"The old fashioned cook, dressed in a clean white dhoti, brought us four gleaming silver thalis one by one. Each had seven small silver bowls containing an assortment of dishes, all swimming in thin sauces of different hues - yoghurt white, spinach green, lentil yellow, potato brown, squash beige, beetroot red, and so on. The maestro scowled at the unfamiliar food and lowered the large and rather shapeless thumb of his right hand into each bowl in turn, hoping against hope that it would encounter a piece of meat on a bone. When the thumb met no resistance and sank clean to the bottom of each bowl, right through the thin gravies, the horrible truth dawned on him. He was trapped in a puritanical vegetarian household and there were no prospects of getting meat. That he was an honoured guest here was no consolation.
When the cook came in with freshly fried porous, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan could not help saying witheringly in his native Punjabi, ‘So you decided to cook every tree and every bush you could lay your hands on!’ Fortunately, the poor man could not understand a word that was being said to him. I got the general drift and was appalled at the terrible blunder that had resulted in such a glaring mismatch between guest and host.
I was the person in charge, so the maestro turned to me, pushing the thali roughly away. ’Such music as mine, and this food?’ he thundered in a shocked tone. ‘The truth is I can’t manage with this at all. I’m going to cook my own dinner. I’ll make a list of what I need. It’s impossible for me to sing without proper nourishment. Even when we sit down to practise at home, a big pot of good food is always at hand, and we dig into it regularly to keep up our strength. Somebody told me that every note I sing has the aroma of kababs. Do you think I can sing the way I do if I have to feed on grasses swimming in fluids of various kinds?’
I was sure my father would think I had made some horrible mistake when we did not arrive even six hours after we were expected. The disciples had set off with a long shopping list that featured six broiler chickens, a kilo of khoya of solidified whole milk, a kilo of almonds, a tin of clarified butter, fifteen different spices, and a stack of tandoori rotis. A charcoal fire was lit and a portable stove set up in the open courtyard because no meat of any kind was allowed in the family kitchen. Full-scale cooking operations started at around nine with great enthusiasm and expertise and a delicious, one-dish meal was triumphantly produced within two hours. The maestro heaped vast quantities on to a china plate since the metal thalis were not available for this kind of depraved eating. Nor was any space inside the house, so the dinner took place outdoors and was all the more enjoyable for that. Three or four hearty belches announced the end of this phase of the proceedings and we finally set off for the site of the concerts."
---Sheila Dhar, Raga’n Josh