Going vegetarian in Gujarat

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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.

 

Statue of Unity: larger than life!

The Indian Government has just ‘unveiled’ the world’s largest statue, the Statue of Unity. It is 182 metres high and stands in Gujarat between Baroda and Ahmedabad. It is a memorial to Sardar Vallabhai Patel (1875-1950), who was born in Gujarat.

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Source: Wikipedia

A close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, Patel was a great fighter for India’s independence. When the British finally relinquished their hold over India on the 15th of August 1947, the territory of India was a complex mix of formerly British territory and the so-called Princely States, which were self-governing.

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Map at Patel Memorial Museum in Ahmedabad. The yellow parts of the map show the parts of India occupied by Princely States

There were well over 500 Princely States embedded within the boundaries of what is now India. Over 200 of these were within the Saurashtra (Kathiawad) district of Gujarat. India in 1947 was a jigsaw puzzle of independent states each with their own ruler. These states were contained within a matrix that was formerly the part of India under direct British rule. After Independence, the rulers of the Princely States were given the choice of becoming part of India or joining the newly formed Pakistan.

Had the Princely States maintained their autonomy after Independence, the Indian subcontinent would have been as complex, if not more so, than the Balkans, and maybe as troublesome. Some of the states like Hyderabad and Junagadh, both large and far from Pakistan, had leanings towards joining with the new Islamic State of Pakistan. Others like Kashmir were not sure with whom to ally. 

It was the great skill and statesmanship of Sardar Vallabhai Patel that persuaded the Princely States to join India. Even Junagadh and Hyderabad were eventually incorporated into India. The unification of India was achieved under the leadership of Patel and his colleagues. So, it is fitting that the enormous new statue should be called The Statue of Unity.

 

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A modest memorial to Sardar Vallabhai Patel in central Ahmedabad

Whether Patel would have approved of the enormous expense involved in creating his latest monument, we will never know!

 

 

Indian Independence Day

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Gandhi in Porbandar

On the 15th of August 1947, India won its independence from the British Empire. Independence was achieved through the efforts of many men and women in the Indian sub-continent. The best-known of these is a Gujarati born in Porbandar, MK Gandhi, later known as the Mahatma.

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Hyderabad, 2012

At the precise instant when India became independent, moments after the 14th of August had ended, Gujarat was still divided into many so-called Princely States, and the small enclaves of Daman and Diu were still Portuguese colonies. Through the efforts of the Gujarati Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the more than 500 Princely States of India were ‘encouraged’ to give up their autonomy to become integrated into the newly independent India. Daman and Diu only became part of India in 1961.

 

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Sardar Vallabhai Patel in Ahmedabad

Independence Day is celebrated throughout India. I have been in India several times on the 15t h of August and been privileged to watch flag-raising ceremonies that celebrate the important day when after centuries of foreign rule, the people of India were at last ruling themselves. Of these celebratory occasions, one stands out in my memory.

Back in 2008, we were travelling through northern Kerala on the 15th of August when I spotted a rural school amidst the palm trees close to the sea. The outer walls of the school were covered with colourful paintings including a map of India. We stopped so that I could take photographs of the pictures.

 

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Doorway in the house where Gandhi was born, Porbandar

When I got out of our car, a teacher invited the three of us to enter the school where Independence Day celebrations were being held. We walked into a courtyard filled with school children standing in rows. The teacher invited us to join the school’s director and other teachers on a podium. Flower garlands were draped around our necks.

The director gave a speech and then introduced me as a “special guest from England”. Totally unprepared, I was then asked to address some words to the assembled school and its staff. Although I say so myself, I believe that I was able to improvise a short speech suitable for the occasion.

I felt honoured that I had been invited to give this speech, and gratified when the pupils mobbed me to shake my hands and even to take pictures of me.

 

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