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013: Whats in a Food Bag? (Pickle Series #6)

Updated: Apr 3, 2022

Pickle Series # 6

Chunda and khavanu nu bag

The one constant throughout the frenetic two month, thirteen city, classical Manipuri dance tour across the United States was the “khavanu nu bag” (the food bag). This bag contained not only the almost biblical chunda pickle (made with sun-dried grated raw mangoes steeped in a perfectly balanced sweet and spicy sugar preserve), but other home-made Gujarati goodies like soft, thin thepalas as well.

Pickle was a way to ingest comfort both physically and emotionally during unknown times and in unfamiliar spaces.

In the fall of 2007, I had the incredible opportunity to accompany my dance guru Padmashri Darshana Jhaveri on her performance tour across the country. In addition to dancing, I was the stage manager, light and sound technician and tour manager all rolled into one. Between the five of us in the troupe, we had 15 pieces of luggage that had to be meticulously unpacked and packed after every performance, and closely accounted for during innumerable flights and road trips. And every time we boarded a plane, bus, car or cab, my dance teacher did not fail to ask me if the food bag was with us.

By the end of the two months, I detested that food bag. I had enough on my plate (with flight delays, a damaged drum, publicity materials, sound checks and swollen knees), to have to worry about pickles and snacks packed in a bag. In my half-formed view of the world, I did not understand my guru’s attachment to that food bag. We were touring through the U.S. after all, not trekking through Rajasthan’s Thar desert.

Looking back now, I realise that the food bag was so much more than food. The chunda pickle specifically represented her sister (Ranjana ben’s) love and care. It was a piece of my guru’s homeland, a slice of her culinary, familial and cultural heritage that she could carry across strange cities. It perhaps gave her a sense of reassurance in trying times. Chunda was a way to ingest comfort both physically and emotionally during unknown times and in unfamiliar spaces. Perhaps that khanu nu bag and the memories of pickles from my youth are reverberating so strongly within me at the moment, as I find myself along with many others swimming in the dark unknown.

Have you ever carried pickle while travelling?

Photo Credit: Steve Weinik

Chunda Photo Credit: Rushina Munshaw

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