Evolution of the book - Dastarkhwan-e-Awadh
No one will believe it but there is a connection between demolition of Babri Masjid on Dec. 6th in the year 1992 in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India. I was the Director of the Institute of Hotel Management, Lucknow then.
In the aftermath of the event the then Union Minister of Railways Mr. Madhav Rao Scindia visited UP. On his recommendation the BJP Government in UP headed by Mr. Kalyan Singh was dissolved and President’s Rule was imposed. Three advisors to the Governor Mr. Romesh Bhandari were appointed, one of them was Mr. B.K. Goswami who happened to be my earlier boss when he was Director General and later Secretary in the Union Ministry of Tourism. Before retirement he was Chief Secretary, Jammu & Kashmir and Advisor to Governor of J&K. One of the many portfolios he was given to handle was Tourism. I was aware of his arrival in Lucknow but I thought that since he must be very busy dealing with the current situation it may not be appropriate for me to make a courtesy call now. Let the situation improve, tempers cool down and then I will call on him. To my surprise I got a call from his office within a day of his assuming charge that Advisor wishes to me to meet him at the earliest. This I had not anticipated.
Sheepishly when I went to his office, he was chairing an important meeting of very senior officials. I was asked by his staff to wait in his private chamber. Mr. Goswami, when informed about my arrival, to my surprise put the meeting on hold to see me in his private chamber. Before I could apologise to him for not contacting him earlier, he shot off instructions that he is short of time and therefore came to the point that I have to co-author a book on Awadh Cuisine with Mrs. Sangeeta Bhatnagar, wife of Mr. Pradeep Bhatnagar, District Magistrate of Barabanki which falls mid-way between Lucknow and Faizabad. He rattled few names of the references I was supposed to get in touch with regarding this project and get their coordinates from his staff. And that I should let him know the progress next week. Phew and he was gone to continue with his important meeting. I could not figure out which meeting was more important – the one happening in his office or the one which took place with me in his private chamber. I had no idea of who Mrs. Sangeeta was, what was her background except that whenever Mr. Goswami visited Babri Masjid site at Ayodhya, Faizabad he always stopped over at DM’s residence in Barabanki and enjoyed the Awadhi delicacies prepared by her.
I was confused. Sangeeta was confused. She was in Barabanki. I was in Lucknow. References whom I was supposed to contact were scattered all over in India, UK and USA. Where do we start and how? What about the costs involved – who will bear them? Should I do it during working hours on the job because I am on payroll of IHM? Sangeeta had no such problems but to do a project like this we have to meet which involves travelling between Barabanki and Lucknow. Neither of us were experts on Awadh. Only qualification we had were that 1. both of us were hardcore Lucknowites – born and brought up in Lucknow, 2. She had passion for local cuisine, 3. I was associated with cuisine as a part of line of job and 4. Mr. Goswami thought that we will make a good team and deliver. I am not sure but I had a feeling that initially Mr. Pradip Bhatnagar was amused by the proposal though he never mentioned it. We did not know what to do so we did not anything until after ten days or so I got another call summoning me to Mr. Goswami’s office to appraise him of the developments. There were none. During the interactions with him I realized it was not the earlier Boss-Subordinate relationship which prevailed but the love for cuisine and confidence combined with faith that he had in us to deliver. This changed our thinking a bit. Our initial thoughts revolved about developing few recipes and the best way it could be done was that it be done as an assignment sponsored by an external agency. Idea was suggested to Mr. Goswami. What resulted was very funny. I was called to his office where he introduced me to my Chairman of past two years (Secretary, Tourism, U.P.Govt.) asking him to sponsor the project through the State Department of Tourism. My Chairman did not appear to be very pleased about it but had little choice in the matter. What we got after a week was a cheque of Rs. 5000/- from Directorate of Tourism, U.P. Govt. as incidentals for developing local recipes.
At this stage we had no choice but to get down to some work. We met and decided to develop few typical recipes of Awadh. Faizabad was the one time capital of Awadh and is adjacent to Barabanki. There are a number of Zamindars in the region having large estates and retinue of servants. Many, who can afford, are still carrying on with the traditions of which cuisine is an integral part. Sangeeta, being better half of the DM of the district, had an advantage in getting us invited to their household for sampling authentic dishes recipes of which their Khansamas were handed over by their forefathers since generations. I got a team of interested students assembled to work with us. We would land up early and witness how the dishes were actually prepared. The Khansamas not much to their liking had not much of choice but to allow us in the kitchens as we were invitees of their landlord. Our team would take notes of going-ons, video the proceedings, seek explanations wherever required from the Khansama or the lady of the house and finally do a sensory evaluation of the finished preparations while relishing the meal. Armed with all the information the team would then first write down the recipe, prepare it in our training kitchen, caliberate the ingredients after first round of sensory evaluation, prepare it again and again with revised recipe till the time we felt that it was a near thing. Then we would invite some few connoisseurs to validate. Once OKayed the recipe was standardized for ingredients, quantities, time, temperature, method and presentation. Somehow or other we got so much engrossed into it that without realising we actually started enjoying what we were doing. The more we visited and interacted with the Nawabs, Zamindars, Raja Sahebs and Rani Sahibas the more the insights we got. Some of the Khansamas were very candid and in discussing their secret recipes. In few months we had standardised enough recipes. By the time we did all this, there were elections in the state and there was a new Government in place. Mr. Goswami had gone back to New Delhi as President’s rule came to an end.
We had a number of standardized typical Awadhi cuisine recipes saved on our hard disks. But we did not know what to do the next. Since the Directorate of Tourism had paid us Rs. 5000, we thought it most appropriate that we approach them and hand-over the recipes to them. They in turn may like to use the recipes in their promotional materials. With new Government in place there were new officials in the office and when we met them they said they have no interest in our work and you are free to do what you want with it. So much for the hard work which had gone into it. Completely taken aback we were at crossroads. Under the circumstances the best alternative, we thought was to send it to some publisher. Not very sure that any publisher would be interested in recipes coming from a city like Lucknow, we sent just a sample print-out of about five recipes to the editor of Harper Collins (India). We were not expecting any reply since there were already many renowned cook book authors in the field namely Madhur Jaffrey, Sanjiv Kapoor, Tarla Dalal, Thangam Philip, Jiggs Kalra, Pushpesh pant etc.. specializing in Indian Cuisine. To our utter surprise there was immediate response from the publishers office asking us to meet them in Daryaganj Delhi office. During the meeting few unexpected things happened. Editor asked us for the photographs. We had none and told her so. She said get them done from some expert photographer specializing in food photography. We said that it is not our cup of tea and you do it at your own cost. She said she will get back. We thought that is the end of it. She called back after few days and said that the photographers in Delhi are very expensive and are asking for a moon to do the job plus hospitality, travel expenses to & fro Lucknow and requested us to find a reasonable photographer locally. It is then we realized the the publishers were serious about the book because none had been written in the past about this cuisine. We found a very good photographer Mr. Anil Risal Singh and reverted to the publisher with his details and professional charges which were far less than the Delhi ones. Publisher agreed to pay and signed copyright and royalty agreement with us. We got down to serious business which meant fine tuning the recipes and the text. We arranged the food preparations, props and locations for food photography by Anil, went with him for outdoor shooting, did indoor shooting in our presence to ensure the kind of results we wanted. This took time and effort and was a different kind of an experience. In the meantime the publishers got Janab Muzaffar Ali to do the foreword. Finally we sent the entire script and photographs to the publisher. After few weeks they sent a run-of-the-mill prototype of the cover and inside pages for our approval. We did not like it and rejected it outright. This was done by a young couple in Delhi (Aart Creations). We said we will meet them and discuss the book design and outlay. We met and explained what we wanted – Pakistan flag green, gold fonts Urdu title, gaudy pink English title letters, background pattern and a Islamic look by using what we called Nizamuddin colours (inspired by the gaudy cake icing colours used by the bakeries in that area of Delhi). They did a good job. The book was out in few months time. Someone goofed up the proof reading and there were many typo errors. There was no formal launch ceremony.
Though there was no formal promotion. I shot of a few personal letters to Chefs, hoteliers and friends informing them of the release of the book. Publisher gave us two complimentry copies each. I also created a brief website on Awadh cuisine. The sale took off. Letters, emails started came in from various parts of the world – some of appreciation, some seeking more information on ingredients, some asking permission to provide links on their web-sites, some seeking help to organize Awadh food festivals in their hotels etc.. Hindustan Times carried a book review done by Jiggs Kalra in its All India edition of Sunday magazine and another review appeared in The Indian Express. One airline management bought many copies as their corporate gift. Book shops like Universal and Advani displayed the book in the show case window. Local papers The Pioneer, TOI etc carried stories about the book. On request of Tourism Department Institute put up a Awadh Cuisine restaurant at Lucknow festival at Begum Hazrat Mahal Park. Hotel chains sent their chefs and HR managers to prospect Khansamas in Lucknow with our assistance for their units speciality restaurants. Over a period of two to three years hotels & restaurant industry started taking note of Awadhi cuisine. Speciality restaurants serving cuisine started coming up even in South India – Bangalore , Chennai, Hyderabad etc.. A travel agent organized a group of 20 Japanese Food Lovers to come over to Lucknow at our institute for a day’s workshop on Awadh cuisine. Local travel agent Tornos started promoting culinary tours to Lucknow. Well known American food magazine “Saveur” sent their food editor Margo True to us to find more about Awadhi cuisine and to explore the possibility of an article in their publication. The magazine did come up with a lengthy article on Awadh cuisine of 16 pages with 29 colour pictures in their October 2004 issue – thanks to the second trip of Margo True with her camera team to Lucknow for about a week earlier in February, 2004. A research scholar Holly Schaffer from Dartmouth College, New York came to India on Fulbright Scholarship to do work on the cuisine under our guidance. The book sold in large numbers in Pakistan and Middle East. Then the book went out-of-stock.
We started getting mails about how to obtain a copy from a lot of prospective buyers. When we approached Rupa & Co. with whom Harper Collins had partnership in India, we were told that the partnership has come to an end. The new partners of Harper Collins are the India Today group, however, if we are interested then Rupa can do another edition provided we revert our copyright from Harper Collins and have a fresh contract with Rupa. I think Rupa had the pulse of the market demand but were unable to do a reprint as the original copyright contract was with Harper Collins.
We talked to the India Today . They were not sure as to what to do. In their wisdom they decided not to do another edition and agreed to revert the copyright to us provided we pay Rs. 50,000 towards cost of photography and films. Sangeeta and I discussed this and decided to ask Rupa to do the fresh contract provided they pay India Today Rs. 50,000. Rupa was willing to pay Rs. 35,000 only. So we conveyed to India Today that we found Rs. 50,000 on higher side and offered to pay Rs. 35,000. I happened to be in Delhi in February, 2005 and met and discussed the matter with Ashok Chopra, CEO of India Today. To my surprise he was not very well briefed and had not even seen the book. When I told him that Rupa was footing the payment of Rs. 35,000 to do a fresh contract and do a new edition, he must have seen some sense in that business decision. He called for the book and glanced through the pages and decided then and there to go for the second edition. Fresh contracts came to us within two weeks time which we gladly signed and conveyed big thanks to Rupa declining their offer of Rs. 35,000. The second edition came out in early 2006. We were relieved now that the second edition was out but horrific was the book in its new format. The cover page was changed – lay-out, pictures, colour, back-drop – everything. And it was done in a very unprofessional way. Gone was the Islamic touch associated the Awadh culture. The dishes on the cover page had nothing to do with the Awadhi Cuisine. Typographical errors were not rectified. But the second edition was there and it had steady sale then and is selling even now with all the shortcomings. Well, we get our Royalty cheques every six months but not very happy about it.
Web presence of book - Dastarkhwan-e-Awadh
When the book was published we did create a very basic web-site describing the book and its contents with the help of a well-wisher Mr. Satyendra Gupta. The website http://saxenark.tripod.com/awadh.html which still exists, had fairly good number of hits.
The result was that we started getting mails from all over the world. First one came from a person who was a native of Kakori, now living in Dubai appreciating our recipe of Kakori Kabab on the net. Second one came from Managing Editor of Cuisine Net Café’ in Brooklyn stating that it is very difficult to light a dung cake fire there to do our ‘Zamin Doz Machli” recipe. Many more mails appreciating the work followed. Few of the noted ones :
A botany herbarium expert of Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, UK
Dean, Hotel School, Virginia Tech, VA, USA
A senior citizen couple from Canberra, Australia who liked our recipe of “Lazzez Lauki” but wanted to know more about khoya, curd, chironji and kewra water
A businessman from Pune - a regular at Dum Pukht – who tried our recipe of Raan and found it very good.
A Hotelier from Hyderabad who wanted help to set up an Awadhi Speciality restaurant
CEO of GourmetIndia.com starting a discussion on his portal on Awadhi cuisine and ingredients like Zarakush and Baobeer
There were many reviews on different sites, many sites blatantly copied and reproduced text/pictures from our site. There are some very good reviews on Amazon site. I quote one here – “Hands down . One of the best book out there , after buying almost 10 books on awadh cooking I can say that this is the best book . I never thought I will find so much authentic genuine information from such unknown authors . All the famous celebrity cook books are useless in front of this.” I found in atleast two up-scale restaurants- one in Machla Marg, New Delhi and another in Hammersmith, London – menus in which the name & description of the some dishes were copied word-by-word from our book. Horror of horrors – when I perused an award winning book “Emperor’s Table, The Art of Mughal Cuisine” by Salma Husain released in 2008. This book won Gourmand’s 2008 World Cookbook Award for "Best Culinary History" on 01st July 2009 in Paris. The book had simply reproduced 2-3 pages word-by-word description of cooking methods from our book. We did not want to bring it to the notice of the author or publisher. As long as Awadhi Cuisine was gaining ground nationally and internationally, it served the objectives of the initiative which we undertook in 1997. On a random check, references to our book were found on the following web sites :
We started receiving many mails about the unavailability of the book and spoke to the publishers. Harper Collins was kind enough to not only willing to bring out the third edition but also improve the quality in terms of cover page design and the layout. We also made few corrections in the text. In 2015 the third edition was out with stunning cover page.