Under my byline

Out of the grind

Posted in Foodie, Profiles by Rrishi on 14 December 2008

IDP Education CEO Henry Ledlie makes an Anglo-Indian specialty, the traditional way

“When I was young they were a happy community,” says Henry A S Ledlie of his fellow Anglo-Indians. “We had our community dances, parties, choirs, our teachers — you must have had Anglo teachers?”

For all that, he didn’t spend much time with other Anglo-Indians. “You had friends who were not Anglo. I had Muslim, Hindu and Parsi friends,” he says. “The foods, the cultures were very distinct in the ’60s and ’70s. I always thought I was unusual in the sense that my parents never spoke Hindi at home. The food we ate was different, the clothes we wore were different. My mother and my sister wore frocks.”

Ledlie’s ancestors are Irish and Scottish, but he calls himself a “pukka UP-ite”. “After the Second World War my father was demobbed in the UK and came down to India, because his parents were here. He joined the UP government roadways. So we’re mostly from UP.” Born in Etawah, Ledlie spent his childhood and school years in Kanpur (“Cawnpore is what my people used to call it”) and Lucknow.

The 1960s and 1970s were the years in which many Anglo-Indians left India. Most of Ledlie’s family moved away — the great majority to Australia. “I went to Australia too,” says Ledlie, “and I came back.” Having left Mumbai, where he lived for years, “I missed the smell of low tide. I found things too clean, too organised, too material.”

In India, after years in sales, tourism and airlines, Ledlie turned again to Australia — this time as the head of IDP Education India, a company co-owned by a consortium of Australian universities and Australian billionaire Kerry Packer’s son. Since 1995 Ledlie’s company has been marketing courses in Australia to Indian students (“I used to be called a crass marketeer!”) and then preparing them for life abroad. Now, says CEO Ledlie, 65,000 Indians are studying in Australia. It was 250 a year when he started.

Among the advice he gives students is: “When you go abroad and you’re homesick: you cook your favourite food, and the amount of friends you make, I can’t tell you.” Ledlie loves to cook, and in fact his dining table is crisply set for four Australian friends who will be treated to a full Anglo-Indian dinner, done entirely by him.

The Ledlie siblings all received strict kitchen training from their mother (now a round and smiling lady who peeps in on us to say hello). “When my mother made us cook she’d give us a whack if we didn’t use the silbatta,” the grinding stone nowadays replaced by the mixie. “Because of that I still use the stone,” says Ledlie, flexing his forearm muscles as proof.

In the “typical Ledlie Anglo-Indian dish” he’s made us, the gravy is palpably enriched by the grainy texture of the homemade masala. The labour involved is soothing, he says. Accordingly he offers a final, practical motto which unites life and food: “Don’t stress anybody, just cook and eat.”

FAVOURITE RECIPE

HENRY’S UNGLI CHAAT PRAWN CURRY

1 kg large prawns, shelled and veined
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
6-8 stalks curry leaves
5-6 green chillies, sliced
2 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
Oil
1 cup brown vinegar
1 tsp each chilli powder, for colour and for spice
3 tsp jeera powder
2 tsp haldi powder
2 packets Kissan tomato puree
Maggi Hot & Sweet tomato ketchup, to taste

Heat oil. Add mustard seeds and curry leaves (“Splutter-splash and cracking of mustard seeds.”) Wait till curry leaves and chillies get white streaks. Then add ginger-garlic paste and stir for five to seven minutes till there’s a nice aroma and it all mixes well. Then add vinegar, chilli powders, jeera, haldi. Cook and stir till it starts spluttering and little holes or oil bubbles appear in masala. (“Continue till the neighbours start crowding outside your door.”) Cook this for seven to 10 minutes and then add tomato puree, continue cooking for a while. Then add pre-cooked prawns.

Pre-cooking the prawns: Wash them, add some haldi and put in pan on slow fire (don’t add water). Toss around till semi-cooked. Drain water that comes out of prawns and add prawns to cooked masala.

Make sure you slow heat down on masala after it has spluttered and roasted for a few minutes. Let simmer before adding prawns. Switch off — do not cook prawns more than required. Have with steamed or boiled white rice.

(Here‘s another profile of Ledlie, focused on his food-related collecting habits.)

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