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Lutyens’ Tryst With Khichdi

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By Sidharth Mishra

A few weeksago the officials of Delhi Traffic Police had a torrid time when both the, as Bollywood potboiler was titled, ‘Raja AurRunk’(the ruler and the ruled) decided to queue up at the Raisina Hills for a plate of Khichdi, the ubiquitous Indian two square meal for the poor. The occasion was World Food India Congress, a jamboree of leading investors and producers from food processing industry. But what caught the eyeballs, the camera bytes and twitter snipes was about the making of the poor Khichdi leading to a massive traffic jam. When Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker would have set out to design New Delhi and planned the grand avenue down from the Viceregal House to War Memorial Arch (the present day RashtrapatiBhawan to India Gate) and named it Kingsway, they would have never dreamt of it being anchor for a food festival that too under the government patronage.

Does the arrival of Khichdi as a meal of prominence, the Government just stopped short of declaring it the national meal, speaks about the deep roots our democracy has come to have? Khichdi certainly did not exist in the scheme of things of the English, or even the Anglo-Indians for that matter.
In the messes and kitchens of the Indian Army, the truest inheritors of British legacy, Khichdi was a no-no for a very long time for sure. This writer went to Prince of Wales Royal (now Rashtriya) Indian College, a very British military school, in Dehradun for education. In the 1980s, though the Paranthas and Bhaturas were allowed a very reluctant entry on the menu, the boarders were still expected to eat Paranthas with the efficient use of the knife and the fork.
During one of school treks in the Garhwal Himalayas, we had done the unthinkable act of cooking a meal of Khichdi from the ration we had received. On return to Dehradun, the trek in-charge was marched up for an admonition for having not stopped the students from inculcating non-officer like qualities like cooking and eating Khichdi.
In fact a few years later we had learnt that the then principal withdrew “Chole-Bhature” from the menu to take the school back to its “glorious days.”Now this could be a matter of debate, if glorious days of India existed when the (colonial) rulers took soup before meals or was it when the rulers drank ‘shorba’ in the Mughal times.
Some may insist that glory was when everybody had ‘goras’ (cow’s milk). But I am for sure that in all the three eras ‘Khichdi’ did exist, not as meal of the ruler but that of the ruled. Each morsel of Khichdi eaten in all the three ages must have contributed to the survival of a poor.
Frugal food habits have been trademark of several great leaders. Our very own Mahatma Gandhi had a great fetish for plain boiled brinjals and goat milk. But I don’t recall Father of the Nation ever even mulling over the idea of making boiled brinjal and porridge made in goat milk part of the national menu.
Mahatma in fact once beautifully described the role of food in people’s life. He said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”Therefore this whole attempt to deify food by government which is battling severe economic turn down somehow defies logic.
Would turning a serious conference on giving a boost to the food processing industry into a spectacle of Khichdi making do any good to our economy. Will it add value to rural trade? In the times when the street vendors are out early morning hawking Biryani and crowd returning home in the evenings munches on chilly potatoes and fried momos, Khichdi would remain a bystander.
A government which has Swachch Bharat as its flagship programme should be the last to hold a spectacle of food on India Gate lawns. The garbage the three day event created would have grabbed much of the precious space on the overflowing rubbish mounts on the outskirts of the national Capital.
During this time of the year, when Supreme Court is clamping down with one order after another to reduce the pollution levels, the Government should have been careful not to patronise an event which led to unprecedented traffic jams making air pollution caused by automobile fumes rise to dangerous levels.
Khichdi’s standing in our menu would always be that of a saviour and never a match winner. In deifying Khichdi, the NarendraModi government may be putting itself in the match saving mould rather than playing as match winner. The government has less than two years left in the present term. It’s time for it to play for winning the match rather than take refuge in abysmal events like the one organised last week.
A Prime Minister who believes in minimum government and maximum governance certainly can do away with programmes which put city’s traffic into a jam; and that too just for a plate of Khichdi.
(Sidharth Mishra is Editor & CEO,; first published in DB Post, Bhopal)

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