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.

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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.

Soo…This morning…

(A letter to my hubband)

….after i dropped you and came back, I idled the Scorpio for a bit and then i came up.

I brought in the clothes from the clothesline on the balcony. The washing machine was done so i put the sheets out and then folded all the clothes. Dusted/cleaned the computer table and generally around the house, took out the sheet for Amma-Acha‘s bed, put the pillow covers, went to the kitchen, made semiya upma – which was to be my lunch (although i didn’t pack it immediately. In retrospect, if i had done that, the morning might have gone differently.), K’s breakfast and if there was any leftover, then my breakfast along with a slice of bread. Then i went for my bath. I came out of bath, got dressed. K rang the bell. She was late; i knew she wouldn’t be able to finish everything. Anyway, i went to open the door. That’s when things started to go wrong.

I opened the door and realised that i had forgotten to take the milk inside. I sighed, took the milk and went to the kitchen to wash the packets.…..and i realised that the flame was still on under the semiya upma. I quickly oh fish!-ed and turned it off. I should have smelled it you say. No, i wouldn’t have. In fact, i wouldn’t have for much longer still because before, when i thought i had turned off the stove, i had actually turned it to sim. And (fortunately) i had covered the chatti[1] , so nothing could have happened in terms of damage to the house etc. Not that that makes it ok….and i shall be kicking myself for it for some time to come. Anyway, what did happen was that a lot of the semiya upma got stuck to the bottom. It still didn’t get burnt but it got totally stuck, and therefore irretrievable, sooo, there goes the quantity. So then, i took out my lunch box and put most of the retrieved upma into it and closed it. I told K to take the rest and anything else she could get out of that chatti. I was feeling kinda bad, i offered to make her some more but she said no need etc etc,. She was laughing…at me and well…it was a sympathetic laugh as well. She felt all sorry for me i guess. She said to not worry about her and go do my things. I was still feeling bad but then since there were things to be done, i decide to leave it for the time being.

Then, i thought, “That’s not enough upma for me for lunch so i should supplement it with a slice of bread.” So i went and lifted the plate covering the bread…….and lo and behold! There were ants! Scurrying around!! Enjoying my bread!!! The bread that i so lovingly made just yesterday evening!!! My yummy bread!! Oh noooo! I quickly dusted off the ants, transferred it to another plate and gave the original plates for wash. I also thought, you know, “Lemme shift the bread into the big dabba the poruvalankai [2] is in right now ‘cause anyway that doesn’t need such a big dabba.” I went, looked for, found and brought a smaller dabba for the poruvalankai and opened the big dabba………and lo and behold! There were ants scurrying in this one too!! Man! What was happening to my morning??!!! I dusted off the ants from those also and transferred them to the smaller dabba and chucked that into the fridge. No ants there.

Then, i cut three slices of the bread – 1 for lunch, 2 for breakfast. Two were more than enough since i had a glass of milk too…and those slices are too heavy anyway. Then, i tried to open the lunch box. It was like it was sealed shut! I tried and tried and tried…no luck…i asked K to try…no luck…i tried again…no luck…then i was just tired of it so i left it with K and went to pack thinking “i’ll come back to it later.” and i went about packing…

A few minutes later K came up to me with the opened lunch box. I said thanks and kept it open on the dining table for it to cool down a bit. What do you mean cool down you ask? Well, i’m guessing what happened was that i closed the box when the semiya upma was still too hot…so something about heat, pressure etc, the thing sealed itself. And i thought, just to be on the safer side, i’ll let the upma cool fully, so left it open and i went about packing. In between, i had my breakfast. After i finished my breakfast (packing is more or less done btw), i went and gave my plate to K to wash and told her that we had to leave in 5 minutes. She said ok.

Then i thought, “That’s enough time, i should close my lunch box now.”….something…it slipped out of my hands and all my lunch was on the dining table looking like a semiya upside down cake!!! I scooped it up, put it back into the lunchbox, closed it, went got a kitchen cloth and cleaned up the table yagain (making it the third time i was doing it within the space of like 45 minutes). K was still finishing up, so i ran around closing the balcony doors, then got her to leave and ran around some more, and then finally got out of the house about 3 minutes behind her.

Got into the car and left. Fortunately, the drive up to work was completely without incident.

What is really getting to me though…is that…two weeks…everything went off without a hitch. Even the mornings i thought i was running late and/or behind schedule, i actually wasn’t. And today…the day before Amma is coming back…i mess up like..EVERYthing… Gaah! *Kicks self*

😦 😥

I feel so bad.

[1] Chatti = Wok, Kaddhai
[2] Poruvalankai = A particular sweet made of rice flour, green gram flour and jaggery. Actually I’m not even sure that’s the right spelling. I usually refer to it as the vegetable sweet because it sounds like the name of a vegetable but is actually a sweet.