Tag Archives: Traditional

South Asian Arts Council Gives Indian Art “A New Life”

SAAC (South Asian Arts Council) board member Ravinder Reddy says his virtual study groups are educational – just not in the traditional sense. 

“We’re not discussing art the way [one does] in college or an AP course, but learning about art so that when one goes to a museum, you have the broader context of how the art fits in with the larger scheme of Indian art,” he explains. “You also have enough knowledge to appreciate what you’re looking at.”

Ravinder Reddy

Reddy began hosting his study groups two years ago as an effort to bring South Asian art to a broader Western audience.  A psychiatrist, he owes his fascination with Indian art to the culture he left behind when he moved to the United States. 

“Growing up, my parents used to take me to temples and I wasn’t interested at all at that age,” Reddy says. “Most of what I know now about India is after I moved to America.”

Beyond his involvement in the South Asian Cultural Arts Council, Reddy is also the author of Arms & Armour of India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka: Types, Decoration & Symbolism, where he explores the history behind ancient Indian weaponry. He joined this San Diego Museum of Art-based support council years ago to “increase awareness and appreciation of the rich and diverse arts of the Indian subcontinent.” As a board member, he is one of the several South Asians who volunteer their time by offering lectures.

These monthly meetings were originally held at the San Diego Museum of Art, home to more than 1,500 works of art originally from South Asia. From there began a journey of appreciation, inspection, and analysis of Indian art, iconography and symbolism. After gaining traction with his monthly sessions, he now offers bi-weekly meetings to keep up the momentum of learning, and members seem to appreciate this greater frequency. Today, his virtual study group has art-lovers from beyond just San Diego. 

“We’re taking art out of the context of an enclosed culture,” says Reddy. “Or just a museum. Or just people in the know.” 

Although Reddy was thrilled by the newfound diversity in his audience, the study group’s increasing popularity brought its own set of challenges as well. For one, there was a noticeable difference between the audience members’ understanding of Indian art itself. 

“We have people who are from India, either first or second-generation immigrants. We have people who have visited India multiple times,” Reddy says. “But then, on the other hand, you have people who have never been to India but are fascinated by art from South Asia, perhaps because of the colors or the stories or the exoticisms.”

Krishna Bichwa, 18th century, Karnataka.
Published in Ravinder Reddy (2018): Arms & Armour of India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Hali Publications, p. 243

To navigate these differences, Reddy keeps his curriculum simple. He opens every session with a review of the material he covered previously and provides necessary explanations for niche religious or mythological concepts. Study group members also receive supplementary study materials that provide the broader context of the art he covers.

“If you have an audience that is not shy about asking questions, that’s a huge advantage,” Reddy says. 

The coronavirus pandemic has penetrated nearly every sphere of public life. Reddy’s study groups were no exception. Unsure of how to safely continue these study groups, the SAAC originally cancelled them. Then, the rest of the world slowly began to go virtual, and Reddy followed suit. These study groups were given a new life through bi-weekly Zoom meetings. Although the shift was unprecedented for Reddy, who was accustomed to leading his small group in person in the rooms of the San Diego Museum of Art, he appreciates the merits of a virtual format. 

“The huge advantage people is that people don’t have to leave their homes” Reddy says, laughing. “They don’t have to get into their cars and find parking, which is a nightmare, if you know anything about San Diego. They don’t have to dress up at all.” 

But the benefits of Zoom go beyond mere convenience. Reddy forged new connections with his audience after the pandemic struck — connections that were not possible with his previous study groups.

“We now get people who are not local,” Reddy says. “I mean, you and I would not be having this conversation if this was a purely local activity. You live in Pleasanton, but you still had a chance to watch our video. Without that, you would have had to drive all the way to San Diego.” 

Before closing off our meeting, Reddy holds an artifact of his own up to the Zoom camera. It’s an ancient, authentic dagger from Karnataka, with a handle in the shape of a baby Krishna. Although Reddy confirms that the dagger is real, he says his interest in this object is purely artistic, not as a weapon.

“It’s an honest-to-goodness dagger. But the question is, what’s Krishna doing on the handle of this dagger?”, Reddy says and laughs. “Do you see this two-headed bird right here?” he asks, pointing to the sculpted feathers emerging behind the Krishna. “It’s Karnataka’s state emblem. It’s called the Gandaberunda…and what context can this be used in? Well, today it’s used in a particular kind of dance in Karnataka. To me, the blade is nice. But it’s the handle where the story lies.”

It’s heartening to watch the SAAC study groups grow and attract different members of the American demography. It’s a reminder that South Asian tradition and heritage is just as important and celebrated as its Western counterpart. Reddy’s study groups have faced some setbacks, from cultural contrasts to a global pandemic. But his leadership is a reminder that ancient art can survive — and even thrive — in an increasingly digitized culture. 

“It’s giving art,” Reddy says, “especially ancient art, a new life.”

Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar, the Director of Media Outreach at Break the Outbreak, and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. Her Instagram is @kanchan_naik_

chicory, stir fry, salad, potatoes

‘N Dive Into Chicory!

ChicoryMy childhood is filled with memories of waking up to the strong aroma of filter coffee. My grandmother needed her cup of coffee to be just the way she liked it. Her day began with brewing a huge steel filter full of coffee and it ended with her ritual of washing that huge filter and adding a heap of the coffee powder ready for brewing the next morning. Her coffee beans were bought at specialty coffee retailers like Narasus Coffee, Kannan Jubilee Coffee, and Leo Coffee. I remember going to these coffee retailers with my mother and she would buy a blend of three-fourths of Pea berry, Robusta or Arabica beans with a quarter of chicory. The beans were always roasted to perfection.

I remember asking my mother, “What is chicory?” She told me that chicory was a root that was added to the expensive coffee powder for a slight bitter aftertaste, and it also helped extend the use of the coffee powder. Only a quarter of the chicory was added since too much would take away the real flavor of the coffee beans.  I still miss my grandmother’s chicory coffee and her morning coffee rituals.

Historical Origins
Chicory dates back to ancient Egypt. In 4000 BC, it was documented as a medicinal plant for the treatment of intestinal worms and as an aid to digestion. Later the Greeks and Romans used chicory as a liver tonic. It is said that the Roman poet Horace ate chicory as a part of his vegan diet. During the Middle Ages, medieval monks cultivated chicory and thus introduced it to Europe.

The Dutch were the first to use the roots as an enhancer for coffee. According to Peter Simmonds, a 19th century writer, coffee was introduced to France by M. Orban and M. Giraud. By the 1800s, France, Denmark and Germany were exporting more than 1 million pounds of chicory.

In the 19th century the French brought their chicory and coffee to Louisiana. During the Great Depression and the Second World War, coffee was expensive and in short supply. Chicory became a popular substitute drink. Sometime during the 1850’s New Orleans became the second largest importer of coffee. During the Civil War when the ports were blocked and coffee shipments were halted, chicory found its place as a substitute. That’s how, even to this day, you can find a good cup of Chicory coffee at Café Du Monde in New Orleans as it has become a part of their cultural history.

My grandmother and I are indebted to a 17th century Sufi saint named Baba Budan for bringing coffee to South India. Legend has it that, Baba Budan smuggled seven coffee beans from Yemen on his way back from his holy Hajj pilgrimage and planted it in Karnataka, South India. Later on, chicory was introduced by the British. Till the 1950s chicory was imported in India. Later, imported seeds from France were cultivated in the North West. Now India is the largest producer of premium grade chicory in the world.

Roots, Leaves and Flowers are Used in Chicory

1) Root chicory is roasted, ground and brewed as a substitute for coffee.

2) Leaf Chicory has two kinds—wild leaf used in many Turkish and Greek dishes and cultivated leaf chicory that is of three main kinds: Radicchio or red chicory, Belgian endive (pronounced as En-Deeve); we grow Californian endives too, and Sugarloaf chicory which looks like a hybrid of Napa cabbage  and romaine lettuce. Apart from these varieties, we also have salad greens such as escaroles, curly endive (pronounced as N-Dive) and frisee.

3) Chicory flowers are predominantly blue but sometimes are pink and white too. These flowers are used in tonics for the prevention of gallstones, sinus issues etc. These February flowers are known as a symbol of love, desire and inspiration.

Chicory the Champion of Health
We know that the Egyptians had planted chicory for its medicinal use. In India chicory roots are used in the treatment for jaundice and liver enlargement. The Native Cherokee and Iroquois tribes used chicory in treating sores, lesions and as a laxative. Chicory is well known for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities. It is also used in the treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, acne, cellulite, constipation, diabetes, eczema, gallstones, gastritis, gout, hepatitis, jaundice, liver enlargement, rheumatism, and urinary ailments.

Chicory promotes a heart healthy diet as it contains inulin a carbohydrate fiber called fructan, that helps reduce LDL or bad cholesterol and triglycerides and thereby reduces the risk of atherosclerosis. The inulin also helps in the prevention of diabetes and obesity in humans, by amanaging and aiding digestion and appetite regulation.  Chicory is a great source of calcium, potassium and vitamins. It also helps in absorbing calcium thereby aiding bone density and reducing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.


Farm to Table
Here are some chicory dishes to warm your cold February days.

Roasted Radicchio Winter Salad
My friend Poornima makes the best Radicchio Summer Salad. I’ve adopted her recipe to make a warm winter salad. Radicchio has a bitter and spicy taste. Roasting radicchio reduces the bitterness.

For Roasting
1 head Radicchio torn into large wedges
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 tablespoon dried herbs (thyme, parsley, basil)
Salt to taste

For the Salad
2 steamed beets cut into matchsticks
1 green apple cut into matchsticks
½ cup fresh corn
1 avocado cubed

Dressing
½ teaspoon honey
1 clove garlic minced
½ jalapeno pepper minced
2 tablespoons of Muscat vinegar (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Rub the radicchio wedges with olive oil, garlic, dried herbs and salt. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place inside for 12-15 minutes till it is charred. Remove, cut up into large pieces and place in a large bowl. Add rest of the salad ingredients—beets, apples, corn, avocados and mix gently. Drizzle the dressing and mix. Serve.

Variation: Roasted Radicchio Walnut Pizza. Place the roasted radicchio in a layer over pizza dough along with gorgonzola and mozzarella cheeses and toasted walnuts. Cook the pizza in the oven.

Belgian Endive, Tomatoes and Mushroom Stir Fry
According to Chinese medicine, endives help preserve the Qi (energy) in the heart. They use it in many stir fry dishes.

Ingredients
2 bulbs of red and green endive halved and sliced crosswise.
1 tablespoon oil
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 inch fresh ginger minced
1 cup Shitake mushroom sliced
1 large vine ripe tomato cut into wedges
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt to taste

Method
Heat oil in a large pan and add the minced garlic and ginger. Then add the sliced endive, sliced shitake mushrooms and sauté in high heat for a few minutes. Now, add the tomatoes, chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, salt and red pepper. Cook until the endives are wilted and mushroom slices are soft. Adjust the seasonings and serve hot as a side dish with rice.

Roasted Fennel, Endive Potato Gratin
Belgian endive is mostly used for appetizers. Each leaf serves as a holder for small salads. This hearty au gratin is an all-time favorite.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small fennel bulb sliced
1 red Belgian endive sliced lengthwise
1 green Belgian endive sliced lengthwise
8 red potatoes sliced into ½ rounds
1 tablespoon butter
1 ½ cups milk
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (basil, parsley rosemary)
½ cup grated Gruyere cheese
½ cup grated mozzarella cheese

Heat olive oil in a flat pan and add garlic. Now place the fennel and endive in a single layer, season with salt and pepper, and then brown them. Remove and set aside. In the same pan add butter and garlic. Now add 1 ½ cup of milk and layer the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes. Remove from stove and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking pan with butter and layer the potatoes, roasted fennel and endive slices. Sprinkle half of the Gruyere cheese and Mozzarella cheese. Add the remaining milk mixture on top. Sprinkle the rest of the two cheeses at the top. Place it in the hot oven and cook until the top is bubbling golden brown and the potatoes are well cooked. Remove and serve.

Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area praba@cookingmastery.com