“We want… we want… we want… “
“Strike… strike… strike… “
Familiar words in modern India – particularly back in the 80’s and 90’s when we were just waking up out of the hibernation of centuries in a race to “modernise”.
The strike call is not from us students – as might have been expected – after all, it is the divine duty of students to strike! Merely asking for things definitely does not suffice – even if there is a chance of it fetching results, it is tame plus there is no guarantee of a timely disruption to the exam schedule – which finally, is what the strike is all about, right?!
The strikers are our mess staff members – the cooks, cleaners, peelers of potatoes and other important hostel activity-carriers-out. They are striking for something – not important in India – the call for a bandh or a hartal is more important than the cause thereof – always! Halfway through making dinner, the workers down arms – literally – in their case – knives, peelers, rolling pins and tongs!
There we are – a bunch of some 200 students – stuck miles out of the city – with no recourse to any other eatery. There is a small shack on campus run by a couple – “Aunty’s” – who make omelettes and tea and an occasional dosa. There is no way on earth this couple is going to manage to feed two hundred hungry young people three meals a day. Even if we could afford their very modest rates for that many meals, that is – and we can’t! Indigent student problems are endemic!
But we are not management students for nothing – here is a live chance to demonstrate some of the (very little!) stuff that we have learnt! We organise ourselves into teams – each team taking on one meal. Teams need leaders… and in this case, leaders with specific skills – culinary skills that is! In a hostel of that many students, there are just three of us who can cook! We divide up b/f, lunch and dinner in shifts – with volunteers to do the heavy jobs like picking up enormous vats of rice, dal and vegetables and some to stir and some to serve. With the staff having abandoned the cooking halfway we are also left with an enormous mass of semi-kneaded atta – for chapathis. Can’t be thrown (this is India, we do not throw away food!) and the thought of making rotis for two hundred is daunting to say the least!
Finally, one of the enthu cutlets in my class volunteers – let’s start, am sure we can finish it! Muscular guy that he is, he soon has the many tubs of atta kneaded – with many hands to help. Then we roll them out into long snakes and these are cut into lumps for rolling out. Our man is enthu – very enthu... too enthu, in fact! He goes chop, chop, chop wielding the knife like a professional looking Malcolm MacDowell in “The Passage” chopping off the victim’s fingers and causing me to puke in the middle of the movie! Well, our pal chopping chapathi balls doesn’t go that far but suddenly I (in charge of this particular shift), come across a QC problem (see, more management lessons!) – the dough balls have changed colour – from a neutral beige to a rather virulently streaked crimson! No, this time I don’t puke. I quietly send the guy off to get first aid, unobtrusively sweep a bunch of dough balls into a dustbin and carry on with the job! We’ve got them all (the blood- streaked balls that is!) but I still steer clear of the chapathis at dinner! Many lessons are learnt – over a period of several days that the strike lasts… and not just culinary ones!
And so, now we come to an area that I have never covered in these culinary chronicles – the roti/paratha/kulcha arena – not because I don’t love them – I do – passionately, but because I probably wouldn’t stop – eating!
Here is a slightly unusual parantha – a North-South fusion kind of thingy.
CHAAWAL KE PARATHE/rice – stuffed parathas
- Left over rice – plain or pulao or anything – 2 cups
- Kneaded chapathi dough – atta (whole wheat flour and a little salt kneaded with warm water and left to rest for an hour)
- Chopped onions – 12 cup
- Chopped mint and coriander – 1 tbsp each
- Kasuti methi – 1 tsp
- Red chili powder- 1/4 tsp
- Minced green chilies – 1 tsp
- Dhania/coriander pwd – 1/2 tsp
- Jeera/cumin pwd – 1/2 tsp
- Ajwain/carom seeds – crushed – 1/4 tsp – optional
Mash the rice together with all the other ingredients (except the dough, of course!). Make the dough into lime-sized balls. Roll out into a disc, put a lime sized lump of rice mixture in the middle, wrap into a bundle and roll out again, using flour to help.
Roast on a heated tawa, pouring a few drops of ghee on each side, till golden spots appear.
Careful, you don’t want crimson spots!
Serve with pickle, kachumber (Indian shredded salad), yogurt…