Boori-Masaal

If you are Indian, you’ll probably wonder why this, of all things, deserves a blog post. Well, I’m feeling nostalgic. And when you are feeling nostalgic, there’re very few dishes that will transport you to some part of childhood like this one. For me, its train journeys, as may be evident from the way it is referred to in our house: Station Alu. Puri with potato or Alu Masala was something we got when we were on our oftentimes-longer-than-24-hrs train journey from wherever to our “native place” Kerala. As kids, we rarely ate this combination anywhere else but in trains; at most in those train station restaurants. Mostly because the alternatives (Dosas or Bread-Omelets served with suspect-looking chutneys or ketchups) looked distinctly less attractive, and also because, Puri.

Puri was a family favorite. It was a family tradition – Sunday breakfast was always Puri unless extenuating circumstances (like not being at home because of vacations or social events) prevented its making. But, at home, we always had it with Chole or Rajma. The literally handful of times my folks made Puri with Station Alu, my brother and I frowned and grumbled through the entire meal. Station Alu was a compromise, one we were willing to make in a combination involving Rotis (again, because alternatives. In an effort to make us eat all vegetables, my folks invented some pretty ghastly dishes. For example: there was one thing they called “Red Kootan,” meaning red gravy, that was an unholy  combination of potato, carrot, and beetroot, and optional ingredients, peas and beans). Puri-Chole and Puri-Rajma were sacred combinations, not to be messed with. There are several stories in our family around this combination, including one oft-repeated legend of a 6-year-old me eating 18 Puris and a substantial amount of Chole that my mom had packed for me and my friends, by myself.

IMG_20180118_214213_528

Puri-Station Alu, ahem, Puri-Masala is a more regular component of S’s childhood. While it wasn’t a family tradition like our Sunday breakfasts, it was still one of those special dishes that they looked forward to as kids. He would make what he calls “Puri dogs” and consume them by the ..er..half dozens. Which is a lot if you consider the size of the Puris his mom makes – slightly bigger than your average hotel Puris. He still eats them like that at home actually, because its fun and because why the hell not.

Of course, with all this Puri in her parents blood, there is no way the love of them has escaped A. She is puri tarah se mad about Puris! (See what I did there? Hyuk hyuk) As much as love eating them by the 1.5 dozens, I’m not very fond of making Puris at home. There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is my level of skill at making them. We shall not get into those now. Instead, we shall focus on the fact that I did make Puri-Masala tonight. A ate more than she usual would, because Puri. S enjoyed some Puri dogs inhibitions-free. And I sat sniffling (because unexpectedly spicy green chillies ok!) reliving some memories and thinking this could be a blog post.

Advertisements

When She’s Away

Thunks of toys on the floor;
Sound of her walking on tip-toe;
Conversations with bears and dolls over
Castles with lots of rooms and gardens,
And bedtimes and baths and cherry buns;
Singing, lots of singing,
To herself, to me, to the universe,
Then a bit more for me,
Claps of glee and stomps of anger, a tantrum,
A smile slipping through a frown,
Followed by giggles;
Some dancing to my tunes,
Some to her own;
And a lot more singing,
All of it from the heart.

From Sambaar to Sadya

The first time i cooked, I was in class 8. It was the summer vacation and I had gone to be with my mom in Goa [Aside: My mom worked in Goa for a few years. My brother and I lived in Chennai with my dad and went to Goa during our vacations. They tried very hard to get my mom transferred to Chennai since my dad’s wasn’t a transferable job. But it was in vain, and she had to quit and come back. But that’s a whole other post, maybe even a two-part]. My aunts, my mom’s two sisters, had also come over for a couple of weeks. It was they who decided that it was time I started cooking. And so they taught me to make rice and sambar.

I don’t remember loving it. It was just something that my aunts taught me how to do, like say, sewing a button, or tying shoelaces. And it was not like i cooked on a daily basis after that. There were times where I would cook a dish or two (read rice and dal)…or make (really clumpy) dosas. Once I remember making a mix-veg gawd-awfulness for my brother and his friend who had come over for combined studies, and unwittingly stayed for lunch. I remember making interesting dishes for S.U.P.W* class! Rasgullas, vegetable balls in chilly garlic sauce, and god knows what else. But all those times, I don’t recall any strong emotional connection with the food except that of hunger.

I think I really attempted cooking on my own during my PG. And I was horrible…by which I mean terrible, terrible! And all my friends were wonderful cooks, whipping up delicious meals quickly and effortlessly. I felt like an absolute idiot, and for a time was so conscious of my terrible-ness (terribility?) that i totally refused to cook anything beyond Maggi.

Then, somewhere i got over it. By the time I moved back to Hyd. to work, I was looking forward to having a kitchen of my own to experiment in. And that really is when i started turning out decent, edible dishes. I enjoyed playing with flavors. It helped that I had a willing guinea pig in the form of my flat mate. To my parents’ great amusement, I would call home every once in a while to get my mom’s recipe for Chole or dad’s recipe for fish curry. It was also around this time that I started dreaming of cooking a sadya.

But here is the problem: I hate following recipes (which is just a nice way of saying that i’m too lazy and undisciplined to follow one). Except when I’m baking, i usually never bother actually looking at quantities for the ingredients. Most times, I’ll just skip straight to the method section and figure the ingredients along the way. I’d like to attribute this aversion to one thing I met continuously when i was learning to cook: the damn “salt to taste.” The way I figure, you’re anyway giving me your recommendation for all other spices, so why can’t you for the salt? (And the “preheat oven to 180” is what kept me away from baking for the longest time.)

This random, look-only-at-the-Method-section approach worked fine for most things. But a sadya comprises traditional dishes, which need to taste a certain way. You know what that means: I’d have to follow a recipe. As you can imagine, the thing kept getting “put off till next year,” if you know what i mean. Until, that is, this year. Starting this year, we decided we’re going to celebrate all the festivals at home, because, you know, we wanted Maatu to grow up with memories of these festivals, just like we did. And guess what is a major Malayali festival? And guess what is a big part of this Malayali festival?** Yes, the time had come for me to face the sadya.

The first step was to decide on the menu. Even i knew a 24-dish sadya would be madness (and/or suicide, considering this was my first attempt at a sadya). But still, i decided on an ambitious menu hoping i would at least land on a tree***: parippu, sambar, olan, cabbage thoran, avial, pulinji, maanga curry + rice and curd, and paal paayasam. Of these, i’d only ever made sambar and olan before (not counting parippu, curd and rice, because i would be frauding by counting them).

I started looking up recipes…and let me just tell you, it is scary, like terrifying, how many ways there are for making each of these dishes. How in the hell was I supposed to pick one?! I would read them, and try to imagine the taste, and try to compare that imaginary taste with the memory of the taste of the same dish when made by my mom/my mil. Why didn’t I just ask them, you ask? Because i wanted to do it all on my own (and also because i’m an idiot, but the former reason sounds more grand). When it came to pulinji, i gave up the search and finally asked my mom. I was still reading through recipes on the night before Vishu! But since the ingredients were roughly the same, i had the forethought to cut the vegetables in advance.

Vishu morning, I wake up at 5:30, and after the whole Vishukkani thing, plod into the kitchen. I must have coffee if i don’t want to burn, cut, and scald myself, i decide. While the milk is boiling for the coffee, i figured i’ll just prep – you know, take stock of my surroundings, etc. There’s the turmeric, i’ll need that; the chilli powder, there’s enough, jeera, dhania, am not likely to need but we’ll see, sambar powder, almost finished, salt, i’ll definitely need that “to taste” and yes, suga…wait, what?! sambar powder, nearly over?! Where am i going to go for that now?! its 6:00 am!!! *panic panic* Google search “instant sambar powder” *panic panic while the results load* Edible garden – yeah her recipes are usually simple. Fresh sambar powder recipe. Yes, this sounds do-able. Wait a minute, what’s this – Vishu Sadya Recipes. Oooo. Ummmmm.

Suffice to say, lunch was ready by 9.00 am, and paayasam was ready by 10. Everything tasted good (if i may say so myself). We had loads of leftovers which finally got done only by the weekend. But really, how very satisfying. I had confronted the sadya, and now we were friends. I can finally say that i cook good.

Hope everyone else had a happy happy Vishu too.

 

PS: A very, very special thanks to Nags. I followed your avial (with really minor variations), cabbage thoran and maanga curry recipes. And of course, the instant sambar powder.
And also to S, for cutting vegetables with me at 11:30 pm the night before, and for motivating me like no-one else could have.

[Notes]
*Socially Useful Productive Work. What? You never had it at your school?
**The answers are Vishu, and Sadya, btw.
***Aim for the sky and you will at least get to the top of the tree.

The Call

“Did they call you?” he asked her as she walked towards the desk with her cup of coffee. “They just called me.
“Who?” She asked, perplexed.
“The folks from the bank. They said they’ll be calling you next.”
“Oh!” she said, looking at her mobile phone. One missed call. “Did they want something?” she asked him while dialing the number. *Beep Beep Beep* “The call’s not going through.”
“Don’t worry. They’ll call you back.”
“How did it sound? Did it sound ominous?”
He grinned. “No, not ominous. Just a bit strange. Not what you’d expect.”

 

Just then her phone started ringing. It was the same number. “Hello?” she said, picking up the call.
“Hi. I’m calling from the bank.
“Yes, hi. Sorry I missed your call earlier. I tried calling back, but…”
“That’s alright. I just wanted to inform you that you have been selected.”
“Oh! Thank you.”
“HR will call you with the offer. Hopefully, it will be acceptable, and you will join us.”
“Great! Yes, I think I will.”
“Well, in that case. Welcome to The Bank.”

 

“Well?” he asked her once she’d disconnected the call. “Yes, I agree,” she said, slowly, “Definitely not what you’d expect.”

A Year Ago – Today

It’s been a year – a year of increasing distances, lessening pain, and fading memories. I haven’t gone to the house since the last time I saw you. For the most part, it was you who kept me away. I know that’s a terrible thing to say, but I wish I’d said it before. The house is empty now, and I’m afraid it can’t be filled up again, no matter how many people crowd into it. And so I let the distance grow; didn’t make an effort to come down and see the familiar places and faces – all but one. I couldn’t stand thinking about that “but one,” still can’t.

But here we are, a year later. And still the memory of your tired, worn face is as clear as it was just moments after you went away. No matter how many times I try to replace that face with one where you are smiling your mischievous smile, it just does not work. And I am transported, once more, to the day I saw you for the last time, and realized that there are so many things always left unsaid. So many wishes not granted. So many thoughts that never got put into action…all transforming themselves into a cluster of deep, pointless regrets.

Someone’s role in your life never seems to be more about those insignificant details until you know for sure that those details are not going to be added to. And then, holding on to those same details feel like holding on to a fistful of sand: that always find a way out from between your clenched fingers. And now I’m trying to find that elusive comfort of good memories to wrap around myself, a shield that will protect me when I next meet the one person who felt your abandonment the most, who is stoically waiting now. For time.

In the meantime, so many things have happened. I wonder how many times you wondered about time flying too fast for you to be able to keep up. There’s things I would’ve wanted you to be part of this past year, things I would’ve told you just to get your opinion on it, and things that would have made you laugh and playfully hit me or scold me. There’s also things I wouldn’t have told you in words but would have discussed with you at length in my mind, knowing that if you knew, you would soothe my worries and anxiety, and take them on yourself.

It’s been a year, and not all of the pain has gone. And though I’ve never told you this before, I miss you.