Of exhibitions, mirchi bajjis and jail sheets!

We’re going to the Exhibition tomorrow!”

Always spelt with a capital E in our minds, the annual Industrial Exhibition or “Numaysh” as it was better known, was a high point of our lives. It opened on the 1st of January with a few stalls being inaugurated by some big bug (it mattered not a jot to us whether it was the Chief Minister or a film star – we were not yet of an age to be starstruck!) and then over the next week, all the stalls would be open for business and some business it was!

Stalls from all over India, selling or showcasing everything under the sun (everything that we knew at least!) from my dad’s electricity board stall- which we visited with due solemnity every year, staring curiously at models of hydroelectric power projects and statistics that Dad explained to us patiently – I still remember the year he was simply bursting with pride because AP had become a power -surplus state for the first time – the only state in India to do so!

Being deeply patriotic, the parents would drag us to all the government departmental stalls – including the Jails Department stall – what???! No, it didn’t showcase a jail – it was just a stall to sell products made by prisoners – including the roughest of bedsheets – patriotically bought by parents, which we slept in till we grew up! I remember a trip to an aunt’s house in Madras one summer – I couldn’t get to sleep because the sheets were too soft! Give me jail sheets any day!

These visits were intended by the parents to give birth to some patriotism in our heathen souls (!) but what we really looked forward to was the mirchi  bajji stalls and my brother Arvind to the AP Fisheries Department stall. Why fisheries? Because they had a fish cutlet stand! Going by the number of fish cutlets he put away every visit, his middle name should have been Jeeves! Anand and me, the veggies, would wait patiently till he finished and then head for the mirchi bajji stall – where Arvind could match us bajji for bajji in consumption – even after two dozen fish cutlets!

Considering that I never ate any mirchis (thick green chilies) from the bajji, preferring to nibble the bajji part only and pass the mirchis on to whichever hapless adult accompanied us, I don’t know why we just didn’t buy some other, not so hot bajji! But that would have been sacrilege!

This was followed more often than not by a ride on the Giant Wheel (notice how many things are capitalised in the lives of kids?!), where the mirchi bajjis were expelled more often than not!

The trip to the month-long Exhibition was made at least twice and more often if parents could be wheedled into taking us. At school, if you were one of those lucky few whose parents could take you many times, you were definitely cock of the walk and queened it over the rest – poor sods who got taken only once… or god forbid, not at all!

Surprisingly, the charm of the numaysh didn’t pall as we grew older and many trips were made bunking college and bargaining for Lucknowi chikan kurtas and Kashmiri jackets with the handsome, young shopkeepers, always ready to flirt with a gaggle of giggly college girls!

Sigh, think I’ll make a trip this January…

And in the meantime, all that talk of bajjis and cutlets notwithstanding, here’s my very simple and simply yummy dinner…


  • Fresh methi/fenugreek leaves /menthikoora – chopped – 1 cup
  • Chana dal/bengal gram dal – 1 cup – soaked for two hours in 3 cups water
  • Onion sliced -1 large
  • Garlic pods – 5-6 – crushed
  • Green chilies – 2 – slit
  • Ginger – 1/2 ” piece – minced
  • Tomatoes – 2 large – chopped
  • Tomato puree – 1 tbsp
  • Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
  • Chili powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Coconut sliced NOT grated – 1 tbsp – 1 cm long, thin slivers
  • Sugar or jaggery – 1 tsp
  • Salt
  • Oil – 1 tbsp
  • Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Jeera/cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp

Pressure cook the chana dal with turmeric for two whistles. Lower the heat and cook for a further 6-7 minutes. Switch off and cool.

Heat oil in a pan. Add mustard seeds and when they pop, add jeera and curry leaves.

Add green chilies and saute.

Add onion, garlic, ginger and saute till onions change colour.

Add fenugreek leaves and saute till wilted.

Add tomatoes and tomato puree and cook till mushy.

Add the dal, jaggery, coconut slivers and salt  and 1 cup water and cover and cook till tender – about ten minutes. Add water if necessary – this dal is a thick, ‘sitting’ consistency!

Serve with rice or rotis or bread.