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Recipes for the spice of life

Photo: S. Arneja.

The vital ingredient... Kiran and Zohra Segal share a message and succulent food at Larry's China in The Ambassador hotel.

WALKING INTO The Ambassador hotel with Kiran and Zohra Segal to have lunch at Larry's China, it is not surprising that heads turn to watch the two ladies. It is not just that one is a celebrated Odissi dancer who recently received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the other is beloved of stage and screen audiences across the world. Getting an appointment with the two of them - and both at the same time, takes some coordination. And while it is lovely to see them in a tete-a-tete, it is also clear that fitting them into the same frame is a daunting task.

While Zohra Segal created her own ways and byways in the world - born into a noble family of Rampur in 1914, practicing dance and theatre when these arts were socially tabooed and opting for the contemporary genre of dance epitomised by Uday Shankar at a time when the nation's art connoisseurs were working hard to resuscitate the ancient classical traditions like Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Manipuri and others, marrying across communities - daughter Kiran is known for her `traditional' work as an Odissi and Bharatanatyam dancer, but being the daughter of Zohra and the late Kameshwar Segal, she has had the advantage of taking many `off-beat' concepts for granted.

The difference that is of more import at Larry's China, however is that while the daughter loves Chinese food, the mother steers clear of it. What kind of food does the globetrotting star of television, celluloid and stage like to eat?

"Mughlai food," comes the answer. "With lots of spices. And lots of ghee." Luckily, she also enjoys Italian food. And the staff at The Ambassador have an obliging habit of deviating from their menu to accommodate guests. So as Zohra `Aapa' - as she is affectionately addressed by colleagues - settles for spaghetti Bolognaise, they arrange to order this Italian delicacy from Yellow Brick Road, The Ambassador's café and restaurant that specialises in Continental cuisine.

"But anyway, food is food. It doesn't really matter," she adds.

For starters, Kiran opts for the lemon and coriander vegetarian soup, which is also available with chicken. Another fragrant soup on offer is the sweet corn soup. Kiran is all praise for the soup. The same however, cannot be said of her appraisal of art administration in the country. Even her Akademi award doesn't seem all that thrilling, coming as it is somewhat late in the day in her opinion. During the soup course, Zohra Aapa satisfies herself with the fragrance. "I feel soup kills the appetite. I am watching others eat and it is making me hungry. That's nice."

The veteran actress, who laughingly remarks that everyone from the President of the country downwards, is younger than her, is by no means in retiring mode. She recalls the dinner and lunch interviews she had once in Birmingham when she was doing eight shows a week and had no other time to talk to the press. But was she able to eat with such a hectic schedule? "Of course - I lapped it up!" she says with a huge smile. It's not all jokes though. She also remembers touring 112 cities with Prithivi Theatres with Kiran as a child artiste. "Prithviraj Kapoor, she says: "taught me equality. He used to give two eggs a day to everyone in the troupe. We used to travel with ayahs for the children." When she and a few others approached him to stop this royal treatment as they could not afford the lifestyle, he suggested, "why don't we start with you?"

She recalls: "I didn't even know how to boil rice when I got married. My husband was a great cook. Once when he was cooking, he told me to look after the rice. I got panicky - wahan to toofan aa gayaa!" Seeing the water boiling over in frothy waves, she was horrified, and with the same wondering expression she might have worn on the day, she describes how he solved the situation. "He just blew into it softly. He was a great cook." As the spaghetti Bolognaise arrives along with an array of vegetables - baby corn, bamboo shoots and other characteristic Chinese delicacies stir-fried with a spicy touch - along with chicken in a thick gravy, the banter continues. The fresh taste of the dishes is delightful and Kiran is full of compliments. While Zohra Segal regales the company with her perfect imitation of haughty headwaiters she has seen, she is all praise for the service provided by Naresh, decades old at The Ambassador. And while she says she is resigned to the roles she gets - having played mother or grandmother to nearly all the reigning stars - because of her advancing age and "face!" alluding to what she feels is not her asset, one cannot help feeling her face is indeed her fortune, reflecting a myriad subtle emotions, whether at the poetry recitation recently organised by Hindustani Awaz or as an actress.

More than the main course it is the date pancake that scores with Zohra. At last, a Chinese dish she approves of! It is the first time she's had it. And as mother and daughter leave, Kiran has a dance programme coming up this week in Delhi. As for Zohra Aapa, she has too many things on her canvas to capture in one snapshot.

ANJANA RAJAN

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