We’re 69 ...and still counting! Each year as August 15 draws near, the skies in my neighbourhood are festooned with kites flying gaily and quite a few trees in the bylanes turn into fierce kite-eaters, their branches snagging many a delicate rib and paper heart! Flying tiranga kites in skies that take on the clear blue of hopefulness, is the closest I have to come feeling like a free bird or as if I’m hoisting the tricolour... internalizing the free spirit of an Independent nation, as it were!
We each have our traditions of celebrating Independence Day, but I think most of us will agree that August 15 is a foodie’s celebration! Little wonder, because the freedom movement itself harnessed the collective will of a nation through food. When the ‘barefoot saint’ with a lump of ‘earth-salt’ in his hand declared, “With this I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire”, he focussed our entire nation (and the world) on her rooted, independent Indian-ness. In making food - its production and its consumption - a political act through the Salt Satyagraha and Swaraj through Swadeshi, leaders like Tilak, Gokhale, Abdul Gaffar Khan, Sarojini Naidu, Madan Mohan Malviya and Gandhi drew upon the deep-rooted tradition in Indian culture of food being the marker of who/what one is.
Perhaps Indian Independence is most piquantly flavoured by prison food - common diet for the satyagrahis and revolutionaries alike, that is, when they weren’t on hunger strikes to protest against colonial excess. Each of the 698 cells at the Cellular Jail at Port Blair, notorious in living memory as Kala Pani, always ran packed with freedom fighters and, like most prisons of the day, despite the bars and lathi-wielding wardens, became a centre for the exchange of books and debates.
Outside, a vital culture of coffee and conversations too took root in the years leading up to India’s Independence. Nationalist ideas were urgently debated and anti-colonial agendas plotted over nourishing cups of tea and snacks at the Indian Coffee House in Calcutta’s College Street, its imperial design notwithstanding. Urban legend has it that in the late forties, at the Wayside Inn in Colaba, when the city was still the British dowry of Bombay, Dr. Ambedkar sat at a table and drafted the Indian Constitution. It is not too fanciful to say then, that food, during the freedom movement, focussed Indians on their muladhara!
Food best reflects India’s shared composite cultural heritage and Independence Day is a heartfelt celebration at ITC Hotels, through feasts and incredible cuisines that invite you to savour the amalgam of the different flavours which comprise India. Independence Weekend at ITC Grand Central in Mumbai celebrates India’s culinary diversity with a Pan Indian dinner buffet on 15th August and a brunch buffet on 16th August. In the national capital, Chefs United, a grand buffet at ITC Maurya features traditional delicacies of Dal Dhokli, Khad ka Murgh, Prawn Malai Curry and more on 15th August. A feast of traditional delicacies from Kashmir to Kanyakumari awaits guests at ITC Gardenia in Bangalore on 15th August. The lavish celebration is weeklong at ITC Grand Chola, in Chennai, where the Flavours of Independence festival hosts a special Independence Day buffet brunch from 11th to 15th August. In Hyderabad, ITC Kakatiya’s Independence Weekend celebration showcases flavours from India’s frontiers with a dinner on 14th August, lunch on 15th August and brunch on 16th August.
Experience the rituals of cooking and eating that bind us in ineffable ways... Taste unity in diversity!