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Reviews: Ragi-Ragini - Chronicles from Aji's Kitchen

 

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The Times of India, Jun'12

Outlook India, Apr'12

 

 

 

Roll your ragi, and bake it too

Jun 10, 2012, 12.03PM IST Mumbai Mirror[ Sumedha Raikar-Mhatre ]

 

 

Anjali Purohit weaves history, fiction, devotional poetry, illustrations and old and new nachni recipes into a mouthful of a cookbook

Ragi Ragini is a resonant title for an unusual cookbook. It is Mumbai-based artist-poet Anjali Purohit's petite collection of recipes made of ragi - finger millet known as nachani in Maharashtra. Essentially a firstperson fictional account of Ragini, a motherless girl brought up on a Ragi-rich diet by her grandmother in a Konkan village, it is laced with popular verses composed by 19th century Saint-poet Bahinabai Choudhari. The original Marathi ovis (couplets) have been translated in English by Purohit, who has also illustrated the 99-page book (Yoda Press) with rustic implements and tools used in a yesteryear Maharashtrian kitchen. Ragini's tale is Purohit's dramatic device to celebrate traditional Marathi cuisine.

Ragi Ragini, released recently, evokes sufficient interest in an indigenous but underrated grain which promises nutritional input, diversity in its renderings and a sumptuous taste. Purohit dwells on the traditional recipes such as bhakri, roti, ladoos and porridge. But she is also mindful of the wider cultural context in which her English book is placed. So each time-honoured delicacy is supplemented with her ragi-rich innovations that speak to the two-minute noodle generation. Particularly ingenious are ragini custard, ragi chocolate cake, ragi-wheat sesame cookies, ragi water chestnut ladoos and stuffed ragi parathas.

Purohit's humour adds a sparkle to each preparation. She describes the ingredients playfully. Taking the reader into confidence, she once says, "Fret not even if things go wrong, you don't need to throw it away. Ragi is very forgiving and you can continue as if nothing happened." At times she invokes German philosopher Hegel to describe her grandmother's belief in the unity of opposites. Purohit strikes a balanced note while eulogizing ragi's virtues. Ragini's tale, set against the Independence struggle, runs parallel and is pithy enough to engage the reader.

Ragi Ragini is an example of composite art. It is an intelligent juxtaposition of fiction, art illustrations, poetry and Marathi to-English translations. Purohit, who paints oils on canvas and also indulges in fiction (winner of the Commonwealth Short Story competition, 2008), has done a commendable job of representing Bahinabai to the English reader. The verses she has chosen (to enliven Ragini's story) lend a real-life connect to cookery. It is by singing these couplets that simple toiling women sought solace in their daily chores. Modern-day cooking is no longer equated with the grating and grinding mentioned in Bahinabai's ovis. But her moral precepts and musings ring true in the food processor setting as well. The book is therefore a validation of our culinary history.

At a time when lumpen sectarianism, nativism and regionalism have raised their head in contemporary Maharashtra, the book is a welcome celebration of the inclusiveness of Maharashtrian culture. It highlights the gentle, warm, loving aspects of the culture, as verbalized by Maharashtra's Varkari religious cult. Bahinabai and other Varkari saints professed respect towards all human beings. Their definitions of culture and history were liberal, reformist and open-ended. Ragi Ragini is reminiscent of that open-endedness. We need more such ragi...

 

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Mixed Grain

A gentle insight into village life, interspersed with ragi recipes

Nandita Iyer

 

   
Cultural convergence: US President Barack Obama in Egypt in 2009. Pete Souza/The White House/Getty Images

My first impression on seeing the cover of Ragi-Ragini was ‘rustic’, and this 100-page book lived up to its rustic cover image.

It’s tough to term this unusual book as a cookbook. There are three parts to it, all woven together. One is the story of the fictional Ragini. Having lost her mother at birth, she was brought up by her grandma and aunt in a Konkan village. Frail and uncared for, she attributes her life to the nutritious powers of ragi, the extract of which she was given as an infant.

The second aspect of Ragi-Ragini are the ovis, or couplets, written by Bahinabai, a Marathi poet who wrote about life, its hardships, women etc. The poems (several of them are in the book) are written in Marathi, and in its English transliteration can only be appreciated by people who understand Marathi.

The third part, the recipes, focus on Ragi as the main ingredient. While they are a good mix of the traditional (bhakri, laddoo, etc) and the modern (cookies, cakes, custard), I found them to be mostly sweet. There’re only a few savoury recipes, like bhakris and savoury porridge. Also, most recipes are like how your grandmom would instruct you, not exact quantities. While it’s okay for traditional recipes, when baking cookies, it would be a problem if it’s said: ‘as much ghee as you would require to make a dough’.

This book is a nice melange of poetry and the traditional grain. I wouldn’t exactly call this a book that cookbook lovers would love to collect, more like a gentle insight into village life, interspersed with ragi recipes.

   
   

To read this review in Outlook India

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