Tales of food and how it brings people together 

Watch | Tales of food and how it brings people together 

Celebrating the spirit of togetherness, artist students have curated an exhibition titled, ‘Savouring Connections: How Food Brings Us Together’ at Karl and Meherbai Khandalavala Gallery, CSMVS museum

August 22, 2023 04:36 pm | Updated September 25, 2023 11:50 am IST

What is that one thing that brings families, friends and strangers together under one roof despite their differences? Remember the first day at school when when we shared our lunch boxes with each other, from there, we never had to try so hard to befriend a new person.

Food has been an essential ingredient in keeping civilisations alive. They are used as an identity, part of celebrations, rituals and festivals, to even at times being used as a political weapon. Celebrating this spirit of togetherness, 20 Post Graduate Diploma Course students of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) of the 2022-23 batch have curated an exhibition titled, ‘Savouring Connections: How Food Brings Us Together’. This exhibition, which was inaugurated on April 25, is organised in affiliation with Mumbai University as part of the ‘Think Museum Project’.

An old traditional door and musal okhali adding character in the rural Indian kitchen set-up.

An old traditional door and musal okhali adding character in the rural Indian kitchen set-up. | Photo Credit: Purnima Sah

The exhibition opens with a larger-than-life display of a traditional kitchen that will almost make you feel as if you have entered a rural kitchen where there are wooden seats on the floor to sit and cook on the mud chulha. There is a traditional Indian knife (locally called boti or villi) with a long, curved blade. It is used even today in many Indian households; held down on the floor with the feet and vegetables are held in both hands to cut on the blade. There is a manual coconut scrapper, old brass and copper utensils on wooden shelves, a big can for ghee, bamboo cane, rolling pin, grinding stones (chakki or jata), wooden motor pestles, musal okhali to pound chilli and other spices, a large clay jar to store pickle and more.

Bhatukli, a metal miniature kitchen set for children.

Bhatukli, a metal miniature kitchen set for children. | Photo Credit: Purnima Sah

 “As part of our course, we had to come up with a topic for the exhibition,” says Swararaj Datar, one of the students who is also a Research Assistant at the museum. “The main purpose of our exhibition is to show how people and communities have bonded over food for years. The rural kitchen setup is to show how a traditional kitchen used to be. We can still find them in rural areas where food is cooked on chulhas and the family gathers around for a meal. To get a family together for a meal now, is a rarity.”

Miniature toy play set shows how women engaged in various chores. 

Miniature toy play set shows how women engaged in various chores.  | Photo Credit: Purnima Sah

This traditional kitchen has become a favoured spot to gram their photos on social media.  

Swararaj Datar is explaining how traditional Indian kitchen brought families to eat together.

Swararaj Datar is explaining how traditional Indian kitchen brought families to eat together. | Photo Credit: Purnima Sah

The chulha is made of cardboard and layered with clay. Students have bought some of the exhibits from their homes, some are from the museum’s collection and a few have been purchased locally. A large metal storage jar with decorative elements on its body, which Swararaj says is used in rural areas to store grain, is also placed in the kitchen.

 

In one corner there is a small section of children’s play sets arranged in shelves — the first row has a wooden kitchen set, the second has metal while the third has miniature sets of women engaged in various chores such as grinding grain, sieving rice, pounding spice and grinding chutney on the sil batta or pata varvanta. “The idea is to show how games were also designed in a way that it would teach young girls to imitate their mothers, a subtle way of engaging in household chores as that is what was eventually expected of them to do by the society.”

From roadside chai tapri to elite high tea events, people bond over tea at any point of time.

From roadside chai tapri to elite high tea events, people bond over tea at any point of time. | Photo Credit: Purnima Sah

Coming out of the kitchen, we now see lot of friends and tea shops displayed on the walls. “When we enter the outside world, the first thought that comes to our mind is friends and tea shops. From roadside chai tapri (tea shops) to high tea , people bond over tea.”

 

In this section there are elegant tea sets, one of the tea sets from 18th century made of porcelain with overglaze enamels is from Sèvres factory, France;  18th century jasperware from the Wedgwood factory and a Chinese tea set from 2009. 

(From left) 18th century porcelain tea set with overglaze enamels from Sèvres factory, France; 18th century jasperware from the Wedgwood factory and a Chinese tea set from 2009.

(From left) 18th century porcelain tea set with overglaze enamels from Sèvres factory, France; 18th century jasperware from the Wedgwood factory and a Chinese tea set from 2009. | Photo Credit: Purnima Sah

We all have nostalgic memories of our first tiffin box as a child. There is a Japanese picnic box from the museum collection. A brass lunch dabba purchased from Crawford market for the exhibition features a ladle that also locks the dabba. “There is another kind of dabba that comes with a two or three on the sides to lock it. There is one that comes with three bowls and lids. We are trying to show how from school tiffin box to picnic to lunch dabbas at work, we continue to bond over food.”

Bhatukli games were deviced as a method of getting young girls to learn household management.

Bhatukli games were deviced as a method of getting young girls to learn household management. | Photo Credit: Purnima Sah

Artistically crafted paan daan, hookah pots, wine jars and glasses from the 18th and 19th century form part of the exhibition. “We have a strong rooted paan eating culture in India among men and women. So is bonding over hookah smoke and drinks.”  

Food is at the centre of all the paintings displayed in the exhibition including a miniature painting of Krishna and Balaram’s picnic in a forest, a painting of a Hyderabad princess enjoying a drink at a party in a balcony, a wedding feast from Mewar Ramayana showing people seated in different rows depending upon caste and gender.

A silver salver from the museum’s collection hung on the wall is from 18th century. “Imagine the amount of food served on this artistically crafted platter those days.”

Salt Satyagraha, a non-violent civil disobedience movement led by Mahatma Gandhi to boycott the salt tax levied by the British brought people together to take part in the movement.

Salt Satyagraha, a non-violent civil disobedience movement led by Mahatma Gandhi to boycott the salt tax levied by the British brought people together to take part in the movement. | Photo Credit: Purnima Sah

Food also played a major role in national movements, such as Salt Satyagraha led by Mahatma Gandhi in 1930. Swararaj shows us a receipt from 1942 that belongs to his great grandfather. “This receipt is much after the Salt Satyagraha. It shows that my great grandfather purchased 37 kgs of salt and a permit for ₹2 to own salt. The receipt has signature of the salt warehouse manager.” There are old images of 1773 Boston Tea Party when Americans revolted against the taxation policies of British.

During the Vietnam War, the US military sprayed about 70 million litres of chemical herbicides and defoliants called Agent Orange to destroy crops in Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War, the US military sprayed about 70 million litres of chemical herbicides and defoliants called Agent Orange to destroy crops in Vietnam. | Photo Credit: Purnima Sah

“During the Vietnam war, US military carried out Agent Orange operation and sprayed chemical herbicide to destroy the vegetation therefore devastating the source of food and health of Vietnamese people. A 1918 photograph of Rice Riots in Japan, popularly known as ‘Okayama Rice Mill attack’ is the story of how people stormed the rice mills and burnt them down because of high price.

Photograph of 1918 Okayama Rice Mill attack in Japan where millions of people protested against the high price of rice.

Photograph of 1918 Okayama Rice Mill attack in Japan where millions of people protested against the high price of rice. | Photo Credit: Purnima Sah

The iconic folk tune of Amul ‘Mero Gaam’ is playing on a screen and next to it there are old ads and photographs that shows the rise in white revolution in the country. Walking a little ahead, there is a collage of social media screenshots showing people sharing food with friends and families.“It is our way of sharing and bonding over food in the 21st century.”

A neatly placed ‘global’ dinning table in the exhibition shows how different fruits, vegetables and spices were brought in India by the Portuguese and British and Indians eventually made them their own. “For example, vada pav; potatoes and bread were brought by Portuguese and British; so is tamarind, cauliflower, pineapple, chilli, , cashew and even Alphonso mangoes that most of us in Mumbai believe is the best mango variety in the world.”

The exhibition is on display at Karl and Meherbai Khandalavala Gallery of CSMVS museum from 11am to 6pm everyday 

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