Table for Two Food

An ideal couple

New Delhi- 09/07/2015-- In conversation with Saurav Jha and Devapriya Roy about their The Heat and Dust Project at Hotel Metropolis. Photo: Erum Gour   | Photo Credit: Erum Gour

“We wrote the ‘The Heat And Dust Project’ in the same vein as we speak and we live,” comment Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha, authors about their book. This turns out to be completely true since they fitted the mentally image I had etched in my mind after reading their book when we meet lunch at the Metropolis Tourist Home at Paharganj. They are made for each other – complementing and supplementing in the true sense of the words apart from leg-pulling without any malice or intention to hurt.

Ordering pizza with prawn and olive as the writers were hungry, I wonder aloud as to what made “the nine-to-sixers, investment-makers, mall-goers, office-trippers and city-slickers” give up everything including their jobs to undertake decide to travel across India with backpacks? “We were innately bad householders although we did give householding a stab. We very young and leapt into marriage without any idea what it would be about going about our jobs like others. Saurav and I received miniscule advances for our first two books and then we pitched this idea of this book and they liked it.” Unhappy with their life, they quit moved all their stuff to Kolkata and embarked on this journey. “We wanted to travel not like tourists but to see India first hand, ground up to know what the country is about. Importantly it was also about confronting many things,” informs Saurav.

Well was it that simple? No, there were parameters – not more than Rs.500 for bed and board, use the cheapest mode of transport, including walking and not spend not more than three days at one place. The first two were because of their limited budget. The last is based on the Buddhist monks been cautioned against sleeping under the same tree for more than three nights in a row to avoid sprouting roots.

Settling the pizza with fresh lime soda Devapriya states that the book was always on. “For us the very act of living is through the filter of books.” Besides been inspired by Che Guevara’s “The Motorcycle Diaries” and the robust, reflective, funny, confessional and strong writing tradition in Bangla about travel, the objective of the non-fiction narrative was “to share with others what the we found and encountered during our journey” says Saurav adding “moreover the account was to be rendered not by foreigners touring India but two young Indians who were not academics, intellectuals or high-brow thinkers.”

The racy and pacy narrative is infused and intrespred with a plethora of information about the places, historical personalities and people encountered besides reflections by each indiviudally. For example, how the British insisted on referring the Rajputana principalities by the names of their respective capitals rather than the historical regions under their sway or how Pushkar and Jodhpur, came into being or the three broad ethnic categories of Jews or how Jaisalmer was sacked two-and-a-half times. It was exciting to know the the two had not set the itinerary. Jaipur was the first port of call followed by Ajmer, Pushkar, Jodhpur, Merta, city of Mira, Jaisalmer, Palanpur, Ahmedabad, Junagarh, Mathura, Dharamshala among other places. “Besides choosing locations on impulse we made a conscious attempt to cover those areas in the geographical vicinity of 200 kilometres of it,” explains Saurav.

Sharing the grilled fish in vodka cream sauce the two divert to share their eating experiences during their break neck journey. Devapriya liked the ravioli in cheese sauce at Pushkar while the husband loved the bajra roti with brinjal sabzi served by Ramaram Mali at Jodhpur. Observes Saurav: “The taste of the dish made of same vegetable, like tinda or toria or for that matter matter paneer varies at different places.” On been asked what he hated eating, Devapriya replies promptly: “He does not hate eating anything including karele ki subzi. As for me I disliked eating the roti and sabzi which is what we could in view of budget constraint. But the worst was the double fried paratha which invariably was the cheapest. Despite that I still had it as one was not sure as where and when the next meal will happen and if that will be to my liking.”

Moving on from what they endured they share what they like. Usually the first off the block to answer, Devapriya say, “Mughalai” but qualifies it. “The one carried to Calcutta by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah’s cooks. I love its flavours, richness and the stories connected with it. I relish the Calcutta biryani which has egg and aloo. The reason being that the Nawab’s entourage when it reached Calcutta in difficult circumstances could not adhere to making biryani with the meat quantity double to that of rice in it. Hence to balance they used egg and potato.” As for Saurav he loves the coastal cuisine from all over, including Bengal, Gujarat, Karnataka, Goa and Kerala among others. “My love the Bengali macher jhol and bhaat (fish and rice) and that combination is available in all the coastal regions and hence my preference for all regional variations of it. The only condition is that the fish has to be good, the gravy lightish not too bland and not too heavy either.” The wife reveals that he also relishes the Tamil vegetarian thali with all its vegetable preparations and curries. “He can eat sambhar chawal and rasam chawal day in day out,” she adds with smile to which he nods.

Devapriya the novelist who has penned “The Vague Woman’s Handbook” and “The Weight Loss Club” draws attention as she compares the art of cooking and writing. “Both require a lot of preparation while for the former you have to think of a plot, storyline and characters and then sit down to write while for the latter you have to do a lot of chopping, gathering of ingredients and spices etc. before embarking on cooking. The prep activity is very difficult just like the post preparation one. After cooking there is cleaning and after finishing a book it is publishing and promoting it. The end products have to be shared with joy possible when people enjoy it.”

The 37 day first leg of their journey described in the book has left some impressions on the two. Devapriya found a stark difference in the temperament of the young people. “The ones in metros are bored, over saturated and devoid of curiosity while their counterparts in smaller cities and towns are hungry for information and knowledge.”

Both point out that “we the city people have very successfully given them the notion that the only job that is cool is to wield a laptop and go to air conditioned office.” Saurav realised that “we need to preserve our farms and a back to farms movement. The countryside cannot be destroyed in the name of urbanisation.” In fact this will be subject of his next book titled “The Nexus”.

While sharing vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, I am told that the present book is first part of the series. The second part is “Man. Woman. Road” covers the travel from Sarai Kale Khan to Kanyakumari via Khajuraho, Kolhapur, Kozhikode and a hundred other places. Taking leave I remark: “You are a perfect couple,” elicting a wide grin from the cherubic Saurav while the graceful Devapriya acknowledges the compliment with a nod and smile.

God bless them!


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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 6:49:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Food/devapriya-roy-and-saurav-jha-on-the-heat-and-dust-project/article7452596.ece

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