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Tuesday, Oct 26, 2021
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Sweat Of Shiva’s Back

A cuisine hearthed of necessity and ingenuity

Sweat Of Shiva’s Back
Sweat Of Shiva’s Back
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

When the calendar year swings between famine and feast, when short spells of plenty intersperse with long periods of paucity, people learn two lessons from an early age: how to master hunger and to exercise ingenuity in the search for food. The Bhilala adivasis, who live in the hills of the Narmada valley, look to the monsoons to water their crops of maize, sorghum and millets, pulses and oilseeds. But when the rains are uncertain and the soil yields little, it is the forest that sustains them. Many adivasis now migrate to Gujarat for work, but a large number stay behind and eke out a living—and a creative cuisine—from their fields, forests and river.

In Vanjaria’s house, the availability of food ebbs and flows with the seasons. The monsoons are the worst; when the children die, when the grain stock from the previous year runs out, when prices rise and the money earned from migrant work in the summer no longer suffices. Meanwhile, there is the hard labour of ploughing, planting and weeding to do, far harder to accomplish on an empty stomach. Vanjaria’s wife Kandli grinds coarse a fistful of corn kernels, boils them into a soup that’s fermented overnight to make raabdi: a filling meal rather like sweet corn soup, though not as nutritious as jowar roti and dal spiked with red chillies and salt which they can eat once the new crop is in.

If it is a good harvest, Vanjaria’s family stays in the village through the year, killing the occasional chicken to provide hospitality to visiting relatives and sacrificing a goat to propitiate their gods and ancestors, or to celebrate a marriage. These occasions culminate in major feasts, where fiery goat curry is eaten with roti or jowar ghaat (sorghum meal) and washed down with liquor, home-brewed from mahua flowers collected from the...

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