Taste of Life: A Collision of Tradition and Innovation… | So Good News


The interaction between innovation and tradition is rarely a linear process. The dynamics and tensions involved in both require nuanced attention. Traditions enable or constrain innovation processes, and innovation can preserve traditions, whether in the form of knowledge or local culture.

In April 1929, several advertisements featuring the new product appeared in Marathi newspapers such as Kesari and Jnanaprakash. The original advertisements took up considerable space in the said newspaper pages. The product featured in the ad was a refrigerator – an innovative appliance at the time. After the ads created a sensation in cities like Bombay and Kolkata, the refrigerators proudly announced their arrival in Pune to give consumers a “taste of modern life”.

Home refrigerators were invented in 1913 by Fred Wolf of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The model consisted of a block mounted on top of an ice box. Ten years later, the American company Frigidaire introduced the first self-contained unit.

The brand became so popular in the refrigerator industry in the early 1920s that many Americans called any refrigerator a “Frigidaire,” regardless of brand. The name “Frigidaire” or its predecessor “Frigerator” may be the origin of the English word “refrigerator”, although it may simply be an abbreviation of the word “refrigerator”, a word that has been in use since the early 17th century. .

In Europe and America, these devices did not go into mass production for household use only after the Second World War. Advertisements appearing in English newspapers in the late 1930s claimed that 5,000 households in Calcutta had refrigerators, a number that seemed far-fetched.

Ice machines have been used since the early 20th century by breweries, restaurants and some wealthy households in Pune. Refrigerators were mentioned in English newspapers after 1925, but were unavailable in the city. A report published in The Times of India in October 1927 stated that a wealthy Parsi gentleman had ordered two refrigerators from Calcutta for his personal use. His identity has not been established.

Advertisements in Marathi newspapers in 1929 indicated the device’s potential for popularity in Pune. The ads were headlined in English with ‘Colder than Cold’ while the rest was in Marathi. They told readers that the new device keeps food fresh and can make ice at home “in hours.” The fridge boasted its “famous patented self-closing ice trays”, “super powerful compressor” and “cold management”.

Interestingly, the brand name was spelled wrong in the advertisements. Instead of “Frigidaire,” the ad was called “Frigidair.” The error may be due to the fact that they were placed by the dealer ML Wadia & Sons, East Street, Poona, and not by the manufacturing firm. The dealer announced that a free demo is available at one day’s notice.

In Pune, middle-class consumers are yet to become more adventurous and demanding. Obviously, this device is out of reach for most city dwellers. But whether or not one thought of buying “modern” equipment, the “addiction” to “modern” devices has always been objected to by many. Traditionalists saw this as an encroachment on “Western” values.

A few months after the first set of advertisements appeared, a letter was published in the Jnanaprakash newspaper. The author, Chintamani Balwant, who hails from Nasik, has demanded an explanation for the rumours, which have created consternation among the public in many parts of Maharashtra.

The content of the letter suggests that there were not one, but two rumors – that the refrigerator has the ability to “take sattva (essence)” from food and “change the nature” of food. After “taking the essence” out of the food, the Indians would be powerless against the British; The “transformation” of food can be used to the same effect, the writer claimed.

Although nothing else has been written about it, it is safe to assume that the rumors died a natural death. A few decades later, advertisements featuring refrigerators began to appear more frequently.

Seven months after the publication of the above advertisements, a letter was published in the Jnanaprakash newspaper. The owners of ‘Maharashtra Shabdakosh’ (Dictionary of Maharashtra) have asked readers to help them find the exact meaning and recipes of some dishes that are ‘no longer cooked in Maharashtra’.

The dishes mentioned in the letter belonged to medieval texts like Vamanpandit’s Sithasvayanvar (“telchare”, “chirang”, “neergos”, “meerkute”, “chinchamohar”, “fanole”, “saroli”) and Venabai’s Sithasvayanvar. “balpurya”, “sanjorya”, “garya”, “telachya”, “koravade”, “gulavarya”).

There were several responses to the letter from readers. Some readers have come up with their own food list. They heard about them from their mothers and grandmothers or read the names in the records, but had no idea what the dishes looked like or tasted like. These letters were enthusiastically responded to by other readers, who often offered elaborate recipes.

Mr. Yadav Madhav Kale of Buldhana has sent a scathing letter accusing the editors of the dictionary of ignoring the culinary traditions that are still prevalent outside Bombay and Poona. “We still prepare several of the dishes mentioned in your letter,” he wrote, giving a description of the dishes. For example, “telchya” was a thicker and larger version of “puri”.

Kale’s letter contains a description of all the dishes mentioned in Venabai’s Sithaswayanvar.

Another anonymous letter written by a woman reprimanded the editors, saying, “The dishes that you don’t know are gone forever, Venabai knows how to cook the dishes.”

A reader suggested a recipe for a dish called “sandai”. Cale corrected the woman and said, “Dear lady, you gave the recipe for ‘sandaj’, not ‘sandaj’.” To make ‘sandai’, soak wheat in water for five days, grind it and get sattva. Make thick flat rounds of papaya and dry them in the sun. Fry before eating.”

Letters on this topic continued to appear over the next few months. Most of the readers were saddened that the current generation does not know about traditional food. This was due to “modern” education, which neglected women in the kitchen. Some have condemned modern cuisines that prepare “misal”-like dishes that are “out of touch with the rich heritage of ancient knowledge and wisdom”. “Does bringing these foods help inspire the younger generation and educate them in patriotism?” – asked the reader.

Dishes and recipes are lost over time. Many new ones will appear. Some undergo a dramatic change. Some change in less visible ways. Several factors play a role, such as geographical events, socio-political changes, economics, religion, emotions, beliefs, and the simplicity or complexity of the recipe.

Advertisements for the refrigerator and the so-called “lost recipes” appeared in the newspaper at the same time. The contrast highlights the constant struggle between innovation and tradition.

It is not necessary to reject the old and make way for the new while creating an orientation to the future, only sticking to tradition leads to stagnation. It’s Diwali, let’s all try to innovate and carry on the tradition at the same time.

Chinmai Damle is a research scientist and food enthusiast. He writes about the food culture of Pune here. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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