My first glimpse of Katy Dalal was when I just joined the K. R. Cama Oriental Institute (KRCOI) as Jt. Hon. Secretary. She was on the mezzanine floor of the library hidden behind a mound of books, peeping out at me with her plump, smiling, rosy yet dignified face. That was the beginning of our friendship in 1982 which grew stronger over the years.
An archaeologist is how I first knew her as she was a regular research scholar at the KRCOI library. Katy obtained a PhD in Archaeology from Poona University in 1972, her subject being “Pre-historic Pottery Industries along the ‘Lost’ Saraswati River of the Great Indian Desert”. She went on to publish several Research Papers including one on Sothi and Malva ware cultures – both pre-Harappan.
As a speaker par excellence she was often on the platform of the KRCOI. She also participated in the Institute’s International Congresses as well as the National Congress on “Ferdowsi and his Shahnameh”. Her pet topic however was Alexander the Macedonian – a topic she was researching till the very end.
Whatever Katy did, it was with passion and excellence as was her catering. She was always the KRCOI caterer where her generosity spilled over. In fact, to those who had been kind to her family and those who were deprived and needy, Katy silently sent food to them regularly and totally free of cost. For her, catering was much more than just a business.
The Community best knew Katy as a caterer and hence I shall dwell more on this area. It is said, that behind every successful man is a woman, but for Katy, her husband Feroze and her children Kurush, Darius and Freny stood shoulder to shoulder with her and shared in her culinary activities. In fact, it was Feroze who first introduced Katy to diverse culinary delights. Her catering activities culminated with her publishing six cookery books.
The first book brought out in 1998 was “Jamva Chaloji – Parsi Delicacies for all Occasions”. This book, dedicated to her grandmother, was sold out within 6 to 7 months of its release. These words “Jamva Chaloji” brings to my mind the man who in the 1950s and 60s used to always announce at Albless Baug in a booming voice heralding the guests to dinner, “Jamva Chaloji – Thank you for your kindly kindness”. This may not be correct English, but there was a graciousness about it and everyone waited for this announcement before proceeding to dinner. These small courtesies are missing in our crowded and stressed lives today.
“Jamva Chaloji” – book Two consisted of recipes which today are not as commonly made as they were 50 years ago. It was a revival of long forgotten tasty dishes which your grand and even great grandparents enjoyed which were reproduced to tickle our palate, such as: ‘Papau-ma-gos’ & ‘Gor-amli-na-ras-ma-patra ni macchi’. Katy’s advice was: Don’t do everything cook books tell you, pander to your palate, for it is only by experimenting on existing recipes that new ones are made.
Following “Jamva Chaloji” – books One & Two, were Vitality Cook Book, Delicious Encounters, Pulaos and Biryanis, and Seafood Fiesta. Seafood Fiesta published by Vakils, Feffer and Simons Pvt. Ltd. contains recipes of such vast varieties of fish. This book contains recipes from Maharashtra, Karwar, Goa, Kerala, Tamilnadu, Bengal, Kashmir and even France, Italy, Spain and Morocco!
Katy saw to it that along with her recipes our general knowledge was increased. As a result of painstaking research, this book informs us of the nutritive value and health benefits of a fish diet and its use in Pharmaceuticals and other industries. E.g. Did you know that Napoleon Bonaparte first realized there was a great need to preserve food and that sardine was the first fish to be preserved in Oil and Tomato Sauce? Did you know that Squid and Octopus have the largest brain of any invertebrates? Did you know that ‘Fish is brain food’ and ‘Sea food is heart food?
Katy came from a family of good cooks and we found similarities between her relatives and mine. Her paternal grandmother and mine, shared the same first name – Cooverbai, both widowed while young. Katy’s Cooverbai as mentioned in “Jamva Chaloji” had a sister-in-law named Meherbai who was not only a good cook but the uncrowned Queen of Rawalpindi. She had given orders to the Victoriawallas that any Parsi alighting at the station was to be brought home at her expense. My Cooverbai’s sister, also called Meherbai (my maternal grandmother) was also a good cook whose orders were that all Parsis who came to her Central Hotel at Darjeeling stayed free and had free meals. These are not lone incidents to Katy’s family and mine. This is what the Parsis in the past were all about – courtesy, graciousness and generosity in the extreme. This forgotten world of graciousness is somehow brought home to us from time to time in Katy’s books. In her 3rd book “Delicious Encounters” published in 1999, a section is devoted to “An English Tea in your Rose Garden” – One is transported back to those sleepy, lovely, leisurely days under a sun umbrella with the aroma of flowers and luscious cakes, pies etc. In fact, you can travel the world and taste the choicest tea menus through Katy’s book by sitting in her Rose Garden. One just has to open that garden gate!
“Pulaos & Biryanis – A Tribute to Indian Cuisine”, takes you down “History” Lane – if I may coin this word – and through Moghul Courts where cooking became an art as did its presentation with flower petals, essences, wispy sheets of beaten silver and gold and gorgeous displays of roasted peacocks with their feathers decorating the salvers. One is transported to the courts of Lucknow, Awadh and Hyderabad where chefs vied with each other to produce original recipes. From Awadh comes the story of a live bird flying out from a fried puri and one is reminded of the song ‘Sing a song of six pence a pocket full of rye, four and twenty black birds baked in a pie …”. The influences on Hyderabadi food of the Arabs, Egyptians, Europeans and Negroes who formed a part of the Nizam’s security guard are stated while taking us further down “History Lane” and we are enlightened about Moghlai cuisine, Kashmiri, Konkan, Parsi, Punjabi, Bengali, Coorji, Keralite and Karnataka foods.
Katy kept smiling through her last years of illness and pain even as her generosity increased as did my bond with her.
Last year the Red Cross Funds Sub-Committee; a Committee of which she was a member since 1997, (and where her largesse was also felt both through funds and delicious snacks), had organized a medical camp in Khandala. Kurush did the catering and I mentioned to him at lunch that I wished to visit Katy and Feroze at their home in Lonavala. He informed me that they were on their way to visit me bearing gifts as usual. We had a happy get-together after which they insisted I go to their home in Lonavala for tea. It was as if I was transported back through her cookery book into a lovery quiet cottage in a cul-de-sac with a rose garden. As Feroze prepared the typical English Tea, Katy sat in “her” chair surrounded by a mound of books, just as I had first seen her at KRCOI. She was working on Alexander the Great! I had a strange feeling of going back in time. Hospitality, calm content and happiness seemed to be exuded in this home with a rose garden. I was plied with more gifts of jams, pickles and fruits as I got up to leave. Katy and Feroze stood waving at the gate as our car slowly went out of sight. That is how I always remember her, even though I later met her in hospital and we had several talks over the phone.
I would like to end on the note: “Thank you Katy for your friendship and your abundant generosity, of which I was so often a recipient.” To all those whose lives she touched with her love and generosity, I just wish to say, that the best way to keep her memory alive is to remember: If you have had a kindness shown, pass it on.
Homai N. Modi
Trustee & Jt. Hon. Secretary
K R Cama Oriental Institute
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