Monthly Archives: July 2013

Haleem in Hyderabad

A pudgy man whose red t-shirt ended a good way above his  well rounded belly dips a steel jug into a large bucket. He bends his torso so much  that his tummy is inside the bucket. He stretches his hands down scraping the bottom of the bucket,the steel jug disappearing from view. When he straightens his torso  the steel jug emerges, rich yellow ghee dripping from the sides down to his t shirt and settling on his tummy before dripping down to his brown pants and onto the floor.

He walks  towards a series of wood fired  kilns built along a short lone brick wall shifting his weight from side to side snaking his way around a dozen men dressed in similar red t shirts. The  steel jug and  yellow ghee leaving a trail behind him. He pours the ghee into a cauldron enclosed within the first kiln.

He snaps his fingers and barks orders to the dozen unhappy men gathered around. In answer to his bidding two men walk up to the kiln, each pick up a large heavy wooden mallet with a 2 feet long  handle, raise it over their heads, steady themselves under its weight and then start pounding the contents of the cauldron in tandem.

The calls to prayer from a nearby mosque sounds  against the backdrop of the setting sun. It is  Ramzan in Hyderabad,India  and the day’s fast has officially ended and the smell of Haleem comes wafting through the air.

Haleem is a meaty stew consumed during the month of Ramzan. During the week leading to the start of Ramzan wood fired kilns spring up like mushrooms around the city. Meat, either mutton or chicken, wheat, barley, lentils and spices are mixed in a cauldron which is sealed inside a wood fired kiln. The cauldron is sealed and  kiln is fired in the morning. The heat cooks the meat until evening. Once the seal is broken the cauldron has a pasty mix.

Additions like ghee, dry fruits and nuts are added to the mixture.The bones which remain are pulverised by constant pounding.

The men pounding the mixture begin to sweat after a couple of swings. The muscles of their hands are  flexed, the veins in their arms standing out. Every ten minutes the men are  replaced. The tired men drop the mallet on the floor huffing and puffing.

There are a total of six kilns, of which 2 are already empty, possibly long before the fast was up. Haleem is popular with the non muslim community as well and it sells like hot cakes in Hyderabad.

There are 3 sealed kilns which have Haleem being cooked. Before the night is done they will be empty.

At the break of dawn the kilns  will again be filled with cauldrons of meat, wheat and the other ingredients then sealed and fired. There they will cook in its juices until just before the first customer arrives in the evening.

The Hyderabadi Haleem is famous and is exported to different parts of world by special couriers.  Some restaurants serve only Haleem during the Ramzan season and resume normal service only after the 40 days of fasting.It is a very lucrative business, so much so that there are some matchbox sized single shuttered stores along an important arterial road in the heart of the city which open for business only for 40 days in a year. The monthly rent on these places is of astronomical figures and yet they make enough money in the 40 days to meet the rent and take home a huge profit.


There are different varieties of Haleem. There is the regular Haleem with the generous amount of ghee that floats on the top. Then there is the special Haleem which comes with a boiled egg, some dry fruits and nuts and in some cases with rich cream. For someone fasting the entire day this is indeed a wholesome meal. But for someone like me who has had my four square meals already this just means that my waist, bottom and thighs are not going to see a decrease in inches despite my daily aerobics routine.

 In the old city of Hyderabad a muslim dominated area has no dearth of Haleem shops.Many restaurants compete for the prestigious Best Haleem award. Each have their own secret recipe.


You can go from shop to shop  tasting Haleem and yet find it difficult to conclude which one tastes better and then wake up mornings after mornings trying to shed the extra calories.But  believe me it is totally worth it.


Categories: India | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Photo Inspiration: Istanbul


The empty benches in front blue mosque at midnight.

The empty benches in front blue mosque at midnight.


Straddled between the continents of Asia and Europe Istanbul has seen the rise and fall of many kingdoms.It is a city with an energy that encompasses you right from the initial contact. A casual walk past cobble stoned pathways transports you in and out of different eras of history in a matter of minutes. The ruined remains of the ancient Byzantines to the mosques of the Caliphate rule all stand shoulder to shoulder. There are century old Hamams still operational (with separate sections for men and women) competing for space with local kebab shops. The skyline is dominated by the minarets of the Caliphate age.

The Bosphorus strait which divides this city gives Istanbul a romantic appeal a favorite of the bond creator Ian Fleming and as such a lot of movies have been filmed in here.


Categories: Asia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

You need patience to understand India

[It is unfair to judge an entire play by a single act. I feel the same is true of India.
Lately I have come across a lot of articles in different travel magazines portraying the abject poverty and backwardness of India. While I do not deny this is, this is only one side of the coin. India is different and you cannot roam the streets of Varanasi or be herded to the Taj Mahal and back to understand the very essence of India.
Here is my latest article on Matador network

You need patience to understand India (via Matador Network)

I AM AN Indian by birth and by upbringing. I understand my country is not perfect. We have very hot summers. We have cities which have two seasons, a hot season and a hotter season. We have our generous share of millionaires and we have the largest…

Continue reading

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The Communist World Map




This is a picture of an  actual map taken from the textbook of a fourth grader during the time of Communist Hungary.

Every time I look at this photo it just cracks me up. Communist Russia sure had a way of handling its enemies : – convince the world that they do not exist.

Mother Russia is at the center of the world. She dominates the entire world. Poor Australia is squeezed into the right bottom corner almost as an after thought. Maybe the fact that our first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had a socialistic outlook helped in India’s size and position in the  map.

Europe I suppose had to be there owing to the proximity. I mean you could not simply ignore that large land mass next door. Or wait  maybe its because some of the Eastern European countries were communist. Yes that must have been their saving grace.

Poor Africa has been cut in the middle. At least she gets a place ( half) in the map.

Oh dear!  where is South America? I mean understand why North America is not part of this map, but what in the world did the unfortunate continent do other than perhaps have an ‘America’ to it’s name?



Categories: Everything Else, Travel | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

A little of Harry’s magic powder please!

It is ridiculous to have to change  the gear, press down on the clutch, steer the wheel,  nearly miss hitting a cow and drive all at the same time! It’s high time someone comes up with a smarter option of getting from place A to B without having to

a) Use public transport

b) Rely on someone else to drive you around.

What about that powder that gets Harry Potter and his troupe around? Why can’t we use some of that. Could do without the endless traffic signals, jams and honking.

I do not speak for all of womankind but I am not a great driver and have no illusions of being one and nor do I see the possibility becoming one  in the near future.

I pride myself in being self reliant.  So when it came to having to do exotic groceries ( for everything else there is Big basket) relying on autos to get from our home which is a little out of the way turned out to be devastating to my peace of mind and to my wallet. I had to reluctantly grab our car keys adjust the seat till the steering wheel almost became a natural extension of me and  I could use my nose to honk and still have to stretch my legs to brake and accelerate. Oh the woes of short legs!

I have driven extensively in the US, collected a couple of speeding tickets and been pulled over but when it comes to driving in India I feel I have a long way to go before I can change the gear before I hear the engine knocking ( I wonder if I got the terminology right.)   It may be years  before I can think of parking without palpitating and change the gear to reverse without breaking out into a sweat.

Being one with an affinity for trouble does not help my case one bit. There was this one time,  my second venture out into the chaotic jungle all by self when I was proud of parking almost parallel to the road without hitting anything within a 100 ft.  I got out of the car,locked it and rummaged through my bag to call my husband and update him with the achievement of the hour. I never did locate my phone because I soon found myself on the ground having tripped over an invisible boulder and my keys, Oh dear my car keys before my very eyes flew out of my hand and down the only tiny hole that was in the concrete footpath and into the drain below. My spare car  keys were at home and the only set of house keys were safely locked in car.

Without thinking I started grabbing at the concrete  with all my force trying to lift the sturdy block so that I could retrieve my keys from the drain below. There is no need to state the obvious but I tried in vain. Fortunately for me there are some good people still left on this planet. Out of nowhere a bare chested man approached, motioned me to step aside and walked away and then all of a sudden disappeared under a block of cement on the road about 50 mts away.

He came to the surface a rather dirty man but a heroic dirty man for in his hands he held my car keys. He left before I could finish thanking him.

Ever since I reserve the details of my achievements of the hours for dinner conversation when the car key is safely in the key basket at home.

It is great to drive your own car, a liberating experience up until the moment you have to park it somewhere. Worse, park it between two cars or parallel park.   I have found a way around this, I go temporarily illiterate when I see the No Parking sign. I can’t be held responsible of an offence if I am unaware of it, right? I am sure you agree.

Fair warning though that this does not work all the time. I got caught the last time I ‘became’ illiterate. I had to run across the road to run some errands and the only space to park was next to the NO Parking sign.  A cop with a well endowed belly comes up and casually points to the sign.

Teek hai my tickets karidega,” I reply.

Ye lottery jaise ticket nahi hai, karredne ke liye!” he retorts.

What I intended to say was I would pay for the ticket but my Hindi being what it is I said that I would buy the ticket off him at which he took offence and retorted that it was not a lottery ticket which was for sale rather a penalty I should  not be  proud of.

I have not had another chance to test my illiteracy theory after that.

Our car has survived a few small scratches, a couple of long very visible scratches  and dings. Not all of them by me. But our cleaner when he comes to pick up the car keys from J every week smiles slyly and says

” I saw the latest scratches. Madam is fine right?”  One of these days I am going to have to point out J’s share of the handiwork to him.

Oh and by the way the magic powder Harry used is called floo powder. Waiting for it to hit the market!

Categories: Everything Else | Tags: | 5 Comments

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