The smuggled smell of home: How the new film ‘Axone’ took me straight back to my own Delhi days

There is a scene in Nicholas Kharkhongar’s Axone the place a landlady screams at her tenants from the Northeast for being audacious sufficient to prepare dinner their “stinky” meals, one thing she had particularly informed them not to do. The pungent smell of axone (pronounced ‘akhuni’) — fermented soya bean — that the ladies had been discreetly utilizing to prepare dinner a conventional pork curry, had reached each nostril in the constructing and raised a storm. This scene took me straight back to my own Delhi days years in the past.

It was 2006. I used to be straight out of school and had landed an internship at a media home. I made a decision to transfer out of the hostel and get a spot of my own. I had my rigorously rehearsed strains prepared in thoughts to negotiate the lease. But bafflingly, the first query a house-owner requested me was, “No stinky food, I hope?” Taken aback, I mumbled a feeble “no”. The dealer with me felt the want to be extra vociferous on my behalf. “Arre nahin, she is from Assam. They don’t prepare dinner all that there. Does she appear to be them?” The house-owner gave a half-convinced nod. I turned and left.

Three days and numerous such visits later to matchbox buildings in Kingsway Camp, Mukherjee Nagar, Indra Vihar and different nagars in north Delhi — which, sarcastically, is full of college students from the Northeast who come to examine at Delhi University — I lastly made peace with the feedback and located a spot. For the first couple of months, I adhered strictly to my own rule of minimal interplay with the landlord and his prolonged household, together with the daadi who at all times lay sprawling on her khatiya at the entrance of the home, preserving an eagle eye on the tenants. Trouble started once I returned after a go to back house. Packed in my suitcase, wrapped in layers and layers of polythene luggage, was a bottle of khorisa.

Versatile ingredient

For the uninitiated, khorisa is fermented, tender bamboo shoot, which is extensively utilized in Assamese delicacies — as in different elements of the Northeast — for its distinct and tangy/ bitter/ acidic style and powerful flavour. The shoots are first defoliated, then pounded in a dheki (a leg-operated pounder) or scraped and floor. It is then left to ferment for about two weeks till it turns bitter. Once prepared, it may be utilized in vegetable dishes, with fish, hen, and pork, or simply pickled with oil and chillies.

Like axone, khorisa’s nemesis too is its smell — unabashedly full-bodied and pungent. I used to be not courageous sufficient to use it. Like a thief preserving stolen treasure shut to his coronary heart, I held the bottle gingerly in my fingers after which pushed it into the darkest nook of the kitchen cabinet. But the coronary heart received over the head and like Upasana (Sayani Gupta) and Chanbi (Lin Laishram) in the film, I made a decision to take the threat.

And so, one advantageous Sunday afternoon, I dived into the mission. Ideally, I might have liked khorisa maas — contemporary river fish cooked with khorisa — however settled for hen, which additionally tastes divine with this magic potion.

Daring escapades

I took the standard precautions to stop the ‘smell’ wafting down the staircase. Deodorant spray cans had been emptied in the rooms and in the balcony for added impact, and after what appeared like a unprecedented feat, my sister and I lastly savoured the style of success. That night, my coronary heart skipped a number of beats when the landlord stopped me on my means down the stairs to ask, “Did you could have a celebration? Perfume ka smell yahan tak aa raha tha. (I may smell the fragrance down right here.)” I smiled and virtually ran out.

I did ‘dare’ to use khorisa many occasions afterwards. Grind it somewhat in a mortar, add a spoonful in curries and dal, generally with a touch of mustard oil, somewhat onion and a few chilli for a deadly chutney. That momentary genuine smell — earlier than it’s drowned in ‘perfume’ — felt like house.

For many of the 1000’s of Northeasterners in Delhi, it’s nonetheless a wrestle to settle for it as house. In 2007, the Delhi Police issued a booklet titled ‘Security Tips for Northeast Students/ Visitors in Delhi’ in the backdrop of a spate of violent incidents in opposition to the group. Under ‘Food Habits’, the booklet stated ‘Bamboo shoot, akhuni and other ‘smelly’ dishes needs to be ready with out creating ruckus in the neighbourhood’. Naturally, this invited a backlash.

But life just isn’t all black and white and regardless of these crude, racist remarks handed casually, Delhi has given many of us at the very least a pair of well-meaning ‘Hyper Shiv’ buddies in our lives. I’ve a bunch of them and maintain them carefully, like my bottle of khorisa.

Sunday recipe

Khorisa maas (fish cooked in khorisa)


Four items rohu fish

3-Four tbsp khorisa

1 medium-sized onion, grated

1 tsp ginger-garlic paste

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp white mustard seed

1 medium-sized tomato, finely chopped

2 inexperienced chillies

Four tbsp mustard oil

Salt to style


1. Wash the items of fish and rub salt and a half teaspoon of turmeric powder on them. Keep them apart.

2. In a pan, warmth the mustard oil and calmly fry the fish items. Take them out and preserve them apart.

3. In the identical pan, warmth the oil and add chillies and white mustard seeds till they crackle. Add onion and ginger-garlic paste and sauté it for a minute.

4. Add the relaxation of the turmeric powder and salt. Keep stirring.

5. Add the tomato items and canopy with a lid. As the tomato will get pulpy, add a cup of water and canopy it once more.

6. As the gravy combine blends, add the fish items and provides it a cautious stir.

7. After a couple of minutes, add the khorisa and stir it in the gravy. Let the gravy come to a boil with out the lid on.

Your khorisa maas is now prepared. Ideally to be loved with plain rice.

The author is a Gujarat-based freelance journalist.

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