07 May, 2021

Sweat Of Shiva’s Back

A cuisine hearthed of necessity and ingenuity

Sweat Of Shiva’s Back

When the calendar year swings between famine and feast, when short spells of plenty intersperse with long periods of paucity, people learn two lessons from an early age: how to master hunger and to exercise ingenuity in the search for food. The Bhilala adivasis, who live in the hills of the Narmada valley, look to the monsoons to water their crops of maize, sorghum and millets, pulses and oilseeds. But when the rains are uncertain and the soil yields little, it is the forest that sustains them. Many adivasis now migrate to Gujarat for work, but a large number stay behind and eke out a living—and a creative cuisine—from their fields, forests and river.

In Vanjaria’s house, the availability of food ebbs and flows with the seasons. The monsoons are the worst; when the children die, when the grain stock from the previous year runs out, when prices rise and the money earned from migrant work in the summer no longer suffices. Meanwhile, there is the hard labour of ploughing, planting and weeding to do, far harder to...

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