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Archive for August, 2011

Maa has made 31 paayeshs for me, one on each birthday.  And so yesterday was my 31st.  On the morning of every birthday, she patiently stirs the milk mixture forever (actually it’s probably around 45 mins but this is a very long time to stir continuously, although on a positive note it’s probably really great for toning the arms) to make the sweet and silky paayesh.  Obviously, as fitting for any special occasion, the paayesh does not touch my lips until a small portion of it has been offered to god ( in the form of Ganesh in the photo) and until I shower and say a little prayer myself.  I’m not religious at all but this little ritual provides comfort and balances out the other more hedonistic aspects of birthday festivities.  That minute in front of the offering is a quiet moment in which I can reflect on the past year, give thanks to all the good things in my life, and look forward to next year.  It puts everything in perspective.

Maa’s paayesh has that perfect consistency of being a little less thick than condensed milk.  I find it is so uninspiring and spirit-deflating when the paayesh limply spills over the spoon because it is so thin and watery.  Also importantly, Maa’s paayesh has NO RAISINS.  Nothing against raisins as such but we just don’t like them in the paayesh.  Instead she adds flaked almonds which gives it a lovely and different texture.

Ingredients

  • 2 pints full cream milk
  • 2 tbs rice (in UK, Maa uses Basmati but if back in India, she would have used gobindo bhog rice, which is a short-grained, glutinous rice that cooks quickly and has a creamy quality, perfect for paayesh)
  •  2 tbs sugar
  • 2 tbs palm jaggery
  • Handful of flaked almonds

Method

  1. Put the milk in a saucepan and bring to boil.  Stir continuously
  2. Once brought to the boil, add in the rice (wash it first).  Reduce heat a little and stir until the rice is cooked.  This should take about 20 minutes
  3. When the rice is cooked, include the sugar, jaggery and flaked almonds.  Stir until the water from the sugar and jaggery have evaporated and the milk has thickened to the consistency preferred.
  4. Grate a little nutmeg on top (optional)

Can be served warm or cold

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India’s independence day was on the 15th August and friends and family all over replaced their facebook profile pictures with the Indian flag.  It is great to see such patriotism even in the face of our national team’s abysmal performance at the  India-England 2011 test series.

The day itself also made me think of India’s national anthem, ‘Jana Gana Mana’.  Since we left India when I was just six, I was not lucky enough (no sarcasm intended) to have it drilled into me during school assemblies.  And in Sweden, there weren’t many occasions to catch up so as a result, I guiltily confess to not knowing my national anthem.

Luckily with the help of YouTube and Wikipedia, I can hear and understand the complete version of the song (only the first stanza out of the 5 composed by Tagore is sung as the national anthem).

Here is the wiki link to the translation:

But here’s the interesting thing about this song.  Apparently Tagore wrote the song in honor of King George V and the Queen of England when they visited India in 1919.  Is this really true?  If so, I find it highly ironic and sad that our national anthem is sung in praise to our former British rulers.

If someone can set this straight, please do!

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Some more Tagore

 

Song of the City, photograph courtesy of Akademi and Southwark Playhouse

In my last blog entry, I admitted that I find Rabindra Sangeet boring and wished it could be set free from its traditional interpretation.  Well, it seems as there are other people who want this as well.  Last night I attended an interesting dance production called ‘Song of the City‘ by Akademi which uses Tagore’s songs in a contemporary way.   The piece is about three characters – Muse, Artist and Man who fall in and out of tune with the city.  The dance blends ballet, bharatnatyam and modern dance while the music mixed stripped back Bengali vocals, pulsating big beats, clarinet ( played by Arun Ghosh who also composed for the production) and an electronica-tinged soundscape.  And then the actual setting.  It was a character in its own right.  Dark, atmosphere and musty vaults underneath London Bridge where the subterranean space was given a golden dirty hue by the naked lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling.

All in all, quite an interesting production.  I didn’t come away spellbound as some bits worked well, others less so.  However, what was most interesting for me was that the Rabindra Sangeet wasn’t boring to listen to!  No harmonium, no irritating bells, no monotonous singing.  The songs were rendered full of emotion and momentum.  Why?  The accompanying music lifted the lyrics from the doldrums, gave it life and meaning.  Layers of dub, electronica and beats along with the modern dance gave the songs the much needed atmosphere and context that has been sadly lacking in other Tagore dance dramas.  Sacrilege for some, a surprising evening for me.

 

 

 

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