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Desi Girl: Nidhi Mahajan exists from Masterchef with some love and ‘Pranaams’

Nidhi Mahajan left a long-lasting impression on the judges for her "desi" gestures

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Nidhi Mahajan. IANS
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  • Nidhi Mahajan’s exit from the globally-renowned TV cooking show was an emotional affair
  • She found her way into Season Eight of “MasterChef Australia”, which is aired in India for her expertise in traditional Indian cooking
  • She has already set up a home-catering business and is taking cooking classes

August 29, 2016: From her fellow contestants to judges, she made everyone on the sets of “MasterChef Australia” fall in love with “desi” spices. Nidhi Mahajan, whose exit from the globally-renowned TV cooking show was an emotional affair, says Indian cuisine goes way beyond the misconceptions that people across the world have about it.

“I would love to tell people that there is nothing as massive as Indian cuisine and each dish, each ingredient, has a history behind it and how it became a part of our cuisine,” Nidhi told IANS in an email interview from Adelaide.

“Indian food has made its place on the global platform. People around the world love Indian food for its flavours and versatility,” added the former call centre employee, whose roots are in Chandigarh.

She found her way into Season Eight of “MasterChef Australia”, which is aired in India on Star World and Star World HD, for her expertise in traditional Indian cooking. She entered the kitchen with a mission to put the “desi” style of cooking on the global map.

Thus, among the dishes she cooked on the show were creamy lemon pepper chicken with paratha and potato wafers; Aussie Classic Indian Way (one episode required the contestants to use Australian elements like meat and three vegetables and give it a twist — so she gave it an Indian twist); goat curry with fried bread, cucumber raita and pickled onions; and tea-infused parfait, cornflake and ginger wine crumble.

Indian food might be finding a spot on the global palette, but there are still many misconceptions attached to it, said Nidhi, and many believe it is “very fattening, hot, oily and time-consuming. It is nothing like that, apart from the rich cuisines, if we talk about our daily, routine food it is not at all oily, hot or time-consuming.

“Indian food is just not about curries and tikkas. We have so many other dishes which are fermented, pickled, baked, sautéed and steamed.”

She left a long-lasting impression on the judges — Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris, and even world-renowned chef Marco Pierre White — for her “desi” gestures. Her decision to bow at the judges’ feet “as a mark of respect” after elimination brought everyone to tears.

“Doing a ‘Pranaam’ is what I have been taught by my parents. I have seen them bowing to their elders and people they respect. This is what I did,” she said.

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Nidhi, who shifted to South Australia’s Adelaide in 2013 with her husband, asserted that “desi” cuisine is quite popular on the show itself and that “people are crazy about Indian food and judges love Indian food”.

She first stepped into the kitchen to cook on her own when she was all of 12, and has been pursuing her love of cooking ever since. Nidhi looks up to chefs like Sanjeev Kapoor, Vikas Khanna, Jamie Oliver and the late Tarla Dalal.

Looking back at her culinary journey, Nidhi, who was called “The Curry Queen” on “MasterChef Australia”, said: “I was around 7 or 8 years old when I started helping my mother in the kitchen… the Kitchen has always been a place where I love to spend time.”

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Nidhi has degrees in commerce, accounting and finance; the TV show has given her a boost of positive energy. “My life has changed a lot. I feel more positive and confident in my abilities and I am living my dream life to have cooking as my profession.”

She has already set up a home-catering business and is taking cooking classes. A restaurant is in the pipeline and she hopes “to set it up by end of 2016 or start of 2017”.

She would also love to write a recipe book “but with a twist — the book will have recipes and also a story behind each recipe and my cooking journey”. (IANS)

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Most Terrible Water Crisis Ever In History Leaves Millions Of Indians Thirsty

6 percent of GDP is very much dependent on water.

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A woman washes clothes as her daughter bathes in the Yamuna River on a hot day in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2017.
A woman washes clothes as her daughter bathes in the Yamuna River on a hot day in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2017. VOA

Weak infrastructure and a national shortage have made water costly all over India, but Sushila Devi paid a higher price than most. It took the deaths of her husband and son to force authorities to supply it to the slum she calls home.

“They died because of the water problem, nothing else,” said Devi, 40, as she recalled how a brawl over a water tanker carrying clean drinking water in March killed her two relatives and finally prompted the government to drill a tubewell.

“Now things are better. But earlier … the water used to be rusty, we could not even wash our hands or feet with that kind of water,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Delhi.

India is “suffering from the worst water crisis in its history”, threatening hundreds of millions of lives and jeopardising economic growth, a government think-tank report said in June.

From the northern Himalayas to the sandy, palm-fringed beaches in the south, 600 million people – nearly half India’s population – face acute water shortage, with close to 200,000 dying each year from polluted water.

Residents like Devi queue daily with pipes, jerry cans and buckets in hand for water from tankers – a common lifeline for those without a safe, reliable municipal supply – often involving elbowing, pushing and punching.

On the rare occasions water does flow from taps, it is often dirty, leading to disease, infection, disability and even death, experts say.

“The water was like poison,” said Devi, who still relies on the tanker for drinking water, outside her one-room shanty in the chronically water-stressed Wazirpur area of the capital Delhi.

“It is better now, but still it is not completely drinkable. It is alright for bathing and washing the dishes.”

Water pollution is a major challenge, the report said, with nearly 70 percent of India’s water contaminated, impacting three in four Indians and contributing to 20 percent of the country’s disease burden.

Yet only one-third of its wastewater is currently treated, meaning raw sewage flows into rivers, lakes and ponds – and eventually gets into the groundwater.

“Our surface water is contaminated, our groundwater is contaminated. See, everywhere water is being contaminated because we are not managing our solid waste properly,” said the report’s author Avinash Mishra.
Loss of livelihood

Meanwhile, unchecked extraction by farmers and wealthy residents has caused groundwater levels to plunge to record lows, says the report.

It predicts that 21 major cities, including New Delhi and India’s IT hub of Bengaluru, will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people.

The head of WaterAid India VK Madhavan said the country’s groundwater was now heavily contaminated.

“We are grappling with issues, with areas that have arsenic contamination, fluoride contamination, with salinity, with nitrates,” he said, listing chemicals that have been linked to cancer.

Arsenic and fluoride occur naturally in the groundwater, but become more concentrated as the water becomes scarcer, while nitrates come from fertilisers, pesticides and other industrial waste that has seeped into the supply.

The level of chemicals in the water was so high, he said, that bacterial contamination – the source of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid – “is in the second order of problems”.

“Poor quality of water – that is loss of livelihood. You fall ill because you don’t have access to safe drinking water, because your water is contaminated.”

Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater.
Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater. pixabay

“The burden of not having access to safe drinking water, that burden is greatest on the poor and the price is paid by them.”

Frothy lakes and rivers

Crippling water problems could shave 6 percent off India’s gross domestic product, according to the report by the government think-tank, Niti Aayog.

“This 6 percent of GDP is very much dependent on water. Our industry, our food security, everything will be at stake,” said Mishra.

“It is a finite resource. It is not infinite. One day it can (become) extinct,” he said, warning that by 2030 India’s water supply will be half of the demand.

To tackle this crisis, which is predicted to get worse, the government has urged states – responsible for supplying clean water to residents – to prioritise treating waste water to bridge the supply and demand gap and to save lives.

Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater.

Every year, Bengaluru and New Delhi make global headlines as their heavily polluted water bodies emit clouds of white toxic froth due to a mix of industrial effluents and domestic garbage dumped into them.

In Bengaluru – once known as the “city of lakes” and now doomed to go dry – the Bellandur Lake bursts into flames often, sending plumes of black smoke into sky.

The Yamuna river that flows through New Delhi can be seen covered under a thick, detergent-like foam on some days.

On other days, faeces, chemicals and ashes from human cremations float on top, forcing passers-by to cover their mouths and noses against the stench.

That does not stop 10-year-old Gauri, who lives in a nearby slum, from jumping in every day.

With no access to water, it is the only way to cool herself down during India’s scorching summers, when temperatures soar to 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).

“There usually is not enough water for us to take a shower, so we come here,” said Gauri, who only gave her first name, as she and her brother splashed around in the filthy river.

Also read: India’s bulging water crisis: Is it too late for us to do something?

“It makes us itchy and sick, but only for some time. We are happy to have this, everyone can use it.” (VOA)