Friday, 4 May 2012

"Dastarkhwan-e-Awadh" book origin

No one will believe it but there is a connection between demolition of Babri Masjid on Dec. 6th in the year 1992 in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, India. I was the Director of the Institute of Hotel Management, Lucknow then.
In the aftermath of the event the then Union Minister of Railways Mr. Madhav Rao Scindia visited UP. On his recommendation the BJP Government in UP headed by Mr. Kalyan Singh was dissolved and President’s Rule was imposed. Three advisors to the Governor Mr. Romesh Bhandari were appointed, one of them was Mr. B.K. Goswami who happened to be my earlier boss when he was Director General and later Secretary in the Union Ministry of Tourism. Before retirement he was Chief Secretary, Jammu & Kashmir and Advisor to Governor of J&K. One of the many portfolios he was given to handle was Tourism. I was aware of his arrival in Lucknow but I thought that since he must be very busy dealing with the current situation it may not be appropriate for me to make a courtesy call now. Let the situation improve, tempers cool down and then I will call on him. To my surprise I got a call from his office within a day of his assuming charge that Advisor wishes to me to meet him at the earliest. This I had not anticipated.
Sheepishly when I went to his office, he was chairing an  important meeting of very senior officials. I was asked by his staff to wait in his private chamber. Mr. Goswami, when informed about my arrival, to my surprise put the meeting on hold to see me in his private chamber. Before I could apologise to him for not contacting him earlier, he shot off instructions that he is short of time and therefore came to the point that I have to co-author a book on Awadh Cuisine with Mrs. Sangeeta Bhatnagar, wife of Mr. Pradeep Bhatnagar, District Magistrate of Barabanki which falls mid-way between Lucknow and Faizabad. He rattled few names of the references I was supposed to get in touch with regarding this project and get their coordinates from his staff. And that I should let him know the progress next week. Phew and he was gone to continue with his important meeting. I could not figure out which meeting was more important – the one happening in his office or the one which took place with me in his private chamber. I had no idea of who Mrs. Sangeeta was, what was her background except that whenever  Mr. Goswami visited Babri Masjid site at Ayodhya, Faizabad he always stopped over at DM’s residence in Barabanki and enjoyed the Awadhi delicacies prepared by her.
I was confused. Sangeeta was confused. She was in Barabanki. I was in Lucknow. References whom I was supposed to contact were scattered all over in India, UK and USA. Where do we start and how? What about the costs involved – who will bear them? Should I do it during working hours on the job because I am on payroll of IHM? Sangeeta had no such problems but to do a project like this we have to meet which involves travelling between Barabanki and Lucknow. Neither of us were experts on Awadh. Only qualification we had were that 1. both of us were hardcore Lucknowites – born and brought up in Lucknow, 2. She had passion for local cuisine, 3. I was associated with cuisine as a part of line of job and 4. Mr. Goswami thought that we will make a good team and deliver. I am not sure but I had a feeling that initially Mr. Pradip Gupta was amused by the proposal though he never mentioned it. We did not know  what to do so we did not anything until after ten days or so I got another call summoning me to Mr. Goswami’s office to appraise him of the developments. There were none. During the interactions with him I realized it was not the earlier Boss-Subordinate relationship which prevailed but the love for cuisine and confidence combined with faith that he had in us to deliver. This changed our thinking a bit. Our initial thoughts revolved about developing few recipes and the best way it could be done was that  it be done as an assignment sponsored by an external agency. Idea was suggested to Mr. Goswami. What resulted was very funny. I was called to his office where he introduced me to my Chairman of past two years (Secretary, Tourism, U.P.Govt.) asking him to sponsor the project through the State Department of Tourism. My Chairman did not appear to be very pleased about it but had little choice in the matter. What we got after a week was a cheque of Rs. 5000/- from Directorate of Tourism, U.P. Govt. as incidentals for developing local recipes.
At this stage we had no choice but to get down to some work. We met and decided to develop few typical recipes of Awadh.  Faizabad was the one time capital of Awadh and is adjacent to Barabanki. There are a number of Zamindars in the region having large estates and  retinue of servants. Many, who can afford, are still carrying on with the traditions of which cuisine is an integral part. Sangeeta, being better half of the DM of the district, had an advantage in getting us invited to their household for sampling authentic dishes recipes of which their Khansamas were handed over by their forefathers since generations. I got a team of interested students assembled to work with us. We would land up early and witness how the dishes were actually prepared. The Khansamas not much to their liking had not much of choice but to allow us in the kitchens as we were invitees of their landlord. Our team would take notes of going-ons, video the proceedings, seek explanations wherever required from the Khansama or the lady of the house and finally do a sensory evaluation of the finished preparations while relishing the meal. Armed with all the information the team would then first write down the recipe, prepare it in our training kitchen, caliberate the ingredients after first round of sensory evaluation, prepare it again and again with revised recipe till the time we felt that it was a near thing. Then we would invite some few connoisseurs to validate. Once OKayed the recipe was standardized for ingredients, quantities, time, temperature, method and presentation. Somehow or other we got so much engrossed into it that without realising we actually started enjoying what we were doing. The more we visited and interacted with the Nawabs, Zamindars, Raja Sahebs and Rani Sahibas the more the insights we got. Some of the Khansamas were very candid and in discussing their secret recipes.  In few months we had standardised enough recipes. By the time we did all this, there were elections in the state and there was a new Government in place. Mr. Goswami had gone back to New Delhi as President’s rule came to an end.
We had a number of standardized typical Awadhi cuisine recipes saved on our hard disks. But we did not know what to do the next. Since the Directorate of Tourism had paid us Rs. 5000, we thought it most appropriate that we approach them and hand-over the recipes to them. They in turn may like to use the recipes in their promotional materials. With new Government in place there were new officials in the office and when we met them they said they have no interest in our work and you are free to do what you want with it. So much for the hard work which had gone into it. Completely taken aback we were at crossroads. Under the circumstances the best alternative, we thought was to send it to some publisher. Not very sure that any publisher would be interested in recipes coming from a city like Lucknow, we sent just a sample print-out of about five recipes to the editor of Harper Collins (India). We were not expecting any reply since there were already many renowned cook book authors in the field namely Madhur Jaffrey, Sanjiv Kapoor, Tarla Dalal, Thangam Philip, Jiggs Kalra, Pushpesh pant etc.. specializing in Indian Cuisine. To our utter surprise there was immediate response from the publishers office asking us to meet them in Daryaganj Delhi office. During the meeting few unexpected things happened. Editor asked us for the photographs. We had none and told her so. She said get them done from some expert photographer specializing in food photography. We said that it is not our cup of tea and you do it at your own cost. She said she will get back. We thought that is the end of it. She called back after few days and said that the photographers in Delhi are very expensive and are asking for a moon to do the job plus hospitality, travel expenses to & fro Lucknow  and requested us to find a reasonable photographer locally. It is then we realized the the publishers were serious about the book because none had been written in the past about this cuisine. We found a very good photographer Mr. Anil Risal Singh and reverted to the publisher with his details and professional charges which were far less than the Delhi ones. Publisher agreed to pay and signed copyright and royalty agreement with us. We got down to serious business which meant fine tuning the recipes and the text. We arranged the food preparations, props and locations for food photography  by Anil, went with him for outdoor shooting, did indoor shooting in our presence to ensure the kind of results we wanted. This took time and effort and was a different kind of an experience. In the meantime the publishers got Janab Muzaffar Ali to do the foreword. Finally we sent the entire script and photographs to the publisher. After few weeks they sent a run-of-the-mill prototype of the cover and inside pages for our approval. We did not like it and rejected it outright. This was done by a young couple in Delhi (Aart Creations). We said we will meet them and discuss the book design and  outlay. We met and explained what we wanted – Pakistan flag green, gold fonts Urdu title, gaudy pink English title letters, background pattern and a Islamic look by using what we called Nizamuddin colours (inspired by the gaudy cake icing colours used by the bakeries in that area of Delhi). They did a good job. The book was out in few months time. Someone goofed up the proof reading and there were many typo errors. There was no formal launch ceremony.
P.S. - No political or personal inferences are meant to be derived out of this blog. it is just a statement of facts.


  1. your story telling which went from the seed to the fruit the making of your book ..I clearly remember the dastarkhan's we did during the baby stages of your book....Indeed life does come full circle ...would be a joy to read through those pages of time .

  2. Hello Mr Saxena. I would like to get in touch with Sangeeta. I lost touch with her and Pradeep. Please give me their email address if u can. My name is Olivier and I live in the US.

  3. Dear Sir,
    I have been trying to get my hands on a copy of this monumental book for almost 03 years. I am a chef and have cherished your book and used it on many occasions. The copy I owned was lost. I really wish to buy it again. None of the online book sites are able to provide one, neither have any established book shop. Kindly provide me a source I can order it from. My email id is

  4. Try at :
    Bookadda Customer Support Team
    Phone: (011) 42274200
    Delhi Office: Western Side, Basement & Ground Floor, 4378/4, Gali 4B, Ansari Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110002.

  5. Cannot find the book anywhere Mr Saxena . Has it been printed again ? Hope I can find it .

  6. Where can i find your book pl. Every online seller has one comment 'out of stock'. Harper Collins does nt seem to have it

  7. Please let me know if the e-book version of Dastarkhwan-e-Awadh is available. I will willingly pay for downloading it. Thanks