By Savitri Narayanan
“Papaji, when shall we go to eat benne dosa?” asked Rahul.
“Ask mummyji to make at home,” said his father joining them at the kitchen table. “She’s the dosa queen – you name it, she’ll make it!”
It was late evening. Back from school, as usual, the children had dumped their bags and rushed to the kitchen looking for food. They were happy to see the glasses of warm milk and toast on the table.
“There’re many kinds of dosas!” laughed Revati as she peeled a papaya, “but I haven’t heard of benne dosa! Who told you about it?”
“My classmate Rudraksh had gone with his family to some place in Karnataka for a few days. Now that he’s back, he can’t stop talking about it! The whole lunch recess, Rudraksh was boasting!”
“Bhaiyya, may be what Rudraksh said was ‘paneer dosa’ and you heard ‘benne dosa,’” Reena tried to make fun of her brother as she applied more jam on her toast.
“Of course not!” Rahul stood his ground, “He did say ‘benne dosa’, I’m not deaf!”
“The word sounds familiar,” Ravi said as he sipped his tea and suddenly brightened up, “It was Anurag who talked about it, when he was back from his native place, Davangere, in Karnataka.”
“Papaji, that’s where Rudraksh had gone, too! All through the lunch recess he could talk about nothing but benne dosa!”
For the Mehtas, the mealtimes were family time. No cellphones, no TV programmes – it was time for family talk, a time to share news and update each other. Posted in Hyderabad as the marketing manager of a pharmaceutical firm, Ravi’s work could easily spill over to the whole day but knowing that his real strength was his family, Ravi knew where to draw the lines.
“What exactly did Rudraksh say?” asked Revati encouragingly. Rahul cheered up quickly.
“Rudraksh said they make the benne dosas on huge tawas, six or eight large dosas at a time! Just imagine!” Rahul was excited, “And they use wood fires – not gas stoves!”
“That’s interesting!” Rahul’s enthusiasm reflected on Revati, too, as she said, “My dadiji used to say how while walking back from school they collected firewood to cook their dinner!”
“That must have been a regular practice a hundred years ago!” Rahul dismissed it. “But imagine today someone using firewood!”
“Those days electric lights and cooking gas were not very common,” Revati continued. “Dadiji said they used stone grinders to make flour or batter…”
“Papaji promise, one day we too will eat benne dosa!” said Rahul and Reena as they got up and headed out to play.
“Of course, we’ll go!” laughed Mr Mehta. “Now you’ve got me too hooked on to this benne dosa!”
The day came unexpectedly soon! That Thursday evening it was nearly dinner time when Ravi returned from the office.
“Guess what! I’ve a three day job trip to Davangere,” said Ravi as he joined them for dinner. “Why don’t you all come along?”
The thought of the unexpected outing was exciting indeed and all started speaking at the same time!
“Well, the unit tests are just over, so they won’t lose much in their studies,” Revati thought aloud. “Let me meet the principal with a leave application tomorrow morning!”
Ravi noticed the eagerness in the children’s eyes and said, “I’m sure the principal madam will agree; travel too is a form of education, isn’t it?”
Their excitement knew no bounds as they did the preparations and packed their bags. Soon the day dawned when they got into the car and headed for Davangere.
It had been quite a while that the family had been on an outing so the children were doubly excited.
“Aren’t you hungry?” asked Revati, “How come there’s no demand for food!”
The mention of food seemed to make them instantly hungry.
“Keep your eyes open for a neat and clean eatery!” said Ravi, “You might even find a benne dosa place!”
Benne dosa had continued to be an interesting conversation topic. Each one had found own ways to know more about this new dish.
“Now I know what ‘Benne dosa’ means”, said Rahul who had a classmate from Karnataka, “In Kannada language benne means butter; so it’s dosa with blobs of butter on it!”
Revati joined the conversation. “In the club, I met Rohini who told me something interesting. It seems many years ago a woman migrated to Davangere and to support her children, started an eatery of dosas which came to be known as benne dosa.”
“The good thing is her sons continued to run the food chain adapting to and changing with the times!” said Ravi.
They were growing hungrier but drove on determined to find what they were looking for.
“There it is – benne dosa!” as they turned the corner, Reena shouted gleefully.
The eatery was an unassuming place. Slightly away from the main road, the place was full of action. A busy area where people moved around, cooking, serving, eating, cleaning and running other errands.
The cooking was happening right in the front, in full view of the customers who walked in and out.
“See! They’re cooking on woodfire!” exclaimed Reena, “not a gas cylinder!”
The tawa on the fire was large and rectangular, large enough to make half a dozen dosas simultaneously. Two cooks stood there spreading the batter, spreading generous amounts of butter and thus making dosas which were transferred to stainless steel trays for serving on the large banana leaves. Tossing, folding, serving – the sequence followed in clockwork precision.
They waited for a while for a table to get vacant. Once seated, the benne dosas arrived soon. Soft and brown with blobs of butter on top, they tasted heavenly!
“Some more sambaar? A little more chutney?” the friendly staff moved around cheerfully, coaxing the customers to eat more.
“Why can’t they use a gas cylinder?”
“Isn’t this primitive?” Rahul thought aloud, “In this 21st century, why use firewood instead of cooking gas?”
“What a waste of time and effort!” agreed Reena.
“You are probably too young to understand,” said their father. “Sustainable economy is the way forward for the world to survive!”
“What’s that?” Rahul was curious.
“You must have heard of global warming, climate change, environmental damage, etc.,” said Ravi. “All these are inter-connected; we as human beings are guilty of using up all the natural resources without a thought for the future generation.”
Revati noticed the questioning eyes of Rahul and chipped in, “We need to putback what we take out from the nature like how we need to deposit money in the bank account to have enough balance to withdraw money!”
“True!” said Rahul, “When there’s no bank balance, an ATM card is of no use!”
“Look at the use of firewood for example! It needs just a matchstick to light the fire which could make enough dosas for a thousand people, whereas to generate the cooking gas or electricity we drain out the natural resources like coal.”
Reena’s eyes brightened as she said, “The ash goes back to nature as manure to grow more trees.”
“But sad, we can’t do this in Hyderabad,” said Reena, “In our third floor flat how can we think of wood fires!”
“The important thing is the awareness,” said her father, “those who care will find their own ways to sustain nature; like back in Bihar, how we heat water with firewood!”
“And there in winter we sit in the sun to keep warm, not switch on the room heaters!” added Revati.
“Our Science teacher spoke about solar energy,” said Rahul, “Can’t we use a solar heater?”
“That’s a wonderful idea,” said Ravi as they paid the bill and got into the car, “In our office building we’ve solar heating and lighting; I could have a word with the provider.”
“At last it makes sense to me now!” said Rahul. “It’s a collective responsibility; if each of us take responsibility and do our bit, the whole universe will be a better place!”