Shikar. Not trying to stereotype but I feel there are certain traits that are just second nature to certain communities; for us, Rajputs, those traits would be fighting- be it at the border or the side of the road, riding- horses, bikes (or jeeps) and shikar or hunting- birds or animals.
I didn’t grow up with the shikar culture; my grandfather adopted the Swaminarayan faith and as a result our family was absolutely vegetarian which in turn also meant not harming any life. I got married into a family that is totally the opposite and shikar has been enjoyed by everyone for generations.
Most families in our community have arms, guns and swords, passed down from one generation to the next and our family is no different. Our house back home is quite a way outside the city and quite isolated, our closest neighbour probably being a kilometer away; so keeping safety in mind; my father in law, Daata, always keeps a gun handy, by the side of his bed. As a newlywed bride, I had been in Jodhpur for maybe two days, when one morning at the breakfast table Daata asked me if I knew how to shoot, I didn’t, I hadn’t held a gun in my life! And immediately Daata declares that after breakfast, I was going to learn how to handle a gun and shoot; his logic being, if there are firearms in the house, one should at least know the basics, which I thought was fair. So there I was in our backyard, dressed up in my chamko red and gold new bride clothes and jewellery, holding a .22 rifle and aiming at a makeshift target, a coloured circle (bulls eye) drawn on an A4 size paper taped onto a discarded piece of wood and my instructor was my father in law, the rest of the family and our staff looking on at the gun wielding new bahu of the house with great amusement; to say I was nervous, would be an understatement. Daata was very patient with me, he taught me in detail how to load, take aim and fire, I practiced and shot a few rounds and even hit bulls eye once or twice; beginner’s luck – probably, I of course like to think I am just a natural. So after learning all about the .22, just when I thought it was all over, Daata picks up another gun and says since we also keep this one at home, you should try it once, so there I stood with my newly acquired confidence thinking if I can handle one why not the other; the other though happened to be a 12 bore! For those of you familiar with arms, you’ve probably guessed what took place, for the others; the 12 bore is a double barrel shotgun and basically figures in the big boys league of guns; it is heavy, it is loud and if you don’t know what you’re doing, it will send you back reeling in shock and pain. I was lucky Daata explained things to me so well. When I fired it, the boom was like no sound I had heard before, and although I did have to take a step back, thankfully there was no pain or injury, and that ladies and gentleman was my introduction to guns.
Though I have never actually gone for shikar (which is a good thing since it’s probably illegal now) every time we’re home, we have at least one target practice session and since the past year even baby boy has been included, taught by none other than his grandfather. Daata loves to shoot, I’ve heard so many stories about his various trips in Assam, where he worked in the tea estates and also from back home; it’s a childhood passion that hasn’t waned in the slightest with time. I made this dish on the weekend, and so while I was taking pictures, the husband kept me company and told me a little story about one of his hunting trips with his brother and Daata, when he was a young teenager. It was during the winter months, and as brutally hot as the desert is in the summer, it is just as severely cold in the winter; they were somewhere close to the Jaisalmer desert and at five in the morning in the freezing cold they got into the jeep (the not covered kind) to go into the desert, hoping to find some Imperial Sand Grouse. They did spot the birds but as soon they heard the jeep, they started to fly, Daata with a flying shot, took down one bird but before the boys could retrieve it, a hawk swooped down and flew away with it which didn’t please my father in law one bit; it was his shikar and he wanted it, so they started the jeep, followed the hawk and as soon as they were close enough, Daata took a shot at the hawk and got back his bird, the hawk had no idea who he had messed with.
So the Jungli Maas is a simple dish usually cooked in the jungle, while on shikar; the main ingredients being mutton or goat meat, flavoured with dried red chillies (available in any corner of Rajasthan), salt and ghee. I also added garlic to up the flavour quotient. It’s a no fuss, no frills dish where the primary ingredient, the meat really gets a chance to shine as it’s not covered in a whole lot of masalas.
- Mutton/Goat meat- 800 grams (I used bone in, cut into small pieces, from the leg)
- Dried red chilies- 15
- Garlic cloves- 10-12
- Ghee/clarified butter- ½ cup
- Salt- 1 tsp
- Heat ghee in a heavy bottomed pan of suitable size, then add the meat and fry it for about 10 minutes.
- Add the red chilies (whole) and salt and cook (covered), on a low flame, adding a little water every now and then. The water should never dry up completely else the meat will fry and become dry but don’t add too much water as this way the meat will boil. I added about 4-5 tablespoons every time.
- Add the garlic cloves when the meat is almost cooked through, so that the garlic gets cooked but still holds its shape.
- It takes about an hour for the meat to cook, but the time will depend on the size of the pieces.
*Make sure the meat pieces are on the smaller side so it cooks faster.
*You can leave out the garlic if you want though it does add another layer of flavour and texture to the dish.
*You don’t have to stand over the stove while it’s cooking, just keep an eye on it and stir and add water as and when required.