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.

 

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.

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.

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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.

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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

Reserved for ladies

RAJKOT

Excerpt from “TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU” by Adam YAMEY. Available as a Kindle from Amazon and as a paperback from lulu.com, amazon.com, and bookdepository.com 

 

The Watson Museum in Rajkot has a good collection of exhibits that encompass the history of the area around Rajkot. Given its age, it is in good condition, and well-worth visiting as is its neighbour in another part of the same building, the Lang Library. It was founded in 1856 by Colonel William Lang, who was a British Political Agent in the Kathiawar region of India, which included Rajkot, from 1846 to ’59. Today, it is named the Arvindbhai Maniyar Library in honour of a former Mayor of Rajkot.

Before entering the spacious reading room, we saw a glass case containing a model depicting the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts, and wisdom, Saraswati, holding a stringed musical instrument in her raised left hand. She was draped with flower garlands. The reading room, surrounded by bookcases and busts of famous people, has many tables and chairs. Almost every chair was occupied by men reading newspapers. Part of the ceiling is made in shiny wood (like a parquet floor) patterned with lozenges containing centrally placed carved wooden rosettes. An elegant staircase with curved wooden bannisters leads to an upper floor. A side room on the ground floor serves a children’s library equipped with miniature desks whose seatbacks are carved to resemble squirrels in profile.

On our way out of the library, we noticed a small table with only enough room for two chairs. It bore a notice in Gujarati saying that it was “reserved for female readers”. One of the chairs was occupied by a young lady, who confirmed that this table is the only place allotted to female readers. When asked what happened when there were more than two female readers, she shrugged her shoulders, and said: “There never are.” The segregation of library users by gender is one of many indications we had that people in Saurashtra retain very conservative views of how life should be lived.

A royal palace by the sea

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Sand drifts relentlessly up from the seaside towards the gracefully decaying, rambling Huzoor Palace in Porbandar (Gujarat), the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi.

Prior to 1947, what is now the State of Gujarat was divided up into more than 200 ‘independent’ Princely States. Many of the rulers of these states were wealthy. Most of them built elaborate palaces like this one built in the early 20th century by Nawarsinhji Bhavsinhji Sahib Bahadur, who ruled from 1908-48 and was a first-class cricketer, who played for India in a Test Match in England in 1932.

 

A POR 2

Discover more about Gujarat in

TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU

by Adam Yamey

Available by clicking HERE

Also, from Amazon and on Kindle

 

An underground well

VIRPUR STEP

The step well at VIRPUR in Saurashtra is typical of the subterranean wells found all over the State of Gujarat. A series of staircases lead underground to a deeeply located well head. The staircases are connected with galleries through which light filters down to the depths. These wells often doubled up as meeting places for women and underground Hindu shrines. This well at Virpur is prized by women seeking enhanced fertility.

Learn much more about step wells in Adam Yamey’s book:

TRAVELS THROUGH GUJARAT, DAMAN, AND DIU

Available: https://www.bookdepository.com/Travels-Through-Gujarat-Daman-Diu-Adam-YAMEY/9780244407988

And on Amazon as well as Kindle

Gandhi in Bhavnagar … briefly

BHAVNAGAR is a fascinating city in the south of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat…

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Front of Neelambagh Palace  (now a hotel), Bhavnagar

MK Gandhi, the future ‘Mahatma’, wrote in his autobiography: “I passed the matriculation examination in 1887… My elders wanted me to pursue my studies at college after the matriculation. There was a college in Bhavnagar as well as in Bombay, and as the former was cheaper, I decided to go there and join the Samaldas College. I went, but found myself entirely at sea. Everything was difficult. I could not follow, let alone take interest in, the professors’ lectures. It was no fault of theirs. The professors in that College were regarded as first rate. But I was so raw. At the end of the first term, I returned home.

Having read this, we wanted to see the college. We took an autorickshaw to Samaldas Arts College, which is away from the city centre just over three kilometres southwest of the Gandhi Smrti. The college is laid out in a huge campus. Lopa waited in the shade whilst I walked along a busy private road linking the university’s well spaced buildings. There were many students going along it on foot and on two-wheelers. I reached an imposing stone building at the end of a short driveway. Outside its entrance, I saw an old school bell hanging from a wooden post. It looked Victorian in style and was topped with a metal model of a royal crown. I wondered if this was a memento from the days when the college was founded.  There was nobody in the building except a security guard, who only spoke Gujarati. I tried to ask him whether this was where Gandhi had studied, but he could not understand me.  Then I returned to the road, and asked a couple of passers-by, who did speak English, about Gandhi and Samaldas College. Their vague answers were uninformative.

 

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Former Samaldas College, Where Gandhi studied

We had a rest in our hotel next to the Neelambagh Palace after having had a delicious lunch at a brand-new restaurant called Sugar and Spice, which is near the Samaldas College. While I was relaxing, two things worried me about the campus that I had just visited. First, none of it looks old enough to have been present in 1887, when Gandhi attended it. Secondly, the place is too far from the what would have been the city’s boundary in Gandhi’s day. A little research on the Internet revealed that in Gandhi’s day, Samaldas College was nowhere near its present location, but in the centre of Bhavnagar.

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Classroom where Gandhi studied in Samaldas College

Having located the site of Gandhi’s college, we took an ‘auto’ to the Majirav Girls School on High Court Road. The bulk of the school is a two-storey building arranged around three sides of a large rectangular courtyard. As it was a Saturday afternoon, there were few pupils around. The security guards asked us our business. We told them that we wanted to see the college where Gandhi had studied. Someone went off to find the school’s Director, who kindly agreed to show us what we wanted to see. This lady, who has several degrees and a PhD in education, is a high-flyer in the education department of the State of Gujarat. She escorted us to a neo-gothic building attached to the rear of the school, and then asked us to wait beside a locked door.

 

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Detail of gateway into the old Royal Palace (‘Darbagadh’) of Bhavnagar

Eventually, somebody found the keys to the door and the Director unlocked it. We entered a large hall, two storeys in height, with a wooden ceiling. It is filled with gymnastic equipment because it is now used as the girls’ gymnasium. A small inscribed stone plaque on one wall below an old coloured photograph of the Mahatma reads (both in Gujarati and English): “The Samaldas College was founded in 1874 in this building. Mahatma Gandhi studied in this class room as a first-year student from January to June 1888”. The Director of the girls’ school told us that the class room where Gandhi had studied had once been the primary school of the Majirav School, but for a brief while it had been lent to Samaldas College, and that was when Gandhi attended it.

 

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An afternoon in Bhavnagar