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The Lord and short of it

On a Greek course... Lord Meghnad Desai at New Delhi's It's Greek to Me restaurant. Photo: R.V. Moorthy.

EVER HEARD of fish baked in oranges, spinach and mushroom soaked in red wine. How can you, after all these are Lord's recipes. "I can't follow the established vocabulary of cooking. Part of the reason is when I went to the U.S. for studies I could not follow their recipes. What I did, I learnt the basics like textures of meat and then allowed my creativity to take charge," says Lord Meghnad Desai gearing up to have a Greek lunch at It's Greek To Me restaurant in New Delhi. And he hasn't done badly, if the praise showered by better half, Kishwar is any indication.

"To me Greek food is bridge food," he analyses, taking guard with spanokopita, spinach and feta cheese in phyllo pastry. "You will find a sort of continuity in Indian, Arabian, Lebanese, Turkish and Greek food. After that, it is the Italian food, which is significantly different. So Greek food, indeed acts as a bridge."

History of food

Coming from a field where surplus has become profit, capitalism is renamed as globalisation and most recently voter has given way to the consumer, Lord laughs when reminded something similar is happening with food where same recipes are changing names according to convenience.

"To an extent, it is true. When I started, words like development were not there. Today it has become a separate branch. As for food, unfortunately nobody has tried to study the history of food in this country. Today, if I say that Portuguese brought chillies to India, fundamentalist elements will feel bad, but it is a fact. One must unearth what people used to eat, what were the recipes during Mahabharat and Ramayan days. They must be eating something beyond milk products as the televised presentation of the epics tried to make us believe. We have a treatise on the medicines of that period but none on food."

Book on Gandhi

Vegetable dolmanthes, sautéed vegetables with feta cheese rolled in vine leaves make way for lamb chops served with rosemary and pepper and Lord agrees to share his future. "I am working on a book on Mahatma Gandhi." Is there something left unsaid about Mahatma? "I want to bring to light his private life - the man who lived in a Gujarati joint family, the fascinating aspects about his control over anger and his bodily desires. To me Gandhi was a man who was seething with anger, always in a struggle with himself, the struggle between his public and private life, peculiar for a man, who shared almost everything about his personal life through his writings. The barrel-chested man always attracted women and was remarkably fit even in old age. I am chaffing many of his writings in Gujarati which have not reached the public domain." Desai is also looking into the ambivalence in the great man's words where he compares Bose with his son Hiralal and still creates situations that Bose has to leave the Congress.

Lord pauses to try the main course with penne with chicken, tomatoes and artichokes in garlic tomato sauce with feta cheese and then replays, "He didn't spare even his family members. I tell you an incident. He used to apply a stone for soap. During the march to Naokhali, his 16-year-old niece was supposed to take care of him. Interestingly, she forgot the stone at one of the stops. When the man came to know, he asked her to go back and fetch the stone. When she requested him to send a volunteer along with her, he refused and asked her to bring it alone for it is her fault. It is another matter, he remained worried till she returned."

Baklava with ice cream completes Lord's foray into the Greek world but before adios he shares it is in India where the title makes real sense.


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