Breaking Bread With Rachel Carson



So the whole world is under lockdown. We’re hearing stories about how nature is rejuvenating. Birds and insects and animals are reclaiming their spaces. Whales have appeared on the Bombay coastline. Crows are showing up where I live. Spring is in the air and what a comeback she’s making when we stopped interfering.

But here is a fable for a not so distant tomorrow. Once the lockdown is over and things get back to “normal”. What will the normal be? There may come a silent spring. Can you imagine a silent spring? A spring without bees humming and birds chirping? Where the birds don’t sing anymore? A spring that brings with it death and destruction?

“No witchcraft, no enemy action has silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people have done it themselves”. These are Rachel Carson’s words from her book Silent Spring written in the early 1960s, even more relevant today.Carson wrote about death and destruction by humans. Not destruction by wars and weapons, though she foresaw that as an immense possibility too, but another kind of weapon. Man made synthetic chemicals used as pesticides.

Carson was a marine biologist, conservationist and a writer whose book Silent Spring helped launch the global environment movement. Her book was first published serially in four additions of The New Yorker in 1962. [1]

Not surprisingly, the pesticide industry responded with a campaign of disinformation and sexism. Carson’s gender, looks and unmarried status were all seized upon by her critics, who called her a hysterical woman, a priestess of nature and a spinster……In a letter to President Eisenhower, Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson asked “why a spinster was so worried about genetics” and….. Monsanto got in on the fun and printed a brochure parodying the book. [2]

The insecticide industry was the child of the Second World War. When chemical warfare was being created, for instance nerve gas to destroy the Jews in Germany, some of these chemicals were found to be lethal to insects. This discovery did not happen by chance. Insects were used as agents to check their efficacy on humans. So were born streams of these dangerous man made synthetic chemicals.

Insect invasions have happened from time immemorial. In the olden days people used natural methods to ward of insects. Then after the Second World War came man made insecticides. There was limited awareness of the nature of these chemicals. Each specialist had his own small view and not a big picture of the problem. Add to that, it was the age of industry, where money talked. And people who took a stand against these death traps were “fed little tranquilizer pills of half truths”. Carson wrote this in the sixties but as you can see nothing’s changed, in fact we’re far worse off now.

Humans have silenced nature by dominating her and paying no heed to her. The shadow of death looms large over all of us as we pollute the air, water and soil with these deadly chemicals. The nightmare won’t end.

Rachel Carson’s book is a must read for those who are concerned about the environment and about how we have the power to alter the world around us, are using this power selfishly and unwisely, and are moving at an accelerated pace towards our own and the planet’s doom.

Here is an photo essay showing the damage done by insecticides to farmers in Punjab in India, by Sean Gallagher. https://gallagher-photo.com/environmental-stories/pesticide-poisoning-punjab-india/. This is true of not only Punjab but many parts of India. Carson gives hundreds of examples of these occurrences in Europe and America in her passionate poetic prose of a book.

Paragraphs [1] and [2] are taken from an article by Katie Halper called Happy Birthday, Rachel Carson.

I’ve baked bread today, an Irish Raisin Bread from the book Secrets of a Jewish Baker by George Greenstein. This bread is rich and tastes divine with the whole lot of raisins that it has. It keeps well too. Here is the recipe.

Irish Raisin Bread

A sweet bread, choc a bloc with raisins, this bread is delicious at tea time or at breakfast.

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 packages active dry yeast. ( 1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons skim milk powder (optional)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 5 to 6 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • Pinch of ground cardamom(optional)
  • 1 cup raisins
  • Cornmeal, for dusting baking sheet.
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water and a pinch of salt, for egg wash
  1. In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast above the warm water and allow to stand for a few minutes to soften. Add the sugar, butter, milk powder, egg, 5 cups flour, salt and cardamom. Mix until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.

  2. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes), adding flour 1/4 cup at a time if the dough is sticky. The finished dough should push back when pressed down. Add the raisins and gently knead them into the dough.

Rising

  1. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and set aside until doubled in volume. Punch down, cut in half, and shape into balls. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Shaping

  1. Knead each round lightly, then shape each into a tight ball. Place on a cornmeal dusted baking sheet, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size. Brush with the egg wash, then allow to dry for several minutes,then brush with the egg wash a second time to ensure a high shine when baked.

Baking

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, 190 degrees C. Bake until the loaves emit a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom with your finger tips. (35 to 45 minutes).

    If baking on an oven stone or tiles, bake the loaves directly on them for the last 5 to 10 minutes.

Breaking Bread With William Saroyan

How many of you remember reading William Saroyan in school? His essay Locomotive 38, The Ojibway, appeared in our class 11th or 12th (I can’t remember which) CBSE textbook. That was the start of my lifelong love affair with Saroyan. I’ve always repented for not saving those textbooks as literary gems in my library

William Saroyan was born in America in 1908. He came from a family of exiled Armenian immigrants who lived in poverty in Fresno, California. He was not interested in studies but even as a young child he nurtured a secret ambition to be a writer. His determination didn’t falter through the depression years. In 1933 his story The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze was chosen by Story, a national magazine, and he received fifteen dollars for it. More stories were printed that year and by 1934 Random House had published The Daring Young Man On The Flying Trapeze And Other Stories. Saroyan had arrived on the literary scene and was causing quite a stir!

Saroyan wrote many books in his lifetime but my favorite one is definitely My Name Is Aram which was published in the year 1940, and like most of his books was largely autobiographical, about his eccentric and colorful fellow Armenians in his hometown during his childhood.

William Saroyan’s style of writing was unorthodox which he worked on a great deal to develop. It reflected his zest for life, his joy with his people and his surroundings and his humor, and this style eventually came to be known as Saroyanesque.

Saroyan wrote not only stories but also plays that became famous and opened on Broadway.

The film based on his story The Human Comedy won an Oscar.

Saroyan died in 1981. I was only eleven years old. I wish I had lived in his times.

Arto Der Haroutunian was an Armenian architect, painter and restaurateur, famous in his own right, who opened his restaurant in London in 1970. He wrote cookbooks too. His restaurant was the watering hole for many fellow Armenians of his time, one among them being the famous Saroyan.

This recipe is from his cookbook Vegetarian Recipes From The Middle East. It is a delicious Armenian pasta recipe called Banirov Arsha or macaroni with cheese.

Banirov Arsha or macaroni with cheese

An Armenian lunchtime favorite.

  • 1 egg
  • 5 tbsps finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tspn salt
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 6 tbspns melted butter
  • 225 gms cheese, ex. Haloumi, Kashkaval or Cheddar
  • 225 gms macaroni
  1. Mix the egg, parsley, salt, pepper, garlic and 2 tablespoons of the melted butter together in a bowl. Add the grated cheese, mix well and keep aside.

  2. In a large vessel boil some lightly salted water. Add the macaroni and cook till done, approximately 10 minutes. Strain into a colander and rinse under hot water. Mix 2 tablespoons of butter into the macaroni.

  3. Grease an ovenproof dish about 9 inches(22.5 cms) in diameter and spread half the macaroni into the bottom of the dish. Spread two-thirds of the cheese mixture over the macaroni and top with the remaining macaroni. Spread the remaining cheese over the top and sprinkle with the remaining butter. Place in the centre of the oven preheated to 400degrees F/ 200 degreesC/ Gas 6 and bake for 20 to 30 minutes.

  4. Cut into squares and serve hot.

Breaking Bread With Yashica Dutt

Yashica Dutt did her Masters in Journalism from Columbia University, the same place Dr Ambedkar, the visionary light of the Dalits received his PhD from in the year 1927.

When I read Yashica’s memoir I was disheartened. We cannot imagine….Casteism is India’s dirty blot. it has been going on for years without recourse to the affected. The caste system was introduced in the Hindu sacred text Manusmriti thousands of years ago. Things have’nt changed much over this long stretch of time. The Dalits have lost years and years of progress because of casteism. Those lower castes who do manage to do well for themselves must hide their identities and put in twice the amount of effort as an upper caste. In India the truth is that if you are an upper caste your chances of “swinging it” in any sphere are tenfold.

Of course the arguement of most upper castes is that the Dalits already get too many benefits from the Government. But do these benefits really peter down to reach the most disadvantaged? Even if some lower castes do take advantage of these benefits they are mocked and ridiculed for their caste as students and in their jobs.

It feels shameful to hear, in this day and age, about the atrocities that upper castes inflict on lower castes. Sometimes it’s sporting a mustache that irks them and sometimes its riding a horse to ones wedding. They also practice untouchability; they don’t drink water or eat from the same utensils or even sit near the lower castes.

While the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation uses machines to clean manholes, in the suburbs around Ahmedabad such as Bopal which is an upcoming industrial and residential area, humans still have to do this disgusting job. One of my friends told me of an incident when the sweeper who was let down a manhole in her society resurfaced with condoms stuck to his body.

If you feel the way I feel, if your heart and head says that Dalits deserve far better than they have now, read this memoir. It is heart breaking, eye opening and will convince you to take a stand.

In her memoir, Yashica writes that her mother loved baking cakes for her when she was a kid. Once she baked a cake for her and decorated it with gems. I’m not baking a cake but making a gem laden, chocolate circle that is at once attractive and tasty too.

Gem Chocolate Circle

Make this delicious sweet for a kids party. the children will love it.

  • 1 tin Milkmaid condensed milk
  • 100 gms butter
  • 6 tbspns cocoa powder
  • 200 gms biscuits
  • Gems to decorate
  1. In a pan combine Milkmaid, cocoa, and butter and heat, constantly stirring.

  2. When the mixture starts bubbling,reduce heat and cook for 8 to 10 minutes.

  3. Mix the coarsely broken biscuits and remove from fire.

  4. Spread the mixture in a greased circular plate and leave to cool.

  5. Decorate with gems of different colours.

Breaking Bread With Ruskin Bond

While most of us run a rat race to catch the fast train to nowhere, try to get a seat next to the latest hotshot, and keep up with the Joneses, Ruskin Bond is perfectly content to have Friends In Small Places (the name of one of his books). And, so charming is his world in the hills of small town Dehradun that he has us all bowled over.

Are they true or just a figment of an immensely fertile imagination, these stories that enchant and capture the imagination of his audience, both young and old? He keeps us guessing. No guns and violence for this Bond though. For one thing’s for sure, he is the James Bond of tender feelings. His stories treat us to the fresh, cool air, simple ways of life, quirks, and delights of the people of his home in the hills. Ordinary folks, sometimes with extraordinary hearts filled with kindness. Or does Ruskin Bond spread wonderful vibes around him wherever he goes?

He must be a keen observer of human nature because he has so many stories to tell of everyday people around him. His dad who he adores, his wayward uncle Ken, murderer uncle Bill, the Lafanga tongawalla who is actually delightfully sweet to him, his aayaah, not to forget the maharani who lives on the very top of a palace and is in love with the humble gardener.

Bond has written more than five hundred books, beautifully bringing to life the spirit of life in the hills. He still writes at the grand old age of 85. He’s written his autobiography which is a must read. It’s called Lone Fox Dancing.

One of Ruskin Bond’s favorite dishes is kofta curry. Most probably he eats a non vegetarian kofta curry. Most probably too, he downs a beer or two with his kofta curry meal. Since I’m vegetarian I’m posting a recipe here of a vegetarian bottle gourd kofta curry adapted from a recipe by Tarla Dalal. It’s heart healthy and tasty too.

Bottle gourd Kofta Curry

This delightfully tasty kofta curry, is heart friendly too, with the koftas dunked in the curry with only shallow frying them. Eat them with hot parathas or plain rice.

For the koftas

  • 1 1/2 cups grated bottle gourd
  • 1 1/2 cups mashed potatoes
  • 1/2 cup bengal gram flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped green chillies
  • 1 teaspoon ginger garlic paste
  • 1 teaspoon chaat masala
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil to shallow fry

For the curry

  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon roughly chopped ginger
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander cumin powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilly powder
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour dissolved in 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
  • Some finely chopped fresh coriander
  1. Squeeze the grated bottle gourd of all its water. Keep aside the bottle gourd water to add when making the curry.

  2. Put a pan on the fire. Put all the ingredients for the koftas into the pan and mix well and stir till the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and a cooked aroma emanates.

  3. Remove the bottlegourd mixture from the pan and let it cool for a few minutes. Then divide the mixture into 14 to 15 oval shaped koftas.

  4. Heat oil in a flat pan for shallow frying. Put in the koftas and shallow fry on all sides. Keep aside.

  5. Put the teaspoon of oil in the pan and put on the stove. Add onions and fry till golden brown. Now add the tomatoes, turmeric powder, coriander cumin powder and chilly powder and stir till the tomatoes are mushy. Let cool.

  6. Now make a paste of the onion-tomato mixture in the food processor.

  7. Put the two tablespoons of oil in a pan and put on medium heat. Put the cumin seeds into the oil. When they begin to sputter put the onion-tomato paste into the pan. Add the bottle gourd water and 1 1/2 cups more water and let the curry come to a boil. Now add salt and cornflour-milk mixture and cook for one minute. Add garam masala.

  8. Gently put in the koftas into the curry one at a time. Heat for not more than a minute. Sprinkle finely chopped fresh coriander. Serve hot.

Breaking Bread With Deepa Narayan

Reading Deepa Narayan’s book CHUP-Breaking The Slience About India’s Women started a fire in my belly. I travelled to my village while reading the book and I wanted to rip apart the orthodox customs there. Many women in my village still practice purdah or the custom of covering their heads and faces in front of men folk. My family doesn’t endorse this hypocritical tradition.

That doesn’t mean Indian towns and cities fare better. The descrimination is as bad here. I’ll never forget what my hotelier boss in a prestigious hotel told me when I made my point of view. He said it was his job to think, not mine. What a jerk!

CHUP is a bomb. It explodes in your face. It slams you in the centre of your forehead. It shows you a mirror and you won’t like what you see. However old or young you are the book has something for you. It voices every woman’s frustrations with the patriarchal system. You will recognize with hard facts, figures and examples how Indian women are trained to habitually blame and self flagellate themselves.

Deepa Narayan is a strong and forceful writer. I love the way she uses Hindi words in her sentences, and in the title of one of the chapters in the book, Body: Women Don’t Have Bodies, Besharam or in another chapter called Isolation: I Am Alone And Afraid, Keep Women Apart, Akeli Hoon, Darti Hoon. She shows us how women are isolated and trampled upon. How families and society plot and design to oppress women in the name of izzat, respect and morality.

It was not always like this. There’s an example in the book of her grandmother who would have laughed if she knew that today’s women must wear undergarments below their clothing. True. None of our grandmothers were bound by their dress. The figures of statues in ancient temples are beautiful, voluptuous and nudity was perfectly normal and natural. We still worship Goddesses but it’s a sham.

Look how society owns women’s bodies. You must sit properly with legs crossed. You mustn’t wear sleeveless dresses. You must look thin, fair and pretty at all times and afcourse you must shut up and silently put up with marauding relatives.

One of the books she recommends caught my eye. The Body Adorned: Dissolving Boundaries Between Sacred And Profane In Indian Art. This one I must read. Also, Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office.

Tasty and fragrant chocolate banana muffins

So I made voluptuous banana and chocolate muffins, the recipe of which comes from Nigella Lawson that cooking diva, and feminist in her own right.

Chocolate Banana Muffins

Bite into these moist, dark beauties, and thank Nigella and me!

  • 3 very ripe or overripe bananas
  • 125 mililitres vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 100 grams soft light brown sugar
  • 225 grams plain flour
  • 3 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/ 400 degrees F/ gas mark 6. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper cases.

  2. Mash the bananas with hand or a fork to a pulp. Continuing to mash the bananas add the oil, eggs and sugar and mix.

  3. Mix the plain flour, cocoa powder and soda bicarbonate.

  4. Now add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, beating gently and lightly.

  5. Fill the mixture into the muffin cases upto 3/4 level and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the muffins are well risen and are a lovely brown colour.

  6. Cool for a few minutes and remove from the muffin pan.

Breaking Bread With Shanta Gokhale

Shanta Gokhale’s autobiography

Shanta Gokhale’s writing is effortless, flowing like rich smooth cream and fresh as the scent of lemon. I don’t know why I didn’t discover her sooner. I’m making up for precious lost time. I read her book without a break. It was unputdownable.

She was born a few years before both my parents, in 1939, and lives in the grand old city of Bombay, where my parents grew up and went to school and college, before my dad left to join the Air Force and then married mom.

I love her simple writing style. She writes with finesse. A woman of the world.

One of the author’s favorite dishes, Bombay Bhelpuri.

She’s original. She’s written about her life through her body and she treats us to exquisite pirouettes (she’s learnt Indian dance, among her many talents) with her life. She’s courageous. She’s had more than her fair share of ups and downs with two unsuccessful marriages, illness, shortage of money and bringing up two children all on her own. Still she is honest, sensitive and witty. The lady is a tough cookie!

She’s lived life on her own terms, not hankering for fame or fortune. And she’s written this book at the age of 78 and remembers names and incidents from her childhood!

I didn’t know that TV personality Renuka Shahane was her daughter, before I read her autobiography.

I’m thirsting for more of Shanta Gokhale’s writing, what a massive contribution she has made to the performing arts with her voluminous writings in both Marathi and English and her translations from English to Marathi and vice versa.

In her book she writes about a trifle pudding she had many many times as a navy wife during her first marriage and when she was being courted. I think she has bittersweet memories of the pudding. Perhaps, I’m reading too much into her writing.

I looked everywhere for a tasty Indian Navy trifle pudding recipe but I couldn’t find one so I asked one of my good friends who is married into the navy if they still make trifle puddings like they made all those years back. She reasoned that the English influence has been overruled and the current crop of Taj and Oberoi trained cooks and chefs do make a favorite trifle called Trunk of Tree.

Here is a delicious trifle pudding recipe that I’ve adapted from Kikky Sihota’s book The Ultimate Army Cookbook: A Memsahib Cooks. She calls it Boozy Trifle because it contains delicious amounts of rum in it, but her trifle contains no fruit, like the usual trifle pudding. I changed some of the ingredient quantities and added dry fruits to it. I used less cake and less cream. Turned out yum.

Trifle pudding adapted from Kikky Sihota’s Boozy Trifle.

Here’s the recipe.

Boozy Trifle

This recipe turns out yum. Go ahead and add more cream or whipped cream to the recipe and more sugar too, if you will.

  • 450 gms sponge cake
  • 5 tbsp jam
  • 4 tbsp rum
  • 3 heaped tbsp custard powder
  • 3-4 tbsp sugar
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2-3 heaped tbsp cocoa
  • 2 tbsp rum
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 200 ml fresh cream
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup mixed nuts and raisins
  1. Cut the cake into 1/2 inch cubes.

  2. Mix the jam and 4 tbsp rum and heat till it melts.

  3. Now lightly mix the cake pieces with the rum jam mixture.

  4. Mix the custard powder, sugar, and milk and cook till thick. Remove from heat.

  5. Add the cocoa powder, 2 tbsp rum and butter and mix well.

  6. Gently mix the chocolate custard with the cake and jam without breaking or mashing the cake pieces. Fill this into a mold and freeze it for 4 hours.

  7. Remove and put in a serving dish.

  8. Cover the trifle completely with the cream.

  9. Now sprinkle nuts on the layer of cream and cake.

  10. Chill and serve.

Breaking Bread With Jerry Pinto

Jerry Pinto’s autobiographical novel.

Living life with a mentally ill person is difficult, especially if she’s so close, esepcially if she’s your mom. Jerry Pinto’s autobiographical novel, Em and the big Hoom is about suffering, it is endearing and touching and funny too.

It sure takes courage to write about it. People talk, they say all sorts of things. How could you write about a loved one for the money? How could you write about ‘shame’? But perhaps it’s a kind of catharsis, this writing. It saves you and heals others.

Not in the whole wide world is it easy to imagine the trauma that a mentally ill person and their family members go through. The mentally ill are stigmatized and society disclaims them as mad or retarded. If only we’d realize that this is an illness like any other, like diabetes or osteoporosis. It’s nobody’s fault, especially not the one who suffers. Anyone, you, me or somebody else could fall prey.

This book of stories edited by Jerry Pinto about a loved one with a mental illness.

Your serotonin and dopamine levels play havoc and no one, least of all you know what to do about them. Sometimes family and friends think you’re ok and all is well, but then disaster strikes.

But I can also tell you that sometimes, love wins the day. It is difficult, but love and care and support do win the day.

Does the illness creep in through your genes or is the devastation caused by environmental factors, or both? Depression, bipolar disorder, autism, schizophrenia, doctors say they’re genetic but.. a hundred questions, science still doesn’t have answers.

In the book Em and her family drink tea by the gallons. Em, the mom has a sweet tooth. She loves to douse her tea with spoonfuls of sugar and eat chocolates and mithai.

These very chocolatey muffins are made in memory of Em. She would have delighted in the loads of chocolate in them.

The recipe is adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s book, Baking, From My Home To Yours.

Chocolate Chocolate Chunk Muffins

You can call them muffins or cupcakes, whatever you like, and anytime is a good time to eat these full of chocolate muffins, at breakfast, tea, or maybe even as a sweetdish.

  • 3/4 stick unsalted butter
  • 150 gms bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups all purpose or plain flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tbspn baking powder
  • 1/2 tspn baking soda or soda bicarb
  • 1/2 tspn salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 tspn vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the muffin molds in the muffin pan or fit them with paper muffin cups.

  2. Mix the butter and half the chocolate in a thick bottomed pan and melt over a saucepan of simmering water. Or, melt in a microwave.

  3. In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

  4. In a medium sized bowl whisk the egg, buttermilk and vanilla extract until well combined.

  5. Pour the liquid ingredients and the melted chocolate and butter onto the dry ingredients and mix lightly and quickly. Don’t worry if there are some lumps in the batter. But don’t overmix the batter.

  6. Stir in the remaining chopped chocolate. And divide the batter equally between the 12 muffin cups.

  7. Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the muffins comes out clean. Remove the muffin pan from the oven, transfer to a rack, cool for 5 minutes and then remove the muffins from their molds.

This beautiful song then, True Colours, for God’s specially loved ones.

Breaking Bread With R.K. Narayan

R.K Narayan’s book of short stories.

R.K. Narayan’s books are a delight to read. There is an endearing simplicity and innocence about his writing. A sweetness and an earthiness. He managed to be innocent and yet an astute observer of people at the same time. The beauty of Natayan’s writing was that his humor was gentle and he rarely ever came across as nasty or mean, just like his younger brother R.K. Laxman, the eminent cartoonist. He also chose to write on many subjects other than the man woman relationship.

I’ve been reading Narayan’s autobiography, My Days. He was born in 1906. At the age of three or four he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother in Madras because his mother was too delicate to look after the entire brood. Here in his grandmother’s house he had a pet monkey and peacock. With such great flair does he begin his autobiography, writing about the antics of his two pets, that whatever your age may be you’ll be enchanted.

R.K. Narayan’s autobiography

As a child Narayan didn’t like going to school and hated drill and examinations. Poor Narayan, at one stage, after he had finished his studies, and with no luck on the job front, he was made to take up a teacher’s job….and teach drill and mathematics! and how he hated both. He walked away from the teaching assignment never to return. Thank God, for what a loss it would have been for readers all over the world had he not become a writer. He also went against the grain about the education system all his life. He said he learnt more from books outside than the ones he was forced to read in school and in college.

In his early days most people poked fun at him for wanting to be a writer and thought he was being irresponsible by not taking up a job and supporting his large family when his father had just retired.

But he did become a writer, and how stylish, magnificent and priceless is his writing. He won many accolades for his brilliance, among them The Sahitya Academy award for his book The Guide, and the A.C Benson Medal by the Royal Society Of Literature in 1980. He was made an Honorary Member of the American Academy And Institute Of Arts And Letters In 1982. He was honored with the Padma Bhushan in 1964 and the Padma Vibhushan In 2000. He died in May 2001 at the age of 94.

In her book Tiffin, which I loved reading, Rukmini Srinivas reveals that Narayan was vegetarian. He liked eating curd rice, ulundu vadai or deep fried, spicy, split black bean batter vadais which she often made for him. He also loved his filter coffee. And his packet of scented betel nut which he kept with him at all times.

One of Narayan’s favorite dishes on his visit to America, curd rice.
Spicy and tangy onion coconut chutney
Ulundu Vadai with onion and coconut chutney. An R.K. Narayan favorite.

Here is the recipe of ulundu vadai or deep fried, spicy, split black bean batter vadais, as I have adapted it from Rukmini Srinivas’s book.

Ulundu Vadai

These delicious deep fried vadais were among Narayan’s favorite food when he met Rukmini Srinivas and her husband in America.

  • 2 cups urad dal or split black beans, soaked for two hours and drained
  • 1 tspn salt, or to taste
  • 2 finely chopped green chillies
  • 6 coursely ground black peppercorns
  • 8 curry leaves, torn in pieces
  • 1/4 tspn asafoetida powder
  • 1/4 cup grated fresh coconut
  • 1 tspn grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 cups oil for frying
  1. Grind the split black beans in the food processor to a thick, creamy batter, adding approximately 1/4 cup water while grinding. Remove in a vessel and keep aside.

  2. Add the salt, green chillies, black peppercorns, curry leaves, asafoetida, coconut and ginger. Mix well.

  3. Heat the oil in a frying pan to medium heat, not smoking hot. With wet hands make balls out of the batter, flatten each slightly, then make a hole in the centre and drop them one at a time into the hot oil. You can fry approximately 5 or 6 vadais in one batch depending on the size of your pan.

  4. Initially the vadais will sink to the bottom and as they fry they will rise to the surface. Gently separate them if they stick to each other. Fry them on all sides to a golden brown color.

  5. Once done, remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. A well done vadai will be crisp on the outside and soft and spongy on the inside.

  6. Serve hot with onion coconut chutney.

And finally this wonderful music from the title track of Malgudi Days which enthralled us when it appeared on television many years ago.

Breaking Bread With Rahul Pandita

The pain and loss are heartrending. An entire community exiled in its own country. The anguish and the hurt, but no mention of this chapter of our recent history. Of brutality and savageness inflicted on Kashmiri Pandits whose only fault was, there was nothing to fault in them. Of human and political callousness at its worst. Targeted and hounded as infidels. Our Moon Has Blood Clots is shocking. It is the true story of Rahul Pandita, now a renowned journalist, the Kashmiri Pandit community, his parents, extended family and his cousin Ravi, his hero.

History forgotten is bound to be repeated, and Rahul Pandita is brave in his writing. His father is my hero. In the toughest of situations in his childhood he guided the author to stay on the right path. His mother is brave, struggling on a daily basis to keep the family going, when they are driven out of their huge home that her husband built with every penny of his savings, and have to live as refugees, shunted from room to room. Her health deteriorates. There is so much trauma. In happier times she used to hum a lovely song from the film Awaara where Nargis wishes that the moon would turn its face away so that she could love Raj Kapoor.

I’m posting a recipe of Chana ki dal from Krishna Prasad Dar’s book Kashmiri Cooking. He is the father of cartoonist Sudhir Dar. They are Kashmiri Pandits too.

Krishna Prasad Dar writes, Kashmiri Pandits prefer to use asafoetida and curd in their cooking as opposed to onions and garlic. But with outside influences, people today do use onion and garlic too. In this recipe he keeps the onion optional, but I did add an onion to my dal and it tasted very good. Have this dal with a vegetable dish, Indian breads, a curd dish and a sweetmeat to make a full meal. The Kashmiri Pandits, although they are Brahmins are great meat eaters.

Before I go on to the recipe, I’d like to let my readers know that this post is inspired by Valerie Stivers’s blog from the Paris Review. I found it stimulating.

Here is the recipe for Yellow Split Lentils or Bengal Gram or Chana ki Dal

Chana ki Dal or Bengal Gram Dal

This recipe is adapted from Krishna Prasad Dar’s recipe in Kashmiri Cooking.

  • 150 gms bengal gram or chana dal
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, crushed
  • 1/4 tsp ginger powder
  • 10-15 gms ghee or clarified butter
  • 1 onion finely chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 tspn sauf or fennel seeds
  • 2 cloves
  • A pinch of asafoetida
  • Some fresh or dried mint leaves, finely chopped if fresh
  • A little jaggery
  • Salt to taste
  1. Soak the bengal gram dal in water for an hour or two.

  2. Drain the water from the dal and put it in a pressure cooker. Add salt to taste and pressure cook for two to three whistles. When you open the cooker the dal should still have grains but they should be soft. Most of the water should have evaporated.

  3. Add about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of water to the dal. Add the turmeric powder, crushed fresh ginger and ginger powder and slow cook for a few minutes.

  4. In a frying pan, heat the ghee. Add the chopped onions and fry till golden brown. Add the cloves, asafoetida and fennel seeds. Fry for a few seconds.

  5. Overturn the fried onions with the ghee and spice tadka onto the dal. Sprinkle the mint leaves and add a little jaggery. Stir the dal. Serve hot.

There are many versions of the song Imagine but this particular version by Eva Cassidy strikes a heart touching chord.