War & Peace
I HAVE never been to Baghdad but I know it like the back of my hand. For the last four days of the three-week war I saw different parts of the city shown on TV channels round the clock. It must have been a beautiful city with the river Tigris on its serpentine course through the heart of the city, broad tree-lined boulevards, innumerable well-laid out parks, grand buildings and, what came as a surprise to me, countless statues of Saddam Hussein in public places, large portraits on many buildings and reception rooms. I was under the impression that making the likeness of living creatures is not approved of in Islam as it leads to idol worship which is abominated by Muslims. All of them have been demolished. So have many huge public buildings. It took only four days to bring down what must have taken many decades to build. It will take as long for Baghdad to return to its ancient glory. It has been well said: bastee bastey bastey bastee hai - a habitation has to be populated again and again to become a habitation.
The task of restoring Iraq to the Iraqis with a semblance of democratic rule will prove more daunting than knocking out their army. Before they set about doing so, America and its Allies must give convincing answers to three questions uppermost in the minds of the people. First, their excuse for mounting an invasion on Iraq was Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction. Their inspectors were allowed access to all Iraqi laboratories and military installations but found no such weapons. None were used by the Iraqis nor found by the invading armies. Were Americans fooling the world or do they now have conclusive evidence of the existence of such weapons? Secondly, they waged a war against Iraq in defiance of the United Nations; with what face can they now go to the same UN and ask it to collaborate with them in the task of reconstruction of Iraq? Can they guarantee that Iraq's frontiers will remain intact and not be nibbled away by their neighbours, notably the Turks and the Kurds?
The majority of Iraqis may be relieved to see the end of Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule. But their pride as a nation, as Arabs, and as Muslims, has been deeply hurt. The world owes them more than making noises of sympathy. It has to help them stand on their feet again, exploit their oil wealth themselves for their own benefit, rebuild their homes and public buildings destroyed in the war. Above all, do not give recognition to any regime which takes over the administration until convinced that it truly represents the Iraqi people and are not puppets whose strings are manipulated by non-Iraqis.
Eating, a sensuous pleasure
So I cut down on breakfast and made lunch my principal meal of the day. In any event in Europe and America where I spent years of my life most working people entertained each other at lunch. I found lunches ate up precious working hours and fumes of sherry and wine which were de rigueur made fuddle headed all evening. I could never enjoy my dinner. Over the last 30 to 40 years my main meal is dinner. I prepare myself for doing it justice as my cook of over 50 years Chandan Singh prepares himself to make a gourmet meal. I have very nominal breakfast and lunch and no afternoon tea. By the evening I am ravenously hungry. If you really want to enjoy a meal you must create an appetite for it.
When wife was around she consulted a number of cookery books: Indian, French, Italian, Chinese and asked me for my preference for the evening. Then she discussed the way of making it with Chandan Singh. She read out instructions from her book; he questioned every step from his long experience. They had angry arguments before they came to an agreement. The final result was a soul-satisfying meal.
I have drawn a few conclusions about where and what to eat to get your money's worth. Good restaurants in Europe and America provide tastier food than the best in India. The more you are asked to pay in Euros or dollars, the better fare you get. Not so in my home country. Here the most expensive eateries can be said to provide variations of Barmecide feats (Barmecide was King who had gold and silver plates and cutlery for his guests and no food). Our best have the best of crockery, silver cutlery, cut glasses, waiters or waitresses wearing white gloves), good wines (Indian and imported) but the food they serve is rarely memorable.
To do justice to a gourmet dish you must have a one course meal. The notion of starters, main course, side-dishes, dessert etc. is outdated. So sooner I see an array of silver plated containers with spirit lamps burning under them, I lose my appetite. I'd rather eat in a dhaba than dine with a wedding party. An important thing to bear in mind is that when taking gourmet food, savour every bit of it and do not swallow it. While eating do not keep talking to people around you but concentrate on what you are eating, relish its taste with your tongue and feel it going down your throat - do it justice.
I do not believe there is such a thing as food to arouse sexual desire, no matter what our ancients or Jiggs Kalra and Pushpesh Pant have to say on the subject in their recently published book Foods of Love (Allied). However, there is nothing wrong in eating food which is at once pleasing to the palate and gives you illusions of renewed youth. In this book, Jiggs Kalra has much to say about both.
Jiggs Kalra's chief contribution to the culinary arts of India is to make people conscious of its great tradition and vast variety. What was once the privilege of the rich and the princely classes is now within reach of the common people. It showed a little more interest in buying provisions, concern with their kitchens and recipes like the ones spelt out in this book.
One was carried
But the other was not uncared for
While a stray hungry dog
(Courtesy: Amitabh Srivastava, Kanpur)