Monday, October 01, 2012
The Opal Facade--still unchanged!!
The Garden--unfortunately reduced in size thanks to a Fly Over being built over the nearby Railway tracks!!
By 1977 we began taking annual trips to my Hometown--Kolhapur. Our common Uncle(Sudhir's maternal and my paternal) was a partner in a lovely old style Hotel called "The Opal".They ran it in an old Mansion owned by one of the "Sardar" Families--the local aristocracy.There were barely 12-15 rooms--I forget the actual number---but our favourite was No.7 on the first floor (USA 2nd.)This room was actually a very funny shaped room--a cross between a triangle and a rhombus---with two attached Toilets and a huge marbled Bath----but the main attraction was actually the attached Balcony and theTerraces--both of which have now been converted into very large rooms.We'd book in advance---and the first order the moment we reached would be for "Loni-Paav" or "Bread and Butter"!!!These had a taste of their own--warm,oven fresh Bread slathered with freshly churned home made Butter and cut into Sandwiches.Along with tall glasses of Milk for the Girls and cups of sweet, strong Milk Tea--this had the consistency of thin Cream and was sugared with at least 2-3 tsps. of the stuff!!! Refreshed we'd go down and join our Uncle and his partners on the Lawns---enjoying the cool,Evening Breeze sighing through the waving Coconut Palms.
Nights would be spent sleeping on the Terrace under the Stars---lying flat on our backs on Mattresses spread out on the Terrace floor.The gentle breezes would turn the Summer nights into pleasurably cool ones and we'd lie there enjoying the gentle touch of early morning Dew on our faces.It used to be specially beautiful on Moonlit Nights---we would play "Antakshri" and Sudhir would the begin to sing---anything that came to his mind--- from old Marathi songs,Ghazals,old Hindi Songs--with both the girls joining in--creating a Musical Cacophony--for each one preferred to take their own chords and embellish the tunes the way they thought was best!!!Since this was a family establishment we could be absolutely sure about our Girls being looked after---and of the two Sayali was more popular thanks to her antics!!
Sayali loved to dance--and since we needed Music, a Transistor was always a part of our luggage. Sayali would dance on the popular Songs that played though she had never formally learnt how to dance!!In 1979 Summer my sister-in-law Suhas's niece got married to a local Kolhapur boy and all of us were put up at the Opal.The day after the Wedding a Summer Storm occurred---with marble sized Hail Stones--and the entire Family spent the evening sipping infinite number of cups of the yummy tea and digging into infinite plates of hot "Pakoras" with 4 year old Sayali supplying all the entertainment!!She was indefatigable and could dance for hours on end--all she needed was plenty of appreciation!!Not only that Opal had a large number of Dogs--thoroughbred Alsatians.Of these an old bitch named Leena was the girls' favourite. Sayali would each morning tell our Uncle about how in her dreams Leena used to actually talk to her---and she spent most of her time during our visits lying next to Leena--her head resting against Leena's flanks!!
Summers in Kolhapur meant just lazing around doing nothing but reading--the source of the Books being our Aunt's extensive personal Library!!The Opal served authentic,traditional Kolhapuri Food----and both the girls loved watching the local women engaged in using the huge Grinding Stones---both for grinding the Masala Pastes and flour--the local Sorghum/Jowar "Bhakri" prefferred to the Whole wheat "Chappaties" each night!!Kolhapuri Food is extremely spicy--hot enough to burn the roof of your mouth--for it is cooked with liberal quantities of the local "Lavangi Mirchi" or Clove Pepper--a relative of the Thai Bird Chilli!!My paternal Grandma Akka was a stupendous Cook who cooked on the traditional Coal Fires---and even today the flavour of coal smoke pervades my senses when I think of her Food.She taught me the traditional Recipes--and shared her secret Recipes for the Masala Powders--and I still make these today for both my daughters use these liberally!!Sudhir was not a very adventurous Foodie--he loved Food but only the type he was familiar with and would always eat in moderation--me I loved to gorge so the way we ate showed on our respective frames!!I on the other hand loved to experiment with various types of Cuisines---and managed to introduce him to Chinese and Thai as well as Pork---for belonging to the conventional Marathi background eating Pork was new to him!!Our annual visits meant Picnics--to the nearby Panhala Fort on the Western Ghats and a place near Belgaum called Khanapur--situated next to a river.The Menu of the Food we carried was fixed---Akka's spicy dry Goat Meat Curry with our Aunt's melt in the mouth "Bhakris' and Curd Rice---this too would be full of cooling Vegetables like pieces of Bottle Gourd,cucumber and Tomatoes---seasoned with Dry Red Chillies,Curry Leaves,Black Mustard Seeds and Fenugreek Seeds crisped in 2-3 tablespoons of Ghee and poured over the top!!
Shashi Kaki's Masala Stuffed Eggs
Kolhapuri Mutton Curry
Sunday, September 30, 2012
It was a regular feature for all of us to take long drives together.The best part was that we had a Chevrolet in which all of us adults---numbering 7--and the entire lot of 8 children would be piled in and we'd take off.There was the Aarey Colony nearby in Goregaon---developed as a Government Dairy and the children loved drinking the fresh Milk out of the bottles there.There also was a lovely little cafe that served fabulous Chutney and Cucumber Sandwiches along with other stuff and this was what we'd make a beeline for the moment we got there!!Once all of us were satiated only then would we take the children out to play in the beautiful Gardens---Cricket being the most popular Sport played.Other popular destinations were Lonavla and Matheran--two nearby Hill Stations situated on the Western Ghats.Many impromptu excursions have taken place decided on the spur of the moment--and many have ended circling the Sion Circle before taking off on the Highway via Chembur--with Milind asking whether the children wanted to go out of Town or home!!!There are many such Memories over the years where the entire family has gone out of Town--specially during the Summer Vacations---and today these hold a very special place in my heart!!
My father died in Mauritius in 1974.As a result my mother and my two sisters aged 16 years and 13 years came back to Bombay---and for two years till their Flat was ready,they lived with us.Our new Flat had a big Living cum Dining room,two large Bedrooms---of which the Master Bedroom had an attached Bath and one more Bathroom opening into the connecting Passage way.My biggest grouse then and now has always been the Kitchen--a tiny Unit attached as an afterthought to the Flat!!This was surprising because unlike today, Restaurant Culture and eating out often as a concept was unknown those days.We entertained a lot--and specially a new home was a definite reason to celebrate!!I still remember the way this Flat embraced me when I first entered it---it was as if it took me to it's heart---and the fact that it was surrounded by Greenery sealed my decision--where else in a crowded Metropolis like Bombay could one find such a beautifully Green Oasis--just moments from a busy arterial road but with nary a peep of the heavy Traffic!!Here we were surrounded by Coconut plantations locally called "Waadies" which were populated by small 2-3 room single storey Cottages with Red tiled roofs.The Sea was a hop,skip and jump away---and at night we could see the lights winking in the Fishing Boats there--though some said that these were the Smugglers at their work!!The first 2-3 Winters here we needed Blankets at night--my daughters would be wearing Sweaters throughout the day!!Unfortunately Progress intervened---and though we still retain a lot of our Green Cover Buildings have replaced the tiny Cottages and the coolness of Winter has been replaced for the most part with the sweltering ,humid dry heat that gets reflected from tall Cement and Concrete walls.
The first few things I did after we moved was joining Sewing and Cooking Classes.I began stitching all my daughters' clothes---and began acquiring a reputation as a Cook as well!!Armed with authentic Traditional Maharashtrian and North Indian Recipes I embarked on my culinary journey!!I learnt to cook authentic Bombay Biryani from scratch and those were the pre-Mixer/Grinder days in India.As a result I used to grind all my Spices on a huge heavy Grinding Stone--building up my muscles!!!I had been taught the art of grinding fine by my mother--one of the most finicky women I've ever come across and a stickler for perfection!!Not just that we also had to ensure two Kerosene Stoves because initially for the first 8-9 months I had just the one Gas Cylinder--with the advent of the second one, Life definitely eased out!!Those were the pre Cholestrol days--and making stuff like Rogan Josh meant frying the ground masalas,Yoghurt and Cream till a wonderful Colour and aroma was achieved. This required patience and I would begin cooking this in the mornings to achieve the desired textures for elaborate Dinners at night!!Sudhir was my biggest Fan--and inordinately proud of my prowess----in later years he loved carrying a variety of Food in Tiffins to feed all his friends in the Court!!
Within a year of shifting here my domestic help named Vithoba had to return to his Village as his wife was diagnosed in an advanced stage of Cancer.As a result we began employing the local women--these ladies would sweep and swab the floors,wash the Clothes and the Utensils and their work done, move on to the next home.The reason for this was the fact that we did not want to trust our daughters with any unknown person--Vithoba had worked with us for more then 18-20 years.A new period of self reliance began in our lives--moving towards doing a lot of things by ourselves instead of depending on domestic staff!!
Saturday, September 29, 2012
In Indian families the concept of Privacy is very limited---and though we have large Flats the rooms are large but the number is limited.So our earlier home in South Bombay consisted of 4 huge Bedrooms,a Living Room,a Dining Room and a huge Kitchen as well as two huge Bathrooms.This flat had 3 main doors as it was spread over the entire first (USA second) floor.The central door opened into the Passage way connecting the various rooms and was used mainly by the domestic Staff and the regular Vendors who came hawking their wares at our doorstep.The central door would opened each morning--and was rarely locked during the day as the staff was constantly in and out of the house.Our joint Family consisted of my MIL Atya (Baba passed away in 1966),my brother-in-law Milind, his wife Nina and their 2 children--daughter Shilpa and son Babu/Nikhil. Our unit consisted of Sudhir, Lotta and me and in 1974 October, Sayali--- but she lived there for a very short period because we shifted here when she was just 6 months old.Our children slept with us and the concept of letting them sleep on their own was frowned upon in our conventional and conservative family.This was a bit uncomfortable for me for I grew up in a much different environment.I had my own room and as such would close the door for privacy--something which sent Mummy's hackles up-- for her own conservative mind set perhaps conjured up God alone knows what images!!
However it did strengthen the Family ties and strong deep bonds were forged between the Parents and children.My sisters-in-law Kunda and Suhas would visit often with their children--raising the number of children from 4 to 9--and besides that too the house would be overflowing with people----our common Uncles and Aunts from out station--resulting in Mattresses being spread out on the Living Room floor!!What I loved about this was the warm sense of belonging---and most of our activities were just reminiscing about our childhood or listening to our elders recounting theirs---the entire family sitting together ranging from the oldest to the youngest!!My own childhood had been equally warm and loving--with one exception.It was an unspoken rule that after Daddy came home from the Office we were to let both of them have an hour or two with each other--drinking Tea and a light Snack--exchanging the major News of their Day with each other.
In our home things were different. Firstly both Milind and Sudhir were Advocates/Lawyers by Profession. They'd sit in the Office after Court and reach home by 9 p.m. each night.After which they'd freshen up and then the Family would sit for Dinner.After Dinner there used to be Briefs to discuss and Stuff to read so whatever conversation needed to be done had to wait till lights out--by which time I'd be half asleep!!This left very little time to ourselves on the Week nights so we'd look forward to the Weekends when we'd just drive out together.Most weekends though too held Family activity--like a Picnic or a Drama --this was when we four couples would leave the Kids at home supervised by Atya and head out for the latest Plays.The Venues had a lot of tasty,cholestrol laden Snacks--the most popular of these were the Bombay Burger--Vadaa Paav!!These are mashed Potato Balls seasoned with Salt, Ginger-Garlic and Green Chilli Chutney and dipped in a seasoned, thick Chick Pea Flour Batter and then deep fried.These are served either on their own with hot,spicy Green Chutney or tucked into a tiny Loaf of Bread called "Paao/Paav" in Mumbai.A spoonful of the Chutney is smeared on both sides of the Bread and the Vadaa is tucked in--a yummy Cholestrol laden Feast for one's taste buds!!!
Batata Vadaa and Chutney
The Full cache of Laadi Paao/Paav--- these are broken off to eat individually
and taste just yummy by themselves---soft and meltingly warm fresh from the Local Bakery!!
After we shifted here Sudhir and I made a pact--while the Week days were chockful with very little free time--Weekends we'd hold long conversations and talk about everything.Actually this worked out this way--I'd talk and he'd listen sometimes absentmindedly--and I'd suddenly ask him to repeat my last sentence just to check whether he'd been attentive or not!!He soon became a pro at answering my question correctly--but whether he actually listened to me or not was another matter altogether!!
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