Saturday, September 22, 2012

Upvasache Bhagar - Jungle Rice at Prakash in Shivaji Park

- By Deepa Krishnan

One of the happy delights of the rainy season is that Prakash at Shivaji Park has their fasting menu in place. 
Prakash Upahar Kendra near Sena Bhavan
(this is the old location, new location is opposite this one).
There's usually a queue of people waiting for a table. So you'll have plenty of time to admire the beautiful art-deco grillework in the balcony above, while you join the queue! 

I went last week, mercifully before the crowd came in. And I ordered this wonderful thing called Upvasache Bhagar. 
My tiny portion of Bhagar. Everything at Prakash is super-tiny. Space at the blue formica tables is at a premium, so you are expected to share three to a bench. 
Have you tasted bhagar? It is light, nourishing and delicious. It is served with a slightly sweetned yoghurt, which sets off the green chilli spice in the bhagar quite nicely. Ideal for breakfast, especially if you don't like super-spicy things early in the morning. 

Bhagar (vari tandul) comes from the seed of a wild grass. It's often called jungle rice, although it is not really rice. It is a seed which grows widely in Asia. Since it is not a grain, by the complex rules of Hindu fasts, bhagar is among the list of permitted foods that you can eat in the fasting season. 
Photo of bhagar from Wikimedia Commons
To make upvasache bhagar, usually jungle rice is cooked along with rajgira (amaranth, yet another "permitted" seed). Boiled potatoes are also added to give it some mass. Crushed peanuts, green chillies, cumin, lemon, coriander and ghee - these are the things that make bhagar delicious. It is a simple recipe, and works very well.
Looks delicious already, doesn't it?
If you want to try making it at home, you can use this great recipe from The Cook's Cottage. At the risk of offending purists, I would suggest trying your own variations. If you are making it for 4 p.m. "tiffin", then increase the spice levels and serve with masala chai! I think it would taste great with peas and carrots added to it. Or even sauteed capsicum. I think saw a version online with bhopla in it, but I find the idea very yewww. 

For those who want the dish without the effort of cooking it, there's always Prakash. It's very close to my office, so please give me a shout and I'll gladly join you.

P.S. While you're there, try their thalipeeth as well. I'm addicted to it.
The thalipeeth at Prakash - spicy, fabulous, leaves your mouth tingling

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In which I watch trees being cut

- Deepa Krishnan

The area outside my office has dense green tree cover, keeping the entire street cool and shady, and protecting us from sun and rain.

Today when I drove up to work, I found a tree-felling operation in progress:
A big tree standing right opposite our office was dead, and the municipality guys had been called to fell it. I spoke to the guy in charge; he had a digital camera and a sheet with instructions on which trees to cut, and which to trim. He explained that the tree opposite our office was rotten, and needed to be cut. 

Our local istriwallah agreed, and gave me some rustic advice "Jhaad andar sey sad gaya hai madam", he said. "Bahut dino se baas aa raha hai". Apparently, you can smell a rotten tree in the rains. I do not know if this little piece of dehati wisdom is true, because I couldn't smell anything strange. 

But in any case, the cutting had begun. There was a man on top of a dead branch (can you see him in the photo below?), hacking away with a small axe. They had tied ropes to the branch. When it weakened, guys standing below would tug on the ropes and the branch would come crashing down.
Along with this dead tree, several other trees were being trimmed, based on requests made by residents of a nearby building. A couple of months ago, a branch from one of the trees fell down and dented a car. So that's why the municipality had been called in.

I stood and watched as big branches came crashing down all over the street. It felt terrible, really, even if one tree was supposedly dead, the rest were still alive and were being trimmed with gusto. Once a big branch had been brought down, it was then chopped into little bits. The tools used were basic: sickles to cut off small portions, and two-man saws for larger trunks. Every now and then, the saw would need to be sharpened.
And then they would get back to the job of breaking up the branches:
The cutting went on all through the morning, from 9 am to nearly noon. In between, they took a break for sweet milky tea, sponsored by the local chaiwalla.

Eventually around 1:00, I went outside to check on the status. The entire set of trees on our street had been decimated. There used to be a pretty green canopy on my street earlier, but now it looked grim and bare.
A sorry morning, really, all in all. So much beauty lost. I am wondering how to plant another tree. Do you know any organisations that can help? 

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Lessons for Mumbai from the 6th Century BC

- By Deepa Krishnan

On my morning walk, I passed by the Jain temple in our neighbourhood. It was a beautiful calming sight.

Jain Temple, King's Circle, Mumbai
I paused for a few minutes to think of Mahavira, the founder of the Jain religion, who preached what is perhaps the most relevant message for our times: tolerance for multiple views

Mahavira's philosophy of anekantvad  - which translates literally to "multiple-view-ism" - is central to the Jain doctrine. In its most basic form, anekantvad means that there are multiple perceptions of Truth, and that no single point of view can be considered absolutely right. Quite different from dogmatic religions that insist it's "my way or the highway"!

In its more sophisticated philosophical interpretations, what anekantvad really says is that the universe and everything in it, i.e. the objects of our perception, are infinite in their qualities. Whereas human perception is finite, and what's more, each human's perceptions are different based on the filter through which they see the world. In fact, because no two people are identical, there are as many different perceptions of the world, as there are people! Thus, it is impossible for a single human being to completely grasp all aspects and manifestations of the universe and Truth.

Given this situation, a very refined or nuanced approach to the world is needed, which is called syadvad - conditional perception. Syadvad literally translates to "maybe-ism", and what it suggests is that when we make a statement about the world, we don't present it as dogma and absolute truth; instead we add "syad" to it, i.e. perspective. 

Thus, whenever we say something, we preface it by saying it is from one particular perspective. This allows room for other views. It's like the blind men and the elephant. We need the humility to accept that we may be only grasping the tail or the ear :)
And so these men of Hindustan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong :) :)
I cannot help liking the anekantvad/syadvad approach, although I know I often present my beliefs very forcefully. Most of us are articulate lobbyists and passionate about one cause or the other. It is quite a giant leap to go from forceful debate to the kind of gentle approach that syadvad calls for. When we are  very forceful about what we believe in, and thrust it upon others, we are in reality refusing to accept the richness of the many world views that are around us. And we are being driven by ego, by the urge to be listened to and obeyed. 

It is really quite a fine line to walk. We must live in this world, and act upon our beliefs, but we also must give room and respect to other beliefs, even when they are very much in opposition to our own. How does one do that? Especially when some things make your blood boil? Food for thought, especially in this city where a new strain of intolerance seems to be gaining ground!!

For those who don't know - Mahavira, or The Great Valiant One, is the name given to the sage Vardhamana, who lived in the 6th century BC in what is now Bihar. The faith which he propounded - Jainism - received royal patronage from the Maurya kings, and spread all over India, including large tracts of South India. In Tamil Nadu, Mahavira is called Arugan. 

Jainism as a faith is much older than Mahavira, who is the 24th in a long line of Jain sages. But it was Mahavira, who lived a long and fruitful 72 years, who popularised the religion by formally expounding its tenets. 
Beautiful 8th Century AD stone scuplture from 
Kazhugumalai, Tirunelveli District, Tamil Nadu 
See this link for amazing detailed photos of this site 
where Jain and Hindu carvings co-exist. 
The sculpture above is of Parshvanatha, 
the 23rd in the line of Jain sages.
There are several Jain temples in India, and I highly recommend you visit one of the temples if you are coming to India. Almost all of them are beautifully carved and embellished, and the insides of the temples are worth seeing. You will usually be able to see not just Mahavira, but also the 24 sages, called tirthankaras, who came before him. 

Jains believe that these tirthankaras, the Enlightened Ones, the Kevala Gyanis, have been able to see the rich complexity of Truth in all its manifold aspects. Maybe they will inspire you as well :)
Marble Carving detail, Ranakpur Jain Temple, Rajasthan
Photo source for "blind men and the elephant":