In the midst of all the posts on whether India should attack Pakistan and the strategies thereof, we have forgotten the most important topic we love to debate on. More than cricket, Kashmir and Kejriwal. Its Biriyani. Biriyani is my birthright and I shall flaunt it. All Indians believe in this unilateral declaration of Swaraj. Every Indian that you meet will claim to know where to get the best biriyani. And no two Indians will agree as to where that is. A metaphor for our Indianness.
The beautifully tempting hues and the rich and irresistible aroma of this historical cuisine still work their magic and engulf ones senses. While it is largely believed Biriyani originated in Persia and came this way through the Mughals, other possibilities and theories about the arrival of Biryani in Indian also exist. It could have come from Persia via Afghanistan to North India and it could have also been brought by the Arab traders via the Arabian Sea to Calicut, Kerala.
An agglomerate of disparate ingredients brought together and cooked under pressure to meld into a single entity, the biriyani reminds us of ourselves. One legend has it thatTimur known as Tamerlane in English (Timūr-e Lang, “Timur the Lame”), who was also son-in-law of Genghis Khan and great-great-grandfather of Babar, brought Biriyani down from Kazakhstan via Afghanistan to Northern India. According to another legend, Mumtaz Mahal , love of Shahjehan and the motivation behind Taj-Mahal devised this dish as a “complete meal” to feed the army.
Hyderabad claims to be the home of the dish, a claim stoutly contested by Lucknow. Kerala boasts of a unique variant cooked with layers of curd. Patrons of the Golden Shiraz in Calcutta aver it has the world’s best biriyani ( with the deviant heresy of having potatoes in the dish). Mumbaikars swear by Berri Pulao dished up at the Britannia Irani restaurant in Ballard Estate. When Aurangzeb delegated the Nawab of Arcot, Nizam-ul-mulk as the Asfa Jahi, the Arcot biryani was invented with the outside Muslim influence and the local blend of south. You can feel the strong south Indian chilies here. Locally grown ‘long duration paddy’ with shorter grain rice called ‘seeraga samba’ is used. During Mogul empire, Lucknow was called Awadh, thus we got Awadhi Biryani. While in 1856, British deposed Nawab Wajid Ali Shah in Calcutta, giving rise to milder Calcutta Biryani.
Recently, some lawmakers have added some extra ingredients — religion, caste and politics.So-called biryani police have been inspecting pots full of the traditional dish to check if street sellers have been adding beef, which is banned across much of the country.
Just imagine the employment economics of Biriyani. In NCR, we have a staggering 200,000 biriyani sellers. Since the smallest, and most ubiquitous ones, could employ one person and the larger ones anything between three to five helpers, we assumed a fairly modest ( too modest) 1.5 helpers per biriyani sellers. That gave us half a million people employed in this trade. Add the supply chain at back end and the forward last mile of delivery boys. Add the women who from early morning onwards work on the meat, chicken, vegetables and boiling rice. We take at least three women to produce for each vendor daily. Hence the total number works out to 1.1 million in NCR alone. As per Economic Times report on top employers in 2014-15, TCS had 3 Lakhs, Infosys 1.6 Lakhs, SBI 2.2 Lakhs, IBM 1.5 lakhs and Wipro 1.34 Lakhs. The Biriyanieconomics is larger than all of them put together in greater Delhi alone. Then take Calcutta, Hyd, Lucknow, Mumbai and others.
Let us change the direction of public discourse from terrorism to Biriyani in this festive season. Biriyani India !