Of ghouls, foetuses and gravies!

The other place we were taken to year after year, with great expectations, which were never disappointed – was the annual medical exhibition at Osmania Medical College. Mom being a doctor, I guess this was an occupational hazard of being her children!

But we, ghoulish creatures that we were, were nothing loth – no one had to force us to come. We got dressed and traipsed off quite happily, eager for the treat in store. My oldest brother Anand, could be a little squeamish on occasion, having to be reminded of the rooms full of specimens smelling gloriously of the formalin in which they were preserved and then the eats to follow (oh yes, we did!) before he could be persuaded sometimes! We, the younger two, had no such problems – our curiosity was rampantly morbid and we obviously had no higher sensibilities!

One particular room, the perinatal pathology room, was the highlight of our visit every year. This room was lined with large glass jars filled with a clear fluid – with human foetuses preserved in them – in various stages of development and deformity! And that was how I learnt to spell ‘hydrocephaly’ before I learnt to spell ‘squirrel‘!

For some strange reason, these things in the jars were not human in any sense to us – they were the 70’s equivalent of watching Animal Planet or Discovery channels and therefore excited neither horror nor disgust!

“Oooh, look at his one with the weird head! Doesn’t it look like a lizard?!!” could only be topped with someone else’s discovery and exclamation over something else which looked like… nothing on earth! Our field of knowledge being necessarily limited to the books we had read, we sometimes fell short of things to compare these things with!

There were also other rooms filled with mosquitoes in various stages of development, worms of various kinds which could lodge inside your body (okay, this one grossed us out a bit – particularly the tapeworms!), rooms filled with various organs afflicted by various diseases – we drank in the gamut of cirrhosed livers, brain tumours, kidney stones, cancerous stomachs and other bits and pieces with avidity!

Strangely, these exhibitions were never degraded by the kind of “cultural” programmes that one sees today in various educational institutions – the lewd songs and dances that pass for “entertainment” didn’t exist – we were quite happy to see science in all its glory and be entertained by its avatars!

After all these high treats, an even higher treat awaited – in the form of a visit to one of the cafes around the college, where we gorged ourselves on vadas and masal dosas or even – shiver-y pleasure – to a big hotel – like “Annapoorna” or somewhere else where we got to sample things usually not made at home like butter naans and vegetable koftas!

The smell of formalin only served to whet our appetites!

One of those dishes which we loved and my mother learnt to reproduce at home was this simply scrumptious, rather unusual…

ARBI MUGHLAI (Taro/chaamagadda/chepankizhangu/colocasia gravy)

  • Arbi (medium size) – 250 gms
  • Besan (gram flour) – 2 tblsp
  • Oil ¬†– 3 tblsp
  • Omam/carom/ajwain seeds- 1/2 tsp
  • Jeera/cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Onion (chopped)- one large
  • Green chilli minced – one
  • Red chilli powder – 1.5 tsp
  • Chopped coriander – 1 tblsp
  • Salt
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Garam masala – 1/4 tsp


  • Tomatoes – chunked – 250 gms
  • 10 cashewnuts
  • Tomato puree – 2 tbsp
  • Ginger – grated – 1/2 tsp
  • Garlic chopped – 3-4 flakes
  • Green chilli – one -chopped
  • Red chilli powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Cloves – 2
  • Green cardamom- one
  • Salt to taste
  • Butter – 2 tblsp
  • Sugar or jaggery – 1 tsp
  • Kasooti methi – 1 tblsp

Pressure cook the whole arbi with three cups of water for one whistle.

Lower heat and cook for 3 minutes. Switch off and cool.

Peel and slice into 1/2 cm thick discs.


Cook together tomatoes, one cup of water, ginger and garlic paste, cashewnuts, green chilli, red chilli powder, cloves and cardamom.

Bring to a boil, reduce the flame and cook, covered till it is reduced to a thick sauce.

Remove from fire. Cool.

Blend in a mixer to a smooth puree.

In a fresh pan, caramelise the sugar in butter.

Add the puree.

Add salt to taste.

Simmer on low flame for 1-2 minutes.

Add kasooti methi and remove from fire.


Mix salt, red chili powder and besan and coat the arbi pieces.

Shallow fry till golden and crisp.

In the same oil, add ajwain and jeera.

Add chopped onions, grated ginger and green chilli and sauté for three minutes.

Add 1/2 tsp salt and arbi pieces.

Fry for a minute.

Add the prepared gravy and fry until the arbi is coated with the gravy.

Adjust seasoning.

Sprinkle lemon juice, garam masala and the remaining coriander.

Stir and serve immediately.

Don’t let those hydrocephalic foetuses put you off your feed!