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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Sunday Long Reads: Comfort food, a year full of possibilities, and a 37-year-old murder case

Here is your Sunday reading list!

New Delhi | January 10, 2021 10:33:45 am
sunday eye, sunday eye long reads, long reads sunday eye, indian express, indian express newsSoul Curry: The most interesting thing about comfort food is that it’s a concept that’s recognised widely enough that one never needs to explain what it is, and yet, it manages to encompass a stunning variety of foods.

Dal-rice, khichdi, soup: does comfort food actually comfort us?

Julia Carmen Desa has just made soup for lunch. The soup is made of winter vegetables like bathua (Chenopodium album), spinach, radish and carrots; there’s some cheese in it, as well as coconut milk, coriander roots and a pinch of Madras curry powder. Desa will serve it for lunch to her family, along with some garlic bread. “If I had added chicken, it would have been better, but it’s quite good even without it. It’s simple, warm and comforting,” Desa says.

At TRES, the modern European restaurant in Delhi’s tony Lodhi Colony, where she is chef and co-owner, the food is a lot more finessed: sweet potato with caramelised yogurt; grilled smoked paprika garlic tiger prawns with potato leek foam. While she needs to taste everything that is made in her professional kitchen, besides eating at competitors’ restaurants, Desa assures that at the end of the day all she wants is some hot rice and fish curry. “That’s the Goan in me,” she says.

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When it comes to deadly creatures, the smaller it is, the more lethal it can be

Tiny Tormentors :Poison dart frogs (Photo: Ranjit Lal)

Right from our childhood, we are told big animals are dangerous. At the top of the most-feared list are the carnivores — lions, tigers, leopards, hyenas and bears on land, and crocodiles and sharks in the water. The growls and snarls of the big carnivores are warning enough, not to mention their fearsome four-inch canines with which they’ll crunch your bones and muscles. The submarine attackers rear up in a heart-stopping moment of sheer violence or slink up from beneath to chomp you clean in half.

Generations have been brought up on such horror stories as well as stirring tales of brave hunters setting forth to rid us of these scourges. People in villages and small towns around which these man-eating predators hunted, lived in thrall of fear, locking themselves indoors at dusk — though, sometimes, even this was not enough. And then, with an unerring shot, the hunter took down the menace and celebrations were in order and the beast was paraded through the village to assure everyone that it was indeed dead. These days, with our new love for lynching, often the entire male population of the village will hysterically hunt down the predator and beat it to a pulp. We’ve hunted down more than 90 per cent of tigers, so the chances of you meeting one and becoming lunch while on a walk in the jungle are minuscule.

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How 2021 can be a year of possibilities, starting with acknowledging our dependence on others

We are the world: For 2021 to be different and 2020 to not be a wasted year, we must acknowledge our dependence on one another (Suvir Saran)

Late one night in 2007, a call from Jean-Luc Naret, publisher of the esteemed The Michelin Guide New York City, changed the fate of my restaurant and my professional life as a chef and restaurateur. My chef-partner, Hemant Mathur, and I had already been the recipients of wonderfully kind, generous and laudatory reviews across newspapers, magazines, journals and websites. The who’s who of the food world and beyond had either dined at Devi or had it on their must-visit list. But with the first Michelin star given to an Indian restaurant in North America came more recognition and celebrityhood, more influence and notoriety.

I found myself even more engaged in speaking and teaching and most happily so. While my business partners enjoyed the teeming crowds pouring in to savour our cuisine, I was out sharing my knowledge and inspiring — at least, I hoped I was — and returning home with just enough time to create new menu items and freshen up the old, while being a spouse, dog- and cat-daddy, and keeping all entertained. Some months, I would find myself on the road for 20 days, at the restaurant for a week, and at home for only a night or two. I felt as invincible and powerful as the US army. It was a rush that was intoxicating. It was a high that fed itself and kept me happily removed from the realities of life, from grasping the wear and tear that my body and soul were enduring.

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How the Rashtrapati Bhavan post office was important for intelligence gathering

The Rashtrapati Bhavan Post Office in 1979. (Photo courtesy: Rashtrapati Bhavan)

Even the most avid students of history may not have heard of Munshi Abdulla Khan, Babu WC Chakravarty, L Amarnath and Mathra Das. To allow these gentlemen to shimmer through the mists of time, one must step back to the Viceregal Lodge, Shimla, in 1904.

On July 24, 2014, the then President Pranab Mukherjee inaugurated a new post office in the President’s Estate, and tweeted: “The Rashtrapati Bhawan Post Office started as the Viceroys Camp Post Office in Shimla on 10.6.1904 and has historical records.” This statement was accompanied by a photograph of a note by the Postmaster, Shimla, in the Order Book of the Viceroys Camp Post Office (VCPO). It noted that the office was in good order, and that the first two letters received and stamped were for Lady Ampthill, wife of Lord Ampthill, Governor of Madras and acting Viceroy, and Major Strachey, Comptroller of the Household.

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How Mississippi Masala remains relevant and why prejudice can’t hold love back

One of the most telling elements on display is the complex dissemination of racism, and how it is experienced.

One of the many pleasures of running into a film one has watched, and liked, many years ago is discovering how it has travelled: I’m pleased to report that Mira Nair’s 1991 Mississippi Masala, which I caught at the recent I View Festival, has legs. Watching it today compels you to revisit the past, and to realise how pertinent it is even today.

A family of third-generation Indians in Kampala, Uganda, relocates to the US in the early ’70s. Jay and Kinnu, played by Roshan Seth and Sharmila Tagore, fetch up in Mississippi, a town many of their compatriots have made home. On a recce, Nair had discovered that many of the motels in the region were run by the Asians who had fled Idi Amin’s Uganda, and her film shines a light on the bigotry and racism rampant at the time.

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Finding Sukumara Kurup: Recreating a 37-year-old murder case that has become folklore in Kerala

In cold blood: An artist’s impression of Kurup (Illustration: Suvajit Dey)

On a foggy morning, around 4 am on January 22, 1984, a man burst into the Mavelikara police station startling the head constable on duty there. A black Ambassador with the license plate KLQ-7831 was going up in flames in the middle of a paddy field with an almost-charred body of a person in the driving seat, he blurted out. After filing an FIR, officers rushed to the site of the accident where a small crowd had gathered already. There were rumblings that the car might have veered off the road running by the side of the field, catching fire in the process.

Murali Vrindavanam, a 20-year-old political worker, whose family ran a ration shop in the area, remembered being alerted to the burning car by locals. “The car was such a ball of fire that we couldn’t see anything inside initially. But after some time, when the blaze was put out partially, we realised that there was a person inside who looked as if he was tied to the seat. Some locals who were returning after watching a late-night play recalled seeing a couple of people driving away from the spot in another car,” he said.

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