Bhanukul’s Kitchen Raga
Volume 1 | Issue 8 [December 2021]

Bhanukul’s Kitchen Raga<br>Volume 1 | Issue 8 [December 2021]

Bhanukul’s Kitchen Raga

Kalapini Komkali

Volume 1 | Issue 8 [December 2021]


Translated from the Hindi by Himadri Agarwal


There’s a well-known saying — Kashi in the morn, Awadh in the evening, and Malwa at night. This is that part of the world where the air is fresher, the water is cleaner, and the surroundings are more beautiful than anywhere else in the state. This is where I was born — this Malwa, where the dark soil is fertile and where there is water to be found at every step.

In the environment I was born and raised in, music was always echoing around me. Just as the qualities of different music gharanas were appreciated, so was the absolutely unique confluence of food from different cultures.

Baba, or my father Pandit Kumar Gandharva, was born in Karnataka and had studied music in Mumbai, so his favourite dishes were either Kannada or Marathi.

Bhanumatiji, or Badi Maa, was from Saraswat, coastal Karnataka, but she was born in Karachi and had studied in Mumbai, so there were some Saraswat dishes, and some from Sindh, that came into our home.

After Bhanumatiji passed away, Kumarji was married to Vasundharaji, my mother. On one hand, she was born in a Marathi family and her initial education was completed in Kolkata, but then she came to Mumbai after that to study music. Therefore, her favourite food comprised not just Marathi cuisine but also the seasoning, spices, and special dishes of Bengal.

Kumarji, Bhanumatiji, and Vasundharaji, while traversing the journeys of their own lives, came and settled in Malwa, Dewas and honestly, they made it their own.

Aai would keep Baba’s health in mind while cooking. Since it was a musician’s house, the food never had too much sourness, spice, or oil. Sour foods which can potentially make your voice hoarse — like tamarind, lemon, jamuns, sour grapes, etc. — were eaten in moderation, but yes, there was a variety of pickles and jams being made. There was naturally little inclination towards eating or serving too much fried food — mostly, there were balanced meals that were prepared using Marathi-Karnataka cooking styles.

In our house, we weren’t racing towards culinary perfection, but yes, every dish that we did make was cooked with great care and skill.

As far as I remember, my first encounter with the culinary ‘arts’ was when I was barely three or four years old.

My Dai Maa, the woman who took care of me, was called Noor Bano, or for us, Noor Amma. She was an impeccably tidy woman, fair, who wore a gleaming white salwar kameez, covered her head with a muslin dupatta, and carried in her hands a tasbeeh, a set of prayer beads that she had brought from the Haj. In her quivering voice, she kept trying new techniques to keep me occupied.

Aai had got me a kitchen set, which in Marathi is called ‘Bhaatukali.’ This set had all kinds of cooking utensils, including plates, bowls, khoncha spatulas, palta spatulas, a griddle, stove, utensils for tea and milk, tongs, sandaasi, or kitchen pincers, cups, plates, tables, chairs — everything. It had everything, and Noor Amma and I would pretend to cook using it. I still remember Amma’s wrinkled fingers and her trembling voice.

She would say…..

Yes, now pour oil into the kadhaai, yes, the pot with the two handles…wait, let it heat up…yes, now put in the cumin…now, this..now, that… And that is how my training began, and Noor Amma became my first teacher of culinary arts.

The food cooked at home has always been light, tasty, and vegetarian. To this day, nothing has been able to compete with Aai’s aamti, which is a special sweet and sour dal, or her ghadi-chi poli, which, in other words, is a paratha made without ghee or oil, a specialty of Maharashtrian cuisine.

Other than Baba, Aai, my elder brother Mukul Dada, and myself, there was one other important member of the family, and that was Kanna Mama, or Krishnan Nambiar. Hailing from Kerala, he had come to Dewas with Bhanumatiji; the most respected elder of the house, he had achieved expertise in various areas. He always helped Aai in the kitchen, and some of his recipes have become a part of our heritage.


Kalapini with Kanna mama

There is a saying — gavaiya so khavaiya. The one who sings, loves to eat.

But honestly, it was the other way round for Baba and Aai. They always ate measured quantities of vegetarian food. But yes, they did enjoy feeding others.

There was a very old (from 1947) diary which had some incredibly special recipes in it. Over time, select dishes from Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, and other states kept being added to this diary.

Just like the Bhatkhande style of music is indispensable for students of music, this book was nothing less than the Gita of culinary arts for me. Gradually, this one diary became many diaries, and in addition to food from various states, food from various cultures also started being added to it, and continues to be added to this day.

There are unwritten rules even about which kind of food is to be served on the dining table and how it is to be served; the plate is organised keeping these norms in mind.

There was one thing — whatever was made at home was the same for everyone, and we children needed to eat everything that was served to us. There were no concessions.

Whether it was bitter gourd, jackfruit, Madrasi rasam, Saraswat tamli, pachadi huggi, a dish from Belgaum, bhaakri (a roti made with millets and jowar), kikore (spiny gourd), begun bhaja, a Bengali dish…we had to eat everything. One benefit of which was that we developed a habit of tasting all kinds of food.

I remember, when I was a child, I used to ask for bitter gourd for my school lunch.

When Vasundhara tai came to Dewas from Mumbai in 1963 after her marriage, she brought a large ragada (hand grinding stone) with her to grind legumes for idlis and other things. She was very fond of South Indian dishes. Dewas was a small city; who knew whether or not there would be arrangements to grind legumes and other things? (Homes did not have mixer-grinder machines at the time). She brought the grinding stone, and I clearly remember that it kept being used for years.


For a long time, gas was used mainly for making tea and coffee; food was prepared on a coal sigree, a stove. After breakfast was done, Aai would light the sigree and for lunch, she would serve steaming hot chapatis or occasionally fulkas made on a kadela (a clay frying pan with minuscule holes in it). Especially when Baba went for a performance and returned home after a long time, he would be tired, and she would serve him aamti-bhaat (lentils and rice) with vegetable koshimbir and ghadi-chi poli, leaving him absolutely satiated.

They understood the meaning of frugality very well. Whether it was their clothing, their lifestyle, their taste in food — they never showed off or indulged in excesses. Along with the passionate appeal of tangible beauty, their persona also expressed the nirgun bhaav.

While we are talking about sigrees, let me tell you something else that’s interesting— during that time, in the 60’s and the 70’s, there were no lighters to light the gas. A small chimney, powered by kerosene, would keep burning in a corner of the kitchen twenty-four hours a day. Kannamama would cut long strips out of the empty Brook Bond Tea hard paper boxes, and we would use them instead of matchsticks, lighting them from the chimney and in turn lighting the gas with them.

There was even a ghatti (hand-mill) in our house; Aai had asked Ajudhya Bai, our domestic help, to make a paal (a wall-like structure all around the hand-mill which prevents flour from falling out) out of yellow clay. Right in the middle was a structure called a makri, which allowed the grains to be spun and crushed. It was on that hand-mill using which the wheat-flour was ground to make chaklis, a Maharashtrian dish, and oh, how crispy those chaklis used to be!

Dewas was a small town even in the 60’s and the 70’s. Unlike today, it was difficult to find all kinds of fruits and vegetables all year round. During the winter, when tomatoes were abundant, Aai and Kannamama used to make tomato sauce for us children in the large stove outside. All limits were crossed when, at Baba’s request, she actually made a chawanprash with a hundred Ayurvedic medicines, that too at home! And this was after a whole three days of effort.

There was always a guest at the dining table, or someone who had just arrived, but Aai never took it otherwise. Baba ate slowly, relishing every bite as he said ‘waah’… ‘waah’ praising the smallest of detail that he might have liked about the food.

Once, no raw mangoes had sprouted on our mango tree yet, and we suddenly found a green mango on the ground. Baba cut open that lone mango with a sharp knife, cut long slices out of it, topped it with salt and red chilli powder, and served it to everyone at the table! That too with sounds of aahaa…waah. His habit of appreciating even the littlest of things was truly extraordinary.

The doors of Bhanukul, our home, have always remained open to welcome people. Baba’s close friends in Dewas — writer and journalist Rahul Barpute, artist Guruji Chinchalakar, artist Sajjataz Chandu Nafde, playwright Baba Dike, poet Ashok Vajpayee, writer-playwright P.L. Deshpande, singers Vasantrao Deshpande and Padmakumar Mantri as well as journalist Prabhash Joshi and members of the Ramubhaiyya Date family — friends, relatives, and artists from various parts of the country would always visit our house.

I remember — Pandit Ravishankarji and Ustad Allarakha Khan Sahab had come over; they had to leave early morning after their performance, so Aai was serving food at the table late at night. Another time, Pandit Bhimsenji was singing in Baba’s room late at night, then had a meal at two in the morning! Once it was architect Madhav Aachwal and sculptor R. K. Phadke involved in discussions with Kumarji for days, at other times the poet Anil (Aatmaram Raaoji Deshpande) from Nagpur staying for fifteen days; the qawwal Shankar Shambhu has visited too, and Pu.La Deshpande as well as Vasantraoji Deshpande have stayed in Baba’s room as well.

There’s one thing I have to say here — none of these people were ever too demanding of anything. When shrikhand was made for Baba’s friends and their families visiting on his birthday, the hung curd (chakka) was prepared at home as well. On Mukuldada and my birthdays, our favourite puran polli and jalebis were made.

Baba often had to go to distant cities all over the country for his performances. He usually travelled by train. A lower berth in the First Class compartment (there were no AC compartments in trains in those days) was reserved for him. Both his tanpuras were either tied on each side of the tea table in the centre, or sometimes even set down flat on the upper berth.

In those days, keeping his voice in mind, a thermos of water and three tiffin boxes of food for the journey would accompany him from home.

There would be two meals comprising aloo ki sabzi (potato curry), chutney, soft chapatis made with wheat dough kneaded into milk (dashami), uncut salad, salt, something sweet, and most importantly, Belgaum’s special curd-rice, which is called butti. Baba too ate his meals enthusiastically while travelling. Sometimes he was alone, sometimes Aai would be with him, while at other times the accompanying musicians would also join him in the train itself. Memory of that tiffin in the First Class compartment makes my mouth water even today. Keeping their diet in mind, Baba and Aai never ate anything from wayside stalls during the journey. If something new appealed to them, then they would come home, talk about it, and Aai would rack her brains and try to replicate it at home.

This reminds me of something.

Baba had returned from Bangalore after meeting our family friend Eknath Kamatji and his wife Nirupama.

He said to Aai — “Nirupama served me moong idlis that were as smooth as butter.” In those days, to phone someone wasn’t so easy; in fact, neither were we used to it and nor was it the mobile phone era, with an abundance of recipes on YouTube. So Aai used her discretion, tweaked the quantities of the ingredients, and ultimately, she did successfully make smooth idlis of moong.

The fun part is that Aai used to do all this alongside her own music practice, preparations for special thematic concerts with Baba, as well as noting down the bandishes, which are fixed, melodic compositions in classical music. I am left perplexed thinking about it all today!

There were always students coming to our house, and after all, they were members of the family too. She would listen to the students practice while she cooked. Often, Baba would sit at the dining table itself, humming. He would call out to Aai, ‘Listen! What a beautiful bandish this is!’

‘Bhanukul’ — this house is surrounded by large, dense trees; it is covered by plants bearing all kinds of flowers and fruits. Among them is that species of bamboo which is used as an ingredient in various dishes. Baba had planted it upon Aai’s special request.

Bamboo had blossomed in India between 1984–1985. At this point, it would be appropriate to mention that bamboo flowers blossom only once in forty years, and the seeds that are formed are called bamboo rice. These rare grains of rice are rich in medicinal properties, so someone brought Baba some. As he was wont to do, Baba called his near and dear ones home and served them kheer. When fresh bamboo sprouted in the monsoon months of Saavan and Bhaado, Aai found a way to make a splendid curry out of it, and thus was invented the ‘Bhanukul Special’ curry, cooked in a fresh coconut masala.


When a steady stream of rain continued to pour for a few days, a vessel was placed on the porch and the drops of water falling from the sky were used to make tea…how wonderful that tea used to taste!

As I started taking an interest in the kitchen, Aai gradually began to pass on responsibilities to me. Even then, what can I say about her roti, aamti, puran polli, chakli, and all the pickles she used to make? What spells did she cast? Magic just flowed from her hands! Actually, it wasn’t just ingredients she cooked with — her food was also seasoned with the special spice of her love for all of us.

Now, the times have changed. Just like I regret not having heard some ragas and their bandishes directly from my guru, there are so many other small things that I could never find out. Now, I have to decipher ragas and bandishes on my own terms.

A spread of all kinds of dishes, Indian and foreign alike, has graced our table. A kitchen is nothing less than a laboratory, and I love doing experiments with it. For a while now, my nephew Bhuvanesh’s wife Uttara has been helping me in the kitchen. Under Aai’s guidance, she has become an expert at cooking certain kinds of food.

Now that it has been more than thirty years since Kumarji left us, and six years since Vasundharaji passed away as well…these delicious bandishes do keep echoing in the Bhanukul house, with a seasoning of Malwi food which has been added to the potpourri.

At first, Malwi dishes like daal baafle and choorma were made only occasionally, but now, because of the ‘Malwa influence’ on us, you can hear the ascending and descending notes of the cuisine being hummed regularly in our household.

Agreed, our roots are in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Sindh and Bengal, but we’re quintessentially Malwi at heart!

58 Comments

  1. Gautam

    What a terrific piece, bringing together music, food, family, friends, relationship and traditions! And it really goes beyond any of these individually, to levels of bonding and togetherness brought together by music (as they say, “music is the food of love”). Very well done.

    As a follow-up piece, a few of the most special recipes would be great.

    • Sunita Nagarajan

      Such a confluence of cultures , the blending of music and food, food and music, casting a spell on the readers. You can almost taste the food and hear the mellifluous swaras wrapped tastefully and presented aromatically.

      • Kalapini komkali

        Dear Sunita Nagarajan,
        Glad you liked it.
        Thank you so much for your comment
        Regards
        K

    • Kalapini komkali

      Many thanks Gautam Patel for your wonderful words.
      Regards
      Kalapini

    • Nandita Amin

      So beautifully articulated, really enjoyed reading the descriptive article.

      • Kalapini komkali

        Dear Nandita ji
        Good to know,you liked it.Thanks
        K

  2. Beautifully written Kalapini ji. You made it all come alive and one could actually picture things as one read thru the article.
    Please share your special recipes.

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear Sadhana ji
      It’s so special to receive coment from you..and yes will think to share some receipies.Many thanks

    • One of my all-time favourite singers and now I’m steeped in history of the household I got to see Dewas only in a DVD Kabir and Kumar few years ago, thanks my lady who sang in Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo ashram theatre hall

      • Kalapini komkali

        Many thanks for your comment.
        Glad you liked it
        Kalapini

  3. Niranjan Sanzgiri

    Amazing article Kalapini tai… Pls do share recipe of the Saraswat tamli..

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear Niranjan Sanzgiri
      Oh great to know that you read my article so meticulously .sure will share receipie of Tamali.

  4. Preeti Diwanji

    Wah , what a nostalgic treat for me.., very well written and expressed… Bhanukul is and always will be a musical pilgrim for us.. I have heard so many lovely stories of kumar ji , Bhanu tai and Vasu tai… from my father Dr. Harshad Dholakia.. we used to stay in Indore.. my father and mother used to visit Dewas often… Vasu Tai , Kalapini ji and Bhuvnesh ji used visit us in Indore.. lots of fond memories came alive…

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear Preeti Diwanji
      How nice to here from you !!
      Ofcourse I cherish memories with Harshad kaka and Kaki.

  5. Yogesh Deshpande

    How beautifully penned. With aroma of love and nostalgia of musical memories, these memories present a visual kaleidoscope of legacy and traditional culinary culture.

    • Kalapini komkali

      Namaskar Yogesh ji
      I am glad that the aroma of recepies along with musical memories engulfed you.Thanks n Regards
      Kalapini

  6. Nandini Chiplunkar

    Beautiful heart touching details, carved with exemplary dictionary!
    Bhanukul ,as even I remember, is a home in every sense. Food an essential ingredient of a real home used to have a pure touch of holiness to it. Joy in every second used to b the outcome of every action!!
    So much to learn from Bhanukul practices!
    Great writing Dear Pinu!

    • Himanshu Subandh

      A picturesque writeup that took me to ‘Bhanukul’ and I could witness the above mentioned things happening around. The tea of rain water has caught my eye! Ahaan!

      • Kalapini komkali

        Namaskar Himanshu Subandh ji
        Thanks for your comment
        Regards
        K

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear Nandini chiplunkar tai
      I am glad you read and liked it.Thanks and Regards.
      K

  7. Sanyukta Kashalkar Karve

    Dear Kalapiniji,

    What a beautifully documented write up this one is! Truly a feast to read and imagine.

    Each and every bit of snippets, (like Bhatukli and so many more) that you have mentioned in the feature transcends the reader into the world of Bhanukul, Dewas.

    Bhanukul’s food is a speciality in itself. I have tasted food there and learnt so much myself from your kitchen. The dishes you named that touches the traditional cuisines and cooking styles from so many different regions of Indian subcontinent makes the kitchen so very different from any other.

    I congratulate you for writing this so exquisitely that will make every acquaintance of Bhanukul nostalgic.

    Regards to the kitchen of Bhanukul!

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear Sanyukta Kashalkar
      I am so glad to here from you.
      I wasn’t so sure about the end product of this write-up but as I started writing ..things started connnecting.

      • Kalapini komkali

        Dear prof Chaya,
        So nice to comment for my essey.
        I was reluctant to write this piece but editors were forced me to do so.I am glad you liked it.thanks again
        K

  8. Neelkanth Chhaya

    Kalapiniji this is truly wonderful essay! Makes us feel the atmosphere at Bhanukul even while enjoying the food in our imaginations. The people, the place, the occasions all come alive in the way you describe them. One almost feels that you have a dual talent – singing and writing!

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear prof Chaya,
      So nice to comment for my essey.
      I was reluctant to write this piece but editors were forced me to do so.I am glad you liked it.thanks again
      K

  9. Nilima Phadnis

    Beautifully written and expressed. Can almost taste the mouth watering dishes. We have been fortunate to have relished the delicious preparations from the kitchen at Bhanukul, not once but several times. Thanks.

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear Nilima Phadnis
      Many many thanks for your lovely comment.
      Regards
      K

  10. Shivani Varma

    Wah Pinni !! Ek ek cheez ka swaad munh mein aa gaya !! Really well written piece which reminded all of us of the simple times we all grew up in

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear Shivani Varma,
      Waah ji waah
      So nice to hear from you..and thanks for lovely coment.
      Regards

      K

  11. Himanshu Subandh

    A picturesque writeup that took me to ‘Bhanukul’ and I could witness the above mentioned things happening around. The tea of rainwater has caught my eye! Ahaan!

  12. Shuchita

    Dear Kalapiniji,

    Just as a good music rendition evokes rasa, so does your beautifully written memoir touch a reader’s heart. You tell a powerful story and take the reader on a mouth watering journey. I loved how your mother experimented – making tea from rainwater collected on the porch! What a marvelous idea and what a heart warming recollection! Thank you for sharing your story!
    Regards, Shuchita

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear Suchitra
      Thanks a lot for your coment.
      So good to hear from readers like you who are distantly placed but got connected through this wonderful medium.

      K

  13. Tara Kini

    Kalapini!! How beautifully you have described the warm hospitality, the nuanced cooking, even as riyaz and taleem went on undisturbed in Bhanukul. I have been the recipient of both the wonderful cooking and the taleem from Vasu Tai and you and the daal baati session exactly as you have described it, with the photos – and your article brought back all those precious memories! It is truly wonderful that you, Bhuvan and Uttara are keeping up the traditions of Bhanukul!
    Thank you for this really evocative piece!

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear Tara kini ji
      I am so overwhelmed by the responces I am receiving from all corners of the world.. !!
      Thanks a lot for your comment.
      Regards

      K

  14. Dev Kumar Vasudevan

    Beautifully written and described. Like the ragas you sing so well. One could get the aroma of the kitchen as one read this heavenly description. After having read this the next visit to Bhanukul will be even more special. More power to your pen and to your voice.

    • Kalapini komkali

      Namaskar Devkumar Vasudevan
      So nice to here from you..
      Thanks alot
      Regards
      K

  15. Shobha Deepak Singh

    What a wonderful article and didn’t realise that there is a culinary genius behind that wonderful voice.
    I look forward to meeting you in Delhi- many regards Shobha.

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear Shobha ji
      It’s so so wonderful to here from you..I am glad you liked the article.
      Hopeing to see you soon in Delhi
      Regards

      Kalapini

  16. ramkrishna das

    raag rasoi pagdi kabhi kabhi ban jaati hai. you wrote as aesthetically as you sing. congrats for making me taste divine.

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear Ramkrishna das ji
      Raag Rasoi Pagadi..Bandhe So Bandh Jay .!!
      Thanks for your comment
      Regards
      K

  17. Sraboni Chaudhuri

    This is so beautifully written Kalapini ji. Confluence of music, food and moods across generations. Loved every bit of it.

    • Kalapini komkali

      Sraboni ji
      Glad you liked it
      Thanks regards
      K

  18. Chandrima Majumdar

    What a lovely piece kalapini Ji!! It’s almost like a presentation of an entire raga- starting with the alaap, then vilambit, alongwith it’s badhat and finally the drut! I could enjoy it all the more as i have been so so fortunate to have visited and performed at Bhanukul!

    • Kalapini komkali

      Many thanks for your comment
      K

  19. Kalapini komkali

    Dear Ramkrishna das ji
    Raag Rasoi Pagadi..Bandhe So Bandh Jay .!!
    Thanks for your comment
    Regards
    K

  20. Romila Thapar

    What a lovely article you have written. I enjoyed reading it so much. It took me back to the many evenings I have spent with all of you, such beautiful times and such magnificent music. And now I know what you all ate after the programme had ended ! Reading the descriptions of what was being cooked really made me wish it would materialise and I could eat it there and then ! Do go on writing and tell us some more.

    • Kalapini komkali

      Respected Romila ji
      Are waah..
      It’s so special to receive a comment from a genious like you !!
      your encouragement to write more is very special for me. greatful to you.
      Thanks and Regards
      Kalapini

  21. Rucha Deepak Karpe

    Awesome article….
    Beautiful photographs…
    I am speechless….

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear Rucha,
      Thanks for your commen.
      Good you liked it.
      K

  22. Professor Anirudh Deshpande

    What a wonderful and moving essay. It speaks of a culture familiar to mixed families like ours where the kitchen is truly a laboratory. The generosity and syncretism which permeates the remembrance touched my heart on a cold February morning in North India.

    • Kalapini komkali

      Namaskaar
      So glad to here from you.
      Happy to know you enjoied my essey
      Kalapini

  23. Dear Kalapini,
    May I just say that in these few moments I lived that era and time, I could see Baba going aaah….wahhh; and Aai toiling away and whacking her brains, All this interspersed with music and company, and plants and trees. Thank you very much for interweaving so many elements and creating this beautiful piece 🙂

    • Kalapini komkali

      Dear Shilpa ji
      So good to see your comment,I am touched by the words.
      Thanks
      Kalapini

  24. What a wonderful article Kalapiniji.
    It was a treat to know the history of Bhanukul with the rare and intimate photographs. The variety of recipes and the way you have described everything around it I loved reading it. I look forward to read more articles from you.

    • Kalapini komkali

      My dear Manisha ji
      So much touched by your words.
      Thanks for encouraging me to write more..will think definitely about this.
      Cheers
      Kalapini

  25. Kalapini komkali

    Dear Shilpa ji
    So good to see your comment,I am touched by the words.
    Thanks
    Kalapini

  26. Dear Kalapiniji

    We are fortunate to read this elaborate and heart warming piece of writing, that brings together the best of the times, the best of relationships and the best intermingling of food and music. This writing is music in prose! Thank you and I cannot wait to read more from you, as also some recipes that you have promised to share.

    warmest regards
    Swati

  27. H Muralikrishna

    We are 75 years behind you, at tuning kitchen ragas!

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