The word “Dosa” immediately connects me with the memories of “Dagshai”. In historical prospective Dosa have nothing to do with Dagshai. Dosa is a tasty South Indian dish and Dagshai is a small army cantonment village in Northern India. Well, for me it is South meets North even when I am enjoying a hearty favourite meal of masala Dosa on Queen Street or Main Street in Brampton and sometime at a shiny plaza of Mississauga far away from India in the Western nation of Canada. My favourite is always the masala dosa, a fermented crepe made out of rice batter filled with potatoes minced in South Indian spices along with sambar and various chutney’s.
“Rai” introduced me to Dosa in Dagshai at the tender age of nine or ten. I fell in love with this new dish. A Punjabi boy falling in love with amazingly delicious food in the lap of most beautiful Himalayan hills.
Romantic, isn’t it? Ah! You may not think that way, and that is quite all right.
Rai was the army mess cook. He was the master cook and the best cook. He was very famous within the regimental ranks around the Dagshai and Kausoli area. Other regiments would borrow him to cook for their special army party dinners. He was cooking pride of the 4th Jat Battalion. The most remarkable memory of Rai I have is him cooking in many houses simultaneously. He had all his Indian cooking spices in small pockets which were part of a special belt tied around his waist. He would walk from one family quarter to another and add spices as needed and then instruct the woman of the house to continue stirring the cooking pan on very low gas stove. He cooked for small events, he cooked for “Bara Khanna” – The Big Dinner and he cooked at the front lines during the 1971 Indo-Pak war.
I remember Rai come to our army quarter in Dagsahi many times and he would tell my father, “Major Sahib, when you retire open a Dosa place in Jalandhar and I will cook there.” My father always smiled and would say, “we will see Rai.” My mother on the contrary took it seriously and would try to convince my father that he should take Rai on his offer. I did not care, I used to be too busy with my friends shaking Campa Cola bottles and letting the Cola gush out of the glass bottles. If I wasn’t wasting Campa Cola then I would be busy plucking wild berries and plums to eat.
Looking back at these events after almost 36 years I think that my father should have took the advice from Rai and should have opened up a Dosa restaurant in Jalandhar. I could have access to free Dosa at my father’s restaurant every day, but it is too late now.
Still today every time I eat Dosa I remember Dagshai, the oldest army cantonment established in 1847 by East Indian Company. The British bought the village of Dagshai from Maharaja of Patiala. The aroma of Dosa species makes my memories run through the 200 years old Churches, British army grave yards, my school and the Dagsahi central jail which was built in 1849. This is where Indian and Irish mutineers were kept and shot by the British shooting squads. The four revolutionaries of Komagata Maru incident were executed here. I think of Sikh revolutionaries who were executed here. I think of mutiny of Irish soldiers in British service during 1920 and I think of their mutineer leader, Private James Daly who was executed in the courtyard of Dagsahi Jail. I recall his last words that he wrote in his last letter to his mother, “It is all for Ireland. I am not afraid to die.”
My father was shifted from Dagshai as a 2nd in command. He joined his new posting with 4 Corps in Tezpur, Assam as a Core Officer Commanding. Rai was sad. He took down my father’s Jalandhar address. I missed Dosa for two years. My father resigned in 1983 and he never opened a Dosa restaurant.
Today, I enjoy Dosa with my two finest friends. The three Punjabi men who can’t get enough of Dosa. They love Dosa as much as I do. We sit for long time eating Dosa and enjoying the sambar (lentil) under the low hanging yellow lights. We talk about technology, history and politics. Our words mixed with the distinctive sounds of the cutlery gives me the opportunity to escape for a short while. With my first bite of Dosa, I go on a voyage to Dagshai. I hear Rai’s words and smell the aroma of his spices, I can see James Daly’s written words to his mother, I cherish the memories of my childhood friends and then I come back. I do this so covertly that my two friends never notice that I go on a journey to the past.