Ever since we started cooking Ragi dishes in school, we were keen to illustrate these recipes in the (TDAC)They Draw and Cook style. www.theydrawandcook.com/
I had been fascinated with this TDAC community ever since I had stumbled on them online a few years back and whoever I showed it at school was also equally excited. It never sort of took off in school though because it needed a certain kind of hand holding and we could never crack it. We made several attempts though. The very first dish we created, we had asked some students to illustrate. It was good- but not the TDAC style.
Vinita, Ambika, Roshni, all had the enthusiasm to do this but it was somehow never coming together. I then discussed with Swetha , a former teacher at Poorna, who moved back to Bangalore if she could help us with this. And the vision soon became larger. Could we turn this into an art project with postcards from the farm- what we did at the farm , what we cooked that day, what interesting findings we had.. can all this come together? Swetha was excited and as one trial run we asked class 5 students to draw out their observations. (I must add a disclaimer here- I use these class grades to make it simple for a reader to understand- the children groups at Poorna have names not grade numbers- idea being that they are grouped on ability and not age)
However by October Swetha's free time for this looked doubtful and the modalities also were worrying us.. Roshni and I thought it could be a one day workshop on illustrations or it could be a take home assignment where parents can also get involved but nothing seemed to be clicking.
Natasha a former student of Poorna decided to come onboard then and went to the farm, stayed on to observe the community kitchen behind the scenes and coordinated with Vinita's help a few workshops. We had put up a poster on asking for illustrators and several students signed up for it. There were some wonderful individual illustrations but we needed an anchor to pull it together in the TDAC style. Natasha also seemed to have less time to devote to this and finally we requested Akanksha and Aishwarya, fresh graduates from Srishti School of design who agreed on two things- the very short time we had to produce this in and the very low honorarium we could pay for this. And so, from a larger vision of representing our journey from growing and eating food it became more focused on the cookbook.
Roshni had already compiled the recipes and began editing it. The designers came up with their child friendly version. It was still not TDAC style but we liked it. One day in her bid to explain what we were missing , Roshni exclaimed , "it is the little details-- the licking from a spoon, the smoke from the wood stove, the watering of eyes in chopping onions-- that's what makes TDAC so special! "
I agreed. Food --- to illustrate this evocative theme -- you need to experience it and draw from all your senses! There are too many really nice cookbooks and many appealing children's cookbooks too and ours perhaps will be a nice and welcome addition to that . But someday , we will crack that TDAC style and who knows maybe make our own style centering on food and ecology?!
For now, our Ragi cookbook in this form itself is making waves. We sent it out to many people and networks working in the space of environment education, millet promotion, food advocacy, seed sovereignty across the country and the reviews have been warming our hearts! We also gave a cookbook each to all students of the school and each faculty at Azim Premji University. And received many pictures of dishes tried out by folks on Whatsapp! Till now, Ragi Roti, Ragi Cake, Kharpole, Chakli, Ladoos have been tried out! Suggestions have poured in to include Ragi Pancake, Ragi Halwa, Ragi Idli and Dosa! NGOs in Bhubhneshwar, Udaipur and Chattisgarh who use Ragi in their cuisine have asked for more copies to encourage schools to try something similar.
Here are some testimonies I pulled out from emails:
Prayag Joshi of Imlee Mahuaa School wrote a lovely email...
"Many thanks for your lovely gifts that just arrived in the mail today. I will share them with our children and staff tomorrow. I am sure some of the children will try out your delightful ragi recipes, for ragi is grown aplenty in these climes and is a part of the daily diet in the form of a soupy drink called a payz (kanji)."
Nyla Coelho wrote appreciatively : "Poorna's Ragi book (too) is a piece of genius. Kudos to the school, their teacher Ashwini, the children and the team at Poorna...I have been mentioning it to people working on millets that I met recently."
Sushama Sharma of Anand Niketan school at Sewagram wrote : "Thanks a lot. It looks wonderful. Congratulations... It shows the amount of effort put into it."
Kala Sunder , Trustee of Poorna wrote , "Thanks for the book of ragi recipes, it is beautifully designed, and the recipes are simple enough to appeal even to a lazy cook like me. I missed ragi dosa and idli."