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Excerpt: the puppeteer's Lies

An excerpt from "Ten Thousand Tongues: secrets of a layered kitchen, the novel" (c) Nandita Godbole, 2018)

Black and white face, no features, large beaded nosering

Mehsana, Gujarat-Rajasthan border, India, 1899

...there was no escaping the tales of horror of the aftermath of the attack on

Lunawa. Passersby and visitors brought stories of the massacre to the Lanva village folks lives. Some stories were less gruesome than some claimed, but at other times magnified. Johari had her own tale of slaughter and death, and of Moti-ba. As the days passed, travellers verified the horrific tragedy of Lunawa, there was no one or nothing left. There was no word of even the old matron, Moti-ba. In place of what once was a village were large blackened ruins of what used to be homes and lives.

But the destruction of one village presented a new dilemma to this village— what was to become of this young refugee girl? The men folk, young and old, had already begun to lustfully eye her. What if Johari was of loose character and had made up all the stories of the atrocities?

They had to safeguard their own moral code but the tongues wagged. The village well became increasingly abuzz with gossip and doubt, as the women magnified her tales more and more. Each time someone passed her, Johari became stripped of her own identity. She was now the abandoned girl, who needed shelter and sympathy, not an ambiguous halfway house in Lanwa. The prospect of her unknown moral character having an unforeseen, disastrous influence on the yet unmarried girls of their village worried the village council. They decided if a suitable man from the village found her desirable, he should marry her, or else Johari should move on and out to the next village, another few days walk away.

The old matrons of the village pointed in the direction of Sonaji, the simpleton son of an old widow, Chamu-ba. Although of a marriageable age, he had not found a suitable wife for himself and talk of his absentminded nature had kerbed any possible proposals coming his way. He was a simple farmer who was often found wandering empty fields after a day’s work, feeding his mid-day meals to the peacocks and peahens or spending days without speaking a word to anyone. But he was a good man. It was about time he was married. There was no reason to wait for the next wedding fair. When Johari heard of this match, she had no opinion of her own. This was one way she could stay safe. The old woman who had taken her in convinced her that this was the right thing to do. She would not have the wedding finery her grandmother had promised her, nor a plush wedding to a rich merchant—Johari had no choice. After a simple exchange of garlands and the customary dedication to the ceremonial fire, Johari and Sonaji were tied in the age-old tradition of matrimony.

While Johari ached for Moti-ba’s blessings at her wedding and beyond and resented the denial of her dreams, Sonaji did not see matrimony as a reason to change his routine. He continued to head out to the fields at the break of dawn, sometimes even when the fields were bare. They were hoping for rain that year. Johari would take him his lunch, most often a bajra rotlo or a jowar rotlo, with some raw onions or a garlic chutney, just before the heat of the sun began to scorch her feet. She often sat in the shade of the babul trees while Sonaji fell asleep on the madi, looking for peacock feathers or counting how many parrots flew between trees. She would head back when the shadows arched away from her again, when the sandy dust was just bearable on the soles of her feet.

Johari was still just a child, growing up all by herself. It was impossible to replace the warm and authoritative mother-figure, Moti-ba, but Chamu-ba slid into the spot by default. Still fighting the absence of her dear grandmother, Johari began her married life in physical and emotional isolation. She had been home, less than a month ago, and was still only 14. It was still 1899, and the Kawadia bhatt, the puppeteer, had lied.

Recipes from "Ten Thousand Tongues: secrets of a layered kitchen - the companion cookbook" (c) Nandita Godbole, 2018)
Lasan-ni-Chutney: Spicy Garlic Chutney

Makes: Two cups chutney

Cook Time: 30-40 minutes


4 tbsp oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp white sesame seeds

10-12 whole dried red chilies

1½ cups peeled garlic cloves

¼ cup raw unsalted peanuts

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp salt


Lightly dry-roast the peanuts. When cool enough to handle, husk the peanuts and

set aside.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. When the oil is warm but not smoking, add cumin

seeds and sesame seeds, and reduce the heat; if the oil is too hot, the sesame seeds

will burn. Stir constantly until the seeds are just lightly fried. Stir in the dried red

chilies and garlic cloves. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook for 2-3 minutes,

stirring constantly. Add the husked peanuts and cook until the peanuts appear

lightly toasted. Reduce the heat and add lemon juice and salt and stir well so the

flavors are well distributed. Remove from heat when the peanuts are just turning

golden. Allow to cool completely and then grind in a food processor to a coarse

consistency. Store in a dry container in the refrigerator for 4-6 weeks.

Bajra Rotlo: Griddle-baked Pearl Millet Bread

Makes: Three to four 8” rotlas or breads

Cook Time: 30 minutes


½ cup water

Pinch of salt

¼ tbsp ghee

1 cup pearl millet flour, plus extra for dredging


Set ½ cup water to boil with a pinch of salt & ¼ tbsp ghee. When it boils, remove

from heat, mix in the flour. Using a spoon with a heavy handle, stir vigorously, cover

and set aside.

When cool enough to handle but still warm, knead the mix and divide into golf-ballsized

pieces of dough. Dredge with pearl millet flour and roll out into ¼” thick rotlo.

On a hot crepe pan or a griddle, get ready to cook each bhakri. Sprinkle water on

one side of the uncooked rotlo and place wet side down onto the hot pan. Keep

the heat to medium-low. Allow the rotlo to cook undisturbed for a minute until

it develops light spots. Move it around the pan to ensure it does not stick. Cook

for another minute on medium-low. Sprinkle water on the upper side of the

rotlo and flip it over. Using a paper towel wad, gently press down on the rotlo to

ensure it cooks through. Flip over and repeat on the other side. If it still appears

undercooked, cook directly over the open flame for twenty seconds on each side,

rotating often to cook evenly. When both sides are cooked, remove from the heat

and apply a light layer of ghee on one side. Keep covered with a kitchen towel until

ready to eat.



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Nandita Godbole
Once: botanist & landscape architect.
Now: personal chef, author, an artist, graphic designer, blogger, poet & potter!
Always: dreamer.

Loves fresh brewed chai, the crisp salty ocean breeze, watching monsoon rains & walking barefoot through cold mountain streams. 
Believes in the strength, positivity of the human spirit. Is spiritual but not a fanatic. 
Mom of one. Two, if she counts her husband.

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