Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Backyard Special 'Garam Masala'


As I sat today sifting through the pages of my food memories, a very peculiar leaf brought a smile to my face as the whole scene written on that page danced before my eyes. The brightness of the day, the wide expanse of the backyard(so it seemed to my little eyes at that time) of our paternal house, that custom made cemented water tank with its heavy iron lid, a green patch running along the width of the backyard and our all-purpose foldable cot - all of which  may seem very insignificant but added up to make a beautiful cherished memory. Oh yes, and there was that swing too which was the last entrant in the backyard. It was very intelligently designed by our father. The inverted 'V' on both the sides and the top horizontal bar were made up of old poles of TV antennas of the olden times. Two iron hooks on the horizontal bar held four chains and the loose ends of the chains had smaller hooks which held the grooves of the cane seat.

I think I have mentioned many times through my stories that the Sun in all its glory was highly valued, almost revered by our mother. Her daily routine would begin much earlier than the first rays of the Sun to gladly receive them. Her activities in and around the house remained in close tandem with the trajectory of the sun as it crossed our backyard. Though it was never specified explicitly but It was almost sacrilegious to be sitting in the rooms in artificial light when natural light was abundantly available outside. I think, all through the school years, especially till 10th class, I have studied in the backyard during the daytime. It was only in higher classes, when I sought complete isolation while studying, that I started sitting in a closed room even during the day.

Here I would like to mention the role that the backyard played in our lives as we were growing up. It was a very significant extension of our house which happened to be open. The doors that opened up into the backyard were never bolted, and were often kept wide open to facilitate the ease of movement in and out. Now that I am writing about it, I think this small practice made all the difference in seamlessly integrating the open space into the covered portion of the house.

In summers, the days would begin very early in our home. It was almost a ritual to go out in the backyard as soon as one left the bed in the morning. Reading newspaper, having the morning tea, cleaning and chopping vegetables, running the washing machine in a corner, studying or just lazing around - that area would silently witness all. As the day progressed and the heat intensified, the cool confines of the covered region gave refuge to us. But with sun going down at dusk, the activities in and around the backyard increased again, almost compensating for the time lost because of blazing heat.
In winters, however, the routine almost reversed, chilly mornings and evenings were spent indoors but the golden sun was diligently chased as soon as its rays made their appearance in the backyard.

How can I miss mentioning one very significant aspect of mother's routine? I have grown up seeing two big copper plates (thaali) in our kitchen. The bigger  out of the two had raised edges while the smaller one was a flat plate. They were taken out when some spices, vegetables, grains and similar such  were to be handpicked or  dried in sun. In fact, almost invariably one or both of them would be out for one thing or the other. In the scene that is photographically engraved in my memory, I clearly see those plates with some contents lying on the lid of the cemented water tank, although their position kept changing, following the path of sunrays in the backyard. From time to time mother would buy whole spices for Punjabi garam masala. The same were  first diligently handpicked, spread on those plates for sunning and then taken to the nearest flour mill for grinding. Somehow those plates with a variety of contents in them very subtly contributed to making - that backyard a well inhabited place and our house a home.

Even as I set up my own home after marriage, I never used the store bought garam masala as mother would plan to keep it ready for me to take along during every visit. This continued till the last year that she graced us with her presence. I have started using store bought garam masala and sometimes I prepare it at home too but for me, garam masala means much more than the final garnish on a cooked dish.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Sharing Peanuts

Memories of childhood always bring a whiff of nostalgia with them. There is something, rather many things about that phase which make it so very special. As we keep moving away from that time, the past  picture keeps getting better and better, isn't it? I consider it a zooming-out effect which brings out the essence of the complete perspective. 
We often tend to go back to some of those disjointed flashes from the past to relive the soul of the bygone time. Whenever they surface, they invariably manage to bring an innocent smile to our face.

We had a small traditional tandoor in our house which our father got made on order. I think it was made using the body of an old cylindrical drum which had its own lid too. It was a functional tandoor and at least once in a month, usually on a Sunday, tandoori rotis were made to go along with dal-makhani. As far as I remember, it was not a trivial activity. Cleaning the tandoor, preparing it, heating it up sufficiently for the rotis - all this itself would take some considerable time before actual roti making action. After its use, it was allowed to cool down, cleaned properly and secured with the lid.

I am not sure how and when but some years down the line, the usage of tandoor became less frequent. I think it was the time when father got posted to another city. It was later given away to somebody but strangely its lid was retained. I think it was a very smart move as that lid in its upside down avatar, naturally became a serving plate for the birds. Mostly house sparrows, mainas, crows and red vented bulbuls used to visit our home. Out of these the house sparrows were the most frequent ones and often came in large numbers. Those were the times when house sparrows were easily seen in the city. Mother would keep some bajra seeds, bits and pieces of the first roti that was cooked every day and any left over roti or rice in that plate, along with water in a deep terracotta pot - for the birds to feast on. I remember every day, early in the morning, while tidying up the house and the backyard, mother would clean up that plate and the water bowl and would refill both with fresh supplies.

During summers, early morning was the time when the sparrows would visit looking for their first meal of the day, in good numbers. Their chirping, altercations and bantering were a part of the background noise in our home. Their numbers would dwindle as the day became hotter. The pattern reversed in winters. House sparrows would come solo, in pairs, and in groups when sun brought some respite from the chill.

I carry one particular memory of those winter afternoons. Natural light, fresh air and winter sun are perhaps a few things out of many which were highly valued by mother. She always encouraged us to sit and study in the backyard to make the most of these three. After returning home from school during those winter days, we were served food outside on the foldable cot. While basking in the warmth of the sun, we would indulge in the last course of  any winter meal - roasted peanuts and gazak. Many birds, especially house sparrows used to pay us a visit during that time and we would gently flick some peanuts to their side too though cautiously, trying not to scare them away. It was a sheer delight to watch them feast on those peanuts and I must admit a little bit of sense of individual achievement that they ate what one offered. While writing this I can very vividly see that scene in front of my eyes where we all ate peanuts together. Years passed in almost fast forward manner, I moved out of the parental house first for my masters and then to build a separate abode after marriage. On every visit to that house, I couldn't help notice lesser and lesser sparrows coming to the backyard for food. They were fast getting pushed away by the bigger and stronger mainas.

House sparrows were tiny little birds, females had pale brown and grey coats while males had brighter black, white and brown markings. They were very shy birds. Sadly, they have become extinct in our city now. I miss them, because their chirpiness and their companionship are an integral part of my childhood memories. They remain the loveable background sound, in fact, music in my reminiscences.
We do have feathered visitors in our new house here too. After searching online for their name, I came to know that they are Jungle Babblers. They are bigger, brown coated birds with long tails and they chirp loudly. I scatter bread crumbs, leftover rice and pieces of first chapatti of the day for them on the backyard wall. They also visit in groups to eat and then fly away together. They are much stronger and fearless, rather aggressive than my old feathered friends. I like feeding them but I miss the little ones dearly, more so in winters when I eat peanuts.

Dear sparrows, this is my tribute to you. You will always have a special place in my memories. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Soul-less Bread Butter


I was in the second year of my under-grad. It was the last Friday of the first month of that year. The college day was about to end, just one more lecture was to be attended. I was about to reach the designated lecture hall with my batchmates, when all of a sudden I decided to skip that class and to go home. My friends were quite surprised because there was no reason to not attend that class that day. We were just 20 odd girls in the non-medical section and if and whenever we decided to bunk a lecture, we would preferably do it together and would even inform the lecturer about our absence. Somehow that day it was different and it still is a mystery to me why I decided to head home.

I reached home and saw my mother coming out from the main entrance as if she was expecting to meet me outside. I was on my two-wheeler mobike. She asked me to go to the post office and send a telegram to my paternal auntie who lived in Karnal at that time, requesting her to come immediately. Those were the times when phones were not omnipresent. Auntie often used to visit us and would stay with us for longer durations too. Her presence used to uplift the mood of everyone at home. My father was not keeping well for some days and it was getting very depressing at home. That was the year when only I was at home with my parents. My eldest sister was married, my brother had taken up his first job in the capital city and my second sister was away studying in another city.

I went inside, kept my college bag and saw my father breathing a little heavily though he was sleeping peacefully. He was on a high dose of medicine for the past couple of weeks and that could have triggered this irregular breathing - we  rationalized and did not feel right to disturb his sleep. I went to the post office and returned back in about half an hour. I saw my mother standing at the gate as if desperately waiting for me to come back. We rushed inside and on seeing father's condition, it was clear that something was seriously wrong. The events that followed are just a haze in my mind. Our tenants who were on the first floor of our house came first, followed by some neighbours; a doctor was called; my eldest sister and her family came; our living room was cleared out and sitting arrangement was done on the floor; our entrance was thrown open as more people had started pouring in and many more were expected through the night. 

Just like that, a person had become a body.

I experienced a strange type of dichotomy surrounding myself then - time was dragging slowly but things were happening at a strange pace; mind was numb but a lot of noise in the mind didn't cease to pause even for a moment; there was deathly silence in the atmosphere but people around were engaged in various tasks. By midnight, our house was full of friends, relatives and acquaintances. There was a constant supply of tea and eatables for them from the homes in our neighbourhood. I came to know that day that until the body is cremated, the kitchen fire cannot be lit. Night gradually merged into dawn and somebody brought bread and Amul butter from the nearby Verka booth. I don't know who, but someone opened the packets and started smearing un-melted cold butter on raw un-toasted bread slices while another started passing them around for all to take a few. The serving plate reached me. I did not have any appetite so I declined but I was almost forced to pick one up by the well meaning individual who was serving them. I had not had this kind of breakfast ever in my life until then. The first morsel of it felt as if I was trying to push a  hard something down my throat and it was being resisted by a big lump in the throat which was obstructing the passageway. That day the dryness, the coldness and the drabness of that bread slice left a lasting imprint on my senses in many different ways.
Bread-butter combination remains the coldest breakfast option for me, no matter how much I try to partake it just off the stove. Somehow the memories of that morning come rushing back to me. The same bread-butter paid another visit to us a few years back when we bid adieu to our mother. It was almost like déjà vu to me that day, my whole being including the senses already knew that day and that breakfast option.

The coldness that fissures of heart bring about overpowers everything else.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

'Bread Pakora' Test

I wonder how we learn to understand our natural instincts and insecurities, which often, naturally get tamed or taper down, as we progress adding years to our lives. In our home - being a picky eater or openly expressing displeasure for any particular food item - were categorically disapproved. However, fondness for some and distaste for other dishes existed nonetheless. I remember not being very enthused about any dish which had chana dal or chana besan in it, whether it was Punjabi kadhi, chana dal, vegetable pakoras or bread pakoras. 

It is quite ironical though, that I derive a special pleasure in cooking Punjabi Kadhi and vegetable pakoras now. I truly believe that making the perfect Kadhi and vegetable pakoras is nothing less than an art and an expression of pure love for cooking. 
 
While usual breakfast options at home, during school days, were either some stuffed parantha, missi roti or similar such. Sundays and holidays were a little special and different. This was simply because we had more time to indulge in some fancy dish in the morning. Variety of breads and bread preparations were not very common when we were growing up, especially in our home. While I enjoyed all the bread preparations that our mother would prepare, bread pakora was the only one that bothered me immensely. That was not the case with my siblings but I just managed to endure the bread pakoras somehow. It was a common practice that our mother would always make a little extra breakfast so that if anybody felt hungry again before the next meal, there was something handy to satiate that mild hunger pang.
 
Our mother did her under-grad in Mathematics from a Government college in Delhi where one of her professors was this young girl who had just finished her own education. Many years passed, our parents got married and established their home at Chandigarh where my father was posted at that time. It was at the local bus stand while waiting for her bus, my mother met the same professor and they both recognised each other instantly. The bond which was at a very nascent stage during the college days as a teacher and a taught, started developing and flourishing. She had a son who was younger to me by a year and I was the youngest in our family.
 
I was in one of the primary classes. It was one of the days during our school summer holidays when we had bread pakoras for our breakfast and the day was progressing like any uneventful day. At around noon, our door bell rang and we had visitors - professor aunty and her son. By then they were frequent visitors at our place. I must mention here that aunty had an impeccable taste in her crisp cotton sarees that she draped to college. Whenever she came directly from college, she would be nothing less than a sight to behold. She also had an excellent gift of gab and always had an inexhaustible reservoir of stories to narrate about her students, her co-teachers and their respective families, college politics, her own extended family which stayed in Punjab and much more. Even though we had never met any of her acquaintances ever, yet we knew so much about each one of them, all thanks to her superlative skill of describing things in detail, inciting interest in her listeners. Whenever she came to our home, she would invariably stay over for the upcoming meal of the day, which was sandwiched between a couple of sessions of tea and snacks. I think she was rather proud of her inability to cook delicious food and complimented her ex-student profusely on how well she cooked simple dishes yet filled with flavour and taste. She had no qualms in accepting that cooking was a chore for her, which somehow had to be carried out. 
 
That day, it was a little different. She had come to drop her son off for a few hours at our place as she had a meeting in the college which she could not afford to miss. After about half an hour or so, my mother reheated the bread pakoras and served them to all of us including professor aunty’s son. While we were still warming up to the idea of picking a piece to put in our respective plates, the young guest wasted no time and gulped almost five of those pakora pieces down his throat. It was only when the last one was left that we realised that all the others had been polished off by the little one. My elder siblings were amused by the display of his innocence and how comfortably he ate at our home but I was a different story altogether. I almost threw a fit in the kitchen where mother was preparing lunch. I was angry and was almost in tears. And what was my grouse? Why didn’t mother keep some bread pakoras for me separately because as it was I had had very little in the morning, so I had the right to have some kept exclusively for me. Strange, isn’t it? Given that I hardly enjoyed eating bread pakoras …. never had more than the bare minimum of this dish whenever it was served and never bothered to pick one even when it was served again for everyone - what was all this grievance about? I do not remember the details of how mother pacified me but the memory of my reaction has stayed fresh in my mind to this date. It took me many years of maturity to understand that this is the natural instinct of possessing things, even when they are not required. This instinct is quite commonly and openly seen in children but sometimes the same continues into adulthood too. It is for us to check whether it is just to satisfy this ownership impulse behind any action or is there some real meaning for doing the same. For me, I try to run my thoughts and actions through my ‘bread-pakora test’, to course correct in case required. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Say Yes to 'Garlic Bread'

When I look back I feel it was during the under-grad time in college that I started acknowledging and understanding my own preferences, anxieties and of course my idiosyncrasies too. Incidentally this period also became 'the first' for many things and one of those was self-imposed discipline of rules and regulations for myself. Somehow during this time I got really impressed by the idea of four ashrams of a human life that our ancient sages and seers had propounded. My mind conceived a certain image of an ideal student as a seeker of knowledge who must - abstain from all pleasures of life, lead a simple ascetic kind of life and concentrate on learning and enhancing knowledge. On the practical level, I deliberately restricted the number of dresses that I wore to college to less than a double digit and the same were invariably in dull pastel shades. During the exams my attire had to be white only. This self created regimen befitting a student life was just not restricted to the apparel; I tried my best to keep the rest of the lifestyle justifying that stage of life. I started considering it a virtue to alienate myself from anything 'new', 'current', 'in vogue' or 'in trend' whether it was a latest movie, a different cuisine, any branded item, well, you get an idea…

While I was preparing for certain entrance examinations during the final year of my under-grad, I started reading various monthly/fortnightly magazines dedicated to current affairs, regularly. One of them was Competition Success Review. It was pretty readable, covered detailed stories on significant current events, had some success stories to motivate aspiring candidates for UPSC and carried some sample papers of different competition exams. There was another magazine - Competition Master, which was a little expensive but had better paper quality.

I continued the habit of reading some interesting articles and success stories from these magazines during the years of my masters degree although I could not follow them very regularly. During the last semester, in one of the issues of CSR, I happened to see an advertisement for an essay competition. I think from very early on, I somehow got this notion that I could write and I should write. Though I never wrote anything, yet the idea of writing always fascinated me. Perhaps that advertisement did the trick and I compiled an essay on the given topic and sent it to the specified address.

Penultimate semester is actually the last one in the college because the last semester is training in a company. So the last semester in the college and hostel is supposed to be a little busy time with campus placements happening almost every week along with regular coursework of that sem. And to top it all, the feeling starts sinking in that the student life, the college and hostel time - all are going to end soon. As is expected in such situations, I completely forgot about my entry in that essay competition. Semester finally ended, we parted ways assuring each other that we would keep meeting and would stay in touch always. Training period began and once again I found myself in a state where I was trying to learn the ropes in a completely new setting - a company environment. Thankfully I was doing this training in my hometown so the comfort of home and mother's care were there to lend a soothing balm to my anxious nerves. Once during that time I was passing through our local market, when a very young looking girl stopped me and asked me if I was that Vibha who had won CSR's competition. By then the essay and the competition had completely faded out of my memory. I think I reacted very dumbly to her excitement and she must have considered me a totally lost person. After putting considerable stress on my mind, I recalled the essay competition and went to the nearby bookstore to buy latest issue of the CSR magazine. Sure enough, my essay was adjudged the best in the category and my passport size photograph was staring at me along with my write-up.

The following week, I received the same information by post and was invited to participate in the second round of competitions which was supposed to be held in the capital city. The event was spread over three days with various rounds of - quizzes, group discussions, interviews and a finale which was supposed to be a big event at a prestigious venue with many bigwigs gracing the event. The night before the finale I came to know that my name was in the top three female contestants who were to appear for a spotlight round on stage in front of the huge audience. Can I just say - I was nervous because there is no way I can explain the number and type of butterflies that I had in my stomach that day when my name was called out for the spotlight round. None other than the famous Derek O’Brien (in his previous avatar) was the quiz host of that round. It was a rapid fire round in which we were supposed to answer as many questions as possible in 30 seconds. I answered the first five questions correctly and then he began the sixth question thus - 'In a garlic bread…' I did not let him complete the question and shot back 'pass'. As was expected, the audience laughed and then Derek completed the question - '…, what is it that gives the garlic flavour?' I did not have any time to curse myself for passing that straight forward question but there, at that very moment, I realised that it was a clear outcome of my (closed)mindset - anything new or trendy needed to be shunned as it went against the image that my mind approved of.  And I think there was a certain degree of pride that I had started taking in how I remained true to my ideals. Needless to say whenever there is any mention of garlic bread since then, the memory of that evening resurfaces. More importantly, that episode taught me a great lesson to be aware and course correct when the mind inadvertently approves or disapproves a certain thing even before giving it a fair chance to express itself.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

For it to be a "Kofta Curry" day...

There are days that get etched on our mental surface through some very strange associations. It did take me a while to realise that in my mind there is a distinct nomenclature of some days by food items that somehow got coupled with the circumstances or moods of those days. For instance there are kofta curry days and bread-butter days while there are times which bring back the memories of the settings of my first vegetable manchurian day or that dahi-bhalla day. If I am not able to make myself clear by this brief introduction, don’t fret, here I am bringing a sample through one of my dear ones - the Kofta curry day.
 
It had been extremely muggy the whole day. In fact, for past many days, a blanket of dust had covered the sky not letting any of its hues to even peep through, what to talk of the sun. It was as if the sun never had any shine of its own, rather it appeared nothing more than a pale straw-coloured ball painted on a dull background. Its arrival and exit could only be felt through the day break and nightfall but its signatory brightness was nowhere to be seen. Well, sometimes a little child’s antics do manage to dupe the audience into believing that the gathering of Nobel laureates is indeed for his tricks. Likewise, the thick brownish grey spread was enjoying its spell, for a little extended period then as if testing the patience of mere mortals like us. Every summer, this does happen at least once, if not more. These are the times when heat actually becomes unbearable and the days seem to drag laboriously sucking every single ounce of energy and vigour that it spots anywhere. People can be heard talking about the weather and respite is sought desperately by everyone - animate or even inanimate perhaps. 
 
It was the month of June and a brand new academic session had just begun. I was still trying to get into the rhythm of the college routine after having spent almost the entire life up till then as a school student. For twelve of seventeen years of my life, I had belonged to the same educational institution. All of a sudden, it was hard to call this new place my own. So many things had changed in such a short span of time. To name just a miniscule of the almost unending list - comfort of the same uniform, same red brick walls, the arc shaped board on which the name of the school was engraved, the same school bus and the same bus driver who had been a silent witness to many batches crossing various thresholds of growing up - all just disappeared with the last day of the school. No wonder, I was feeling like a complete alien in the new surroundings as a small fish does in a big pond away from her own people.
 
The final bell rang indicating the end of another college day. It was a long day as the regular lectures were followed by a Chemistry lab session. Mixing some chemicals as instructed, checking the odour and colour of the resultant and measuring the final quantity - everything was done and the observations were recorded in the oversized practical notebook. Lab coats were off and packed in the bags. I headed towards my Atlas bicycle waving adieu to my peers some of whom were already near the college exit gate and a few were walking towards their respective bikes and scooters/scootys.
 
I had hardly reached the first turn about 200m away from the college gate, when the sullen silence that was ominously hanging in the environment gave way to loud rumbling of clouds. Almost magically, the scene got a complete makeover as if the sky was trying to cast away the thick blanket of dust with vengeance. In no time, it started to rain. Well, calling that thing ‘rain’, is a gross understatement. It was a downpour which seemed like the heavens above were incessantly spilling buckets and buckets of water over. There was no option of going back to the college, nor did I consider it even once. Riding fast in that rain to reach home as soon as possible, was the only possibility that I was focused on.
 
What a scene it was, nothing that I had experienced ever before, nor was there any chance of experiencing something like that earlier. Anytime outside home, it was the cocoon like protection of the school and of the school bus that kept me shielded from coming face to face with any of the elements directly and for such an extended period. Or was it something else at work that day?
I guess, I know now, it was the first ever - unhindered, unobstructed and unadulterated one-on-one with the rain that day and what an experience that was. In a very short stretch of distance I was drenched, no, I was soaked to the bone. And when that happened, almost instantly it liberated me in a very mysterious way. I stopped trying to cover myself from what was coming on to me. The head which had naturally bent down to reduce the impact of the showers, automatically turned up. Somehow, it dawned on me that what was coming to me was meant for me and I got ready to take it as it is - in its complete entirety and its regal opulence. Though it didn’t seem like a deep learning at that time but having lived such days many times after that, I know that it is indeed a very significant learning. Rather than concentrating on how to avert the situation, I was starting to enjoy channelizing my energy towards soaking in what those moments were offering to me. At that time, my whole being rejoiced in that feeling and the rest of the distance got covered just in a blur.
 
I parked my bicycle on its stand and rang the door bell. My mother opened the door with worried look on her face seeing my dripping condition but she was amused to see that her expressions were answered by a wide smile dancing on my face. I was shivering badly and immediately changed into dry clothes. I opened my tightly braided tresses and dried them with the towel. By then my lunch was already laid out on a newspaper spread on the bed where my father and my eldest sister were sitting with the bedroom window open. Clearly they were sitting and chatting there for quite some time and were enjoying the respite the change in the weather had brought. I was surprised to see father relaxing at home at that time of the day as it was a regular office day. I later came to know that he had taken half day off to attend to some bank work. I think by then I had understood one thing about myself. My spirits generally soared seeing happy and lively talk at home. I was already basking in the delight that the new understanding on the road had brought to me and the scene at home simply added to my cheerfulness.

Mother had served kofta curry with white rice which was not a classic combination. Usually kofta curry was served with chapatti but I have been a rice lover and seeing steaming hot rice in front of me just gladdened my heart to no end. Seemingly nothing was special or extraordinary, yet everything was just right the way they were and little did I know at that time that the same would become memorable for eternity. Many decades have passed since then and there have been some times over these years which have qualified to be similar to that kofta-curry day. It is any day when one gets to marvel at the simple joys of life which become extraordinary in their own unique way.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Mouthpiece #68

Grateful to be back...
I have been very irregular with my newsletter in 2018 and regularity is one thing that I had seriously committed to (to myself) when I began writing my mouthpiece every fortnight. I think I had become a part of a nice rhythm when the mind would start working on the idea for the upcoming mouthpiece and a week prior to posting it, I would start composing my thoughts into something coherent. After many months of having left it, I was going through some of the pieces last week and I could actually go back to the state in which those were written. I could still feel the pleasure I derived while writing some. Though a long time has passed since I last posted anything on this platform, I would like to resume this routine once again while reverently bowing down to the uncertainties in life.

continue here...

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Mouthpiece #63

For the clinking-clanking love...
(Alert: it is a long one, please bear with me)
I don’t know how it came to me but it did one day. I think I can even remember the precise moment when it happened. While I have been at the receiving end of the joy it was bringing to me every single time but this was the moment when I acknowledged it and decided to write about it. I think now I know how it feels to be deeply in love. I wonder why did not I think about it earlier, but I guess, nature has its own plan of sending things one’s way. I very humbly accept it and thank the cosmos (the kaaynaat) for letting me bask in this fuzzy feeling which, I think, is definitely a little more than just love.

Without further ado, let me just plunge into divulging the mysterious ‘it’ - it is my adoration and fondness for the unsung heroes in any kitchen - the pots and pans, the friers and cookers, the scoopers and servers, the spatulas and turners, the griddles and skillets, the cutters and knives, the blenders and mixers… oh, the list is just so long.

Why, unsung heroes because we talk, hear and make a lot of fuss about what to cook, how to cook, which ingredients to choose, how to ensure quality and taste all along, but never give the ones who actually make cooking possible, their due.
So my dear companions in kitchen, I am feeling extremely happy to be expressing my gratitude for you today through this platform.

Well it began with the basic stainless-steel kitchen set that I began my journey in kitchen with. It had all the basic components from cooking utensils to serving dishes, plates, spoons and forks. Looking back at that time from now, I can say that working with familiar sonorous sound of steel utensils in the foreign land did play some role in making me feel comfortable in the new kitchen. Inaugurating the brand new metallic utensils with some sweet dish to mark beginning of their life with me, was a small ritual that I liked following at that time. Though the set had very limited number of pieces but it was quite sufficient to cook a decent meal and to even serve some guests.

My mother played a significant role in increasing my kitchen possessions. On every visit back home, she would have kept something to grace my kitchen even further. From new stylish stainless steel glasses, big thalis with raised edges, futura anodized cooker, sets of dibbas for pinnis/snacks to spatulas of different sizes, shapes and styles - she would keep one thing or the other ready along with innumerable other gifts to be packed with me while going back. My kitchen kept getting richer and richer and I enjoyed working with new utensils experimenting to my heart’s content. I think it was in Banaglore that I started developing a soft corner for tea cups and the sight of bright coloured, fancy, quirky tea cups started alluring me into buying some of them. Well, this softness did not remain restricted to tea cups only, it swelled and gradually engulfed many other items too.

Just the other day I was going through my prized possessions and realised that I actually have 9 kadaahis (pans). Dear readers, before you question my sanity, I can explain. There is one big iron one which I take out to make methi-aloo, kala-chana for the ashtami puja and for that lip smacking ajwain-waale-small-potatoes. How can I cook these three in any other kadaahi because that richness of colour can only be lent by an iron utensil. Moving on to three aluminium kadaahis of three different sizes. These were gifted by mummy from time to time and come very handy for all kinds of tadkas, dry sabzis, halwas, panjiris, and in fact, almost anything that needs steam cooking but not pressure cooking. There is one specific kadaahi for deep frying and using any other kadaahi for this purpose is almost sacrilegious. So I have already explained the reason behind the existence of 5. There are two small ones, one with lid and other without. The lidded one is typically used for keeping the leftover liquid-subzis because I prefer to reheat them on the gas-top. The other small one is to fit in where nothing else works like making ghee out of butter, small quantity of tadka for dal or for making manchurian etc. There is one super big kadaahi which sees the light of the day when besan-ki-pinni, gajar-ka-halwa or gobhi-gajar-shalgum pickle is to be made or even for cooking hakka noodles. It is wide mouthed and allows more surface area to work on. Okay, now for the last one which is my recent prized possession. This one is the latest addition in my kitchen which I purchased two years back and it is non-stick kadaahi. I like to handle it very gently for the sabzis which need just tender steam and not too much frying and scraping of the surface.

Coming to spatulas and turners, I would not bore you with the number of them that I have but there is good enough reason for each one of them to be present inside my kitchen cabinet. One cannot just work in a big kadaahi or pan with a small serving spoon, or serve with long handle-spatulas. There needs to be a specific one for a specific task - big scooper kinds for cooking gravy-sabzis, flatter ones for lifting and turning dry-sabzis, turners of different kinds for tawas and griddles, specific ones for deep frying, wooden spatulas for non-stick pans and pots - you get the point, right?

And cookers, let me just tell you that I have five of them and no, no one can replace any other. They are there because they are very much needed and used. The latest being the new Prestige cooker which is a delight to work with. I think I did mention it a few times at home how I have fallen in love with this cooker. I like the safety valve of it which actually starts dancing when the steam is building up inside. The cute podgy whistle sits prettily on the top. Another good part is that this cooker comes with a glass lid too, so the cooker can be used as serving bowl when the cooking is done. I think I have blessed that soul many times who came up with design. May God increase your tribe :)

I think I do get a certain pleasure in taking the right utensil and spatula out once I decide what is to be cooked and this combination is almost fixed for different dishes. It is fixed to such an extent that there is a designated pan for my peels and pips too. No, no, I did not buy it purposely. It came with my OTG, it was actually an iron baking dish but after many years of use, it started showing some signs of wear and tear but I did not want to part with it. So I employed it at another designation. I am sure, it doesn’t feel bad because it has no replacement in this new position. It is the first thing that gets picked up when I start my work in the kitchen every single day with raw ingredients. I think if we just go by the companionship, I think I have the maximum with this pan.

Since last Diwali I have started a new tradition, and to tell you frankly, I have complimented myself many times for coming up with this. I have decided to gift my kitchenmates a new companion every Diwali. It began with a set of microwavable casseroles and last Diwali it was, of course, my Prestige 2l cooker.

My dear kitchen comrades, thank you for being there and for being you. Each one of you is valued and appreciated for adding your unique 'clink’ and 'clank’ to my cooking.

What's new in the kitchen? Crispy Halwa
I was introduced to this dish by my mother-in-law, who is a wonderful cook herself. She knows how to bring out the best flavours with just some very basic ingredients. There are many dishes that I have learnt to cook from her but I think she makes the best crispy halwa. Crispy halwa? It sounds pretty strange isn’t it? The texture and the smart twist that it gives to the regular sooji halwa is just amazing. Since I had never seen her making it, I did not have the confidence of doing justice to it for a very long time. But as I got more comfortable in the kitchen, many things started feeling/appearing more logical. There is a feel that one begins to develop around various ingredients and their unique flavours. One fine day, I just attempted making it and it turned out to be a grand success.

After having made it many times now, I feel making this halwa is even simpler than the regular Suji halwa. Crispy halwa is one-pot dish which does not even require preparation of separate sugar solution. I would say, this is a jazzy and stylish version of the good old halwa and when you have guests over, it surely will earn you some brownie points as a chef.

Ingredients:
Suji: 1 cup
Sugar: 1 cup
Milk: 1 cup
Cardamom: 2 (coarsely ground seeds)
Raisins and almonds: 1 cup
Ghee: ¾ cup

Take suji, sugar and milk in a bowl, mix well and let them rest for 1-2 hours. In a heavy bottomed pan, pour ghee and warm it up. Pour the suji-sugar-milk mixture in the hot ghee and immediately start scarping the bottom of the pan as the mixture tends to stick to the pan. Reduce the flame and keep frying while continuously stirring for partly crispy partly soft feel of the content. It will start leaving the pan gradually. At this time add the cardamom powder and nuts. Serve it hot for that mmm… experience. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Mouthpiece #62

Happy Birthday to you...
Dear Mummy,

It is your 76th birthday today, of which 72 summers you spent in this mortal world. Though you have concluded your worldly journey already, but for us, this day is significant and will remain so till we breathe our last. This message is to update you on what all occurred and happened in our lives since the time you bade us goodbye. Yes, it still feels like a scripted goodbye when we all got just enough time to be together for that one last time - the five of us, who held the fort together when we found ourselves at the receiving end of a visit of death God in our house. It took away with it our big umbrella who was supposed to be protecting and guiding us through all ups and downs of life which had just started to unfold for us. The path was never hurdle free post that but borrowing from your seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of fortitude, we managed to walk continuously - sometimes sprinting while at others just barely dragging our feet. We became your identity and you ours although our individual paths took us all in different directions and to different destinations. We were rather unware of this strong coupling and reliance, nor perhaps was there any reason to register it consciously. Sometimes the absence of something makes one realise the indispensability of the same much more clearly. It is almost like air, we don’t see it but it nurtures us with its life giving nature. Your going away felt like a huge jolt to all of us, so much so that we were almost stunned into complete silence for many months that followed. Disbelief that this could happen to us, extreme grief of the ultimate separation, sad sinking in of the new reality of losing both the parents and unappealing future of walking without you - all of this was too overwhelming, much beyond our capacity to handle. During that unprecedented difficult time, what eventually gave us direction and some semblance of normalcy was your way of handling things - seek refuge from none other than the supreme power and continue dispensing the duties that are expected of us.

God’s benevolent grace was at play once again, as we started experiencing peace in the state of immersing ourselves in more and more work in whichever capacity we could do. This was the period when we all practically got detached from the outer world as a big churning was happening in our insides. I being the youngest can confidently say this on behalf of all my elder siblings because I know and to tell you the truth, I feel, this is an outcome of what all you worked for all your life. Our four different hearts still beat to the same rhythm that you had so lovingly composed and compiled.

We have moved on. We have moved on from the time when we cried our hearts out for losing the unconditional love, care and support to the current times when we are trying to be the one for someone in our lives. If not for many, at least for a few. You have made even this goal seemingly achievable for us because we have seen a live example in our lives in you. You truly epitomised the meaning of unequivocal devotion in your life.

With each passing day, month and year, we admire you even more, for - your divine grace in equally unmatched simplicity, your strength of character in front of formidable hurdles, your wisdom in weeding out complexity from the thoughts, your immense ability to forgive, forget and smile, your poise in choosing to be insignificant while working as a fulcrum, and your unflinching faith that we all are always well taken care of by the divine hand.

You went away with a deep sense of satisfaction that you did what all you could in every phase of life and in every role that you were entrusted with. We wish and hope that we all achieve that state when it is time for us to conclude our journeys. Deep in our hearts we know we have your benign hand on our heads always.

So long.

Hostel Evenings and Break Pakora...
Often some foods get associated with places and people and just the mention of one reminds the other. For me, bread pakora is one classic example which brings back the memories of hostel days. After attending long day of lectures and after having endured non-palatable lunch, evening tea and the accompanying snack were the most sought after and the most delicious offerings of the hostel mess. The snack was either two small cutlets, a bread roll or a bread pakora with potato stuffing. If one was lucky enough to reach there on time, one could even have it right out of the frying pan. By default each person got one helping of the snack but the bonus used to be the extra one which landed up amongst us thanks to those who could not have ‘such an oily’ food. I think bread pakora rose to being one of my favourites only during that time and since then it has retained its position among the most loved snacks.

These days I purposely prepare a little extra aloo parantha filling and save some for the evening bread pakoras.
Here is how to prepare the filling:

Potatoes : 2 (boiled and peeled)
Onions : ½ medium size (finely chopped)
Green chillies : 1 (finely chopped)
Coriander leaves : 2 tbsp (finely chopped)
Ajwain : ¼ tsp
Anardana powder : ¼ tsp (optional)
Garam Masala : ¼ tsp
Red chilli powder : a pinch
Salt : to taste
Mash the potatoes in a big bowl and add all the ingredients to it . Mix the whole thing really nicely so that it forms a smooth and consistent lump of mixture.
Ingredients for the batter
Besan : 1 cup
Water :
MDH chana masala : ½ tsp
Cumin seeds : ½ tsp
Baking soda : a pinch
Salt : to taste
Mustard oil : 4 cups (for deep frying)

Mix all the ingredients really well and keep it aside for 10-15 minutes so that there are no lumps left. The batter should be as thick/thin as idli batter. It should not be runny as it will spread when put in the oil. Now once the batter and the filling are ready, cut the bread slices in half (preferably diagonally because bread pakoras look good in that shape). Spread potato mixture on one slice, cover it with another, press it gently, dip it in the batter and drop it in hot oil. Fry it from both the sides and serve it hot with tamarind and mint chutneys. 


Friday, October 20, 2017

Mouthpiece #61

मन के मोती...
एक पथिक मैं किसी राह की,
एक मुसाफ़िर अपनी ही धुन की |

कूद-फाँद के कभी संभल के,
फ़ूँक-फ़ूँक के या मस्ती में,
रुके नहीं पग थमे नहीं पग,
था भी कहाँ कोई और विकल्प ?
continue here...

For that Glimpse from the Past
(This I wrote for another platform, posting it here…)
Bags were packed, weighed, not once but multiple times. Not more than 24 hours were left for one more journey to begin. In fact, one of the smaller journeys within a bigger journey of life. Where did the last few days fly away, she didn’t realise. Now with a cup of tea in her hand, she could actually feel the frantic pace at which she had been working for the past week or so. Her mind ran through all the lists that she had made as she prepared for her impending journey to meet her children in USA - gifts for each one of her children and grandchildren, her signature delicacies for every family - various sweetmeats (especially besan laddoo), a medley of pickles and what not. Not to forget innumerable things that needed to be taken care of before closing the house for 3-4 months.
continue here...
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