The new generation has a different, healthy reason to know Naxalbari
The Sunday Market will be synonymous with a range of smartly packaged green teas that come with a history.
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For those of us who grew up in the days when the movement was still alive, the name Naxalbari evokes memories of Maoist insurgency, police repression and of the middle-class fear of an impending bloodbath. For a new generation visiting “The Sunday Market” at the majestic Bikaner House, Nuxalbari (the “a” having been strategically replaced by “u”) will be synonymous with a range of smartly packaged green teas that come with a history.
Back in 1911, the last nawab of Jalpaiguri, Khan Bahadur Musharraf Hussain, a lawyer by training but a tea planter by inclination, acquired an estate in Naxalbari, a village in the Siliguri sub-division of Darjeeling district (and the inspiration for the now much-maligned word “Naxalites”), from a British gentleman who had first planted it in 1884.
The plantation, one of many that the nawab owned across Assam and the Dooars, survived the Naxalbari insurgency (the revolutionaries apparently spared the nawab because the local people still remembered his acts of generosity during the Bengal Famine of 1943) and then the global tea market slide because of declining global consumption in the 1960s and 1970s, which led to the nawab’s family selling off 28 of its 29 gardens.
Sonia Jabbar, with her Nuxalbari brand of organic green teas; and Sneha Yadav with her baskets spilling over with different varieties of saag. [Photo: Mail Today]
The “Nuxalbari” estate found a caring mother in Lalita “Dolly” Jabbar (the wife of the nawab’s grandson, Sayeed Jabbar), who single-handedly saved the 1,200-acre plantation, and her daughter, Sonia, better known as filmmaker and human rights activist, has given the brand its new identity of a producer of quality green teas. As I sipped a Nuxalbari organic green tea infused with elderflower, and then bought a pretty-looking pack of camomille tea (with real flowers and real tea leaves inside), I realised there are so many such stories waiting to be told at the “organic markets” — three and too little — sprouting in different parts of Delhi.
"The Sunday Market", brainchild of Ayesha Grewal of The Altitude Store, was also where I discovered the addictive apple juice from Kurmaya, a collective of 256 households in Uttarakhand wedded to organic farming. I will never forget its taste because that is how an original apple grown in our part of the world feels in the mouth till it is numbed by Washington apples and other such imports. Just the other day, I was listening to a diplomat relate with great joy how India had become the world’s number two importer of apples. Why, I thought, when we have so many different kinds of fruits to offer, each according to the season it is meant for.
Ayesha Grewal, the city's original seller of organic produce. [Photo: Mail Today]
Like the sweet, melt-in-themouth pears from Himachal Pradesh that I had some time back at the Delhi Organic Farmers Market (DOFM). Led by Sneha Yadav, who turned to biodynamic farming after her husband retired from the Army, and is now based out of Tijara tehsil in Rajasthan’s Alwar district, the market, which comes to life every Sunday at The Park hotel across the road from Jantar Mantar, introduced me to the anti-diabetic virtues of moringa (or drumsticks, which I have grown up eating since my childhood), the ten-saag salad, a traditional amalgamation of ten leaves and edible weeds that has become a hit in five-star hotels across the city, and leaves of Agastya plants, which have a magical effect on aches and pains (like the moringa, which in Bengal is recommended to all those who suffer from gout).
I have not yet visited pranic healer Meenu Nageshwaran’s The Earth Collective, the “organic and natural” market held every Sunday at the Asiad Village community hall, but I have only been hearing the best things about it. I am particularly keen to check out the all-millet spread — Ragi Papdi Chaat, Jowar Bhel, Kodo Millet Tamarind “Rice”, Bajra Tikki and Ragi Pav Bhaji — from Pallavi Upadhyay’s Millets for Health.
As I have repeatedly stressed, millets are grains of the poor that come packed with nutrients and have traditionally required less water to cultivate. It’s time for us to consider millets (primarily jowar, bajra andragi), which were traditionally fed to cattle by the rich, as healthy diet options, which would also create a burgeoning urban market for their hardy grains that are genetically predisposed to survive water stress.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)