Under my byline

Method cooking

Posted in Art, Foodie by Rrishi on 5 October 2008

Graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee says he isn’t a foodie-shoodie

Duck past the line of drying clothes onto the balcony, and to your right you can see the narrow lane curve away, choked with parked cars like drab boulders. It’s like standing on the rim of a canyon, an impression strengthened by the tumbles of greenery from other balconies along the row of tall houses.

In the kitchen behind are the sounds of Sarnath Banerjee busily bhuno-ing his mutton, and meanwhile talking about the food in Karachi.

It is a memorable counterpoint, and puts one in mind of Banerjee’s method in his graphic novels and essays, where text and image often proceed in parallel, never quite touching. It is like the relationship between what you see and what you’re thinking. In one essay, for instance, the text is a recipe, doled out line by line, while the drawings show a man shopping for vegetables, frame by frame.

Banerjee, the best-known graphic novelist in India, and his wife Mahbano Abidi, a multimedia artist, are talking about cholesterol, and about trying to give up meat, and about her family’s brilliant khansama Rehman in Karachi. “Nahin chahiye utna pleasure [I don’t want that much pleasure],” says Banerjee, but Abidi replies “Mujhe chahiye [I do].” Banerjee says he doesn’t open his mouth in his in-laws’ house — because someone will pop in a kabab.

“It’s not a question of being thin and getting into sexy clothes,” he explains. “At 36, your pipes get clogged.” He’s just back from “court”, which means squash court, and is nursing an aching arm.

“I’m not a big foodie-shoodie, who watches BBC4 and all. When I was younger, I used to cook to get the girls. Now I’m happily married,” so he doesn’t cook much at all, leaving that to their quiet Bengali maid. “England-shengland has made cooking into a glamorous activity. Now Pappu ko metrosexual banna hai to tofu karega [untranslatable!].”

Between bouts of bhuno-ing, Banerjee tells us about his recent project in São Paulo, Brazil. For a biennale there, he is preparing a series of graphic essays on “ordinary people”. This involved interviewing people in all corners of that city. He encountered pornographers, detectives from an agency called Perfect Couple who do marital and infidelity work, a “judo chap” (“A silver medallist; I’ll never do a gold medallist”), the “motoboys” or motorcycle-delivery boys (“They’re like a pack of dingos, you don’t want to get in trouble with any of them”), an elevator liftman, Bible-thumping preachers , a second-hand bookseller (“He feels that at night the characters come out”), an abortion activist…

The mutton at the end of it all is just the icing on this crazy cake.

FAVOURITE RECIPE

ALOO GOSHT

1 kg mutton
2 tbsp ginger paste
2 tbsp garlic paste
2 tbsp onion paste
4 onions, chopped small
4-5 tejpatta
4 small tomatoes, chopped small (or purée)
2-3 large potatoes
4 green chillies, de-seeded
Mustard oil
3 tsp garam masala
Fresh coriander
1 cup water
1½ tsp salt

Marinate mutton pieces for 15 minutes in the ginger, garlic and onion paste, and a tablespoon of mustard oil. Separately, skin and cut potatoes into large chunks, and lightly fry. Again separately, heat mustard oil in a kadhai, throw in chopped onions and add tejpatta. Brown the onions, add tomatoes, green chillies and salt. Then add marinated mutton and “bhuno like a madman” for a long time — “When you think it’s done, bhuno another 15 minutes.” In pressure-cooker, boil water and then add bhuno-ed mutton and leave for several whistles until done. Sprinkle coriander on top before serving.

(Visit Sarnath Banerjee’s website.)

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