My father grew up in Ramgarh, a desert village near the district of Jaisalmer. It’s near the border, hence you can always see army trucks on the main road that leads to the village. Unlike the districts, desert villages didn’t procure the harvest of fruits and vegetables because of many reasons like limited supply of water and land quality. So, my grandparents always had to do with whatever was made available to them. My grandfather, whose name was Gyan Chand ji, ran a Kiryane ki dukan (general store) with his brother. They basically had two families to be fed with what they earned and what was left from the stock. And this about the ’60s, so at the time in India, people had huge families. Whatever produce my grandfather or his brother got, it always got divided among the kids and this meant limited supply. The kids (my father and his siblings counted five) were always offered small-sized portions of food items and there was always this competition of who’s going to get what.
The desert life was all about using what you have. There were many cows that my grandfather had, so there was always milk and its products for the kids. But fruits and veggies were luxury items, and the king of all–needless to say–was mango. When the mango season came, the kids dreamt of nothing but juicy mangoes. Everything else was secondary. In Ramgarh, mangoes, unlike now in cities, didn’t come in endless varieties and volume.
“My father used to get some mangoes from Jaisalmer (as the main market was there), and we, in the end of all distribution, got around one KG mangoes for us all. Which didn’t mean much. The five of us kids had to make up with two mangoes per day,” papa once told me. Every mango was like a treasure for us, and the fights were real. “A mango was divided in three parts. The one that came along with the skin, the middle juicy part, and the best part was the gootli (the seed),” he fondly narrated to me. Whoever got to eat the gootli was the lucky fellow as that is the tastiest layer of the mango. Dreams are made of this. You always have to earn the gootli. It doesn’t come easy.
My grandmother made Aam Ras (mango pulp mixed with water and sugar) which was supposed to be had with rotis. When the mango season came, it was only Aam Ras and Roti for the kids. They were ready to kick everything out. After a hard day of play and school in the sands, a dream-like reward meant all. “Imagine. My mom used to make Aam Ras with only two Langda mangoes for us five. A lot of water was added to suffice our portions, and we still loved every sip of it, ” papa told me with a smile that of a child. When you break a piping hot tukda of roti and dip it in the cool and sweet Aam Ras, it sparks stars in your mind, let alone the taste buds. And that was all for them in summers. Aam Ras Roti. And, all they knew, was life was good.
I have read my favourite astrologer’s forecast and I must say, for me, this year is all about keeping patience.
Motherhood can be an overwhelming feeling. You are at a place where you can feel uneasy sometimes. You always have to be on your toes. On an individual level, my self-esteem is on an immense low. “You should celebrate motherhood and be happy,” my mum says. When I see other women, however, I wonder how they come out all stress-free and smiling. And when I see other women stepping out for work or dressed up for a party, I can’t help but wonder how my life has changed. I don’t even have time to comb my hair.
Talking about my writing life, I’m on a miserable state since a few months. I can’t stop checking my mails (spam box included), but none of the editors seem to like my ideas. What are the current trends? Am I not aware of them? Why can’t any editor trust my eight-year writing experience? I have no clue. You might want me to chill, forget all and be happy with the baby, but the fact is, I loved it when my bylines came in magazines and newspapers, but the reality is beyond belief. My heart aches every time I open my inbox and it’s a terrible feeling to face every day.
Talking about recreational activities and hobbies, travel has become a pain. There is so much of packing and planning required with a one-year-old that we often just sit at home and let the weekend go by on its own. So that’s a cut down on some travel inspiration too.
Yesterday, I was in an auto, on the way to my dentist for the last session of my root canal therapy, and I thought, what do I have to look forward to? No stories in print. No money of my own. No nothing. But then I thought, what does God want me to sense now?
May be, there is someone out there who has never been blessed with a baby. May be, there is someone with a slipped disc and cannot step out to work. May be, there is someone on a hospital bed, fighting a random disease. How can these people find inspiration then?
I need to look beyond my superficial issues. I need to practice gratitude and be hopeful about my life (no matter what the newspapers say). May be, God wants me to knock another door when it comes to my writing. May be, I need to try poetry or fiction. So, yes, I need to stretch every day, so that I can face life with the best of me, come what may.
We are in-charge of our own happiness and miseries. Certainly, it’s not my year to shine as an artist, but that doesn’t mean I need to lose hope. I have got an amazing story to share in my next post. Till then, I’d want you try a simple recipe in the kitchen. Be grateful of whatever simple things we have in life. Because, every day is not a party, and all stones are not diamonds.
On the way towards Pondicherry, I saw salt being extracted from huge field grounds. Little further, individual houses were seen on the coastal line and I wondered what it’d be for the dwellers to listen to the waves all night. And as we drove closer, I was overwhelmed to see the White Town of the city and the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on the majestic Promenade area. When I look back, I see myself staying right there with my husband while we explore the cafes and streets of this high-street area; living the French style.
So, recently, we sisters decided to explore a new city (without our husbands). And we did not bad, especially with three kids in the group. When we reached Pondicherry, two of us knew it strongly that the driver had to be changed with a local one; that way, we won’t have to sit on Google Maps.
The first night, we girls had an amazing dinner at La Villa. The cucumber punch and hibiscus mojito stood out for me. That unnerving feeling of how the next two days would be was palpable; needless to say, we were all a bit of anxious already.
Travel has become such a tedious task with one always hunting down reviews to make the perfect decisions. Every place should stand out. Every dish should stand out. Every hour should be well spent. It really can give you a headache. To be together on this trip, we had to trust each other, and keep those nervous veins calm. And I’m glad we managed to smile all along.
By the way, I wish I had picked up some jewellery pieces at the Meraki next door to La Villa restaurant. You leave some things for next time, and this surely was one of them. At the store, I spoke to the owner, a sweet lady who didn’t find it odd to speak in Hindi and suggested a few names that I could find out on my trip.
Our stay was booked at Le Pondy, and I must say, the king sized beds impressed me. With an infant, you keep looking out for more space. During the entire trip though, we couldn’t catch up on some pool time, so that was it for me. Also, the hotel’s kitchen staff was kind enough to pack baby food for us. Which kept our rhythm going.
I got to know the French side of the city at Auroville. It’s a forest kind of an area that runs on solar power, and is filled with many creative people who spend their time doing meaningful things be it meditation, baking, teaching, etc. There were many cafes here, but there was this one place where a poor man was being thrashed very badly. And that gave me an impression of two things. These old beggars just won’t move away from your car (we had experienced several times in the city too), and second, this foreign style cafe just couldn’t afford to spoil their image with this man sitting on their entrance. And I wondered what to make of it. And I still can’t decide on it.
Coming back to Auroville, you will have an amazing time here. Make sure you find a nice place to stay here so that you can explore it well. We went to Maitrimandir, and loved it (unlike the average rated reviews). Just don’t forget your baby’s stroller, as there’s a bit of walking required. The more you read about this place, the more curious you’d be about this place.
Delicious ice-cream, dream catchers, crochet key chains, cotton clothing items, handmade soaps, solar panels, well-trimmed gardens, a 100-years-old Banyan tree, lots of good food and more, Auroville for me was a beautiful spot to slow down and unlike many commercial locations around the country. If you’re not with your tiny tots, you can cycle around and interact more with the people here.
Coming to White Town and beyond. While I couldn’t go inside Sri Aurobindo Ashram with my seven-month-old baby, I did explore a few bakeries in the nearby area. Zuka on MG Road blew my mind with its neat cakes. A must visit if you’ve a sweet tooth. Arulmigu ManakulaVinayagar temple nearby the ashram was great too.
I wanted to skip buying plastic bottles, and was happy to see a big water cooler inside the temple. I didn’t have a steel bottle with me, but I drank water from its tap with my hands anyway. Also, there were water taps near Maitrimandir as well.
I loved shopping at Auroshikha. Got pure sandalwood powder from here and I can’t wait to try it soon. The candles here were nice too, apart from the usual incense sticks, cones, aroma oils, and all.
There are some pretty corners in White Town, plus the architecture is a treat for the eyes. The mustard yellow walls, yellow and red-coloured Vespas being driven on the lanes, bougainvillea plants adding more charm to the area, and of course the many food joints and boutique-style shops you’d like to see.
If I had time, I would have liked strolling at the Promenade, exploring quaint cafes and stores like Ma Pondy Cherie. I would highly recommend you staying one day at a resort to enjoy some pool and beach time, and one day in White Town to take up interesting tours and witness how the French influences the city.
Lastly, always watch for small communities that might ask for your time and helping hands. There are many NGOs here that undertake thoughtful ways of helping the underprivileged. For instance, there was this cart that sold bags made by differently-abled people. If I’m not wrong, it belonged to Snehan, a local NGO. So go ahead, and be kind.
Everybody has a way of working in Pondicherry. Local people (including the people who have flown from different countries from the world) have their own way of working creatively here, and that amazed me.
It was in Julie & Julia movie that I saw Amy Adams make it. She roasts the bread slices really well with loads of olive oil on the pan, turned them with a fork, and seasoned her tomato and yellow pepper. There was a clear sound of the crunch at the dining table when her husband started to eat it, and I almost could smell the basil leaves and taste the tomatoes. It was love at first sight. That’s how Julia Child must have made it too, I wondered.
Now, I have had many versions of Bruschetta but somehow, this authentic version is stuck in my head. So, when I saw a huge piece of Baguette at a nearby food store, I knew what my mind wanted to make with it. I had announced it right then at the store before my husband, and luckily, used it on time at home.
I didn’t have fresh basil leaves in the fridge. Actually I did have some, but they’d gone black. But, nevertheless, I went ahead and made Bruschetta with whatever was in hand. And we loved it as usual; and, it had a nice crunch too.
Delicious food doesn’t have to have loads of cheese in it. Nor does simple food have to have a long procedure to be followed. You know, my favourite Greek dip, Tzatziki, or, say, the Middle-Eastern sauce, Tahini, are recipes that are extremely simple. But, we often overlook such dishes in the kitchen, and that feeling of triumph is non-existent when we make them.
I have always believed that in my kitchen, homemade shall be treasured forever, and whether it is simple recipes of peanut butter or just Bruschetta, these would never be undervalued.
This is just me trying some authentic food. Here we go.
Tomato – roughly chopped (I took two medium-sized tomatoes for 5-6 slices of my French bread).
Basil leaves – fresh ones (but, I used a super crispy and dried batch)
salt and pepper as per taste
a clove of garlic
a small amount of butter
half a tsp of balsamic vinegar (optional; I didn’t have it)
onion or bell pepper of your choice (I almost always use none of these, but you can)
Chop the tomatoes, and season it with salt and pepper. Add in the basil leaves with a dash of olive oil.
Slice the bread and place each one on the griddle after drizzling some olive oil on it. Roast them golden brown. I do add a bit of butter here for that extra crisp.
With the help of a fork keep turning the slices. Once done, peel a clove of garlic and rub it on each slice. This is the best thing to do, as adding them with the tomatoes add too much of a pungent smell. When you rub the clove of garlic on the bread slice, it leaves a hint of aroma and is just perfect for your Bruschetta.
Garnish the seasoned tomatoes on the slices. Add a basil leaf or two for that picture-perfect look. When serving on the plate, you can drizzle that last bit of olive oil on it. It won’t harm.
So, these days, I’ve gone back to cooking. It’s been a month, and I had to revisit my memory though; refer notes, call my mum, and so on, for even the basic recipes. There’s a new cook to help me in the kitchen, who comes to make dinner for us every day. I had gotten some veggies the other day, early in the morning. Turmeric was one of them, although I hardly knew what to make with it. Had known a few recipes but nothing that I could make properly. That’s why it was a big relief when the cook suggested a side-dish that could be made with turmeric.
Known as Pachak, it can be eaten like a pickle alongside your usual thali and aids in digestion. We had it with a sabzi, and at least I liked its fresh taste. The husband found it okay. See, we all know that with new dishes, one needs time to develop a liking for a particular taste. But with regularity, this can be achievable. I’m certainly going to make Pachak more because one, this is simple to make, and second, it is amazing for your gut. What say?
Fresh turmeric – I took four pieces
one piece of ginger
a pinch of mustard seeds
juice of half a lemon
salt to taste
coriander and curry leaves for garnish – optional
one teaspoon oil of your choice
a pinch of asafoetida
Peel the ginger and turmeric; then grate them. In a small wok, heat up some oil. Add the mustard seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves, and stir for a few seconds. Switch off the flame. Add this to the grated turmeric and ginger mix. Now to this, add some salt and lemon juice. Give it a mix.
PS. Don’t mind your yellow hands; the turmeric might leave a stain or two, so keep your favourite kitchen linen away. I do so!