Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lodi Gardens - A Walk Through




























Just a sheer pleasure revived, the walk, brisk or leisurely, jog or run, whatever is your turn-on in the morning, afternoon or evening, Lodi Gardens are a real haven of tranquility and peace from the hustle and bustle of Delhi. These gardens are home to a wide variety of trees and plants. The gardens derive their name from having been laid out in 1936 around four monuments built during the Lodi dynasty, the last of the Delhi Sultanate. Ibrahim Lodi, the last of the dynasty was defeated by Babur at the battle of Panipat and thus started the Mughal rule in India. There are bridges built in the 16th century here. And a beautiful fountain. Originally known as the Lady Willingdon Park, it was renamed Lodi Garden after Indian Independence in 1947.

The monuments around which the gardens are laid out are Muhammed Shah's Tomb, Sikander Lodi's Tomb, Sheesh Gumbad and Bara Gumbad. The tomb of Mohammed Shah, the last of the Sayyid rulers, is the earliest of these and was built in 1444 by Ala-ud-din Alam Shah to pay a tribute to Muhammed Shah.

The Bara Gumbad and the attached mosque were built in 1494 by during the reign of Sikander Lodi. The Sheesh Gumbad or the Glazed Dome, which stands opposite Bara Gumbad and resembles it, was built around the same time. The Sheesh Gumbad is somewhat smaller in size compared to the Bara Gumbad.

The tomb of Sikander Lodi was built by Ibrahim Lodi in 1517.

The Lodi Gardens are the winter paradise of the Delhite and one can see strewn all across the gardens, picnickers and health freaks alike, including the lovers all cuddled in for moments that transform any human being, from the mundane to the exclusive, the lucky ones who breath the air ancient air of these gardens as they walk, run, jog, do pranayam and yoga in an environment away from the pollution of Delhi city. It is a must see/ must be at, if you are ever in Delhi.

For the main monument, enter from Gate number 3 near the India International Centre. There is no entry fee to the gardens. There are many Pay-N-Use rest rooms around and also many Wastebins. Be sure, you don’t throw even a tissue paper on its beautiful green grass, although you may be atishooooo-ing away with an infernal cold in these our New Delhi Chills!


I WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mutton Curry

Cats! That is what you would call them, those who stay near the wood fire in traditional Bengali home. Or would you? Think of those two or three holes in the mud flooring, carefully packed with layers of mud, with a bottom rich with a collection of ash and cinder from burnt wood. An iron tube, to blow into the fire and another iron rod to shuffle and move the burning cinder, large cut-to-size wood meant to light the fire, in order that the days’ meals can be cooked. Ceilings blackened by the smoke. Constant tear-wet eyes. Can you call them cats, these cooks sitting by such firesides in traditional Bengali houses in yesteryears? Gas stoves were unheard of. Would you call them cats, even though they sometimes shared the fireplace with the lazy white house cats?

Ranna mama was not a cat, cat but a real cat in cooking meals and other things in our house. He was always lively and bubbly, eating his paan and drinking his n-numberchai. Apart from many other things I remember him for, I will never forget the way ate. To my child-eyes, it was fascinatingly peculiar. He would take one big morsel of rice mixed with curry, roll it in his palms to a ball and then throw it into his mouth, as if he was bucketing a ball like you do in Basketball! In traditional Bengali homes, you ate sitting on a little stool on the floor. Who had seen the dining table then and who would want that? I used to stare in awe, my head moving up and down with each morsel. We all enjoyed his culinary expertise.

He and his brother had come from Bangladesh. The word visa was unheard of. One just walked across the border and landed in Shillong via Silchar and worked in any capacity at homes and offices in the Kacchar Distt. and in Shillong where there was a huge Bengali population. They left behind them, in Bangladesh, their families in order that they could work and take money back home ones a year. In case of Rannamama, he took the money once a year too and every year he left his wife pregnant with another baby, who would be born in the absence of its father. He would only see his child the next year when he got there. But then he would leave again with his wife pregnant with the next. Back in our house in Shillong, he would treat us to culinary delights.


Rannamama’s Mutton Curry

Ingredients:

Mutton – 1 kg washed and cleaned
Onions – 3 whole
Garlic – 2 pieces
Ginger – ½ inch piece
Green Chilies – 4
Red Chillie – 2
Lemon – 1
Elachi – 2
Dalchini – 1 one inch long
Mustard oil 6 tablespoons
Salt to taste
Haldi 1 teaspoon
Bay leaves 2
Water ½ litre or as required
Optional: Potatoes 3 cut in the middle.


Method:

Grind one onion, garlic, ginger,red and green chilies to a paste and put them over the mutton. Grind the elachi, dalchini to a paste and put it separately in a covered bowl.

Cut 2 onions into large pieces and along with 4 tablespoons of oil, salt and haldi, mix and marinate for half hour.

Place a kadai on fire. Heat. Put two spoons of mustard oil and heat till the bubbles dissolve. Put the bay leaves and stir till brown. Place the marinated mutton in the kadai and sorte till the emerging water in the mutton dries up totally. Add previously fried to brown, potatoes and cook till the mutton is done, not too soft, but just right. If you are using a pressure cooker, then allow the first whistle, and then put the mutton in low fire for twenty minutes. Open cooker immediately after by releasing the pressure through the whistle.

Once done, add the juice of one lemon on top and also the elachi, dalchini mixture. Stir and place in a serving bowl. Cover the bowl. Serve hot with plain, white rice, roti or luchies*


* Luchi – Fluffy puri made of maida


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Delhi Thrills - A Photo Blog

I am not a historian nor someone who fared very well in history in school, but over the years I have begun to love places and monuments that will outlive me ands many others and speak of a civilization we call, Indian. And in that respect, I am a proud Indian.

So, let us take a tour around Delhi, through my eyes.

The star attraction of the Qutb complex is, of course, the Qutb Minar (1200-1210) itself, started by Aibak but finished by Iltutmish. The decreasing in size as the tower moves up and so if you look up it looks really high. The two topmost storeys, were added later by Feroze Shah Tughlaq. It is an excellent example of Afgan architecture. The Minar is 72.5 metres high.


Design on the inside of the many domes at the Kutub Minar...


Crowd at The Baha'i House - Lotus Temple

Baha’I House of Worship is also known as The Lotus Temple. It was built in 1987 and signifies the purity and equality of all religions.


Lotus Temple


The Main tomb at Lodi Garden....


Lodi Gardens With the Lodi dynasty and most Mughal kings sthe capital had shifted to Agra. Delhi wasn't really abondoned but its importance played down.
Yet the buildings that stand in Lodi Gardens today are a joy forever and a remembrance of the austerity and impressiveness of Tughlaq times.


A glace of the same from a different angle

Lodi Gardens, was landscaped in 1968 by the famous Joseph Allen Stein. It has the mid-15th century Bada Gumbad and the Shish Gumbad. And the Tomb of Sikandar Lodi (1517), near a bridge called Athpula, the latter built in Akbar's time. Lodi Garden continues to remain the joggers and walkers paradise.

Isha Khan's tomb

Humayun's Tomb It is a place of silence, the Tomb as well as its surrounding garden. You can sit there for hours, just lost in thoughts. Such a quiet dignity surrounds it. Babur's son Humayun and daughter-in-law Haji Begum had spent a good five years in Persia in exile. When they returned they came with a retinue of Persian architects and artisans. And thus began the formal interface of Persian trends with Indian architecture, which you find in the Taj Mahal as well.

Humayun's Tomb (1565-66) was built by Haji Begam. It is a prototype of The Taj and replicates the garden tombs of that era.is thus the first of the famous garden tombs of the Mughals, the first tomb in . We are grateful that this building has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (1993).


Inside Isha Khan's tomb Tomb


Humayun's Tomb

Without mention of the silence of Humayun’s tomb and the surrounding areas, it is in fact a sin to leave this short account. Blissfully, silent, one which everyone must experience.

Red Fort This was built by Shah Jahan who also built The Taj Mahal. The historic Red Fort at Chandni Chowk (Shahjahanabad) is a perfect example of Persian urban-planning precepts, which believed in expressing the relation between human beings and the world when designing cities.

Shahjahanabad (1648) was established when Shah Jahan desired a formally planned capital as opposed to the sporadic collection of buildings that was Agra. It's a travesty to speak of 'Shahjahanabad', since the city was systematically destroyed by the British after the Revolt of 1857, cut through by a railway line, turned over to the Army in independent India.

Inside The Red Fort - Deewan'i Khaas, Dewan'i aam...
Entrance of The Red Fort

The Red Fort houses the Diwan-i-Aam with its painted marble canopy; Khaas Mahal (the king's quarters) with its incredibly intricate marble jaali; the adjacent Diwan-i-Khaas ('Hall of Private Audience'); the Shah Burj in a secluded corner, built for no other known purpose except the emperor's luxury of whiling away time... 'marble tents' all of them. The construction of Red Fort started in 1639 and ended in 1648.





Outside Red Fort

Opposite the Red Fort you have the Jama Masjid which is the largest mosque in India and stands across the road from Red Fort. It was built in 1656 by Shahjahan. Also opposite are the Jain temples.




At Raj Ghat - The Father Of The Nation - Hey Ram

















Friday, December 14, 2007

Vasai Fort - Reminiscence Of Our Heritage

Before you go on to read CLICK HERE for awesome photos

Decadence is a state of mind. So is indifference. It is indicative of a carelessness for which there are no excuses.

Recently, we came across the same state of affairs when we were faced with the challenge of The Taj Mahal losing its status as a world heritage sites because of the state in which it was due to Indian Government’s attitude towards it. The world’s most beloved site that is a living example of what a man’s love for a woman can be! But for the government of India, it is of no concern.

Not in the same league and yet, a definite part of our history as India, the vasai Fort is only one such examples of indifference. I am sure many will say at this point, Vasai Fort? Where? What?

Here is the answer to these questions.

Vasai or Bassein as it used to be called earlier, is a station which falls in the western railway track if you are to travel from Churchgate station in Bombay to Virar. The fifth station after Borivali towards Virar, it was under the Portuguese who conquered it via Gujarat and ruled there from 1534 – 1739. The Fort there covering 110 acres of land, out of which about 88 acres and 38 gunthas is under the Archaeological Department of India. In 1739, Vasai fell in the hands of the Marathas and flowing that, in 1818, Vasai along with other territories was conquered by the British to form the Bombay Presidency. The area covering the Fort was declared protected area under the provision of Section 3 of the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act VII of 1904. Alas, despite this the Fort is in a state of dilapidation.

In the years of its glory, it could have been a fort lifted from Europe and put at Bassein, with the torrential rains of the Konkan and the roaring waves of the Arabian sea, kissing and caressing its walls, it might have been that royal beauty mixing and passionately bathing in the waters of the sea. But had she mingled too much and allowed the sea to break her, was she too close for too long, unprotected and forever submissive to the growing relationship she had with the sea, that finally broke her? We do not know, but we do know that not even the Government of India was able to protect her from her deadly relationship with the Arabian Sea, which if it did care it could have done, if it really wanted to. Alas! Only a skeleton remains of the ‘Classic Bacaim’. Yet, even in its broken state it still continues to attract visitors, artists and photographers alike.


A brief history of the fort:

Initially the Muslim rulers began to construct a fortress in 1532

The Portuguese fought with them, conquered the fortress on 20th January, 1533 and destroyed it the same evening

During the period 1590 – 1600 the Portuguese put up a rampart wall around the ‘Portuguese township’ which is now commonly called the Vasai Fort.

“They began erecting another fortress (Citadel) on 20th Junuary, 1535 on that very spot as by that time all the land-transactions were completed by the Bahadur Shah of Gujarat and Vasai, along with other villages were duely handed over to the Portuguese. These so called villages were Salsette, Bombaim (Bombay), Parel, Vadala, Siao (Sion), Vorli (Worli), Mazagao (Mazgao), Thana, Bandra, Mahim, and Caranja. . At the end of 17th century Bassein reached the height of the prosperity. From 1611, Bassein and the whole region under the Portuguese had a mint or "Casa da Moeda". These old coins were found occasionally during digs and were locally called "Firgi paisa".*

“In February 1739, Chimaji Appa attacked Bassein and after a desperate resistance on 16th May 1739 the Portuguese signed surrender. The Portuguese lost eight cities, four chief ports, twenty fortress, two fortified hills, the island of Salcete (Salsette) with the city and the fortress of Thana, the "Ilha das Vaccas", the island of Karanj√† (Juem), and 340 villages. They left Bassein on 23rd May 1739. After 205 years of uninterrupted Portuguese rule, Bassein was progressively neglected, and the neighboring English Bombay assumed importance in trade and commerce. In 1801 in Poona (Pune), Jaswant Rao Holkar rose in rebellion with a huge army and defeated the combined armies of Daulat Rao Sindhia and Peshwa Baji Rao II and captured the city of Poona. Peshwa Baji Rao took refuge in Bassein. The defeated Baji Rao had no hesitation in accepting the Subsidiary Alliance with the British and signed the Treaty of Bassein with East India Company on December 31, 1802. In May 1803 Baji Rao II was restored as Peshwa under the protection of the British. The treaty of Bassein eventually led to expansion and influence of the East India Company over the Indian subcontinent.” **
At one time there were in Vasai as many as 2500 Portuguese, many of them Doma persons who had been granted titles of nobility by their Royal Masters, The King Of Portugal. Therefore Vasai at that time was called ‘Dom Bacaim’. During the take over of Vasai, by the Marathas it is believed the 800 Portuguese soldiers died in the battle Of Vasai lead by 22,000 Marathas. On 16th May, 1739, the Marathas hoisted their saffron flog declaring their victory over the Portuguese. As far as the 800 who died in the battle their bones were found in the tank in the fort area, cremated in Hindu style.

The Vasai Fort houses seven churches inside which are of Dominican, Jesuit, Augustinian and Franciscan origin and the Ganesh Temple.

In 1917, The Government of Bombay by its Notification # GM407-G.D dated 22/01/1917, declared the fort area as a protected area under the provision of section 3 of the Ancient Monuments Preservation Acts VII of 1904.

It is for us to ensure that places which are a part of what we call our Indian heritage, is preserved lovingly, because we are what we are, because of what we have shown the world always – we are a hospitable country and not a hostile one. We have a large heart to accommodate all.

Fast Facts
State:
Maharashtra, India
City: Bombay ( Mumbai)
Location: 50-km North Of Mumbai
Formerly Known As: BasseinAttractions: Vasai (Bassein) Fort, Aagashi Jain Mandir, Arnala Fort, Chinchoti Waterfalls, Holy Christ Church
Best Time To Visit: October To March


Getting There
Local Fast train from Churchgate to Virar. Get off at Vasai Road. Come over to the western side of the station and take an Autorickshaw to Vasai Fort. Full Auto only drop Rs 60 - 80/ Share avoidable.You can also get busses from outside the Vasai Station to Vasai Fort starting as early as 5 am – past midnight. However, for the first timer, auto is the preferred mode of communication.



Source: A visit To Vasai Fort by Father Francis Correa, Papari Church, Vasai West, Distt Thane Pin 401202 Tel (from outstation) 0520-2322803; (from Bombay) 95250-2322803; Father Francis Correa Mobile 09325631274

Please note: Father Francis Correa is a scholar and authority on this subject. He has other books too written on this fort.

* & **: http://www.travelchacha.com/cities/maharashtra/vasai.html

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pishimar Peper Chechki



Picture credit: Aruthy Maity: A Widow From Medripur


                                                     

Kothai amar laal shidur
Amar haath bhora churi
Amar sonar goina
Amar laal paar sari
Kothai mor shami
Kothai amar ghar poribar

Sab chole gelo
Unar shaasher sathe…

- Julia A Dutta

I do hope things have changed. I do hope that she is no more the mashima or the pishima who is dressed in white sari without a border, sitting in one corner of the house, minding grandchildren at one point and overly attached to her son on the other. How can she not be? After all she lost her husband at 22 years and has had to live her life only with her children, being looked after by her husband’s brother. The question of remarriage was only for the elite upper/middle class. Not about her. So she learnt to make her life colourful in her own little way, adding meaning to her lack-luster life like the colourless white sari, the necklace of tulasi beads around her neck and her empty hands, those hands which were filled with sonar churi and bala and her neck with a thick gold chain, even her fingers wore a ring or two, but alas!

Yet, never can you ever forget a Bengali widow’s (I hope of yesteryears now) kitchen, the total vegetarian cuisine, without meat, fish, garlic, onions and masur daal. It was really the dish to relish at the very beginning of a meal. For those who are vegetarians, you can only imagine what a deprivation it must be for a woman whose tongue is suited to non-vegetarian meals from her eighth month onwards, to be compelled to eat only vegetarian meals when the rest of the household is doing otherwise. Only the flavour of the mutton curry can be hers for usually, her kitchen would be next to but separate from the non-veg one. For those of us who are non-vegetarians, it is unthinkable that one woman in the same household can be treated with such silent torture, year after year after year. To attack ones taste buds is like killing the living soul. And yet! This is not a post to moan the state of Bengal’s widows; it is one to showcase how she could transform a boring vegetable to the most exquisite dish for a meal.


Pishimar Peper Chechki

Ingrediants:

Raw papaya – large size but not ripe yet
Sauf – half teaspoon
Jeera – Quarter teaspoon
Ginger – Half inch piece
Green Chillies – 2 (Optional)
Red Chilli – 2
Bay leaf - 2
Dalchini – 1 stick
Elaichi – 2
Coconut – Grated 2 tablespoons
Haldi – 1 teaspoon
Salt – to taste
Sugar – Half teaspoon
Shudh ghee (cow) – 1 tablespoon
Mustard oil – 2 tablespoons (you can use any other oil as well)

Method:
Scrape and cut the raw papaya in four pieces. Grate and keep aside. Grind sauf, jeera, ginger, 1 green chillie together and put aside. Grind dalchini and elaichi and put it aside in a covered small bowl.

Take a large frying pan and put it on the fire. When it is hot, put the oil and allow the bubbles in the mustard oil to subside. Now put the red chillies and the bay leaves and brown both. Once that is done, put the masala and stir fry till it leaves the sides of the pan. Quickly add the grated papaya, haldi and salt and keep stirring till the masala and the papaya have mixed well. Add a cup of water and cover the pan till the papaya has cooked completely. Now add the elaichi dalchini mix, half a spoon of sugar and stir fry just a bit longer till all the water has dried up. Take it off the fire. Add the grated coconut. Stir and place it in a bowl and cover it.

Your Pishima’s Peper Chechki is ready to eat. Serve with hot rice although the chechki need not be steaming hot itself.


For More Bengali Recipes:
http://milonee.net/bengali_recipes/list.html

It is every Bengali’s duty to ensure that while we enjoy the Bengali Widow’s Kitchen, we do not deprive her of her right to delicious non-vegetarian cuisine. Nor ever clothe her in white by force or ever take away the ornaments on her body. All these are her birthright!