Going vegetarian in Gujarat

veg

 

There are many vegetarians in India, particularly in Gujarat.

I am primarily an omnivore, who enjoys meat and fish.

In many of the places we visited on a seven week visit to Kutch and Saurashtra, it was difficult or even impossible to find restaurants serving non-vegetarian food. I spotted street stalls where omelettes were made to order – and they are very delicious – and barrows where un-refrigerated kebabs were on display in the hot weather, awaiting grilling.

In Kutch, I enjoyed the delicately prepared, tasty vegetarian thalis. In Saurashtra, thalis were less attractive to my taste because of their oily-ness and over use of sugar or other sweeeners. However, Gujarat is a paradise for snackers. All over Gujarat, you will find places selling a variety of delicious farsan (savoury snacks). My favourites include: dhokla, patra, ganthia, sev, bhel puri, chewda, dahi puri, khandvi, and pani puri.

Therefore when I wanted something more substantial, I resorted to eating readily available South Indian specialities such as dosas and curd vada. Or, I ordered pizzas. The pizzas, which would look strange to a Sicilian or a Neapolitan, were delicious despite the fact that the cheese used was not remotely similar to mozzarella. I suspect it was often the industrially prepared Indian Amul product. By the way, Amul was a dairy company established just after Indian Independence in Gujarat, inspired by ideas suggested by Sardar Vallabhai Patel, an important statesman and politician born in Gujarat. Getting back to the pizzas, what made them delicious was the tomato sauces used on them. These were not run-of-the-mill out-of-the-can industrial products. They were usually sauces made in the restaurant using fresh tomatoes and herbs and appropriate spices. Indian Chinese food, even if vegetarian, is also an option.

Well, although I am not a fan of veg food, many people fall in love with the various meat-free and egg-free cuisines of Gujarat.

 

Fishermen at Mandvi and entering Pakistan

Mandvi

 

The picture shows dogs resting in the shade provided by a beached fishing vessel in the estuary of the River Rukmavati at the town of Mandvi in the former Kingdom of Kutch, now part of Gujarat.

 

Nearby, there were many similar fishing boats, all manned by Muslim seamen. These boats sail into the Gulf of Kutch, a piece of water that separates most of Kutch from another part of Gujarat, Saurashtra (or Kathiawad). 

 

The vessels are allowed to sail as far west as Okha, but no further as they would then stray into Pakistani water. We were told that there is quite a good deal of smuggling between the Indian and Pakistani fishermen. The Indians have to be careful because they might be arrested in Pakistani waters, as a recent newspaper report  reveals:

“A group of 100 Indian fishermen Monday crossed over to the Indian side through 

Attari-Wagah border after the Pakistan government released them from jail as a goodwill gesture.

The fishermen crossed over to India this evening on the basis of ’emergency travel certificates’ issued by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, officials said.

Immediately after the repatriation, a medical examination of all the fishermen was conducted, they said.

The neighbouring country had released the first batch of 100 Indian fishermen on April 7.

The fishermen were arrested for fishing illegally in Pakistani waters during various operations.

Both the countries frequently arrest fishermen as there is no clear demarcation of the maritime border in the Arabian Sea and these fishermen do not have boats equipped with the technology to know their precise location.”

Quoted from: https://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/pakistan-releases-100-indian-fishermen-119041501180_1.html

 

Cat without a cage in Junagadh

Tiger

 

If you happen to visit the city of Junagadh in Saurashtra, and it is really well worth seeing, do not miss taking a stroll around the city’s Sakkarbaug Zoo, one of the oldest zoological gardens in India.

It is justifiably famous for its lions and tigers, which are housed in reasonably spacious cages. The zoo also helps conserve the wild Asian Tigers in the nearby Forest of Gir national park.

Just after viewing the big cats in their barred enclosures, I turned around and had a shock. I saw what looked like a real tiger lazing on the grass outside the cages. I could not believe my eyes for a few seconds until I realised that this ‘creature’ was actually a realistic life-sized toy tiger, which people used for including in their photographs and ‘selfies’.

Elsewhere in the zoo, there is a model of a dinosaur, but this is not nearly so realistic.

Incidentally, the zoo, which is a little way outside the historic city centre is opposite a great value, comfortable hotel, The Hotel Magnum Inn.

A palace in Kutch

VARSHA blog size

 

Varsha Bhatia, whose family originated in Kutch, trained as an architect in Bombay. Now, she has become a painter, specialising in water colours. Her delicately executed, finely detailed works display her appreciation of the asethetics of architectural masterpieces.

Following a recent visit to Kutch Mandvi, she has painted a pavilion that is perched on the roof of the Vijay Vilas Palace built by the Maharao of Kutch in a traditional Rajput style during the 1920s . 

My wife and I visited this lovely palace during 2018. This extract from my book Travels through Gujarat, Daman, and Diu describes what we found:

A notice on a wall near the main entrance reads: “Tides come and go but the legend here of sheer enchantment continues unabated”.  On entering the palace, we saw a large banner which exclaimed: “Welcome to palace and experience history which is housed within.” The walls of the pleasant rooms, filled with ageing furniture, are lined with photographs of the royal family, their guests including Indian and British hunters with their servants, alongside the spoils of the regular hunting parties, which used to be held in the palace’s extensive grounds.

Amongst the framed items hanging on the walls, we spotted a 500 Kori banknote issued by the Government of Kutch. It was printed with words both in Gujarati and English scripts. When the Emperor Jehangir (reigned 1605-27) met his vassal, Kutch’s ruler Rao Bharmal (reigned 1585-1631) in Ahmedabad in 1617, Jehangir gave Rao Bharmal the right to strike his own coinage. Thus, the Kori was born. It remained in continuous use in Kutch until 1948, when Kutch became part of the Republic of India.

The windows at the back of the palace look out over formal gardens with dried up water features including a slender stone-lined channel running between bare rectangular patches of ground and fountains. We climbed a spiral staircase to reach the roof of the palace and wandered amongst the domed pavilions with jali screens covering their windows. Another spiral staircase, made of cast-iron, leads to an elevated viewing platform covered with a large domed ceiling supported by pillars. From here, we had a wonderful view of the countryside surrounding the palace and the Arabian Sea.

It is this ‘viewing platform’ that is illustrated in Varsha Bhatia’s lovely water colour work.

 

TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIUby Adam Yamey

is available as a paperback from lulu.com, Amazon sites, and bookdepository.com.

There is also a Kindle edition.

 

 

History on a stone in Bhavnagar

The Pil Garden in the centre of the city of Bhavnagar (in the Saurashtra district of Gujarat) is a pleasant place to relax. Triangular in plan, the park is named in honour of Sir James Braithwaite Peile (1806-82)[1]. Educated at Oxford University, he entered the (British) Indian Civil Service in 1855. He went to India the following year. He learnt Gujarati and worked in many places in Gujarat including Bhavnagar. Between 1874 and ’78, Peile served as a Political Agent in Saurashtra. He helped to coordinate the activities of the numerous heads of Princely States in the area, including that of Bhavnagar. He also helped organize famine relief during the great famine of 1877. Peile gained the respect of the heads of the Princely States. Mr Peile described the Kingdom of Bhavnagar as follows:

With flourishing finances and much good work in progress. Of financial matters I need say little; you have no debts, and your treasury is full.[2]

Peile left India in 1887, but his name has been immortalised in Bhavnagar by giving it, slightly oddly spelled, to a lovely public garden.

PERC 1

We visited the Pil Garden earlier this year. While I was wandering around, I came across a carved cube of stone partially hidden in some vegetation growing around it. There was an inscription in Gujarati script on one of its faces. On another face, I saw a carved Scottish thistle with some letters carved beneath it: A_RUC_ _ _ L U (or II) S. A third face was carved with a bas-relief depicting the profile of a man wearing a jacket and tie. The face parallel to that bearing the inscription in Gujarati bears the English words: “The Percival Fountain erected by public subscription in 1879 as a mark of esteem for _ _ _ Percival Esq, Bombay Civil Service, Joint Administrator of the State.”

The Mr Percival mentioned on the stone must have been Mr EH[3] Percival of The Bombay Civil Service. His title ‘Joint Administrator of the State’ needs explaining. When Jaswantsingji, the Maharaja of Bhavnagar died in 1870, his son and successor Takhtsingh (1858-96) was only twelve years old, too young to handle the affairs of his state. Until 1878 when he attained his majority, his kingdom was administered by two men[4]: Gaorishankar Udayashankar (1805-1892), a senior and experienced administrator of Bhavnagar, and EH Percival of the Bombay Civil Service. Takhtsingh became a fine ruler of Bhavnagar, executing many useful projects that benefitted his subjects for a long time.

Mr Percival’s administration was considered to have been beneficial to the Indian subjects of Bhavnagar. Even the socialist HM Hyndman (1842-1921), who was a vehement critic of the activities of the British imperialists in India had to admit in his book The Bankruptcy of India (published 1886):

The independent Principality of Bhaunagar was for eight years, 1870-78, under the joint administration of Mr. Percival, a Bombay civilian, and the old State Minister. During this period a complete change took place. The government was reformed in every part, a revenue survey was introduced, and the revenue and trade greatly increased buildings of all sorts, public offices, schools, hospitals, tanks, roads, bridges, lighthouses. So the Bhaunagar State is now by far the most flourishing in Kattywar[5], and the cause of its recent and rapid advance is by common consent allowed to have been the benign influence of Mr. Percival’s presence.”

These were indeed words of praise coming from the pen of a man who believed that the presence of the British in India was hastening the subcontinent’s rapid decline and was doing the Indians no good at all.

One of the many improvements made during Percival’s administration was the city’s water supply. I quote the following, which describes an important urban problem in Bhavnagar and Victorian India in general, from a biography[6] of Percival’s co-administrator Gaorishankar Udayashankar:

For many years the people of Bhavnagar had Suffered for want of a supply of good drinkable water. During the summer season the fresh-water wells in the City failed, with the exception of one or two. Even in the case of this latter, it was painful to see fifty or sixty women gather round the deep well struggling hard to fill their canvas buckets with the limited supply to be found at a considerable depth. Most of the people obtained their supply from temporary wells sunk in the bed of the river Ghadechi, and from a well close by the river, but situated at a distance of two miles from the town, ‘The climatic changes and ‘scarcity of water’, remarked Dr. Burjorji Behrmji, L.M., in a report, ‘influenced the salubrity of the town to a marked degree, and brought on an increase of illness in the shape of malarious fevers, bronchitis, diarrhoea, dysentery, guinea- worm, and dyspepsia in various forms.’

Mr. Gaorishankar had long desired to relieve the 40,000 inhabitants of Bhavnagar by giving them a good water-supply. With the advice and cordial co-operation of Mr. Percival, who thoroughly appreciated this want, he now set about the work in sober earnest. It was found that two miles up the river Ghadechi, there was an excellent site for a large reservoir… The canal carries the water into a reservoir situated in the heart of the town, which supplies, by means of pipes, pure wholesome water to the principal localities. The completion of the works cost the State Rs. 6,00,000. When they were opened to the public, they were, at the desire of Mr. Percival, named after Mr. Gaorishankar.”

What is left of the Percival Fountain might have been part of a gift to celebrate his assistance in the improvement of Bhavnagar’s water supply.

PERC 2

Of the thistle mentioned earlier, I have discovered that some Percival families use the thistle as part of their coat-of-arms. It is likely that EH Percival was Edward Hope Percival (died 1904), who was married to Louisa Jane Wedderburn (1842-1895), daughter of Sir John Wedderburn (1789-1862), who was in the service of the British East India Company.  According to a source in the National Library of Scotland[7], Louisa Jane:

Married at Tibberton, co. Gloucester, 7 Jan. 1869, Edward Hope Percival, of the Indian Civil Service…”

Louisa Jane was the first of her siblings not to be born in India.

Although I have so far been unable to find out the dates of Edward Hope Percival, I have discovered that his collection of various artefacts and peepal tree leaves collected in Bhavnagar were presented to Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum by his grand-daughter Alicia C Percival. In their Annual Reports, they refer to Edward Hope Percival as being “Adviser in Bhaunagar State in the Bombay Presidency during the regency of the Maharajah[8]”, thus confirming that EH Hope was Edward Hope Percival.

I am very pleased I discovered the semi-neglected stone in Bhavnagar’s Pil Garden because it has opened up a small window into the colonial past of India.

[1] Biographical details from Dictionary of National Biography (on-line edition)

[2] https://bhavnagar.nic.in/history/

[3] Probably Edward Hope Percival

[4] https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/1911_Encyclop%C3%A6dia_Britannica/Takhtsingji

[5] i.e.: Kathiawad, another name for Saurashtra

[6] Gaorishankar Udayashankar, G.S.I., ex-minister of Bhavnagar, now in retirement as a Sanyasi, by JU Yajnik, publ. Bombay: about 1889.

[7] https://digital.nls.uk/histories-of-scottish-families/archive/95655759?mode=transcription

[8] http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/sma/index.php/museum-annual-reports/260-1959-60-annual-report.html

No contact

This is not really about Gujarat, but it deals with a widespread aspect of Indian life.

yamey

skying

In India, many people ‘sky’ their drinks. This means that they take a drink from a container without letting it contact their lips or mouth. To ‘sky’ a drink means literally pouring a drink into your mouth from a distance. This method of drinking allows many people to drink from the same container without risking contamination of the drinks by any of the drinkers’ germs. 

PORRON Drinking wine from a porro (source: wikipedia)

Spain, which is many miles away from India, uses special vessels known as porron (porro, singular) to ‘sky’ wine. These traditional vessels, popular in Catalonia, allow many people to imbibe from the same vessel without making any contact between it and the mouth. The design of the porro is such that the drink container can be held at a much greater distance from the mouth than in the Indian mode of sky-ing a drink. 

George Orwell was…

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Tea in a bag

Tea bag

 

In Porbandar, the city where Mahatma Gandhi was born, we found a small tea-stall.

As we drank our tiny cups of milky, spiced tea, we watched the chaiwallah filling narrow, cylindrical plastic tubes with hot tea. When these thin-walled short cylinders are almost filled, they are tied closed and handed to customers to drink elsewhere. Later, we learned that these popular thin plastic containers of ‘take-away’ tea pose a potential health hazard because the hot drink leaches toxic chemicals from the plastic. 

The picture above, which was taken in Ahmedabad, shows a portion of take-away tea in a bag rather than a tube. 

Just as in the UK, take-away and home delivery foods and drinks are becoming popular in India. There are many mobile ‘phone ‘apps’ that allow the customer to order the food or drinks in advance. Often, motorcyclists deliver what is ordered. In India, the Swiggy company does the same kind of work as Deliveroo does in the UK. However, hot tea in a plastic bag is a product yet to arrive on the British ‘scene’.

Vikram Sarabhai

VIKRAM SARABHAI … founder of the IIM Ahmedabad, which was designed by the world famous architect Louis Kahn

History Under Your Feet

vsAhmedabad, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi Science Institute.

Two students in a room, very pensive, and nervous at their head coming inside. An electric meter had just gone out of order, as they had passed too much current while doing an experiment. And they were wondering how to break the news to him, who was also the founder of the rather modest lab, that had begun a year back.  It was a time,when such electric meters were difficult to get, and important experiments could be suspended for a month or even more.  As the students nervously broke the news, the man displayed neither the slightest trace of irritation or anger. Instead in a rather comforting tone he told them.

“Is that all? Don’t mind it too much. Such things do happen when students are learning. If students don’t make mistakes, how can they learn? It is enough if you learn to be…

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Salt

salt pan

Salt is an essential part of the human diet. In Africa, salt  produced by the Moors was transported across the Sahara Desert to salt-free Central Africa, where it was exchanged for gold. This shows how much salt is valued as a commodity.

On a recent bus trip between the two Gujarati cities of Baroda and Bhavnagar, we passed through a flat low-lying district not far from the sea (the Gulf of Khambat).  Along the way, we passed numerous white piles of salt recently extracted from the sea. These piles stand amongst pools of salty water that is evaporating in the hot sun. Although flat, the landscape is varied and fascinating.

Gujarat is the largest salt producer in India and the third largest in the world. Sadly, the salt workers, whose life is tough and dangerous, are poorly treated by their employers. According to the Indian Express dated April 26, 2016, the Government of the State of Gujarat is looking into ways of improving the lives of salt workers and their families.