Monday, January 12, 2015

The ‘Sufi’ in the Indian cook... About ‘Una waale’ Darshan Lalji

The biggest takeaway from my food travels is the personalities I meet and the relationships to
food that I discover. Like the Maslows Theory I have found a common thread in the
development of the persona of the Indian kaarigar. The first being the unsure cribbing stage
and the last being the one-with-food ‘Malang’ stage. I consider myself lucky to have a met a
lot of the Sufi malang kaarigars in my travels. My conversations with them end up being
‘uneditable sermons’, as Gaurav Jang, Zee Khana Khazana’s programming head smilingly
puts it.

It’s amazing how after cooking for 45-50 years one gets a sense of freedom from the world,
one can live and work anywhere, keep smiling forever, and cook with sheer intuition and no effort.
The last guy who I met who fits this character sketch is Darshan Lal Chaudhry, who amazed me in 15
minutes of conversation with his composure and knowledge about Indian sweets.
After leaving his home in Chhota Nangal Khurd (Una, Himachal Pradesh) at the age of 16 and working his way to being a halwai at the age of 23, he moved to Jaipur and has been there for 28 years. His three sons have no interest in the profession, they work in factories and farms. “They will be very rich I am sure , but they will never have a smile as big as mine,” he says. That Sufi smile is the gift of food, and a sign of a happy relationship with self. After an hour of conversation, he took me to his ‘AC’ room, which had his bed an almirah and a parant full of dough. This, he said is my past time — making 100 kilograms of feeni (thin seviyaan ) a day. A three-stage process of deft dough pulling that ultimately yields dough bunches that fry themselves to the thinnest doodh feeni I have ever seen. When I wake up, it’s puja, shower and then kneading the seviyan dough. I leave the air conditioning on and visit it every three hours to pull it. After 12 hours and three ‘pulling’ sessions, he knots up the feeni and hands it over for frying. This has been his routine for the last 12 years since his guru Shyam Sundar Sharma passed away. It’s my puja supplement he says and laughs.
In a ‘celebrity chef’ and a ‘foren’ obsessed world (and yeah I am a part of that world) where handmade noodles are a craze and oriental chefs, who master this art are demi gods (and rightly so, as noodle making is no childs play) this Sufi from Una is quietly and smilingly carrying on this ritual in his room. Write to us for his number and try meeting him the next time in Jaipur and please do get a kilo of doodh feeni for me as well.