Irani Chai of Hyderabad

                    I am not sure Iranis really drink chai (tea) the way Irani chai is served in Hyderabad. That should explain the slightly wierd title. The subject version of tea here is a rich concoction of high cream milk boiled to condensed milk levels and strong black tea. The milk is kept boiling through out the day along with sugar in it’s pure form. The tea mix is prepared separately in a special boiler container with an outlet tap for the filtered black tea. Both are mixed together only at time of serving to form the sweet, steaming strong tea. The tea is very popular for most part of the year and the demand takes a slight hit only in summers, when sugar cane juice, Lassi, Falooda,Butter milk and Jal Jeera takes a front seat on the streets.

Irani chai joints are of two kinds. The classic Old Hyderabadi style cafes where one can sit forever enjoying tea, Osmania biscuits, Samosas, puffs  and discuss anything under and beyond The Sun. Brilliantly portrayed in the movie, Angrez (From 2:47) in true Hyderabadi Hindi. The other kind is just a road side tea stall where you can have the tea standing.  Further to these two main dedicated tea joints, renowned classic old school dum Biryani places like Shadab, Rumaan etc. also serve great Irani chai.

Though it’s all the same constituents, the tea is served in multiple ways.

  • Full (chai) : Circa 2013, Priced between Rs. 10 -12, the serving fills the cup and flows over into the saucer.
  • Single :  Priced between Rs.6 to 8, the serving will be around 3/4th of the tea cup. You don’t get a saucer with this serving!, another reason why it’s called single? 🙂
  • The third  variant is not based on serving quantity, but addition of buttery layer from the boiling milk to top the serving, popularly known as “Malai“.

Unlike other South Indian milk tea preparations, the Hyderabadi Irani tea is not aggressively mixed after combining milk and tea. Different cafes and tea shops are known for their distinct tastes that attracts regular customers to them. It’s hear say knowledge that some of the cafes have their secret taste maker ingredients ranging from powdered biscuits, condensed milk and even opium! in very small quantities to establish the distinct taste and retain the customer base.

In case you visit Hyderabad anytime, do try out a “Single”. Disclaimer: It can be a bit too sweet and strong for the first timer, but will grow on you.

Anti Tea activists, Please stay away.

Nalukettu by M.T

**Yet another recognition for Sri M.T. TATA LitLive 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award**

This is not a review of the 1959 Sahitya Academy award winning Malayalam novel, but a humble effort to express the beauty of imagination, realism and literature penned by one of the most reverred contemporary Malayalam writers, Sri. M.T Vasudevan Nair. My failure to do justice to the work is accepted and would request others also to excuse me, if anything is wrong in the content below.

Before getting into the novel, need to mention that Nalukettu does not mean stone courtyard as some translations suggest. “Nalu” is four(4) and “kettu” is knot/tie/joint in Malayalam. Nalukettu refers to the traditional carpentry construction style where the wooden roof truss of tile thatched buildings are joined at their 4 vertices of a square structure. The join is done without the use of any bonding agent. The style of construction was widely prevalent in Kerala, till wood became a precious commodity and security of the large open courtyard in the middle started posing threats of security. Well, the point is that it’s not “stone courtyard”, but “four joins”.

Appunni, the protagonist, lives through his childhood, teenage and being a successful man. Whilst there are so many aspects about the novel that would strike each reader, the phases of life Appunni goes through and the way the reader is taken through him coming to age and understanding the world and life is the underlying current that runs strong through out the length of the story. The story also gives a great view into the socio economic conditions and dominant nature of the family heads at the time. Reading the story from another era, another generation is a look back  at how much the same society has evolved. The same issues at that era no longer exist, but we have different, more complex social issues that has taken their place with improved socio economic and civic conditions. The basic premise of a joint family itself has got almost wiped out of the state.

Appunni’s father, Konthunni Nair  was a fearless, self made and respected man in the village who was killed through treachery by his business partner. He was considered a rebel by the ultra orthodox community and his acts of mingling with people of different castes without any respect to the prevalent restrictions. Appunni’s mother belonged to the wealthy Nair family (Tharavadu), which is the Nalukettu in the story. They married against the wish of her family and hence was considered not part of the family any more. That would mean, Appunni also to be no longer part of the larger family. After Konthunni Nair’s death, mom and son are poverty stricken the once wealthy lady now has to work at the backyard of other houses to run her own. Portrayal of how much ego and false prestige ruled over humanitarian values even when it was  closest family in question.

Appunni was good in studies and would start going to high school. As he enters his teenage, he gets annoyed at the growing closeness between his mother and  Sankaran Nair, an aide at his mother’s work place. This provokes him to leave the home and go to the Tharavadu, where the head of the family (Valiammama) once kicked him out during a family event. Despite the inhuman treatment, he sticks on there and continues his education amidst the hardships. He earned scholarships more than enough to cover his education and expenses. All these days, his grudge towards his mother who has gone to live with another man keeps growing.

During this phase, the family itself goes through lot of unrest and demands of division of wealth. Uninterested and fed up of everything, he continues to focus on clearing the 10th standard, so that he can earn a job and get out from there. He faced difficulty in paying the exam fees of 15 rupees. Finally his close friend, Mohammed arranges the amount. It’s only after paying the fee that he comes to know that it was his mother who gave the money to Mohammed. Furious, but he had no choice, but to accept it. Clearing the exams in flying colours, Appunni is in the lookout for a job. He receives a letter from his Father’s old business partner, Seythali, the same man who poisoned and killed his father for money. Seythali asked him to come to Wayanad, where he can arrange a job for Appunni. He quickly packs up and leaves the bounds of his village. Appunni joins the tea estate and works his way up through 5 years to become a field surveyor.

Without any prior plans he goes back to his village, with lot of cash and unseen lifestyle for the villagers. A number of people come to meet him now that he’s got a deep pocket, only to listen to his verbal abuse. The Tharavadu is in sad state of affairs and the building itself is mortgaged for loan. The then head of the family (Valiyammama), who denounced Appunni all through his stay there had no much choice, but to beg to Appunni to help regain the Nalukettu, paying off the debt. Appunni buys the house with lion share of his savings through all these years and brings back his Mother and Sankaran nair to stay there. He no more has the grudge. Appunni has grown to become a man who understands all the events that happened in his life and treat each one to it’s merit.

Never explicit, the way evolution of Appunni’s thought process is portrayed  from being a boy to a man who’s been through the hardships is admirable. There are so many more characters and undercurrents that explains the time and nature of the age in which the events take place.

Too long by now, closing off with the knowledge that I might have done sole injustice to the creative genius, but if one person picks up and reads the novel after reading this, I’d consider that Mission accomplished.

My Experiences with Hyderabadi Biryani

This is a post which I’d made in posterous, ~6 months back. Moving here as part of shifting base to wordpress!

Been in Hyderabad for four years and ate Biryani from numerous places, both big and small, Having been here and eaten this, I consider myself qualified to write about this dish which is cooked daily in tons across Hyderabad at poorest of households to the top of the line hotels in the city.

I was never much of a foodie 4 years back, thanks to great company at college, I am more of a foodie now. My first trip to Hyderabad was in Feb 2008, 11th Feb to be precise. Out of hunger and the curiosity to try out the much famed Hyderabadi Biryani, I tried it out at a normal restaurant at Nampally, with little knowledge about its origins which in turn would lead one to the history of Hyderabad and thus of course the Nizams. That was not a case of love at first meet though!

2008 -2010 was a hunger stricken phase where any given opportunity would be utilised to run to the city (or more often to the nearby life saving Punjabi dhaba) from the hinterland campus. The period was so non vegetarian deprived that, the rice in Biryani was considered an unnecessary inclusion which consumes much valuable real estate in the stomach which otherwise can be filled in with the carcasses of the broiler bird! The period didn’t see great amount increase in Popularity of our subject Hyderabadi delicacy, but rather meat consumption in the form of Tandoori Chicken, Whole Grilled chicken etc. showed a very bullish trend.

Come 2010, out in the civilisation, reachability to the renowned Biryani places and omnipresence of the dish increased it’s popularity and consumption. Below is a list of known and maybe unknown places in HYD from where I had the Iranian delicacy and my take on the preparation.

Paradise, Secunderabad : This name would be the first that you’d hear when you ask suggestion for good Biryani in Hyderabad. So much so, that this is the only restaurant where I’ve not finished a serving of the Biryani. Much hyped, but taste hardly catches up. The restaurant nevertheless is huge with options to dine in whichever manner you wish to. Stars: **

Shadaab, Charminar : Not a great dining place, but has one of the best Biryanis at offer. Other dishes are mediocre though. The whole Biryani combo with raitha and Salan is truly a chef’s magic. The place runs real late in the night as does most of the restaurants in the Old City area. Stars. ****

Rumaan, ToliChowki: Till the time had Biryani from Rumaan, I had Shadaab at the top of my list. Happened to taste Rumaan’s Biryani at a friends wedding eve. As soon as all of started having it, the place was as silent as it could be. Serving after serving we went on didn’t want to stop though bellies were declining further intake! Just awesome. So much so that we went to Rumaan the next afternoon and Biryani at the hotel itself. Again not a great dine in place. Stars. *****

CAUTION : One has to be cautious about having Biryani especially at the old Hyderabad restaurants. Even though the Menu might read “Mutton Biryani”, but the meat will actually be “beef”! It’s not with any deceptive intention that menu is drafted that way. Easy way to catch is the price. If mutton Biryani is listed at a lower price that chicken biryani, be rest assured that it’s beef and do clarify the same before ordering.

 Enjoy Hyderabadi DUM Biryani!

“Entuppooppakkoranendarnnu” ( My Grand Father had an Elephant!)

That might sound not too abnormal for some one from Kerala. But it’s got nothing to do with any of my grandfathers. Both of them did not have an elephant (AFAIK !). The title is that of one of the many amazing works of celebrated Malayali writer, Vaikom Muhammed Basheer. Known as the Sultan of Beypore, Padma Shri Basheer was a writer who went against/across the  contemporary literary style of his era, defying oppositions and ultimately etching his unique mark in the Malayalam literature.

The protagonist of the story is a girl and the timeline is her life and events surrounding her growing up till her marriage, which happens to be far too delayed to the then societal standards. Kunju Pathumma,(can be translated to international standards as “Little Fathima”) the heroine grows up with an opulent childhood and gains unquestionable knowledge on Muslim religious beleifs from learned members of the society around her.  Her father, Vattanadima (Literally translated as “The mad Slave”, and that was one of the real names used in those times) was the richest man in her village and commanded the respect for that. Her life though then takes a U-Turn  as her father loses all his properties in family litigation. Her mother, prevailing from wealthy family, portrayed very much as a spoiled rich woman, would always boast about the elephant that her dad, “Aana Makkar” had. And there comes the title of the story, from the protagonist’s view point; Entuppooppakkoranendarnnu. The way, Kunjipathumma’s mother’s sandals are described as having the ivory tusks’ remnants of her dad’s erstwhile beloved elephant and the pride with which she walks wearing those sandals is a joy to read. The change in behavior of characters and the society when money flows out , is another picture that’s well laid through out the story.

The writer has taken a purposeful effort to question many a unquestioned religious beleifs, both explicitly and subtly. At the same time, he also portrays the real essence of religious teachings through the character and thoughts of Kunju Pathumma. Her concern and sympathy towards fellow beings and not just humans, truthful nature all throw light to what real essence of religion is all about. Through out the story there are instances where Shri Basheer refers to backgrounds of religious beleifs, quite a good repository to the curious mind. Not out rightly teaching these through verses or boring prose, but wrapping that within amazingly crafted humour and to the point sarcasm when required is just unmatched skill. The story is in Malayalam and it will be most enjoyable when read in the same, even though this has been translated to English. Much of the master craftsman’s works uses the literary slang prevalent in various parts of Kerala to it’s best effects. He’s been strongly criticized for his unconventional usage of language, but he always stood his ground  and continued writing in the spoken language.

The writer’s appeal to the ultra orthodox society of the era was to stop clinging onto the past and come forward to the contemporary era. Something which was very relevant at the time. Had Shri Basheer been in the era of FB, Twitter and Youtube, not sure what his brilliant grey cells would have concocted out. Don’t forget the past OR Come back to the present ?? But one can be rest assured he’d have got the most likes on FB, huge number of followers and retweets on twitter and hits far more in number than Dhanush’s Kolaveri got on his Youtube videos.

Long Live Beypore Sultan : Salaam

The Day is Vinayaka Chathurthi

Vinayak Chavithi or Vinayaka Chathurthi is the commencement of celebrations when Hindus around the world seek blessings from Lord Vinayaka(Ganesh,Ganpati,Vighneswara). The festival is celebrated at grand scale where the idol of Vinayaka is decorated and set up at homes/and at various localities, worshipped daily for 10 days and immersed in river/sea on the 11th day. Well, more on that from Wiki.

Idol Of Lord Ganesh

I set out on a ride in the morning of Vinayak chavithi to catch a few snaps of the preparations for the celebrations. Sales was sprawling along the road sides where the vendors are selling things ranging from the idols of Lord Ganesha in various varieties, flowers, decorative articles, earthen vessels branches of tree leaves like mango and many other varieties along with flowers and fruits, all to be used for decorating the pandal where Lord Ganesh will be worshipped for the next ten days. Prices for otherwise no use things were exorbitant. I saw a couple of old gentleman startled when the vendor told them that a twig of mango leaves costs Rs. 30/-.

Leaves, Fruits and Flowers on sale

The vendors were happy and ready to pose for a pic. A policeman came and asked why am I taking photographs? I tried to explain him that I’d like to put these up in a blog on the internet. What he made out of it was “Ganesh Chathurthi Special!”  He shook hands with me and wished me Happy Vinayak Chathurthi. Wished the same to him, Police force, definitely a team that needs Lord Vighneswara’s help everyday.

By afternoon, I went again to the place in Mumbai – Hyderabad highway where all the colourful idols are made. Except a few, idols were almost sold out and the tents where these massive POP structures are made remained empty with the artists resting.

As per Hindu mythology, Lord Ganesha’s vehicle is the humble rat. Here God and his vehicle is all set to ride on an auto rickshaw.

To complete the day, I went out in the evening to see the decorated Idols around. Few locations were still waiting to unveil the idol and do the rituals. Couple of places where the idol was unveiled and started worship.

Idol of Vinayaka placed in decorated Pandal for Worship.

Happy Vinayak Chathurthi to everyone. Let Lord Vighneswara remove all the obstacles for all to have a happy and content life. Ganpati Bappa Moriya!

P.S : What could be peaks of irony? Lord Vighneswara, the mighty one who removes all obstacles for mankind, getting stuck in traffic ?