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Make a khichri of it
Khichri? Yuck. That's the standard response to the most maligned dish in the subcontinent. Its mention evokes images of invalids and upset stomachs. It's a synonym for an inelegant mish-mash, an unappetising jumble.
A ragtag political coalition is deemed to be a 'khichri government'. 'Khichri English' -English larded with vernacularisms - is sniffed at by purists. A potboiler of a movie, or other form of alleged entertainment (like this column) is dismissed as a 'khichri'. Thanks to Barack Obama's Af-Pak policy, the world is likely to end up in a mess, another nickname for khichri.
With so many less than savoury associations, it's understandable that the inoffensive khichri should have earned itself a bad name. Come to dinner;we'll have khichri, I say to friends. The recipients of the offer look offended. Do we look ill to you? We've never felt fitter, they protest. I try to explain that a Suraiya khichri is not an aid to convalescence, but a dish truly dishy.
My guests turn up on the appointed day, though in some trepidation. And to a silent fanfare playing in the background, I uncover the khichri. A scented melody rises from the dekchi, a fragrance of basmati, and cinnamon, and cloves, and cardamom, and peppercorns, and bay leaves. From a bed of fluffy rice flushed pale gold with dal peep whole onions translucent as pearls, peas green and sensual as parrots, carrots in an exuberance of crimson, chunks of potatoes hearty as friendship, and florets of cauliflower crisp and tender as a caress of winter sun. It's not to die for. It's to be born again for.
Does this Suraiya have no shame? you'll ask. Blowing his own trumpet - or rather, that of his wretched khichri - so brazenly? But that's just it, you see. It's not my khichri. For I can't make it. It was the invention of dear old Pingola, the much-loved major domoress who ran the household for us for some 30-odd years before departing, much missed, to that Ultimate Rasoighar in the sky.
Sans Pingola, I resigned myself to my khichriless fate. My friend Roopa Gulati - the celebrated chef - claimed she did a wicked khichri, which with a delectable lisp she pronounced 'khichwi'. But though Roopa feasted me on mince pies, honey glazed ham and other yummies too numerous to mention, she never did unleash her khichwi on me. And now that she's taken up residence in London, it's unlikely she ever will.
Then came Mukesh - originally to look after the dog - who one day confided that he could cook. Cook what? I asked. Khichri, replied Mukesh. Describe your khichri to me, I said. He did. And it was as though Pingola had returned, in the improbable avatar of a chubby 26-year-old dog-boy. I still don't believe in the transmigration of souls. But the transmigration of khichri is a different matter. The proof of the khichri, however, is in the eating. So find alongside the recipe for Pingola's khichri, as reprised by Mukesh.
And when you make a thorough muck up of it - which you will - holler for Mukesh to come do it right. Which is what I do in the first place. Maybe Obama should as well.
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