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Sunday Long Reads: Meherwan Irani’s Chai Pani restaurant, Kashmir’s transgender community, exotic food, Sahitya Akademi Lit Fest, and more

Here are much interesting reads of the week!

lauki stem frittersPritha Sen’s lauki stem fritters made from the stalk end of the bottle gourd, which is cut finger chip style (credit Sayantan Sarkar)

Eat Root to Tip: How chefs make the everyday exotic

When chef Radhika Khandelwal stirs her pot of memories, she stops at the moment when she sat with her grandmother under the winter sun shelling peas. “We’d snack on some and keep the pods away because these couldn’t be wasted. She blanched them and cooked a finger-licking dish. Just like the leftover carrot tops and leaves, which she squished into a lush chutney,” she says. Today, the no-food-waste mantra she inherited is the pivot of her restaurant, Fig and Maple in New Delhi, where she serves pumpkin seed to skin barley risotto made with pearl barley and pumpkin, flesh to seed and skin. Her rich sauce, made from tender leaves of the tamarind plant, wraps her baked fish with umami flavours. To work up your appetite, try out her vegetable peel chips and scoop up the pea pod pesto.


How Meherwan Irani made our chai pani America’s new favourite

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Meherwan Irani (Photo by Tim Robison)

Like many chasing their dream of a good life, a young man from Ahmednagar, just outside Pune, came to the US to pursue a degree in MBA. He was as hungry for the American dream as he was for his bhelpuri. Of course, Meherwan Irani didn’t know back then that the humble puffed rice chaat would make that dream come true. As his Chai Pani restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina, was declared America’s “Outstanding Restaurant” in the 2022 James Beard Awards last week, nobody knows that life had tossed him about just as vigorously as the masala in his bhel.


‘My life is resistance’: Pa Ranjith

Pa Ranjith in Cannes (Credit: Aditi Anand)

Among the sizeable Indian contingent at the 75th Cannes Film Festival last month was Pa Ranjith, whom I met in a very Cannes setting: on the upper deck of a swish yacht, where the poster of his upcoming film Vettuvam was being showcased.


How the documentary Trans Kashmir individualises a community which is often kept at bay

Shabnum, in the film, distinguishes between aqwe, who are natural, like them, and chubarqe, who opt for surgery, which the community seniors consider un-Islamic.

Called Khwaja Sara (in Persian), they enjoyed a certain respect during the Mughal rule in Kashmir, between 1586 and 1751. The Mughals employed hijras in the women’s quarters, because their several wives used to seek sex outside marriage with male servants, etc. The Sikh and Dogra rulers were indifferent, inviting them only to sing/perform. The British ensured total ostracisation with the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 to eliminate indigenous tribes and eunuchs.



Is literature possible without the presence of the state in our literary imagination?

Unmesha, an international literary festival organised by Sahitya Akademi, was held in Shimla in June (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Literature is the domain of multiple voices, which we realised while participating in Unmesha, an international literary festival organised by Sahitya Akademi in Shimla between June 16 and 18, with the support of the Ministry of Culture.

It’s difficult for any literature festival to provide space to all, especially in a society as complex as ours, but Sahitya Akademi tried to incorporate various marginal voices like those of women, Dalits, tribals, and LGBTQIA people in its literary festival. With more than 400 writers from different regions of India, as well as writers from 15 countries, It was truly a festival international in spirit and diverse in expression.


Where have all the birds gone?

The genteel hoopoe clad in salmon and zebra-stripes has been missing in action (Credit: Ranjit Lal)

The sixth-big extinction event is already upon us – and is largely due to our activities. Well, I checked my notes and, to my horror, discovered that several “little extinctions” had already occurred in my little neck of the woods, and here I’m only talking about birds.

Heading the list, of course, are house sparrows. Not long ago, a “relict” population still used to hop around in the garden from time to time, but I haven’t seen them for a while now – they seem to have been replaced by tiny, squeaking spice finches, aka scaly-breasted munias. Every October, a gentleman redstart would report at the garden gate and greet me gravely, bobbing his head and shivering his tail before flying down to the lawn to check out what delicacy was on offer. He’s been absent for many years now and may have passed on, but obviously didn’t let on about his private secret garden. White wagtails that used to saunter about on the big common lawn like a convention of prosperous landlords, no longer do so, and the genteel hoopoe clad in salmon and zebra-stripes is also missing in action. Also absent is the diminutive grey-headed canary flycatcher that used to sit on the cemetery wall and dive down after insects.


Indian Matchmaking’s Aparna Shewakramani on why she wouldn’t settle for compromises in a relationship

Not a Love Story: Lawyer-entrepreneur Aparna Shewakramani participated in season one of Netflix’s popular reality show Indian Matchmaking (Credit: Rahul Jhangiani)

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that every romance reality show is in want of a villain. In Indian Matchmaking — the Netflix show that premiered in 2020 featuring matchmaker Sima Taparia on a mission to find singletons their happily-ever-afters — it came in the form of Aparna Shewakramani.


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First published on: 26-06-2022 at 06:45:59 am
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