Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Indian National Flag - a short refresher!

I don't know about you, but I have forgotten most of what I learnt in school about the Indian tri-colour (tiranga). Although we see the flag flying very often in Delhi, we don't really give it much thought. With Independence Day round the corner, I thought I'd write a little refresher. 

Indian National Flag, proudly flying on top of Parliament House, Delhi
The colours of the Indian flag are saffron (top band), white (middle band) and green (bottom band), with the Ashok Chakra (wheel with 24-spokes) in the middle

The Indian National Flag, our Tiranga (Tricolour)
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons
The Indian flag is imbued with deep meaning that comes from our philosophies and belief systems. Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, second President of independent India, and also one of India's foremost scholars of comparative religion and philosophy, explained the colours beautifully: 

"Bhagwa or the saffron colour denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work. The white in the centre is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct. The green shows our relation to soil, our relation to the plant life here on which all other life depends. The Ashoka Wheel in the center of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principles of those who work under this flag. Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change, it mus tmove and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change.”

Flag colours on decorative display at North Block (Secretariat) in Delhi
Did you know that the flag was designed in Andhra Pradesh, in the 1920s, much before India got independence? The design came from Pingali Venkayya, a freedom fighter born in the Machilipatnam district. Venkayya met Gandhi in Africa during the Boer war, and their friendship lasted over 50 years. It was Venkayya who suggested at the Indian National Congress meeting in Kakinada (Cocanada session, 1923-24) that the India for which they were fighting should have a flag. Gandhi agreed and asked Venkayya to design the flag. The design went through several discussions and changes, before it was adopted in 1931.

Pingali Venkayya (Photo Source: Worthview)
The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) defines the rules/standards for how the flag should look. For example, the ratio of length to breadth is defined by BIS as 3 : 2. The cloth with which the flag is made should be handspun and handwoven khadi (wool, cotton, silk). Currently, the only company which is certified to manufacture the flag is the Karnataka Khadi Gramudyog Samyukta Sangha. BIS has given them specifications for thread count, colour shades, and even the type of stitching, for example the four corners of the flag are to be reinforced with triangular buntings of the same construction and colour as those used for the flag. You can see the entire process here.

The Flag Code of India (originally created in 1950, amended in 2002) defines rules for how to use and respect the flag. For example, the code prohibits the usage of the flag on clothing, cushions, bags etc. The flag cannot be used as a receptacle for carrying anything (except flower petals, which are hidden inside it during the unfurling of the flag). It cannot be used to drape anything, except the ceremonial usage in state funerals. It cannot be flown at half-mast, unless there is a specific occasion with instructions from the government. It cannot be used to salute a person or thing, as it represents India. Most importantly, it cannot be flown upside down, so all of you, remember that Saffron is on Top!!! 
Patriotic running with the flag, Wagah border, Amritsar
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons
You can see the full text of the Indian Flag Code here, on the website of the Ministry of Home Affairs. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Bakeries of Old Delhi (and their many delights!)

For the past month, the bakeries of Old Delhi have been especially busy. Their ovens have been churning out various types of delights for the Ramzan feasts.

We walked past Sikander Bakery a couple of days ago, and found them making their popular rusks.

The popular Sikander Bakery is super-busy.
They were making rusks.
Have you seen how rusks are made? Did you know that they are "twice-baked"? The first time it is baked like a soft bread, something resembling a brioche. Then it is sliced, the slices are placed on trays and baked a second time. It's the second round of baking that makes rusks perfectly crisp for dipping into chai. 

Indian-style rusks originated by happy accident. They have their beginnings in the city of Surat, which was the biggest trading port on the Western coast of India during the reign of Jehangir and Shah Jahan. The Dutch had a settlement in Surat, and they established a bakery there, teaching the art of baking bread to five Parsi gentlemen. 

When the Dutch left Surat (I assume somewhere in the early 1800s), one Parsi gentleman called Dotivala took over their bakery. Business was not good; as locals did not eat the kind of bread that Dotivala produced. In those days, bread was fermented with toddy sap, to prevent spoiling. But old bread would lose moisture and become hard. When he was stuck with old surplus bread, Dotivala sold it to the poor at low prices. Soon he discovered that these hard breads were very popular with people, who dipped them in tea to soften them. So Dotivala began to deliberately harden his bread, through a process of drying them in the ovens a second time. And thus the "toast biscuit" or rusk was born. If you want to see what Dotivala makes these days, you should check out their website. They still have toast biscuits.

The same "double-baking" method is used in the bakeries of Old Delhi:
Soft bread out of the oven after the first round of baking.
Ready for slicing.
The slicing process.
Rusks going into second round of baking.
Bakeries are typically small operations with a
single bhatti (oven). This means the only way to
handle the Ramzan rush is by working extra hours.
In the photo below, you can see rectangular packages of rusks, wrapped in clear plastic.
Lots of rusks for sale. They are sweet as well as savoury.
In the bottom right corner you can see a circular bread called paapey, or gol-paapey.
Pappe have anise inside, and are dusted with poppy seeds after baking.
In the left bottom, you can also see pheni, which is a thin vermicelli.
The most visible thing in the market during Ramzan is pheni, very fine noodles that have been fried (supposedly) in ghee. These are eaten with hot, sweetened milk, and often garnished with pistachios and almonds. Pheni is typically a Sehri dish (pre-dawn meal). Pheni is of different types, some are super-fine, some are saffron flavoured, some are coloured, some are fried almost a dark brown.
Pheni or feni, does not need cooking as it is already fried
Pheni is sold sometimes in
long thin threads
Apart from rusk and pheni, there are lots of interesting bakery products / breads you can see in the market during Ramzan.

Sheermal is a sweet bread; usually the dough is sweetened with milk and sugar, and flavoured with saffron. It is popular in Old Delhi but many bakeries only make them during Ramzan or other festivals. Sheermal probably has origins in Iran, where they are almost twice the size of the ones below, and they are commonly sold in the markets. The Irani sheermal seems much thinner too.
I'm not sure what this bread is, but it looks like a sheermal that has been dunked in sugar and saffron syrup, ready to eat:
Looks awesome.
There is also khajla, deep-fried, flaky and melt-in-the-mouth.
Like pheni, khajla is also usually eaten in the
pre-dawn hours for Sehar.
Photo courtesy Nadeem Khan
Coconut Parantha, a mild-tasting unleavened
bread flavoured with coconut
(also from Nadeem Khan, thanks Nadeem!)

The soft Khamiri Rotis, baked in tandoors are hugely popular
And as if all this wasn't enough, Delhi's repertoire of baked goodies also includes lots of stuff sold all through the year in tiny shops scattered around the city.
Masala Twists
In the foreground is a pastry called "fein" or "fan".
Behind that are the always-popular cream rolls.
And of course, there is also that awesome delight, the nankhatai, about which I posted some time ago.
The Nankhatai Man
With all these treats, one would think the bakeries in Old Delhi are prospering. But it's quite clear that they are in fact, struggling to stay afloat. There aren't as many of them as there used to be. Everywhere in Old Delhi you see branded biscuits and other packaged eatables from big companies; so I am sure they are taking away a big chunk of the bakeries' business. I don't know how long these bakeries will survive.