Friday, April 09, 2010
Traditions reminded me of my Grandmas---specially Daddy's mother---Akka.The period she was born n was the late 1800s.She lost her parents early and grew up being shuttled between her paternal and maternal Uncles' homes---spending six months in each place.Growing up thus she developed a complex personality---introverted,quiet and indomitable but silently stubborn and brooding----she never really made friends---even with her cousins of the same age.Due to the lack of interest in getting her married,she finally married my Grandfather at the age of 15 years to his 40 years-----she was overage for the marriage so they gave her in marriage to a man old enough to be her father----as his third wife!!!!
She was re-named Sitabai by my Grandpa----his name was Ramchandra but he was generally known as "Bhau" in the home and his social circle.He was a well built handsome man---working for the Chhatrapati of Kolhapur,Shaahu Maharaj as his Diwaan.His earlier wife had died due to a long illness,leaving behind a 10year old daughter but no heir----hence the marriage to Akka.Akka was a delicate,beautiful girl with whom Bhau fell in love----much to the dismay of his mother!!!Those days wives were considered mere chattels by mothers-in-law---thus the reins remained firmly anchored in my Great Grandma's hands.
A year later Akka's firstborn--- a daughter,Krishna was born-- ---- she was to later become my mother-in-law.At this juncture Akka's mother-in-law passed away---but not before warning Akka of her constant supervision from the other side----it's a wonder Akka continued to live in that old house!!!!
Three sons ,Gopal,Anant and Govind followed.Then came Kusum and Sharad-----there also was Taee Atya----their step-sister.All these children were intelligent and sharp----my father Anant and his older brother Gopal being the brightest.Akka was a very thrifty and frugal person---not surprising if one considered her past----but even in the face of plenty she wouldn't spend beyond the bare minimum required---a constant topic of dissension between Bhau and her!!!Maybe it was her sixth sense at work----Bhau passed away aged 60---Akka was only 35 years old then!!!The two older daughters---Taaee Atya and Atya were already married----her eldest son Gopal was 15,Anant 13 and the youngest Sharad---just 6 years old.
It was her thrift and frugality that helped her bring up her children----she managed the Farms and would deal directly with the Ryots who cultivated the lands.The necessary amount would first be stored in the Granary or "Kothichi Kholi" and the surplus would be sold.She would travel with my oldest Uncle Gopal Kaka to the farms and teach him about the basics of dealing with the farm hands.She had also amassed a lot of Gold ornaments------keeping the choicest for her younger daughter Kusum and her future 4 daughters-in-law--- she disposed off the rest as and when needed. Her sons turned out to be a credit to her and made her proud.Gopal Kaka went on to rise in the Sales Tax department and retired as Assistant Commisioner,Daddy(Anant)went to study Architecture at Oxford and the Royal Institute of British Architects and later came in close contact with Le Corbusier,Shyam Kaka(Govind)turned Hotelier and is today a highly respected pillar of the Hoteliers in Kolhapur----a very well known and respected local big-wig!!!The youngest Sharad too studied Architecture and settled in England till he passed away.
Akka's indomitable spirit passed on to all her children---after Bhau's death she regulated her intake of Food---and till she passed away in 1984, she never gained an ounce-----she believed in being in control of herself and her body----not vice versa!!!She never deprived her children of ll the good things in life---she disciplined them to live good,healthy lives and taught them to appreciate the value of everything.All her children learnt to live with Pride----they learnt never to run away from any situation in Life----they stood and faced everything and took all the blows on the chin!!!All her children were idealistically minded and transparently honest in all their dealings.
Akka had an incredible stamina for working---she worked the entire day----she would sit next to the coal fired stove---"Choolah" and cook the entire meal sitting in the same position.The entire process would take four hours----but Akka always looked fresh---whatever the season---her sari would be spotlessly white and crisp even after cooking the meal---and the Food she cooked----I can still taste her curries!!!!She would stitch "Godhadis" for us from her old Cotton saries.Each nineyard Sari would be folded into half-----and 3-4 Saris would be layered like this.Then with a Needle and Thread these would be stitched together with tiny even stiches---binding these together to form soft,warm but light washable Quilts-----we loved these---I held on to mine till it finally disintegrated 20 yeras back!!!Today this is an almost forgotten art.
Akka had many idiosyncrasies----she had a very sarcastic tongue,was a horrible mother-in-law---because she was immensely possesive of her sons------was adamant and unbending---oh she had many flaws!!!Some day I'll blog about her flaws---but I loved her---her dignified bearing,her self respect and the odds she faced from a very young age-----have always earned my admiration.Sometimes I realise that I have inherited her indomitable spirit and "never say die" attitude---I too don't give up easily either---genes are funny sometimes!!!!
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
This always brings Topol from "Fiddler on the Roof" before my eyes------and his full throated enthsiastic song of the same name!!!The song puts it so beautifully----we don't question why---my mother---my grandmothers-----all did it just so before me--i merely follow!!!!
Summer is here in all it's blazingly hot and humid glory------thus as a result we're living more or less on a Liquid Diet----Water,Fruit Juices,Squashes-----all are being guzzled in large quantities!!!!Since carbonated Cold Beverages are out of our home we need a steady supply of home-made stuff.The last 2 days were spent in the hot Kitchen making cool syrups and Squashes.First was the Fresh Lemon Squash,then the raw Green Mango Drink called "Panha"in Maharashtra or "Panna" in North India.This delicious drink is a favourite of all the visitors during the Summer---I need to replenish stocks weekly---the bottles just finish as fast as I cook this!!!!!It's a tedious process but the results are so rewarding----each time someone pays me a compliment over it I feel a warm glow near my heart!!!!
Then there were the Sweet and Hot Mango Pickles----another favourite------which needed to be made------Sudhir alone can finish bottles of the sweet Mango Pickle!!!!The hot Mango Pickle is made fresh weekly----the Green Mangoes are too tender yet for the yearly pickling---I'll be doing that in early July.I'll also be making" Moraambaa"------Green Mango cooked in Sugar Syrup with Nutmeg,Cardamom and Saafron-------which will last me for the following six months.I have seen all the older women in the Family following this practice.
My Grandmas used to be very busy during this period----the hot, bright Sunlight would be utilised to the fullest.The old houses had separate rooms which were used to store Food Grains called "Kothichi Kholi".The Dals.Pulses,Lentils would be dried in the Sun for days.It used to be a hard task to keep the Birds away----they used to spread a nine yard Sari folded in half on the ground,spread the Dal or Pulse over it and cover with another nine yard Sari folded in half-----these would be secured with pieces of Brick to prevent the covers from flying off!!!!
The afternoons would not be wasted at all----the drying of the Red Chillies,Turmeric Roots,Spices,Coriander and Cumin Seeds-----each item would be dried for a certain number of days in the Sun---as prescribed by Tradition!!!The Tamarind Pods would be peeled, the Seeds removed ,the Pulp salted and dried in the Sun.This cured Pulp would be formed into 250gms. Balls for the coming year and stowed away in huge Ceramic Jars.The remaining Tamarind Balls from the earlier year would be utilised for polishing the Copper and Brass pots and pans used daily for cooking-----there would be no wastage of any product ever!!!The most interesting part was the pounding of the various Spice(Masala)Powders-----there used to be a mud stove in the back yards.The dried Chillies would be oiled and dried in the hot Sun.These would then be roasted a little and then pounded in a huge Pestle and Mortar--------the Powder would be sieved and the Dregs pounded again and again till all was reduced to fine Powder!!!The Turmeric Roots too would recieve the same treatment------only they were not roasted. Each separate Spice would be roasted separately in the required proportion and then mixed together and pounded---sieved---pounded again till all was evenly powdered!!!!The women performing the tasks and those present there would wind cloths around their noses and mouths-----otherwise these folks would end up choking on the fine dust they pounded up------the eyes would smart for days afterwards!!!!We children would watch from a safe distance------it was extremely uncomfortable if one went too close!!!
There used to be homemade Papads,Phenies and Saandagey (Fry-ums)in a large variety as well---plus the various Pickles,Dry Chutney Powders like Methkut,Tilkoot and lots of other Chutneys I don't even remember the names of!!!!!These women worked like maniacs and crammed the maximum number of jobs into their days!!!
I 'm happy that I live in today's world----earlier I made my own Masalas-----now I can order my Spice Powders made to order-------the exact manner in which I used to do!!!!These days I do just that----and buy certain things like my Papads etc. from select Family outlets to get the old fashioned quality and taste-----but there are some things that I still continue to make myself to keep my hand in-------makes me feel not so guilty for not following all the time honoured Traditions!!!!
Sunday, April 04, 2010
As a child my father would describe the English food-----Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding,Steak and Kidney Pie,Drop Scones with Jam and Clotted cream,Crumpets with Butter------I would imagine the taste and salivate-------just thinking about it!!!!Add to it the fabulous Goodies described in all the Enid Blyton books-----Cornwall specially-----I would literally drool my way through these descriptions.I have always wanted to see Wales and Scotland too----and just add on the Leprechauns of Ireland as well-----now maybe I'll get to do that the way I always wanted to do it---at my pace---leisurely!!!!All this because Sayali's shifted to London-------so my visit there is definitely on the cards!!!Britain---here I come!!!
I have always loved Food----specially Continental Food---mainly British Fare----the influence of the Raj you see.My mother would get English magazines like"Woman","Woman and Home" and "Women's Weekly"-----all these contained mouthwatering Recipes---some Mummy made but for some the Ingredients were just not available!!!For instance the Steak and Kidney Pie needed Ingredients called "Suet" and "Lard"-----both not available locally then in Chandigarh.Mummy's "Shepherd's Pie"made with Goat Mince always turned out to be truly awesome---no one would have believed that this crisp and flaky Pie was a product of a primitive Oven.The Meat Roast(it would be Goat Meat,Chicken or Pork----she drew the line at Beef) with perfectly roasted Potatoes,Onions and Gravy was a well loved Sunday Lunch---the remaining Roast Meat/Chicken turning into Meat/Chicken Salad Sandwiches drowned in home made Mayonnaise during the Weekdays for School lunches.
Not just this,her Cakes and Souffles too turned out wonderfully----light as air and fluffy----literally melting in the mouth!!!Mummy loved cooking-----and would bake Biscuits and Bread at home too----all thanks to these Magazines!!!The tension involving the Souffles had to be felt----till it came out perfectly risen Mummy would be like a cat on hot bricks!!!Her Pie Pastry too would turn out really great----buttery,flaky and crisp------oh so yummy but oh so bad for us----only we didn't know this then!!!My mother would have loved all the mod-cons and she did use all these---except by the time she got round to using these awareness about "Good" and "Bad" Food had set in-----besides Daddy too had passed on---her greatest Fan!!!
Mummy's primitive Oven was something I really miss---I'd love to have one like but no such luck today!!!There used to be coal fired "Choolahs" built into a Brick platform in the Kitchen.These would be damped down for the night.The Platform would be horizontally divided by an Iron Sheet---running end to end.The Ash from the Coal fires would collect on pans placed on top of this Sheet.Below this there would were Iron Shelves with Iron Doors placed at regular intervals----the Shelves and the Doors too were smeared with a mixture of wet sticky Mud on both the outside and inside to maintain and retain the incredibly high heat. The entire Platform too was smeared with a layer of wet sticky Mud daily to clean off any spills from the Rice and Dals cooked during both the Meals---- and was the last thing attended to before going to bed-----this was the responsibility of our Cook.The Mud layer would be dry by morning and was called "Chikani Mitti".These were the Ovens---these would get heated during the Morning cooking and as these were set in the Platform would retain the heat beautifully.The Baking would take place in the afternoons-----can still remember the smells!!
I don't know whether I'll like the actual taste---Fantasy and Reality are both different things----my taste buds too have changed!!!At least however I'll have the satisfaction of having tasted the "Real" thing and thus will finally find out the real taste and lay my Fantasies to rest!!!
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