Category Archives: True Stories

The chef in a bit of soup on Jinja Road

One of my most horrific memories of the days immediately before my departure from Uganda is that of a ‘halvai’ or community chef who used to come to peoples’ homes to cook on site during weddings or religious events. One such halvai was arrested by the military police on Jinja Road. When they asked him to open the boot of his car to show what he was carrying, they found cooking oil, sugar and flour- all ‘essential commodities’ in an economy that was experiencing shortages.. The man must have been hit by the army because his forehead was bleeding and he was standing in utter fear by the roadside and carrying his turban in his hand, a most demeaning position for a Sikh.

 

I looked into the boot of his car and it had all the items that the police would have desperately needed to build case against him. No one in the convoy that we were traveling in had the courage to stop and to rescue the man. Everyone was concerned with their own safety – in Idi Amin’s Uganda you did not negotiate with the trigger happy military police. I have never found out whether he was allowed to leave the site without further punishment. But I also did not hear about his death and so I can only assume that he must have survived. The very people that he had been cooking for, that is- us, passed by without helping him.

 

The story goes that the man had excellent skills for estimating the vegetables, materials and ingredients required for cooking food for any number of guests for weddings, religious events and parties. He expected all contents for example the masalla to be prepared for cooking, vegetables to be washed and lentils to be cleaned and made free of stones and grit. He would then arrive on the day prior to the wedding, set up his kitchen and recruit his volunteers and helpers. Given to the use of the occasional foul language, he preferred to have no women around.  And also, if he was cooking for a wedding, he would make a hushed request,”  Mere goli maro” using crude Punjabi language; which translates as “Shoot me”. What he actually meant that he wanted his bottle of whiskey to be brought in discreetly with cold water as a mixer. I cannot recall how often he asked for more but empty bottle was discarded when the area was cleaned upon the completion of the food that could be cooked on a day prior to the event. He would then return the next day and yes, you have guessed it, ask for more goli. The quality of food was always good and as hundreds of people had eaten his food, he did not have to advertise. On the contrary, people had to book him well in advance or go to his competitors, who also charged more.

 

A new breed of well managed and highly prized community cooks has emerged in the UK during the last twenty years. More recently catering companies have established businesses with excellent credentials.It would not surprise me if they have websites with 360 degree video shows of the catering on display.

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Pani re pani tera rang kaisa

Pani re pani tera rang kaisa…

Welcome to 2012 and bucketfuls of dreams, aspirations and perhaps a few regrets as well.  There will be more commentaries on each of these during this year. There is a song at the bottom but you have to read this first!

My use of the word ‘bucketfuls’ is intentional. A recent television advertisement by Water Aid, the UK based charity, affected me a great deal. Of course their work is commendable and the charity deserves every support that they can get. This blog is fiercely independent and does not claim to, or aim to, represent Water Aid or any of the two more charities that I am going to adopt for 2012. Why all this hassle? What is it about water that moves us most?

My mum used to believe that giving water to anyone who was thirsty was the most humane of all acts of ‘charitable’ giving. The whole aspect of charity is also debatable and I will return to this some other time or add a link here later. But offering water to the needy was seen as the greatest of all favours that mum could perform. Each of the words in italics suggests an assumption which will also be discussed when I return to charitable giving. My mum died 51 years ago and she taught us to offer water to any passing traveller and even our African neighbours from the adjoining ‘shambas’.  This one is for you, mum.

The television advertisement for Water Aid featured an appeal for funds. The charity presents its credentials and seeks funding for improving access to clean water in some of the poorest parts of the world. The advertisement shows poor children drinking dirty and polluted water. The pictures are not for the squeamish but there is a view that charities do tend to use the bleakest and most upsetting pictures of people undergoing immense suffering when they try to raise funds. Most people have mixed views on how charities should present their case. However, as the prime focus of Water Aid is to create access to safe and clean drinking water for some of the neediest people in deprived areas of the world, one could hardly expect them to use a less convincing approach. The pictures and cases that they use are very moving and perhaps justly so. Now there, I have said it. Let us not be critical of the campaign and but more supportive of the need.

Just in case you are thinking of sending in the money, here is the link to their website: http://www.wateraid.org/uk

A visit to the site is highly recommended. I found that Water Aid has been working in Uganda. Please click this link to discover for yourself: http://www.wateraid.org/uk/what_we_do/where_we_work/uganda/

Water Aid’s work in Tanzania is shown by this link: http://www.wateraid.org/uk/what_we_do/where_we_work/tanzania/default.asp

So, would it be a good time to support Water Aid in the countries where some of us were born and bred? It is really up to you. My role is to provide the information. If you are interested please visit the main site at http://www.wateraid.org/uk

Water Aid is also supporting various projects in India and Pakistan. Please do not allow yourself to be distracted by news about India’s economic growth and how it is now one of the fastest emerging economies under the group of BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Some people refer to BRICS, the ‘S’ is for South Africa. Pakistan seems to have missed the economic miracle and for some it may be more deserving of help. Water Aid’s work in these countries is shown by the following links:

India: http://www.wateraid.org/uk/what_we_do/where_we_work/india/

Pakistan: http://www.wateraid.org/uk/what_we_do/where_we_work/pakistan/

Remember this blog is not appointed by Water Aid and the writer is not an authorised fund raiser for this charity. The rest is up to you.

If you are still reading this you deserve a small treat. Here goes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ol8fY8sExDI

And, promise not to be too distracted by the wet saris….

The Wahindi in Transition: Its the daughter-in-law, stupid!

A Footnote to the Bebe story

 

There are stars and villains in the way characters are developed in any story. Sindra’s original version, which I have hugely massacred and my own khichri ( liquidy rice ‘biryani’) of the Bebe story creates the daughter-in-law as the villain and the son as the lost and confused boy who is buffeted by two bad  and dominating women. That is always the preferred theme. What fun it is to make the daughter-in-law the bad fish in a small pond.

 

But actually, there are some very good daughter-in-laws who put in huge amounts of work in looking after two elderly couples ( That is, his parents and her own parents or surviving parents) very competently, demonstrating great sacrifice and personal cost. This value system is greatly admired by many communities and social services, where it works.  To complete this story on a happy note for daughter-in-laws, here is a true story.

 

A small family with both elderly parents with reasonably good health and a lot of money in the UK bank, as well as the young son and his wife and children head for the UK. Over the next 20 or so years, both of the elderly people experience major health and emotional problems. The daughter-in-law is always by their side, providing help and support and also nursing them through their illnesses. First the mother-in-law passes away and then the father-in-law gets acutely ill and even unable to use the bathroom. The daughter-in-law takes care of him day and night while his own son is busy at work, the sports field and then the clubs where a drink is always mandatory to celebrate a win or to commiserate after losing a cricket or hockey match.

 

After nearly five years of taking personal care of the elderly father, the prospect of securing an admission to a nursing home is considered but immediately rejected by the nearly absentee son. He is concerned about the ‘society’s’ or ‘biradari’s reaction (the brotherhood’s judgement) to such a decision which is likely to be perceived as a breach of the unspoken code of conduct where such an action is likely to be seen as rejection and even abandonment.  And so the old man carries on with his troubled life as an in-house dependent, with loss of self-respect while he is still nursed by the daughter-in-law. The daughter-in-law, who is usually the villain the piece , is the exemplary carer and the saviour! One morning the old man is found dead in his bed, having died in his sleep. When his will is examined, he has left the title to the house as well as a huge cash pile to the daughter-in-law only. The son has been excluded from the will and no money is left to him and his siblings, thereby triggering off a war of attrition.