March 21, 2011

Fire and Sweet in the Heat of Jodhpur Street

It gets hot at noon in Jodhpur. Very hot. And the middle-aged man manning the makeshift table set up in the street outside Janata Sweet Home, dispensing water out of plastic mugs to the thirsty passers-by served to remind us of the heat after the momentary amnesia from sampling Makhaniya Lassi inside what is easily among Jodhpur's best known shop for sweets and savouries.

We had walked through Saddar Bazaar, home to the clock tower, before time came to a standstill the moment we were beguiled by the Makhaniya Lassi that at once soothed our appetite in as a much as it whetted it.

But it was the Kachori, leaving that lingering taste of Ajwain and Sabuth Dhaniya (whole dry coriander seeds) behind, and the Makhaniya Lassi that were flying off the counter. At first I didn’t think I’d gulp down more than one lassi. I called halt after the third only so I could sample the other savouries on sale - Mawa ki Mithai, Bangla Mithai, and Shudh Desi Ghee ki Mithai among others, priced at Rs. 130/-, Rs. 120/-, and Rs. 140/- a kilo respectively. It’s a pity that unlike the cow, the human stomach is not divided into four parts, each section freeing the others for their functions.

Handed out in a plastic cup, the Makhaniya Lassi at the Janata Sweet Home was quite unlike any I’d had before. A dash of powdered pista on the top rounded off the thick serving of butter prepared to a recipe that instantly dissolved the Jodhpur heat.

Unlike on the coast the heat in Jodhpur will not drain you of fluids or discomfort you to the point where you’d be hard pressed to resist emptying a crate of cold drinks down your throat. The heat in Jodhpur is of a different kind. It can scald your head if you’re out in the mid-day sun in the summer. It can bore a tunnel through the forehead without anyone drawing a bulls eye between your eyes. And it doesn’t help that Jodhpur is the gateway to the Thar desert.

While September is no summer by any stretch in this historic city, it’s nevertheless intense in the street. And this from someone who's no stranger to the heat, having spent much of my vacations from school riding the streets in the Deccan heartland in temperatures reaching and exceeding 44 degree C while most sought the shade of their homes. Even so I’d have expected September to be a mite cooler up north but it wasn’t to be. Blame it on the canvas strap around my neck weighted down by a camera and sundry other things in the bag.

But watching three local men outside the sweet shop nonchalantly digging into Mirchi Bhajia had a salutary effect on me. While the valour of Jodhpur revolves around the martial history of the Rathore dynasty who worshipped the Sun no less and the Mehrangarh Fort rising solidly on a hill top in the distance, I’d nevertheless be surprised if there isn’t one song dedicated to Jodhpur natives' penchant for beating the noon heat with a hot, spicy Mirchi Bhajia.

Talk of fighting fire with fire, surely there must be some truth in it.

It helped that the silent man manning the Jal Sewa counter had water ready. While providing water to the thirsty has a bearing on good karma, I’m not so sure it holds as much value if dispensed to soothe the fire raging from ingesting Mirchi Bhajia. I need to check the Jal Sewa’s Karma Quotient for the latter.

A board bearing Jal Sewa in devanagari script on a pillar announced the water service and imbued the water dispenser’s work with a certain permanence. Not everyone stopped to drink water. Some washed their hands after finishing off savouries sourced from Janata Sweet Home before washing it down with quick gulps of water from the colourful plastic tumblers.

The man tasked with distributing water to thirsty passers-by sourced water for the Jal Sewa from a tap attached to the water pipe supplying drinking water to the building. I thought it likely that the owners of Janata Sweet Home ran it as a public service, helping passers-by beat the heat.

Few shops will tolerate ‘obstructions’ leading up to the entrance unless it’s their own. And moreover Janata (read Public) is as old-school as names of shops go. The water service (Jal Seva) would qualify for public (read Janata) service, its noble intent sharing the name with the shop.

While there’s little reason to pause along the way elsewhere, the water on offer was as good a reason as any to catch a breath while contemplating the lure of the cool Makhaniya Lassi barely a step away.

Or the Mirchi Bhajia depending upon what your ‘beat the heat’ philosophy is.


dr.antony said...

Your journeys happen to be so eventful!
There are certain things unique to us.Whether it is driven by the spirit of service or not,I have seen people serving water in different parts of this place as well.There is a bearded man sitting at our roadside for the last five years.There is a handwritten board " Sugathan gives Moru vellom (laban)".He has been religiously giving ever since the time I have seen him.
After all,life is in giving !

Riot Kitty said...

Another place I want to visit - and eat.

Anuradha Shankar said...

just the thought of kachori makes my mouth water... but i would prefer chaas to lassi any day! your post brought back some wonderful memories of jodhpur!

Lynn said...

You describe the heat and its effects very well - I can only imagine the feelings of the bulls eye.

Meena Venkataraman said...

I totally enjoyed reading this.
It had everything, the romance of the hot summer :), The gorgeous description of tasty local delicasies...
At the end of it all am left with visions of food - Halwa, Kachori..and of course the signature dish of your piece- THE LASSI :)

Anil P said...

Dr. Antony: Thank you. Cheers to the man you mention. It takes an entirely different conviction to be able to first do it and then continue it for as long as he has done.

Sometimes Indians will serve in the memory of their loved ones, sometimes for the sake of self, sometimes to redeem a promise made for a wish fulfilled.

Whatever the reason may be, it's appreciable that they'll come forward to do it.

I agree, 'Life is in giving'.

Riot Kitty: Jodhpur is a nice place to visit between September and February, if one can put up with a bit of the September heat.

Anu: The kachoris at Jodhpur's Janata Sweet Home are delicious to say the least.

Lynn: Thank you. It can be an intimidating experience.

Meena Venkataraman: Thank you. The Makhaniya Lassi at the place is worth walking a long way to taste. It's a must-do if you're in Jodhpur.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another interesting and educational post. I am learning so much. In Malaysia, I too was curious to note that laborers who work under the hot sun, especially those of Indian ethnicity, prefer to drink hot drinks during the mid-day break. They explained to me that the hot drinks make them sweat which is actually a lot more efficient in reducing their core temperature than drinking cold drinks.

Anil P said...

Lgsquirrel: Thank you. That's true. Tea will make the drinker sweat and reduce the body temperature, though not everyone will prefer that method to achieve the result the labourers you spoke with sought to.

anan said...

your post on jodhpur brings back memories of my trip to Jodhpur...makhaniya lassi is my fav...

Anil P said...

Anan: No one who's drunk Makhaniya Lassi there will ever forget it in a hurry.

Grannymar said...

Another wonderful travelogue. I could feel the heat on my face and the stickiness of the sweetmeats on my fingers! I think I need to go wash my hands. ;)

Anil P said...

Grannymar: Thank you. Indian sweets are in a category by themselves :-)