Sunday, February 24, 2008

Mumbai - an Avial

- by Janaki Krishnan
Having lived in Mumbai for more than seven decades, I have a strong affinity for all things that belong to this city. For breakfast, I love sabudana khichdi and kanda poha. But at lunch time, my South Indian tastebuds take over. My favourite is the avial.

I love the avial's rich mix of vegetables, simmering in coconut gravy. My mother used to say "Aadu thinnada elai illai, Avialukku podaadha kaaikari illai" (There's no leaf that a goat won't eat, and there's no vegetable that you don't put in an avial). White pumpkin, red pumpkin, yam, raw banana, beans, drumstick, and can use whatever you like in an avial. Mumbai's chefs have added carrots, peas and dudhi to the list of avial veggies, and in some homes, I've seen bitter gourd used as well. White pumpkin is essential, and makes up almost 40% of the avial.

You need a minimum of 5 different vegetables to make an avial. Cut the vegetables into 2 inch long strips. Harder vegetables like yam are cut thinner while others are cut slightly thicker. Cook the vegetables with turmeric and salt, making sure each vegetable piece is intact and not mashed into others. Every vegetable must be visible separately. Grind coconut and green chillies, and add to the cooked vegetables, along with sour buttermilk. Stir gently, so that all the vegetables float colourfully in the gravy. Garnish with a spoon of coconut oil and curry leaves. Serve the avial with hot rice and papad. Or, like many south Indian households in Mumbai, serve it with phulkas.

Cliched maybe, but I like to think of the avial as a metaphor for Mumbai. People from everywhere arrive here, and the city seems to welcome them all. Although they're different from each other, very soon they begin to fit into the city, and become part of the city's unique cultural blend. Like the fresh aroma of coconut oil from the avial, the Mumbaikar has his own unique cosmopolitan flavour - a strong work ethic, a tolerance for differences, and a willingness to adjust to multi-cultural life in the city.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

When dance mirrors life

O-Kayyyyyyyyy. For those who know me, here's that photo of me in a funny orange turban, posted by popular demand.
For those who don't know me, no, I *don't* look like this on a daily basis! So why the turban and special effects? The photo is from a dance drama that I was part of. On Jan 28, students from my dance school enacted the story of Maharashtra's 800-year old Bhakti tradition. I had a small role in it as a Warkari pilgrim.
If you want to see what Warkari pilgrims really look like, check this out. The Warkaris go on a pilgrimage twice a year to the Vitthal temple at Pandharpur. As part of our research for this dance-drama, I went with my guru to check out the pilgrims. We wanted to study Warkari costumes, to incorporate it into our dance-drama. I think we did a pretty good job, what say?
Here's another photo, of us carrying a palki of Lord Vithala. That's my neice Ramya, she played a much bigger role than me in the dance.
Here's another photo from the dressing room - this beautiful lady is my dance guru Jayashree Rajagopalan.
She got a lot of appreciation from the audience for not just the concept of the show, but also the painstaking research she did for authenticity, and the final beauty of the production.
If you click on the photo for a better view, you can see the make-up kit that is part of the dance preparation. Brushes, eye liner, foundation, rouge, nothing "traditional" I'm afraid! With a total of 30 performers in the dance, we had a whole army of people in the dressing rooms, including harried mums fretting over safety pins and unruly wisps of hair. That's me in the background, photographing everyone.
My parents came to see the show, so did my aunt. And I was very pleased to see in the audience, two of my school teachers. When I greeted them, they were pretty surprised. Let's face it, what with the turban and the extra kilos, I wasn't really the skinny kid they knew in the 80's!