By Vijay Sanghvi/ Taazakhabar News Exclusive
For forty years, I had rarely attended to any kitchen duty. First ten years, were spent attending to my studies and thirty years assembling news that will happen tomorrow …. things that had not what happened till today. Before that I used to assist my mother cut veggies or knead flour for rotali as chapatti in Gujarati is known till my younger sister began to help my mother.
In 1991 November I quit the paper I had been working for 24 years. I settled with the paper in 24 seconds as my conscience could not allow me to do what the management wanted me to do. But I soon found my career going in different direction. My new job allowed me to watch the noon show on Star TV – a young Chinese presenting a very humourous programme on cooking ‘Yen can cook so can you.’
I was curios and wanted to know if too could try my hand. So I began experimenting at the Press Club of India. I introduced several popular Gujarati savouris. Soon some members demanded Gujarati items for lunch, so I gave them Thepla with fermented chilly pickles and dahi raita.It was an instant hit. Members from Punjab and South also got the lunch packed to take home for their wives at home.
It was revelation that food can bind cultures as well. Many of the members had never tasted Gujarati food earlier and believed that every Gujarati food item is sweat. It was not so long before Gujarati items like Khaman Dhokla, Khandvi and Thepla or Khakhara were available in Delhi markets. I had to attend to kitchen every day though most of the work was carried out by a Andhraite waiter called Sunil who later opened his restaurant in Abu Dhabi where he serves all items he learnt from me. Even now he calls on phone to know more recipes from me.
I did not know that cooking was such an interesting a vocation that demands complete knowledge of properties and nature of different foods. Whether two items can be mixed or not and what would be treatment of other food items when two items that are traditionally not mixed are tried out together. For example I always had yen to eat dalbhat and dahi with a splash of Gujarati pickled raw mango that gives a tasty tang to it. I had often seen my friend Manu Malavia eating it when I used to go to fetch him to school. My mother never allowed me to mix dahi with dal. She had learnt from her childhood that the mixture of dal and dahi would turn into undesirable duality. It is prohibited in Jainism. She knew it but could not explain what dahi and dal means. She never dared to ask her mother. Her mother probably also possibly did not know.
Jainism can perhaps be best described as religion of diets as it has introduced several taboos on consumption. Three thousand years ago it had recommended use of safe water by boiling it and sieving it through cloth. It also prescribed daily fresh water and never stored for more than a day. Despite all care in storing it, there is a tendency of growth of bacteria in water. People of other regions used to laugh at it though now everyone insists of using bottled pure water. It is more or less a fad because most precautions that need to go with the concept are either not understood or ignored due to ignorance. if it that drinking water companies do purify, as they claim, water before bottling, there are no guarantees that it was sealed water in a bottle so that bacteria would not enter it during its transit by trucks or storage with wholesalers and retailers. No one ensures that glasses for drinking water from bottles are sterilized properly. In most eating joints, glasses are generally dipped into still water in tub, cleansed with dry towel and stored. Same tub water is used often and often as it is cheaper that using flowing water. Above all no one bothers to check the date on which it was bottled to know how old was it? Consumers do not observe all these precautions because most are not even aware of their need. That is why it becomes more a fad than a precaution.
Jainism prescribed precautions and taboos ages ago but the medical science and biologists now admit that these principles are scientific and necessary for everyone to observe. Jains have to finish their evening meal before sun set.
Professor PK Jain founder of Vegetarian Society of Botswana claimed in his paper of dietary code of practice amongst Jains at the 34th World Vegetarian Congress at Toronto in July 2000 claimed that Jainism is most environment friendly religion with all its restrictive diet prescriptions on use of greens and water,
Eating before sun set was not merely to avoid insects that hover around light from falling in your food but also necessary for quicker digestion. Even modern scientists now admit that food digestion is much quicker during the sun light than in its absence. At the time when these codes were prepared, there was no electricity. Only source of light during the night was oil lamps without glass coverage as glass was not invented then. Most Europeans also eat their evening meals around the sunset time. Only on special occasions late night dinners are held.
Vardhman Mahavir prescribed rigid restrictions in food diets or even fasts only to make everyone realize pangs of hunger for poor around them. There is an increasing opinion that Jainism glamourises poverty. However scientific research reveals that the Jainism dietary restrictions were scientific. Eight days avoidance of cereals and salt during the Ambial festival in the midst of monsoon helps to overhaul kidney functions to virtually rejuvenate it. Many medicinal practitioners recommend reduction of salt intake in meals. Only Jains can be and need to be blamed for ignorance of the world relating to dietary control codes that prevailed in their religion for three thousand years. Even health departments do not refer to religious practices while prescribing precaution to prevent breakout of various diseases.