“At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.” – Jawaharlal Nehru
64 years have passed since the earnest Mr. Attlee and the elegant Lord Mountbatten finished the British Raj. Late on 14th August 1947, the about-to-be Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru proclaimed to the Indian Constituent Assembly, “Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny. Now the time has come when we shall redeem our pledge – not wholly or in full measure – but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance”.
Of course, this date warrants celebration. A day where people found their voice, a new democracy was born, a great nation was at last able to determine its own destiny. No-one can deny that.
However, Independence day also has a bitter-sweet quality. In his speech, Pandit Nehru spoke of the labour pains of the birth of freedom and the heavy-hearted sorrow of continuing pain. He was referring to the violent rupture of partition – the bloody fracture of India into India and Pakistan. During 1947, there was a movement of people unprecedented in its volume and speed. Almost fifteen million people travelled both ways across the new borders to what they hoped was the safety of religious majority. On the way, perhaps a million people were killed, and countless others suffered injury, loss and humiliation.
Sunil Khilnani, in his book The Idea of India, refers to partition as the unspeakable sadness at the heart of the idea of India. India at its very birth went so badly awry – divisive communal rage ravaged the lives of so many.
And yet, in spite of the horrors of partition, India had and still has an extraordinary capacity to accumulate and live with difference. Indian identity is almost defined by its very diversity. We are Christian, Parsi, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain. We are Tamil, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi. We are determinedly rural and we are dedicatedly urban. We live both in India and outside it. We speak many languages, have many cultures, believe many different things.
Indeed, even Dishoom is a product of this diversity – a homage to Parsi (or Irani) Cafés, created by Hindus, Muslims and Christians working together. Our food, inspired by cosmopolitan Bombay, necessarily has roots in the many different geographies and cultures of India.
It is this deep, rich, valuable diversity which we’d like to celebrate.
And we hope you’ll come and share Chai and Indian sweets with us tomorrow.
Happy Independence Day!
IT HAS BEEN an annual December habit of mine, these past ten years since we embarked upon this restaurant business, to sit alone, with myself, and reflect on the year gone by. I am grateful to be here in the Permit Room in our restaurant in Shoreditch scribbling and writing, the oddly enjoyable taste of splintering wood from my chewed up pencil smoothed by my decently strong drink.
These are the last few days, the dregs of 2019. It’s my habit to sit here in the Permit Room at this time. I am the be-stubbled and dishevelled regular, cherishing his precious drink at the end of the bar. Weary, I sit here pondering the year, attempting to figure out what it was trying to teach me. What wisdom can I glean from it?
I love to truly understand and appreciate the origins of a dish, and learn how communities have adapted a recipe over time to make that dish unique to them.
We have arrived at a very sad, but inevitable and clear choice. As of now, all Dishooms are now closed to diners.