Sunday, October 3, 2010
Review of Battle for Bittora by Anuja Chauhan matched with a recipe for Halwa
For those of you who only know my food side, I LOVE to read in general, in fact I devour non food books as well. No matter how late I go to bed, I HAVE to read before I sleep. Occasionally The Cook - shelf talks about non food books as well. Zoya Factor was one such... And now it is Battle for Bittora by the smae author - Anuja Chauhan.
I resisted Zoya Factor (Anuja Chauhan's first book) for a long time because it had a cricket theme. But I finally gave in and bought it in a fey moment because the back cover snuck up on me. I loved it! So much so that I actually took to accosting innocent UNKNOWN people that even looked at the book in passing at bookstores, and made them buy it! So when I heard she was working on her next book, I was really looking forward to it.
I almost missed that the book was out! In fact if I hadn’t seen a listing in Times of India I would not have known it had been published! Anyways to cut a long story short, I did what I had to, to get my hands on the book, rushed home, forgot everything else I had to do (ALOT) and begun reading!
The story starts out engagingly with 25 year old Jinni (Sarojini to her eternal disgust) who lives and works in Mumbai as a Kitaanu animator (who dreams of animating superheroes). She is perfectly happy doing so and exchanging clever repartee with her gay and rather colourful colleague Rumi until the arrival of her grandmother, at her office in Mumbai in the middle of said repartee, at midnight, demanding in broken English that Jinni “campaign for her and her Pragati party in Bittora. Here is about when the reader realises that daal mein kush kala hai, this is not just an era gera story.
Jinni ditches haute couture for frumpy khadi and accompanies her granny home - at which point the reader needs to set aside questions like “Just like that?” and leave their brains at the proverbial door - arrives in Bittora. Only to literally run slap bang into the lean, taut chiselled, honey gold chest (and this is where female readers begun to be reeled in) of Zak aka Zain Altaf Khan (to our eternal lust) who is an ex-Royal of Bittora that has converted his family seat into a Heritage hotel in partnership with the Taj AND most importantly is Jinni’s childhood friend and love interrupted.
And here is where the twist happen. It turns out that Jinni is not to be a frumpy salwar suit clad campaigner for her grandmother but a cotton sari clad wannabe MP CANDIDATE for the Pragati party in Bittora. AND her rival in the election is none other than her friend from childhood Zain Altaf Khan who is a candidate of the opposing IJP, a pro-hindu party, that by fielding him, a Muslim candidate, is trying to signal a change of its party ideologies.
For the first 150-60 pages things move along engagingly, around page 80 or so the reader lets out her first chuckle when Our Pappu makes an appearance and by about page 125, when Jinni is served Bhainscafe, coffee made with “straight-from-the-tit-bhains-ka-doodh” because homogenised milk has not made it to Bittora, the reader realises that there are good books, great books, even memorable books. But there are few books that make you laugh do hard that the bed shakes and your sleeping husband sits up and gives you a blearily disgusted look!
And so Jinni dons her armour of cotton saris and frumpy blouses and prepares to uphold the illustrious Pande dynasty of Pavit Pradesh battling prickly heat, accusations of nymphomania and corruption even as Zain distracts her with glimpses of lean, taut, chiselled, honey gold flesh from chest his array of kurtas and cool tshirts and his oh so rock-solid, knight-in-shinig-armour personality that Jinni keeps disregarding. And so ensues a battle royale that plays backdrop to a steamy love story that plays itself out over facebook and chance meetings on rural backroads.
Peppered with hinglish and hindi words like kitaanu animator, Saakshaat fart, with Ammaji’s philosophies delivered in typical Pavit Pradesh accent and no marks for guessing the place that Pavit Pradesh refers to or which parties are being spoofed as Pragati and IJP. B4B - as the book is being affectionately referred to already - is a laughathon through and through that this reader did not stop reading till the end (which came at about 4 am in the morning, by which time her husband had turned away, covered his head with a blanket and resigned himself to fate).
Thank you Anuja Chauhan, you set the mark high with Zoya Factor, and more than met it with Battle for Bittora! And now to get back to the pile of work I have been shirking!
Halwa (Time: 30-45 mins, Serves 2-4)
While their origins are lost in time Halwas, are sticky sweets that would be classified as puddings in the West and are made from one predominant ingredient like a flour, lentil, fruit or vegetable that is cooked with Ghee (clarified butter) and Sugar. Halwa cooked further could also be set, cut into shapes and served. Come the winter and all over the North of India one is tempted by the aroma of Gajjar ka Halwa, (Carrot Halwa) lingering as it does on the cold winter air. Heavy monsoon rains will often have my North Indian husband asking for Atte Ka Halwa (Halwa made from unbleached flour) a treat his mother used to cook up for him and his siblings when the rain cooped them indoors but that is a home-style preparation, rarely served to guests. The Halwa that is served to guests and cooked for Poojas as offerings to the Gods all over India is the Suji/Sooji or Semolina Halwa. Halwa Puri is a popular offering throughout the book so I thought it would be a great accompaniment to the book when you read it.
Suji/Sooji ka Halwa
1 c Sooji (semolina)
1 c Sugar
2.5 c water
2 tsp ghee
Lots of Raisins (you can add other dry fruit, I like my Halwa with just raisins)
2-3 Cardamom, coarsely powdered
Add the sugar to the water mix well a d bring to a boil. Reserve. In a Kadai or wok add the ghee and sooji and cook, stirring constantly for 15-20 minutes till the sooji darkens to a light brown. Add Cardamom powder and mix well. Add still warm water-sugar solution slowly, stirring with a spoon. Allow to cook stirring constantly until all the water has been absorbed (about 5-10 minutes). Garnish with chopped nuts and serve hot.