Partition Changed India’s Food Cultures Forever


Anoothi Vishal in The Wire:

At the far end of a crammed Daryaganj gulli, bustling with all manner of trade, is a heavy wrought iron gate. Push it ajar and you step into an overgrown garden defining its central courtyard. The Terrace is an old sprawling home that takes you back in time. It’s the last intact kayasth haveli in “Shahar” – “The City” – the once magnificent Shahjahanabad, the only city that really mattered for its residents.

Two years ago, on a peaceful winter afternoon, the sun streaming on to our armchairs in the garden, I met Mrs Rajesh Dayal here for the last time. She had lived here since the 1930s. I was interviewing her for my book on Kayasth cuisine and culture.

“I remember Booby,” she had said earnestly at one point in our rambling conversation. Booby, the cook from the Muslim quarters of Ballimaran, had been quite in demand back then. The Kayasths, great epicures and fond meat-eaters, called him home for family weddings, sangeets, Holi and Diwali gatherings. Booby would get to work, digging up the soft ground in a clearing by the Yamuna, lining the pit with hot charcoal, placing a big, fat degh of meat, spices and vegetables inside this pit and then covering it with earth. It was in this craftily assembled indigenous oven that he would let fabulous dishes like the shabdegh stew overnight – till the meat and turnips that went into the smoky curry were of the same texture, splitting at the touch of a spoon.

“I have never had that kind of shabdegh again. It’s a dish that disappeared,” Dayal’s voice had trembled. Dayal died before the book, Mrs LC’s Table, saw the light of the day. Along with her what passed away were memories of those elusive stews and treats and the men who had cooked these. As for Booby, like many others of his ilk, had been swallowed up by Partition, never to be seen again.

More here.