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Navjot Singh Sidhu’s diet chart and its connection to what Punjabis ate more than a century ago

Experts said that the diet chart suggested to Navjot Sidhu aims to make him lose weight by drinking an assortment of juices, eating multi-grain rotis and munching dry fruit, while avoiding wheat and rice.

Navjot Singh Sidhu at the Patiala district court on Friday, May 20, 2022. (Express Photo by Harmeet Sodhi)

“Pet mein paiyan rotian, sabhe gallan mottian (He whose stomach is full talks loud),” reads the Phulkian States Gazetteer (Patiala, Jind and Nabha) compiled by the British in 1904.

A seven-meal diet chart suggested by a panel of doctors on Tuesday for jailed Congress politician, Navjot Singh Sidhu, raised some eyebrows on social media, with many deeming it “torturous”.

The diet — which suggests an assortment of tea, juices, fruits and one roti for Sidhu — however brings back memories of the frugal eating habits of residents of the erstwhile states of Punjab, as documented in the Gazetteer.

Experts said that the diet chart suggested to Sidhu aims to make him lose weight by drinking an assortment of juices, eating multi-grain rotis and munching dry fruit, while avoiding wheat and rice. The food habits of Punjabis listed in the Gazetteer also shows that wheat and rice was eaten only by the rich and that the poor consumed those only on special occasions.

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“The grains which form the staple food of the people in the state are bajra or millet, gram, berra — gram mixed with wheat or barley — jau, makki or maize, rice wheat,mandwa chinaa, mash, moong, moth and masar. The proportion of wheat and rice to other kinds of grain used depends mainly on the means of the family — wealthy or rich people always eat wheat which the poorer classes cannot afford,” the Gazetteer states.

The Gazetteer goes on to say that rice was used on very rare occasions, like festivals and marriages. “It is mainly grown in the hilly areas of Pinjore nizaamat. The hill people sell their rice of good quality, retaining only the inferior kinds for their own use. This is also the case with wheat. The best kinds of rice, eaten by well-to -do people, are imported from Delhi, Amritsra and Bareillu,” the Gazetteer adds.

It was noted that in winters the ordinary folk ate bread made of makki, jowar, chinaa or bajra with moong, moth or urad (pulses), and green sarson or gram cooked as vegetables. “Khichdi made of bajra, moth or moong is also eaten for a change,” the document notes. In hot weather, breads made of wheat, berra, or makki with dal is eaten.

The numerous small meals which have been suggested to Sidhu by the dietician of the Government Hospital in Patiala is also a study in contrast with the eating habits and timings of Punjabis more than a century ago. The Gazetteer records that those who work in the fields generally take a light meal in the morning which consists of previous days roti and lassi.

“After working for a few hours a heavy meal is taken at noon. This is generally brought to the fields by women or children as the cultivator has no time to go home. Well to do land owners and townspeople eat pulses and vegetables of all sorts such as gobi or cauliflower, baingun or brinjal, tori, ghia or kaddu ‘vegetable marrow’, karela or shalgam ‘turnip’, potatoes, matar or peas, kakri or cucumber etc with their bread,” the document states.

The poorer people, on the other hand, made use of gajar or carrots, kakris, kharbooze or melon, khira, phut, mahras, ber, and metha, especially in times of famines. Special mention is made stating that the rotis of the villagers are thicker than those made in towns. “Sattu of all kinds is used in the state, It is made from flour of parched grain, sharbat, gur, shakkar, khand or bura being added to it and then stirred in,” says the Gazetteer.

It is further noted that gur, shakkar, khand, ghee and spices of various kinds, dhania ‘coriander’, mirch ‘red pepper’, lasan ‘garlic’, haldi ‘turmeric’, piyaz ‘onion’ garam masala ‘condiment’ is not unusual but is more common in towns than in villages. It is recorded that Hindus of the state generally abstain from using garlic due to religious scruples and that Muslims and Sikhs eat meat only at festivals because of its high cost. Hindus abstained from eating meat altogether.

On the use of intoxicants, the Gazetteer says that tobacco is generally used by the Hindus and Muslims alike. “Both Hindus and Sikhs take opium in the form of pills, which are always kept in a small tin box, ‘dabbi’, in the turban or in the pocket. Drinking bhang of sukkah is common among Sikh and Hindu faqirs, Akalis etc,” it says.

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The document records that wealthy Muslims and officials take tea but the beverage is almost unknown in villages. “Hindu and Sikh Jats who can afford it drink liquor, frequently to excess, though the practice is looked upon with disfavour by all religions,” the Gazetteer notes.

In an agricultural family, the daily consumption of food may be roughly estimated at one ser (roughly equivalent to one kg) for a grown man, ¾ ser for a woman or old man, and ½ ser for a child.

The Gazetteer notes proverbs contrasting poverty and riches in the state: “Jinna khae, unna kamae (He will earn in proportion to what he eats) and “Jis ki kothi mein daane us ke kamle bhi sayane (He who has grain in his kothi though a fool is regarded as an intelligent man).

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