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.

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