Nani’s Kitchen – Unforgettable Aroma & Much More

Bengali homes are known for their fanatic love for cooking and eating. Morning starts with the thought of food and ends with it. At least my grandma’s home followed this. My nana reasoned: After all, why do we earn – to eat!! 😀 Simple it may sound, but it isn’t.

For my nani it meant a disciplinary run to the market to buy fish, vegetables, and spices, and then sitting at the backyard with her sharp-edged dao (a cutting instrument) to cut the fish into typical pieces for macher jhol (fish curry) and cut vegetables for the shorshe charchari (vegetables cooked in hand-ground mustard) that she would cook for lunch and dinner. While she performed this ritualistic cutting exercise, my nana watched carefully and gave instructions when necessary, sitting at the wooden chair that lay in the shady veranda of their little Assam-type house.

At 11 am or so, the much-awaited cooking started in nani‘s kitchen. She first lit the earthen stove with much difficulty – blowing the burning charcoal with a haat-paakha (hand fan) in her hand and tears in eyes. I can’t forget the smoky smell of the air, mixed with the smell of fish curry, cooked yellow lentils, beguni or eggplant fries, inside that little kitchen with blackened walls.

She used to cook in huge aluminum pots and pans – and served food with a huge aluminum serving spoon. That was inherited by her from her mum-in-law.

She would serve food in huge steel plates with hollows – each hollow would contain a yummy dish – spicy and tangy fish curry, tasty lentils, and flavorful vegetables cooked in mustard, along with a sweet and sour tomato chutney (sauce) cooked in jaggery and rice. I can’t forget the taste and smell of the food and the smoky fragrance of her kitchen.

She would not let us finish dinner without stuffing ourselves till the neck – her logic for doing this was that food should be eaten not only for tummy, but for the soul also. 😀 She served with so much love, that we could not say “No” when she offered multiple servings. I can’t forget the satisfied smile on her round and white face.

My nani expired in the year 2004. It’s been almost ten years now, but even now the floral smell of her hair oil, the smell of her starched cotton saris, and the smell of the delectable Bengali cuisine she mastered, still lingers around – somewhere in my memory.

Now, whenever I visit my mom, I request her to cook all that my nani cooked for me. And while she cooks, I sit beside her, reminiscing bygone days and reliving those childhood days lost in the winds of time.

Nani is not there – times have changed, but thankfully, the aroma and smell of her kitchen still remains in its original form in the cooking style of my mom which she inherited from her mother.

Thank God! Some precious things never change, never go. 🙂

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Note: Here are some pictures from my kitchen – I do some amount of good cooking like mum and nani – Just learning. I shall carry these fragrances and aromas down the generations.

Indian Chicken curry

Tomato Pulao

Yellow pulao with Indian chicken curry

Rice kheer - An Indian dessert

Besan halwa - An Indian dessert

This blog post is a part of Ambi Pur “Smelly To Smiley” contest.

India-Pakistan ~ Borders that could not divide love

My grandfather, father, uncles, and aunts were all born in Pakistan (before partition). Chunian Ka Moda, Rawalpindi was their home.

After partition, they came to India, forever leaving their hearth and home, to adopt a new village in a new and separated country, India

My grandmother told us that some of her friends buried their gold ornaments and precious belongings in their courtyard, hoping to come back. But they could never go back.

Years passed by, and since long, the two nations are at loggerheads – political differences that percolated deep into the roots – into the lives of the common citizens of the countries.

The other day, I was watching a documentary film on NDTV, which dealt at length about the traumatic experience of the people on both sides of the border to manage a visa or entry into another country. I was deeply saddened by the state of affairs.

As someone whose forefathers belonged to Pakistan, I have great desire to visit this country one day. But, I am not sure if that will be easy. I am not sure, if as an Indian, I will ever get a chance to travel freely in that country, without restrictions. Will I get a visa, ever.

Just imagine for a moment, one huge nation, divided its boundaries for narrow political interests and today stands against each other as rivals – everywhere – in sports and entertainment.

Ironical it is…very ironical.

Hope one day, I can visit those lanes of Chunian Ka Moda (Rawalpindi) where my grandfather lived with his children. Where my grandmother made rotis in a saanjha choolha ( a common stove used by the women in a neighborhood to make wheat breads).

This post and this song is dedicated to the people on both sides of the border – a tribute with love – especially for my little friend Yasmeen.

A country divided into two, but the love and the ties remain the same – fresh and vibrant – never dying. I am sure, my brothers and sisters on the other side of the border share the same emotions as mine.

Man-made borders could not divide the love that still persists – undivided.

A Love Note

It’s been 7 years since I know you. 

It’s been almost 5 since we are married.

But, I love you as madly as I did when I first saw you.

Why am I writing this on my blog? I can tell this on your face! Yeah, I can. But, I just wanted the people know how special you are to me – “a public display of affection” they may call it, or “mushy”. So be it. 

I love you for your simplicity – no coils in your heart – you are kind and warm. That makes you different from others. 

The way you smile. The way you talk. The way you look. Everything is awesome about you. You will remain the prince of my dreams even when your teeth start falling and your hair starts graying. You will remain as handsome you are today to me. 

I love you! 🙂

For those reading this post: Here is how “we” met. 🙂

Homesick and Lonely…

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These swaying white flowers by that lake are not just kans grass. This not just a scenery – this is my home town during autumns – beautiful and serene. 

I clicked this picture two years back on my way home from Guwahati airport. I wish the world was there to witness the maturing beauty of nature; I wish I had a high-end camera to shoot this beautiful location. 

I could smell the autumn in the breeze. I stopped my taxi by the side of the road and captured this on my phone (the output isn’t great, but I treasure it). 

As autumn sets in, my heart starts yearning to go home. Back to my land, where my loved ones live – they wait eagerly for me, every year. I visit my home town once a year. 

Autumn marks the advent of the joyous festival of Durga Puja (Durga is a Hindu goddess – puja refers to the rituals when we worship this goddess).

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Fragrant shiuli or night-flowering  jasmine flowers bloom filling my heart with joy and excitement. 

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Photography: Bhagyajit Bhuyan

There is a slight coolness in the air, with bright shining sunbeams. 

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Every day I wake up with a strange nostalgia – memories of durga puja of my childhood, when the early-morning dew still drenched the grass blades, mornings were cold with bright sunshine. 

The smell of sweets and the aroma of Assam tea still lingers around. 

How I miss these sweet nothings of life! Durga puja is again round the corner. But I am already feeling lonely and homesick. My people are far, very far from me, and I can’t leave this mad rush to go there. While I write this, tears brim the edges of my heart. 

I miss home – I miss my people.

 

 

 

😦

Fragrant Memories Never Die

“When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory” ~ Marcel Proust ~ “The Remembrance of Things Past”

These words of Marcel Proust speak loud about the power of fragrances in triggering remembrance of bygone days – your long lost childhood, your passionate love of youth, a sun-soaked noon and you rushing home to eat a delectable lunch cooked by your mom, the hair oil of your granny, the wet soil after the first monsoon rain, and what not.

For me, fragrances bring a flood of emotions, soaked in the exuberance of my childhood days. With the advent of autumn, when the delicate sunbeams smile on me and the shiuli flowers bloom in the backyard of my home wafting its fragrance all over the house, my heart and mind close their eyes and reminisce the awesome autumns of my childhood.

Shiuli flowers

Photography: Bhagyajit Bhuyan

My nana (maternal grandfather) woke up at dawn, walked over the soft grassy carpet drenched in the first dew of the season. Then he sat on an iron stool, slightly tilted and sunk in the loose mud of our front yard – strewn with shiuli flowers. These flowers showered from the tree that stood where my nana sat to relax. Here, he sat from dawn to noon telling us real stories about the value of life and its struggles. He was a fabulous story-teller. How we loved listening to him and also loved the juicy jalebis he gave us to eat.

His stories made us laugh mostly. I remember one day, I spotted a caterpillar crawling on his shoulder. It had slipped down the thin branches of the shiuli tree, it’s home, where it lived with many others. I rushed to brush it down his shoulder with a twig and crush it beneath my feet. The very sight of it mad me itchy. Nana moved back to stop me from doing that. I screamed: Nana, no! It will bite you and you will feel itchy all over!
He said: No, it won’t. Let’s send it back to his way. I stood astonished.

He picked the caterpillar on a leaf and left it on a grass blade. Now I was curious. I wanted to know why he did that?

He smiled at me and said: You must be wondering why I didn’t allow you to kill it? I nodded to say “yes”.

He said: My dear, it has life in it. It can feel pain just as you do! How will you feel if someone hits you hard just because they don’t like you?

I said innocently: I will be hurt!

He smiled again and said: So, do you think it is fair to kill that creature just because you feel itchy at its very sight?

Honestly, I didn’t get the logic right – I believe, I was too young to understand that. I laughed out loud and hugged him. I just understood one thing – that my nana is the best human being I ever came across.

So many years have passed since I last saw that autumn, smelled the shiuli, tasted the sweet jalebis, and saw my nana. He is no more; No more is the fabulous autumn of my childhood. Yet, the blossoming shiuli in the backyard warms my heart with its enchanting fragrance, reawakening the child in me, yearning to get back all that has gone by.

This post is written for the “smelly to smiley” contest on IndiBlogger. For more information, check http://www.facebook.com/AmbiPurIndia

Few of my Favorite Things

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things…

Many years back, my granny showed me the legendary movie – The Sound of Music. I was too young to understand the story well, but this song caught me like a fever forever. The verses talking about Maria’s favorite things, made me visualize those beautiful things. I sang and sang again – grew up singing this song.

Today, when it is raining heavily in my city, with lashing cold breeze, I am bound to think of my favorite things – rain being one of them.

Rains always made me romantic (even when I never understood the meaning of romance), and continue to do so. I lay on my bed, viewing the cloud-obscured sky, from the door that opened into a space (below the hibiscus tree) that turned into a little pond. Green and pale fallen leaves, with red hibiscus flowers, lay strewn on the surface of the water. 

I carefully listened to the pattering sounds of raindrops on the tinned roof of my little home and composed poems. 

When I grew up, I understood the meaning of romance, and with it, I began to enjoy rain with a new meaning. I began to love anything associated with rain – colorful raincoats, floral umbrellas, and the feeling of getting drenched in a winter rain. How can I forget a cup of mom-made steaming ginger tea? 

Rains always make me get into a mood to listen to good music – soft and romantic – Strings of guitar and the long fingers playing on them (when I was young, I easily fell for boys who played guitar 😉 – secret unfolds! ** and I blush**). 😉

 

Reason to Celebrate Life

I am blogging after months, and thanks to the nature of my job! Business consultancy keeps you so busy that you hardly have time to spend quality time with your family, writing for leisure is a distant dream, no doubt. I don’t regret, that’s my choice of life. And, when the choice is mine, I have nothing to complain about.

Well, what prompted me to write  today? Reason? No gifts from my closest people on my birthday…a birthday that I celebrated all by myself (self effort so to say) 🙂 Sounds juvenile? Sounds insane? Well…Allow me to explain.

Yesterday was my 33rd birthday – a day, that has not only been special to me and my twin sister since our childhood, but also for my mother, my maternal uncles, maternal aunt, and my dear ones.

Memories of Dhula mama (my eldest maternal uncle) cleaning the entire house – including its windows, doors, and ceilings, since morning, just because it was our birthday, is still so clear in my mind. He hummed songs from Hindi films and did this chore, with all excitement and happiness.

Kalyan mama (my second maternal uncle) pulled his bicycle, hung a jhola (a cloth bag) to its handle, and went to fetch vegetables, spices, dry fruits, and meat from the market, to be cooked for dinner at night.

Piku mama (my youngest and fattest maternal uncle), raced his bicycle through the busy roads of Fancy Bazar to get the most delicious mithai (sweets) of Guwahati, from the famous sweet shop – Bharatiya Jalpan.

Maasi (my maternal aunt) cooked whole afternoon for the lavish birthday dinner. And my mother offered special puja that day. She gave us loads of love and blessings, along with tiny gifts – mostly things that we really needed (panties, slips, chappals etc. :D). She always said: Celebrate each birthday with great excitement because you are gifted with another year of life by the Almighty. These words got printed on my heart and mind.

With the sunset, the festivities began. Close relatives and neighbors started pouring in with little tokens of love – a Rupee 5 ball-point pen, a set of two handkerchiefs, a set of Pencils, a towel, and sometimes just chocolates, all wrapped in golden, silver, red, and green shiny papers.

I remember, my mother’s cousins – Ranju mama, Baali mama – gifted just Rupees 11 with a toffee, nana (my maternal grandpa)   gifted Milk Bikis (wrapped in newspapers; tied with white thread) and a Rupees 5 note. Aah! What a happiness it gave to my heart.

This tradition of birthday celebration lasted until year 2006 – then I moved out to join the race of rats in Delhi. Lost all the beauty and charm of a “home sweet home’ with loved ones who valued my existence to such an extent.

And behind I left, those warm and giving hearts – lost many in these years. Dhula mama died battling Schizophrenia; Ranju mama fought and succumbed to cancer; Bali mama died a day after this Diwali, fighting a prolonged sickness. Nana-nani left for heavenly abode in the year 2003 and 2004 respectively.

I miss those little gifts, those warm and jovial hearts surrounding me. Now, it has become more like a “must-do” ritual of cake cutting and nothing beyond this. No surprises, no gifts, and no tradition of making me feel special.

Yesterday, I realized for the first time that in 32 years of my life, that I am growing old – old enough for others, giving them a reason not to celebrate my birthday.

But for me, a birthday – of mine or somebody else’s – will always remain a reason to celebrate with gifts, balloons, and sparkling papers.

Reasons to celebrate life are limited. So, this should be the one, my heart believes! What is your take on this thought?