If Beef Divides Us, Khichdi Unites Us


If Beef Divides Us, Khichdi Unites Us

Illustration: Shivali Devalkar

Hold your horses, world! Khichdi is not being declared our national dish anytime soon. But maybe it should be.
Think about it. It’s the first solid food all of us ate ( mine came mixed in with a potato chop and some curry). It’s been there on days my mum was too tired to cook, on days when the three-day-old fish curry had matured and thickened enough to merit an audience with piping-hot khichdi.

India’s answer to chicken soup is not just comfort food but also a great social leveller: Khichdi is eaten everywhere from duplexes in Breach Candy to shanties in Dharavi. This dal-rice gruel — varying in consistency from Kashmir to Kanyakumari — is as Indian as it gets.

It lies somewhere in the shallows of the sea of Indian-ness, past Mother India and just before cricket. If you see gutkha wrappers and garlands floating past, you’ve gone too far, turn back now, you don’t want to be that Indian.

It truly is the most versatile culinary creation that a country of once-poor farmers could conjure. What started as simple lentils and rice boiled in a pot has now become an expression of India’s diversity. Almost every state has their own unique take on the dish: Bengal has the elaborate khichuri, with spices and vegetables, eaten with fish fry, papad, and achaar. One state over in Bihar, khichdi becomes a Saturday ritual, with ghee and baingan ka bharta. Orissa offers it to Jagannath devotees, in the form of adaheng khichdi. There’s the sabudana khichdi or upvas-day cheat food in Maharashtra; bisi bele bhaat in Karnataka.

Our English overlords even adapted it into kedgeree, a fish/rice hybrid eaten as part of the traditional full English breakfast. Hell, even Pakistan has a khichdi it loves. Unlike foods like beef that polarise us, khichdi seems to draw us all together. We might be at each other’s throats all day, but turn into a polaroid of “Hum sab ek hai” the minute we see the tiny rivulets of ghee running through a steaming pile of khichdi on a plate. In fact, my favourite take on the dish, is a lesson in unity in diversity: Hyderabad’s khichdi kheema khatta, where a bowl of viscous khichdi is served with ground beef, a sour tamarind-sesame chutney, and sometimes an omelette.

Which is why we perhaps ought to make a fresh pitch for khichdi to be declared our national dish. It has the ability to do what politics and Nokia have failed to do over all these years: Connect people.