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The expansive region of the Deccan opens up new fields for overland forces from the North; it also widens their culinary repertoire. Map of Deccan and South, by German cartographer Sebastian Münster, c.1588; via columbia.edu; Photo: A field of ragi, a nutritious millet of the Deccan

The expansive region of the Deccan opens up new fields for overland forces from the North; it also widens their culinary repertoire. Map of Deccan and South, by German cartographer Sebastian Münster, c.1588; via columbia.edu; Photo: A field of ragi, a nutritious millet of the Deccan

THERE IS A PARADOX in the conspiracy that ends the last post. The Deccanis who angled Gawan’s Persian origin to steer local sentiment against him, were themselves recent arrivals to the Deccan.

Only a few generations earlier, their forefathers had arrived from the Delhi Sultanate and surrounding areas, and authored a new power matrix for the region. Intermarriage was common and before long the community was integral to the identity of a reconstituted geo-political power centre. What was the nature of this region then, that appeared to absorb them with neither fear nor favour?

The Deccan plateau edges the North of peninsular South India, and lies South of the Indo-Gangetic plain. In the words of the 16th C Persian historian Ferishta, the Deccan had “three sons”: Marhar, Kanar and Tiling – the areas covered by present-day Maharashtra, the northern regions of Karnataka and large parts of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana. This was an area peppered with independent regional kingdoms before the arrival of transregional power systems and counter-coalitions. What was the pre-existing Deccan cultural fabric that the first arrivals in some way blended into? Flavours could give a sense.

The pesarattu of Southwest India is just one example of many lentil-based flat breads that would redefine the experience of bread for transregional explorers

The pesarattu of Southeast India is just one example of many lentil-based flat breads that would redefine the experience of bread for transregional explorers

The first transregionalists making a foray into this new terrain, would have been offered meals of rice and bushmeat or fowl, or millet and beans in milk. Communities close to rivers and the coast would serve rice with the catch of the day. A scoop of pickle would be a standard relish at all main meals – though prepared with different core ingredients depending on preferences and availability of ingredients. There would be many plants that would have fascinated the overland visitors from the North. A little later in the 15th Century, Babur, who would establish the Mughal Empire, will compare the profile of the coconut tree to the date palm. In his memoirs, he describes coconut water as “agreeable” and coconut flesh as something like the plant’s cheese.

Inland, wheat flour would be put to use in interesting ways beyond the comparatively plain bread known to the Northern visitors. Apart from the mandakas and patrikas which were elaborately processed breads,  the vidalapaka would be an example of how far flour could be taken: these cakes were made from a mix of five flours and a likely protoype for today’s simpler pesarattu, a popular crepe of Andhra Pradesh and Telengana.

REFERENCES
  • A Social History of the Deccan 1300-1761, by Richard M Eaton
  • Indian Food, A Historical Companion, by KT Achaya
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