When Prime Minister Narendra Modi described Pakoda sellers as employment gainers at a TV interview, he did two grave blunders: first, he displayed his poor knowledge about our food culture and secondly, he trivialised the issue of unemployment on which he has miserably failed after making tall promises.
Anyway, the purpose of this column is more to tell about delicious Pakoda that we have been enjoying during our Holi, Iftar, Diwali and Chhath festivals for centuries rather than discussing about the PM playing to the gallery, reneging on his promises and his lies—which are a fodder to old, new and social media and are known to all now.
Unlike Maggi noodles, chaat, chips wrapped in plastics, sandwiches, pizza and other variants of fast food which are a feature of the exploitative market economy we live in, Pakoda has been rooted to the composite socio-religious and food culture of the land and its people divided now in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Ask about the traditional food items of anyone in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, he/she would tell you that his grandmas, great grandmas and great-great grandmas were adept in cooking Pakoda, using mustard oil, besan (gram flour), gram soaked in water, onion, potato, cauliflower, eggplant, green chillies and spices even in the era of earthen chulhas (ovens) in our villages.
My experience about Pakoda goes back to my childhood days in a Bihar village. My mother now in her 80’s used to fry Pakoda which we called jhuri on special occasions. My father was fond of eating jhuri with dal, bhat and tarkari cooked by my mother and my grandmother. During winter and rainy seasons too, we used to eat jhuri or Pakoda, Pakodi—lumps of potato, eggplant or cauliflower wrapped in gram flour, chilly pastes, spices and deep fried in mustard oil—as evening snacks or appetisers.
The villagers loved Pakoda also called as bajka, bhajiye, bhajji in other parts of our sub-continent. But the largely poor villagers could not afford it on regular basis for it required costly ingredients and oil which most of the poor agriculturists did not have. It was an item for special occasions.
Muslim peasants would work harder for whole of the year to have Pakoda, dates and other fruits for breaking their roza (daily fast) during the holy month Ramzan. Hindu women would break their fast of Chhath and Jeotiya festivals by eating jhuri, pakodi, pakoda. We waited for the festivals like Holi and Diwali to eat Pakoda.
Pakoda was more a luxury for the poor villagers of our sub-continent. It still is in the large part of the rural hinterlands in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But it has been more a part of our food culture for centuries. It is blasphemous to put our Pakoda in the category of Maggi noodles, chips, sandwiches and pizzas which are the items evolved and developed by profiteer multi-nationals thriving at the cost of the poor’s health and traditional food culture.
My estimable colleague in Journalism and Film Production Department at the LPU, Jalandhar, Prof Simran S Kaler said, “Gram which is our native grain was the first source of making Pakoda also called kachri in some parts of our sub-continent. Pakoda has been the part of our food culture for centuries. It is hard to understand why a Prime Minister has linked it with his drive for employment”.
According to a study, the word Pakoṛā is derived from Sanskrit, PAKWATA, a compound of Pakva (cooked) and Vata (a small lump) or its derivative Vataka—a round cake made of pulse fried in ghee.