New Delhi, March 22, 2017: ‘Spirited Traveller’ on ‘Fox Life’ celebrates the great Indian culinary tradition by celebrity chef Kiran Jethwa, a third-generation Kenyan of Indian origin with fervour.
First it was CNN International and Reza Aslan telling Indians how they pray. Then it was Fox Life and Italian chef David Rocco and Australian Sarah Todd telling Indians how they eat. This is of course not the first time that a westerner has come and waxed eloquent on oriental Indian cuisine. Floyd did it for years. Sweating into various utensils and stoves set up beside the road, cooking up increasingly dodgy curries and telling the free world that that’s how Indians ate.
It was actually defamation through curry.
Yet, it seems that finally we may just have a cooking show with a foreign chef which gets Indian food right. The chef isn’t entirely foreign though, since his name is Kiran Jethwa, who was born to English mother and an Indian father. Which explains the name. But that’s where the Indian-ness stops. Jethwa is a third-generation Kenyan, born in Nairobi and is a chef-restaurateur and like most chef-TV anchors, owns a numerous restaurants in Kenya.
The new show which has him like most other visiting chef/TV hosts to India, traversing through India and telling new things about the country, is called Spirited Traveller. What’s odd is that Fox Life’s sister channel, Nat Geo People, is airing Jethwa’s other show, Fearless Chef, at the same time.
It’s quite an interesting watch. Owing a great deal to the fact that Jethwa is exceedingly easy on the eye, but also to the fact that he doesn’t mess around with the food like David Rocco who made a pasta using coriander leaves and chopped green chili. Or look surprised by Indian practices like Oprah did to see that we eat with our hands!
It is elusive for the research team to keep finding new spots to visit and activities to include in the show. After all, how many different and visually appealing dishes are there in Bengal or Kashmir and how many different stories are there to tell? But one must applaud the Spirited Traveller team, that they’ve managed to find something new in at least the two episodes that they aired. The other problem with a foreign team shooting in India, is that they usually get a local guide or point person whose responsibility it is to make team meet the right people and get the right stories and the facts of the place. The wrong guide will bring one severe ’embarrasment’ such as Aslan telling that all ghats are cremation sites. Fox Life seems to have got its research straight.
The first episode was set in Kerala. Where Jethwa went on the backwaters with fishermen to catch the fish Karimeen by diving into the waters. This was followed by him heading to Kumarakom to taste and extract toddy and then to one of Kerala’s duck farms. The format is simple. Jethwa learns one authentic recipe from an Indian chef – in the case of the Kerala episode, it is chef Naveen who teaches him how to make Karimeen in a banana leaf with a spicy cooked marinade (as opposed to a raw marinade which will be cooked later with the meat). He then ends the episode by cooking a dish with the same ingredients or technique. Following his many travels through Kerala, Jethwa made a duck confit with toddy phulka using the same technique he learnt from Naveen.
The Goa episode had Jethwa give up on travelling through Goa. He instead played a spot of football on the beach and then drank some kokum cocktails and helped cooking a spicy prawn with kokum at a beach shack. He then visited a coconut rum factory and a feni farm. And then a visit to a Goan fish market where he bought a King Mackerel with which he cooked a Kingfish ceviche with kokum pesto, flavoured with Urak, the sour Bimla fruit and chopped white haldi. For a cook, there is nothing as delightful and attractive as seeing someone fillet a fish without a misstep.
In the second episode, one realises the novelty in this show was that the host Jethwa tried quite a lot of alcohols in each state and city. It’s a welcome change from the usual food shows that steer clear of any alcohol being shown. India has different kinds of indigenous alcohols pertaining to different states, it’s a great that a show realised to explore the terrain.
Fox Life seems to have hit on a winner. The next two episodes are in Mumbai and in Nagaland, respectively, and look quite promising.
One can watch Spirited Traveller every Monday and Tuesday at 9pm on Fox Life.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a man of moderation in a fraternity of jingoistic nationalists; a peace visionary in a region riven by religious animosity; and a man who believed in India’s destiny and was ready to fight for it.
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (93), who died on Thursday, will go down in history as a person who tried to end years of hostility with Pakistan and put development on the front burner of the country’s political agenda. He was also the first non-Congress Prime Minister to complete a full five-year term.
Even though he lived the last 13 years of his life in virtual isolation, dogged by debilitating illnesses and bedridden, he has left an enduring legacy for the nation and the region where he was much loved and respected across the political spectrum and national boundaries, including in Pakistan.
In the tumultuous period he presided over the destiny of the world’s largest democracy, Vajpayee stunned the world by making India a declared nuclear state and then almost went to war with Pakistan before making peace with it in the most dramatic fashion.
In the process, his popularity came to match that of Indira Gandhi, a woman he admired for her guts even as he hated her politics.
He also became the best-known national leader after Indira Gandhi and her father Jawaharlal Nehru.
After despairing for years that he would never become Prime Minister and was destined to remain an opposition leader all his life, he achieved his goal, but only for 13 days, from May 16-28, 1996, after his deputy, L.K. Advani, chose not to contest elections that year.
His second term came on March 19, 1998, and lasted 13 months, a period during which India stunned the world by undertaking a series of nuclear tests that invited global reproach.
Although his tenure again proved short-lived, his and his government’s enhanced stature following the world-defying blasts enabled him to return as Prime Minister for the third time on October 13, 1999, a tenure that lasted a full five-year term.
When finally he stepped down in May 2004, after an election that he was given to believe he would win, it marked the end of a long and eventful political career spanning six decades.
Vajpayee had gone into these elections riding a personality cult that projected him as a man who had brought glory to the nation in unprecedented ways. The BJP’s election strategy rested on seeking a renewed mandate over three broad pillars of achievement that the government claimed — political stability in spite of the pulls and pressures of running a multi-party coalition; a “shining” economy that saw a dizzying 10.4 percent growth in the last quarter of the previous year; and peace with Pakistan that changed the way the two countries looked at each other for over 50 years.
The results of the elections could not have come as a greater shock to a man who was hailed for his achievements and who was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 influential men of the decade.
Success didn’t come easily to the charismatic politician, who was born on Christmas Day in 1924 in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, into a family of moderate means. His father was a school teacher and Vajpayee would later recall his early brush with poverty.
He did his Masters in Political Science, studying at the Victoria College in Gwalior and at the DAV College in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where he first contested, and lost, elections. He began his professional career as a journalist, working with Rashtradharma, a Hindi monthly, Panchjanya, a Hindi weekly, and two Hindi dailies, Swadesh and Veer Arjun. By then he had firmly embraced the ideals of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
But even as he struggled to win electoral battles, his command over Hindi, the lingua franca of the North Indian masses, his conciliatory politics and his riveting oratory brought him into public limelight.
His first entry into Parliament was in 1962 through the Rajya Sabha, the upper house. It was only in 1971 that he won a Lok Sabha election. He was elected to the lower house seven times and to the Rajya Sabha twice.
Vajpayee spent months in prison when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency rule in June 1975 and put her political opponents in jail. When the Janata Party took office in 1977, dethroning the Congress for the first time, he became the foreign minister.
The lowest point in his career came when he lost the 1984 Lok Sabha polls, that too from his birthplace Gwalior, after Rajiv Gandhi won an overwhelming majority following his mother Indira Gandhi’s assassination. And the BJP he led ended up with just two seats in
the 545-member Lok Sabha, in what looked like the end of the road for the right-wing party.
In no time, Vajpayee was replaced and “eclipsed” by his long-time friend L.K. Advani.
Although they were the best of friends publicly, Vajpayee never fully agreed with Advani’s and the assorted Hindu nationalist groups’ strident advocacy of Hindutva, an ideology ranged against the idea of secular India.
Often described as the right man in the wrong party, there were also those who belittled him as a moderate “mask” to a hardline Hindu nationalist ideology. Often he found his convictions and value systems at odds with the party, but the bachelor-politician never went against it.
It was precisely this persona of Vajpayee — one merged in Hindutva ideology yet seemingly not wholly willing to bow to it — that won him admirers cutting across the political spectrum. It was this trait that made him the Prime Minister when the BJP’s allies concluded they needed a moderate to steer a hardliner, pro-Hindu party.
He brought into governance measures that created for India a distinct international status on the diplomatic and economic fronts. In his third prime ministerial stint, Vajpayee launched a widely acclaimed diplomatic initiative by starting a bus service between New Delhi and Pakistan’s Lahore city.
Its inaugural run in February 1999 carried Vajpayee and was welcomed on the border by his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif. It was suspended only after the 2001 terror attack on the Indian Parliament that nearly led to a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
The freeze between the two countries, including an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the border for nearly a year, was finally cracked in the spring of 2003 when Vajpayee, while in Kashmir, extended a “hand of friendship” to Pakistan. That led to the historic summit in January 2004 with then President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad — a remarkable U-turn after the failed summit in Agra of 2001. Despite the two men being so far apart in every way, Musharraf developed a strong liking for the Indian leader.
His unfinished task, one that he would probably rue, would be the peace process with Pakistan that he had vowed to pursue to its logical conclusion and a resolution of the Kashmir dispute.
He was not known as “Atal-Ji”, a name that translates into firmness, for nothing. He could go against the grain of his party if he saw it deviate from its path. When Hindu hardliners celebrated the destruction of the 16th century Babri Mosque at Ayodhya, he was full of personal remorse for the apocalyptic action and called it — in a landmark interview to IANS — the “worst miscalculation” and a “misadventure”. He even despaired that “moderates have no place — who is going to listen to the voice of sanity?”
In his full five-year term, he successively carried forward India’s economic reforms programme with initiatives to improve infrastructure, including flagging off a massive national highway project that has become associated with his vision, went for massive privatisation of unviable state undertakings despite opposition from even within his own party.
While his personal image remained unsullied despite his long innings in the murky politics of this country, his judgment was found wanting when his government was rocked by an arms bribery scandal that sought to expose alleged payoffs to some senior members of his cabinet. His failure to speak up when members of his party and its sister organisations, who are accused of killing more than 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat, was questioned by the liberal fraternity who wondered aloud about his secular proclamations. He wanted then Chief Minister — now Prime Minister, Narendra Modi — to take responsibility for the riots and quit but was prevailed upon by others not to press his decision.
A day before his party lost power, Vajpayee was quoted as saying in a television interview that if and when he stepped down he would like to devote his time to writing and poetry. But fate ruled otherwise. The man who once rued that “I have waited too long to be Prime Minister” found his last days in a world far removed from the adulation and attention — though across the nation people prayed for his well-being — surrounded only by care-givers and close family whom he even failed to recognize. (IANS)