Feast and prosperity at Kamakshi
Photo: S. Subramanium.
The Sharmas at Kamakshi... lavish food, soft music.
TODAY'S AUDACIOUS young corporate professionals may address them as `dadaji and dadiji', but when it comes to constructive activity and physical fitness, the over-70 duo of Narendra and Jayanti Sharma - especially he - can put the 20-somethings to shame, with a rigorous routine of exercises, rehearsals and performances. In his boyhood, Narendra Sharma became Uday Shankar's youngest disciple when as a pre-teen he ran away from home to Almora, to join the institute founded by India's maestro of modern dance. Despite the juicy tales that no doubt hang thereby, the world travelled dancer-choreographer and founder of Bhoomika Creative Dance Centre has no time for what Bernard Shaw called `anecdotage' - that precursor of `dotage', full as he is of present commitments and plans.
Emerging from their car after braving a traffic jam on their way to Kamakshi restaurant inside Hotel Samrat in Chanakyapuri, they are neither flustered nor irritated, rather, wreathed in smiles, friendly and full of beans.
The softly piped Carnatic music that fills the quiet restaurant may be rich classical, but otherwise Kamakshi's ambience is not burdened with the ornate. Modestly furnished, its uncluttered décor is reminiscent of the old South Indian principle of simple living and high thinking. Wisdom down the ages tells us that we are what we eat, so this atmosphere is only appropriate, since the restaurant specialises in South Indian cuisine, particularly vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. While dosai and iddli have become as common as samosas or golgappas across Delhi, perhaps fewer people are aware of the steamed delights of Kerala food or the array of fish, chicken and mutton preparations from below the Vindhayas.
The Sharmas, however, are among those who eat to live, not vice-versa. Clearly, food is not one of their priorities. For starters, they settle for rasam - the ubiquitous hot, thin soup of the South, a powerhouse of flavour and health-promoting qualities - accompanied by crisp appalams. Unlike many a traditional Indian couple, it is the wife here who is non-vegetarian, while the husband has always remained a strict vegetarian. Their son Bharat, also a renowned modern dancer, is non-vegetarian too, and while he was living at home, mother and son used to enjoy home-cooked meat dishes. Now with Bharat based in Bangalore, she feels: "There is no point in cooking for only one person".
But here at Kamakshi there is fare to suit both tastes. And Kamakshi is lavish with its variety. There are Kerala seafood preparations like Konju Thenga Curry (prawns in mildly spiced fresh coconut gravy) and Meen Molee (fish cooked in fresh coconut milk), as well as Nadan Kozhi Curry, a chicken dish originating in the old principality of Travancore) and the Tamil Nadu chicken preparation known as Pepper Chicken Chetinad.
For vegetarians, Kerala cuisine is epitomised by its light fragrances, liberal use of coconut, and steamed foods that are elaborate of preparation but quick off the stove - not to mention quick down the hatch. Narendra Sharma tries the traditional Appam - rice pancakes thin round the edges and spongy in the middle, steamed in a specially moulded cast iron pan - that goes with stew - diced vegetables cooked in lightly boiled coconut milk flavoured with light spices.
Used as they are to travelling across the country and the world on performance tours, Narendra Sharma and Jayanti Sharma - who in younger days was a dancer in the troupe but for over a decade now has been designing and managing the costumes - are aware of the food of different regions, but their memories of tours seem to be of hard work, learning experiences. Fresh from a visit to Israel, where he was the only Indian choreographer to be invited as a guest at `Curtain Up/International Exposure 2002', Narendra Sharma is impressed with the sheer professionalism of the modern dance scene in that country, the opportunities provided and the interest among students and the general public. For decades associated with New Delhi's Modern School, he has ignited a taste for dance among hundreds of boys and girls, but he is not so sure of the proliferation of dance among India's future generations, with today's young people attracted by films and television and not interested in hard work. And though his style of dance may not fit into the mould of the neo-classical styles like Bharatanatyam, Odissi and others, it is very much an Indian art, and he is as concerned as any about the increasing trend of Westernisation.
His Bhoomika Centre too, described as `a search for a new spirit in Indian dance' is engaged in a dedicated journey whose end no artiste can predict. And tomorrow it will be back to the dance floor. Now, it is time to round off with ada prathaman - a Kerala sweet dish. For now, all is sweetness, as the Sharmas prepare to battle the Delhi traffic once more.
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