Centuries-old treat adds sweetness to India’s most colorful festival

Centuries-old treat adds sweetness to India’s most colorful festival
Gujiya, a hallmark of holi, is a crescent-shaped pastry filled with a soft and sweet filling like coconuts, cashews and khoya, or milk solids. (Unsplash)
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Updated 25 March 2024
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Centuries-old treat adds sweetness to India’s most colorful festival

Centuries-old treat adds sweetness to India’s most colorful festival
  • Millions of Indians celebrate Holi on Monday to mark the beginning of spring
  • Indian women spend hours in the kitchen to make the sweet and crispy treat known as gujiya

Patna, Bihar: As millions of people celebrate Holi, the festival of colors, on Monday, Indians are also serving the sweet fried pastry known as gujiya at their tables to mark the arrival of spring.

Crispy and flaky on the outside, gujiya is a crescent-shaped pastry with a soft and sweet filling including coconut, cashews and khoya, or milk solids. In India, the crumbly treat is a hallmark of Holi.

Every year, Holi starts on the evening of the last full moon in the lunar month of Phalguna. The festival that also symbolizes the triumph of good over evil sees people smearing bright colors on friends and family, lighting bonfires and dancing to traditional music.

It is also the flavors of gujiya that remind people of Holi festivities.

“Holi festival is incomplete without gujiya and will lose its charm if this sweet dish is not there,” Ambrish Kumar, a political journalist and food show host, told Arab News.

“This is a dish which until a decade ago was only prepared at home and was not available in restaurants.”

The sweet pastry varies in different states, each version with its own dough, fillings and names. While it is known as gujiya in the northern states like Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, people in other parts of the country have different names: it is pedakiya in Bihar, ghughra in Gujarat and somasi in Tamil Nadu.

Though there is no definitive history to gujiya or its association to Holi, Kumar said it may have been derived from the Turkish baklava or the Central Asian samsa, the predecessor to a samosa. While the baklava may have been brought by Muslim traders in the 13th or 14th centuries, samsa was likely brought by chefs employed in the kitchens of the Mughal Empire around the 15th or 16th centuries.

“Samosa came from the Arab world with the Mughals and it is filled with meat and fried in the same way gujiya is done … There is also a similarity between Turkish baklava and gujiya,” he said.

The preparation at home is what makes the dish important, Kumar added, as women would often make extra efforts to prepare the festive treat.

For 69-year-old Kanchan Mala, gujiya has been part of her Holi routine for decades.

“My mother introduced me to this dish when I was a kid and I have been making this dish every Holi for over 50 years,” Mala told Arab News.

Since her marriage in the late 1960s, Mala has been spending hours with other women in her extended family to make gujiya for Holi, as it was the only dish that they cannot buy in the market. But she noticed how much the times have changed now. 

“Girls are getting educated and professionally active, they don’t have time to spend hours preparing the dish. They now order the dish from outside,” said Mala, who is from Mokama town in Bihar.

“Despite the change, the primacy of gujiya remains intact in the festival. We still serve gujiya to our guests when they come to play Holi.”

Kiran Raj is also among those intent on keeping gujiya at the table for Holi, as she has prepared the dish for the last four decades.

“So long I am active, I will keep on making the dish during the festival,” Raj told Arab News.

“But whether you prepare it at home or buy it from outside, gujiya’s relevance during Holi will remain intact. Gujiya appears on the horizon with the onset of Holi and disappears with the festival. This is the tradition and it will continue.”


US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea

US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea
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US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea

US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea as a show of force against nuclear-armed North Korea
  • The Theodore Roosevelt strike group will participate in the exercise that is expected to start within June
SEOUL: A nuclear-powered United States aircraft carrier arrived Saturday in South Korea for a three-way exercise stepping up their military training to cope with North Korean threats that escalated with its alignment with Russia.
The arrival of the USS Theodore Roosevelt strike group in Busan came a day after South Korea summoned the Russian ambassador to protest a pact reached between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this week that pledges mutual defense assistance in the event of war. South Korea says the deal poses a threat to its security and warned that it could consider sending arms to Ukraine to help fight off the Russian invasion as a response — a move that would surely ruin its relations with Moscow.
Following a meeting between their defense chiefs in Singapore earlier in June, the United States, South Korea and Japan announced Freedom Edge. The new multidomain exercise is aimed at sharpening the countries’ combined response in various areas of operation, including air, sea and cyberspace.
The Theodore Roosevelt strike group will participate in the exercise that is expected to start within June. South Korea’s military didn’t immediately confirm specific details of the training.
South Korea’s navy said in a statement that the arrival of Theodore Roosevelt demonstrates the strong defense posture of the allies and “stern willingness to respond to advancing North Korean threats.” The carrier’s visit comes seven months after another US aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, came to South Korea in a show of strength against the North.
The Theodore Roosevelt strike group also participated in a three-way exercise with South Korean and Japanese naval forces in April in the disputed East China Sea, where worries about China’s territorial claims are rising.
In the face of growing North Korean threats, the United States, South Korea and Japan have expanded their combined training and boosted the visibility of strategic US military assets in the region, seeking to intimidate the North. The United States and South Korea have also been updating their nuclear deterrence strategies, with Seoul seeking stronger assurances that Washington would swiftly and decisively use its nuclear capabilities to defend its ally from a North Korean nuclear attack.

Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island

Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island
Updated 22 June 2024
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Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island

Taiwan detects 41 Chinese aircraft around island
  • China claims self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it would never renounce the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s defense ministry said Saturday it had detected 41 Chinese military aircraft around the island in a 24-hour window, a day after Beijing said “diehard” advocates of Taiwan’s independence could face the death penalty.
China claims self-ruled democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it would never renounce the use of force to bring it under Beijing’s control.
It has stepped up pressure on Taipei in recent years and held war games around the island following last month’s inauguration of new Taiwanese leader Lai Ching-te.
On Saturday, Taipei’s defense ministry said it had detected 41 Chinese military aircraft and seven naval vessels operating around Taiwan during the 24-hour period leading up to 6:00 a.m. (2200 GMT).
“32 of the aircraft crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to a line bisecting the 180-kilometer (110-mile) waterway that separates Taiwan from China.
The ministry added that it had “monitored the situation and responded accordingly.”
The latest incursion came after China published judicial guidelines Friday that included the death penalty for “particularly serious” cases of “diehard” supporters of Taiwanese independence, state media reported.
On May 25, Taiwan detected 62 Chinese military aircraft around the island in a 24-hour window, the highest single-day total this year, as China staged military drills following the inauguration of Lai, who Beijing regards as a “dangerous separatist.”


Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure

Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure
Updated 22 June 2024
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Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure

Russia launches ‘massive’ attack on Ukraine power infrastructure
  • More than two years into the conflict, targeted missile and drone attacks have crippled Ukraine’s electricity generation capacity

KYIV: Ukraine on Saturday said Russia had launched a “massive” overnight attack on energy infrastructure in the country’s west and south.
“Equipment at (operator) Ukrenergo facilities in Zaporizhzhia and Lviv regions was damaged,” the energy ministry said, adding that two employees were wounded and hospitalized in Zaporizhzhia.
It said this was “the eighth massive, combined attack on energy infrastructure facilities” in the past three months.
More than two years into the Russian invasion, targeted missile and drone attacks have crippled Ukraine’s electricity generation capacity and forced Kyiv to impose blackouts and import supplies from the European Union.
Ukrainian authorities on Thursday said energy infrastructure, including a power station, had been damaged in a major overnight attack which left seven employees wounded.
DTEK, the largest private energy company in Ukraine, said the strikes caused “serious damage” at one of its plants.
Russian attacks have destroyed half of Ukraine’s energy capacity, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Zelensky said this week that all hospitals and schools in Ukraine must be equipped with solar panels “as soon as possible.”
“We are doing everything to ensure that Russian attempts to blackmail us on heat and electricity fail,” he said Thursday.
DTEK chief executive Maxim Timchenko warned that Ukraine “faces a serious crisis this winter” if the country’s Western allies do not provide military aid to defend the energy network.
Zelensky has repeatedly urged Ukraine’s allies to send more air-defense systems to protect the country’s vital infrastructure.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that Washington would prioritize deliveries of anti-air missiles to Kyiv, ahead of other countries that have placed orders.
Zelensky said in a message on X he was “deeply grateful” for the US move.
“These additional air defense capabilities will protect Ukrainian cities and civilians,” he wrote.


No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN
Updated 22 June 2024
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No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN

No Afghan ‘reintegration’ without progress on rights — UN
  • Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation
  • Taliban’s edicts on women’s freedoms have been described by United Nations as “gender apartheid“

United Nations, United States: Restrictions on women’s rights continue to prevent Afghanistan’s “reintegration” into the international community, a senior UN official said Friday, adding that the Taliban’s participation in upcoming talks in Doha was not a legitimization of the isolated government.
Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation and apply a rigorous interpretation of Islam, leading to a suppression of women’s freedoms that the United Nations has described as “gender apartheid.”
Restrictions on women and girls, particularly in education, “deprive the country of vital human capital” and lead to a brain drain that undermines the impoverished country’s future, Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN mission in the country, UNAMA, told the Security Council.
“By being deeply unpopular (the restrictions) undermine the de facto authorities’ claims to legitimacy,” she said.
“And they continue to block diplomatic solutions that would lead to Afghanistan’s reintegration into the international community.”
Last year marked the start of a process in Doha to consider strengthening the world community’s engagement with Afghanistan.
The first Doha talks included foreign special envoys to Afghanistan under the aegis of the United Nations, and in the presence of the country’s civil society, including women.
The Taliban had been excluded from the opening talks and refused to take part in the second round if other representatives from the country were involved.
The third round of talks is set for June 30 and July 1 in Doha, and the Taliban has given assurances it will attend.
“For this process to truly begin, it is essential that the de facto authorities participate at Doha,” Otunbayeva said, warning however that high expectations “cannot realistically be met in a single meeting.”
“It cannot be repeated enough that this sort of engagement is not legitimization or normalization,” she stressed.
Responding to criticism over the absence of Afghan civil society representatives, notably women, at the talks that include the Taliban, Otunbayeva said those groups would be present in Doha for a separate meeting on July 2.
“This is what is possible today,” she said.
Afghanistan’s UN ambassador Naseer Ahmad Faiq, who still represents the government that preceded the Taliban’s rise to power, called the absence of civil society and women at the table in Doha “disappointing.”
He also expressed concern the agenda does not include discussions on the political process and human rights in Afghanistan, saying “this will be perceived as a shift away from issues deemed essential to the people of Afghanistan.”


New Delhi in touch with family of Indian suspect in Sikh murder plot in US

New Delhi in touch with family of Indian suspect in Sikh murder plot in US
Updated 22 June 2024
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New Delhi in touch with family of Indian suspect in Sikh murder plot in US

New Delhi in touch with family of Indian suspect in Sikh murder plot in US
  • Nikhil Gupta was extradited to United States this month after his arrest in Prague last year
  • Gupta is accused by US of unsuccessfully plotting with Indian official to kill a US citizen

NEW DELHI: New Delhi is in touch with the family of an Indian man who is accused of plotting with an Indian government official to kill a Sikh separatist in the United States, the foreign ministry said on Friday in reaction to a Reuters report.
Nikhil Gupta, extradited to the United States this month after his arrest in Prague last year, has been accused by US federal prosecutors of unsuccessfully plotting with an Indian official to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US citizen.
Gupta, 52, pleaded not guilty on Monday to murder-for-hire conspiracy charges in a court in Manhattan and a source close to his family told Reuters on Thursday that it wanted New Delhi’s help to “get justice.”
“We have so far not received any request for consular access from Gupta, but his family has got in touch with us,” Indian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal told reporters. “We are in touch with the family members and we are looking at the matter as to what can be done on their request.”
The US government has said it thwarted the alleged plot to kill Pannun and warned India about concerns of its involvement.
India has designated Pannun an “individual terrorist” but has dissociated itself from the plot, saying it goes against government policy. Pannun advocates for a sovereign Sikh state in northern India.
The source, who declined to be named given the sensitive nature of a case that has diplomatic implications, had said Gupta’s family has not been able to establish direct contact with him since his extradition.
“Regardless of the allegations raised against him, he is an Indian citizen and a patriot who deserves the rights and protections granted by the government to its citizens.”
The source said the family believed Gupta “is a victim in this series of events” but that “he will get justice.”