I have a visceral connection to the bhujiya, those crunchy, fried gram-flour slivers of deliciousness that have long transcended its city of origin, Bikaner in Rajasthan, to become a pan-Indian (even global) favourite. I'm sure my attachment to this snack will be easily understood by anyone who has lived in a hostel while studying. It was bhujiya that sustained me and my friends when we were students at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and helped us survive the terrible mass-produced slop served in the hostel mess.
Let me digress for a moment and say that I think the mess was probably the worst at the Ganga Hostel for girls where I stayed. In fact, most of the girls' hostels served horrible food. The boys got somewhat better fare, I think, because they would regularly terrorise the mess warden/manager/cooks/serving staff. Us girls, on the other hand, tried some polite cajoling which didn't have the intended results. Thus, we had to rely on the bhujiya to salvage our meals: we'd sprinkle it liberally over the staple rice and dal, though the vegetable curry was essentially irredeemable and tasted like what a friend of mine called "cat crap". The vegetable curry changed every day, but the cat crapiness never really went out of it!
"The bhujiya sandwich was a barometer of one's love life."
However, the real glory of the bhujiya emerged between two slices of bread - it made one of the best sandwiches I have ever had, and was wonderfully simple to make. The bhujiya sandwich was spectacular because it was fashioned out of ingredients which were stolen (from the hostel mess) or borrowed (from fellow bhujiya-ites) or leftover (a true hosteller always had a friend who would keep breakfast for her/him and which would be normally be eaten at midnight). The essential ingredients of this sandwich were bread, butter, bhujiya, chopped onion and tomato ketchup. The bread was buttered, sprinkled with bhujiyaand chopped raw onions and liberally doused with ketchup. If by any chance there was leftover aloo bonda, that highly popular ,unhealthy, calorie-ridden breakfast option, the sandwich turned gourmet. The aloo bonda was squished in between the bread slices. Awesomeness!
In my friend circle, we had two types of bhujiya sandwiches:
1) The Kissing sandwich, which didn't have the chopped raw onions.
2) The Non-Kissing sandwich , which had chopped raw onions.
The distinction was based on whether one had a boyfriend and thus was smooching regularly, to not having one and fantasizing about Imran Khan. The bhujiya sandwich thus was a barometer of one's love life. I always had the "Kissing" sandwich and was teased mercilessly by my friends. But my preference was more due to the fact that I can't stand raw onion rather than a prolific love life.
Later in life, I now often see the bhujiya as the preferred companion to booze in parties thrown by friends. Many such parties were/are painful because some drunk usually starts singing which tends to fill me with homicidal feelings. The other drunks cry, clap and egg him on, taking my torment to unspeakable levels. In such situations, I am very comforted by the bhujiya, its familiarity and no-nonsense look and taste.
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