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Gourmet and the ghazal

Pankaj Udhas traverses on the cuisine track combining his passion - the ghazal.

TASTY BITE: Udhas relishes every kind of Indian cuisine.

IT IS almost 3 p.m. before Pankaj Udhas, the eminent ghazal singer, settles down for lunch at the Deccan Pavilion, the Coffee Shop of the ITC Kakatiya Sheraton Hotel and Towers. Interesting nuggets surface during the conversation over a meal with a celebrity. "The food looks so good," says an impressed Pankaj Udhas after going around the large buffet. But he settles for some tali mirchi, sheekh kebab and gosht biryani. "I do not want to stuff myself," he adds.

"In the programme Jeene Isi ka Naam Hai I was given a clue - you have a friend who makes good biryani but enjoys eating it at your house and I had to guess who the person was. It has to be my dear friend Talat Aziz," said Pankaj Udhas in a quick repartee in the serial as Pankaj starts to reminisce about the first time he had Hyderabadi biryani. Like all connoisseurs, Udhas too, was bowled over by the dish, which as all Hyderabadis would swear, is a dish to die for. "Hyderabadi biryani is certainly the best. I had come to Hyderabad for a programme Khazana. And we sat together at the hotel after the programme to eat. Talat ordered biryani, mirchi ka salan and raita. We started to eat with fork and knife but ended up eating by hand and licking our fingers." Such is the power of the dish. Even though this was way back in 1984 it is still entrenched in Udhas' memory.

Udhas admits to being a foodie who likes to try different kinds of food though he does not eat too much quantity. He stays off spicy, oily and sour stuff like achar (pickle). "It creates trouble in the throat." Indian food is his weakness. "People are stuck on one kind of food. I enjoy every cuisine which is Indian," he says, as he is served a plain dosa. He continues "When we were travelling from Pune to Sangli we stopped at a restaurant which served the authentic Maharashtrian khana. We had great food - particularly the misal and bakhar."

The ghazal maestro begins his day by drinking a glass of water with eight-ten munakkas (big dried grapes) soaked in them. This is the secret of his voice. "It helps the throat. Then I gulp down a litre of water." Breakfast is just a small bowl of papaya and eight-ten almonds. Lunch includes a big bowl of salad, two green vegetables, one dal and some sprouts. "Every alternate day fish (grilled or curry) is a must. I don't eat rice but eat khakras. Dinner is almost the same but sometimes I eat only fruits. This is the meal I eat with my wife Farida and my daughters Naywab and Rewa."

Udhas does sport an apron once in a while in the weekends when the family sets off to Lonavala. "My daughters love to see me cook and then I barbeque some things for them. Once in a while I make our kind of biryani (with chicken, mutton or prawns) which I have learnt from my cook."

TOUGH DECISION: Pankaj Udhas checks out the spread. — Photos: K. Ramesh Babu

As he helps himself to some more biryani he speaks of his passion for ghazals particularly his latest album on Meer Taki Meer. "Mir was a poet even acknowledged by Ghalib. His poems on various moods particularly the feeling of unfulfilled love and the language he wrote in (Urdu was just developing so Mir's poems had overtones of Sankrit and Persian as well) was endearing. I would want to bring ten albums on this poet." Udhas' next album would be on the poet Dagh.

Udhas wants to bring more Urdu poets under the spotlight. "There is a lot untapped." He is seriously involved in research - looking up books and manuscripts in libraries. And he definitely wants a new generation listening to them not just a niche audience. "Look how the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan popularised qawwali around the globe." He is brimming with ideas on working on this mammoth project to bring the unsung poets into the limelight.

At a time when music videos picturise various kinds of music, Pankaj Udhas has managed to stay afloat with his Stolen Moments. Though it means a lot of hard work Udhas displays the enthusiasm to be in touch with the times.

In all his international travels, Udhas has experimented with different kinds of cuisines - Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Italian and so on. "In the United States there are some good restaurants which serve traditional Korean, Vietnamese and Italian food." Since Udhas is partial to seafood he enjoys South East Asian cuisines as seafood is predominant in them. He remembers eating at a parkside restaurant in New York where "they cook Italian food the way you want" and a meal in a boat in Tokyo "which was an authentic Japanese meal."

Like most Indians Udhas a sweet tooth. "Although I enjoy sweets I have to stay slim and trim. But I never say no to ice cream when I am holidaying abroad." Isn't that a little shocking especially from a singer? "Somehow I have noticed that eating ice cream in freezing conditions in the West does not affect my throat," he says although he does not help himself to any dessert at the coffee shop. "The food is good," he winds up on a sweet note full of optimism and enthusiasm to bring about wonders in the ghazal genre.


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