Monday 1 May 2017

Past is the new now!

Published in One India One People magazine, January 2016

Heritage- the new fad that is in. Most people who I meet these days are ‘cool’ as they talk about millet dosas, finger millet porridge, foxtail millet kheer and the various paraphernalia that go with these dishes starting from devil’s backbone chutney(ah…the name!), balloon vine chutney, et al. The names and the supposed medicinal qualities of these newly embraced greens and millets are all Greek and Latin to me. As I raise a toast to the rediscovered heritage foods, in all earnestness I agree- the taste buds in my tongue rebel and jump off my tongue in utter disbelief. 

The sight of banana flower vadas look so enticing, all crispy and rich texture, but can I say the same for the millet dosas that resemble grandmother’s handmade cow dung patties? Cow dung- now we are really talking about heritage. We Indians have specific tastes. South Indians can go to the moon and back if they get piping hot sambar and up North, the childhood diktat learnt is “roti, kapda aur makaan”, always in that order. 

Give us burgers, give us pizzas, we gulp them down in the malls as if the apocalypse is approaching. The moment we set foot into the confines of our homes, the first thing that we ask- “Mom, where is my sambar?” We believe a bowl of rice can only complete our day, not a round, sticky, expensive ‘dosa’ called pizza. Our Moksha lies in licking our fingers high and dry off the last drop of Mom’s fish curry, not in ‘finger licking good’ mutant chicken that had hatched in Pennsylvania five years ago!

We guzzle down Pepsi and Coke with equal fervor as our Kattanchaaya. A Sulaimani after a hearty biryani on any given day would be our choice, after a diet coke, of course. We have become gluttons- the fad of the new millennium is still pushing colas and Macs down our throats in public spaces. To appease the Mother God we do dutifully gulp down whatever is handed over to us in a platter. That’s what our Bollywood Khans have been telling us. Each mother is a Rakhee yelling “Mere bête aayenge!”, as we are duty-bound to pounce on her dosas or rotis.

There is a new generation of backpack wielding heritage enthusiasts who go hunting for a little bit of history and heritage. Few walks and lot of talks later, they still would be trying to figure out who made the first flight- the prototype of Wright Brothers or our own Pushpak Viman? Google is the God here, information is wealth and internet is power! Anything that is remotely labeled as ‘Indian heritage’ sells at a premium. 

There is another team of jet-setting women who are trying to ‘revive’ the Saris of India. Look around for these fashionistas who make a killing, mediating sellers (who still suffer in abject poverty) and the eager buyers. Heritage sells. It is the new ‘packaging’ of a product. Tout anything as Indian and a legacy- the sheep blindly follow. The only sane inheritance that I have is probably my plus size figure. There, I said it!

Overseeing the money-minting part, it is indeed refreshing to see youngsters in quest of heritage. The love for anything that is antique is a thirst by itself. It pushes one beyond their normal limits in search of the past. I still can’t get to my roots- has anyone tried to get the names of our forefathers two generations back? I bet, we cannot go beyond three or say four generations. Following what they ate, how they worked, science behind their practices- it is all interesting. We have been aping the West for a long time and by now, we have started realizing the World didn’t exist in London alone, few centuries ago. 

The tales and fables told by our grandmothers and grandfathers, the native harvest songs, the local deities and the story behind each of them, the lone pillars in remote areas that were raised centuries ago, temples and their history, architecture of bygone era- everything fascinates us. It is time we kindle the same interest and keep it alive, document whatever we have and pass it on. Legacy is of course what our children get from us in the passing. Let them not think the whole world ate pizzas and read Homer!

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