It so happens this week; I come close to cooking, and get away. It’s a hate-love relationship. And the mixed feelings I get when I have to bear with the kids–sometimes I feel blessed, and sometimes I wonder when time will fly. I try to take it slow with every passing day. I’m trying my best to feel gratitude, but I fail too. May be I’m too thin. May be my craft will die. May be. I’m a bad example in front of the kids. So many maybes. Discontinued my yoga class. It’s a month with two events, and given the high price, I decided to give the class a miss. Where do we go now? With no writing assignments at hand, do I see any hope? How could I get that ego boost? Guess I’m here at the right time.
First up, I’m seeking music. Jasmine Sandlas is my favourite. And watching interviews, like I always do. Love those. I try to do a few stretches in the morning, but really can’t slow down. Talking about my wonderings in the kitchen. Have this urge to bake cakes. Need to get my hands on a good bottle of olive oil. And of course, cream cheese. Also, I really don’t know where to get dill leaves (exotic ones) from here in Mumbai. It was much easier to find those in Gurgaon. I’m trying to catch up with old cousins, thanks to the wedding season. Nail art, kids’ clothing something, learning to organise bags. All consuming my mind. I started writing a letter to an unknown person (thanks to Chitti Exchange). Now, I just need to post it. Finally, I feel like writing song lyrics behind the novels I try to read. Just in case if I put off from reading, I can sing a line or two and go off to sleep.
I made Dhokla second time in the month, and messed it up again. How? The last time I didn’t add ENO in it, so it didn’t get the fluffy texture, and this time, I added less salt. Bah! It was tasteless. After speaking to my cousin, Khushboo, I tried to fix it. Boiled half a cup of water and added salt in it. Drizzled it on the dhoklas. But it just didn’t get there. But thankfully, a neighbour gave a good tip. “Stop apologising. It was yum,” her text read.
Talking about goof-ups, I made some Dal and sabzis this week. Just didn’t find any satisfaction with the taste. I almost always hate to eat what I cook myself. Also, the husband has started eating this oatmeal, and it takes forever to cook! Still learning to cook it well.
Any wins in the kitchen? Nailed a Ragi soup (learnt it from Shalini of Early Foods). It’s just the best thing for your kid, when he or she is sick. And this quesadilla recipe that I tried (from the Terrace Kitchen) was so damn good. The husband loved it.
Christmas is round the corner. Have ordered a few books. Plan to spend some quality time with neighbours, relishing good food. And I’m dying to catch up with a few of my cousins. Hope to banish anxiety (for the time-being). It’s all about sending the right messages to the universe? May be, I need a good chat. Merry vibes come your way, dear readers. So long.
I’m stuck. And so beautifully stuck. After my second child, life has taken a turn towards Godknowswhat. It’s just the kids, and me, the blocks, and the weird toy noises. And there’s a constant effort to put the jigsaw puzzle pieces of my marriage in place. I have tasted bitterness in a real sense. Seen days and nights when I saw no inspiration sitting in my balcony—albeit the green pots and a nice view from my high-rise apartment)—anxious as to what the future beckons. Almost lost faith in everything. Sanity. Not found. Self-love? Not found. The thought that may be, my husband doesn’t like me anymore (who would, really? I really needed HELP). With my echoing words, my endless pain I just didn’t know how to go ahead with the new changes in life. A house help who would be with me 24 hours a day. Managing him, and my rage. Such a task. And not minding my tongue in front of the in-laws. Life is always not the same. Who knew better than me. My only constant strength would be writing but sadly, that too went for a toss.
Seek love, find love
The last time music came to my help was when I was in college. Everything sucked at college. I dreamt so much, hoped to do so much—but nothing happened. It was only when I was in the pits, music rescued me. After 11 years of marriage, here I’m, finding my fingers on a harmonium and raga notes to learn. God does want me to help myself. These are downs and ups you can’t help but witness. Let it flow. Let it flow. Seek self-love. Not just by sitting with your phone. Do something about it. And then came a yoga instructor who is now helping me with my mental blockages. “Please forgive me. I’m sorry. Thank you. I love you.” Started telling this to myself. “Call me when you’re up at 3AM in the morning next time. That’s just when you need to meditate,” my beautiful yoga instructor tells me. Damn. There is God in small things. Two beautiful kids, a loving husband, and an amazingly supportive family, and I’m still trying to make sense of life. May be. May be. I can now see a flicker of light towards the end of tunnel that I’m going through.
When life gives you chillies, make a thecha!
I like food that I haven’t really explored earlier. And it’s surprising. Some marathi flavours, and some English. Ah! Those crispy toasts, insane amounts of butter and cheese. And of course, chocolate sauce. Don’t ever underestimate that bowl of delicious chocolate mousse. Mends unbelievably. Always remember. When you have only chillies in your fridge. You can still create a delicious meal. All you need is thecha and a crispy (aka kakari) roti! That said, keep hogging on those crunchy salad bowls. You need it. Your body needs it. And keep working on that dressing, one vinegar bottle at a time.
On the other side
2021 was a tremendous year for me. Different battles to fight. Both on the outside and the inside. And cooking went on the back burner. I imagine myself sitting with my girl, telling her how I survived the year. An unplanned pregnancy, my mother’s cancer treatment, raising a toddler with different views at home, coming face to face with my insecurities–there’s been so much on my mind. And, there is COVID-19. Can’t even begin with that one.
I came to live with my parents during my pregnancy, with my husband and my toddler. The toughest day that I can remember was the first day of getting covid. I was in my eight, and the acidity almost killed me. But then I survived.
What I can’t get over with is the fact that my mum had to undergo so much. Mammogram, chemotherapy, hair loss, her own insecurities. I can feel what she’s going through, and it really makes me want to think, this could be it. Life is so uncertain. It can change in a second. But she survived it. And she even defeated covid in the middle of her chemotherapy. Damn.
So, here I am, telling you how I struggled last year. And I’m not ready to look at the bright side. Anxiety only grows deeper. But here’s the magical part.
I was recently blessed with a daughter. Hell, I always dreamt that. And I have survived my ten years of marriage. How, I don’t know. Mom is getting her health back. It’s wonderful when I see her name on my phone, five times a day.
But, I don’t want to cook. Writing is easier than cooking. Those kitchen bottles bring no curiosity in me. I don’t want pasta. I just want to survive this journey of motherhood. And keep a bit of my mum’s recipes on my bedside table. And I shall be all right.
Here are a few snippets from the posts I shared on my page. I started writing these tiny posts when I was down with COVID.
That’s about it for 2021. I hope you combat 2022 with a fierce passion to bring a new ray of hope in your life. May God show mercy.
11 food commandments for the mindful you
I started cooking after marriage, and it has been almost nine years in the making. Every year, I try to cook healthier food, however, there’s a big scope of improvement here. In the coming year, that is, 2020, I want to eat healthy, not just cook healthy. That is my most-needed food commandment. Feeding the family has been a priority, but I need to take care of my diet first, as only then can I do the rest of my tasks well.
Coming to the topic, I really want to inspire you to think wisely before taking in any food trends. We are what we eat; let’s not go overboard with that ice-cream tub or those tid-bit packets. Here are some food ideas you can ponder on.
1. Drink well
Be it water, cinnamon water, apple cider vinegar water or just a shot glass of lemon water, our main source of oxygen comes from water. And I’m taking about water stored in earthen or steel tumblers, not the plastic bottles stored in the fridge. Also, you want to sit and sip your water.
2. Include raw food
Whether it is your breakfast or lunch, make sure you have some raw food in form of salad, vegetable juice, sprouts, etc, in your day diet. This will round up your overall diet with oxidants, nutrients, and fibre—all must-have to deal with your gut health.
3. Soak/Ferment before you sleep
It’s always a better idea to soak your legumes/pulses in the night to have them cook in the morning. This will act like an add-on to the goodness of your food. Furthermore, my mother always suggests me to soak nuts and dried fruits. Be it almonds, walnuts, raisins—soak ahead in time. A handful of nuts are enough for your health. Whenever I tend to have a lack of iron on some days, I have half a cup of strained jaggery water and feel more strength in my overall emotional and physical health. Before going to bed, you can set your curd too. Homemade curd, especially set in glass containers, is better for you, instead of those plastic tubs of store-made ones.
4. Mind the condiments
Herbs like mint and coriander leaves, spices like black pepper and cumin seeds, ginger, garlic, lemon and tamarind—all these things add more flavours to your food and make it healthier too. Don’t just treat them as something to garnish with. These will keep vitamin C and other nutrients in check that will help you fight infections.
5. Make junk food at home
One of the food rules I follow is to make my favourite junk food at home. Whether it is Pani Puri, noodles, pizzas, or masala Dosa, at home, I can assure the ingredients are properly washed and safe to eat. The sodium, grains, etc. can be checked at home unlike the street stalls.
6. Invest on good quality food
Be it your chocolate, dates, noodles, artisanal bread, sauces, seeds or basic, organic food—never compromise with the quality. Buy something that has no preservatives or chemicals, and that will again benefit your health when compared to commercially available food items.
7. Share your food
When you feed your helper at home and your neighbours, you are seldom left with leftovers in the fridge. And this will encourage you to eat fresh. Don’t wait for the food to go stale to distribute it. I see that some people to respect the food that they make, store every bit of it in the fridge and have it till it changes colour. And when it is not at all edible, they plan to throw it or give it to the poor. My mom highly discourages it. When you’re done eating, try to distribute the food within two-three hours, so that your next meal is freshly made.
8. Less oil, sodium, sugar!
Some people like to sprinkle black salt or normal table salt on their salads, curd dishes, and whatnot. Instead, add salt while you cook the food. Try substitutes like lemon juice or natural vinegars. Same rule goes for oil and sugar. Cook with less oil; you can add a few teaspoons of water to cook faster. Lastly, go easy on sugar. This will keep you alert and make you a mindful eater.
9. Switch grains
Relying on only wheat flour the entire week is a dull idea for sure. Explore more grains. Bring in jowar, bajra, rice varieties and more. Your piping hot and soft wheat phulkas are full of gluten, so why not go gluten-free for a day? Plus, if you eat these, your kids will start appreciating these too. For example, Bajra roti is not easy to chew, but with time, you start enjoying these hard rotis. And when your kid sees this, he or she will learn to appreciate it too.
10. Check on the pantry and fridge
My mother always says there’s no point in eating spoiled. Keep a tab on what might go bad in the next few days and consume it at the earliest, be it your veggies or flours. You can’t be keeping it for days altogether. Everything in the kitchen has an expiry date.
11. Shop local
When I visit the grocery bus in my condominium, I always end up picking more seasonal fruits and vegetables. I get ideas right there (plus some old and new recipes) and I might also feel like experimenting. Your mobile screens won’t offer you that. Finally, when I shop for my grocery, I almost always end up picking the fresh produce. When shopping online, you have no choice but to eat what gets delivered to your doorstep.
Reflections in my mother’s kitchen
I had entered the kitchen to make myself some tea, and that was a rare case at the time. Well, not so long ago, I was at my mum’s place for almost a year, and this was after almost seven years of marriage. Being home with her after so long, for so many months together did feel special. But, at the same time, it was weird. I had become this different person, having spent more than half a decade on my own, running a home at my pace. So, being around just felt a bit different. Not that I did much of work that I was afraid to be judged. Let me explain.
So, one fine day, I was making myself some tea. With my baby bump, I didn’t feel so comfortable bending down to pick up the saucepan from a shelf below the stove. For me, being pregnant for the third time did have its own effects. The severe complications that I had before didn’t allow me to do any kind of work, hence I decided to just rest at mum’s place for as much as I could. And cooking was out of question. But that day, everybody was a bit tied up, and I didn’t resist much.
It felt like I had come alone in her kitchen after so long. There was nobody to ask me, what do I need? I thought, I have been in this space before, where I have never had any great cooking memories. Yes, I did help mumma stir her curries or nuts/grains/flours that she prepped for sweet dishes. But, nevertheless, there were so many images popping up in my mind.
Meanwhile, I opened the shelf below the stove, and noticed almost everything was the same. She hasn’t cared to buy so much of stuff or changed old utensils for that matter. But, she has saved them all like an expert! There were definitely a few items that she needed to trash, but it seemed it didn’t bother her at all. After living at one place for more than two decades, you hardly feel like changing anything. It’s amazing that mum never felt like changing things, unlike me, who gets a new thing every month. Yes, for guests, she had stored a few sets of immaculate steel dinnerware separately. And that’s about it.
I held an old pan, and wondered, why haven’t you trashed this, mom? Her stove is as old as the house. She’s never cared to bring in the bigger stove panels where you can cook four dishes at one go. In spite of her large number of guest visits, and frequent cooking sessions, she seems to be efficiently managing this two-gas stove unit. There’s no chimney either. While I start pounding my ginger, I realise even the sugar and tea jars are the same as well. I then realised that cooking was one of the only things that made me a happy, content person, and that I have to refrain from it now. So this tea better me good!
People usually feel apologetic when using their loud, old grinding machine, but my mother loves it when hers make noise. “It still gets my work done, so why should I throw it?” she’d say. Sumeet was a brand I didn’t see at all in the market recently. Didn’t she ever cared for reviews? She should get more dinner plates, spoons and whisks, I thought. Doesn’t she feel the pressure to impress others with new kitchen equipment?
As a kid, I could hardly reach this counter, and look at me now, in my 30s, desperately waiting to deliver a healthy baby. Did I ever imagine this day as a kid?
When it was my turn to get my Doodh Chai to room temperature, I looked back at the floor, where mumma served us three kids hot dalia (boiled broken wheat) that she mixed with ghee and sugar. How we siblings cracked each other after our tuition classes and happily mocked each other. Those happy meal sessions are hardly there now.
To my right was the kitchen window, from where the sparrows came and ate the roti dough that she made in the mornings. Mum never really minded those beak marks on the dough. And whenever fire broke in the kitchen, she handled it really well, protecting us three like a saviour. We’ve seen so much in this kitchen!
When hungry in the evenings, the kid that I was used to enter the kitchen and relish the leftover Kadi and Bajri ki Roti (made with a type of millet) that mother made in the afternoons. And peeping inside the little pantry (which has expanded now) for biscuits, tamarind jars, pickles, and more, was like an endless activity.
My tea or Doodh Chai (a mix of tea and milk) was now ready. It was time for me to step out of the kitchen. This is not my space anymore, I thought. But I really like how my mother has maintained her cooking space. Yes, there was a new fridge, microwave, and a brand new pantry, but majorly, she’s maintained the years-old things really well. You only need so much. And with a constant fear of forgetting the art of cooking, I stepped out and went back to my relax mode.
The meaning of love
I often think how life is an on-going struggle; there’s something or the other that keeps on cropping up. I learnt the meaning of love firsthand from my parents. But did I see it as an easy thing? Unlike most of the couples where one of the partners succumbs to the issues, keeps mum, likes to sit in the corner babbling away, my parents are different. Both are extremely opinionated, have egos (at least in front of each other), like to speak up their minds, and rarely do they boast each other in front of people (yes, I have seen couples doing that a lot, not in my house though). These are the exact reasons why I love them, not because I’m their daughter, but as a human being too. Love is showing each other the real mirror so that no outsider can point finger at you. Love is keeping hope and being strong at all the times. The climb up the stairs is easy, but if you suddenly fall, that’s when it gets tough. When you sacrifice something important for the sake of your family and hold each other’s back, tight. I have seen my mother doing it umpteen times and it’s laudable what she’s done. Life with or without money is still easy, especially when you move towards prosperity and success slowly, step by step. The real test, however, is when you start losing it all. When you see people change around you. When there’s a long distance, literally, between you as a couple, and one of you have to keep the house chores going fine with whatever is in hand. Alone. My parents have survived that, and that is what makes them what they are to me. It’s easy to enjoy a simple life without any blots on your image, when you have nothing much to sacrifice, when you hardly give anything away that has your name on it. But these guys have stood the test of time, and have earned a solid rapport for facing the storm like a mountain.
But love can be tough too. There are times when you realise that the other person is not ready to change. There’s a certain way your partner might bring you down, and you just can’t do anything about it. You only have to accept each other, and keep going. Love can be so harsh at times as well. Your expectations go on a stroll forever, and you still have to keep holding each other so that nothing goes out of balance. And when I look at my parents, day in and day out, I see how love can be a complex thing too. It’s never easy, especially when the two of you have strong personalities, aspirations, a solid belief system, and the will to always do what you think is right. It’s tough then not to put your feet down.
But, here’s what I love, that is, when both of my parents are working in the kitchen. The other day, they had a small religious thing happening in our apartment. Mum had to cook something on urgent basis, and as usual, dad was with her in the kitchen, keeping his head down, helping her with whatever she said. So on the menu was moongfali ki chakki (a sweet dish made with groundnuts).
Mum had roasted the groundnuts, peeled and coarsely ground them and kept them in a jar during the day time. In the evening, when she felt the rush to go downstairs for the prayers of lord Ganesha, dad just stepped in out of nowhere. A usual scene this one. So, she started by boiling some sugar in water. If you have one cup groundnut, take a cup of sugar. Then, when the crystals were all gone, she checked the texture and consistency by using a big spoon. When one drop of the sugar solution fell off nicely, it was done. “Kya ab chaashni tyaar ho gayi?” I asked mum. She said yes. Now was the time to mix the groundnut that had been churned roughly (sift it quickly with your fingers to avoid any lumps) with the sugar solution. All three of us sat down where the platter was kept. Dad took the spoon from mum and mixed it the groundnut and sugar syrup well, slowly, making sure that it’s all done efficiently. Then, mum took the spoon from dad and scrapped off the skillet; meanwhile, dad spread the mixture on a big steel platter that was a bit deep, and tapped the platter on the floor ever so slightly. And it was ready.
A few minutes later, mum drew a few cuts on the groundnut chakki which was a little stiff by now. This was then transferred into a steel box to be offered to God and to be distributed later as Prasad among our neighbours who were supposed to gather on the ground floor.
But, just when she asked dad to keep the skillet in the sink, he almost crashed it there. There was a loud noise. Boom! And then mum mumbled a line that how he hasn’t changed at all. “Try to be careful for heaven’s sake,” she said to him. Dad gave a grin. There are some things you cannot change, right?
The second version was made with caramelising the sugar in a skillet. This time, there was no water added with the sugar. So dad stirred it continuously till it all melted. Once done, mum added the leftover groundnuts in it and quickly made a soft dough with a spoon. She had spread some melted ghee on the kitchen platform, on which she then spread the hot mixture and rolled it with a rolling pin. After a few minutes this turned stiff, and after some more time, when it was pretty stiff, she chopped it into bits. This was bonus to be enjoyed by the family only. The next day, mum made some chikki with whole groundnuts.
This is usually how last-minute savoury and sweet dishes are prepared in the kitchen, with a little rough moment in the end, when you just have to breathe deeply and get on with it.
That day, I realised it all again that love is an ongoing thing. And that you can never take each other for granted. Talking about my parents, they might not show their love to each other, at all, but it’s these little moments when I see them together and I know what the meaning of true love is.
Beginner’s tips to make your kitchen eco-friendly
I’ve been thinking about this for a few years, and it started slowly. My ways of making my kitchen eco-friendly, as much as I can. And still, there’s a long, long way to go. I haven’t had the courage to take the important steps yet, but yes, the thought can be clearly seen. Here, I talk about a few things that a beginner can follow. So, if you haven’t given all this a thought, here’s where you can start to do to make your kitchen environment-friendly.
Throw away the plastic
I was reading something for a health article on how one can treat PCOD. And I read a point that said don’t eat and store food in plastic. This was not one of the main points, but as I research a lot for my articles, I happened to see this point and it really made me wonder. How can storing food or eating food in plastic hamper our health? Soon, I went a bit stubborn and swapped all the plastic with steel and glass. Removed all the plastic jars, Tupperware boxes, plastic water bottles, my plastic chopping board, etc. and brought in typical Yera glass jars (from the old side of the city), steel lunch boxes and storage boxes, steel wire-mesh and bamboo baskets for storing veggies, and glass water bottles and steel ones for gym/travel purposes. Threw away those plastic bowls that I used to store freshly-cut veggies while preparing the meals and brought in the steel ones. My office mates did ask me, “What if you have to move abroad? What about all the glass then?” But that hardly bothered me. The electronics are mostly made with plastic, and my garbage bin has a biodegradable, recycled plastic bag. Plus, the food stuff, like the lentils and flours come in plastic packaging. And of course, some glass jars do have plastic lids on them. But, I will try and remove those plastic garbage bags and the lids as soon as possible, and will try to shop in bulk in cotton bags in future.
Dump the aluminium foil
I got in butter paper and white mulmul cloth pieces to store rotis, bread, etc. We don’t care if the food is no more hot when we open the lunch box in the office, as this foil is not good for health.
I do have an oven to bake cakes and cookies, but no microwave to reheat food. I know there isn’t much reliable information on how a microwave can be bad for health, but I somehow never liked the idea of cooking or reheating stuff in the microwave. When friends come home to party, some ladies do point it out. But I don’t care. I can’t give a solid backup against microwaves here, but it just means that we have freshly cooked food in the kitchen, and I do think that food comes with an expiry date and can lose its nutrition when kept in the fridge or a packet for long. I always make sure that I cook food and have it in a few hours; of course, there are exceptions when a curry is too tasty, so I keep it in the fridge and reheat it in a pan the next day. But, you do get my point, right?
And no tissue-paper roll, please
This was pretty easy for me, and thank god I don’t live in the US as I have seen people returning from there who can’t do without tissue paper rolls (they can almost go paranoid about it). My mum uses clean cotton pieces (that may be made from a towel or bed sheet) in the kitchen and so do I. This also explains why I have to do so much of washing, as kitchen linen needs to be cleaned on a daily basis, but that can be sorted. Why do I do this? First, it saves paper, and second, it’s in your head that your tissue paper is bacteria-free. If you dry your squeaky clean kitchen linen in the sun, you might as well consider it safer to use. I do use paper towel when frying something to absorb the oil though.
Bring in the jute/cotton veggie bags
This one is simple. I buy my fruits, veggies and other grocery stuff in jute or cotton bags. Yes, there are times when I’m out and I need to buy something, but I can’t predict those shopping trips really. I do try to keep a spare bag in our car though. Secondly, I keep cotton drawstring bags in my shopper bags to keep the tiny veggies like peas and beans in it. Otherwise everything gets mixed up after the shopping trip. And finally, I don’t prefer to shop online when it comes to veggies. I always like to pick them up myself. This way, I also get to see other local/seasonal veggies around the veggie market. So, this also in a way doesn’t let those cardboard boxes or plastic wrappers in the kitchen. I haven’t tried frozen pre-cut veggies that are stored in plastic bags at the gourmet stores, so that’s another relief.
Use earthen, steel and cast-iron cookware
We all know this, but when we start cooking, we easily grab the non-stick/teflon pan, finish cooking, eat up the meal and then nod that one shouldn’t non-stick pans. Thanks to the beautiful exhibitions in Delhi NCR area, I was able to collect sturdy earthen skillets/pans for my Indian cooking. And I managed to get steel and cast-iron stuff during my travels to Rajasthan. These are healthier choices over aluminium/non-stick pans. And it can only happen if you are mindful in the kitchen. Knowing doesn’t help, practice does. Which is why, no fancy, colourful cookware in my kitchen. But I do sometimes dream of those Le Creuset cast iron skillets.
Limit your kitchen shopping needs
I remember when we bought our fridge as a newly married couple in Mumbai, I went berserk at the departmental store. I filled up my cart with all sorts of fancy sauce bottles, and whatnot. But now, it has come down vastly. What happens is, you spot beautiful bottles and packets at the gourmet/departmental store and keep buying stuff. Readymade food to god-knows-what. I get a weird feeling when I see both mothers and kids going crazy at the shopping alleys, filling up their carts with crazy food items. Try to limit this. First, always carry a list. Second, try to visit the food store when you need to, which can mean thrice a week. This will not allow extra stuff to come in, but only what you need. Because, really, you don’t need so much of stuff.
These are a few tips that I can give you as of now. Next, I want to work on my food waste management, as my kitchen bin is a mess. Want to start composting food that I can and recycle the waste as much as possible. Next, I want to start using natural cleaners. I did try that castile liquid soap, but for Indian cooking (oily steel vessels and plates), that soap really didn’t help me; need to explore. I still have a few plastic trays left in the kitchen that I use, but mostly, there are wooden trays that you can find. And, of course, I would love to make my own bread, jams, cookies, sauces, etc. which will in a way reduce my shopping list. Let me know if you can offer any more such tips. Because, if we don’t care for our future, who else will?
Glory of an afternoon tea
We had moved to a new place in Gurgaon, and I had a brief introduction with my neighbour. Although we often bumped into each other and she would sweetly invite me for tea but I hardly gave any attention to it. Back in Mumbai, nobody ever called me for tea, in fact, my neighbours used to happily shut their doors on my face. And as it is, I used to be too busy sulking in the bed when the clock ticked noon, and it usually were hours full of anxiety or restlessness or just boredom.
One day, Shesh, my neighbour, called me to have tea at her place. In my mind, I was like, no way! Have I turned into an aunty that I would go to her place for a cup of tea? I don’t even want to have tea (too lazy to walk into the kitchen for myself). The idea seemed way too weird to me.
In Gurgaon, I have had neighbours asking me what do I do, and when I blurt out that I’m a freelance writer or that I work from home, they quickly nod with disinterest and disappear. Mostly, I only found housewives or women who worked from home smiling at me after a line. Anyhow. I knew I had little scope of making friends, and having no kid didn’t help me either. Why would any mother at the park indulge in a talk with a fragile, pale-looking woman like me? I had no stroller to take around, and no smiles or hellos. But it was fine. I struggled with my writing career, and was mostly stuck at home. And that was life for me in Gurgaon.
Soon came the day when I did give in to idea of knocking at the neighbour’s door for tea. A few cookies would be good, too. But, yes, that was the sole idea. I was a little conscious in my Kurti-legging look that I layered with a mismatched pair of socks and a loose cardigan. Winters ruined my home looks to an extent. Shesh happily opened the door and I shyly went in. Still too nervous. “Will she like my fierce, strong and wild thoughts about life? I really hope not to reveal too much of my opinions about my life. Look at her lovely kids; she seems to be blessed,” I had too many things running in my head, and I didn’t seem to care too. We will see, I thought, and took a breath.
While I was sitting on the sofa, Shesh went into the kitchen to make the tea. I followed her, and for once, felt really good to see a woman making tea for me. Her kitchen was spick and span, in spite of the three kids running around the house. “What kind of tea would you like?” she asked me. I loved the question. “Just. Normal,” I replied. She was pounding some ginger in her steel mortar pestle, and I didn’t feel like telling anymore. Ginger tea would be perfect for a cold afternoon like this one. She then added in some cardamom too. Even better, I thought. Shesh made sure that the tea boils properly before pouring it into two colourful cups. She placed some biscuits in a plate, and then we walked back into the living room. Why didn’t no woman make tea like this for me before? It already felt good.
And then, started our usual talks and question-answer rounds. This woman didn’t seem like others. She had kept that judgement button behind for sure. I felt at ease while talking to her, explaining my almost non-existent writing career, and a bit about my family. She was much elder to me, but there was a connection, and I loved how she dealt with her kids in a composed manner. Shesh told me that she never had a neighbour so close before. “This building has been empty for years,” she said. The tea that she made was good; although I did ask for some namkeen (savoury dry snack) like bhujia later on. And our time went by. That cold afternoon didn’t feel bitter that day in some way.
That was how a beautiful friendship started off in a faraway land, my dear readers. I felt almost alone in the city, with hardly any friends. And it was humbling to see this woman whom I could trust for life. We loved sharing food, and talks that we couldn’t share with our husbands or mums. It’s wonderful how during our tea-time we used to lighten our heavy hearts to each other, and felt alive again. Sometimes our talks were plain silly, but the positive vibes bruised our souls for sure. You start your day in any manner, but when the noon hits, there can be days when you realise what’s wrong with your life. But with Shesh beside me, those empty hours filled up with happy cheers, and sometimes roars of laughter. Yes, there were days when one of us would tear apart with little hope, but by the end of our meet, both of us would be fine enough to face the remaining of the day with a big smile.
This is why I say the glory of an afternoon tea can be immense, my dear readers. It’s almost hard to define. Somehow, it was Shesh and her pure heart that took care of a messy me. And when I found her lost, I immediately tried to fuel her up with positive thoughts. Our friendship was like therapy for the soul. And, today, there are so many beautiful afternoon teas to look back and cherish. In our last days in Gurgaon, Shesh took care of me like a mother; yes, there is a huge age gap between us. I might find it difficult to explain to people how we spent our time together. But who cares? I got a friend whom I can keep for life.
Next year, I plan to visit that city for a day and knock at her door for a hot cup of tea. I would, as usual, be folding my legs on her sofa before we start pouring our hearts out to each other. Wouldn’t it be wonderful?
I always miss you, Shesh. Care for some tea?
Dolly hates yogurt
Just like any other family, even we were excited to welcome a new member into the family. You know, you think of all the beautiful moments you are going to spend with the newbie relative of yours. My younger brother’s fiancée was visiting us on one of the occasions. And just when she was about to leave, we started talking about food, and I accidently asked her, “So you do like Raita, right? You know, for us, it’s like a staple food.” She looked down and shyly admitted, “No, actually I hate yogurt.” My mum laughed and didncourse’t react. In fact, none of us did. Of , she must be joking!
After getting married, it was one of her early days at home. Our excitement levels still very high. I and Dolly were having thepla and soon, I called for a bowl of dahi (fresh yogurt). She immediately got up and brought a new plate for herself. “Hey, what happened?” I asked coolly, without realising my mistake. “I told you, di, I don’t like yogurt,” she said, with a big smile. “You got to be joking, bhabhi! We love yogurt! It’s like out staple food. We can have our roti with it and call it a meal. Okay, fine, come back, and eat with me. I will keep this bowl of yogurt at my side,” I tried to make up. “I don’t even like it in my plate, di,” she said. Oh. My. God. Is she kidding me? How will this work? What is going to happen in future? She really can’t hate yogurt, I thought to myself.
But, it was true. Dolly hates yogurt. There followed endless ‘eating’ occasions when without knowing I kept asking for yogurt, and the poor thing had to unhear or overlook what I did to her. It used to occur to me pretty late. I just couldn’t fix it in my memory.
Some time back, she visited us in Gurugram, and we took her to Cyber hub, a posh locality where there are endless swanky restaurants. It was me, my husband and Dolly. We decided to take her to Farzi Café, as the Indian dishes there have a twist and it’s such a thrill to bring someone new with us to taste it.
I was busy over the phone, and it was so urgent that I had to walk out of the restaurant. After I came back to our table, I saw my husband sitting idle. “What’s wrong? Where’s Dolly?” I questioned him. “She went to the loo,” he said. “Why. Is everything all right?” I beamed. “Actually, I really didn’t know that the complimentary starter that these guys give is made of yogurt. And I offered her, and she almost puked,” said my husband, in a low, soft voice, almost regrettably. “Oh my God! Yes! Mishti Doi, the Bengali sweet, is made of yogurt! How could you forget that Dolly hates yogurt?” I replied to him back, almost breathless. “I’m sorry. I just forgot about it,” said the husband. “No. It’s okay. It’s really hard to remember it all the time. May be we should fix it in our memory as soon as possible.”
And there she was, donning a big smile. “I’m really sorry you had to eat the yogurt! Did you really puke?” I asked Dolly, all concerned. “Oh, di! It’s all right. I realised it after eating it. It was served very differently, looked like an eye ball. And I do hate yogurt, di. They say, when my mother was carrying me, she ate yogurt so much so that I hated it since childhood. I have never had yogurt. Never liked it. And I can’t help it,” confessed Dolly.
I almost felt sad about the situation. Here was the reason why she hates yogurt, and Raita, and yogurt ice-cream and buttermilk and almost everything that’s made with yogurt.
As they say, acceptance is key. And just like how I hate to eat a few things (count donuts, waffles, pancakes and all sweet-laden junk food items) even this girl hates a few things. And that’s the reality.
You see, every new family member brings different things to the table. And it’s up to us, how we accept it.
But sometimes I can’t help but wonder, does she really hate yogurt?