A cool summer morning in Srinagar, Kashmir, the last of a 14 day life changing journey. Meandering through snow covered mountains, across high altitude passes, we find ourselves surrounded by the beauty of the valley and the people of this much coveted land.
As we turn a corner, the smell of freshly baked bread fills our nostrils.
Through the small window we see the tandoor that fits the entire bakery and surrounding it warm fresh bread.
We peek inside with glee, the sight of warm sepia colored bread in different shapes and sizes smiling back at us. A few smiles, exchange of admiration, and tea is being offered to us; strangers from the street. But the tea is not served at the street, these are the Kashmiris, they invite you inside their home, that lies just behind the bakery.
So there we were on this chilly morning in Kashmir, invited into the home of the Kashmiris, sitting in a kitchen so beautiful in made me fall in love once more.
Lining the wall were traditional silver and copper ware in different sizes, and a trandional chullah perched on the floor, where the salt tea was brewing. As we sipped on our tea, warm bread meandered in from the bakery and was served with dollops of butter.
I always remember the warm feeling I experienced in that moment. Just a few short minutes ago we were strangers on the street, travelers from far away and then inside the home of the most gracious hosts being treated to warm bread and chai.
Could there be a better way of getting to know people than experiencing their food?
I was looking for poetry that described food, that captured the sound of crisp chalkis breaking in your mouth, the texture of perfectly cooked mutton, the coolness of sweet lassi on a hot summer day, the creaminess of mango shrikhand, the steaming bowl of soup on a winter night.
Words that would capture comfort food, the desire for warm rice and yellow daal after traveling away from home for weeks, the quick fix of masala dosa to make you feel home and degree coffee at the right temperature in thick steel glasses.
Urdu poets have written extensively on drinking or wine, being biased towards food. I did find this poem by Gulzar, who often writes about the little things, about an ashtray, a room, a tree, books, ash and bonfires.
Eendhan or fuel, is the life of the chullah in every home. It may be invisible in the ‘Veneta Cucine’ catalog designs, but the kitchen of so many homes even today is fired with firewood. The ‘uple’ or cowdung cakes that form part of this chullah, are an classic example of sustainable and organic fuel, the Indian way.
Transliteration of Eendhan By Gulzar
chhote they, maa uple thapa karti thi
hum uplon par shaklein goondha karte they
aankh lagakar-kaan banakar
pagdi wala, topi wala
apne-apne jane pehchane naamo se
uple thapa karte they
haste-khelta suraj roz savere aakar
gobar ke upalon pe khela karta tha
raat ko aangan mein jab chulha jalta tha
hum sare chulha gher ke baithey rehte the
kis upale ki baari aayi
kiska upla raakh hua
wo pandit tha-
ek munna tha-
ek dashrath tha-
barson baad- main
shamshan mein baitha soch raha hun
aaj ki raat is waqt ke jalte chulhe mein
ik dost ka upla aur gaya!
Translation of Indhan By Pavan K Verma
When we were children, mother used to make dung-cake
And we would etch faces on them
Stick and eye, make a ear
Add a nose
Put a turban or a cap
This is mine
That is yours
To each dung-cake
We gave our own favorite name
Every morning, the sun’s rays would
Frolic with the dung-cakes
At night, in the aangan, when the cooking fire was lit
We would sit around it
To see which dung-cake would go
Whose cake would be turned into ashes
That one a pandit
This one a child
This other Dashrath
I sit at the cremation ground
Thinking, tonight, into the pyre
One more dung-cake, another friend has gone.
If anyone knows of Urdu poetry on food, please do share.