I remember the day I stood next to my mother as she removed the pot from the oven. The wheat flour dough she had used to seal it was like biscuit and we cracked it open – she lifted the lid and the steam rose in waves of aromatic spices and scented rice – the air was suddenly heavier with ghee and the weight of legacy.
And in that moment I just knew there was a lot I was missing, like the fact there is history and legend folded in between the layers of grain and masala of a good biryani.
As an adult I pieced together the missing bits, I was able to appreciate the process, the nuances of spice, the fine details, the adaptations to region and taste. But also able to see the fascination of the average Indian man with biryani.
Votes in exchange for biryani
The context of biryani in the modern day has been influenced by the status it represents, it’s origin in lavish Mughal kitchens and amongst wealthy Arabs makes it an ideal to aspire to.
So if a man promises a vote in exchange for biryani it is probably because that is the life he aspires to. In fact in Hyderabad they had noticed a boom in sales of Biryani around the time of election campaigning, and in Chennai contests for the Assembly are often dubbed Biryani Bypolls for the goodies that are showered on the voters.
A wedding was called off when the two families disagreed over biryani
People have written paeans celebrating biryani, marriages are sealed, sometimes broken over biryani – like the example of the 2014 wedding that was called off when the two families quarreled over chicken biryani; the groom’s family had categorically asked for mutton biryani.
Or this anecdote from the Chennai floods
Recently a friend who went to volunteer with relief work during the Chennai floods narrated a story about driving through the pouring rain and flinging packets of sambar rice from the window to people hanging off rooftops. Instead of gratitude they were met with disappointment, and were asked, “Yenna ma biryani illeya?” (What ma, you didn’t bring us biryani?). In their defence some localities were being served portions of Paradise biryani that had been flown in from Hyderabad.
When in 2013 Rajnikanth’s fans got wind that the ambitious Kochadaiiyaan was probably going to flop really badly at the box office, the fan clubs in and around Austin Town and Vivek Nagar, Bangalore, rallied together to generate interest and promised the locals free biryani after the show if they went to watch the film.
Biryani in exchange for cleaning a lake
In another instance, in January this year, the Kozhikode IAS officer Prashant Nair mobilised volunteers to clean a 14-acre lake in exchange for a plate of Malabar biryani. The task of ridding the lake of water hyacinth and slush was not easy but was a resounding success and all it took was the promise of biryani.
Or the time in Baroda before a Ranji Trophy match between Uttar Pradesh and Baroda, a man with a casserole emerged from the crowds and shouted to get Yusuf Pathan attention, “Yusuf bhai ek autograph de do, aapke liye biryani laya hoon.” Or when Sania Mirza visited the sets of Dilwale with a box of Hyderabadi biryani for Farah Khan and the rest of the crew.
And as the times get increasingly volatile for our country, we must note that biryani has the power to unite people, families gather around tables, communities come together and work hard for each other, fans and friends are one, and the meal is a means of tribute and thanks. So just for once, let’s all just agree about biryani.