Tag Archives: India

Lotus seed for the world.

One package I picked up at the Indian market was a large bag of phool makhana or puffed lotus seed, a sort of popped-corn form of the seed of the lotus plant Nelumbo nucifera. When I was in India one restaurant that specialized in salads sprinkled a few of these puffs on top of one concoction that I loved.

I read about lotus seeds online, where there is a wealth of enthusiastic promotion of the food item as a cure-all, physically and spiritually. Unfortunately much of the prose resembles the spam comments I get on my blog, and gives me the giggles.

“… eaten as a fasting food in India as it considered a very pious. And, is also used to worship God.” Well, of course. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31)

Even Wikipedia seems to gush: “Lotus seeds can be processed into moon cake, lotus seed noodles and food in forms of paste, fermented milk, rice wine, ice cream, popcorn (phool makhana) and others, with lotus seeds as the main raw material. Fresh lotus seed wine has thirst quenching, spleen healing and anti-diarrheal advantages after drinking.[40][41] Lotus seed tea is consumed in Korea, and lotus embryo tea is consumed in China and Vietnam.”

One website that sells various flavors of puffed lotus seeds has this to say: “Focusing on ‘co-creation’ at all levels, we aim to bridge the gap between nature and consumers… to create an offering by combining the natural foods with modern techniques so as to enable the human kind to rejoice these gifts. POPMAK … is a healthy munching solution for all ages… which can add values in your life. We are just four years old company, aiming big to deliver and in this endeavor we will remain child like enthusiast for ever. Expect more surprises from us soon!!!!”

I must mention here a couple more Indian snacks that are in the house right now. Kareena bought these flaky fenugreek biscuits that she often eats for breakfast and shares with Raj.

I’ve eaten a few of them myself and they are really nice — crispy and subtly flavored.

We bought some bhakarwadi which I have already eaten all up. They are like a cross between a barely-sweet cookie and a cracker with Indian spices, mildly hot.

Bhakarwadi

The popped lotus seeds straight out of the bag were pretty bland and had the texture of stale popcorn. I roasted them in a pan with ghee, salt and spices, which transformed them into another light and crunchy, addictive Indian snack. Rejoice!

Sweet no matter how you spell it.

This week I traveled to the Washington D.C. area to visit Kate and her family, including little “Raj” whom I’ve mentioned before, now almost 17 months old. I had attended his birth in India, but now they are living here in Arlington, Virginia for a while.

So far I’ve just been hanging out — the Indian nanny Kareena is here, too, and my first day I walked with her and Raj many blocks to a park where the little guy could play on the swings and in the sand pit. It was a lovely outing; that day the wind was howling and seemed to blow off the heat and humidity quite a bit.

 

Today we needed to do a big shopping trip, including to the Indian market, Kareena’s first stocking-up since they arrived. That was so much fun. We all kept adding to the baskets over the course of a half-hour at least, spicy snacks and unusual vegetables, the favorite brand of masala chai tea, mango chutney, chapati flour and besan flour, which is chickpea flour, or gram flour.

When I was in India I wrote home about a confection that is made with chickpea flour, pronounced ladoo and spelled in English like that or in many other ways, as I’m discovering: laddoo, laddu, and even ladu, as I saw it today.

This word is also an Indian nickname for the first-born son especially, and sometimes more generally a term of endearment: “Sweet.” Kareena uses it for my grandson all day long.

When I was on my way home from India in February of 2018 my plane was delayed four hours before it even left Mumbai; at 3:00 a.m. I was wandering the airport shops looking for some comfort food that wasn’t entirely simple carbs, and I found a snack that had chickpea flour in the ingredients, and ghee. That sounded wholesome enough 🙂 and it was the most splendid treat. One version was on the shelf in the market today, and when we arrived home and were putting all our purchases away I saw that Kareena had bought a package.

About a year ago I spent quite a while researching recipes to make my own besan ladoo, and I have a few pounds of the flour in my fridge that I bought even earlier for some other recipe. None of these facts should cause anyone to hope that Indian sweets will ever come out of my kitchen. I can easily live without that kind of goodie.

But the curlyhead that we call Raj or Ladoo, he came to us already delicious and sweet, and I can’t get enough of him.

To the oar your strength bringing.

When I was in India I browsed through the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore, because it would have been so natural and fitting to share from this favorite literary man of that nation. I did not find anything that resonated with me then, but just today I stumbled on this. I don’t know if the swelling waves are felt in the original; certainly the translator has done a good work in any case.

FROM JOY’S LOVELIEST OCEAN

From joy’s loveliest ocean
there’s a flood springing.
Embark all, and set to –
to the oar your strength bringing.
No matter its burden,
our boat sorrow-laden
(if death comes, so let it)
moves through the waves winging.
From joy’s loveliest ocean

there’s a flood springing.

Who cries from behind us
of doubt or of danger?
Who harps on their fear now,
where fear is no stranger?
What curse, or star’s showing
has frowned on our going?
Hoist a sail to the wind now
and we’ll move on singing.
From joy’s loveliest ocean
there’s a flood springing.

– Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1941 – translated by Joe Winter

Good-bye Mumbai!

I’m getting ready to leave Mumbai – I might even be at the airport or on the plane home before I manage to publish this post. It seemed right that I make my last Indian post about this city which has been the source and location of nearly all of my experience of India.

Seven weeks is way too short a time to get to know any place beyond the level of slight acquaintance, but Mumbai must be one of the most challenging in this regard. If she were a human, I’d have to say that I caught a glimpse of her brilliant form once for about five seconds, during which moment I heard her singing a few words I couldn’t understand.

In physical size alone, Mumbai takes up most of Salsette Island, and you would have to drive in three hours of crazy traffic to get from the north end to the south. There is a whole national park within its boundaries. I spent 90% of my time in one neighborhood, in a city of 22 million people, twice the population of Belgium.

Mumbai is the financial and fashion capital of India, and the city where 7-10 people die every day in train related accidents. The most expensive house in the world is in Mumbai, and the most educated slum. A million people live in this slum, Dharavi, which dates from the 1840’s, and 80% of them are employed. They live in 84 settlements taking up less than a square mile, which makes the population density of Dharavi 20 times that of Mumbai as a whole. (Nearly half the population of the Mumbai lives in slums, if you count Dharavi as a slum, which according to some definitions it isn’t any longer.)

Dharavi recycles 80% of the plastic trash of Mumbai, and produces 3.5 tonnes (Tonnes are bigger than tons) of food every day. One of its many other businesses and “hutment industries” is the large pottery business at Kumbharwada:

I took a tour of Dharavi this week but didn’t take pictures, so that one above I found online. Our group walked around through the industrial and residential areas for two hours, which gave me exposure to thousands of visual images and other sensations to process, accompanied by the excellent narrative by our guide who was from the slum. I took notes on both; but I am a really slow writer, which is why here at the end of my India stay, when I’m counting down the hours, I don’t have time to convey my direct experience.

The subject and reality of Dharavi is huge and complex, and you can read much about it elsewhere if you are interested, and watch YouTube tours. It’s another one of the many Things Mumbai that I will leave here knowing just superficially, but it was a wonderful tour and did expand my understanding quite a bit.

Tiffin wallahs

The lunchbox delivery service by tiffin wallahs or dabbawalas originated in Mumbai. Maybe some of my readers have seen the movie “The Lunchbox” that tells a story centered around this local phenomenon. I saw this charming movie years ago but didn’t pay attention to its setting in Mumbai.

Tiffin wallahs have been providing their services in Bombay since 1890, and are known for their high degree of accuracy in delivering lunches from home or restaurant, and the boxes back to the source the same day. This blog does a good job of describing how it works and why it is such a regular part of so many Mumbaikars’ lives: Dabba Dabba Do! And from another article:

“Some 5,000 men dole out over 200,000 meals a day, picking up the tiffins in the morning from women, typically, who have packed steaming, spicy dishes into each compartment: a curry, vegetables, dal (lentils), and flatbread (with some variations).

“For many Mumbai residents, this is the only way to lunch — on a feast, made with the love of a mother or wife.

“‘It’s expensive to eat outside every day, besides it’s not healthy,’ said 36-year-old Naina Bhonsle in Mumbai’s Versova neighborhood. ‘I know what my husband likes eating, and so I prefer to send him a tiffin every day.’”

The boxes are transported and distributed by train and on bicycles; on my first day here Tom pointed out this bicycle belonging to a tiffin wallah and since then I’ve seen many of the wallahs, the typically semi-literate men who do the carrying, as they pedal around. It’s another case like Dhobi Ghat of a very organized low-tech, high efficiency system serving basic human needs, and that sort of thing makes me admire all the parties who keep the thing running.

“The Lunchbox” is not a film made according to the Bollywood formula in the style of “Lagaan,” which I mentioned before. But Bollywood style movies are worth mentioning here as a phenomenon because Mumbai is the center of Bollywood. In Reimagining India, Jerry Pinto wrote: “Bollywood is not just a film industry. It is all-pervasive: a home-grown, film-a-day dream machine that maintains a pleasant stranglehold on our imaginations. It determines — or at least shapes — how we see ourselves, how we think, how we talk, dream, speak, love, fight.”

In the same article he describes the Bollywood formula as requiring: “…a fight for the young men, a romantic story for the women, a devotional song for the elderly. Films made for the entire Hindi-speaking market would have to be patriarchal, right wing, jingoistic, and patronizing in their attitudes to anything non-Indian and nonmajoritarian.”

I didn’t know much about Bollywood until the last year or two. I saw a laughably sentimental Bollywood movie first, and then last month, “Lagaan,” a much more enjoyable example. The music of Bollywood films is often the kind that is happy and makes you want to dance, even if — or especially if? — it is separated from the dance routines of the movie. I am not much of a movie watcher in the first place, so I won’t be exploring the genre more, but as a cultural phenomenon, I wouldn’t want to miss it completely. And I have added Bollywood music to my iTunes playlist to listen to on road trips.

Art Deco City

I heard that Mumbai is “the most Art Deco city in the world after Miami,” and though I hadn’t given the style or history of Art Deco one concentrated thought ever before in my life, having Tom on my first day show me some design features in their neighborhood made me focus my eyes in a new way.

From what I have read, it seems that Art Deco and India were made for each other. The Indian Institute of Architects was founded in 1929, the middle class was growing in the 30’s, and many of the buildings in the city from this period featured Art Deco elements in their design. I’ve seen structures from this century include some retro aspects from the style that Mumbai now feels is part of its tradition and heritage.

There is a whole Wikipedia article on Art Deco in Mumbai, which helped me to grasp enough of the concepts to be able to occasionally recognize the Art Deco influence on our outings. If I were going to be here longer, I’d like to go on a tour given by this organization: Art Deco Mumbai . I’ve already seen quite a few examples that would be on the tour, mostly driving past too fast to get a good picture — and some in our neighborhood.

I always love to take pictures of buildings that catch my attention for some reason. Mumbai has been fun that way, because there is such a range of ages and styles — and colors. Sometimes it is just the names of apartment buildings that strike the American ear as funny. I didn’t take a picture of Flushel Apartments, but Tom joked about what was behind that name… Were they advertising that all the toilets worked, or that the walls were straight and plumb? Haha. It was right down the street from the Executive Enclave.

Mostly for my own convenience I am posting below some images of this city that I want to have in this handy Glad collection. Maybe you will like some of them, too!

During my last days here, the air cleared a lot, and I was quite pleased to see that one of my photos revealed blue skies with cottony white clouds!

Every walk through the neighborhood, I’m realizing, might be my last down this street or that…

And when I ate one of Kareena’s chapatis fresh from the griddle, it was the most special ever because it was likely the last one that fresh.

I could never take enough pictures of women in colorful clothes to satisfy me, or enough videos of Kareena cooking. I can’t buy all of the lovely dresses in the shops, or learn the names of every surprising Indian dessert. My time of glorious Too-Muchness has come to an end, and I’m going home to Great Lent, which is the perfect way to transition from the superabundance of everything here to… what?

Lent is a journey to Pascha. It’s not the kind of journey where you are bombarded from outside by exciting and even dangerous forces and sensations ranging from air travel to chapatis and people on the street, but a quiet path on which all the struggles come from trying to tune one’s own heart. Considering my starting point, it will surely take all of my effort to accomplish anything in only 40 days.

The hardest part of leaving is, of course, that Raj and his parents are staying here! It has been the sweetest day-after-day to live in the same house as Kate and Tom and their new baby, and to love and be loved in person on a daily basis. The comforting thing is, that except for not being in the same house, we will go on loving and being loved, and be together at the throne of God, as long as He gives us grace. I’m not saying any kind of final good-bye to them.

But I do have to say, “Good-bye, Mumbai!”