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Moving lock, stalk and bhaji
In the case of migrants living away from home, it's often their taste buds that bring on homesickness. Hundreds of miles from their origins, they crave the faraway fragrance and taste of their mothers' and grandmothers' cooking. Of the different ethnicities that have settled in Gujarat, it's the Malayalis and Kashmiris - from opposite ends of India - whose yearning for familiar food has led them to brave contrastive weather conditions, and farm on their balconies, terraces and gardens a range of vegetables native to their respective culinary traditions.
His longing for Kashmiri vegetables led Tej Krishan Kachru to start his kitchen garden in Ahmedabad. "After the advent of militancy, it was impossible to return to our native place. Eventually, my hunger for 'home' food - that I have had since childhood - forced me to start my own kitchen garden, " he says. "Even though the climate here is not conducive to Kashmiri vegetables like haak, monji, sotchal, I tried growing these here in the winter after procuring the seeds from Jammu. The seeding starts after the rains, and the harvest lasts till late February. " His family enjoys the fruit of that labour.
With close to 200 or more Kashmiri families now residing in Ahmedabad, several cultural programmes are organised here to enable community members to meet each other. One of the annual functions is the community havan, to which Kachru contributes monji-haak from his own farm.
In Kashmir, people grow their vegetables around their dwellings, on patches called vaaer, the Gujarati equivalent for which is wadi. A wadi is a small fenced-in piece of agricultural land where water is available for irrigation, and people grow vegetables, fruits and herbs. Typical Kashmiri vegetables grown in Gujarat include khanyari haak (green leafy vegetable close in taste to cauliflower), monji (knol-khol ), kashir waangan (pink longish brinjal), razmah (green beans), marcha-waangan (chillies), alle (bottle gourd), sotchal (green leaves with a distinct taste), kashir palak (Kashmiri spinach), mujji (radish), and gogji (turnip).
Sunita Mattoo is another vegetable-growing Kashmiri in Ahmedabad. She moved to a bungalow in Bopal after the 2001 earthquake. "After the calamity, my family was scared to live in an apartment, so we shifted to a bungalow. Since I have a passion for gardening, I get seeds from across the country and grow them in my backyard. I have to care a lot for them because the weather here doesn't suit these veggies, but when I land a good harvest I share it with my extended family and close friends, " she says.
Malayalis too extract from Gujarati soil a harvest typical of their homeland. For M G Pillai, who retired from an oil refinery in 1995, growing his own fresh vegetables is most rewarding. Pillai grows almost every vegetable traditionally available only in Kerala, at his bungalow in Vadodara.
"There were times when we wanted to cook tapioca or jackfruit, but they were not easily available in the market and we had to wait for someone who visited Kerala to return with these foods, " he says. He resorted to growing them himself. His terrace and garden now runs over with padavalanga (snake gourd), kumbalanga (a type of ash gourd), tapioca, betel nut, coconut, different types of banana trees, jackfruit, chomana cheera (red spinach), a Kerala variety of mangoes and large lemons.
"It was a hobby that I pursued seriously post-retirement. I get the seeds or saplings from Kerala and nurture them with cow dung and a mix of organic manure. These saplings or seeds are grown in sacks, pots or mounds of soil on the terrace or simply around my garden, " says Pillai, who also counsels people on urban farming. "The satisfaction we get out of cooking homegrown vegetables is beyond words. I also distribute the produce among friends and other Malayalis in Vadodara, " Pillai says.
For Shobhana Nair, a teacher in an Ahmedabad school, the shortest route to Kerala is through her organic vegetable patch. She has here a coconut tree, kanthari mulaku (bird's eye chilli), cheru pazham (small banana) and various flowers from Kerala, including the thetti or chethi flower.
"We use every part of a banana tree in cooking Kerala dishes. Right from the flower and fruit to the leaves and the stem, everything is used to make various types of curries, pancakes. The leaves serve as plates on festive occasions, " says Nair. She expounds on the other vegetables as well. "Kanthari has a fiery taste and makes any dish taste like it is made at home in Kerala. Similarly, we use coconut in daily cooking. So it makes sense for us to grow these vegetables ourselves, rather than spend on expensive, chemically-treated vegetables, " says Nair.
Although procuring non-native seeds is easy enough - Nair gets hers when on her annual family visit to her ancestral home in Kerala - it takes effort to nurture them outside their natural environment. "The soil in Ahmedabad is not salty, while coconut trees need salt as manure, " Nair points out. "We give the trees some dried fish and manure sourced from Kerala. These plants and trees also need to be watered twice daily unlike other local plants. " Unmindful of the hard work, these families will do anything for a taste of home.
A FLAVOUR OF HOME
KERALA VEGGIES GROWN IN AHMEDABAD
Tapioca Jackfruit Padavalanga (Snake gourd) Kumbalanga (Type of ash gourd) Betel nut Coconut Bananas - small, red (Cheru pazham) Chomana cheera (Red spinach) Large lemons used in pickles and curries Kanthari mulaku (Bird's eye chilli)
KASHMIRI VEGGIES GROWN IN AHMEDABAD
Monji (Knol-khol ) Haak (Green leafy vegetable close in taste to cauliflower) Kashir waangan (Light pink brinjals) Razmah (French beans) Kashir palak (Kashmiri spinach) Vasta haak (Pink spinach) Sotchal (Green leaves with a distinct taste) Kashir marchwangan (Kashmiri chillies) Kashmiri tomatoes Mujji (Kashmiri radish) Gogji (Turnip) Alle (Bottle gourd/pumpkin)
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