लॉक डाउन डायरी 1- कुछ धुआं कुछ बादल


कई दिनों से ये व्यथा थी की हिंदी रोमन में लिखी जाये या देवनागरी में| लगभग सभी ने कहा देवनागरी ही उचित है सो मैंने ब्लॉग के स्वरूप इत्यादि की भी कुछ जाँच की| शायद मुझे हिंदी का एक नया ब्लॉग चलना पड़े जो मैं पहले भी सोच रही थी| ब्लॉग के हिंदी पाठको से अनुरोध है की वो कृपया बायें उन्हें कैसे पढ़ना सुविधाजनक है |

जब अपने बार में कुछ न हो तो अपने को शब्दों के सुपुर्द कर दो | आजकल अंग्रेजी में केवल वही लिखने का मन करता है जिसको हिंदी में लिख गुज़ारा नहीं होगा | हिंदी मेरे मन की भाषा है केवल इसलिए कि यही भाषा मैंने बचपन से बोली, लिखी, पढ़ी। इसमें कोई गौरव, कोई हीनता या कोई श्रेष्ठता का बोध नहीं है। ये मेरे रोज़मर्रा के जीवन की भाषा है इसलिए सहज है| मैं अक्सर हिंदुस्तानी या बोलचाल की भाषा में लिखते हूँ| साहित्यिक हिंदी का उपयोग बहुत सीमित है क्यूंकि अक्सर पढ़ने वालों को दिक्कत होती है| मैं अपने लेखन को सहज रखना चाह्ती हूँ| शुद्ध हिंदी का दायरा मुझे सीमित लगता है पर आम सरल बोलचाल की हिंदी उर्दू मिश्रित भाषा सबको समझ आ जाती है | ये शायद देहलवी या हिंदवी है या यूँ कहिये दिल्ली की भाषा है |

मूलतः अंग्रेजी में लिखने वालों को हिंदी लेखन के क्षेत्र में अपनी जगह बना कठिन हैं पर कोशिश रहेगी कि लिखती रहूं और साथ बना रहे |

सनद रहे कि बलपूर्वक थोपी गयी भाषा अपनी मिठास खो देती है | ये सभी भाषाओँ पे लागु होता हैं| इसे मात्र संवाद और अभिव्यक्ति का माध्यम समझें तो बेहतर होगा | भाषा की विविधता हमारी सांझी विरासत है और इसे क़ायम रखना हमारा फ़र्ज़ है |मेरा मक़सद यहाँ भाषा पे ज्ञान बांटना क़तई नहीं है पर आदतन रहा नहीं जाता क्यूंकि कुछ माहौल ही ऐसा है। आने वाले दिनों में कुछ छुटपुट कवितायेँ और कहानियां साँझा करने का विचार है। आज कल यूँही छोटामोटा लिख रही हूँ यहाँ वहां। हिंदी में लिखी दिल्ली शहर की कविताओं की किताब पर काम चल रहा है। सब कछुआ चाल हो गया है पर मैं इसे यूँही अपनी गति से चलने देना चाहती हूँ।

फरवरी के अंत से ही इस साल पर स्याही पुत गयी थी| बिगड़ी तबियत जब तक संभली लॉक डाउन पूरे ज़ोर पर था| अस्पताल से निकली तो हौज़ खास में फंस गयी| वो तीन महीने मेरे लिए आउटिंग थी | मानसिक तनाव और शारीरिक परेशानियों से उबरने का मौका| लॉक डाउन के उन दिनों ने बहुत कुछ सीखा दिया| ज़िन्दगी की वो घुटन जो मुझे छोड़े नहीं छोड़ती कुछ समय के लिए कहीं लज़ारबन्द हो गयी | तन मन में जैसे बसंत छ गया पर सुख अस्थायी होता है जबकि दुःख आपका एक छोर हमेशा पकडे रहता है | छुट्टी ख़तम हुई और फिर उसी उदासीन घुटन भरी ज़िन्दगी में वापस आ गयी |न जाने इस मकड़जाल से कब मुक्ति मिलेगी या नहीं मिलेगी | पर जब तक कला के रंग हैं, कविता है, ज़िन्दगी की गाड़ी जैसे तैसे चलती रहेगी |

इस त्रासदी के लगभग दो सौ दिन हो गए हैं । एक अजीब सा खालीपन है। किसी को मैंने कहा कि सब खोखला लगता है। मिथ्या। उसने पूछा, एक अंतहीन लॉक डाउन में जीने वाली को कैसा लगता है ये जबरन थोपा हुआ लॉक डाउन? तुम्हें तो कोई फर्क नहीं लगता होगा?

ड्रीम विदिन अ ड्रीम, मैंने कहा।

जो दिखता है वो है नहीं

जो है वो दिखता नहीं

आन्तरिक द्वंद और एक नीम शब

जो दिन की उजास भी खा गई है

लोगों ने मास्क क्या पहने उनके बाकी सभी नक़ाब उतर गए। दिन और तारीख़ धुंधलाने से लगे हैं। ज़िन्दगी का सारा हिसाब ही उलझ गया है। डार्क- ह्युमर में मुझे दिलचस्पी है पर ये कुछ ज़्यादा ही हो गया है। उदासी की भाषा अंग्रेज़ी हो या हिन्दी दोनों में शब्दों का अभाव हो रहा है। भाषा के इस सन्नाटे से भय लगता है। कहते हैं लिखो क्यूंकि लिखने से बहाव बना रहेगा। ये जीवन के लिए ज़रूरी है। आने वाली खुशियों और आशाओं के बारे में लिखो। आपदा में यही हिम्मत देगा। कैसे लिखूं। मैं अंधेरे से बनी हूं। कोई और रंग नहीं जानती।

How to Dry And Preserve Neem/ Indian Lilac Flowers For Culinary Use


A major part of my lockdown period was spent at my son’s previous home. Surrounded by old trees, some more than hundred years old. Among them were the Neem or Indian Lilac trees. Delhi has a fair share of ancient aging Neem trees so full of life even now.

Azadirachta indica L is not just a scared and medicinal tree but a shelter for birds, bees, squirrels, butterflies and insects of various kinds. It is a very effective air purifier too and its root bark, stem bark, gum, flower, leaves, seeds and seed oil are used for various medicinal purposes but today we will focus on how to dry and preserve the Neem Flowers or Vepampoo as it is known in Southern India for the unique culinary uses.

While I was recovering in the Hauz Khas home of my elder son the Neem trees lining the streets were flowering gregariously. The flower laden branches from the closest tree leaned on the terrace bringing in a star shower with even a gentle breeze. I was fortunate to see the transformation of little buds to flowers and then to fruits that were devoured by hungry parakeets which descend in such large numbers that sometimes the tree becomes them. In the midst of chaos I fond the solace in quietly sitting and witnessing the life nestled between the labyrinth of dark rough ancient branches and a “sea of foliage” as Lutyens wanted Delhi to be.

Throughout Southern India these flowers are used in various food preparations. I’ve savored some but not made all of them. I’ve prepared roasted flowers crumbled on hot plain steamed rice, tossed in ghee with hing and added to rice, eaten with jaggery, Ugadi Pachadi (Bevu Bella in kannada), dry podi, raita, raw mango Neem flower pachdi, rasam, tea and neer moru /  Masale majjige / Buttermilk infused with the blossoms whose recipe I will share. Then there is kozambu and yummy sadam with Mor Milagai / Dried Green chilies and dried Neem Blossoms that’s out of the world.

If you aren’t adverse to light bitterness then you’ll find Neem blossoms very delicious. The blossoms are known to cleanse the system among other medicinal benefits.

Here is a step by step method of drying and preserving Neem blossoms. The process is pretty simple. In the flowering season which is Jan – May you may gather these fresh flowers to sun dry and if there is a scarcity of sunny secure place they can be dried under a fan too.

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  1. Collect the fresh tenderly fragrant blossoms in a clean bowl or sheet of cloth.
  2. Separate the Neem flowers from the leaf axil by holding the stem in the left hand and pulling the flowers by dragging your fingers from bottom upwards to separate the blossoms.
  3. Once you have all the tiny blossoms separated take a large clean utensil and fill it with drinking water. Dip these flowers gently in it so that all the dust and dirt gets washed. Leave them there for 1-2 minutes and then slowly scoop them into a plate.
  4. Spread kitchen towels or a clean cloth on a flat surface and spread the flowers on it. You may use a large tray if the quantity of blossoms is less.
  5. Let them dry under the sun from morning till evening and bring them in at night. Keep then under sun till they’re completely dry and there is no trace of moisture. Drying under the fan takes more time. I did that as the house cat and her new kittens were all over the terrace. It will take tat least 2-3 days minimum for them to dry completely.
  6. The sign that they are ready for storage and use is to lightly crush them. If they are crisp and crush easily then it’s ready.
  7. Bring in the dried browned flowers to the kitchen counter and let them rest for a while so that they come to the room temperature. Store them in clean and dry airtight jars and use as and when required.
  8. You can use fresh flowers too after washing them as some recipes require the use of fresh ones.

Here is a recipe for  Vepampoo Neer Moru / Spiced Buttermilk tempered with fresh Neem blossoms 

 

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Ingredients : 

Fresh Neem or Vepampoo Blossoms – 2-3 tsp full

Ghee or Clarified butter – 1 tbsp

Dry Whole Red Chili – 1 small

Green chili – 1 broken in 2-3 pieces

Cumin Seeds – 1 tsp

Grated ginger – 1 tbsp

Fresh Yogurt  (Preferably Home cultured) – 1 cup

Water – 2 cups

Salt to taste

Asafoetida – 1 pinch

( You can use fresh buttermilk too instead of making one)

Method : 

Heat an iron seasoning ladle or a small seasoning wok and add ghee to it. Once the ghee warms add cumin seeds. When they crackle add whole broken red chili, green chili pieces, asafoetida (Hing) and fresh Neem blossoms. The moment you get an aromatic fragrance remove from heat and keep on counter to cool. Remove the red chili if your heat threshold is less. You may use just one variety of chili too. Make sure

Add it to the fresh buttermilk and stir. Add salt and grated ginger and stir well.

Or

Blend the curd with water, salt, grated ginger properly and then add the prepared Vepampoo tempering.  Mix everything well and serve. You can have this Vepampoo infused neer moru at room temperature or chilled. It is extremely cooling in the heat of summer and the addition of Neem blossoms give it a beautiful aroma and taste.

 

 

 

 

Recipe – Simple Paneer Makhani With Kasoori Methi


I love Paneer or Indian cottage cheese but somehow don’t like the creamy paneer butter masala sold in the restaurants and the paneer makhani is always too sweet for my taste. This dish however has the perfect Dhaba style taste of Paneer Makhni. I learned it from an elderly sardarji who owned a Dhaba in Rudrapur on way to Ranikhet. The dhaba is closed now and ‘darji is no more but the taste of his food and the memories of his tenderheartedness and love still linger in my thoughts.

So if you are looking for a lighter version of Paneer makhani try this recipe. This may not be the authentic or traditional way to cook it but it certainly is delicious. Always use soft fresh Paneer as that’s the star ingredient here. I use either almonds or cashew nuts or a mix of both in this recipe. Usually canned tomato puree is preferred as it has an intense taste but for everyday consumption I use the described method. I absolutely love how the gravy coats the tender paneer cubes turning it into a spectacular lip smacking dish. Did I say Paneer is the star ingredient? No, it is the fresh kasoori methi or dried fenugreek leaves that spin the magic in this dish. I like the earthy flavor of Kasoori methi and have been using Just Organik’ Kasoori Methi in almost everything. Trust me it is as good as homemade.

Ingredients :

Fresh Paneer or Indian Cottage Cheese – 250 gm

Medium size Onion ( chopped)- 1

Minced Ginger+Garlic+green chili – 1 tbsp

Red ripe tomatoes ( chopped)- 3

Bay leaf- 1

Black cardamom – 2

Dry red chili -1 small

Cumin seeds – 1/2 tsp

Kasoori Methi – 1 tsp ( lightly roasted, crushed)

Butter + Oil – 1 tbsp each

Garam Masala – 1 tsp

Coriander Powder – 1 tsp

Red Chili Powder – 1 tsp

Turmeric Powder  – 1 tsp

Salt – to taste

sugar – 1/4th tsp

Soaked almonds or cashew nut or a mix – 5-6

Fresh cream (Malai) – 2 tbsp (beaten) (optional)

 

Method :

In a heavy bottom pan add the oil and butter together. Doing this will ensure that the butter doesn’t burn.

Once the oil warms up, add bay leaf,  cardamom ( lightly pounded) and cumin seeds.

Once the cumin seeds start to crackle, add the ginger, garlic, green chili mix and stir. I added little extra pods of garlic ( 3-4) as I love the garlicky taste in this dish.

Add the chopped onion and saute it till translucent then add the almonds and or cashew. Stir and add the chopped tomato. Stir nicely and cook till they soften then turn off the heat.

Let this cool and once at room temperature take this mixture in a blender and pulse it till it is a smooth paste.

Now, in the same pan add a little more butter and add this paste. Give it a good stir and when it starts to bubble add garam masala, chili powder, coriander powder, little sugar and salt to taste. Keep the flame on medium and cook it till the rawness of the masala goes and oil separates. If the masala seems too dry add a little warm warm. it should be a thick gravy. Cook it for 10 minutes stirring continuously. once the gravy is smooth and nice add the toasted crushed Kasoori methi and stir it in. Let the gravy cook for another five minutes.

Now add the paneer cubes and gently stir so that every cube is covered in the masala. Let it simmer for another five minutes then turn off the heat.  Add the freshly beaten malai and it is ready to serve. You may garnish it with fresh coriander leaves and a little more smooth beaten malai.

Serve with kulchas, naans or steamed rice or any other breads of your choice.

If you try this recipe please let me know.

Check out another equally delicious Paneer dish Here 

 

Teen Chhatris | Hazire, Makanpur Village, Indrapuram


Last year I finally got a chance to explore the ancient pavilions in Makanpur village inside the posh Indirapuram locality. A slight diversion from my exploration of Delhi monuments. This was as part of discovering lesser known heritage buildings in and around Delhi. I had a few locations marked but could visit only this one before falling sick and then the pandemic ruined my plans.

It took me a lot of effort to locate the place as many of the access points were dug out. The street shop owners, vendors and local residents had little clue about it and were amused as to why a gray haired jeans clad woman with camera is looking for some dilapidated old ruins and that too in blistering summer noon. I kept showing photographs from a national daily to them and finally an old auto driver guiding me to an approximate location. I landed up near the Masjid and again started the search. Finally a shop keeper pointed me to the caretaker of the graveyard, the only one who could guide me. I couldn’t find the old gentleman but someone children got curious and tagged along as I made my way through narrow lanes. One of them asked what I was looking for and seeing the photos exclaimed, ” ye to kabristan mein hain. wahan tala laga hai. andar jana mana hai. sab toota phoota hai. wahan kya kaam hai aapko?” ( these are in the graveyard and the gate is locked. no one is allowed inside. Everything is falling apart. What do want from there?)

I explained I needed to take photos to write about it. Thinking I was a journalist they demanded a picture and in exchanged of that agreed to take me there. We finally reached the place but the man who had the key couldn’t be found. By then I was tired and late for another appointment at my son’s home. I had finally found the gorgeous structures shrouded from all around by tall buildings.

Orphaned and decaying pavilion tombs or chhatris or hazire as called by the local Muslim community are looked after by them. The gate is mostly locked and displays a board claiming it to be a local graveyard. Perhaps this is the only reason why these structures have remained standing even now.

Earlier the structures were visible from NH24 but rampant construction and high rise buildings around it have obscured the view. The pavilions are in a dilapidated state; uncared and forgotten. A mute testimony of a time now gone.

One of the three Chhatris is almost completely gone as you can see. One of the other two is also breaking apart. The blue plaster-work or tile-work on a band around the Dome’s neck is only visible in a few places on the middle structure. Rest has vanished. I didn’t get enough time to study so will go again.

The inverted lotus finial is very prominent in one of the domes.

The chhatris or hazire come under the state archaeological department. ASI has washed its hands off these and they find no place in the list of monuments protected and maintained by them. GDA doesn’t give a care either.

The tombs have a striking resemblance to Yusuf Qattal’s tomb and style of masonry is similar to Jahaz Mahal. The delicate red sandstone pillars, lotus finial and blue tiles suggest it to be either Lodi period or Mughal. I’m no expert so just thinking aloud here. I may be wrong. The motifs are ornate and carved in the maroon tinge of Bharatpur sandstone. Lot of lattice screens were laying around here and there. You can view a few in the picture of the graves below.

The pavilions are often claimed to be from 16th century Mughal period. The local lore about this being the grave of sakka, the bhishti who saved Humayun’s life during the battle of Chausa, doesn’t seem probable to me. There are more than three graves inside the pavilions.

I’m still gathering information about these by discussing with various people who may know the right facts. Will update once something that pin points to the precise date and historical facts is found.

I wasn’t allowed in to inspect the pavilions closely as women aren’t allowed in kabristan ( graveyard) so the photos were taken from right near the gate. There were a very more that one of the young men had taken from my phone but I seem to have lost them. Will update if they’re found.

If you have any authentic documented information about these pavilions then please share.

Delhi Monuments – The Three Domed Mosque, Safdarjung Tomb


There is something about this Garden Tomb of Safdarjung that draws you in.  This was the last architectural project of Mughal era in Delhi and is perhaps one of the most underrated monuments too, mainly because of the constant comparison with much touted Humayun’s Tomb. Here is a blog I wrote about why You should go with an open mind to really enjoy its beauty. Safdarjung Tomb Complex  

Safdarjung’s full name was Wazir-ul-Hindustaan Abul Mansur Mirza Muhammad Muqim Ali Khan Safdarjung. He was also known as Nawab-Wazir, Nawab Wazir al-Mamalik, Subedar of Kashmir Agra & Oudh, Khan Bhadur, Meer-e-Atash and Firdaus Aaramgah. He was the most powerful governor and the state of Awadh or oudh virtually became independent of the Mughal empire under Safdar Jung and his successors till it was annexed by the British in 1857.

The tomb complex is also known as Mansur ka Maqbara and like most monuments of Delhi this too holds interesting nooks and corners which usually visitors tend to ignore.

This post isn’t really about the tomb but about the beautiful little double storey mosque, with its three gorgeous onion shapes domes, built to the right of the exquisite main entrance of the tomb complex. The mosque was supposedly made by Safdarjung’s wife. if true then it is one of the few mosques commissioned by women, another one is Khair ul Manazil mosque.

You get the best view of mosque from the high platform of the tomb.  It is fascinating to watch the lingering shadows, the filtering sunlight and the tree branches making patterns on its wall.  The onion shaped striped domes, the slender cuboidal minarets and the pointy finials emerging from floral base atop the domes are exquisite to look at all times of the day. Interestingly the floral base isn’t Lotus as was the norm in those days. The place is full of intrigue and surprises. The placement of the mosque is unusual but it was built as part of the mausoleum.  The exterior of the domes has distinct stripes of red sandstone and marble veneer. Haven’t seen anything so beautiful in Delhi at least.

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Visitors are allowed entry to the mosque’s square only on Friday for the prayers and an iron grill blocks the entry on rest of the days. It isn’t possible to click the mosque from the small courtyard since most of it is veiled by the awnings that stretch from side to side to provide shade to the devotees. Also, the walls of the numerous chambers that flank the gateway and span the space around obscure much of the mosque.

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These chambers were meant for the students of a madrasa (Islamic seminary) that was commissioned and supported by Safdarjung’s descendants, but now these too are inaccessible. Locked and closed gates aren’t a new feature for those who wander around Delhi monuments. Delhi has enough phenomenal architectural hidden treasures not accessible to public . No one tells why access is denied. The other functional mosques don’t have access issues so it is sort of baffling about this one. Perhaps someone can explain the reason.

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Last year,  I was fortunate to get access to the beautiful but neglected wuzu khana or the ablution tank chamber located on the lower level. There is a small gate on the right (usually latched) inside the grand eastern entrance to the tomb complex that leads to the corridor leading to the wuzu khana and the mosque . The wuzu tank has a fountain in it. The place has lost most of its engravings which were perhaps similar to those on the main gateway. Just imagine how gorgeous this would have looked when it was used for ablution before going upstairs for prayers. The central arch of the mehrab has a floral engraving.

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Most mosques do not have a fountain.  Only three mosques in Delhi, including this one, have a fountain in wuzu khana. The Kalan Masjid at Turkman Gate has a fountain in the tank that is used for wuzu, but it is made of Marble. The entire mosque is built with The Delhi Quartz Stone and was built in the time of Feroz Tugalaq when the use of Sand Stone and Marble wasn’t common and because these stones had to be brought from Rajasthan so the fountain could be a later addition.

Fatehpuri Mosque too has a fountain. This was built in the 17th century and so the marble fountain could be an original.

So, this is a unique feature of this particular mosque and I seriously hope that the waterworks are revived here and the structure is restored properly without making it garish eyesore like a few other restored ones.

Interestingly, a drawing of Safdarjung Tomb scene by Willaim Daniell dated late 18th century shows a water body in the foreground. According to historian and Convener of the Delhi chapter of INTAC Swpana Liddle old maps reveal that this was in fact a stream, which rose in the Ridge, the part of it adjacent to present day Vasant Vihar, it flowed in a north-easterly direction, past Safdarjung’s tomb, through today’s Lodi Garden, and finally merged with the Barapulla nala.  No trace of this stream survives today. I wonder if that water-body fed the water to the Wuju khana. I lot of questions need answers and I will update as I come to know.

Unfortunately both the mosque and the Mansur (Safdarjung) ka madarsa don’t get enough footfall for the authorities to look after these structures. This mosque was opened for Friday prayers in the 1980s and  like monuments used for prayers such as Jama Masjid, the Puri temple and many other old temples, mosques and Churches is not under ASI protection. Since the authorities responsible for these structures do not spend money on maintenance the heritage buildings are generally neglected. The ASI, perpetually short of funds, does not care too much for monuments which are not totally under their care. Allowing prayers in protected monuments is a clear violation of law but laws are often violated in our country. Call them religeous or political whims and a setback to our collective heritage.

I could spend only a short time inside the mosque corridor leading towards wuzu khana and mosque so couldn’t examine it minutely. Neither could I see the entire mosque with the guard breathing down my neck. I could manage only a few photographs but hopefully one day I will get another chance to explore it in greater detail.

This is a quick post just to share some of the photographs and details. Will notify as and when I update it.

I hope this goddamn virus curls under some stone and goes into indefinite hibernation so that the lockdown is lifted and I can visit my favorite haunt. Meanwhile don’t forget the beauty that Delhi is with all its shortcomings.

Recipe – No Cook Chana Sattu Barfi


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I had posted a few versions of chana sattu (roasted bengal gram flour) laddus earlier but didn’t post the barfi as the process is the same. Some friends wanted me to share it separately so here it is – the no cook high protein chana sattu barfi. The good thing with sattu is you don’t need to cook it again as its already roasted. You just use it as it is and that is why  these barfi can be made by even those who don’t usually cook or make Indian sweets.

Note – To make sattu simply fine grind the plain roasted Bengal Gram, either with or without skin. You can mix them too. That’s it. It is that simple. I have the method and the nutrition aspect of sattu discussed in an old post. Do look it up. 

You can also buy sattu from the market. Sometimes I buy organic sattu from Aadya or Just Organik, both sattus are fragrant and made from organically grown chana.

To make the Barfi take 1 cup of chana Sattu, 1 tablespoon of warm ghee (clarified butter), 1/4 tsp green cardamom and two tablespoons of fine shakkar or jaggery powder. Make sure to use jaggery or shakkar that’s not chemically treated. I’ve used Organic India’ powdered jaggery which is very good. 

Rub the ingredients together and mix well. There should be no lumps.

Grease a thali or tin lightly with ghee and spread rhe mixture evenly. Let it set for sometime. I keep for 15 minutes or so. Once set you can cut it in rectangular shape.

You can add powered almonds and chopped raisins too but I don’t always like add-on in the melt in the mouth barfi so keep it simple.

You can garnish with finely chopped dryfruit too. Like I did with almonds in some. 

Enjoy the high protein, nutritious, quick and easy Barfi at any time of the day. You can individually wrap them in butter paper as a lunchbox sweet or on the move energy sweet too. Best for small hungers when you are on the move. Ghee is good fat if used correctly and here we use minimal amount just to bind the mixture. 

Check out the other Sattu recipes on the blog too.

Recipe – Boozy Watermelon Granita


 

A juicy red watermelon at the counter made me realise that I never shared the recipe of this super delicious boozy Granita I made last year.  This frozen dessert is perfect treat in this searing heat, super refreshing and delicious.  Let’s say it’s a fancy version of your childhood favorite, the shaved ice with syrups. Barf ka gola.. kala khatta being my favorite. 🙂 

Making Granitas require no special skills, just a little patience, a fork and a deep dish like a loaf pan is all that’s needed. You can use cantaloupes, strawberries or any other fruit too but somehow watermelon is my favourite. Look at that color. Also, they are perfect to make granita with because they contain 92% water in the form of juice.

Go easy on Vodka or the Granita will become a slushy. I usually add it after first two scrapping. Never fails to give that robust flavor.

This one also has fresh ginger juice, crushed fresh mint leaves, lemon juice and zest, a touch of wild forest honey and Smirnoff. Go easy on Vodka or the Granita will become a slushy. I usually add it after first two scrapping. Never fails to give that robust flavor. You can use cantaloupes, strawberries or any other for this Granita and use Gin instead or Vodka if you prefer that.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small watermelon, peeled and deseeded
  • 130ml vodka
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • Honey as per the sweetness of fruit
  • Fresh crushed mint leaves
  • 2 tbsp fresh Ginger juice

Method :

Choose a ripe, juicy watermelon. Chop and take out the flesh in a bowl. Discard the seeds.

In a blender jar add chopped watermelon, mint, honey, ginger juice, lemon zest, lemon juice and half the vodka. Blend nicely till smooth. Do it in batches to get a even consistency. Remember that the frozen treats taste less sweet than unfrozen ones so add slightly more honey to the pureed fruit.

Transfer the puree into a large bowl then strain it through a seive into a deepd dish / cake tin or loaf tin. I used a 9″ loaf tin. Cover the baking tin with a cling wrap. Freeze it for 2-3 hours. 

Check to see if the ice crystals have started to begin. Take it out and drag a fork over the Granita to break the ice, scrape it from sides till you get to the less frozen parts,  cover and put it again in the freezer for 50 minutes. Do it a couple of times. During the second round add the remaining Vodka and mix well. You can use sugar, maple syrup or agave nectar for sweetening too. I like the taste if raw organic honey.

Repeat the process until the entire mixture is properly frozen and shaved. Store the Granita covered in plastic wrap till ready to use.

Scoop and serve garnished with muddled mint and chilled watermelon and lemon wedges.

 

 

 

 

 

Wayfaring Review : A Journey Beyond the Baggage of Pronouns In the tradition of Hafez, Rumi and Al Arabi – Djelloul Marbrook


I have been absent from blogging since long for various personal reasons. Once the issues are resolved I’ll try to be regular. Meanwhile please keep showing love on my personal Instagram page. That’s where all the action is right now. 

This is the pre launch book review of my second book Wayfaring.  The website on which it was published is not working and many of my readers missed this exceptional piece of writing. 

Djelloul Marbrook is a friend and editor-in-chief of The Arabesques Review Magazine where the review was first published.

I am sharing this with permission from the writer.

Originally from Algeria, Djelloul now lives in the USA. An exceptional poet, writer, he’s someone I look up to as a student learning the craft of writing. I feel very honoured that he took time out to read and write such a glorious review for a book very close to my heart.

 Here is the full review:

A Journey Beyond the Baggage of Pronouns,In the tradition of Hafez, Rumi and Al Arabi

(Wayfaring Tikuli, Leaky Boot Press, UK, 134pp, $12.70)

You is the crucial word in this riverine collection of poems. In their often apostrophic poise they recall Louis Malle’s Phantom India (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phantom_India), the 1969 film that memorably traces the bloodstream of the subcontinent.

When a poet says the I word once too often poems become forests of girders, obstructing our vision. But the poet Tikuli uses the word to stir the elements of nostalgia, melancholy and fragility until all are ennobled. That is the role of the word in her alchemical project. 

Those three elements in the wrong hands smudge the past, blur it, but in the right hands, in Tikuli’s hands, Wayfaring (https://www.amazon.com/Wayfaring-Tikuli/dp/1909849545) becomes a singular act of recollection, reminding us that the unrecollected life is a job left undone, a mission unaccomplished, a task reneged. 

I see him, I see him

standing there, a body trapped in soul, 

always watching

the memories and the rubble of our home….

the poet says at the beginning of “Ghosts of War.” The I is not about her, it’s about activating an elixir, about taking us to a bombed, ruined mosque, to a ghost.  

Tikuli’s use of the pronoun you, the second person, is Sufic when it least seems so. The You of this device is the Sufi dervish’s Beloved. A man or a woman or a child or some other living thing may stand in for the Beloved, but the Beloved, who may be addressed erotically or casually or conversationally, is always that “cloud of unknowing,” that divine idea into which eventually we disappear.

The love poem of the dervish may pass society’s inspection as a tale or an ode or an elegy or a sensual adventure, but at heart it’s always a prayer, a participation in a holy, a celestial project. 

Tikuli is a skilled plein air painter; her palette of words is spare, meticulously chosen and applied in a variety of metrical patterns that, while not avant-garde, are modernist and reliable. The reader is never required to study her metrics; her focus is on the act of recollection and its requisite imperative. She has stories to tell, portraits to paint, ghosts to address, and issues to redress.

The impulse to call Wayfaring a stately transit from irregular ode to free-form ballade is checked by Tikuli’s eschewal of standard metric schemes and rhyme, and to claim that Wayfaring is nonetheless just such a transit, as I do, opens the door to a brief discussion of rhyme in modern poetry. 

End-rhyme bears with it, unlike internal rhyme, a kind of closure, and that closure is not in concert with the rush of cyber-age information and the inquiries that rush requires. End-rhyme, unless it’s handled with extraordinary subtlety, the kind Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Butler Yeats possessed, tends to trip up and shut down inquiry. That’s why Tikuli and other modernists so often dispense with it, preferring assonance and other devices. But that makes modern poetry difficult to characterize without a new poetics. 

In singing of exile, loss, remembrance, grief, journey, Tikuli often uses the pronoun you as Sufi and other mystic poets used thou, to address, to praise, to love, to mourn, but, above all, to open the door to what can be recollected, what can be salvaged, learned, what can be turned into light in the same way a solar lantern collects sunlight all day to illuminate night. Such a lantern must be placed, as these poems are, in a certain order to create a path. That’s why at the very end of Wayfaring the poet says:

….until the sun explodes in my room

separating the night from dark

naked, I wait somewhere between

a lighter shade of white

and a darker shade of black

Tikuli is one of poetry’s antidotes to the fatal, calamitous insistence on being right that besets so many societies. That insistence turns a blind eye and a blank mind to the distinctions she makes in this passage, and in so doing it menaces us. Tikuli offers the eternal aspiration of the dervish to make something in praise of the holy whole to which we belong.

One of Wayfaring‘s triumphs is to give us a collection that, like prayer beads, progresses not only to a way of responding to what befalls but a way of enhancing our observation of what we encounter. Wayfaring‘s strung poems integrate peripheral with head-on vision: the sidelong glance is not lost to central vision, and for that reason in her work we see through much better than human eyes, sometimes the way a circling hawk sees the inhabitants of a field or wood. But the poems don’t merely report, they imagine the songs of people and place. They move like a pavane from the forests of I to the seas of you to the heavens of they, no small feat for any poet. 

Consider the last five lines of her poem, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nizamuddin_Auliya):

Two lovers completing each other

like reunited hemispheres.

It is this cosmos wherein exists

the inexpressible, visible only

to those with eyes which can see.

It’s the poet’s ambition to express the inexpressible. But to do that, ego must be divested. That’s at the heart of Sufism. It’s what the Sufi saint of the poem understood so indelibly. It’s what Hafez, Khayyam and Ibn al Arabi, among many others, understood. Finally, beyond the I, you and they is the holy of holies into which the wayfarer must disappear. None of the pronouns suffice, nor do our names and our possessions. 

Addressing the Beloved in poetry is rather like alchemy. To win the patronage of rulers, those coveters of wealth, the alchemists said they intended to transmute base metals into gold. But their real purpose, the best of them, was to ennoble the human soul by finding the elixirs that would ennoble the soul’s baser elements. That’s what is happening when poets like Khayyam and Hafez and Tikuli address you. This you is an elixir.

We wayfare to become the verb, to absolve ourselves of the profane pronouns and the nouns. Wayfaring is testament to this recognition.

                                                                         —Djelloul Marbrook

Delhi Monuments – Lal Gumbad


 

Wandering around Delhi you may come across many pieces of history now forgotten and lost to time. One such lesser visited monument is the Tomb of Sufi saint Sheikh Kabiruddin Auliya known as Lal Gumbad. Oblivious to the hustle bustle around it the elegant building stands in a gated walled complex in utter neglect. Though it is in comparatively good state the other structures that lay scattered in the ground around it are a repository of decay.

Sheikh Kabiruddin Auliya is believed to belong to the Chishti Silsila. The Sufi saints were known for their piety and simplicity and never had such grand tombs of marble and sandstone built over their graves. Mostly they were modest enclosures, usually open from the sides. It is believed that Kabiruddin was a disciple of Sufi saint Roshan Chirag Delhi, who was the spiritual successor of the world-renowned Nizamuddin Auliya.

Most of the saints of Chisti order were buried in open grounds and later chatris wee built over the graves. Many other graves, wall mosques would come up around the saint’s grave over a period of time. This particular tomb is not just grand as a structure it has ornate walls, pierced jaali screens, and, according to the local lore, gold filial atop the dome which is thought have been stolen centuries ago. And yet, the plaque inside the tomb ascribes it to the saint. There are many theories about the structure and one such says that it was built by Firoz Tughlaq for himself but later given for the Sufi saint’s burial.

Situated in Sadhna Enclave, Malviya Nagar, this sandstone structure of Tughlaq period is known as Lal Gumbad though it doesn’t have a red dome. How it acquired the name is a mystery. It does have sloping red sandstone walls. The somewhat pointed and not so round dome used to be white but has blackened over the period of time.

If you look at the structure it resembles a mini fort rather than a saint’s Dargah. In appearance it reminds one of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq’s tomb, albeit this tall square structure is a poor replica of it. Built in 1397, it is a typical example of Tughlaq architecture. The structure stands on a raised plinth and has sturdy sloping walls covered with strips of dressed red sandstone that turn slightly inwards as they go up. The Tughlaq tombs had walls with thick base making it easy for the single dome to sit properly atop the squat building. The plastered conical dome springing from the low octagonal drum of this tomb is strikingly different than other Tughlaq era tombs.

On the North and South side walls one can see mihrabs with ornate sandstone jaalis. The west wall exterior is plain from outside but has a deeply recessed arch inside. One can see lotus bud motifs in marble on the arches that have false decorative pillars below them. The Eastern archway is elaborately carved and as one enters the damp, dark funerary chamber one comes across nine graves. The grave of a male in the center is a somber one. One can see a lot of lotus bud ornamentation in marble inside, very typical of Khilji period in my opinion, though I am not an expert. The great wooden door is kept locked mostly to prevent worshiping I guess.

The tomb is also known as Rakabala gumbad due to the story that rakhabs were fixed on the western slopping wall to steal the gold finial.

The exquisite domed gateway is now gone and so have the enclosure walls. The whole place, except the main tomb, looks more ruinous than what it was even say 10 months back. Not that the tomb of Hazrat Shaikh Kabir-ud-din Aulia is in perfect condition. The massive wooden door is charred from below due to the burning of incense sticks, earthen lamps etc. Overgrowth has taken over many of the dilapidated structures there. Encroachments and sheer neglect has caused the eastern gateway to become dilapidated. Its floor has eroded and is in dire need of repair.

The other domed structure in the complex is filthy and smells disgusting. I think it also acts as a store. I couldn’t approach the wall next to it as there was garbage of all sorts, broken glass and an overgrowth of low thorny bushes. Why aren’t the concerned authorities maintaining this place? Going by the photographs of last 5-6 years things have just deteriorated. The way things are going we will lose most of the lesser known monuments due to sheer neglect and apathy. I think all these gated monuments should be ticketed. It will definitely improve the situation.

There are several scattered graves and remains of at least five wall mosques in the enclosed area around the tomb. All of these belong to Lodi period. The most prominent one is located to the west of Lal Gumbad. Here, there are recessed arches on the western prayer wall and two short walls returning on the North and South too contain arches. One can see some fading incised plasterwork depicting floral motifs as well as geometrical shapes on the main qanati (wall) masjid.

There is a platform in front of the wall with a single grave. The corners of the western wall are strengthened by circular bastions. Two other mosques have three mihrabs and a third one has a single mihrab.

Everything is surrounded by weeds and grass. It is remarkable how these structures have withstood the ravages of time. Nothing much is known about who is buried in these graves. Perhaps people who were close to the saint.

Many locals were lounging around the grassy patches that cover some of the space in the complex. No tourists were there and according to the local boys hardly any visit the place as it is infested with bad elements mainly gamblers and addicts. I could feel the piercing gaze of young men who were killing time there.

The 620-year-old tomb, one of the finest pre-mughal structures and the ruins around it are dying a slow death. There is a dire need to preserve Delhi’s built heritage.

As I walked around the unkempt but manicured grounds that once formed the fourth city of Delhi- Jahanpanah, founded by Muhammad Bin Tuglaq, I thought about the times we live in and the ruinous state of affairs that have marred the social fabric of our country once known to be secular and tolerant. In retrospective these abandoned ruins seemed calming to the senses.

Unfortunately I missed out photographing some important aspects of the place. I will update the post when I click a few more pictures.

Meanwhile do take time out and visit these exquisite yet unknown remnants of our cultural and architectural heritage.

Delhi Monuments – Ambling through Green Park – Barakhamba And Biran Ka Gumbad


During the fifteenth century Delhi had such a large number of tombs and other monuments that it became difficult to keep up with them . The area around Hauz Khas, Green Park and its surrounding localities are dotted with such beautiful but forgotten buildings. Only a handful have found a place in the tourist map rest are just scattered around inconsequential and insignificant to the history and to city folks who pass by them without even giving a glance. Though in recent years ASI has given many of them a facelift but still they don’t attract the attention they should. Heritage  for us has become a liability rather than a matter of pride. Thankfully these particular set of  structures are at least free of encroachment and it better condition many of their counterparts.

Barahkhamba 

Close to the two picturesque gumtis stands a massive yet magnificent Barah Khamba or twelve pillared domed structure though, unlike the three other structures in the city with the same name, this one doesn’t seem to have the twelve pillars or columns. The name is misleading but it is clearly a Lodi period tomb with all the characteristics of that architectural style. Like most of the tombs around it nothing much is known about who is buried here or who commissioned or built it.

The structure stands in the middle of a small well maintained garden patch with two minor yet interesting structures near it. The impressive domed square building is supported by pillars of different girth and the corner ones seem like solid buttressed walls though from inside one can count the twelve columns with walled spaces between a few. The building had cenotaph inside which has long since fallen to the ravages of time but there are still numerous graves in the compound shaded with heavy tree branches. All four sides of the building have three arched entrances. These arched entrances are embedded in a wider arched depression giving the structure a massive look. Set on a mound the structure stands on a 2 feet six inches plinth with a hemispherical dome on top. One can imagine the barren walls of its interior with engravings of some other embellishments.

Two very interesting structures stand close to the structure – a single worn out bastion which seems as if it may have been part of some other structure but looks totally out of place now and a square structure with an alcove / niche that may have been used to light an earthen lamp as the stories say but I feel it may have probably held a horizontal beam or something. Perhaps there were one each at all the four corners. We will never know the mysteries these orphaned structures hold. There is a dried up well too in the compound.

Overall the place carries an aura of mystery and desolation. Not many people spot it in one glace through the thick trees and high walls and grills and those who do somehow prefer the serene and lush green patches of the other smaller structures opposite the road. I didn’t see any caretaker or guard but a roadside vendor said he is usually around somewhere but doesn’t know anything about the building and in any case not many are curious to know what lies beneath in the graves. One day everything will turn into a ruin. Even these big sprawling houses will crumble perhaps even before the ancient structures he said and glanced around the changing landscape of the city with sad eyes.  I bought a dona of chaat from him and walked away reflecting on his wise words.

Biran Ka Gumbad 

Right opposite the main Green Park market is another nondescript tomb that hardly anyone visits. Earlier there was a small entrance from the Agrasen Park but now one has to go to the narrow lane to access the monument. Sandwiched between a row of houses and a park it is totally disconnected from public view and easy to miss. The patch of greenery that surrounds it is smaller than previous ones I visited. Perhaps the reason to have a separate entrance was to stop encroachment and that seems to have worked.

As one ambles around these lanes of old kharera village one can see why Delhi became a necropolis in times of Sayyids and Lodis. The number of nondescript tombs and graves is ridiculously high. Some of these are octagonal or square and others like a pavilion or chattri.

Biran ka Gumbad means ‘Brother’s Dome’, perhaps an indication towards the nearby Dadi -Poti tombs but all these names are locally given. No authentic historical documentation is there about the identity of these various tombs. They all remain uninscribed and unclaimed. The rubble built design is similar to Dadi ka Gumbad except for the absence of arched openings flanking the and the archways embedded in the sides and the mihrab.

It is a massive 13 meters x 13 meters structure built in typical Lodi style. As you climb the seven steps your thoughts wander to the seven ancient cities of Delhi and their remnants scattered all around the present metropolis. The Afghans ruled over Delhi from 1451 to 1526 as Lodhi Dynasty. 500 plus years of ancient footprints and these tombs, a testimonial to that time. 

 

Inside the high ceiling single chamber there is a ruined remains of a cenotaph.  At one time perhaps it had beautiful incised and plastered medallions and remnants of painted decorations but most is lost now. The exterior is decorated with arched niches arranged in a row giving it an impression of double storeyed building.

There is a remaining strip of ornamentation here and there along the exterior walls.

In the compound there is a dried up well which is about 10-15 feet deep.

There is nothing spectacular about the structure and yet it draws your attention to come and explore, perhaps run your fingers along the stones and feel the heartbeats of a million stories. Gaze at it for sometime and you automatically feel drawn to it.

Most of the time the place is deserted. The caretaker said not many people visit it and those who do hardly stop for more than ten minutes. At night the tomb is lit up like all the others in the vicinity but I doubt if anyone gives it even a glance.

It is sad and I am reminded of these lines by William Henry Davis,

” What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.”

 

Do go visit these forgotten relics of the time by. I have covered most of the monuments in this area. Today there is another adventure awaiting.

Stay tuned for it to reveal itself.