What was “cooking”? – Certainly, not “Birbal kee kichdi!”

Symbolically, in English when people become curious about what is being discussed and/or planned among others, they usually ask, “What is cooking?” Here, usage of the word “cooking” does not refer to any edible item being prepared. In the colloquial Urdu and/or Hindi language, the word “khichdi” is used similarly. Khichdi does not necessarily stand for the edible dish when any kind of importance is accorded to it. Of course, there is no denying that the Indian culinary has “khichdi” listed as a dish. However, till date, prior to the importance accorded to it recently at India Gate in the capital city, the dish was not considered as a popular item. The question of it being served to guests did not arise.

It is as yet too early to state whether the symbolic importance attained by this dish will lead to it replacing items such as chicken curry, fried rice, biryani and other similar dishes normally served when guests are invited. Khichdi is also not included in dishes cooked regularly in most households. In most cases, people tend to turn to khichdi out of desperation linked with upset stomachs, dental problems faced by elderly or to feed young children. At times, when khichdi is specially cooked as one of the dishes, desired for by someone at home, it is accompanied by pickles, chutney, fried onion and so forth. But again, the concept of this dish being included in special dishes planned for guests, wedding receptions, birthday parties or any similar gathering does not yet prevail.

This is simply because khichdi is viewed as primarily quite an ordinary dish. One has yet to hear of it being included in the menu of most restaurants, hotels and/or dhabas. Or anybody stepping out to any special joint just for the sake of having khichdi. Of course, the trend may soon change. But at present, this may just be speculated upon. There is nothing really great or taxing about preparation of khichdi. The khichdi that most people are familiar with is a simple, easy to prepare and also easily digestible dish. This of course draws speculations on what kind of khichdi with what aim was really prepared at India Gate? Surely, the only motive of the people engaged in the task was not creating a world record of having prepared largest serving of rice and beans (918 kgs)? So what was really “cooking” in the agenda that prompted them to try their hand at cooking khichdi?

The media coverage accorded to the preparation of the dish with emphasis laid on ingredients, the people involved, time taken and the entire process apparently bears its own importance. Irrespective of whether khichdi is accorded the status of a national dish or not in the coming days, at present, its preparation at India Gate has certainly earned those involved substantial publicity. The same has also served in securing advertisement of certain ingredients which were mentioned with emphasis on their production companies. Should it be assumed that this propaganda drive would actually help in boosting sales of these products? Well, people tend to use specific brands of oil, ghee and other items they are familiar with and are probably not likely to try other brands publicised through this khichdi.

The preceding point suggests that the propaganda accorded to the khichdi cooked at India Gate is likely to have only limited value. Considering the fondness that most Indians have for good food, khichdi hardly figures on their menu. Prospects of the India Gate experiment having any profound impact on their taste-buds may be viewed as extremely minimal. And this brings back the question, as to what was politically cooking behind this move, that of preparing khichdi on such a major scale? The manner in which this khichdi was cooked, it cannot even be viewed as a common dish among Indian poor and/or one that may help those facing teething or dental problems. 

It is indeed ironical that khichdi was selected for the culinary expertise displayed at India Gate. The situation would have been different if this dish could be viewed as fairly popular and a common dish across the country. If this exercise was indulged in to divert people’s attention from their economic woes, it may have had only a passing impact. A major agenda behind it may have been to attract foreigners’ attention to this dish with a hope to gain a market there. Well, people in the west and also the extreme east are likely to have a hard time in pronouncing the word khichdi correctly. It wouldn’t be surprising to find a few of them, curious to taste it, asking for keechdhi, kichi, kichrr, everything else most probably but khichdi. Also, they are likely to be least attracted to a dish that apparently requires a lot of cooking, usage of so much fat, too many ingredients and so forth? So should speculations about what was really cooking be dismissed as a case similar to Birbal’s khichdi?