buyers of fancy vegetables are old Chinese women and roadside hawkers. And on popular demand, he even provides home delivery of herb pots of basil,thyme,rosemary etc;

So when they say -Kolkata loves its food and knows the good from the bad; I now believe it.

I’m looking up the papaya salad recipe for lunch tomorrow. And Karthik is now on my speed dial!

Oh, and you can always email me for the recipe and Karthik’s number! 🙂

Is the illegality of child labour fair in some cases?

9 Jul

A question which I’ve asked myself a number of times and for the first time, have dared to ask the world. At the risk of being called a non-conformist or low-brow, here am I, thinking out loud.

Is the illegality of child labour in some cases, fair? Especially for those living below the poverty line.

Yellamma Yadippa, 32, lives in small town in northern Andhra Pradesh. She was abducted at the age of nine, physically tortured and forced to work in handloom factories in Assam. Its been eighteen years since she was sold to her lackadaisical husband.


Three sons and many years later, she rather have her children working as adolescents than reading books on empty stomachs.

Here is her story-

Flaming in her stomach was a hunger so profound, so agonising; it simply could not have been last night’s. She could smell food far away; with spicy aroma floating in the air, but that food wouldn’t take her hunger away. Her son holds onto the end of her saree and tugs at it, his eyes wistful, and hopeful that his mother will attend to his needs whenever, wherever.He wants two pieces of naan for lunch. She had only one piece. They bake it on the bonfire and eat it with spicy pickle. The red chillies in the pickle, in her stomach make it all worse, like rubbing salt to a wound. She wipes his face with the end of saree, packs a small rucksack with her son’s two shirts, a packet of puffed rice and a small ceramic Ganesha idol . They step out and start walking towards the pyre,the hot sun burning on their backs. The ground on which they walk is dry, hot and they need to step faster to keep their already chapped feet from burning. Halfway down the road, her son pulls away from her, running down the street to join his friends near the village drainage.

“I think of my childhood”, says Yellamma, lifting the veil of her maroon saree to shield her head from the sun, her eyes on her son all the time. “We were around eight years old. My father often sent us to the forest in the afternoons to graze our goats . Two men approached us and gave us sweets and offered to take us to Warangal to see a Telugu movie and eat in a restaurant. We went out with a desire for some tasty food. When we reached Warangal and asked to watch the movie, they took out their knives and threatened to slit our throats and throw it on the ground.  From there, they took us to Hyderabad and sold us to the ‘malick’.”

Her son now plays with the old tyres of a truck. He rolls it down the dusty open road with a large twig while his other friends follow on behind him, admiring his deft handling of the tyre. Yellamma waits for the man to come, knotting her fingers on the flaps of the rucksack. The man hurriedly jogs down from the opposite side of the road in his khakhi uniform. Muthu, her husbands old friend, works in a post office. After selling stamps everyday from different parts of the world, he comes to the huts near the village drain. To buy children .”

“‘Malick’ used to make us weave carpets in Mizopur”, says Yellamma, while Muthu stops by to talk to another woman who lives in the hut opposite to her thatched abode. “We didn’t know where we were living. We worked till 12 in the night in a dungeon. Sometimes, if the electricity continued, we worked through the night. One night while I was weaving, I fell asleep with my jute-cutting knife in the hand. The malick saw me sleeping. He was really angry. He snatched the knife and struck me twice in the chest with it. Then he poured matchstick powder in the wound and lit it. While I was screaming, he held me down. He wouldn’t even let us cry in peace”, she says.

Muthu, the postman, gives Yellamma a large wad of green notes. It is enough to buy her ice and cooking oil for a month. He then grabs hold of her son’s hand. The young boy’s tiny pale fingers looked strange enveloped by his large calloused brown hands. Yellamma’s youngest son had never been outside our village. The other two had left when they were 12 and 13 each. He will be taken to Ranchi where a landlord wants domestic help. Somebody to wash his utensils, press his feet in the night and take care of the children while he went out drinking with his farmer friends. He will give him food, water and maybe even a nice mattress to sleep on.

Yellamma follows their silhouette on the far away road, slowly disappearing in  a cloud of dust. “We thought we would die there in Mizopur with no one would rescue us, because no one could actually go there. We used to live and work underground and relish whatever sunlight managed to percolate through the small, rusted cast iron windows. If anyone had a stomach ache, they wouldn’t even give us medicine. They gave us lime powder instead which we mixed on our palms and swallowed unfeelingly with water. If Bhagwan bharose (by Gods grace) we recovered, then we lived to work another day, but if we did not, they wouldn’t go very far to dispose off the body. It would be dropped into the old well a mile away.”

Her son would be allowed to visit her once a year. But if the landlord decides to travel, that would not happen. Her son would be taken along with him, to carry his luggage and serve food to his guests. She does not know when she will see him next. Will he forget her face with the passage of time?

“The day my right arm was fractured, ‘mallick’ sold me to my husband. I wore a pair of new red bangles at my wedding. I wonder where he is today, my husband. Is he at the shop intermittently puffing on his beedi while getting high on feni? Maybe he’s passed out on some other woman’s bed? Does he know that our child does not go to school? Does he know that tonight our child could go hungry because there was no rice at home? Will he leave me and go, because I yell at him too much, or will he throw me out? Will he protect me when other men eye me, or will he stay back, powerless to retort? Is he even there? Is he there for me?

“I know my child will eat three meals a day . I know he will work the whole day instead of playing with friends his age. So what if does not have a childhood? At least he’ll have a livelihood.”






The price India pays for democracy!

7 Jul