Today I'm a good Cook but when I got married in 1970 cooking was something that I'd not done too much before.Besides in Bombay our family preferred to eat the lighter Marathi style food on a day to day basis keeping the heavy Punjabi style of preparing Food for the Weekends and Holidays.My repertoire was not very extensive but after shifting to our new Flat here in 1975 I needed to broaden my base a little---and to do this I started attending a Cooking Class nearby--run by Kunda Tai--a fabulous Cook.Her forte was teaching us to cook wonderful Mughlai Food as well as light as air Cakes and Pastries.Kunda Tai was a garrulous and lively lady and I loved learning from her because she turned the entire lesson into an extremely enjoyable experience.
As soon as I joined her Classes Sudhir had only one request--that I wouldn't try my experiments on him!!So I'd cook the new dishes for Lunch--and practice all that I'd learnt by trial and error--besides my mother and sisters were with me till their Flat became available--in 1977--so polishing off my "Experiments" was no problem!!!One day my M-I-L had come over and she asked me about how the Course was progressing and what different dishes I'd learnt to cook.On hearing that one of them was Biryani--a layered Spicy dish of Meat and Rice--she asked me to prepare it for her.So I made it for Lunch the next day--and she liked it so much that she carried a tiffin full of this with her to our old home.That night my brother-in-law Milind tasted it and loved the taste.He also called me and asked me to make it for his daughter-Shilpa's Birthday Party that weekend.
When I informed Sudhir about this he became a bit nervous for our Family is very fussy about Food--everything must taste just so--besides his Uncles,Aunts and Cousins too would be there making it a group of 45-50 people---a bit large for me to take on an "Experiment" of this size!!However Milind was adamant and so I set to work despite poor Sudhir's misgivings.Those were the pre Mixer/Grinder days and I had to rely on my considerable muscle power and my grinding skills using my Stone Pestle and Mortar to grind all the Spice mixtures needed to fine textures and pastes!!I needed to buy around 5 kgs. of raw Meat and 3 Kgs. of uncooked Basmati Rice to make my Biryani and I set to work with a gusto.Sudhir muddled around trying to help me--making a thorough Pest of himself in my Kitchen--till I shooed him out to fetch Lunch for all of us---there was neither the time nor the space to cook it at home that day!!Those days we survived on one Gas Cylinder per household per month and polished Brass Kerosene Stoves----and believe me these have seen me through umpteen number of Parties and Get- Togethers during those early years!!The reason I love to cook in the traditional manner is the beautiful Pots and Pans Indian Cooking needs.The various shapes of the Vessels made out of hammered Copper,Brass and heavy Aluminium is truly fascinating as well as useful.For Biryani we use heavy, flattened round bottomed Vessels called "Haandis" mostly made of Aluminium.It took me the entire day to prepare the rice and Meat preparations and by 5 p.m. I layered these in 3 "Haandis" and sealed their Lids with Dough keep the Steam in.We then loaded these in the Boot of our Car and transported them to the old Family home.I placed these to cook on a slow flame by 6.30 p.m. letting them simmer in their own Steam for an hour or so.By now both Sudhir and I were seething with Tension--me because I was nervous and excited--Sudhir because he was scared that I'd fall flat on my face---not being too sure about my ability to cook something new in this huge a quantity!!
As the evening progressed one after the other the "haandis" were opened and emptied--amongst a lot of vociferous appreciation from the entire Clan and that set Sudhir's mind at rest--my "Experiment" had arrived in style!!For me the greatest high was Sudhir's heart felt apology for doubting my Culinary capacity--and his promise to sample my "Experiments" with an open mind after this Success!!I can truly say that he was my biggest Fan and honest Critic after this incident---making it a point to appreciate my Cooking very vocally--and always showing off my ability as a Chef by throwing a large number of Parties till as recently as 2009 February--for that was when my Heart attack put paid to his Public Demonstration of Appreciation of my Cooking Prowess!!I continued to cook for his Friends--for Sudhir would carry Food for all his Friends at Court 2-3 times each fortnight---coming back home in the evenings--beaming with Pride and grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire Cat at all the compliments the Food received!!!
Maybe today my life is too peaceful---and running on an even scale--compared to the way it was just 5 months ago.Despite all his Love for me and his obsession about my health and well being Sudhir was very eccentric--and idiosyncratic to live with!! There are many such incidents that bring a smile to my face today---which then used to make me livid with rage!!One really irritating aspect was his pernicketiness about his Tea!!
He needed Fresh Milk in his cup of Tea each morning.In India we get Pastuerised Milk in polythene bags delivered fresh, early each morning.The Milkman earlier would come at 5a.m.---but over the last few years gradually adjusted his time to 7.30-7.45 a.m.---and so if His Highness awoke a little earlier---it became a problem to serve him Tea--- for he hated his Tea made with yesterday's Milk--and would grumble long and loud---complaining about it throughout the day!!Not just the Milk he also needed a specific Brand of Tea leaves for his tiny little Cup of Tea---I'd carry at least 2 Kgs. of it with me to London and L.A.!!!To counteract this problem I started saving a 1 litre Bag of raw Milk in the Chiller in the 'Fridge---in case the Milkman arrived late--but that too worked only as long as he did not know that it was yesterday's bag of Milk!!Imagine measuring out 1/4 cup of Water and then adding exactly 3 tsps. of sugar,2 tsps. of loose Assam Tea Leaves and 3/4 cup of raw Fresh Milk---and allowing this to boil exactly 3 times on a slow flame before pouring it out into a tiny Demi Tasse or Coffee Cup---not spilling a drop of the hot liquid--and then presenting it with a flourish every single morning!!It had to have that particular Colour and Aroma to it--or he'd drink it grumbling about it not being up to par--and each time he did that--according to him "yesterday's tea" would be perfect!!
Then it would be his Breakfast---he loved Omelettes but only the ones Sayali made for him.She made her Omelettes using 2 Jumbo Eggs----adding Tomatoes and Cheese as well to the Seasonings--and there was nary a peep out of him while it all disappeared down his throat with relish and gusto!!Mine---he just ate for the sake of eating---funny thing is that at home in India I'd make our Indian style Omelettes by finely chopping the Onions (we get Shallots here),Green Chillies and Fresh Coriander Leaves,seasoning these with pinches of Salt and Black Pepper and leaving the mixture for a few minutes till I would whisk just 1 Jumbo Egg till slightly frothy.I'd then fold the Seasoning Mixture in and spread it flat on a large frying Pan--greased with Pam's Spray.This would set covered on a low flame---giving me time to make his buttered Toast and Tea.Then I'd dish the damn thing and place it before His Highness----and the cribbing would begin!!"I like it nice and thin--this is too thick" or if not that then"This is too large--I can't eat so much early (at 9 a.m.?) in the morning"!!!Every Monday I'd give him 2 buttered Toasts with Jam for breakfast because it was the day we fasted---then it would be "look at the size of those Slices--how can I eat such large ones??"But what really got his goat was the way I'd not reply to his cribbing--I'd ignore it and continue with fetching my Breakfast mainly Oats----and eat calmly till he'd finally keep quiet!!This however was a new developement----earlier it would almost always lead to a verbal Battle with me showing him the egg Shell of that silly single Egg as evidence!!
Lunch too was the same problem--any and every serving was too big!!It was only Dinner that he'd eat without grumbling--provided one served him small portions of everything--and small portions of seconds too!!Our help Vanita had perfected the quantity of each serving--and she'd serve him everything in exactly the right amounts--so that was one peaceful Meal!!Today I miss cooking for him for he liked well cooked Food--and was not fussy about anything--only it had to be perfectly done!!Indian Food with a little Chinese and Thai thrown in was what he'd need for Dinner--and since he wasn't much of a Luncher--that was the one Meal we'd eat out each time we visited the Girls---he liked Edamame and Miso Soup with Udon Noodles each time we went out for Sushi!!Of course there were glitches with Lunch too--like the time Sayali insisted we eat at a Greek restaurant in New york for Brunch--and he just couldn't swallow his "Shak Shouka" at all--finally making a meal of the Greek Breads and Feta Cheese!!
Besides this he was very particular about many things--for instance our entire Staff would get paid first by the 29th.of each month--till the date started retreating--it could be any day of the month--it just had to strike him that the Staff had to be paid!!Finally the Domestic staff--Chhaya Bai,Hira Bai and Vanita requested me to stick to the 26th. of each month-----that suited them the best--and reluctantly Sudhir was forced to agree!!For our chauffeur Pradeep,his Court Clerk Babu and his Junior Advocates--they had no choice but to deposite their Salary cheques immediately they received them!!He also would just take all of these to Lunch if they were late coming to the Court Canteen--then all of them would go to either the Samovar at Jehangir Art Gallery or Chetana Restaurant at Kaalaa Ghoda in Fort for Lunch--it would always be Sudhir's treat!!
He was an extremely generous man--he believed that the best form of Charity was to look after the best one could of the people dependant on him--and all the Employees were given any help they needed--including their Medical needs.His idiosyncrasy also extended to asking each Employee to name the figure he/she wanted as a raise in the Salary---luckily not a single one of them abused his Trust--they'd all leave it to his discretion!!He had this penchant for asking the Courier Boys to sit for awhile and would serve them Lemonade----making it himself if the Bais--Chhaya and Vanita--- had left for the day and I too wasn't at home!!He had got the proportion down to perfection--and this would be a welcome treat for those boys---specially in the hot sultry Summer days!!!This was one of the reasons I prepared litres of the Lemonade Concentrate from scratch--ensuring at least 2 full Bottles of it in the "Fridge at all times---though I was under instructions to hand out the glasses of the stuff through the Window in the Safety Door--he felt it was too dangerous for me to invite them in!!Today many of them treat me with great courtesy and kindness each time they visit---and I too continue the tradition of serving them glasses of homemade Lemonade!!I think it was this instinctive kindness and generosity that endeared him to God---and The Almighty rewarded him with such a marvellous Death--one couldn't ask for a quicker or more merciful one!!
This happens every morning--I wake up and stretch out my arm and encounter nothing--because he's not there anymore!!!That jolts me awake and so many Memories come flooding back that I lie still for a few minutes to get hold of myself--for he is dead but I'm not---a fact that eats at my heart and my soul--what wouldn't I do to change places with him!!!
Our mornings used to be very dull.Actually it was the same everyday--but for me even being dull with him was special.Today I feel like I'm completely expendable now---no one really needs me any more!!The rush to make his demi-tasse cup of Tea-his fussiness about the amount of Food he'd eat for Breakfast---for he couldn't eat much in the mornings.I love a big Breakfast--he'd like a modest one--cribbing about the size of his Omelettes--the slices of Bread--everything would be too big!!Attending to his needs--- finding his Socks,Handkercheives,his Pen and his Cell Phone---I'd be rushed off my feet answering the 'Phone and the Doorbell till he left for Court-----I miss all of that terribly.Most of all I miss not seeing his beautiful smile and his mischievously sparkling Brown eyes--for he loved to tease me--beginning as soon as he got up each morning!!According to him I had no sense of Humour and according to me his was juvenile---and so we'd start our sparring early every morning!!
He and I would talk a lot---the fact that I knew nothing about Law never fazed him---he'd discuss his Cases with me--pointing out the finer points of each and bounce off his Arguments--actually not really talking about it to me but thinking aloud about how he would approach the problem in how many different ways!!His capacity to think clearly about the minus points of each and how to counter act those was what made him a great Lawyer--his desire to get Justice was what really mattered to him.I've heard him tell his Clients about the flaws in their Petitions---and there were many he advised to settle their differences with their Opponents---for he firmly believed that a lot could be achieved by sitting across the table and talking it out.I still get calls from some of his Clients who'd been with him since the early days of his Practice asking me how someone who was as healthy as he was just die so suddenly??My answer to them is "Only God knows!!"
Despite his reputation as a Lawyer (Advocate in India) he was a simple man and preferred to live a simple life--centered completely around his family.Before I fell sick we'd often meet for Lunch--dates he made with me on the spur of the moment when he'd unexpectedly get free earlier on certain days---and we'd fix Lunch at various places--The Taj, The Oberoi (now The Trident) and sometimes one of those tiny local places where the Food was fabulous but the ambience was not!!After a leisurely Lunch we'd drive back home---both of us talking about our respective mornings and everything else under the Sun---except History!!!I love the Topic and he couldn't stand it--for he thought that my answers were too long winded instead of short and to the point!!!We were always together---and I never left even to visit my mother--instead she and my sisters would come over to spend a few days with us.Every time he had to travel to the Supreme Court at New Delhi I'd go with him---our major separation from each other happened when our older daughter Lotta was born and according to Tradition I had to stay with my parents for 2 months before and 2 months after her birth.The other 1 month was in 1972 when I visited my parents with Lotta for a month long Vacation but Sudhir couldn't come because the Courts were working.Apart from these two periods we were like a pair of Siamese Twins--completely inseparable--out of Choice--not Necessity!!!
The past 11 yearsbrought with them a new pattern of Life--our younger daughter Sayali moved out to study further in USA and married her fiance Kartik there on 21 December, 2000.Lotta already was married--14th. February1993 and so we began a new chapter in our lives then.We'd always been close--Sudhir was my closest friend and confidant--but a new,deeper relationship built up during those last years---that of companionship.I think that is what I miss the most.It is the closeness that builds up when two people concentrate mainly on each other and their needs---the new understanding of each other's natures makes for a stronger,deeper bond that transcends the physical to reach a deeper more satisfying Spiritual one and that's when the Souls bond--like ours did!!Besides my illnesses brought us even closer--and was perhaps what ultimately killed him--for the thought of losing me to Death was what frightened him--and created the Stress that ultimately killed him---unfortunately it wasn't visible during his Doctor's Visits!!1
Just a few days I received a call from my childhood friend Anita---better known to her friends as Pony---thanks to her thick swishy Pony tailed hair in School!! We've been fast friends since she joined or School in 7th.Grade---both in and out of School.Her parents had moved from Nagaland--one of our North Eastern States----her father was with the Indian Police and was then posted to Chandigarh from there.I had reached School very early that day--the beginning of the new School year---but she had beaten me to it by a few seconds.She was already seated next to the window--her thick auburn hair and light eyes catching the light streaming in from the window.Something about her was so fascinating that I swaggered up to her,introduced myself and dropped my School bag on the Seat next to her---and we became Classroom partners--sharing the same desk and bench!!!We got along like a house on fire---and she quickly became a part of our group of friends---which says a lot for we'd all been together since the 1st. Grade!!!As the years passed Pony and I bonded the most and by the time I got married we'd become each other's best friend---and that bond remains till today!!!I married straight out of High School---while Pony continued and completed her Education--passing out from College.We'd meet each time I went back to Chandigarh---the last time being in Summer 1973 for after that my parents shifted to Mauritius.Around the same time Pony too got engaged and married Ravinder---who turned out to be the son of one of my father's friends---and an old neighbour too!!We had all lived together like one large joint family since my birth till I turned five---and Ravinder was like an elder brother to me when I was a child!!!The World---as they say---is very small!!!He too remembered what a holy terror I used to be---and the scrapes I'd get into as well!!I was the known leader for most of the mischeif that was created and my childhood friend and cohort Polly--2 months younger than me--too passed on about 10 years ago--- at a very young age.
For the early years after our respective marriages we stayed connected by Post---writing copiously large letters to each other--for Ravinder was an Engineer--a Civil one---and they kept moving all over India and abroad on his Projects.It was when her daughter Pooja was working in Mumbai---around 1997---- that Pony and I met for the first time---- face to face after 34 years---when she came down to visit her!!!After Pooja left, her son Punit was posted here and lives here with his wife and two daughters and we've been meeting almost every time she comes down---barring a few when I think I was away visiting my daughters.This time it was Ritu who answered the phone when she called and she was stunned to find out about Sudhir----and they decided to come over to see me as soon as they could!!Both Pony and Ravinder came over to see me on Tuesday.Over Lunch the three of us went back in time---Ravinder and me to the earliest period of my life and Pony and me to our School days---and it acted as a soothing balm to my grieving soul.For a while I escaped into a very happy period of my Life--discussing memories of many people who were an integral part of our lives then.Pony filled me in about a lot of our old Friends--Ravinder's family still owns a House there--besides her own parents settled there too---so she still goes back there every 3-4 months regularly from Gurgaon where they now live.
It was a very enjoyable experience and they left with an Invitation for me to go stay with them in Gurgaon---maybe I just may take them up on the offer and do that later in the year--and then travel further North to meet my beautiful Mountains once more---to let them heal the void left in my Heart and Soul---if they can!!!
The mishap threw Sudhir completely---the dangers that it could expose us to was highlighted by the unfortunate incident---according to Sudhir it was a Blessing that the child escaped unharmed---it could have had a different ending otherwise---a very sad one!!By now I'd started arguing with God----HOW could He have brought us thus far and whetted our appetites without letting us proceed any further?For me Mussoorie had already lost it's appeal.Mummy was doing everything in her power to keep me calm---if that was God's will then so be it she said!!We packed up our Luggage---and many more people--also thrown by the incident joined us---till around 17 members out of a group of 27 people were preparing to leave the Tour!!That night I tossed and turned--not getting any sleep because I was distraught at leaving something I'd set my heart on accomplishing undone.However Sudhir woke up at 3.30 a.m. that day---and told me that we'd continue with the Tour.It seems he'd been tossing and turning through the night too---completely swamped with such a great feeling of Guilt that he felt it was better to go on--rather than repent later!!
We left the Guest House at Barkot an hour later for the beautiful Town of Uttar Kashi on way to the Source of the Ganges or Ganga as She is reverently called.We had to extend our stay at Uttar Kashi due to bad weather at Gangotri---a little before the Source at Gaumukh.We spent the day exploring the Town and visiting it's beautiful Shiva-Shakti Temple and offering our Prayers there.In that Temple that day a funny thing happened.Sudhir's maternal and my paternal Grandma was one and the same as we were first cousins.She had died a year earlier and we'd not been able to meet her before she passed away.That day in the Temple I met an old lady who looked exactly the same as Akka--our Grandma.It was uncanny for everything matched perfectly---her age,her gait and her appearance---and her gaze drew me to her involuntarily.As I bowed down to touch her feet in respect,I was surprised to feel Sudhir too doing the same---and as she blessed us a strange feeling of calm and peace came over us.By the time we straightened she'd disappeared---and both of us were left wondering whether we really saw her or was it just an Illusion--something that intrigues me even today!!
We left the next day for Gangotri and reaching there by evening went down to the beautiful Temple to pay our respects to Goddess Ganga.Unfortunately the fresh Snowfall in the upper reaches of the Himalayas meant that we could not visit the Source at Gaumukh because the Road was blocked---but we all accepted this with good grace---ultimately without His will nothing can happen!!We spent 3 days at Gangotri---and believe me we really felt that we were actually in Dev Bhoomi or The Land of The Gods---for we were overwhelmed with a strange contentment just to be there!!!
Guest House at Barkot
View to and from Uttar Kashi
The Ganges flowing al;ong the road to Uttar Kashi
The Temple at Uttar Kashi
The Town of Uttar Kashi at Dusk
The Ganga at Harshil,a Town on the way to Gangotri