Wednesday, May 30, 2012
This last Weekend one of Lotta's neighbours had a Barbeque in their Backyard---and the whole Street was filled with the Aromas of Food grilling on hot Coals----a smell I simply love--for it brings back such wonderful Memories!!The scent of Tandoors (Clay Ovens) cooking Food in the Back yards in Summer in my childhood----the scent of the Coal fire roasted Meats and Rotis is enough to make my mouth water even today.Not just that in my Grandparents homes too---both paternal and maternal---- Coal Stoves cooked the Food till they were replaced by Gas Stoves in the early 1970s----till then the Hearth would form the core of our Kitchens.My father's oldest brother Gopal Kaka held on to the Iron Coal Stove he owned till he died in March 2002----the Sunday Breakfast,Lunch and Dinner would be cooked entirely on that Stove---the highlight being the spicy Mutton Dish cooked for Lunch---- flavoured with that smoky aroma!!
During my childhood in the hot dusty Plains of North India Tandoors would be built by the Women in the Back gardens---just out side the Kitchen Doors.A pit would be dug first a convenient distance from the Kitchen.It would then be lined with broken pieces of Bricks which would then be plastered with Potter's Clay to form a Basin to build the Fire in.Bricks would be placed in circular fashion around this Pit and these too would be held together with a mixture of Clay.This circular structure would then be built as high as 2 ' or sometimes even higher till 3'.An opening would be made at one side in the bottom 2-3 layers of Bricks while laying to facilitate the laying of the Sticks,Coals,Cow Dung Balls to fire this Oven.Finally the Oven would be plastered both inside and out first with Potter's Clay and then with a mixture of Cowdung and Clay---to maintain the high heat required for Tandoori Food.The top of the Tandoor would have four raised humps made with Clay and Brick Dust Balls.These would facilitate placing a large Iron or Brass "Kadhaaee" or Wok on the top for cooking Vegetable Curries,Lentil Curries or even Meat or Chicken Curries----much easier cooking these here in the open than in the suffocating heat of the closed Kitchens.Thick Wheat Flour Chappaties would be made with the palms and usind a wet cloth to protect the hands these would be stuck on to the walls of the Tandoor.There were long handled Iron hooks to help remove these when done-----these same Hooks doubled as skewers for roasting the whole Chickens or Kababs.Meats would be marinated in a spicy Marinade---seasoned with proportions of finely ground Shallots,Ginger,Garlic,Raw Papaya,Salt,Red Chilli Powder,Turmeric and various aromatic Spices with Fresh Yoghurt.The Meats would then be coated with this Mixture ,covered and kept in a cool corner of the Store Room or Larder till ready to be cooked in the Tandoor.The Fat from the Meats would fall sizzling into the Fire below---leaving the Meat succulent and seared with the Flames to a crispy texture.Even today eating a Tandoori Platter of Meats or Kababs compared to Baked or Roasted Meats is the healthiest way to eat Meats---for most of the Fat drains off while it's cooking.
Punjabi Cuisine is easy,flavoursome and rich---based on fried Gravies which are cooked mostly in Butter,Cream or Clarified Butter called Ghee.Way back in the 50s and the 60s,Butter,Cream and Ghee were considered healthy among Indian communities.Our Ancestors had grown up on this Diet---and these were a part of our Genetic DNA---so children were encouraged to eat these in large quantities.I'm one of those children who though now nearing 60 years in age still drool over the deep fried stuffed Vegetable Parathas with dollops of White Butter or Fresh Cream drowning my Strawberries---not to mention the oodles of Ghee swimming on the surface of my Khichri or Dal and Rice!!!For me Heaven is but barely an inch away when I indulge in steamed white Rice with which I have mopped up the Spices flavoured Ghee left in the Wok after the dry Vegetable Curries have been removed into a Serving Dish!!Bad habits those-- but oh sooo heavenly the Aroma---the Taste!!!
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
It's so very funny that tiny details too can stick in one's mind and can be recalled more than 50 years later with vivid clarity.There are many beautiful Memories of my childhood tied to Pune City---today a fast paced and rapidly growing Metropolis.In the late 50s it was a sleepy little place known as the the favourite place for Pensioner's to retire to.Called Poona then,this ancient historic Town had a great, glorious and famous past---but a somnolent and lazy paced Present.Those days it was the common thing for Pensioners to buy large Plots of Land and build their sprawling Bungalows there and then settle down there to a leisurely and satisfying retired Lifestyle.My maternal Grandparents too followed this pattern.Dividing the Bombay Flat between Mummy's younger sister Manda and my Grandpa's first cousin Dada Kaka to live in,they built a huge sprawling Bungalow on Prabhat Road in Poona----and this Bungalow was designed by my father.It was finished in 1958 and they moved in immediately after following all the Religious Rituals that every new home requires----and began living here.
My Grandpa--Aazobaa and a Friend of his had jointly bought a really huge piece of land----and since Aazobaa wanted peace and quiet he took the back portion of the Plot.This meant that the house was approached by an almost mile long Driveway----flanked by spreading Mango and "Neem" or Margosa Trees-----making it a very pleasantly shady place to walk on even at the height of Summer.Aazobaa was a deeply religious man---and because of this had planted many varieties of Jasmine,Hibiscus and plenty of other Flowers---ensuring a plentiful supply for his daily worship.The only Creeper that Aaji prevented him from planting were the _Raat Raani" or Night Queen and "Krishna Kamal" Flowers.The latter are beautiful Lotus shaped Flowers with a beautiful deep Indigo-Purple Colour and have a White Stalk iin it's centre---very much like Lord Krishna surrounded by his numerous female worshippers---the Gopis.Both possessed a very heady scent which was reputed to attract Snakes and that was definitely not very welcome either to my aunts or my Grandma.The huge Garden was filled with Fruit Trees---there was a Java Plum(Jaamun) Tree,some Ahmedabadi Guavas with delicate Pink flesh,Papaya,Mango,Fig,Loquat and "Jaam" Trees as well as 4-5 Coconuts and Ice Apple Palms.This garden was like a Jungle---seemingly overgrown but with beautifully shady nooks and crannies---magical places for somebody like me--who loved hunting in the these for the Faerie Folk!!
There was a beautiful spreading Gulmohar Tree just outside the Living Room window---it's hot vibrant Orangey Red flowers bursting with vivacity---a splash of Colour against the cool White exterior Walls!!!There was also a Laburnum Tree---laden with cascading bunches of bright Yellow Grape like Flowers adding another vibrant touch to Summer.The Compound Walls were draped with Bougainvillae---it's thorny branches hidden in the mix of frothing cascades of Colour--hot Pink,Crimson,Orange,Peach,Yellow and Scarlet---creating a beautiful background of hot Colours that somehow embody the Indian Summer!!!There were also "Bakuli","Surangi" or Orange Blossom and Temple Flower or "Chaafaa" Trees---spreading their heady Perfume and scenting the hot still air-----even today these remain my favourite Flowers!!!The place of Pride was however occupied by the "Prajakta/Parijaat" Tree.This is supposed to be a Celestial Tree---producing very delicate White Flowers with Saffron stems---and have such an elusive but maddening Scent that a fistful of these Blooms can scent an entire home!!! While tall Bamboos fitted with sharply honed hooks were used to bring down the "Surangi" and "Chaafaa" Flowers from their lofty perches, both the Bakuli and"Prajakta/Parijaat" would be gathered from beneath the Trees.It is forbidden to pick any Flowers from the "Prajakta/Paijaat" Tree.Every night a thin,clean Muslin Cotton Cloth would be spread out under the "Prajakta/Parijaat" Tree to catch the blooms that would fall early in the morning.These would then be gathered by me after an early morning bath---for I loved assisting Aazobaa in his daily Pooja Rituals.Both of us would dress in silk "Dhotis" and while I wore a Silk Vest because I was a girl--my Aazobaa would be topless---wearing his "Jaanva" or religious Thread diagonally across his torso from right to left.
The Pooja Room designed by Daddy was a large,lofty Room----with an Ebony Altar with seven steps----huge enough to cover one entire wall.There were various Dieties placed on this in different orders---these were Statuettes of Gold,Silver,Crystal,Pewter and Copper collected by my Aazobaa from various "Tirthaas" or Religious Centres.All of these had to be bathed,wiped,adorned with Sandal Paste,Turmeric and Kum Kum Powders before being covered in palmfulls of Fragrant Flowers---each Deity having a different choice of both Flora and Fauna!!The reason for my Aazobaa chosing the back portion of the Plot was also becuse here he had come across 3 different species of Tree growing next to each other---'Audumber" the sacred Tree of Brahma,"Peepal" sacred Tree of Vishnu and "Bael" the sacred Tree of Shiva grew wild in one corner of the Property---and he read this as an Omen----taking it to mean that this portion was the residence of our Holy Hindu Trinity!!!
Even today that large Pooja Room with a beautiful "Rangoli" pattern drawn by my Aunt in Marble Dust and coloured with powdered Colours adorning it's doorstep----it's large number of Silver Oil Lamps burning steadily from Dawn to Dusk and then Dusk to Dawn---the scent of the Incense,Sandal Wood mixed with the heady perfume of the Flowers,the tinkling Bells---reciting our Prayers every Morning and Dusk in this ambience made our days and Vacations very special.It made the presence of The Almighty in our lives very real---and helped to strengthen my belief in the Supreme Power we call God.Today I miss the simplicity of those days---the small things that gave me so much Happiness, Satisfaction and Joy are gone forever.That feeling of utter and complete Peace is missing today even in the Temples I visit and my Soul longs for that innocent Communion with The Almighty again!!!
Friday, May 25, 2012
Sudhir and I both had our umbilical cords tied to Kolhapur--he through his mother and me through my father------the house at Kolhapur was our Family home.For me it was one of the most favourite places to visit during my Summer Vacations---during childhood and even after my marriage to Sudhir---it remained a priority Location and today a whole bunch of Memories beginning in childhood and going on till 6 months back are tied to my ancestral home.It was always our dearest spot to visit each year with the girls and though we stayed in our Uncle's Opal Hotel after I married Sudhir the house our Grandpa built and the days spent there during my School Vacations remained a part of my most cherished Memories. Today the house has been sold---but we and now just I still visit it and gaze at it from the outside----it has provided the basis for so many wonderful moments!!!
Those days our Uncle still lived in the tiny cobbled alley in the home my Grandfather had built at the turn of the Century.This house was built of solid Stone---the walls inside plastered with Clay in the traditional fashion.The Floors too were made of Clay---regularly plastered with a mixture of Cow Dung and Clay mixed with Water---this ensured that even while we went unshod in the house---our feet never got dirty or muddy---the Floors always were cool and soothing to our bare soles!!There were front and back Stairs of solid Teak Wood leading to the upper storey---and it had huge Attics on it's topmost levels--reached by a step ladder.It was a huge house---with large airy Rooms and high wooden raftered Ceilings---and a 6' by 3' wooden Swing hanging on solid Brass Rings from the wooden Rafters in the huge Hall on the Ground Floor-----fashioned out of smoothly polished and gleaming heavy Shisham Wood----my brother still has it in his Bungalow today!!!The old heavy main door always opened with a creepy creaking sound---a sound that used to send shivers down our spines at nights we spent there when we used to visit during our School Vacations!!!
For us however it was the Attics that held the greatest fascination---stuffed with old Furniture,huge Brass Cooking Pots and a lot of Junk--the Trunks up there held an allure that intrigued and interested us the most.My cousins and I have spent many hours up there---wading through old stuff--like my Grandpa's old Mahogany Pigeon holed desk which still held some letters written and signed by him in old Copperplate English----a few papers in Modi--the Court Script of Marathi which has since died away and many old Trunks filled with his stuff---Coats fashioned out of heavy Silk and Tweed as well as his Turbans----in rich Jewel bright colours with pure Gold Threads running through it or with ornate Gold and Silk Borders--- and his Papers.There were also trunks full of our fathers' childhoods---many Toys they'd owned as young boys were still in great repair---but we did not take these for fear of our stolen visits getting out.
The Attics also were the place where Straw would be laid down in one corner---and this was the bed on which green,ripening Mangoes were laid down in rows to ripen naturally----giving off an enticing,heady perfume----driving my cousins and me wild!!This was another reason for us to haunt the Attics---hunting out the ripening Mangoes during the afternoon Siesta and eating them with the bloom on them---for going down,washing and slicing these was too much bother!!We were forbidden the Attics mainly because in the shadowy corners the very real danger of Snakes---mainly Cobras---lurked and the cool Attics provided them welcome relief from the hot,dry Summer outside.Luckily despite our many furtive visits we were almost never caught---nor did we encounter any Cobras!!One day however my youngest Aunt caught us stealing down from the Attics---and she made all of us swear that we'd never go up again unsupervised---and that put paid to our foraging activity!!!
There was a spreading Java Plum (Jaamun) Tree in the Backyard heavily laden with Fruit----my favourite climbing partner---my favourite pastime was shinning up it and grabbing fistfulls of the succulent Fruit for all of us.My cousins lived in Bombay---so such activity was unknown to them---while my Vacations were practically spent perched on one tree or another in Chandigah so I was the safest bet to get access to the luscious Fruit!!Evenings would be spent on the River Banks----amidst the Temples dotting the Pier.The River was out of bounds for it had a whirlpool and a sharp current in it's depths---but since none of us could swim that was no hardship.I have watched so many spectacular Sunsets by the River----even today it is a must on my agenda each time I visit----for me the River is a reassurance,a comforting presence and it's swirling Waters form a continuity for me--linking my Past with my Present. There are rich fertile Fields on both sides of the River bank---for the flooding of the River each year ensures fresh deposits of rich,alluvial Soil---giving the land a rich dark look---called "Kaalee Maati" or Black Soil.These banks are always filled with lush Green Sugarcane----for this tiny Principality has the largest number of Millionaires---thanks to The Sugarcane Cash Crops!!The River,the Fields,the Temples gilded in the rays of the setting Sun hold a Timelessness----a serene sense of forever imprinted on it!!!
Thursday, May 24, 2012
There are some coincidences in Life which turn out to be pretty amazing--like this one.Both my Grandfathers---- Paternal and Maternal---- were christened "Ramchandra" and had "R" as their first initial.Both married thrice--- to women much younger than them the third time.My paternal Grandma Sita Bai was 15 years old to her Bridegroom's 40 years at the time of their marriage--a gap of 25 years between them.My maternal Grandma Kamala Bai was 25 years old to her Bridegroom's 40 years at the time of their marriage---there being a 15 year gap between them.Sita and Kamala are both Synonyms for the Goddess Laxmi---the Deity of Wealth!!It was these two women who provided a passel of children to both the men---for both earlier wives and their children on either side had passed away during childbirth!!However my paternal Grandpa died aged 60 years---and Akka---as we called my paternal Grandma became a widow at 35 years---with the two older daughters married but still having 5 children to raise--their ages ranging between 16 years and 6 years---a task she accomplished with grit and determination.My maternal Grandma whom I called Aaji was luckier---all her children were adults when she was widowed at the age of 60 years when my Grandpa died at the age of 75 years.My paternal Grandpa's initials were "R.A.P", my father's were "A.R.P." and my younger sister's--Ritu's---are "R.A.P.".All three of them share the same Alphabets in their Initials and all three lost their respective fathers at the age of 13 years old---a horrifying fact that sends shivers down my spine!!!
Both my Grandpas were at a very high Government posts and earned a lot of respect in their careers.Both belonged to an aristocratic background, owning extensive lands---hence in both houses their own fields provided the Rice,Lentils,Coconuts and such necessities that were needed for the household---for both households were large---with a minimum of 20-25 people being present at mealtimes.Those memories of my childhood---the huge sprawling flat in Bombay belonging to my maternal Grandpa--Aazobaa---was always overflowing with people as he was the head of an extended large family.Since as far back as I can remember my Aaji would begin cooking early in the morning on huge Coal fired Stoves---built into the ground in brick and covered with a layer of Clay.These Stoves had Iron boxes fitted under them and these served as primitive Ovens, the heat from the Coal burning on the top keeping the temprature constant.It was in these that my Aaji cooked delicacies like various Cakes,Pies,Patties and Biscuits but what I still drool over are her Fish Parcels---tiny Sardines were cleaned,washed and marinated in a spicy Green Coconut Chutney,wrapped in fresh Turmeric Leaves to make fist sized Parcels which were then tied with string and roasted in these Ovens to a smoky,crisp texture.These were served in the Leaves--to be unwrapped when one ate them---lip smackingly delicious with the steaming hot Rice and Dal in the rainy months of Monsoon!!!I can never forget how heavenly the Food cooked on Coal fires tasted---in fact that is what I miss the most today---the smoky flavour!!!In Kolhapur too my paternal Grandma Akka would sit by her Coal Stoves--spending a minimum of 4 uninterrupted hours by it----cooking our Breakfast and Lunch in the huge sprawling Kitchen of our ancestral home.She would wear only White--the traditional Widow's weeds---but despite cooking non-stop she'd emerge from the Kitchen fresh as a Daisy even in Summer--her nine yard sari spotless despite the liberal use of Indian Spices like Turmeric Powder----the bane of my Clothes and their existence till I discovered Aprons made from stiff Buckram cloth!!!Maybe in both homes it was the high wooden raftered Ceilings that trapped in the cool Air!!!Kerosene Stoves then were used only for making Beverages like Tea and Coffee--for these were faster.I still have three pot bellied Bronze Stoves----their bellies would be filled with Kerosene and that done we'd use the pump to add pressure to create a thin stream of Kerosene which would feed the funnel on the top---then be ignited with a Match-----a knob on the side helped to control the Flame by releasing pressure---effective and quick but highly unsafe---many accidents have happened because the pressure would build up really high due to excessive pumping----and then these would just explode like Kerosene Bombs !!
Today those tastes are gone--for the Rice that we ate is not grown any more---a finer quality Rice is grown instead---and this is no longer hand milled but cleaned and polished by machines---the flavour and the taste have both as a result suffered.Also the Food Grains no longer are organically grown---and that too has affected the taste of the staple products we had earlier. Today my youngest Aunt--Vasanti Maushi--lives alone in Aaji's sprawling 3500 sq.ft. Flat----rattling around in the space for she is a recluse--not given to entertaining family any more!!Our old ancestral home in Kolhapur too has been sold in 2010 by my Uncle before he died---thus now only memories of the large extended Families that lived there remain---and the warmth of those Memories still lingers!!!
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
A comment on my Blog about Bed Tea jogged my memory and a few moments about Bed Tea surfaced!!!Indian homes have always run on well trained domestic help----specially in the past.Employing a retinue of domestic staff was a feather in one's cap during my childhood---for the greater the Staff the higher the Employer's status!!!Both my parents belonged to homes that employed a large number of people as domestic staff---but that did not mean that both my Grandmas were idle or lazy.On the contrary they woke at Dawn,bathed and began supervising the Staff as early as 4 a.m. in the morning!!!Not just that both were the Chefs who cooked huge amounts of Food personally and trained the Cooks they hired---using these to help chopping and cleaning the Vegetables or shredding and grinding the large number of Fresh Coconuts needed to make the Curries each day.These were mainly used as underlings---and no actually responsible work was allotted to them!!-The Staff was mainly employed for other jobs like washing the clothes,utensils and sweeping and swabbing the large areas that made up our homes.In my paternal Grandma's case we needed people to look after the Cow and the Buffalo she kept as well.
My father was first sent to Bombay to his Uncle's place to study---and from there to Oxford--Christ Church College for his Architectural degree.His sojourn in England completely Anglocised him---and he returned to Independent India very much a "Brown" Sahib!!!My mother was a graduate and his older sister's niece besides being extremely beautiful---it was my MIL who arranged the match.Mummy was petite and slender---providing a perfect foil to Daddy's broad muscled physique and together they made a striking couple.They married on 12th. May 1952 and Daddy brought her with him to Shimla.Shimla had been British India's Summer Capital---with the British Government Offices working from here from beginning of March to the end of August each year to avoid the sapping, dusty,dry heat of the Indian Plains and the Winter Session would take place in New Delhi for it snowed pretty badly in the Mountains disrupting smooth operations.As a result Shimla was a very sophisticated place with the huge Widflower Hall---as the Viceregal Palace was called and other elegant Town Houses dotting The Mall----as well as the huge Mansions of Indian Royalty.
This atmosphere with it's pseudo Club culture and sophistication was something new to Mummy----for though my maternal Grandpa was the Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax in his office---at home the atmosphere was 100% Indian!!Mummy being Mummy adapted to wearing make-up,speaking only in English during the Parties,dancing the Waltz etc.(which she hated to do---the close physical proximity with anyone else but Daddy was uncomfortable to her)---acquiring all the Social Etiquettes necessary to survive in that environment.Along with this she also had to learn the correct way to deal with her domestic Staff--a Cook,a Bearer and Peon.The only thing that really appealed to her was the Bed Tea----for she said that it was simply heavenly to be woken up in the mornings with a cup of steaming hot Bed Tea----brought to the Bedroom on tiny wooden Tray tables----but the fact that it was served by a male member of the Staff while she was in her Nightclothes made her uncomfortable!!!As a result she took to sleeping in Salwar Kurtas instead of Saries---keeping the Dupatta or Veil at hand----hence preserving her decorum!!!
After my birth Amma as I called my Nanny, was added on to the Staff and it was Amma who taught Mummy how to rear me---weaning me to Farex and the rest---and though by now Mummy was used to living the life of a "Memsahib" she never really left the Kitchen completely to the Cook---there were plenty of territorial skirmishes over the Kitchen and it's proprietorial rights!!Mummy loved to cook and was an excellent Baker----given the primitive Ovens that she had access to her airy,feather light Cakes , Pastries and Biscuits were a labour of Love as well as works of Art---leading to a healthy competition between her and Narayan Das---a fabulous Cook himself---with both of them turning out excellent fare---no wonder we were spoilt for choice---and I turned Foodie at a tender age!!!For me today those wonderful Afternoon Teas with different varieties of Cakes,Biscuits and Sandwiches today seem like a dream as is being gently woken up to a steaming Cup of Tea set on a tiny Bed Tray with a single gently unfurling perfect Rosebud alongside!!!
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