Saturday, November 28, 2009


- by Deepa Krishnan

The old man was kind to me as usual.

Salaam-alekum, I said, as we walked into his soap-recycling workshop in Dharavi.
He smiled and waved us in. Behind us, his workers sliced the soap neatly into little bars.

Hurry, hurry, the old man said to them. I must go say my prayers.

There were two goats in the workshop - a big brown one, and a smaller cream coloured one. They followed him around.

First, I must feed these two, he said to me. And he brought out his store of wheat grain.

Wheat?, I asked. I thought it would be grass or leaves.

Ah, these are hand-fed goats, he said. No grass for them!

The goats ate greedily. I looked at their shiny pelts and felt sorry for them.

So, I said to him, tomorrow you will slit their necks, huh?

He nodded and said, yes, it is qurbani.

Qurbani, sacrifice, is the theme of Bakr-Id (in memory of the time when Ibrahim sacrificed his son at God's command, only to discover that instead of the son, a dead ram lay at the altar).

The ideal qurbani is therefore, when one selects the animal oneself, nourishes it and becomes familiar or even attached to it. Without that attachment, there is no real sacrifice, is there?

I knew this, but it didn't stop me from feeling sorry for the poor goats. Vegetarians like me can afford to feel this sort of sympathy. But as long as I don't get holier-than-thou about it, as long as I can understand someone else's point of view, it's ok, I guess.

I don't eat meat, I said to the old man. It was the perfect opening for him to ask me about myself. Who was I? What part of the country did I come from? Where did I live? We found ourselves settling into the well-understood rituals that govern social interaction.

I talked about my grandfather, and how he migrated to Bombay and found a job here. As I told my grandfather's story, the old man stood up and cleared a chair for me. Come, sit, he said, why are you standing? And thus, over a migrant's story, we made a connection.

Next time, I go there, I'll ask the old man about *his* story. I am looking forward to it.

The photos below are by the very talented Meena Kadri, who came with me on my Dharavi jaunt. Check out her flickr album if you have the time. What an amazing eye she has for form and colour.

Aerial view of recycling sheds (on the left). Trucks bring in raw material and take away finished goods.

Inside the soap factory: Worker slicing and packing soap. The raw material includes waste from large soap manufacturing factories. The final product is a small green slab.

More goats outside the workshop compound. No one will go hungry on Id.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

There is an answer

- Posted by Deepa, a poem by Girish Sangameswaran

My cousin Girish wrote something about last November's attacks on Mumbai, and I thought I'd post it here on the anniversary of the attacks.

- Deepa

Violence in Mumbai, 26 Nov 08 onwards.
More than 100 killed, 300 injured.

The horrendous acts of violence
Laced with sweetness of religion
Garnished with mindsets of division
Are these acts of chaotic blindness or
Colossal stupor ?

Armed organizations with black heads
Black scarfs, black weapons
Blackness looming large
Black minds, black shouts of freedom, victory

Who are they, where do they come from,
Individual or collective consciousness ?
Remnants of the undesired or
Splinters of past hurts ?

There may be no quick answers to violence,
but surely a long term one,

When a child is told -
That the skin colour differs but when pinched hard,
one sees red blood

That the long hair is the one that’s rolled,
to be covered with a turban

That to kneel down or to join palms,
are both acts of surrender and prostration

That Pani, Neeru, Thani and Jal mean the same
That the Spirit is to be embraced and not the fa├žade
That the visage changes but the expression is one,
And this expression is the language of the heart spoken through the eyes
Which is universal and belongs to the ONE who is common to all

There is an answer……………if we believe in one.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mango-ginger? What's that?

by Janaki Krishnan

Yesterday, my daughter's maid rang me up.

"Amma" she said, "Deepa tayi has bought something that looks like ginger. But she has asked me to turn into a pickle. What
shall I do? It's a little like ginger, a little like tumeric."

"Ah, it must be Manga inji (mango-ginger)," I said.

Pale coloured mango-ginger in the foreground. To its left is raw turmeric, yellow-orange in colour. To the right is regular ginger.

Mango-ginger, a member of the ginger family, is closely related to turmeric. It looks like ginger - knobbly on the outside, pale yellow on the inside. It combines the zing of ginger and the coolness of sweet, sour, raw mango. Aside from this, the mango-ginger's got nothing much to do with an actual mango.

So I told the maid, "To make the pickle, cut it into small pieces, add salt, red chilli powder. You can also add a little bit of lemon juice if you like. It's delicious, and can be had with curd rice. Wait and see, Deepa will eat twice the amount of curd rice that she usually does!"

The pickle after it was made. Unlike other pickles which require to be stored or put away for a while, this one can be eaten immediately after preparation.

Mango ginger can also be used to make a chutney along with urad dal (black gram or black lentil), red chillies, hing (asafoetida), grated coconut and a bit of jaggery. This chutney is eaten with dosas, idlies and even rice.
The Gujarati word for mango-ginger is "amba harad". My Gujarati neighbour cuts it into small bits, adds salt and lemon to make a simple pickle to be eaten with chapatti. Sometimes, she also adds slices of raw turmeric to this pickle. A Parsi friend cuts it into thin strips and uses it in salad. Another lady we know dices it into little cubes, along with similarly diced cubes of carrot and cucumber. She adds coriander, lemon and a little salt to make a fresh and delicious salad.
Mango-ginger has excellent medicinal properties and finds extensive use in the indigenous system of medicine. It is an appetizer, aphrodisiac, laxative and an antipyretic as it cools down the body in case of a fever. It is effecive against bronchitis, asthma, hiccough and inflammation due to injures.
It's too bad that this spice is relatively unheard of. When you get a chance, please try some of the pickle... there's hardly anyone I know who doesn't like it!

With inputs and edits by Aishwarya