Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Recipes for Glass Palace

My book club is reading Amatav Ghosh's The Glass Palace.

The meeting host generally tries to make refreshments with an eye to food that was in the book.  Sometimes that's easy, sometimes a bit more difficult.

The Glass Palace begins in the mid 1800s when the British demands for access to more teak forests are turned down by the King of Burma so the British fleet moves up the Irriwaddy and overwhelms the Burmese military and then send the King and Queen into exile on the west coast of India. A key theme of the book is how the British used  Indians to become their soldiers - who then do most of the Burmese invasion (killing and dying) work.

In any case, there was a fair amount of food mentioned, but as often happens, I wasn't thinking about the book club refreshments (it was at our place last time when we discussed The Three Body Problem).  But then on page 190, the key characters are gathered for a meal in Malaca (now Malaysia just south of the island of Penang) and the whole menu is listed.

I couldn't resist sending the list to our next host, and I wondered if I could even find the recipes for these dishes.  For some I was more successful than others.  But here it is:

When I sent the list, I noted these recipes were way beyond the call of duty for our book club meeting, but his reply suggested he might try one or two.

By the way, the book is an interesting romp through the history of that region from the view of an Indian.  You get a much different picture of that region of the world than you do from The Camp Of The Saints.    One of the characters - Uma - lives a number of years in London and then New York.  She gets involved with other ex-pat Indians who are concerned about the plight of their homeland.  Their view sees how India was exploited by the British empire and then set up for failure in the newly industrialized world.

"Witnessing the nascency of the new century in America, they were able to watch at first hand the tides and currents of the new epoch.  They went to visit mills and factories and the latest mechanized farms.  They saw that new patterns of work were being invented, calling for new patterns of movement, new ways of thought.  They saw that in the world ahead literacy would be crucial to survival;  they saw that education had become a matter of such urgency as to prompt every modern nation to make it compulsory.  From those of their peers who had traveled eastwards they learnt that Japan had moved quickly in this direction;  in Siam too education had become a dynastic crusade for the royal family.   
In India, on the other hand, it was the military that devoured the bulk of public monies:  although the army was small in number, it consumed more than sixty percent of the Government's revenues, more even than was the case in countries that were castigated as "militaristic."  Lala Har Dayal, one of Uma's most brilliant contemporaries, never tired of pointing out that india was, in effect, a vast garrison and that it was the impoverished Indian peasant who paid both for the upkeep of the conquering army and for Britain's eastern campaigns.   
What would become of India's population when the future they had glimpsed in America had become the world's present condition?  They could see that it was not they themselves nor even their children who would pay the true price of this Empire:  that the conditions being created in their homeland were such as to ensure that their descendants would enter the new epoch as cripples, lacking the most fundamental means of survival;  that they would truly become int the future what they had never been in the past, a burden upon the world.  They could see too that already time was running out, that it would soon become impossible to change the angle of their country's entry into the future;  that a time was at hand when even the fall of the Empire and the departure of their rulers would make little difference;  that their homeland's trajectory was being set on an unbridgeable path that would thrust it inexorably in the direction of future catastrophe."
There's also an interesting tidbit on how the Indians in the US were learning from the Irish in the US about how to resist the British.

"The Indians were, comparatively, novices in the arts of sedition.   It was the Irish who were their mentors and allies, schooling them in their methods of organization, teaching them the tricks of shopping for arms to send back home;  giving them instruction in the techniques of fomenting mutiny among those of their countrymen who served the empire as soldiers.  On St. Patrick's Day in New York a small Indian contingent would sometimes march in the Irish parade with their own banners, dressed in sherwanis and turbans, dhotis and kurtas, angarkhas  and angavastrams."

Studying the past certainly does put a fresh light on the present.  

1 comment:

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.