Thursday, December 18, 2008

Late Dr.K.T.Achaya

India today, 22nd Dec 08, under the caption currying flavor carried a review of a book called the illustrated foods of India written by Dr.K.T.Achaya. The reviewer, I felt has not done justice to the personality of late Dr Achaya.

Dr.K.T.Achaya was a remarkable person in more ways than one. By training he was a chemical engineer who branched out to become one of the foremost authorities on oilseeds. So much so he published several monographs on how ancient Indians extracted and processed the oil out of oilseeds. He had to consult several books, visit many temples, study pali and Sanskrit and he did most of this after his retirement. He was a serious student of Indian cuisine and made in depth study of how the foods are preserved and prepared in different parts of the country [your food and you, national book trust of India].His A historical dictionary of India [Oxford India paperbacks] is a must read for anyone interested in the origin and migration of many items of food that we take for granted. To give you a few examples. The chili that you are very fond of is not indigenous but brought India probably by the Portuguese from South America. Even the popular potato has the same origins. The story of our food is the fascinating account of various Indian foods and how they came to be cooked the way it is now and the different utensils that were in use to prepare the foods and how these evolved[universities press].His every day Indian foods [national book trust. India] is a storehouse of definition, preparation, processing and storing of popular foods of different parts of the country. So much for his talent as a food technologist, writer and researcher on Indian foods.

Now let me come to some other aspect of Dr Achaya. He was a connoisseur of classical music both Indian and western and had a collection of records which he would lovingly play on his old record player. His knowledge of musicians and their lives would hold me fascinated. He was also a very knowledgeable amateur Botanist and could name the plant if you took a pod or a flower or the branch of a tree. When I was with him, once a lady from Kerala visited him with a round green fruit and wanted to know what it was. Achaya spent next ten minutes telling her about the fruit, its uses, where it is grown and the whole works. He was also an art lover and on the walls of his flat hung paintings from many famous painters in the original.

This man from Coorg never lived there. He spent early part of his life in Madras and later abroad and after his return at Bombay and Hyderabad. He settled in Bangalore with his sister and brother in law. His brother in law was a famous Lt General [I forget he name] and his sister Sitha was a famous doctor and before her retirement was principal of Lady Hardinge medical college, Delhi. That was fifteen to twenty years ago and that was when I came in contact with him initially as his doctor and later as his friend.

Dr Achaya remained a bachelor. He was dogged by diabetes and heart disease, both of which he bore with rare equanimity. It was a privilege for me to be associated with him and look after him in the last years of his life.


Sierra Bravo said...

Dr. Achaya was a fascinating writer, and, being a Coorgi, wrote equally passionately about both vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine. I've read most of his books (currently reading the one on Indian Processed Foods). His demise is indeed a loss for India

Anonymous said...

who is alive today that is an expert on south indian food history other than kt achaya?

Anonymous said...

regarding valmiki's comment above.

i don't like the art nor the attitude of raja ravi varma. that family did horrible things to the people of kerala. throwing people into lion pits, putting their hands into boiling oil, being obsessed with eroticism and using art, music and dance to disguise or mask their own personal perversions and desire to feel powerful by degrading others especially women.
freedom is a generic term, the freedom to be stupid, the freedom to be irresponsible, the freedom to degrade others? why one person's freedom is another person's degradation?

life is not about freedom but about balance. we are all free and have freedom the problem is people abuse their freedom.

Vasudeva said...

A very nice post on Dr. Achaya. I would like to respond with my personal thoughts on this. Please send a message to vsiruguri at gmail dot com. Thank you.