Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Sindhi Papad

Vikram Doctor curates a very high-quality food podcast. A week or so ago, he called to ask me if I could tell him something about Sindhi papad. I was reluctant because, though I have written a book about Sindhi stories and all, I don’t really know that much. To be honest, I do enjoy my papad, but it is not a tradition from childhood meals or anything like that. I told him I’d try and find out what I could and a few days later told him what I’d found out.
When I listened to the podcast, I must say I was impressed with the depth of Vikram Doctor’s research. At the low end of the spectrum was my own voice – embarrassingly pontificating. There was also one moment in one of the podcast interviews which I felt was unduly facetious. There’s a fairly widespread tendency to mock Sindh and Sindhis and I feel it is necessary to avoid anything low and of that nature.
Papad is certainly a Sindhi staple – that much even I know. But not everyone understands the strength that this simple staple embodies.
Angan of a joint family in Sindh
Watercolour on art paper by Menghraj Talreja (b1924)
Collection of Sanjay and Barbara Mohinani
In the old days in Sindh, papad was made at home. Women and children worked together in the angan, the courtyard, of the family home making the dough and rolling it out and laying it on mats to dry.
After Partition, families splintered, people moved to new homes and took time to settle down. Many enterprising women of families who had suddenly lost everything and had no means of income started making papad and pickle at home and walked from door to door, selling their produce to the better-off Sindhis in the towns and cities where they – equally displaced and confused – had settled, but not settled sufficiently to be making their own papad yet. Papad-making is a tedious and time-consuming process, and very soon more and more families were outsourcing from the displaced women who made it their profession.
Papad is eaten and enjoyed all over India but for the people of Sindh it has always been a staple. Sindhi hospitality is famous – when a Sindhi family is expecting a visitor, the first thing on their minds is what they are going to serve to eat and drink. A guest to a traditional Sindhi home would be greeted with papad and a glass of water, and this would invariably be followed by something more elaborate.  
Nobody seems to know the origins of papad but in a dry and blazing hot province of very little rainfall, in a time before refrigeration and air-conditioning, before even the waters of the bountiful Indus were diverted into a widespread irrigation system, it’s easy enough to imagine the process of evolution by which papad naturally emerged from leftovers in Sindhi kitchens!
The most common Sindhi papad is made with a mixture of urad dal spiced with lots of black pepper. Some people add jeera, hing and other flavours. The stiff dough is rolled out into circles like extra-thin rotis, placed on mats and dried in the sun. The papad is usually roasted on a flame and eaten, but on special occasions it is deep fried.
Goodies on sale outside Kailash Parbat, Mumbai
Sindhis also make wadi, kheecha and kachri which are different kinds of dried ready-to-fry goodies. Wadis are little nuggets of dal ground up and dried in the sun and they can also be added to gravy dishes. Kheecha are also papad, but made with rice or sago. Elderly Sindhi women relish their memories of eating deep-fried miteranji kachri with saeebhaji-khichdi, one of the most popular Sindhi meals. In Sindh, kachri was made from traditional Indian vegetables like bhindi, gawar, karela and padwal, spiced with salt, chilly powder, amchur and other flavours, and dried in the sun. Nowadays, vegetable kachri is rare and the terms kachri and kheecha tend to be interchangeable.
Roasted papad is a must at each meal in a traditional Sindhi family. Even breakfast of loli or alu-mani, or syel mani is always followed by papad. Papad is such a strong habit to many Sindhis that they absolutely must eat it with every single meal.
Among the Sindhi Bhaiband community which has trading outposts in every port across the globe, papad is rolled, dried, packed in the home country and sent out to the men in distant lands. In the early pioneering days of the community, they bootstrapped in faraway countries, enduring hardship and working to earn money for their families at home. They often had cooks who took care of their meals, but papad was rare. As they became prosperous, they could eat whatever they wanted and often arranged for consignments of papad from home.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Back in Mid-day, after a long while ...

Out of the blue, Dipanjan Sinha called a few days ago with questions about my paintings for Mid-day. I haven't shown for a while and it's gratifying to be remembered even after such a long gap.
1 Tell us about what inspired the series Bombay Clichés.
The idea was to use simple line strokes to portray the complexity that makes Mumbai an alluring symbol of the realities of the universe: constant movement, relentless expansion, predictable patterns, extremes of all kinds, seemingly precarious but perfectly reliable balance – and continuous change.
2 How long did it take to for the images accumulate and become the collection?
I started working in June 2005 and had my first exhibition of Bombay Clichés water colours at Bajaj Art Gallery, Nariman Point, in November the same year.  In February 2006 I had another exhibition, Love in Mumbai, acrylics on canvas, at the Oberoi Hotel gallery, Art Walk. This was a collection of devoted Mumbai couples working and living together oblivious of Valentine’s Day. My website came up in 2007 and I had a show every year in Mumbai till 2010. Now I paint mostly on commission, though when I see something intriguing I tend to rush home and pick up the paints.
Acrylic on canvas board 12"x12"
Collection of Shanth Mannige
Rainbow City
Acrylic on canvas board 12"x12"
3 What is the thought behind using the Madhubani style?
Decades ago I saw a British Library calendar with Madhubani drawings depicting London and thought how nice it would be to have something like that for Mumbai. I eventually realised that if I really wanted them I’d better get on with it and make some myself.

4 Tell us about your journey as an artist
As a child, my drawing was so bad that my Biology teacher sometimes held up my diagrams, which invariably provoked great hilarity in the class. I was more into stitch-craft, designing and executing needlework art, something I still do.
I can’t remember when my lines started flowing confidently but as an adult I doodled Ganpatis and they were quite popular. When I decided to do the Mumbai scenes, I planned black-and-white pictures on similar lines.
In those days, my three children were exceptional artists. Their early exposure came from Marina Dutta, who runs classes in her home in Colaba, supplemented by books about great artists visits to art galleries. When they grew older I invited art teacher Mahendra Damle to spend two or three days at a time at our home in Pune during the holidays and give them art workshops. It was Mahendra who brought me a book about Madhubani art in June 2005, explained the difference in fundamental concept between Western art and traditional Indian folk art, and then insisted I paint what I had drawn. About two weeks after I started, I went to see Mahendra at the JJ School of Art staff room, with my portfolio. He sat quietly for a while, looking at each painting carefully and then said, “Saaz, what you have done in these two weeks, people try their whole lives and can’t do.” This gave me the confidence to approach a gallery.
Tell me what you're thinking
Acrylic on roadside stone
Over the years, my writing has taken precedence over the painting. A few months ago, I got a call from Gauri Gandhi, a teacher at Flame University, asking if I’d participate in an event at Mandai, a beautiful old market in Pune. On 26 January 2016, a group of us sat with the vegetable vendors at Mandai at sold our wares – I did a basket of faces on roadside stones.

5 A lot of your work is on Mumbai. What about the city moves you?
For the first three years after I came to live in Bombay, from a privileged and cloistered childhood in the Nilgiris, I was in culture shock. Then a time came when I thought I would never live anywhere else. Now, nearly twenty-five years after defecting to more space and leisurely lifestyle in Pune, Mumbai is still the city to which for many reasons I feel most connected.
Part of the fascination is the complexity of so many different communities inextricably and often incongruously intertwined, coexisting in a fast-moving flux held together by the simple Mumbai parameters of goal-orientation, action-orientation, tolerance for discomfort, and straight talk.
Female education
Acrylic on canvas board 12"x12"

When I started working on my Bombay Clichés, I saw that my characters were turning out to be calm and self-contained, so caught up in their private worlds that the viewer was quite shut out. It reminded me of the feeling I’d had when I first arrived, of being an outsider. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Shikarpur boy who built a Rs10K empire

Yesterday, Pune lost one of its stalwarts of industry, PP Chabria. Founder and Chairman of the Finolex Group, Mr Chhabria died at 86 after a brief illness. He was widely known to be gentle, dignified and the personification of humility. He was also a man of extraordinary achievement.
Prahlad Parsram Chhabria was born into a wealthy business family of Karachi, on 12 March 1930. As a child, he spent happy times in his native town of Shikarpur, the love for which he carried to the end of his days. When his father died, he was just twelve years old. Within a short while, the family lost all its money. He was taken out of school and went to work in what turned out to be a series of menial jobs. As a helper in a cloth store, he got used to winding up bales of cloth, sweeping and even washing the shop owner’s lunch utensils. As a cleaner in a truck, he sat next to the Pathan driver and in a few weeks was able to converse with him in fluent Pushtu. After two months working with his brother-in-law in Amritsar, he had picked up Punjabi too. In later years, living in Pune, he invariably chose to address public gatherings in Marathi rather than English or Hindi.
On his way home to Karachi at the end of his stay in Amritsar, travelling alone by train, the young Prahlad woke in the morning to find that a currency note had been stolen from him. Shocked and upset, he had the courage to approach the railway police at the first halt, the tenacity to insist that the co-passenger he suspected be searched, and the remarkable power of memory and observation to prove that the note found was his: to the astonishment of the police constable, this young child knew the number on the note! PP Chhabria was that rare individual whose education ended when he was twelve years old but had the intelligence to learn every aspect of business on the job, and as he became established in business, he was always respected for his prowess in finance, sales, human resources and public relations.
In 1945, at the age of fifteen, PP Chhabria came to live with relatives in Pune working in their home and business to earn his keep. Two years later, the events following Partition caused his mother and brothers to flee from their home in Sindh and join him in Pune. Like many other displaced families, they started a small business of their own. By now he knew the city well and used this knowledge, bringing electrical goods from Bombay and supplying to local shopkeepers. It was this fledgling business that he grew to the Rs10,000 crore Finolex Group, working in close partnership with his younger brother, Kishan, KP Chhabria. In 1954, they established Finolex Cables and in 1981, Finolex Industries.
PP Chhabria was a loving family man, devoted to his wife Mohini and their three children, Aruna, Prakash and Sonali. In August 1981, tragedy struck and they lost Sonali to leukaemia. PP Chhabria had been a talented singer, excelling in the words and melodies of KL Saigal, Pankaj Mullick and others ever since he was a young child. After Sonali died, he stopped singing. His guru, Swami Ram Baba was a great source of strength through the difficult times of his life.
In the years to come, as Finolex grew from strength to strength, and PP Chhabria and his family established the Mukul Madhav Foundation and the Hope Foundation and Research Centre, active in the fields of medical assistance, education and social welfare. He also set up schools and an engineering college in Ratnagiri, always conscious of the lack of education in his own life and committed to providing opportunities to others.
first appeared in Pune Mirror under the heading The Karachi boy who built a Rs10K crore empire on 6 May 2016