Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Manganiyar Seduction at the Purana Quila

Last Sunday, Delhi was witness to an amazing event - The Manganiyar Seduction conceived and directed by Roysten Abel. First created for the Osians to open the film festival in Delhi 2006, the show has since travelled the world, performing at Festivals in Sydney, Singapore, Holland, Dublin, London, France and at the Lincoln Center in New York last week before returning to India

The set is a vertical construction of 4 rows of 9 cubicles each lit up by tiny lights and covered with curtains. The curtain opens just before a performer makes his appearance in the piece and the lights turn on each time he performs, creating a wonderful visual spectacle to go with the music. The set up is influenced by the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur and the Red Light Districts of Amsterdam.This awe inspiring set is 3500kgs of solid wood and metal that takes a crew of 8 around 6 hours to set up.

The Manganiyars are a community of Muslim court musicians who hail from villages around Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Barmer. Their repertoire ranges from ballads about the kings to Sufi songs written by various mystics. And their music is a synthesis of folk music, Sufi music and Indian classical music.

The instruments played in this performance include the sarangi (considered the most difficult Indian instrument), been, khartal, kamancha, algoza and morchang among others

The performance is absolutely mind blowing. The range of instruments, the symphony, the collaboration and not a sheet of music in sight. This is one of those experiences, that if ytou have the fortune of witnessing it live, it will remian embedded in your mind and heart forever. JT - a wise friend of mine, who was also here, said " performances like these, remind us that any display of devotion other than music, seems so shallow in comparison"

The performers are all grounded in reality and go back to till their lands between performances. Abel attributes this to their past when they performed for royalty and then went back to their own homes. The group faces its own sets of problems when travelling. In their last trip to the US, they were 42 Khans in the group and 6 got held back for "special" questioning, their performer visas not withstanding, when they were asked to spell their mothers names in English. A tough job for the performers who barely understand English. But they persevere just for their music. And people like me are blessed to witness a performance in our lifetime.

Take a sneak peek at the videos here:

If you are impressed with what you see, then do consider buying the CD or LP from Amarrass Records who has created a non profit initiative - the Amarrass Society to help provide such traditional musicians and musical instrument makers with a sustainable livelihood which will eliminate their need to head to city and give up their traditional crafts. The CD is 500Rs and half the profit goes back to benefit the musicians and the craftsmen who supply their instruments. The Amarrass Society plans to also sell some of the instruments online giving the craftsmen a wider market than possible in their villages (many such craftsmen have migrated to the city to make furniture, forgoing their skills with instruments)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

IITF @ Pragati Maidan

This year is the 30th occurance of the IITF India International Trade Fair at Pragati Maidan. Hailed as the best fair held in Delhi, I decided to accompany my husband who had to go there on a market visit (his company was one of the sponsors of the fair).

Inspite of having sponsor and delegate passes, we had to get into the long queues outside the maidan. The police were reasonably efficient and it wasn't too much of an ordeal. Those who did not have bags went through after a personal check. Those with bags had to pass them through a scanner before gaining entry to the grounds.

The state pavillions all had displays related to their green endeavours. Except UP, this had more pictures of Mayawati, her elephants and the constructions she had carried out and named after her favourite men rather than anything concrete. It was also the most chaotic of  all the pavillions we visited and the only place I felt threatened by the possibility of a stampede. Most other State pavillions had one floor dedicated to green endeavours and another to products crafted in their state.

The Maharashtra Pavillion had a beautiful Ganesh pandal just as one entered.

The Karnataka Pavillion was designed like  an ancient temple and had some wonderful wood work on display.

The Rajasthani Pavillion had a beautiful and intricately worked ceiling covered with mirrors and miniature paintings.

We had heard a lot of favourable things about this fair and how it was a shoppers paradise. The International Stalls are a huge draw for shoppers who hope to acquire something that can be labelled "foreign" especially if they don't possess a passport.

There were stalls from Iran - foods, Pakistan - stone work, foods and fabrics, Turkey - lamps and ceramics, China - accessories. We only went into one of the foreign pavillions, but once I picked up the Pakistani masalas I was looking for, we were done.

The fair is so large that it is impossible to visit all the pavillions, so we had to skip a few. There were entire pavillions dedicated to cosmetics, household goods and the like which we just didn't have the time to see.

By the end of the day, we realised that we had only picked up edible products. Gajak from a small mithaiwala who had come from Eastern UP. Masala Powders from the Pakistani brangs Shaan and Laziza (brands I grew to appreciate when we lived in Dubai), especially the Memoni Mutton Biryani Masala. Bhoot Jholakia (spiciest chilli in the world) from the Assam pavillion. Assorted churans which were carefully selected by my husband after umpteen samplings. Some lovely ginger infused honey which is a wonderful antidote to the itchy throats this weather is causing. Amla laddus which are excellent digestives. Tri coloured Rajasthani papads. Berries and saffron from Iran.
I found quite a few products I had been searching for, for awhile and some new items that were begging to be tried out. The fabrics and handicrafts weren't at all enticing, except in the Khadi Pavillion. They were decent quality but none of the uniqueness of products I saw at the Dastkaar Nature Bazaar.

My favourite of all the pavillions was the Khadi pavillion with traditional hand spun cloth and traditionally prepared handicrafts.
With 150,000 visitors last Saturday and the 50,000 delegates, the area was quite crowded and it was an ordeal to push through which had us more exhausted than we should have been. Most families were in a holiday mood and had carried picnics along with them.

Other than the hard-to-find food items, the other highlight of my day was the 4pm show put up by the armymen with their extremely well trained dogs.

Not a bazaar I would return to, unless I visited during one of the business only days before it is thrown open to the public.

The Food had so many varieites, that it deserved a seperate Blog post of its own. View my Photo Essay on the Food on offer at IITF

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Launch of "The F Word"

I'd been reading snippets of Mita Kapur's The F Word even before the book was launched. A few illustrations with short tantalising explanations were enough to excite the foodie on me to start desperately searching for her book as soon as she announced that it was out. But it wasn't to be found in a single Delhi book store. Not surprising considering that Harper Collins hadn't launched it yet in Delhi.

So when the invitation came for the book launch at Cafe Zaffiro in Zamrudpur on the 15th, I jumped at the opportunity and dragged my visiting Sister-in-law along.

Driving to Zamrudpur was an expedition in its own right. Fortunately Cafe Zaffiro had put up enough sign boards to assure us that we were headed in the right direction. And when we reached there I realised that the hardest-to-reach places in Delhi can throw up suprising little gems.

Cafe Zaffiro is attached to Zaza Home - a store that sells clothes and knick knacks for around the house and kitchen. There were plenty of little items catching my eye, but we didn't want to be late and so we rushed upstairs to the terrace where the launch was to be held. And a good thing that we did, because inspite of sufficient seating, the location soon became a standing room only affair.

Mita Kapur comes across as a demure soft spoken lady, but she quickly dispelled any fallacies about her being the Adarsh Bharatiya Nari. A woman of chutzpah and determination showed herself in the hour to follow.

She said her motivation to write the book, came from her husbands threat to write a sex story that would be sold at Railway stations across the country, if she didn't write something more substantial herself.

I must mention here that the book is not just a collection of recipes. It is part autobiography detailing the struggles of a working woman trying to feed a nutritious diet  to her husband and children which is still exciting enough to eat and slowly trying to healthify traditional Indian recipes which are tasty but heavy and rich. Part memoir and partly a legacy that she wanted to leave to her children with a dose of advice and tips on how to cook healthy meals in a hurry.

The book can be enjoyed as a good read with enough recipes in it to excite the foodie reader yet not distract the casual reader from the humour in the stories behind the food.

Rocky and Mayur from Highway on My Plate were there to help launch the book and both confessed to not having read the book entirely. With Mayur confessing that his lack of reading skills made him depend on his wife to tell him what the book was about.

A triologue followed with Rocky & Mayur inviegling invites to be adopted by Mita and her Mother-in-law and be fed for perpetuity.

When asked if she had ever faced any disaster in the kitchen, she remembered the time, she and her sister-in-law had first made Gulab Jamuns from a pre-mix. The recipe called for making tiny balls. But her sister-in-law declared that they were too tiny and stingy and should be made much bigger. So what looked like regular size jamuns when rolling into balls, expanded to the size of cricket balls when being fried.

The Audience was then treated to some traditional Suryamukhi kebabs (with smoked meat) whose recipe is also in the book. The rest of the snacks served were also very tasty. But as we were in a hurry, I didin't find out if the preparations were from Mita's repertoire or the kitchens of Cafe Zaffiro.

I'm still reading the book and will review it on Jhovaan - My Food Blog once I have cooked a couple of dishes from the book.

The book is now available in Delhi bookstores. I saw it at Om Books the other day. The Jaipur launch is on the 30th.

And I will go back to Zamrudpur to investigate that market further.

"Rediscovery of Peru" - Travel, Food & Adventure Talk and Food Demonstration

The Attic in Delhi is a lovely space in the Regal Building in CP which plays host to some wonderful talks and demonstrations. I had been following their newsletters while I was in Egypt sorely missing attending their food talks, so this was one of the first places that I checked out when I arrived in Delhi. For the last few months, they had to hold their lectures at the IIC while CP was a mess of construction debris. But this months talks are now back to being held at The Attic.

While some of the talks are held by expert researchers in the field, some are conducted by people who are just passionate about the subject. Zorawar Shukla was recently back from a trekking trip in the Andes and promised to talk about travel, food and adventure on the Andean trail.
Zorawar's month long trek covered the Peruvian and the Bolivian sides of the Andes visiting Cuzco, Arequipa, Lake Titicaca and La Paz.

He observed a number of festivals while at Cuzco where he started his trip and was told that there was either a protest or a festival being celebrated every day of the year in this city.

While he did speak of the culture of South America, I focussed on the pictures and descriptions of the foods that were mostly new to me.

The food in the Andes region is an amalgamation of local native ingredients (chiefly maize, corn, potatoes and chillies) and ingredients that came in through the Spanish conquistadors, the African settlers and then the Japanese.

Potatoes and chillies were introduced to the rest of the world from South America and the varieties available in the region run in the thousands. Corn is used in everything from drinks to desserts. Quinoa is indigenous to this region.

Coca Leaves are abundantly available around the Andes and while illegal to transport, they are chewed regularly (like tobacco) in the region to supress appetite and increase energy levels. They are also brewed in tea and help in acclimatising to the high altitudes of the Andes.

Street stalls sell delicious treats around each corner. While knowing what the items are, may make them a little difficult to eat, they aren't as shocking as the oferrings at the street stalls in Thailand.

Saltenas are a popular snack that are munched on through the day.

Pisco is a grape liquor from this part of the world and The Pisco Sour is Peru's national coctail. Made with Pisco, lime juice, bitters, ice, sugar and egg white, Zorawar demonstrated and served us all a shot of the cocktail.

He also demonstrated Papa a la Huancaína substituting mozarella for queso freso and green chillies for ají amarillo.An interesting salad.
The fruits in Peru were absolutely fresh, larger than normal and bursting with flavour.

Peru has its own take on Chinese food, coming up with unique a Peruvian Chinese cusine on the lines of Indian Chinese cuisine.

Bembos is a popular local fast food chain in Peru and it actually has a branch in Bandra in Bombay.

The rest of the food he described and showed pictures of looked and sounded so delicious, that I'm sure that most of the people in the room, wanted to make a trip to Peru ASAP :).

Zorawar described a lot of other dishes, which I do not seem to have got the right transliteration in English.

Some of the terms may have different spellings, the errors are all mine

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Annual Blind Relief Association Diwali Mela

The Annual Blind Relief Association Diwali Mela is the most talked about Diwali mela and once I reached there, I realised why. This year it is on from the 26th of October to the 31st of October. (2436 1376)

This mela is a blend of Dastkar Nature Bazaar and the Akshay Pratishtan Mela

Some stalls by charitable organisations, others purely commercial. Also a lot of stalls by people/companies that do not have shops and showrooms in this country, who mainly export their wares or sell to other companies who then sell these items with a markup for adding their own brandname.

The Blind School itself has a stall which sells candles, diyas and paper products made by their students. This stall has the largest throng of people around it. The second longest line was at the free foot massages being provided by the students (contributions voluntary).

The food available here is all vegetarian, a Rajasthani, South Indian, Dilli and chaat stall sums up most of whats on offer. There are a few kulfiwalas, sweet corn, cotton candy kind of stalls too.

Prices range from extremely reasonable to extremely expensive. But there is something for every kind of shopper. Overheard around the reasonably priced clothes area "Let's get out of this junta area, there are just too many people here and I'm not going to buy anything in this price range!"

My favorite stalls included Antarkranti - a collaboration of the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan with the inmates of Tihar Jail with wonderful dhoop sticks (incense cones) and face packs. The Aarohi natural soaps with some unusual fragrances like Saffron, the wonderful diyas by the Blind School, a Rajasthani stall that was selling sari borders, Kumar Industries neem wood combs which they promise will stop dandruff and hari fall (an eternal quest) and Baby's Pride which had pre stitched saris for kids of all ages.

There are Gardening stores, Wonderful terracotta products to decorate your home and garden, some stalls selling unique kitchen gadgets among others.

Entry is free. There is also a free shuttle service from Aman hotel where you can park your car.

Annual Dastkar Nature Bazaar

The Dastkar Nature Bazaar is an annual bazaar held around diwali at the IGNCA (Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts) grounds. This year it is being held from the 26th of October to 1st November.
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Dastkar has over 28 years of experience in the crafts sector (they have their regular outlet at Shahpurjat) and that reflects in this bazaar. Almost 200 stalls selling traditional Indian arts and crafts. Handlooms, textiles, home made food products, organic cosmetics, furniture, bamboo work, terracotta cutlery and decorative pieces are all on offer.
This has been my favorite of all the diwali bazaars I attended this year. The range of food stalls, is also the best at this particular bazaar.

You can buy bead jewelry starting from 30Rs to Parsi Ghara hand embroidered saris for 50,000/-Rs at this bazaar. A lot of the stalls sell products by NGO's that work with the underprivileged in society. There are plenty of good causes with excellent quality products.

The best part of this bazaar is that you don't need to worry about carrying cash. If you want to make a big ticket purchase. Get a bill at the stall of your choice and visit the central located counter operated by Dastkaar and pay by credit card. Go back with your proof of payment and collect your purchases from the stall. As simple as that.

This year, the Kingdom of Bhutan is a special guest and is operating a few stalls.

Entry to the bazaar is free.

There are a few folk art performances that happen sporadically at the venue. There are some live demos by craftsmen of their particular brand of workmanship.

If you visit the IGNCA, also step in and check out the Wild Tigers Photography Exhibition (on till 3rd November) and the Exhibition of masks and puppets (on till 20th November)

Here's a glimpse at some of the stalls:

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