Food and festivities at Dilli Haat...
Jaya Jaitley at Dilli Haat... Teej has its own delicacies, its own small, small delights. Photo: S. Subramanium.
THIS YEAR the rains have more than generously showered Delhi with their bounty. The roads have dissolved but not the traffic, the heat has reduced but not the dirt on the roads, yet that doesn't prevent Delhiites from enjoying the feel of the moist breeze and the rushing sights and sounds of the deluge. And after many a disappointing monsoon, it seems we can celebrate the monsoon festivals without merely pretending it's raining. Like Teej - the third day of the waxing moon in Shravan - the fun-filled occasion dedicated to the Goddess Parvati, believed to have been united with Lord Siva on that day after 100 years of penance. Women across the regions of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar mark the occasion by wearing new bangles, applying mehndi designs on their hands, dressing in their finery and generally celebrating feminine beauty and vivacity.
This past week, Teej was celebrated with `traditional' pomp and gaiety at Dilli Haat, which was decked up as fine as the comeliest damsel for the occasion. Hosted by Delhi Tourism Development Corporation, the celebration had a special guest - Jaya Jaitley. But how can Jaya Jaitley be called a guest at a place that owes its existence to her? It is more like a welcome homecoming. Not keen on partaking the lavish high tea, she says she accepted the invitation to the Teej festival because she simply likes coming to this place and meeting the artisans from across India who have shops here. But whoever heard of an Indian festival without food? The tables at Dilli Haat's Teej celebration groan under the weight of a number of dishes, supplied by Gopal Desai who runs the Rajasthan food stall here, under the Rajasthan State Hotel Corporation.
The sumptuous fare includes dishes made out corn, the seasonal crop: Savouries like bhutte ke pakore; the soup known as bhutte ka raab (boiled corn ground and cooked in mattha - buttermilk) and bhutte ki jhaajariya. Then there are ghenvar, the distinctive Teej sweet made of sugar and flour, moti choor ke laddoo, and drinks like aam ka panna made from unripe mangoes. Other Rajasthani specialties are also on offer, like the dal-baati-choorma combine (in which baatis - small savoury laddoos - are combined with dal and choorma - parathas or besan nuggets that have been pounded or crumbled and sweetened), gatte ki sabzi made of besan chunks, dal, kadi as well as kersangari - five types of sabzi with baajre ki roti - and pyaaz ki kachori.
Some confirmed urbanites are of the opinion that the reason each religious festival is associated with special culinary dishes is that edible goodies make the occasion far more worth commemorating than any number of myths and legends. Be that as it may, Jaya Jaitley remarks: "We have very strong traditions associated with our food," and pointing out the homogeneity of the various aspects of Indian culture, adds: "Each season has its own special food and it is very important to keep that culture, rather than the fast food that is coming up everywhere."
She mentions how at Diwali, for example, the potters get work. Such practices she emphasises, "reinforce the economic systems".
On the hygiene factor that often deters educated customers from indulging in traditional Indian foods and attracts them to the neater looking, packaged foods, she says: "Awareness needs to be increased about hygiene. The public should bring pressure on the people who make this food to use gloves, tongs, etc. to maintain hygiene. A lot of food needs only a cellophane cover to keep it clean. Most Indian food does not create garbage. It is the so-called modern food with its plastics that creates garbage. Actually if you look at our dhabas, they are all clean. The food is fresh and hot."
Known for having provided a fresh catalyst to many a declining art and craft by fusing the talents of traditional artisans with the designs of contemporary artists, her mind travels to the same concept in food, and she recalls her recent visit to Ladakh where she saw locally grown tomatoes being sun dried to provide an elegant saleable commodity.
An important feature of Teej is women and girls riding on swings. Jaya Jaitley obliges the crowd by riding on one, along with Najma Heptulla - another special invitee. All in all, it would seem such festivals provide official sanction for women to let their hair down. Of course the customary pound of flesh is extracted too, in the form of a 24-hour fast during which some women do not even sip water. And if the feasting is something to look forward to, it's not before the women of the household have done all the cooking! But here in Delhi we do everything with a Capital twist, and if you can't be bothered to sweat it out before you swing, there are always options like Dilli Haat. With Rakshabandhan and Janmashtami round the corner there's lots to celebrate yet, this monsoon as the rain reigns.
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