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A dull bath

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That quitessential media pundit, Vir Sanghvi, brings together food, history, economy and foreign policy in an article on dal in the Sunday magazine of HT:

I’ve never met an Indian who thinks of his own cuisine in terms of tandoori chicken, a restaurant dish that we rarely eat at home. Nor do I know many Indians who stay awake at nights, when they are away from home, pining for rogan josh or chicken shahi korma or any other kind of curry.

What we do miss is something that foreigners rarely understand.

We miss dal.

On the other hand, those countries that export dal have a powerful hold on India. The Burmese junta is not above threatening a ban on dal exports to India in case our foreign policy seems unfriendly to them.

When President Obama was here, a member of his team asked Pramit [Pal Chaudhuri] what the US could do to increase cooperation with India. “Grow more dal and sell it to us,” Pramit said. The official seemed bemused and went on to talk of the things that Americans are happiest discussing: arms sales, anti-terror alliances, tariff reductions, etc.

And yet, Pramit was entirely right. Dal defines a timeless India in a way that very little else can. It is our very own staple. And we have eaten it ever since India came into being.

For instance, though the Rig Veda mentions neither wheat nor rice, it specifically mentions urad, masoor and moong dals. (As always, I am indebted to K.T. Achaya’s masterly Indian Food – A Historical Companion for this insight.) Archeologists have found urad and moong grains at Navdatoli (dating to 1500 BC) and urad grains at Daulatpur. Masoor has been found in excavations in Navdatoli, Ter and Chirand, dating to around 1800 BC.

The article has a truthiness about it that makes it very believable. But, Sanghvi is wrong so often! In this case, he just neglects inconvenient data. A comment to the article points out that dal is eaten in many places: cooked differently, of course, but still the very same ingredient. Supermarket shelves in the west are full of canned lentil soups and even 5 kilo bags of dal. There goes the theory of the geopolitics of dal.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

December 12, 2010 at 4:24 am

Posted in food, India

Tagged with , , , , , , ,

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