Chowgda or the spice box

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The chowgda is a spice-box that has been passed down from the generations in the family I am married into- the Waghray family of Kachiguda, Hyderabad. They have lived in Kachiguda for the past 50 years or so and before that they were a part of an extended family in Alijah Kotla, Charminar, in the Old city of Hyderabad, Telangana.
The chowgda housed the spices like zeera (cumin), rai (mustard), methi (fenugreek), turmeric/haldi (curcumin), mirchi (red chilly powder). But since some spices react with, in this case the pital (brass- an amalgam of copper and zinc), the inner lining or khalaiye, was laid which was made of tin that would be replaced regularly to keep the metal out of the food.

The chowgda or spice box was in use in the family when the number of people in the family were 50 and above, adults and children included. Sitting together for a meal meant bringing a group of your peers to share a large plate/ paraat and food was served in your plate only if there were 5 people available. This was a way to avoid wastage but also to make the food go around sufficiently and take care of a large family.

The chowgda now housing some sacred puja items

Cooking for the family was a routine that continued throughout the day due to the fact that so many mouths had to be fed- breakfast, lunch and dinner. My source is Meera Devi, my husband’s aunt, who would say that the three square meals were actually two meals- brunch and dinner with a small chai-snack in between at 3 pm. Her way of life has not changed much to this day as she prefers eating a brunch style meal at 10 am and dinner at 6 or 7 pm.

Shashi Sehgal, my husband’s second cousin, living in California since 1986 had this to say, “I have heard the same story from my dad, Padma bua and Laikh Raj Chacha about the meals. The other thing they talked about was how the dadis (grandmothers) took turns to do the cooking. Some did the chopping of the vegetables, some made the rotis and some made the dal. The ones who made the brunch, rotated out so a second group made the dinner. Every few days they changed shifts. Baa dadi was the matriarch of the family who was the only lady of her generation that was alive for a long time, the others had passed on when the nine siblings were still children.”

For a long time now, people have moved on to steel spice boxes which are easy to use/ clean and also a non-reactive metal if it is of a good quality.

I also wonder, what location of the brass factory in India did this chowgda arrive from? In a way that metal items in homes in India get utilized, it has a BL sign engraved on it, BL for Bidri Lal, by husband’s great grand father and it has it’s tell tale signs of wear and tear. Was the factory from Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh? What manufacturing was happening then and who were the local retail sellers for this product? Where are they now in Hyderabad and what are they engaged in at this time? Some questions remain unanswered and continue to linger.

by Malini Waghray

The Author

I am a trained sociologist and an archival and UX researcher. I am currently the principal investigator for an archival research project on the brahmakshatriyasofhyderabad.com in Hyderabad and also researcher/ manager for choosingwellness.org. I also go by my other name Malini. I am a translator of notes that remain in the margins to bring the user of technologies into sharper focus. I use the term community researcher, immersive researcher to talk about the work I do. In the past, as a Director and user experience lead at Code for Princeton I worked with non-profits, community groups, users, and subject matter experts to identify areas of need. I translated this into conversations with brigade members, developers, potential users, and other stakeholders. The applied ethnography and social research skills got me to meet with a diverse set of people across the broad middle class spectrum in Urban India. Living and working in New Jersey for the past several years has given me a breadth and width of understanding and engaging with people adding critical diversity to my bracket of "users" and experience all rolled in one.

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