In my last semester, I took up a course that had a rather interesting title – ‘Anthropology of Food’. It was interesting to us because food happens to be one of the central sources of anxiety of the students living on campus who live on meals at the mess. As a part of the coursework I interviewed a few people who migrated from Bengal to Hyderabad, either to work at various food joints or to take up other jobs. I wanted to look at the ways in which internal migration influences culinary cultures. What I found were stories of people on an eternal journey, where food featured as the protagonist.
Now that the time has come for me to leave the campus in Hyderabad and go back to my home in Kolkata, I decided to look back at two of those many stories that stayed with me.
‘Cooking, for me, is a journey in itself’
This is Rashid’s story.
Rashid works at Café Rasputin, Kondapur – a food joint which is really popular among the students of Hyderabad Central University, IIIT-H, and other young people. Rashid is originally from Siliguri, the northern part of West Bengal.
Rashid first moved to Kerala in 2016 when he realised that he “was of the age (unspecified) to be on his own feet”. Rashid worked with a group whose leader would recruit them from various parts of Bengal and take them to places like Kerala and Delhi. They usually travel across India. There, in Kerala, Rashid learned the art of cooking shawarma – a food he had never had let alone having cooked it. His knowledge of cooking shawarma gave him a chance to first go to Delhi, where he also learned the art of cooking various kinds of biryani.
Since he gradually became an expert at making shawarmas, he finally came to Hyderabad where there were lots of food joints that specialise in offering shawarma as a street-side fast food option catering to the demands of young students from different parts of India.
When asked about the reason for his decision to move out of Siliguri, he said: “I never really realised that I have been travelling so much and for so many days. Cooking, for me, is a journey in itself. In Siliguri, at that time, there were not many eating places. Men found it difficult to be employed as cooks in households.”
Rashid has been living in Hyderabad for some five months now and has been single-handedly taking care of the shawarma stall at Café Rasputin ever since. Rashid can speak what appears to be fluent Malayalam, besides some Hindi, but he chooses to speak Bangla with the Bengali customers whenever he spots them.
‘When we cook for pujo, we have a community’
Madan Pramanik has been staying here in Kukatpally, Hyderabad, for 20 years now and is originally from Medinipur. His paternal uncle, whom he calls jyatha, came to Hyderabad 24 years ago from Medinipur, looking for employment opportunities. Madan joined him four years later.
Madan first worked, with his uncle, at Hind Motors in Hyderabad for some nine years before starting out as a self-employed auto driver. Madan now lives with his family consisting of his mother, wife and two children who recently started going to school. Although he can’t speak fluent Telugu, he knows a few words that help him interact with passengers.
When asked if he lives in a Bengali community in Kukatpally, Madan replied, “We don’t have any ‘Bengali community’ here as such. I live with my family. During Durga Pujo, when we cook together, we have a community for four days.”
I asked him if the food that he consumes in his daily meals has changed from Medinipur to Kukatpally. He said, “Not really. We eat at our homes, mostly, with family. We eat dal, bhaat and aloo tarkari. In Hyderabad, the food has a lot of sour ingredients. And very less potatoes.”
While Rashid’s story is shared by Rahi and Sabik from Malabar Kitchen, Madan’s story finds strong echoes in the stories of a few other people including an elderly couple who runs a kirana store in Nalagandla. For Rashid, community plays a far greater role than family and the opposite is true for Madan’s case.
Asked about the kind of food they call their own, Rashid said “the food I cook for a living is my own”. To the same question, Madan replied, “We eat the same food as we used to have back in Medinipur. This is my food, I don’t see a difference really.”
Dipro Roy (he/him) is a postgraduate student pursuing an MA in English at University of Hyderabad and takes an interest in narratives of migration and diaspora. His work has previously been published in LiveWire.