Culture Vulture

Pin It

Well, a while back I wrote a post (flash fiction) that introduced the protagonist. For those who need to refresh their memories (since it is quite foggy and chilly these days *wink*) or require an introduction... you can quickly click on to read my previous micro fiction “Communication”.

In fact, before you proceed any further on this post, I advice you to read the earlier story (link given above) so as to get the drift and avoid any disconnect.

He was mighty pleased at the simple, yet effective, way the 'solution' presented itself, and above all, worked. It was quite innovative too. All thanks to his senior colleague. He was beginning to feel at home... at ease with all the sudden changes that he had to encounter over the last month and half -- those of culture, tradition, language, gastronomic and climatic. After all, he had sailed half-way around the world to arrive here, on the shores of Bengal. He had managed quite well until then... managed to survive the transition between the known world and the unknown. He felt adventurous... maybe he need not learn the alien language after all. He was a part of “the Raj” at the end of the day. Or so he thought.

It was a weekend and the weather was pleasant - a perfect day for venturing out and exploring the area on his own. In the evening, there was a garden party - the khansamas (head cooks), khitmatgars (waiters), malis (gardeners) and the other servants would be busy with the arrangements already. There were an awful lot of servants, he noted. People had far fewer servants back in England, except for the inhabitants of the Buckingham Palace, of course. He checked the British made Smiths Empire contraption in his pocket; it was nearly breakfast time. He continued to read the newspaper. Rather, he pretended to read it... his mind was elsewhere. He thought about the things he had seen and heard in the last 6 weeks or so, in this British dominion.

Memsahib (the Governor General and Viceroy of India, a.k.a. the Laat Sahib's better half) had taught the Khansamas about cutlery. The Bawarchis (cooks) were taught to make puddings, pies and pastries using local ingredients. Memsahib did not consider Indian food fit for the civilized masses (meaning the 'Goras'). They hated the smell of Indian foods being cooked. The Goras (Whites) had become self-absorbed and refrained themselves from learning anything about Indian Cuisine, while the Indians did not accept British food beyond the tea and the Ketchup. The tea was modified to 'Garam Chai’, and Ketchup was spiced up to 'Curry Ketchup', to suit the Indian palate. The Anglo-Indians (children from mixed marriages between the locals and the British) accepted the 'Western bread loaf' (Double Roti), cakes and cookies. In 1887, the British had opened a bakery in Delhi which was doing decent business (this later became the giant known as the 'Britannia Biscuits Company'.)

To the displeasure of the Memsahib and other aristocratic Memsahibs, some British fell in love with Indian Cuisine and created their own versions: Mulligatawny soup, Jalfrezi, and Worcestershire Sauce. The British coined the term 'Bombay Duck' to describe a lizard like fish found under the piers of the Bombay dock. George V had 'curry' for lunch almost everyday. In 1884, a group of nuns set up a factory in Meerut to manufacture 'Macaroni', 'Spaghetti', and 'Vermicelli'. (The Vermicelli has been well fused into Indian Cuisine as Sevian Kheer.)

What a strange name - 'Jalfrezi' - he had wondered, while a colleague had volunteered to enlighten him. The British created this method of reheating left-overs, and the credit went to the then Governor General for the state of Bengal, Lord Marcus Sandys, who enjoyed spicy Indian foods. He is also credited with converting Tamarind/Jaggery Chutney into Worcestershire Sauce. In Bengali, 'Jhal' means 'spicy hot'. 'Jhal' led to 'Jal'. And 'Frezi' is thought to have been derived from the Urdu word 'Parhezi', meaning 'a person with discriminating taste'. Some believe it is just a slang for “Fried, zee!”, where, 'zee' is the Urdu word to emphasize on the instruction to fry.

'Mulligatawny Soup' was quite a tongue-twister for him, and his tongue had still not won the battle. But he found the history attached to it very interesting indeed. Indian cooks (during the British Raj) served a soup course to their rulers, who actually christened it thus: The name is derived from two words from the Tamil language - 'Millagu' means 'pepper' and 'Thanni' means 'water'. So, the name 'Mulligatawny Soup' or 'Pepper water' was born. He smiled at the memory of his first encounter with this 'red-blooded' soup. He had almost called the fire brigade!

His mind now drifted to the 'Worcestershire Sauce'. In 1835, Lord Marcus Sandys, an ex-Governor of Bengal, approached chemists John Lea and William Perrins, whose prospering business in Broad Street, Worcester, handled pharmaceuticals and toiletries, as well as groceries. He asked them to make a sauce from a recipe which he brought back from India. While his lordship was apparently satisfied with the results, Messrs Lea and Perrins considered it to be an "unpalatable, red-hot fire-water" and consigned the quantity they had made for themselves to the cellars. During the stocktaking/spring cleaning the following year, they came across the barrel and decided to taste it before discarding it. To their amazement, the mixture had mellowed into an aromatic, piquant and appetizing liquid. They hastily purchased the recipe from Lord Sandys and, in 1838, the Anglo-Indian Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce was launched commercially.

One of the myriad 19th-century pungent English sauces, based on oriental ingredients, it had many imitators sporting pretentious names such as "British Lion" and "Empress of India". Its exact recipe remains a secret. All that is known is that it includes vinegar, sugar, soya sauce, molasses, tamarind, shallots, anchovies, ginger, chili, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom. He has yet to taste it though. The very mention of the word 'chili' sets off alarm bells in his head.

Words can be deceptive. The 'Bombay Duck' taught him this lesson without a shred of doubt. Expecting a well-cooked and delicious dish consisting of a member of the feathered species, he was instead greeted with a scaly inhabitant from the salty waters. He had been so overwhelmed by its 'fragrance' that he had choked and nearly fainted, and had to be carried away to safer environs. Later, yet another colleague “tutored” him.

'Bombay Duck' is not a 'Duck'. 'Duck' is a slang for the Hindi word 'Dak'. 'Dak' in Hindi stands for 'mail'. 'Bombay Duck' is a small fish normally called as 'Bumla', found near the piers of Bombay (Mumbai). The fish is scaled, cleaned, filleted as strips, salted and dried. After it is dried, it has a very strong and distinct fishy odour. In an air tight jar, it can be stored indefinitely. The British could not say 'Bumla', so they called it 'Bombay Dak', referring to the smell of the 'Bombay Mail'. The fish was not transported by train, but the mail was. And the mail would gather/catch the strong fishy odour from the area where it was loaded. He was also told that fresh fish is used to make 'fish fry'. His GK had been constantly traveling northward ever since his arrival.

The Memsahibs brought and planted new fruits: Apricots, Peaches, Pears, and Plums in the Nilgiri Hills. The British improved the local strawberry (Fragaria indica) in Mahabaleshwar. From England, they brought new vegetables and planted here -- Cauliflower (Gobhi), Cabbage (Bund Gobhi), and Kohlrabi. The Memsahibs brought in flowers to decorate their homes, and planted Carnations, Dahlia, Daisies, Gladiolas, Impatience, Lilies, Pansies, Petunias, Poinsettias (red), and some varieties of roses.

He was deep in thought; the punkah-wallah was at his job. Suddenly, the door was flung open and two servants rushed in. They spoke excitedly... simultaneously. It was a strange cacophony... he was baffled.

The Gowala (cow attendant) was saying, "I go up" over and over again... pointing to his right eye.

The other, a Coolie, was saying, "We go down"... breathlessly.

He did not understand what they were trying to convey, even though the words were English sounding. His senior had indicated that the servants here spoke a kind of Pidgin English. But he couldn't comprehend anything at all. He sat there, stunned. Then, with a wave of his hand, asked them to leave.

Still no sign of the breakfast…

He decided to skip it and explore the area instead. He could even have it at a restaurant if he wanted to. He stood up, put on his hat and coat. His Chopdar (silver stick bearer), an old man, handed him his walking stick. He set off.

It was quite pleasant outside, with a nip in the air. There were few people or transport on the road. He walked on.

He came across a few flower-sellers on the pavement. The flowers looked fresh and he was struck by all the myriad kinds in a variety of colours. He stopped to admire them. One of the flower-sellers, an old woman, kept saying "bouni, bouni". He shook his head and kept on looking at the flowers. Now, two others joined the old woman in chanting "bouni, bouni". Confused, he walked away.

Another seller, a younger woman, approached him. She had a young boy with her. They came beside him, with a bunch of flowers, "Take take, no take no take, ekbar toh see!"

At this he shook his head even more vigorously and quickened his pace. Feeling quite hungry now, he looked at the shops, searching for a restaurant. He found a signboard proclaiming "Mr. Beef Seafood Restaurant". There were some Chinese characters following it. He stood for a while, with raised eyebrows, on the pavement across the road.

Moving on, he came across a few more signs. "Brain Disease Curing Set", "Oil Gates", "An Excellent Winding Smoke" and a small signboard which stated, "The slippery are very crafty".

He walked on, his mind still absorbing all of this - the newly acquired 'knowledge-cum-cultural orientation' that is.

After a while he came across another restaurant offering "Mixed Chow with Garlic Mud". By now he was quite famished and decided to try out this one. But before he could push the door open, a Chinese man appeared before him, blocking the way, and respectfully said "No go". He tried to reason with him, but the man merely repeated those two words each time.

He shrugged his shoulders and moved on, and after a while, came across a bilingual signboard: "Bengal Famous Oil-Fried Shop".

He walked on and found himself staring at "Copulation Accessories" with "No can do" written underneath.

He retraced his steps...

Picture Credit: GherkinsTomatoes, Google Images

Pin It

Get FREE updates automatically
Follow RSS Twitter FaceBook


Post a Comment


© 2010-2015 · All rights reserved with Kadzilla's Lounge.

Concept, design, layout, graphics and template by Kasin Websoft.