The Lacy Brittle: Beawar Til Papad

Indian sweets are yum to the Indian palate. But they don’t lend themselves to hyper-levels of visual appeal enhancements as do cakes and pastries and other sundry desserts, as portrayed in various TV shows.

One traditional sweet which is intrinsically beautiful and delicate is the Til Papad from Beawar. A mono-layer of sesame and thinly sliced pistas and almonds in sugar syrup, each papad is see-through. Just hold it up to the light for a lacy view of the world beyond!

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At some point in my life, I studied in Mumbai, and it was always an adventure to reach Jodhpur, where my parents were, for the vacations. One such journey must have entailed some portion being done by bus, because I distinctly recall wandering around the Beawar Bus-stop. And that is when my fascination with this sweet began. Several shops were making the til papad. Basically til and nut-slivers were cooked in sugar syrup, which was taken off the heat at just the right moment; balls made of the goo; and highly skilled cooks rolled them out, one til-thick. It was amazing to see them at work, for they had to work with hot goo, and roll it really fast and thin.

A few weeks ago, someone from Rajasthan kindly gifted us a box of til papad, and that brought all the memories back.

Digging a little deeper into Beawar, I found that it was not one of the ancient cities of Rajasthan, the story of whose founding is part-history, part-mythology. Beawar was established by a British officer, Colonel Charles George Dixon, in the 19th century as a military cantonment. Situated as it is at a tri-junction of Jodhpur, Jaipur and Udaipur, it gained and still retains importance as a trading centre.

The people of the area were apparently as brave and war-like as from any other part of Rajasthan, and the British had a healthy respect for them. One source tells me that the name ‘Beawar’ originated from the term ‘Be aware’.

In recent history, Beawar’s claim to fame is its link to the Right to Information (RTI) movement. The RTI movement started with a number of activists demanding  transparency, after conducting investigations into wide-spread corruption at panchayat and block levels. The then-CM of Rajasthan, Mr. Bhairon Singh Shekawat assured them he would bring in RTI. But even after a year, this did not happen. So on April 5, 1996, thousands of citizens and activists congregated in Beawar. The protest took place at a busy traffic roundabout called Chang Gate, and lasted 40 days. This laid the foundation for the RTI being brought in.

So sweet little Beawar is strong too!

–Meena

 

Cry, Beloved Blue City 

A stranger in India, reading the news in the last few weeks, would think that the most prominent landmark of Jodhpur was a huge prison, dominating the landscape. That the principal function of the city was to host trials for all kinds of ‘celebs’ accused of all types of crimes, and to then house the convicted in its boundaries.

I have lived in Jodhpur for several years, and my family has close ties to the city. None of us had any clue where Jodhpur Jail was. After the news of Salman’s conviction, we had to look up Google to figure out the location.

What we do remember of Jodhpur is the magnificent 550+ year-old Mehrangarh fort, one of the best preserved and best kept monuments in India. When I lived there 30 years ago, we would be greeted by drummers when we entered, and there were some friendly moustached guides who would take us around. They almost became like family, so often did I take visitors to the Fort. (Now there are proper displays and exhibits and shops and what not. Still nice, but not so intimate).

When you look down from the ramparts of the fort, you know why Jodhpur is called the Blue City. And there is also a walking path from the heart of the city up to the fort, which we did a few times as students (on furlough from college, no doubt). And the very unique Jaswant Thada, lined with different coloured translucent marbles, as you came down from the Fort.

Then the Umaid Bhavan Palace, the newest palace in the world, built as a drought-relief work and completed in the ‘40s. Part-hotel, part-museum, part-royal residence and wholly fascinating. Specially the indoor swimming pool lined with mosaics of the zodiac signs. And the huge murals of scenes from the Ramayana, with the heroes and heroines of distinctly Greco-Roman cast of features, done by a Polish painter.

The most interesting was where I had the good fortune to live on the grounds of—the Ratanada Palace, one of the palaces of the royal family, never really inhabited because it seems it wasn’t lucky for them. It was turned over to the Government after Independence and became the Defence Laboratory, a lab under the Defence Research and Development Organization. Imagine a lab in a palace! There were rumours that it was haunted, and ‘jingling ghungroos’ and ‘strange noises’ were sometimes an excuse not to stay too late at work!

The Palace-Lab

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The housing for the Lab scientists was on the palace grounds, in converted elephant and horse stables, garages,  band-house, aloo-khana, etc. So there was the most amazing array of very quaint but probably very uncomfortable houses for the families. I never knew whether we were lucky my father was allotted a proper  house—one that was built for the king’s British pilot, who seems to have lived in true colonial style, in a 14-room bungalow . (The same king, I think, who features in the very interesting movie ‘Zubaida’).

The Pilot’s House

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The food—the mirch wadas, the badi pakodis, the kabuli, the sponge rasgullas, ghewar and the array of sweets. The lassi in which we could stand a spoon, the dal-bhatti-churma, the kachodis.

The people—hospitable, chivalrous, generous, entrepreneurial.

The ‘khamma ghanis’ and the ‘padaro sas’ and the courtesy.

The bandhinis, the leherias, the silver jewellery and the lac bangles.

The  bazaars, the gullies, the bargains.

I want these images to dominate my mindscape and Jodhpur memories. Not the prison and the prisoners!

–Meena