This post is about pretty much nothing. There are some words about Biryani, some about travelling to the hills. Read on only if you want to read on about the aforementioned pretty much nothing. But don’t blame me as I am giving you the proverbial red flag!
When biryani came from Persia it did not think it will be quite the thing it is now. Fortunately food does not require immigration papers, not as yet. But biryani came, biryani was seen and biryani conquered many palates. It also integrated itself into the Indian ethos. It even welcomed the immigrant potato. From West biryani went South, then it went East, and the North welcomed it as their own. Of course, the Southern variety remains a bit of a dilemma. Not many people in our part of the country like what is known as Hyderabadi biryani. And fewer people like the one found in Paradise in Secunderabad. We loved it. Paradise fed us every night and we were immensely happy. Of course, Lucknow also gave us brilliant biryani.
For those who are purists (even puritans) the idea of vegetarian biryani remains a puzzle. Grammatically no such thing as veg biryani is possible (though alu biryani is a thing, but that’s just biryani separated from its flesh). The making of biryani demands a meeting of rice and meat in which they gently merge with each other. But I guess we need to think of those who are conditioned against non-vegetarian fare (though a significant number of them support killing their own species, they are only against killing for food), why should they be deprived of that idea!
One of the best biryanis I had was a few kilometers from Haridwar, just across the state border, in a village that falls in Uttar Pradesh. This post – or incoherent ramblings to be precise – is inspired by that experience.
The village wasn’t pretty, it was mostly bricks and dust. The fields were bare, most of the crops were harvested and the seeds of winter were yet to be sown. This was typical autumn in North India.
We had one free day in Haridwar and Akbar Bhai had insisted we have lunch at his house. His wife’s biryani was apparently “world famous” in his village. Who can resist such promotion! So we went there as his guests. He picked us up from our hotel and dropped us back after a royal treatment. We were coming back from a hectic tour. We had visited Kalpeshwar, Tunganath, Dhyan Badri, Adi Badri and a host of other lovely places.
The priest at Adi Badri temple had welcomed us without asking us who we were. The fact that we were there was enough for him to welcome us.
The other venerable man we met on that journey took us on the steep path towards Chandpur Fort of the Parmar kings of Garhwal.
He also never questioned us or asked our names or caste or religion. He was too happy to take us to the temple of Kali amongst the ruins on top of the hill.
Sharmaji’s car broke down for an entire day at a place near Ukhimath.
It was quite near a village called Mansoona – one of the best names I have come across! We could see the Tunganath hill from a distance.
The manager of GMVN, Ukhimath had very graciously allowed us to sit in the lawn for the entire day. Again, no one had asked us what our identities were! We saw a magnificent sunset over the Kedar Range.
So all in all we were contented and fatigued. But Akbar Bhai’s warm invitation we could not decline.
His home was this unpicturesque two story building. But the people in it were so beautiful. Dadupur is a small village; ultra hot in summer, unforgivingly cold during winter. Akbar Bhai and his family – his brother Sonu took us on our second Badri trip a couple of years later – had lived there for ever. Their primary business is to provide the pilgrims in Devbhoomi (the land of gods, as Uttarakhand likes to call itself) with transport. His family has been serving the Hindu pilgrims for ages. Always respectful and always polite, never ever crossing the lines that have been drawn by powers that be; they have been model citizens.
The promised biryani was fantastic. It wasn’t the yellow biryani we see in so many other places. It was light and not saffronized and had small pieces of goatmeat. But I don’t only remember the food. I remember his pretty and intelligent daughters who were so free and amazing and made us feel right at home. The eldest wanted to be a teacher, the middle one wanted to be an actor and the youngest wanted to do whatever she wanted to do (she was still a toddler).
As you travel northwards from Haridwar you enter a zone where vegetarianism rules. You occasionally get egg, and there are clandestine availabilities of winged flightless domestic birds. We, however, have never really felt the need for such feed in the hills. In fact, my consuming faculties still remember the delicious wood-fire chapattis, the brilliant bringel (I am avoiding the word eggplant for the benefit of those who confuse Zoology with Botany) bharta (a kind of mash), and that delectable paneer bhurjee (essentially chopped and fried with other vegetables). After a hard hike even the most humble but hot food can have a heavenly feel. After all, it is Devbhoomi we are talking about. The people, the places and the poise – they all come together and give you a state of mind (if you allow them to) that gives you epiphanies similar to the Wordsworthian ideas of inward eye, deep seclusion and bliss of solitude.
The mighty hills give you a feeling and a love; they make you feel what earthly eternity might feel like.
But once you return to regular life, your regular life returns to you. I remember my first experience of Uttarakhand. The incredible 15 days passed by in a blur of activity and satisfaction – of homeliness and a sense of belonging that is rare in my life.
But after those two weeks my body started craving protein. And I have never looked forward to Rajdhani Express food so much. Spiritual nourishment must be complemented by the other kind. (Permanent abstinence helps no one except the myths created by mythmakers. And curiously enough, the myth of the maker that they sell claims to be above and beyond such trivialities.) The Jan Shatabdi that we usually take from Haridwar does not have non-vegetarian fare on their downward journey. So Akbar Bhai’s biryani was rather special for more than one reason.
Cuisine is important for not only the palate, but for the cultural experience as well. Variety is not merely entertainment, it is also enrichment. Our lives are short, mostly full of greed. But the greed that I support is that for experience. If life is not tolerant of multiplicity then life is worthless. It is in duality that we thrive. It is the idea of the eternal versus the ephemeral that makes our lives wonderful.
Most of the things we know are ephemeral, but the interactions we have with the other give that ephemerality some meaning. Life interacting with other life is what makes life interesting. If you have no connection with the people around you, if you choose to stay away from their customs, then there is no way you can know them. If you do not know them, you have no right to have a say in their businesses or lives. You are simply not qualified. You can generate misinformation even after knowing, but that is dirty politics. Please see and feel, don’t be fooled by dogma. There are so many delicacies in life. Don’t fight them or alienate them. Don’t choose blindness. Choose good politics. Choose biryani. Choose life.
Earlier Posts: 1. Old Lucknow 2. Colonial Lucknow 3. Going Downhill - Versey to Dentam 4. Going to Garhwal 5. The Walkers 6. Palamau 7. Rishikesh 8. Kolkata Kolkata 9. The Roar of the Clouds - Santiniketan 10. Of Pests and Men - Uttarey 11. Where Hikers Fear to Tread - Rudranath 12. Old Times 13. History in Ruins - Pushpagiri 14. Once There was a Heaven 15. Serenity 16. Pilgrim's Progress - Kedarnath 17. Unfinished - Gaumukh 18. Ghatshila 19. Nothing Important 20. Manu's Alaya - Manali 21. Santiniketan 22. Little Lhasa - Dharamshala 23. From Varuna to Assi - Varanasi 24. Tunganath 25. Transitory Blues 26. Gurudongmar 27. The Beginning 28. Yumesamdong 29. Bangali in Bangkok 30. Mukutmanipur 31. Rasvanti 32. The Old Town and the Sea 33. Budapest