BARANTI-A HAMLET OF PEACE AND COLORS

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Tucked away in a remote corner of Purulia District in West Bengal lies Baranti-a sleepy hamlet where your search for peace might end,where your thirst for seeing the colors of nature may be quenched,where life and nature are in perfect symphony to each other.Far  away from the humdrum of life or the excitement of any regular tourist place welcome to Baranti- the sleepy Santhal village abounding in natural beauty of a beautiful dam  and a lush green hill in perfect consonant to each other coupled with the orange blossoms of the Palash trees during spring  which forms a canopy on the entire stretch giving the landscape a hue which reminds one of the colors of the setting sun.A lake glistening in the sun rays,a quiet mountain standing as a spectator to life,a little road running across the dam,dusty red soil,village children playing around with flowers,elderly grazing the cow and ploughing the field,village women walking distances to collect drinking water…little snippets of everyday life in Baranti….you will definitely fall in love with the rustic silence and simplicity of the village.

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An hours drive from Asansol station crossing the Damodar River, passing through quaint raliway stations one can reach Baranti easily.An early morning train on a weekend from Howrah to Asansol and then a hours drive by a car or another ride in a local train to Muradi ,the nearest station one can easily reach the little village.The best time to visit Baranti is during winters if one  wants  to chill in the low temperatures or during spring if one wants to see the orange blossoms of the Palash trees….roads covered in the orange hue.If you like the rains lashing across lifting your tired spirits Baranti can be sensual as well in the rainy season.Eco resorts abound at Baranti…choose the one with an unhindered view of the lake and the hill.Sight of the early morning reflection of the hill in the waters of the lake , birds flying across one cannot but ponder in silence .

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If you are in Baranti and you are stressed due to the humdrum of daily life plan nothing.I planned Baranti in the middle of a week and was amply rewarded.The best way to chill is to sit in the balcony with the perfectly brewed tea or coffee ,a book of your favorite author and your favorite tune.Village boys came to sell little garlands of Palash for a mere Rs 10.Food never tasted so fresh and delicious to me …plain rice, dal with a hint of ghee, a mixed vegetable , fresh fish from the lakes and tomato chutney …an afternoon siesta.Life seemed best that afternoon at Baranti. As the sun was setting the winds became chilly and the best option was a walk across the road up to the end of the dam.

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The setting sun transformed the water magically -red,orange hues,glistening rays and ripples of the water…the view was ethereal.I walked across the lonely road up to the gates of the dam and the sat in silence .Back to the resort I was greeted with a spiced up tea,aloor chop and muri makha with bits of coconut,soaked grams,onions and whole green chillies. Simple yet delicious.Night descends fast at Baranti,howling of the wolves,prayers from a faraway mosque,fire flies ….a lovely dinner of a mildly flavored chicken curry made of local chicken or a plate of steaming hot khichuri with fritters .

 

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For those in a big group and wish to travel around an afternoon trip to Susunia and Biharinath hills are an option.The ancient stone inscriptions of King Chandravarman are found at Susunia. Stone carvings and Dokra artifacts can be seen at several adjoining villages.You can walk up to the the Gardeshwari river bank and the holy spring or if you are an amateur mountaineer try trekking and rock climbing.At Biharinath catch the sunset over the hills ,climb up the Shiva temple and visit Joychandi Hills of Hirak Rajar Deshey fame.

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When at Baranti you can leave a window of the room open and let the fresh air of the morning and the sun rays wrap you in its magical embrace.The mornings are as beautiful and pristine as the nights.After a cup of my favorite Earl grey and some Rabindra sangeet I ventured to the nearby Santhal village.A stop at the solitary village shop selling essentials I meandered my way to the village.The memory created there will be forever etched in my mind.Neat mud houses,artistic tribal motifs on the walls,village wells,the small primary school,little boys running around,women going about their daily chores,people walking miles ,the village market with only one vendor selling all the essentials,bullock carts,husk thrown around,utter poverty yet smiling faces….long winding roads,palash trees and the distant mountain.Untrained yet artistic skill par excellence of the villagers,environment consciousness that too not taught but acquired,cleanliness amidst scarcity of water….lessons of life one can learn from the villagers.

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An early lunch with the typical Bengali chorchori made from vegetables freshly picked from the fields and the fragrant macher jhol with a touch of mustard paste ,I decided to go for a short trip to Garpanchakot and Panchet Dam.

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Panchkot was part of an ancient East Indian kingdom known as Rajchakla Panchkot, locally known as Panchet. Damodar Sekhar established Panchkot Raj probably during early 90 AD with the help of Sardars of Jhalda. To give recognition to the main five clans of the locals the kingdom was named Panchkot. The Sing Deo Dynasty  ruled Panchkot for 800 years . Panchkot Giri has its references in the Puranas also. The place was then known as Sekhar Bhum from which the founder king of Singh Deo Dynasty Damodar Sekhar derived his name. The kingdom was probably a part of old Tilakampa Kingdom. The ruins of Telkupi, went under water after the construction of Panchet Dam. The ruins of the Garh (Fort) of Singh Deo Dynasty  and a group of temples is still standing as mute spectators of the rise & fall of the dynasty. The temples are of different architectural styles, the principal one being a Pancharatna temple accompanied by JorBangla type and more than one Pirha type temples made of stone. The Pancharatna temple still carries some depleted but exquisite piece of presumably pre-muslim period terracotta  work on its arches and pillars. Around 1600 AD, Garhpanchkot came under the rule of the famous king Bir Hambir of Bishnupur Malla Dynasty, . The Maratha raiders, locally known as Bargis, ransacked the place in the 18th century.The great poet Michael Madhusudan Dutt visited the place during 1872 for a short period as an estate manager of Singh Deo dynasty. He wrote three poems on Panchkot namely Panchkot giri, Panchkotoshyo Rajosre  and Panchkot Giri Biday Sangeet.

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The temple has been restored by the Archaeological Survey of India .The terracotta panels are in good shape now.The gate to the temple still stands in lost grandeur,the remains of the palace ,the minars are a mute spectator to history.The overgrown weeds and grasses gives the ruins a feeling of lost in time.Close to the ruins one can stay overnight in a eco resort. If one prefers to spend a night in the jungle a good option would be the property of WBFDC. I decided to catch the sunset from the expanse of the Panchet Dam,one of the engineering marvels of post independent India.The return to Baranti in the full moon night amidst village roads and jungles was filled with a muted excitement of the unknown.The ever smiling manger of the resort served coffee with great chicken pakoras. Dinner was my favorite comfort food – rice,boiled potatoes ,boiled egg and a thin lentil soup charged up with hot green chilies and spoonful of pure mustard oil.

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To leave Baranti and its sunshine,its cool breeze,the little boys,the palash flowers,the silent lake was heart breaking.Yet life moves on and as I bade goodbye to the red soil,the orange blooms and the mountains I made a promise to myself….to be back again soon.

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LITTLE FACTS

  • Take an early morning train from Howrah to Asansol- Shatabdi or Black diamond Express would be best.Ask your resort to send a car.
  • If you are keen on driving from Kolkata take the Delhi road up to Asansol then turn towards Purulia. Then finally turn towards Baranti from Muradi which is 8 km from Asansol on the Asansol Purulia road.
  • There are a range of resorts at Baranti suiting every pocket-the oldest being Akashmoni. Others are Palashbari,Ankhaibari .The most luxurious being Spanglers Resort.I stayed at Lake Hill Resort which has the best unrestricted views of the lake and the hills.
  • Do not expect various cuisines at the resorts but the taste of simple Bengali dishes will leave you satiated and happy.
  • Best buy are local dokra handicrafts,stone sculptures and handmade masks.
  • Best season to go are the winters,the spring and the rainy season.
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The wonder of Corn….Across time,nations and taste.

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Every time we go to watch a movie in a multiplex or visit a food court in some mall the aroma of buttered sweet corn in all its variations are hard to resist.If we are thinking of a vegetarian starter for our party Crispy Sweet Chilli Baby Corn or a Corn on the Cob are a common choice.If we have a vegetarian friend coming over  a Corn Mushroom Pulao is always an easy choice.Corns in all is forms have really caught the imagination and the palate  of the urban Indian from the last ten years .Corn or bhutta  however has been a staple in rural Indian vegetarian household in the central and northern parts of India since historical periods.The history of corn and how it evolved in cuisines worldwide is worth a study.

People living in Central Mexico developed corn at least 7000 years ago. It was started from a wild grass called Teosinite. Teosinite looked very different from the corn we see today. The kernels were small and were not placed close together like kernels on the husked ear of modern corn. From Mexico maize spread north into the Southwestern United States and south down the coast to Peru. About 1000 years ago, as Indian people migrated north to the eastern woodlands of present day North America, they brought corn with them. When Columbus “discovered” America, he also discovered corn. During the first Thanksgiving celebrated in 1621 while sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie were not on the menu, Indian corn certainly was. Columbus received corn as a gift from the Indians he encountered in the Caribbean and carried it back to Spain, where it quickly caught on and became a staple. With a short time, it was grown in Europe and through out the world. The process of maize domestication radically changed it from its origins. Modern maize has hundreds of exposed kernels attached to a cob which is completely covered by husks and so cannot reproduce on its own..The earliest undisputed domesticated maize cobs were from Guila Naquitz cave in Guerrero, Mexico, dated about 4280-4210  BC. Eventually, maize spread out from Mexico, probably by the diffusion of seeds along trade networks rather than migration of people. It was used in the southwestern United States by about 3,200 years ago, and in the eastern United States beginning about 2,100 years ago. Young corn was used as a vegetable, and the dry kernels were ground into flour and used for baking. People also learned to prepare the corn into bread, soup, pudding and fried corn cakes. Today, corn has become the most widely grown crop in the western hemisphere. It is a staple in Latin American diets, and in the United States alone corn has given rise to regional specialties as Grits, Hush Puppies, Ashcakes, Dodgers, Muffins, Cracklin’ Bread, Johnny Cakes, and Corn Pone.

European settlers were content with this colorful corn until the summer of 1779 when they found something more delectable — a yellow variety with sweeter and more  tender kernels. This unusual variety came to light that year after George Washington ordered a scorched-earth campaign against Iroquois tribes. While the militia was destroying the food caches of the Iroquois and burning their crops, soldiers came across a field of extra-sweet yellow corn. According to one account, a lieutenant named Richard Bagnal took home some seeds to share with others. Our old-fashioned sweet corn is a direct descendant of these spoils of war.

While western cuisine has effortlessly experimented and incorporated corn it is only in recent time that corn is being blended with Indian flavors suiting the Indian palate.Whether it is a plateful of Corn Fritters-clusters of corn,gram flour and spices   fried crisp or it is a Kebab made out of corn, potatoes and cheese the option for a spread is endless. Choose between a Corn Pomegranate Salad or a Corn Potato thick Soup as a starter. Don’t forget to make Baby Corn Pakodas or  a Corn Tart with cheese. Serve the Corn Pulao with a Charcoal roasted Corn and a Corn Capsicum Masala .Regional cuisine in India too has incorporated corn or bhutta for some time now.Whether it is the famous Makki da Roti using corn flour in Punjab or the Bhutte ki Keesh -the famous street food of Indore ,corn has been used in various regional variations.

There is nothing more comforting than a movie date with your bestie and a cup of buttered corn in the middle…..the sweetness,the crunch ,the buttery texture….Keep enjoying life .

 

FOOD UNITING NATIONS -SARHAD UNTOLD STORIES OF PARTITION (1947)

Nations, states, and borders are constructs. They are imagined , fluid, and are a complex phenomena. Borders either confirm differences or disrupt units that belong together by defining, classifying, communicating and controlling geopolitical, socio- cultural, economic and biophysical aspects, processes and power relations. Borders represent the edges of the reified imaginaries of polities and societies, their power and their territorial control. They divide and they are crossed. They are lines and transitions. Borders are limits and opportunities.State borders which provide the structure for the state are found crisscrossing the globe, delineating spaces, and raising barriers to movement and trade. At the heart of any nation are common traits like religion, language, culture and ethnicity. These characteristics create the national identity that reinforces the construct of the nation by identifying who those in the nation are as well as who they are not. In this sense, nations are as imaginary as states and their borders . Both are constructed in the minds of those who participate. Without people participating, they cease to exist. Borders are increasingly complex human responses and social constructions in a world where the globalizing forces of instant communication, expedited travel and enhanced economic flows, confront the basic \nhuman concerns for security and certainty. As people migrate, generations of stories, traditions and ideas naturally travel with them, and are introduced to an entirely new land. Food culture too travels as well as are constricted by borders .Ina new imaginary land it evolves with the history of a nation as well as through time responding to shifts in environment, politics, economy.

From the land stretching beyond Hindukush till Bay of Bengal in East, Arabian Sea in West and mighty Indian Ocean in South came to be known as the Indian Subcontinent. The biggest onslaught on the concept of united India came in the form of Radcliff Line, which divided British India in two independent countries India and Pakistan in 1947. It was named after its architect, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who, as chairman of the Border Commissions, was charged with equitably dividing 175,000 square miles of territory with 88 million people. The line separates India and Pakistan from the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat till international border in Jammu & Kashmir as well as dividing Bengal.With this man made division following no logic or rationale the subcontinent was divided across villages and even homes.But it being imaginary and a construct failed to divide the culture and with it most importantly its food culture.Differentiated by man-made markings of flags, check-posts and guards, the exit and entry points in a sense the borders become vividly illustrative of imposed differences.Yet similarities in food taste,method of cooking persist and illustrative of such bonding stands Sarhad ,a restaurant barely a kilometer from the famed Wagah border and Attari,the last village on the Indian subcontinent.Peace through food is the driving force behind the concept of the restaurant

People and the lore they create, including food ways, cannot be separated from the socio-cultural and physical environments in which they are created. People ascribe meaning to the physical spaces they inhabit. Foodscapes, articulated through place specific food associations, are one example of such ascription. The term foodscape is gaining increasing popularity in the parlance of scholars concerned with food. Food scapes are social, cultural, political, economic, or historical landscapes that, in one way or another, are about food. The concept incorporates the dynamics of global exchange, including the translocal and transnational character of modern food practices. Foodscape, broadly conceived, represents a marriage between food and landscape, both the conceptual notion of landscape and actual, physical landscapes. Foodscape refers to the food(s) peculiar to the locality and/or people under consideration, sites as well as activities like methods of procurement and preparation, and modes of display and performance related to those foods or practiced by those people.

Sarhad with its melange of food,culture and history represents the foodscape of erstwhile Pre-independence and Pre -partition Punjab. Sarhad meaning frontier in Urdu is more than just a restaurant or a dhaba on a highway,it is a place for nostalgia,a place where cultures meet and recreate themselves,a place of culinary discoveries.Opened in 2012 on the Indian side of the border ,the menu is curated in a manner to recreate the shared stories of the two countries.An ode to the lost history and brotherhood it sort of draws a bridge between now estranged Amritsar and Lahore.Designed by prominent Pakistani architect Nayar Ali Dada simplistic in decor the red brick building has an open courtyard inspired by the houses of Lahore’s walled localities. The marble inlaid tiles in geometric pattern are quite similar to the Golden temple.The colored window panes are inspired by the havelis of Lahore.The ceramic jali work from Lahore and the wooden colored chairs designed by Ansa Zafar adds to the uniqueness of the restaurant.The courtyard showcases the shared interests of the two nation and excerpts of pages from history. Called the museum of peace the catch word for Sarhad is borders without barriers.A celebration of the common architectural,cultural and culinary heritage of Amritsar and Lahore it seeks to recreate the nostalgia and pride in the common culture and history.Pages from the newspaper Tribune in the months preceding the Partition are put on laminated boards. Advertisements of popular films,pictures of the two cities adorn the courtyard.The painted trucks by the legendary Pakistani artist Hyder Ali at the entrance offers an eye view of the cultural heritage of Pakistan.

Sarhad opened in 2012 through its lovingly curated menu primarily pays homage to the shared stories of the two countries. While one can order Indian favourites such as Daal Makhani, Chicken Tikkas and Aloo Paranthas, there are also Bakarkhani Rotis, Chapli Kebabs and Miyanji ki Dal, sourced from authenticLahori recipes. The Bakarkhani Rotis were crisp with a sweetness which made it an ideal accompaniment to the Lahori Murg,succulent drumsticks in a saffron almond paste gravy.The Mia ji ki Dal a flavourful yellow dal could be a perfect accompaniment with a serving of a juicy Lahori chapli kebab and a Lahori Nihari Ghosht along with a Peshawari Naan.

Apart from introducing diners to the dishes of Lahore, Sarhad also stocks favourite foods from Pakistan for Indian diners to sample. One of these is the Khalifa khatai, made by Lahore’s famous Khalifa Bakers in Akbar Mandi in the Walled City. Similar to the nankhatai, the Khalifa khatai is a biscuit made from butter and sugar and is best eaten with a scoop of ice cream. Other items include Murree Beer, a non-alcoholic lemon drink from the British’s first brewery in Pakistan, and Shaan Masala, the cult-favourite biryani spice.

Cooking and managing the restaurant are locals from the village of Wagah Attari. To involve the youth of the region among whom many were victims of heroin addiction , the restaurant employs young men and women from the border villages. To deal with widespread unemployment of the region Sarhad, by bringing the youth into its kitchen, offers them an alternative livelihood and a platform to showcase their latent culinary skills.

Sarhad is not just a restaurant serving cuisine from both side of the border,it stands as a witness to history .The restaurant has an open air gallery which has a veritable treasure trove of laminated pages of newspapers like Tribune of the black days of 1947 leading to the Partition .The gallery has interesting film posters and cinema advertisements of pre partition days which points to the composite culture of Punjab.The gallery has also rare pictures of Government College ,Lahore ,dating back to 1912-13.The interiors of the restaurant has both interesting road maps and travel routes connecting important cities of the two countries as well as clippings of newspapers of the final negotiations between the British, the Congress and Jinnah over boundary lines. Sarhad has also an enviable collection of books for readers who want to go to the history of the bifurcated nation.

HOW TO REACH SARHAD

En route to the Wagah border ,Sarhad restaurant is around 26 km from Amritsar and only 2 km from the checkpost to the Wagah border.Visitors can drop in for lunch at Sarhad and then proceed to Wagah for the gate ceremony in the early evening.Please check timings for the ceremony as they are different during the summer and winter months. Don’t forget to pay a visit to Pul Kanjari . Legends say that”Moran” a dancer hailing from nearby village Makhanpura used to perform in the Royal Court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. On way she had to cross a small canal linked to river Ravi, which was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in order to irrigate Shalimar Gardens of Lahore. During one such visits while crossing the canal Moran lost her silver sandals. This pair of sandals was presented to her by the Maharaja. Disappointed over the loss, she refused to perform in the court of Maharaja. When the incident was brought to the notice of Maharaja, he immediately ordered the construction of a bridge on the canal. Pul Kanjri was captured by the Pakistani army during the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971, and was recaptured by the Indian Army later. A memorial column, constructed in the memory of the Jawans of Sikh regiments, who had recaptured <span title=””>Pul Kanjri from the Pakistani army in 1971, stands as a testimony to the supreme sacrifices.The Mosque, the Shiv Mandir, Baradari and a Sarovar have been given a new touch and the place is worth paying a visit.

Two nations battered by border skirmishes…loss of innocents…..homeless migrants on both sides….negotiation tables….the story continues …the legacy of a hurried decision in 1947.

Food …shared culinary culture…culinary skills of common people across the wired fence….similar taste buds….food unites two battered nations…let the power and versatility of a shared food culture between the two nations override blood shed and loss of human as well as quantifiable national resources.