Sherbets

This coming Saturday is Mint Lounge’s Summer Special issue.  I wrote a column on cooling summer drinks, which, I discovered is already up on the site.  So am posting it here.

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  • Posted: Thu, Apr 5 2012. 8:12 PM IST
The cooling draught
There is no better summer drink that the traditional Indian sherbet from your childhood

The Good Life | Shoba Narayan

 When my Chinese room-mate got acne on her face, she ate a porridge made of green mung beans. Soaked mung beans are considered cooling foods in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). They support the yin earth and disperse yang heat. Indian Ayurveda, too, has its own theories of heating and cooling foods. Ripe yellow mangoes are considered heating. My grandmother always ate mangoes with some yogurt to balance the fruit’s intrinsic heating properties. The mango theory didn’t make sense to me, I told my Dad. Nature, after all, doesn’t make mistakes. If it bestowed a bounty of mangoes all through the summer months, the fruits had to be there for a reason: to cool us off. No, said my Dad. Mangoes were indeed heating fruits; and yes, nature didn’t make mistakes. The reason mangoes came to us in the summer was answered in a pithy Sanskrit saying, “Ushnam Ushnena Shamyati”, which is akin to the Latin “Similia Similibus Curantur”. Like cures like, in plain English. Heating fruits like mangoes help dispel the heat of summer.

Stirring up memories: Sherbets are the drinks of an Indian childhood. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.

Stirring up memories: Sherbets are the drinks of an Indian childhood. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.

Healing foods are a complicated business. Mangoes are heating but only the ripe ones. Green mangoes are cooling—witness their ubiquitous usage in summer sherbets, including the famous aam panna, which incidentally includes some cooling cardamom, should there be any residual heat in the mangoes. Yogurt is cooling and damp. Many elderly Indians will not eat yogurt at night because it causes kapha or mucus. A better option is buttermilk, particularly blended with heating spices such as ginger, pepper, curry leaves and asafoetida. This chhaas, or sambaaram as it is called in Kerala, is a soothing digestive. Sugar cane, which thrives in the summer, is heating, so you balance it with some cooling rock sugar or kalkandu.

Panakam is another drink that is served around this time of year. Made with jaggery, pepper, dried ginger and cardamom, it balances electrolytes and quenches thirst. The bael (Bengal quince) fruit is famously cooling. Starting now, bael sherbets will be sold in by-lanes all over India. The green fruits, about the size of a small football, will be stacked like a pyramid. The yellow insides will be scooped out, made into a pulp and served with spices and sugar.

Sandalwood is cooling; and chandan sherbet infused with rose or mograpetals is another visually arresting cooling drink. In my home, I am making a short-cut sherbet. I have submerged a stick of sandalwood in water and floated some mogra and rose petals on top. For good measure, I am preparing this concoction in a copper vessel. In two months, I expect that the fountain of youth will have found me. Either that, or my hair will turn yellow from all the sandalwood I am imbibing.

Are sherbets being overtaken by mocktails? Most restaurants serve mocktails but few include sherbets in their menu. Nimish Bhatia, regional executive chef (south), The Lalit Ashok Bangalore, serves sherbets at his Baluchi restaurant. “We have tukhmalanga sherbets made of those round seeds (called “sabja” in Mumbai) that are part offaloodas,” he says. “These are perceived to be thirst quenchers and coolants.” Other Baluchi sherbets are infused with hibiscus and rose flowers.

Before mocktails were marketed by hotels and restaurants, we all drank sherbet: made ofkokum, mango, screw pine or kewrakhus or vetiver, and sugar cane.

Raj Sethia, chef and CEO of Gangotree restaurant in Bangalore and Chennai, is a sherbet purist. He says that mixing a number of ingredients does not a sherbet make. Milk too is a no-no in the sherbet category, but forms the basis of the thandais that we all drink. “Anything that is an amalgam of many ingredients comes into the mocktail category,” says Sethia. “They are not sherbets.” He speaks effusively about the sherbets of his childhood—such as keri ka panna and bael sherbet—their history that began when the Mughals came to India, and how sherbets can trace their lineage and names back to Arabia and Turkey. But you know what? He is writing a book on mocktails—not sherbets. Mocktail seems to be the drink of today, and sherbet, a summer drink from yesteryear.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to summer drinks. The West reaches for instant quick fixes: ice creams, slushes, “soda” or fizzy drinks and chilled juices. The East is more convoluted. Most of our sherbets are made with three ingredients: fruits and flowers, spices, and herbs like mint. I posted a request for sherbet recipes on a Facebook page that I highly recommend called Foodies in Bangalore. The name is self-explanatory but the people populating it are from all over India. Within a couple of hours, I had a hundred responses. I found a lot of information on the Gourmet India forum, an online community, as well. The enthusiasm of the responses suggests to me that sherbets are the stuff of summer nostalgia. These are drinks that transport us to our childhood, when we came home to chilled juices and sherbets made of seasonal fruits and spices—red rhododendron in Himachal Pradesh; a delicate green aam panna in Rajasthan; spiced buttermilk in Gujarat and Kerala; red jil jil jigarthanda in Madurai, made of rose syrup and sarsaparilla; Rooh Afza and Rasna coolers all over India; chocolate-coloured panagam in the midst of south Indian weddings; kesar faloodasat Crawford Market in Mumbai along with the ubiquitous tender coconut water; bael panna in Lucknow; the prized Bengali kaancha-mitha mangopanna; and a variety of red watermelon-based sherbets in Delhi’s Chandni Chowk. These are the drinks of an Indian childhood, along with sucking on chuskis and ripe tamarind fruits that grow so profusely on the roadside in south India. Climb up a mango tree, lean back on its branches, allow the wind to rustle your hair and suck on a ripe mango or tamarind fruit. Better yet, drink an imli (tamarind) sherbet, Bhojpuri barley satturagi kanji or fresh lime soda. Arrey, lace it with vodka, if you must.

Shoba Narayan is currently drinking green Brahmi sherbet.

Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com

Also Read | Shoba’s previous Lounge columns

When Housewives March for Mint

For a while now, I have been focusing on what writers call the “telling detail,” where you observe something but pick out the detail that is new and unusual.  In this piece, it was the housewife telling her Maharaj to make dal, sabzi, roti, and then breaking off to yell, “Saaku Saaku, lanja saaku.” or “Enough, enough, bribes, enough.”
Cults become movements by accident. The tipping point comes when the housewives get out on the streets

Shoba Narayan

Freedom Park in Bangalore is far away, geographically, from the Ramlila maidan in New Delhi. But on this drizzly Sunday, the two spaces seem to be psychologically in sync with each other, as large crowds of people gather peacefully to protest against corruption and support Anna Hazare. Two senior citizens hold hands to stay together amid the surging crowds. Children carrying homework trudge after their parents who want to expose their offspring to the workings of a democracy. Groups of young men ride in—two and three on a motorbike—carrying the national flag and banners. Speakers on stage hold forth in Kannada and when they say, “Jai Hind,” the entire crowd shouts in response. Everyone seems to be wearing an “I am Anna Hazare” button. But this piece is not about Hazare; it is not even about the Jan Lokpal Bill. It is about how observers become stakeholders and what happens after that.

I am in Freedom Park with about 20 people from my building. I came because they asked me to. Actually, it is for a reason more selfish and “matlabi” than that, but we’ll get into that later. With me are (if you’ll permit me some pride about Bangalore’s cosmopolitan population) the north Indian chief executive of Sobha Developers, a large construction company, and his family; the Bengali founder and managing director of DTDC, the courier company, and his wife; a Maharashtrian partner in Ernst and Young and his family; a Delhi Christian HR manager of a multinational and his family; a Sindhi paediatric surgeon and others. The point is that these people hardly epitomize the middle-class rage and outrage that is supposedly what this whole movement is about. They could live in their gated communities and cocoons, and be shielded from the corruption that lubricates registrations, licences and permits. They have minions to do all this for them; to get things done. Then why are they here? Why am I here?

Photo: PTI

Photo: PTI

I have a theory about mass movements: Follow the housewives. When the housewives get out on the streets (and my mother is one so I am not being derogatory here), that’s the moment to watch; that’s the tipping point. Students are supposed to protest, that’s de rigueur, a rite of passage. The poor, you could argue, get paid to protest. But the average Indian housewife doesn’t have the time— or interest—to protest. She has to wait for the “bai” (maid), she has to keep track of the iron-man, her kids’ homework, and her husband’s dabba. Her time, in other words, is valuable. It would take a lot for these women to get out on the streets and carry a banner. Yet, here they are, shouting slogans, in between giving the “maharaj” at home instructions about that night’s dinner. What’s in it for them?

Cults become movements by accident. Most of us housewives, or working women (and I include myself in this group) sit on the fence about most issues. We simply don’t have the passion that we did as students. But then, something happens that causes us to throw our hat in the ring; to go from being passive observers to being stakeholders; to take a stance. I have been sitting on the fence about this whole anti-corruption thing. I have close friends, such as Manish Sabharwal of TeamLease and Nitin Pai of Pragati magazine who have publicly, passionately and vociferously spoken out against the approach taken by Team Anna. I have other close friends in my building who are equally passionate, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. They have organized protest marches around our neighbourhood. I listen to their reasons for supporting Hazare and that sounds convincing, too. I never planned to go to Freedom Park and did so for a selfish reason that amounts to a barter: I’ll come to your protest marches if you’ll come to my meetings about recycling solid waste. I am over-simplifying, of course. I would not have gone to a Yeddyurappa protest rally no matter how much of a quid pro quo it afforded me within my community. My point is that people join movements for reasons that is impulsive and often contradictory. My husband, for instance, is philosophically against the Team Anna approach. Yet, he accompanied us for what I would call a “family and community” reason: to show allegiance to his wife and his building co-inhabitants. But once he got there, he was amazed at the turnout of people who hadn’t been paid and who didn’t need to be there. Was he swayed? I hope so.

Individuals and op-ed commentators have to present articulate, well-thought-out arguments for their stance. The “wisdom of crowds”, however, is by gut feel. Most people are for or against an issue, not because they can articulate it as well as, say, an Arundhati Roy, but for complicated, frequently contradictory and often, incoherent reasons. If I had to call it, I would say that I am pro-Hazare, even though I have deep qualms about this whole do-or-die method. But there it is. I’ve thrown my hat in the ring. Now that the government seems willing to talk; now that Team Anna has massive people’s support; now that they have the upper hand, I just hope that Messrs Hazare, Bedi and Kejriwal don’t screw it up for the rest of us who marched for them. I hope they play their cards well. I am a stakeholder, you see. I care about the outcome. Now.

Shoba Narayan writes the weekly column The Good Life for Lounge.

Comments are welcome attheirview@livemint.com

Can you survive a year without shopping?

My latest Mint piece is a topic that I have been thinking a lot about.

Can you show affection without buying people things? How to use the most precious thing we have– time– to tell the people we care that we care about them.

Here is the Mint article

t was the summer of 1845. The Irish potato famine raged. In Leipzig, after six years of hard work, Felix Mendelssohn’s piercing and pathos-laden Violin Concerto in E minor premiered to a stupefied audience. Sarah Chang,and Anne-Sophie Mutter have all played it, but Janine Jansen’s rendering will make your hair stand on edge with its “double-stopping” notes reminiscent of Carnatic brigas.

Ascetic: Thoreau retreated into a ‘Socratic’ life at 28.Wikimedia Commons
That same year, in Concord, Massachusetts, the 28-year-old son of an American pencil maker bought 14 acres of wooded forest land, built himself a small home and embarked on a two-year experiment in simple living. That man’s name was Henry David Thoreau and the result of his project was Walden, a seminal book that examines the notion of self, solitude, simplicity and living with nature.
Also Read |Shoba’s previous Lounge columns

Thoreau retreated to the woods to pursue the Socratic ideal of the examined life. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” he wrote. “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” Prodigious ambition for one so young.

Withdrawal and restraint are recurring philosophical themes in pretty much every culture, ranging from Plato’s allegory of the cave, to Vedic philosophy’s injunction about controlling the five senses or Pancha Mahabhootas as a path to enlightenment.

My own experiment with self-control didn’t begin at Walden Pond but in my own home. Over Christmas, I looked into my closet and confronted the eternal feminine dilemma: so many clothes and yet, nothing to wear. This happens to most of us. The Cavalli gown that Niira Radia told Ratan Tata about had never been worn for a reason—it probably looked wonderful on the mannequin but perhaps lost its sheen once it moved to her closet.

What is your relationship with the objects you own? Do you enjoy them or do you tolerate them simply because they are there? Do you enjoy having a lot of things or does it bother you to be surrounded by them? Are you a pack-rat or an ascetic when it comes to the stuff you own?

Those of us who are over 30 can remember a time when we craved certain things. Remember longing for that perfect summer dress or those purple rhinestone sandals that made you feel like a million bucks? Remember saving up to buy your first bottle of Joy perfume by Jean Patou and then savouring every drop? Remember walking by the Fendi boutique countless times, staring at the siren red baguette bag before plonking down several months’ worth of salary for it? Here’s my question: Do you feel the same way about that peacock blue Kanjeevaram sari, polki diamond necklace or Burberry trench coat even now? Or are you over them? Do objects excite you in the same way that they did when you were young?

If you, like me, have become jaded, you have two choices. One is to up the ante so much that it will take your breath away. The other is renouncement, but more on that later. Upping the ante involves buying the most expensive things that you can afford: better wine, fast cars, Cuban cigars, aged single malts, the Jatin Das painting you’ve been eyeing. Throw caution to the wind and see if you can get the excitement back. Buy that Royal Enfield you’ve fantasized about; or that emerald solitaire ring the size of a mini-paperweight.

The other approach is what I am experimenting with. This New Year’s, I have come up with a resolution that I am fairly confident I can keep. For the year 2011, I am off things. I will not buy anything that is non-perishable. I will indulge in all the things I love—vacations, massages, dark chocolate, food and drink—without having to be stuck with clothes, handbags, accessories, you know, all those things that you buy on an impulse and regret later.

It is not so much frugality that is driving this resolution. Rather, it is a desire to recapture my old self and the sense of excitement I felt about buying things. Just as a fast will increase your desire for food, a one-year abstinence from consumerism should make me appreciate an Anupama Dayal dress or even a handcrafted Hyderabadi bangle. That’s my rationale anyway.

Like most resolutions, this one too is tricky. It is not so much about abstaining as much as it is about managing the feelings of loved ones. Unless I am on vacation, I don’t care much for shopping anyhow. But how to tell your beloved aunt or your friend visiting from abroad that you cannot accept the crystal necklace or silk scarf that they have bought especially for you, because you are off…er, stuff? I mean, you can be off meat, garlic or liquor, but how can you be off stuff? Those are the things I am contending with.

The resolution has already started working though. I look at the jewellery I own through new eyes because I know that they will be my only companions for the next 10 months. I can try to wear them creatively, but I cannot afford to get bored with them because they’re all I’ve got. The same goes for clothes, gizmos, furniture, stuff. It’s like an object version of the Stockholm syndrome, where hostages fall in love with their kidnappers simply because they are there. Disposable income is all very well but it also makes the objects that you buy “disposable”, at least emotionally. Constraints, even self-imposed ones, have one great virtue: They force you to value things and not take them for granted. As for me, I am enjoying my year of abstinence. I have fallen off the wagon only once so far for an object that I am too embarrassed to talk about.

Shoba Narayan will be drinking lots of champagne in 2011. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com