Some of the best times in my life were at JNU or Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. I was a pretty sheltered kid for most of my life and lived at home when I first went to college. But by the time I'd graduated with my degree, I was ready for adventure, and in that spirit, I applied to go to what is arguably one of the best liberal arts universities in the country. Getting into JNU wasn't easy, as I was competing with the best of the best in a pretty stiff entrance exam. Luckily for me, I made it through and it was with giddy excitement that I headed off to university, leaving home for the first time. My mum and uncle came with me to Delhi to see me off, and get me settled in, and while there was a tinge of homesickness, the relaxed atmosphere of JNU made me feel at home and like I'd been there all my life.
JNU is like no other university in India. First off, it is a staunchly left-wing university, deeply political and very liberal in its outlook, compared to the rest of the universities in India. Classes were only held on Monday to Wednesday, and the rest of the time was all self-study. Let's just say for a fresh-out-of-the-'burbs nineteen year old, coming from a convent school and college environment, all the freedom certainly went straight to the head. I made friends easily, and before I knew it, I was comfortable ensconced in the JNU lifestyle.
One of the best things about JNU was its huge collection of street eateries, called 'dhabas'. Almost every hostel, where students lived, had a dhaba in front of it, and they served food pretty much twenty four hours a day. The JNU late nights are famous, and before long, I was in the habit of attending my afternoon classes, then hanging out with my friends late into the night, drinking copious amounts of chai and black coffee, and eating anda paratha (egg layered rotis), spicy bread omelette, freshly made, piping hot pakoras, samosas and meat tikkas. We rarely made it into bed before five in the morning, and it was not unusual for us to have breakfast before heading to bed. Ah, the joys of being young and sleepless.
One of the best known events in JNU was its student election. One of the largest university political spectacles, it is a crazy time. Each political party in India has a student arm, and the competition was fierce. The student election commission would convene in early October, and the rules were set. Unlike other universities, JNU had a strict code of conduct. No outside money or influence was allowed, and so we spent hours painting posters in cramped hostel rooms, surviving on chai and pakoras.
So, that is something about me that you might not have known. I am a deeply political person, and I had (hold) very strong opinions about issues. Some of these ideals have changed over the course of my life, but I still passionately believe in the democratic process and its aftermath. Part of my induction into political life happened at JNU, and it is a time I can never forget.
There were some key points during the election, and the presidential debate was one of them. All the political parties in JNU fielded a candidate and the debate was held late at night. The atmosphere was electric, the slogans were loud and mocking, the nigth was buzzing. Passions ran high, as each candidate was offered a chance to make his or her case, while groups of their supporters cheered and jeered. The video below will give you an idea of the intensity of the moments, and the day of the election is a long one. Counting of the votes goes late into the night, with the results usually declared at around four or five in the morning. Everyone is sleepless and it is hard not to get caught up in the passion of the moment. The air is electric with anticipation. We were all wrapped up warm in our wool shawls, sprawled across dusty dhurries (woven rugs) and every so often, an activist would jump up and whip the crowds up into a frenzy. When the results were declared the winners would go on another massive rally, cheering, and screaming slogans all through the huge campus. Like I said earlier, a spectacle, one that keeps alive democracy at its best.
This recipe came about when I started craving a late night spicy snack. Late nights back in JNU would normally be around 2 AM in the morning, but let's just say my late night was about 8 PM, when an early dinner was done and I was in that in-between stage of wanting to eat something savoury, but not wanting to go to too much trouble. I had just made some fresh bread, and inspiration struck. I whisked together a mix of eggs and milk for French toast, and then added spices, onions and green chilies to the mix. The result was amazing, and I knew that this was a recipe that was going to make its way on to the website.
It reminds me of the spicy bread omelettes I used to live on when I lived in JNU, and the rush of memories was enough to send me scurrying to my computer to write everything down. This spicy French toast needs to be served with copious amounts of ketchup and chilli sauce, just like our spicy omelettes were, and it will totally transport you to the streets of India. It would also make a unique, interesting twist to a lazy weekend brunch too. I hope you'll like it as much as I did.
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 small onion, finely diced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 - 2 green chillis, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
4 thick slices of good bread
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 - 2 tablespoons neutral oil
Small handful fresh cilantro, finely chopped
Whisk together the eggs and milk in a bowl, and add the onion, chilli, spices and some salt and pepper to taste.
Soak the bread slices in this mixture until well coated.
Heat the butter and oil, on a medium heat, in a heavy based frying pan. When the oil is hot, fry the bread slices, until golden brown on both sides. The onion usually slides off the bread, so take a teaspoon and press some bits of onion mixture on the bread as it is cooking.
Remove to a warm plate, and keep warm until the rest of the slices are cooked. Sprinkle over the fresh cilantro to garnish. Serve with tomato ketchup and hot chilli sauce (if desired)