Saturday, 29 October 2016

Selroti and the Darjeeling Hills Connection

There are certain food stuff that define a community, the Italians have their pasta and pizza, the Chinese have their noodles, rest of India may have their Idli, Sambar, Dosa or Dal, Roti and Chawal… but in Darjeeling there are so many food that have intermingled, no single food can claim to be numero uno…

For instance, if there was a head to head competition in Darjeeling region, Momo would easily be an all time favourite, unless you get it competing with Gundruk ko jhol, or Kinema, or Thukpa, or Sungur ko Khutta, or Churpi ko Jhol…

I always fluctuate between Momo and Gundruk, uncertain of which one I want the most… while some may swear by Sungur ko Masu and Rayo ko Saag combo, there are many for whom Goru ko Masu is irreplaceable, Chicken competes with Bhainsi, and Khasi is in a class of its own… not to be left out are our vegetarian favourites Ningro, Jara, Sishnu and so on.

I feel that we are lucky to be born in such an amazing place where every food has found its perfection… and this I am saying not out of bravado, but out of experience… there is no match to Darjeeling ko Momo anywhere in the world, and I have travelled enough across India and some parts of the world, to testify for that fact… Nowhere is Aludum and bhuja more celebrated than in Darjeeling , so much so that people swear by that stuff… “Bhola ko alu kassam” bhandai gareko huncha…

Alu Thukpa is a Kalimpong staple and no place on earth can compete with the taste here, such are the passions associated with Alu Thukpa that a young bride from Kalimpong (a friend of mine) nearly broke off her marriage when her in-laws (from Darjeeling) thought Alu Thukpa was uncouth and Alu Dum would be made on their reception… to our delight, they had both Alu Dum and Alu Thukpa in their reception… 

There is no home in our hills which hasn’t been adorned by the sweetness of Kurseong Mistan Bhandar ko Kalakand or by Lapchu ko Peda, and people in Sukey Pokhari have their claim to fame in Aap ki Pasand ko mithai… each town in our hills have their favourites and people in every town or village swear by them… we are a passionate lot… when it comes to food…

But there are certain food that raise above the mundane everyday competition or comparisons… these are our Festival Specials… be it Thekuwa during Chaat Puja, Khichudi during Durga puja, or Sewai during Eid… be it Fruit Cake during Christmas, Khapsyo during Lohsar, or Sel Roti during Tihar… there is a special group of food that holds that coveted place of respect in all of our hearts…

And I am confident that every family living in Darjeeling region has celebrated and enjoyed all these major festivals and foods… thanks to the unique bonding that exist among our people…

But among all the special food we have in our festivals, Sel Roti for me stands out… as that one food item which is the epitome of Darjeeling Spirit and also the Darjeeling Absurdity… Please don’t get me wrong, do read on and I am sure at the end of it all, you will at least sympathize me, if not empathize.

So I must have been all of 13 when I was deputed to Sel Roti duty by Ama… which meant, I was responsible for going to bring Okhali and Musli from a samaj ghar somewhere far, do the shopping for sel-roti ingredients which included Bada-Alinchi, Sonf, Ghiu, Dudh… to washing the “ration ma paako aluwa chamal,” and hanging it to dry on a net ko jhola…

The true test of friendship in Darjeeling is seen on the day you are supposed to Kuttus the Aanta (in LC English)… I could literally see my friends running away on the day before Bhailoni, cuz that is when we traditionally grind the rice for Sel Roti in our village…

Coming from a big family, we would always have the most kilos of chamal to kuttus (rice to grind) and my friends would do all their best to bhagus (run away) that day… and only the true ones remained, cuz they were perhaps obliged by the code of friendship, or the fact that it was them who would end up gobbling up most of the Sel Roti at the end of the festival anyway… so a sense of duty

Either way, a selective group of friends would assemble on the dreaded day… with our bhijako chamal which would be drying on the net ko jhola… with an Okhali… a nanglo and a chalni to accompany… and thus we would start….

With each stroke of the Musli, the neighbours would know Sel Roti preparations are underway, and gradually a small crowd would gather, mostly comprising of younger lot and a healthy mix of those who are always to be found in any functions or events around the village… You know the ones who will attend everything from Nauran to Ghewa, from Marriage to Puja… helping out, not physically, but by being present at the event, telling jokes, sharing stories, keeping the working crowd all cheered up…

A joke, I recall thus…

Once there was a competition harey dudh duney (milking the cow)… farmers from all over the world were attending… last two competitors remaining were a Japanese and an Indian…

The Japanese, fabled for their technology, used it and milked 20 liters in 5 minutes, the highest so far, and the crowd was cheering for him… Then came the Indian farmer and it had to be Gofle da from our village and he used all his skills, sadly at the end of his given 5 minutes he could only milk 500ml… The Japanese won…

So everyone in India, particularly in our village started to curse Gofle da… “kasto Gaon ko naak kaateko… Gofle k bhako” bhandai every taunted him, and all he would say was “mero galti haina” (it wasn’t my fault)…

Infuriated, people asked him… ‘if it wasn’t your fault… then whose fault was it??”

To which Gofle da matter of factly replied… “khai kunin ta… kunchaile Gai ko jaga ma Goru rakhi dyechaa… blame it on the one who put a bull instead of a cow”

Gofle daa had ended up milking 500ml from a bull :) :) :) we used to say…

Do hit the LIKE button, if and when you get the joke…

Jokes like these would abound…

After a while, Ama would be kind enough to bring out a round of tea, or orange squash ma pani fitera banako juice for those helping out… generally it would be 5 of us doing the grinding, but come refreshment time around 20 people would have tea or juice in their hands, but no one was complaining, as the other 15 would eventually end up helping as well.

We would often end up competing, who would grind the most without stopping… starting from 30 non-stop hits to 100, each would try to outdo the other, and we wouldn’t even realize that the work was getting done faster…

What was tragic though, was the fact that we had to help grind all the chamal, for all the neighbours... Someone would have 5 kgs to grind, someone 15… it was relentless, one or the other would keep on bringing, and along came the tea and juices from their respective homes…

And later we would have to mix the dough for making sel roti… that is when the Ama party would take over and make them delicious round breads… to all of our delights…

The tragedy though, wasn’t in the fact that we had to ground so much of chamal… it was however, in the fact that after Tiwar, when time came for Bhaag badnu (food shared with those families who wouldn’t traditionally celebrate Dasain or Tiwar – say Tibetans, Muslims or Christians)… cuz only our sisters would be allowed to do that…

Growing up, I wished I was a girl on three days
1. Bhailoni – cuz people usually gave more money to girls than boys…
2. Bhai Tika – cuz that is when our hard earned deusi kheleko money would be drained and
3. Bhag Badne din – cuz that is when our neighbours would give some cash to those who had gone to reach the bhaag…

Tihar every year is growing more commercial of late, with people preferring to buy readymade chamal ko pitho, instead of grinding it at home… and with it we are gradually loosing that feeling of each neighbour is an extended part of one’s family… and even though in our village we continue to grind the chamal for making sel roti, most people elsewhere have stopped doing so…

I hope our next generation of youths will continue with this special bonding exercise, which could only be had, when you ground 200kgs of chamal in a go, and no one complained…

Happy Tiwar Everyone… May YOU all, always stay blessed !!

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This article is dedicated to Ms. Shivangi Thapa who requested a piece on Sel Roti.

By Bal Krishna, TheDC