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The Vanishing Kodavas

by Kaveri Ponnapa. Rs.7500   Reviewed by Farzana Contractor

Coorg can easily be counted among the top few places to visit in India and is yet, surprisingly not as well-known. Anyone who even glances through this book, will certainly be enraptured with everything that Coorg - Kodava, stands for

Wherever they came from, the Kodavas decided to stop and make their home in the rugged hills of Kodagu, or Coorg. These rustic mountain people, their extraordinary way of life with a rich oral tradition, their cult of the sacred hunt, mingled with a heritage of feuds and wars, and the exhilarating beauty and mystery of their land have intrigued generations of writers, travellers, soldiers and administrators. Where did they come from, these people acknowledged by everyone who encountered them, as puzzlingly different?

The Vanishing Kodavas tells the story of the Kodava people, using official records, correspondence, colonial accounts, the recorded history of the Rajahs of Kodagu, and the oral histories of the Kodava people themselves. The multiple voices create a rich and engrossing account of one of the most enigmatic people, who have fascinated generations of scholars, administrators and anthropologists. The Kodavas have a rich oral tradition, through which customs, social norms, laws – their entire heritage – was passed down from generation to generation. Warriors, farmers and hunters, the people managed to preserve their unique culture and way of life, despite the violence and turbulence of their history, that almost wiped out their population.

Their culture, while influenced by neighbouring Kerala, Mysore and South Canara, is unique. Festivals dedicated to forest deities where trance, possession and oracles link the people to both their ancestors and deities, lie at the heart of their worship. Through their violent and tragic history, the Kodava people managed to preserve their ancient social laws, rules customs, dress and way of life. One of the smallest groups of people in the country, their culture is being swiftly eroded, and they face the tremendous challenge of finding ways to preserve it.

The easy narrative style of the book makes it accessible to a wide readership, supported by rich visuals. The author made repeated field trips over several years, following the most significant festivals and events over several cycles, and secured permission of the community, before the photographs were taken. The serious research that has gone into the book also makes it an important reference work on a fast disappearing culture and a base for further academic studies. With almost 300 stunning images, it is also a beautiful insight into the least known and most fascinating aspects of Kodava culture and way of life, a rich account of one of the most fascinating cultures and people in the country. Using folklore, songs, stories and historical records, The Vanishing Kodavas tells the story of the Kodava people. It is an attempt to portray a disappearing way of life, to capture a fleeting glimpse of the collective experience and events that made them the people they are, and the importance of preserving the identities of small cultures.

Kaveri Ponnapa The authorAbout the author: Kaveri Ponnapa studied Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. She spent 15 years researching The Vanishing Kodavas.

The Vanishing Kodavas, published by Eminence Designs Pvt. Ltd. is available at Strand Book Stall, Sir PM Road, Fort, Mumbai 400001
Ph: 022 2266 1994 / 2266 1719 / 2261 4613

You can also preview and order the book at www.thevanishingkodavas.com. and www.coorg.com.

 

The Courtly Cuisine  by Preeta Mathur. Rs.695

Reviewed by Pooja Mujumdar

Enveloped in a serene image of a red sari, The Courtly Cuisine: Kayastha Kitchens Through India delivers what it promises – a window into the erstwhile unknown Kayastha cuisine. A brief history of the Kayasthas succeeds the Author’s Note to ease off the confusion of those not in the know-how. The title of each recipe favours the pure strata of the Hindi language but fear not; one can always look up the straight and easy descriptions which come along with it. The USP of the book is the inclusion of dishes which are relatively unheard-of. So you have the opportunity to try out recipes such as Chuki Sabut Mattar, Badi Bawa Ki Handia, Suroori Raan and a seafood dum preparation called Dum Machi. Ever had chicken made from just four ingredients? Well, the recipe, Chaari will surprise you.

As the name suggests, the recipes involve heavy use of ingredients giving it a ‘courtly’ feel. Yet, the ingredients are such that one would find in any Indian kitchen. The classification of dishes is simple, with categories extending to Appetisers, Chicken, Lamb, Fish & Seafood, Vegetables & Lentils, Rice, Breads & Accompaniments with Desserts bringing up the rear. The book comes in a grip-friendly package with illustrations often taking up an entire page. Add to this the visual step-by-step instructions above the text, and you have a book easy enough for beginners as well.

The author has taken care to compile recipes from around Bengal, Bihar, Rajasthan and the South. It echoes not just the distinctive Kayastha cuisine but amalgamates the entirety of the Indian culinary traditions with it. The end result is a book which is thoroughly “Indian” with a vibrancy offset by its variety in content.

Very few cookbooks encourage interactivity through their content and The Courtly Cuisine is one of them. We get glimpses of the author through her suggestions and description of her childhood food memories in the snippets under each recipe. Whether it is her late grandfather making a tangri kebab or her uncle and his friends cooking shikar in a jungle, the book invites us to remember our childhood too.
About the author: Preeta Mathur has established a niche for herself when it comes to Kayastha cuisine. A Kayastha herself, she believes in capturing the essence of food by harnessing her own knowledge and the experience of friends and family. Many recipes in her repertoire are adapted from those derived from people known to her. Her relationship with food has spanned a decade, complemented by her days as a food columnist at Vanita magazine and foodie trails all over the world.

 

Bong Mom´s Cookbook  by Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta. Rs.350  Reviewed by Amaesha Durazi

Bong Mom´s Cookbook is an excellent tool for day-to-day cooking of authentic Bengali recipes, and for the author to keep her family recipes alive.

For a personal touch, the author narrates experiences from her childhood till motherhood related to food and cooking, such as her grandmother´s love for paan to her husband´s (known as H-man) breakfast chores. This makes the book interesting and fun to read. A working mom would cherish this book of easy and quick recipes with detailed instructions. At the beginning of each chapter,  there is a little titbit about some Bengali tradition or the other or a quote. Tips are also provided while cooking the dishes along with various options which will certainly appeal to non-Bengali mothers.

The text and recipes are presented well, though images are not included. It would give the readers a gist of what the dishes are about or supposed to be. However,the variety of dishes, from spicy French toast for breakfast to paayesh with palm jaggery for dessert, are appetising enough.

About the author: Sandeepa Mukherjee Datta is ´the´ Bong Mom, the name her popular blog goes by. The mother-of-two, engineer by profession, lives in New Jersey and is an authority on Bengali cooking. This is her first publication, inspired by the blog.

 

Mukhwas   by Alka Pande. Rs.525  Reviewed by Pooja Mujumdar

Mukhwas is a fascinating survey of India’s culinary history, compounded by the author’s anecdotes, literary quotes and recollections of her life’s experiences. The book trails the state of Indian cuisine in all its glory, thereby doing justice to peoples’ obsession for food. The prologue criticises the factor that threatens the true appreciation of food today – the ´size zero fetish´. While this may be an undesirable truth, more worrisome is the fascination for international cuisines, thus drawing a curtain on the authentic food that flourished in the gallis and nukkads.

Mukhwas is not quite a coffee table book – instead its real value lies in packaging food as not simply a means for survival but much more. In this country that boasts a rich culture, food is an instrument of Ayurveda, leading in festivals, feasting and of course, fasting, not to mention a reminder of colonial rulers’ culinary legacies as well. A new facet the author astutely explores is the “food of love”. Apart from increasing sexual desire, food supposedly absorbs the thoughts and emotions of the cook, thereby affecting its taste and people around.

About the author: A doctorate in critical art theory, Dr Alka Pande is a Consultant Arts Advisor and Curator at the Indian Habitat Centre. An expert in the field of ancient Indian erotic literature and art, she has written books on Indology and art history and was honoured with the Chevalier dans L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2006 among other awards. 

 

Savour Mumbai   by Vikas Khanna. Rs.895  Reviewed by Pooja Mujumdar

Savour Mumbai is a fitting answer to Vikas Khanna’s memorable relationship with the cosmopolitan city that is Bombay.  The author’s note reveals how he was first introduced to Bombay when hearing tales from his Surinder Bua. She would often visit his Amritsar home from Bombay. And then was the start of a fascinating bond with the ´city of dreams´. Visiting his brother who was training with a company in Bombay, or his own training and work with the Sea Rock Sheraton Hotel in 1993 and the Leela Kempinski, the author kept coming back to aamchi Bombay to experience everything which is quintessential to it.

Keeping in mind his long association with the culinary world, the author pays tribute to the multi-faceted city the way he knows best – through food. Rubbishing the common assumption that Bombay has no ´native´ cuisine of its own, he takes us on a trip across the city´s best food haunts, proving that the plethora of cuisines on offer is its real culinary heritage. But then it´s not just a text-and-picture book; the bestsellers from each restaurant are mentioned, complete with the recipes from source. So whether it is chicken tikka from Bademiya’s, Crab in Butter-Pepper-Garlic from Mahesh Lunch Home or Jowar Pita Pockets from Soam, if you wish to recreate it at home, you are invited. There is a separate section for street food; right from your favourite vada pav to a good ol’ cup of cutting chai.

The index is divided into a couple of recipes neatly clustered under each iconic restaurant’s name. The additional index at the end of the book has recipes with page numbers listed according to their nature – as Beverages, Chutneys and Pickles, Desserts, Poultry, Snacks and Vegetarian Dishes among others.

About the author:  Vikas Khanna’s Indian restaurant in New York named Junoon received a Michelin star in 2011. At 17, he started his own banquet catering venture in Amritsar. A graduate from the Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration in Manipal, he also studied at Cornell University, NYU, Culinary Institute of America and the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. He is currently the Corporate Chef of the Junoon Hospitality Group in New York. He has authored several books including The Spice Story of India, Flavors First and My Great India Cookbook. Also a philanthropist, he is the founder of Cooking for Life and SAKIV (South Asian Kids Infinite Vision). Vikas also appeared prominently in MasterChef India Seasons 2 and 3 as a judge.


 

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