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Historian follows India’s curry trail

December 2005
Historian follows India’s curry trail

Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors

By Lizzie Collingham

Oxford University Press, 2005

Hardcover, 352 pages

��� There are roughly 8000 Indian restaurants in the U.K. (1000 in London alone), ranging from nondescript takeouts to multistarred mahals, where 18 tons of chicken tikka masala ? Britain's unofficial national dish ? are consumed each year. In parts of the country, curry and chips attracts more customers than fish and chips, the quintessential English staple. Even kedgeree, eaten for breakfast by upper class Brits, is a variation of kichri. Given that England's first ‘curry house' opened in 1811, the British association with Indian cuisine goes back a long way indeed. So it's appropriate that an English historian, Lizzie Collingham, has charted the evolution of this rich and diverse culinary tradition, which encompasses not only the Mughlai touches of the heartland but also the Portuguese flavors of the West Coast (e.g., vindaloo). "What this smart little book does is unpick some of the pathways by which various meats, fish, fruit and rice came together at particular moments in history to produce, say, a lamb pasanda or even our particular favorite, chicken tikka masala (‘curry', it turns out, is a generic term that Indians themselves would never use)," comments Kathryn Hughes in The Guardian about a book that gives less importance to pre-Mughal influences. Supplemented by a number of recipes, some of which can be traced to the distant past, the book also has 5 maps and 34 illustrations.

Taj's timeless tale lives on in celluloid

��� The Taj Mahal ? perhaps the first image that comes to mind when many people think of India ? has become such a clich� that mentioning it yet again may fail to evoke any interest. But as the 350th anniversary of this iconic monument draws to a close, the truth is that it continues to inspire a variety of artists and entertainers. Akbar Khan's Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story, starring Kabir Bedi as the besotted emperor and Soniya Jehan as Mumtaz Mahal, has been called one of the most expensive ventures ever in Bollywood. Seen from Shah Jehan's perspective, not long after he's overthrown and imprisoned by his tyrannical son, Aurangzeb, this colorful saga unfolds as a long flashback. Four years in the making, the movie has had only a limited release so far, and the early reviews have been decidedly mixed.

As noted in Khabar some time ago, Warner Brothers is supposedly making a movie on the Taj that's based on Kamran Pasha's screenplay. Another one is the highly anticipated Taj Mahal ? The Heart of India, which is being hyped as India's first IMAX film. With a budget of $25 million, it features Aishwarya Rai in the lead role. The running time is an hour, but for wider distribution there will be a 35mm version that's three hours long. Beyond films, this wonder of the world has inspired a new ballet named The Legend of the Taj Mahal. Choreographed by Nikolai Kabaniaev, it's a production of the Diablo Ballet in California.

Prominent Indian architect designs MIT center

��� Charles Correa of Mumbai teamed up with Goody, Clancy and Associates in Boston to design the McGovern Institute of Brain Research at MIT in Cambridge. Covering 411,000 square feet and built with a $350 million gift from Patrick McGovern and his family, the sprawling complex houses the laboratories of 12 renowned scientists and their staff of 500. Author of several books on architecture, including his seminal The New Landscape, Correa is a strong proponent of low cost shelters in developing nations. He has taught at leading universities around the world, including MIT (his alma mater), and won numerous awards. His works include the Vidhan and Bharat Bhavans in Bhopal, the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial in Sabramati, and he was the chief architect of the Kala Akademi in Goa and the Kala Kendra in Jaipur. New Bombay, his urban growth center for 2 million people, was built near the harbor of the metropolis. "The McGoverns praised the design of chief architect Charles Correa," notes IDG News Service. " ‘It is designed for maximum collaboration and line-of-sight communication,' said Patrick McGovern, pointing out the Portuguese marble that reflects light, producing a spectrum of color-tone changes as the sun moves across the massive skylight."

Immense Hindu temple opens in India

��� Built by more than 7000 sculptors over five years, the Swaminarayan Akshardham complex in Delhi has an imposing monument that, resting on 234 pillars and capped by 9 intricately carved domes, is adorned with 20,000 murtis. HDH Pramukh Swami Maharaj of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha conceived this mammoth project. There is a hall of values and the founding yogi's Indian pilgrimage as a child is depicted on a huge cinema screen. One can take a12-minute boat ride to see miniature models of a Vedic village and Takshashila, one of the earliest universities in the world. The expansive Bharat Upvan (Garden of India) that takes up 60 acres of the complex has bronze statues of distinguished figures from the nation's past. About 108 tiny shrines enclose a musical fountain, which has an 8-petaled lotus at its center. "India's Muslim president, Sikh prime minister and Hindu nationalist opposition leader have joined together to open one of the biggest Hindu temples of modern times, a $45 million pink sandstone shrine to religious tolerance," states the Associated Press.

Fridays with Fareed on PBS

��� Viewers with an affinity for international news and analysis on American TV may already know that Fareed Zakaria, columnist and editor of Newsweek International, has found a niche on two shows, making him one of the most visible and influential Indian-American journalists working today. He's a frequent panelist on ABC's "This Week," and on PBS he has his own program titled "Foreign Exchange," which is broadcast at 11.30 every Friday night. Apart from policy wonks seeking their weekly fix, couch potatoes and channel surfers, insomniacs, and even party-goers will see that this engaging host's aim on the show ? where "America meets the world" ? is to highlight the importance of international affairs and bring a fresh perspective to the subject. Dubbed "one of the 21 most important people of the 21st century" by Esquire magazine in 1999, India-born Zakaria became the managing editor of Foreign Affairs journal at age 28. Trained at Yale and Harvard, where he has also taught, his books include the bestselling The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. One typical program, which aired in October, had the following segments: "How high will the price of oil go? Two experts discuss the global oil economy. A Bollywood insider (actor Tom Alter) gives us a unique perspective on the Indian film industry. Author Moises Naim talks about how drug smugglers and human traffickers are changing the world."

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