Monsoon is a time for renewal…. Its a special time. There’s rebirth and renewal of what was once drying under the heavy sun and the smell of wet earth. Its always helped me romanticise the situation around me. Though being in the city takes away from the charm of the small town… With Italy traffickers for kilometers and Delhi particularly runs at a rather languid pace…which ends its night in frustration.
However being in theses traffic lockjams for long leaves me to wander in thought back home. Where with the coming of rain would come the time for lounging and sipping on tea and eating Pakories. The very pastime that I crave in thwarting hustle and bustle of the city.
Nonetheless after a long bath in the rain ofcourse. We used to spend evenings with my grandma. One time comes back as a flash back. After running from puddle to puddle and pillaging every one of them with our shoes we were dried and then the pakories were doing the rounds. We’re basically a foodie family. All thanks to my grandma for being the super cook she is she made food our favourite pastime. We can talk about a lot of food!
Anyway so it always intrigued me how my grandma got into this whole cooking mania. Ance being the smaller of the two ahead was barred from the kitchen. So ahead recounted for ua the very first time she at her hands on cooking.
11 Barrow Road in Lucknow was abreast with energy as children used to be running around playing. But lately the construction that had eaten up half their play area became a fascinating maze for them to jump in and out of. Since the monsoon had set in the walls were left standing and the roofs had not yet begun. So on a clear day the children planned to camp out for the afternoon and boil potatoes and make like the labour which used to work there.
So all of them brought two potatoes each from the kitchens and gathered some wood. After much patient trial and error they got the fire going. On it the potatoes were put to boil in some woe be gone utensil.
The water shimmered and little bubbles formed till it finally came to a boil. So the excitement was slowly itching cresendo. They would soon have potatoes all boiled by themselves. as one says simple pleasures are life true treasures. The simple joy of eating a potato was making the children restless.
Time passed by…but how would one know if the potatoes were done or not? So little Barb. ..aka grandma brought to the able a suggestion. Something she had seen the khansama do q million times…for her it was a triviality. she just ordered a for a twig…and said by poking thwarting potatoes they will know if they ready to eat!
So all of them hurriedly brought a stick each…and poked at the potatoes. After a little while the exercise was repeated with utmost discretion. But alas to no avail. They would have to wait longer before their tummy would be filled.
So once again not giving in they swooped down on the potatoes like vultures after a rather patient wait…after many such attempts…they finally realised to their misfortune that not really was left of the poor potatoes. Except that the utensils looked like a scene front a war zone…very holey and without any promise of recovery at all. Their egos and hopes wee quashed into a pile of nothing…so dejected they went home and lived to tell the tale of the very holey potatoes that they once thought of eating!
Well to tell you to this day my grandma is very particular of boiling potatoes and not once have I ever see her poke at it…maybe lesson well learnt in the early life stayed with her.
So thus ended another story…and well pass the potato Pakories I said!
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So it was the Advent of December…rather busy time in my household and granny was in her elements gearing up for the grand Christmas Baking which we all partake it…especially the eating part. Waiting patiently for the cake to be baked iced and tasted and savored and then miserly eaten even though there are two trunk fulls!! Well got to last us till April we remind ourselves…
The baker set the date to the 19th rather late this year, but they’re worth the wait. A forthnight before she was bubbling with exuberance that it was her time of the year again to show her ‘caker maker’ skills shine through. So she embarked on the journey to the market…her daily pursuits…this time differening in place! A new UCB store had opened in town and she want to see if her ‘branded brat’ granddaughters…as she teasingly calls us…would make a hole in her pocket this year too. So aunt and her went for a quick look to dissuade us from entering the store and sparing themselves a rather holey Christmas!
Forty. Five minutes since they were gone from the house we heard some quick shuffling in the house and ice pails coming out and all was in a tizzy! On gathering from the mad rush in the house and a word flitted here and there we found out that gran had taken a toss at the UCB store and might have hurt her hand. Stubborn as she is she didn’t want to go to the doc even though a bulbous wrist was staring at her. So the persuasion began and all the house members tried their best to get her to the doc for a check up! Though after iceing it the swelling went down … She was determined that nothing had happened to her! And going to the doc was just out of the question! After much coaxing and repeated fills of juice and Molly coddling she agreed to go to the doctors in the evening. On checking her up they found a hairline fracture in her hand and her left hand … Thank you god! …was to be put in cast for little over a month!
Hearing this she protested much but had to get it done cause there was no way out of it!! Anyway she cursed the blessed store upside down and then plan B sprang up for the cake baking!
Amidst all the complaining and nagging she didn’t let us once help her out with the whole process! From the making of the peels to the cutting she didn’t it all herself and took ample pride in it! Despite the doctor telling her not to bathe … She devised a new way to do so! Knowing her its not that shocking. She cooked super luncheons and dinners which we all enjoyed cause of all the love pumped into them!
She has declared her left had vestigial in this past month and is unstoppable even at the age of 80! She’s quite proud of the fact that she could do it all…do it even better with just one working hand!! Secretly to tell you this was the best cake and icing she ever made! Who needs another hand when you can singlehandedly…quite literally…cook your way through the festive season! Time to ‘partake’ in the cake…with some steaming custard…
With all this flak going about this scam and that scam my Gran has been really upset with what india has come to be. The Raj time she said there was not a thing like corruption and all this was not heard of. We are just a greed people …that’s what I said. Told her man is never satisfied! But its rather appalling how the ministry and government have let themselves be party to looting the people of their money and in the bargain progress. Scams have riddled the community and the peoples as a whole and we are ashamed to be called the citizens of such a thriving thuging people. One government worse than the other…voting is but a sham!! Looking for the little bad one from the litter of much rotten apples. So after this rather feisty decision with my grandma … about the whole political system of the Indian subcontinent…she told me one of her stories.
My grandma was a fire brand in the younger days…and don’t get me wrong…age has only fuelled it even more. So Barbara baby was a naughty kid…and was always in for trouble. She found trouble or trouble found her…is beside the point. One afternoon when everyone was having their afternoon siesta in rather calm and quiet 11 Barrow Road, Barbara baby sneaked out shrouded by slumber and snores coming from her parents room. Sneaked out she was taking a walk about the block looking for something suspicious. She suddenly chanced upon the household servants huddled under the big neem tree and playing cards. Playing cards …tantamount to gambling in the days of the Raj and was a heinous sin which would make you get locked up for quite sometime. And also entailed a big bail amount with it, which knowing they were just the servants they could not really afford. She walked upto the group of men and told forewarned them to break up the huddle or she would take drastic measures.
They thought she was just bluffing and just acting cocky with them …as she always did trying to show her superiority which often backfired ! They challenged her and she would have none of it. She sauntered off to the nearby police station and with innocence dripping from every part of her being she led the good policeman to the huddle. The policeman also thought she was joking first but when he saw them all under the Neem tree she understood that she was right. He too wanted to show that he was a real safeguard of the law. So he rounded them all up and put them behind bars. Barbara baby thought she would lauded for her efforts of keeping her neighbourhood gambling free. She quietly tip toed back into her room …and acted to be fast asleep with happy dreams. She thought she had taught all the servants a lesson for challenging her, she’d done good.
Four o clock …tea time approached. No sound coming from the kitchen and all the ladies were anxiously wating for their cup of tea to kick start the evening. To everyones disbelief none came. Of course how could it …the hired help was lining the prison cells. Outside 11 barrow road there was wailing…disgusted my grans mother marched up to the door to find a cluster of ladies blaming her daughter for such an audacious feat…so much blaming her for getting all the servants locked up. To her mothers knowledge she was all tucked in bed and sleeping…but her reputation gave her away. The policeman confirmed that the little one had led him to the gambling den and caused all the ladies such discomfort.
When the men of the houses came home they consulted the police what had to be done. The bail was paid and the servants freed and evening meals were in order. Barbara baby was grounded on account of this heroic which cost them all their servants. But deep inside she felt pride…cause from then on all the servants did exactly as she ordered.
Its seventy years since then…and not iota of change has occurred in my gran. The “thief of Bagdads” as she calls them can never escape her keen sight and conviction. She watches them all like a hawk as patiently as a vulture so as to catch them red handed one day. Not to burst your bubble…she always does!! So guess we should have more such people in our government…so that none can get away with even with the slightest error in judgement!!
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Well long time since I updated about my grandmas grand old days. Well come to think of it we talk a lot about her olden Raj days. Lately because she thinks that I might leave her and go away…you know eventuality …getting married without hearing her out fully. So every time I go home I spend time with her as she regaled in her time which she loved so much…and well I like it too…
Lately was in Nainital and so badly wanted to go horse riding, I have enjoyed it so much always. To tell you I used to go to school on a horse. Wish those days came back. But they cant so have to travel all this distance to even indulge in something that was so ordinary some few years ago. Of course since the British time Secretariat has been changed into the ominous…High Court the poor horses stand in the middle of town has been traded for a parking place. Advancement one might say…but we still thrive on horse power one way or the other!! Be it beast or machine.
So sitting and looking at the other side of the green hill…we were in deep conversation and I was deeply stressing my concerns about not being able to ride a horse. So she went into her rewind mode…the year she was some 10 years old. Those were the times when the children were sent to learn how to ride the pony. So her stepfather trying to gain the affection of the daughters …my grand ma and her elder sister…bought them a beautiful pony. One they could ride anytime they wanted. Cause they were small and the other children didn’t allow them a chance to go on the community one very often. So the pony was brought…and kept under supervision and fed like the fattening of the pig before slaughter. In this case however, it was for giving the baby a ride on it and claiming it to be their very own, and of course to make the others jealous.
So finally after being fed and groomed, the day came close for it to be broken in! The Taggard was called in to break in the horse so that the children could ride it and he would get used to saddle and bridle. The Taggard came lumbering down the path, his chest puffing up in pride…since her claimed to be the very best. Oozing self confidence he stepped into the arena to battle with the beast and make a meek a lamb out of it. He approached the pony … silent and calm … and thought he had his work already cut out for him. The pony stood still swishing its tail and calmly got saddled up with an initial grunt. But it settled down and gave in slowly and allowed itself to be bound in the leather straps that held onto his body and mouth. Then the man sat on it with pride…showing off that his mere presence had made the beast succumb to his wishes and was ready to be ridden. Before he could gain full confidence the master however wanted to see the pony gallop and canter…
So not really paying attention to the man on the saddle trying to coax the pony to move…he took hold of the switch and gave it one hard hit….and off went the pony. The Taggard holding on for dear life in this stance…and the pony the wild beast he really was …free…!! The pony took off in such haste that it was not before a good 4 kilometres that he dropped the man off him…bucking and kicking and in the process injuring him…but was never to be seen again! The pony though beautiful was no where ever to be found…despite search parties were sent out repeatedly. However the babylog went back to the community riding centre dejected. How is the Taggard you may ask…he gave up his heroics and stuck to house chores thereafter! He later became my Grans butler. The babylog are all old now and telling me of his misfortune…ha ha. One laughs…but only if you do endure such a fate you realise that animals are animals.
I went horse riding that evening…enjoying the hills and the clouds coming into the bowl of Nainital. Though the story will remain with me always, it will never dissuade or deter me from getting onto a horse and canter across the Thandi Sadak!
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well…more stories coming up…Grandma is letting me into the deeper realms of her life…the graph peaks and plummets much like a crest and trough of a wave!!
this is something that has come into our being ….and ‘to be hnest with you’ makes it a rieterating statement of assurance!!!
via Lorna's Voice
Barbara Lal, my gran has written over 9 cookery books with the most mouthwatering delicacies one can imagine. However she owes her expertise to the very early days of experimental cooking with her buddies. Her bunch of 12 had found a new hideout for the summer… A house which was under construction. A new found independence in the boiling of potatoes to make chaat!
The 12 used to pour in their meagre resources and would camp out in that house for the whole day till dusky skies called them to the dinner table to partake in the meal! They always ended up with very ‘holey’ potatoes at the end of all this cooking endeavour! Every five minutes somebody would come along to poke at the cooking potatoes in boiling water! As a result they would have a broth of potatoes which were not worth eating. I guess that’s how the perfection came into the ‘khansama’…my gran.
This dates back to the year 1946…yes a year before the country got rid of the Raj! My gran all of 11 was at her mischievous best. The loss of her grandparents…and parents left her bereft of the affection that some of us so take for granted…but cooking became her new found passion. In the bunch of twelve was her elder sister…and my two grans are as different in looks and ideas like chalk and cheese!! Her sister being two years elder took on the responsibility to look after her while she experimented with a lot of things…especially cooking. One fine afternoon the elder sister went to market to buy some stuff. While she was gone my gran and her cousins were hungry for some gourmet fun! Rummaging through the cupboards they came across some chanas. The cloudy weather outside made them yearn for some roasted chanas, so they went about getting themselves ready to do some roasting on the quiet.
Putting up the tava they put two three handfuls and patiently waited while they crackled …and were being moved to escape them burning!! Just before they were done…maybe a minute under done to being perfect…her elder sister was walking through the gates!!
Panic struck the ranks and hiding places were being frantically looked for…cause with each passing second the elder sister was inching close to the house! Last minute measures made them shove the chanas tava and all into the flour bin to hide their cooking prowess. The simmering chanas and the heated tava started heating up the flour inside the bin. The big sister sauntered into the kitchen with the funny smell of burning attracting here… The little ones trying to hide their shenanigans by blaming the neighbours…until my gran saw smoke coming out of the bin and she knew now they were in for trouble!
The elder sister walked towards the bin which was releasing this foul smell with thin streams of smoke pouring out! As she inched towards the bin she had not a clue what she was going to experience! All she remembers is a slight explosion …and being blinded by a white cloud of flour…though she thought she had reached heaven…since it were all white!!
The crackling chanas had caused the flour to burn and the lack of oxygen cause a vacuum causing the waste and the white!! These are things heaven is made off… On releasing the pressure …the flour made itself into a puff bomb!!
Even in recent times when my gran sits to recount the story…she never dare says she wants to eat roasted chanas…she lost an appetite for those that very day!!! They were pretty bombastic…and explosive!!
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Storytelling though a dying art…is a regular night time feature in my grans house. Generally stories are related to discussions at the dinner table. Recently when I was sitting with the family we were persuading my dad and uncle to get of puffing the stick…cigarette. Shortening their life on purpose didn’t make sense. Sniggering at the elders been taken to task Mitali and me were hiding our own follies! But my partner in crime as I call her is good with secrets.
Night time is story time ever since I can remember…recounting the days of yore or some ancient text put out with simplicity and expression! That’s how I guess I can’t sleep without flipping over the pages of a story book at night. They’ve always been a part of my life since the very beginning…and I like the drama, gives me reason to dream.
So as we took our places on either side of my gran on her bed she smiled a rather naughty smile as if hiding something and wanting to be prodded about it. Not losing a second of our precious time we goaded the story out of her. She was a force to reckon with…and a tomboy!! Now that’s where I come from! Ha ha … Well she told us when they were rather young…all of 8 they used to closely watch their fathers indulge in this ritual of smoking. Filling the pipe with tobacco and then taking in the smoke and something like a puffing engine! Intrigued by the whole practice the kids embarked on a smoking journey of their own.
All their mischief would be done in the afternoon when the elders we enjoying an afternoon siesta! So the whole gang of about 12 sneaked out and met under the big banyan tree which lined the road of 11 Barrow Road. There in their little club house they tore some notebooks and rolled up some leaves and crushed them making themselves cigarettes! When all were stuck and crushed to perfection they lit up and sat on the branches of the tree …a haven from the scorching sun. They sat there puffing away to glory feeling all grown up and having a rather feisty branch conversation.
Time whiled away…and they lit another one in the process! Nearing tea time when all the servants woke up a little earlier Nandi, my grans handyman noticed something strange in the neighbourhood. He promptly called upon his memsahib…my grans grandmother…to witness something most spectacular. A smoking tree without any fire!!! Staring at it for quite a while the brigade was summoned and people started gathering about it marvelling at this unnatural phenomenon . They stared at it baffled as to what wouldve cause such a thing…was it the heat…but the flames were missing…as if a giant magnifying glass had pointed the Sun at this tree.
People inched forward … Nandi being the only servant present was told to brave it to the tree. He gathered up every ounce of courage and taking the names of all the gods, with stealthy steps inched towards the base of this tree. What he saw left him horrified… A bunch of kids smoking!!! He raised the alarm that baby …my gran…and her friends were smoking!!
Off ran the bunch and baby being the most daring was perched up on the topmost branch. Nandi was sent to get back down just this minute!
Contemplating his move my gran had something else on her mind but Nandi outdid her! Caught her and put her on his shoulder. Her violent protests of kicking and hitting didn’t affect him! He went down the road to 11 Barrow Road with his prize!
Memsahib greeted him and congratulated him on his bravado. As for my gran she was grounded and smoking was then completely off limits! Paper was again used for writing … And leaves… They just would smoulder the thought of an afternoon of adventure and conference in the higher realm of things…
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Okay just got off the phone with grandma… Well she says she feels ancient…like a relic in time… And then in the same breadth she asks me when are we taking a trip to Bangalore??? Ha ha .. To the hi tech city in India. Well paradoxical as it may sound… My grandma is some force to reckon with. In her recently touched 78th she left me speechless with the spread that awaits my parched palate in the holiday season. My favourite Walnut cake doused twice with butter to melt in the mouth… Madera..which I can stomach and well the very popular and not so palate tickling Christmas cake!! This cake baking business in the house is something to see during this time. Tempers run high and taste buds run wild with an eatery right at my disposal walking to and fro the larder…the kitchen…well it transforms. One might feel like the starved Pip from Great Expectations and my parents turn into Mrs Gargery telling me to watch the calories. But when you encounter heavenly food…well there’s no stopping me and my food binges. I could get drunk on all the sweat meats!!!
Well as my conversation meanders around food… I fondly remember the cake baking times with my gran. Super time spent with the best ‘caker maker’ in the whole world. At least mine. As a very little child I remember volunteering to sift the flour and licking the icing bowl clean that was quite a job I must say. Well granny is a perfectionist in the baking business. While we’re still in the baking mood… I remember one particular night. My cousin and me were up to no good and sleep is not easy to come about when we’re together. We’d rather be savour each moment together after a momentous uproar in the afternoon. The night time is our time to try our hands at cooking. Well as the clock struck one we carefully snuck out of the room and entered the kitchen like the grand khansamas of sorts. Hunger was tugging at our tummies and well we thought we just make a midnight snack. My cousin ‘miss proper’ thought that we would make us some cheese omelettes … So I was given the job of chopping ( I’m definitely the better one at flipping them). While trying hard to chop onions through the hazy eyes …the cook to be came breathing down my neck to chop them properly. Who in their right mind would chop onions properly at 1!! Anyway I paid more attention and we were all set to make the omelettes when suddenly a brainwave came to our minds… What about surprising everyone with a big chocolate cake in the morning?? Okay all my chopping prowess went to waste when this hit my cousin like a thunderbolt we embarked on the journey of cake baking.
Now all households know that servants cannot be trusted. After being the big sherlock holmes in the house my gran had locked every cupboard which holds things of edible value!! So now cake baking became a trip into the lion’s den aka my grans room! With quietened footsteps without the sound of footfall we got a hand on some keys and after a quick soundless celebration shout and dance ran to the kitchen to see our dream into rising reality.
One by one we tried keys to get out the flour, the essence, chocolate…and well the keys to the baking powder were missing :(. So another trip into the room…this time my cousin braved it out. And well lo and behold as I had thought…she made a shebang and my gran through a sleepy drone asked what’s the matter. My cousin slowly told her that we were in the process of cake baking. It was as if lightning struck her and she got up with a start! She said she would help us since she was not feeling too sleepy…anyway told you ‘caker maker’ to the rescue.
We all filed into the kitchen and amidst some friendly grandchildren and grandmother banter we baked a lovely marbel cake…with thick chocolate icing. Yummy…wish I could just take a bite and relive that moment in history.
These small treasured memories are something to hold onto. The moments and the lovely time spent even baking a cake. I wish I could spend sometime with her once more and talk and bake and taste and tell her she’s the best. Well as I look forward to the next conversation that will trigger and set me off on another memory…I take leave.
By the way…the end of the story…as the sun came up…and our dogs came in…half the cake was eaten by us…and my diabetic gran…with cups of steaming coffee and stories of her adventurous childhood…
My grandma was one stunner in her days. So say all. I’m glad I got some of her looks! He he … Kidding! But I do long to see her in a saree which she completely refuses to wear now. She looks pretty harassed in them and I’d rather have her smiling. Well just got off the phone with her and we were having this fascinating conversation about Ayodhya. Yeah a skeleton in the cupboard which better be left there to disintegrate slowly. In india however skeletons come alive! Something like voodoo practices by the government. In the wake of the CWG, Ayodhya looms over our heads time and again and threatens to add another spoke in the wheels of already woe-ridden chariot of shame… Chariot of fire…rather engulfed in it!
However conversation slowly drifted to the inevitable… the Gandhis…call it legacy…dynastic politics. But that too was not quite what we were discussing about. We jumped back some thirty years. Yeah! My grandpa always burst out laughing at this one in particular. Mention the word Gandhi and you’ve gotta hear this one definitely. Well in the spring of her time Late Mrs Indira Gandhi was travelling far and wide campaigning and rigoursly campaigning on the onset of the elections.
Okay the background…my great grand mother was known as ‘kali mem…’ Goto to Farrukabad and you’ll know exactly who she was. She was a doctor and the only one in the district. Sooo when Mrs Gandhi was to make a tour my great grand mother was invited and she planned on showing her typical brit bahu off so she asked her to come too.
My grand dad was driving her around with shaan in his willis! They were just in the Cantt area when suddenly music broke out and deafened the powerful whirr of the jeep. They found themselves amidst a frenzy of people and dancers and dhol walas comes to life as if someone had turned the lights on! They were garlanded and tilak was put on their heads…women were dancing…the band was playing it shrill tone of welcome… it was only after this whole Pandara’s box of music, dhol and flowers was coming to a close that they heard the naras of ‘indira gandhi zindabad!!!’ Shocked my grandfather put the jeep in top speed and sped away before their identity was revealed.. Close on their heels was the jeep of Mrs. /andhi herself. Alas she had to make do with the leftovers of the celebration. Well somehow believe it or not my grandma was mistaken for the late Mrs Gandhi…was it cause of her short hair cut of the little white speckled in her hair, one would never know.
‘m sure Indira Gandhi was not given the welcome she deserved after that! The trumpets and the dhol was quite laxed after we passed by my gran remembers with the glint in her eye. However the damper did not affect the vote bank. She won all the votes and went to become the first lady Prime Minister of independent India after that. My grandma went back to living her laid back life of perfect luncheons dinner and tea times.
Come to think of it… If my gran is Indira Gandhi…then well believe or not I’m related to Rahul Gandhi…and that leaves me very elated indeed! So look out you might just see me close enough to the blue bloods of politics in India soon! Cheerio!