Art nourished by meals


Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu

Look round, and you will discover that meals has a propensity to make its presence felt in on a regular basis happenings in essentially the most subliminal style — in imagery, as a motif, symbolically, even metaphorically. It doesn’t restrict itself to being a mere reflection of the historical past and tradition of various geographies, however has confirmed to be a deep-rooted cornerstone of our existence.

And as a result of all of us bodily, emotionally, and interpersonally thrive on meals, it has come to play a big function in our social and cultural lives. An facet that the continued pandemic has highlighted equally, and all too obviously! Our focus these previous months, you’ll realise, has been on comestibles — tips on how to procure, tips on how to clear, tips on how to cook dinner, who to feed, the place to ship, and many others.

Jubiliant youths sporting conventional costume with
paisley-embroidered jackets dance as they have fun the harvest season. PTI

It comes as no shock, subsequently, that meals made an early look in artwork, craft, folklore, music and literature. The range in its depictions, typically serving as revelations about class, gender, politics and faith, has spanned numerous civilisations, cultures, and chronologies. It has, in a way, left an indelible imprint in society’s collective reminiscence.

Literary meals

“Food to literature is what background music score is to cinema. It is an intertwined part of the narrative. It engages the senses, establishes relationships, reflects socio-economic stratification and gives glimpses of a culture. It is both literal and metaphoric. From piety to gluttony, starvation to celebration, scarcity to abundance — paying attention to the food, being served or not being served, leads to a keener understanding of the world being depicted,” says Dr Harpreet Gill, Associate Professor, MCM DAV College, Chandigarh.

Paisley work in needle is among the many hottest designs in a Kashmiri scarf.

She elaborates additional, “Oliver Twist’s famous entreaty — ‘Please, Sir, I want some more’— exposes the gluttony and cruelty of the board members and the plight of orphans in Victorian England. The Cratchits in Dickens’ Christmas Carol embedded family warmth into Christmas dinner. And probably also contributed to good old plum pudding being christened as Christmas pudding. Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix and Obelix comic series customarily end with a feast, where the entire community comes together and celebrates their victory. And in this happy image, we look for the gagged and tied Cacofonix. It is a tradition.”

Mango manifestation

This recurrence of meals imagery throughout arts and folklore serves as a path of information-rich clues concerning the occasions of its inception. Were it not for its presence within the wall reduction of Queen Hatshepsut’s funerary monument in Thebes, as an example, we might not have identified that the pungent peppercorn had made its method to Egypt within the 15th century BC. The tiny spice’s preservative properties had discovered a spot of a lot significance within the burial chambers of mummified Pharoahs.

In this way, the humanities invite us to really feel a selected place at a specific time, with food-related components finishing the sensory expertise.

In the Indian context, nothing strikes the chord in the best way the mango, our nationwide fruit, does. A logo of prosperity and fertility, it has lengthy held writers, singers, artists, weavers and designers in its spell. The 13th century poet Amir Khusro known as it the fairest fruit of the nation — Naghza tarin mewa Hindustan. In a later (circa 18th century) miniature portray from the Deccan School, he’s proven seated underneath a fruit-laden mango tree along with his religious grasp, the Sufi mystic Nizamuddin Auliya. Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta, who visited India throughout the reign of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, reveals his fascination for the mango within the profusely detailed notes he made about its texture, selection, flavour and utilization in his journey journals.

The mango motif will be generally present in Punjabi juttis with tilla work. ISTOCK

Traditional adornments additionally depict the fruit in abundance; the manga malai, a gem-encrusted necklace strung with mango-shaped pendants in gold is without doubt one of the most well-known items of jewelry from the Malabar area.

Regardless of what you name it — ambi, kairi, paisley — the mango finds an equally huge illustration in Indian textiles. Whether it’s the nice needlework on Kashmiri pashminas, or the kalamkari block prints of Andhra Pradesh, craftsmen have skillfully employed, in lots, using the stylised mango of their creations. It additionally got here to be embroidered on to the cool chikankari muslins that Nur Jahan launched to her tropical wardrobe. Similarly, the mango motif will be noticed within the borders of Paithani silk saris of Maharashtra. Beyond their utilization as motifs, extracts from seasonal vegetables and fruit have lengthy been employed to dye cotton and silk yarn.

“Vegetable dyes have been used by the traditional rangrez to create patterns and richly coloured textiles for both functional and sartorial requirements of communities. Through this association we’ve come to identify colours as baingani, jamuni, piaji, santari, and angoori, among others,” shares Delhi-based entrepreneur Shilpa Sharma.

Folksy Punjab

Closer house, the once-vibrant custom of weaving drawstrings — azarbands or nadas — of Punjab employed the ambi as an ornamental component. Paeans have been sung concerning the ‘reshmi naaley’ of Patiala, a metropolis that additionally boasts of delicate footwear with tilla-work as a longstanding handicraft. It is tough to discover a pair with out the paisley.

Wheat motifs embellish an heirloom rumala
(masking for Guru Granth Sahib). Photo by the author

The state’s well-known embroidered textile, phulkari, is an intricate research of interaction between the creator and her environment. Traditionally made on hand-woven khaddar or malmal, a bagh is a kind solely coated in motifs which are usually floral in nature. The belan bagh is a vibrant and pretty widespread variation, with stylised representations of the rolling pin emblazoned throughout it. Vegetables like mirchi, gobhi, dhania, and karela lend their identify and motif-shape to eponymous baghs. Similarly millet cobs and wheat ears have been noticed embroidered alongside many a phulkari selvedge. The latter additionally borrows its identify — kanki butti — from kanak (wheat). Coconuts and walnuts have additionally been identified to make a geometrical look once in a while. The sainchi, however, is a scenic narrative of each day village life and sometimes contains human components, together with ladies cooking or churning milk.

In all this, it’s considerably shocking that the ambi makes solely an occasional look right here. I suppose that’s why we sing concerning the fruit as a substitute, to make up for that different anomaly! “Ni ambiyan nu tarsengi, chhad ke shehar Doaba”, laments a lover on discovering his beloved is shifting on and away.

“Rut bhangra paan di aayi, ke ambiyan nu boor pai giya”, goes considered one of a number of duets that remember the appearance of spring. A time of a lot significance for an agrarian land because it additionally coincides with the harvest season. The reference to crops, seasons, festivals and fields is however anticipated. Indeed, Punjab’s lilting folksongs are a lyrical manifestation of its hardy, completely satisfied and spirited folks. Songs like “bajre da sitta ve assaan talli te maroreya” additionally have fun the voice of the lady, giving her company to articulate her existence. Confident in herself, she compares her sulking lover’s pliant return — “Ruthra jaanda mahiya ve asaan galli wich moreya” — to the millet cob she bends simply in her palm. “Mele nu chal mere naal kude” (see field) in Asa Singh Mastana’s earthy voice is, maybe, the best instance of the joie de vivre Punjabis are synonymous with. Thrilled on the bountiful harvest that waits, the farmer invitations his spouse to accompany him to the Baisakhi truthful, promising her an outing replete with enjoyable, meals, and procuring. Ultimately, a joyous celebration of labour!

Mele Nu Chal Mere Naal Kude

Ajj saare chhad janjaal kude,
ajj saare chhad janjaal kude
mele nuu, ahaa, mele nu chal
mere naal kude, ho ho, ho ho

Kar buha samb shtaabi ni,
le pakad sandook di chaabi ni
koi soot tu kad gulabi ni,
pa tille di gurgaabi ni le booteyan waala rumaal kude, mele nu…

Ni vaisakhi ajj manawange,
vaisakhi aj manawange,
mele te bhangre paawange,
ral se peeng chadawange

Te baeke authe khawaange,
Ladduaan da, ahaa ladduaan
da leke thaal kude,
mele nuu, ahaa, mele nu….

Kankaan diya faslan pakiyaan ne,
kankaan diya faslan pakiyaan ne,
ghar saade barkhta vasiyaan ne,
mera pyaar tere naal boodha nai

Sone da kadaa deya choorha nai,
rab keeta, ahaa rab keeta hai
malamaal kude, mele nu…

Tere nain jo peeti bhang ude,
tere nain jo peeti bhang ude,
te waang tamaater rang ude,
koi nazar na tenu laa deve,

Jaadu na akh da paa deve,
rataa rakhi, ahaa,
rataa rakhi roop sambhaal kude,
mele nu…

— Asa Singh Mastana



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