A Silken Skein--1
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Yesterday afternoon I got an extremely pleasant surprise.One of my very close childhood friends Anita--known to our group as "Pony' called up from Chandigarh just because a burst of sudden Summer Showers reminded her of me and our childhood and adolescence together.It was a wonderful half hour--reminiscing and chatting about the Past but it completely renewed and refreshed my jaded soul--bored to death in this sweltering humid heat!!A Silken Skein of forgotten Memories opened up----and those days came alive once more in my memory.
We were a motley group of friends studying in the same School,same Grade and living within a few minutes of each other.We shared many things---including a Cycle Rickshaw run by a fellow called "Moti" to ferry us to and from School in both Summers and Winters.During the Monsoons, the heavy downpours meant that Moti needed to make a greater number of trips to ensure that all of us reached both School and home sufficiently dry!!During the fine Weather there would be about 8-10 of us stashed into the Rickshaw---a tight fit but great Fun--for we would irritate poor Moti by teasing him about many things---but mainly the size of his Rickshaw and the tight fit!!!Moti stayed in our Bungalow--Daddy had taken a liking to him and given him the Outhouse as he preferred to call the Servants Quarter built to one side.A few years later Daddy managed to get him a job as a Peon in the Government Office and Moti became a permanent fixture in our home.Moti was a Bengali and skilled at cooking up Bengali Sweets and Savouries--hence an asset whenever we had Parties--he'd help out the Cook to prepare the stuff.Later when Sohan Singh left, Moti stepped in as general factotum to help around the House. Moti would eat his Meals with us--and considered all three of us his wards---Sudhir as the "Jamaaee Babu" or son-in-law was placed on a very high pedestal!!In 1973 my parents shifted to Mauritius on deputation and that was the last time he visited us in Bombay.However I digress---initially Moti was just a Rickshaw Walla--though a very popular and beloved one.
We were a group of 5 friends--Pony,Neelu,Gauri,Arun
ima and me.Of all of us it was Neelu's home we loved to converge in.Her grandparents--- Ammaji and Baaujee---- would spend the six months of the Summer and Monsoon with her in Chandigarh.We all waited eagerly for them to arrive--for that meant a Summer Vacation filled with a lot of Love and pampering for all of us equally--there would be no favourites!!Ammaji would bring with her so many Goodies from their ancestral Land in Bareilly--Sweet Pickles called "Murabbas",spicy Vegetable Pickles and above all for me a special bottle of yummy,spicy Bamboo and Dill Pickle--which I hoarded and treated like Gold much to Mummy's irritation!!I'd change the hiding place of my bottle at least 3 times each day---and howl like a Banshee when I finished it about 6 months later!!Both Ammaji and Baaujee were the quintessential grandparents I used to dream of having--cuddly,warm,approachab
le and infinitely lovable!!!I never knew my paternal Grandpa for he died long before I was even thought of--and my maternal grandpa Aazoba was exactly like Baaujee--but both my maternal and paternal Grandmas were not the types one cuddled upto!!Though warm and loving ,neither encouraged physical contact and preferred showing their love by cooking up their Specialities for us whenever they visited us or we them.That is one trait that I have inherited---I too prefer to keep my distance!!Ammajee was a dumpling of a woman--petite,round and warm!!For us girls she'd have innumerable stories from the Past--married off at age 10 she grew up with Baaujee 5 years her senior--and both were very attached to each other.Ammajee's arrival meant wonderful "Ambi Panna" as she called Green Mango Squash.She'd make it fresh for us daily--roasting the Green Mangoes in the embers of the Coal Fires till charred--and then peeling and mashing these well before adding ground "Misri" or Rock Sugar to it along with a few drops of finely ground Mint Juice and roasted Cumin Powder.Jugfuls of this mixture would be mixed with Water and she ensured we drank plenty of it throughout the day---this Summer drink is the perfect Summer Cooler and helps combat the Indian version of "Mistral" Wind of the Indian Plains called the "Loo"!!Yuuuuuuum!!
Another thing that I loved was the wonderful Dal she'd make.she insisted on all of us assisting her while she cooked--and many of my Vegetarian dishes have been taught by her---but no matter how hard I try somehow I cannot replicate the remembered taste.All of us would stay over at Neelu's whenever Ammajee was there--lured by the fabulous taste of her cooking.Her Recipes were simple and rustic for light everyday fare---not heavy with Ghee or Spices but somehow so lusciously mouthwatering that we all could never really get enough of them!!The first Summer Showers would be celebrated with huge amounts of fried Vegetable "Pakodas" or Fritters served with tangy Green Chutney ground with Green Mango,Mint,Fresh Coriander,spicy Green Chillies ,Black Salt and a pinch of Sugar to accompany it.There would also be large cups or glasses of strong,fragrant,sweet "Masala Chai" quaffed in generous amounts--to welcome the sudden dropping of the high tempratures!!
We were encouraged to soak in these first Showers---and most often these would be Hail Storms.All of us would rush out with our volumnious skirts outstretched to catch those tiny balls of Ice hurtling down in a deafening tattoo from the thunderous Sky above-----beating on our necks and backs with a sizeable thumping sound!!Crunching these under our teeth sitting on the slushy ground while more poured down is one of the simple pleasures of Summer that I miss here in Mumbai--not that I have the energy to rush out and eat these today--but those associations are so good and infinitely satisfying!!