There comes a time in everyone’s life when the words ‘family’, ‘relations’, ‘love’, ‘parents’, ‘home’ everything makes sense in an emotional way. Brings tears to our closed eyes when we take a moment to think about anyone and everyone related to these words I just mentioned. I am sure your eyes are also moist as you think of those special ones, who may or may not be around you! And then, it all boils down to one question: What could you give up to live that one day surrounded by these people, one more time. What could you give up to hear that laughter, feel that sense of belongingness or enjoy the precious, priceless moments? Well, I am the same and lucky enough to have some of these special ones still around me; while some are long gone, they left their memories to occupy my loneliness.
As I have heard this before, let us be very very very proud of ourselves first. We are all winners in a sense. You don’t even know your odds of NOT being here. Millions of sperms were left behind when the lucky ‘you’ sperm made it to the egg. If it was some other sperm, ‘you’ would not be here. Yes, it would be a child of your parents but someone who looked totally different, different features, different skills! Who knows?! And that applies to your parents and their parents and their parents as well!! Remarkable, isn’t it? The whole point of talking biosophy (biology+philosophy) was let us be grateful for what we are and whom we have as our special ones.
This is a write up about a few women and their genetic combination that made me who I am today. My grandmothers, my mother and my sister. Before we proceed, for those who do not know, I am a computer engineer on paper. But food has been my passion since I don’t even remember. Though it took me a little bit to realise that my passion could be a part of my career or my career itself, as they say, better late than never!
So, ours has been a family of connoisseurs or gourmands for decades now. Food was the essence of every celebration at home. Every season, festival and celebration came with a different food. Be it Sunday, birthday or Diwali! And since I grew up in this culinary household, I began associating each celebration with the smell of its food. Gulab Jamun meant birthdays. Prawns curry, fish fry, or mutton curry meant Sunday. Litres of Masala Doodh / Spiced Milk with dry fruits meant Ganpati festival. Chakli, sev, shankarpali, kanola and chivda meant Diwali. Til laddoos meant Makarsankranti. Aamras-puri, puranpoli and neem-coriander-gul was a thing on Gudhi Padwa (Marathi New Year). Banana bhajjiya also known as Artya (in a CKP home) was the showstopper on Shravan Fridays. Picnics or outings called for my mom’s vegetable sandwiches. So each of these foods became an annual part of our life.
Each of these 3.5 women influenced my life in a subtle way, and have left their imprint behind heavily on my life.
The first is my Mother:
Mumma or Aai as we call her. She is this modern age chef / wife / mother / daughter / daughter-in-law. In the 80s and 90s, when chaat or pav bhaji or Mumbai street food was evolving, she attended cooking classes to learn to make ragda patties, pizza, cakes etc. Apparently, until I was born she also made her own ketchup, jams and sauces too. I guess, I was too much work after! I remember, I was probably 5 or 6 when Desi Chinese food debuted our dinner tables. Yes, not the greatest thing to feed your kids but hey, it was all about the excitement and totally worth it. My mother, being a health freak that she is, decided to nail the schezwan fried rice recipe at home. Of course it never tasted like the shack food because her kitchen was way too clean to make that food taste the same! But I vividly remember using tabasco sauce and food colouring and what not; totally unaware of the ‘schezwan sauce’ itself. Funny old BG (Before-Google) times.
Because my mother grew up with Madrasis, she speaks fluent Tamil. Growing up I would hear her Tamil conversations (confidential ones, so that none of us understood what was going on) and all I learnt was numbers from 1 to 10 and how to say ‘What is your name’ in Tamil: ‘Enna pera’. Sometimes I was convinced she was not a Maharashtrian but a South Indian- thanks to her South Indian Hindi accent. A Marathi / Mumbai girl that talks like a South Indian! Where else would you find this! As fluently she speaks Tamil, equally soft and puffy are her idlis, crispy dosas and spicy-tangy sambar. Known in my family to make the best idlis and dosas. Also known for her Mutton rassa CKP style, pani puri, sev puri and other chaat items. Known to make amazing fish curries too! So much so that when I would dine at my relatives place, instead of asking how the meal was, I would often be asked if it tasted like my mother’s! Little 5 year old me was very straightforward and a true critic. I would honestly tell them where their food/ cooking stood as compared to my mothers. Many were not a fan of this, but oh well! Children are innocent and unbiased. What can we do! So yes, I would always be asked how their food was in comparison with my mother’s. If I was in my mother place, I would be inflated with all the pride and everything! But my humble mother made me break this habit of critiquing others’ cooking. And what she says is very true, every person has their own taste and way of cooking. When we cook something from the bottom of our heart, with a good attitude and using good quality ingredients, there is no comparison. Love has no cuisine, taste or texture. At the end, all that matters is love!
The second comes my Aaji:
My father’s mom, an incredible woman I must say. Very enthusiastic, trendy and always keeping up with changing times. Traditionally, our grandmothers grew up eating a region specific cuisine, unless someone from a different region was a family friend. They would invite you for lunch or dinner and only then you would be exposed to their style of eating/ cooking. Unlike a lot of other grandparents, mine were the coolest I believe. And I have a very strong reason to make that statement. One of them loved Chinese food while the other loves Pizza! And not just love, they would crave it and ask us to order it over the phone! If this isn’t cool, I don’t know what is!
So like I said, I grew up with my Aaji around me, baby-sitting me, playing silly little girl games with me. She taught me to drape a saree, play cards, and she also digested a lot of my failed cooking experiments! She would participate in local food competitions where the recipe creation was hers, I would be the taster and the plate decorator. And believe it or not, all the three years that we participated, we won an award. She would watch all the cooking shows and sit with her diary and a pen to write down all the recipes, then practise them at home with her own tweaks. 4 o’clock snack time was my favourite time. She would make amazing snacks to go with tea. Anytime I asked for a treat, I would get it. At times, I would not even have to ask for it. My Ajoba and Aaji knew my favourite kind of chips. They knew the ice creams I liked. So every month, if they had any Rupees left after buying their medication and provisions, that would go for my treats.
I have been a big fan of checking out newly opened spots. One time they spotted a newly opened softy ice cream parlour. Right away they grabbed one in each hand, one for me and the other for my sister, and raced home against the melting ice cream. Every evening we would visit the Ganapati temple and I would accompany them. Not because I was a Ganesh- bhakt. But because on our way to the temple, my Aaji would buy me a vada pav. Such a spoilt little princess I was. All these memories fill my memories-jar up to the brim. Sometimes when these memories overflow, tears roll down my cheek. Amazing are these people who help you take your first step, protect you, watch you grow, pamper you, show you love and also discipline you. And through these years of ‘growing up’, the by-product is ‘sweet memories’. Hope she is smiling and cooking up a storm up there!
The third is my Wadalyachi Aaji:
My mother’s mom, and the name because she lived in Wadala, Mumbai. The other one was just Aaji or maybe Dombivli aaji. Even though the Wadala house has been sold off and long gone, she still wears the title of ‘Wadalyachi Aaji’. If there exists a warrior woman whom I have personally known, it is this one! Perfect balance of flavours was the beauty of her cooking. The ratio of sugar to salt to sour (tamarind, aamsul, lemon juice) was very crucial for her. She did not really teach me to cook but my mother believes that I have picked up that sugar-salt-sour balance thingy from her. I also am pretty fussy about the amount of sugar-salt and sour ingredients in my food. Balancing the flavours is always the key and that’s what ‘good food’ is about. Balanced flavours are like a perfectly coordinated dance performance, on your tongue though! The first reaction from your brain when you take a bit has to be ‘WOW’ and that’s how simple it is to cook ‘good food’.
The top favorites from her kitchen include Vaalache Birdhe (an authentic CKP recipe), coconut chutney (for dosa), Vaalachi khichadi, Masoor Khichadi, Pithla to name a few. If you take a closer look at all these foods I just mentioned, these require intense work, marinades and slow cooking. It is definitely not your quick dinner or 15 minute lunch. All the time and hard work is absolutely worth it and is priceless.
Now she is 95 something years old and she may not be able to show off her cooking flair like she once did. Even then, her taste buds are 100% in fine fettle and even today she will point out to my mother if there is less sugar in curries.
Last but not the least: My older sister!
Those of you who have an older sibling will be able to relate to this part better. Growing up with a sibling is a whole other story by itself. But for the younger ones, their first idol or someone they look up to is the older sibling. For girls, it is all about the fashion, the style, dressing up, make up or the way your sister carries herself. Or games, cars, comic action heroes for boys. In our eyes, our older sibling is that rock star who knows everything and we always aspire to be like them. A lot of the times we end up copying their style or their way of doing things.
I do not know from their point of view, maybe it is annoying to see someone really ‘stupid’ follow you everywhere; trying pull a ‘you’. I had a habit of wearing my sister’s clothes without asking her (even today I do, even though we are physically in different countries). In my defense, I am only a fan of her selection and trying to copy her or to be like her! (Here is an excuse you can use next time you have a cat fight about stealing each other’s clothes!!). She definitely has got nothing to do with cooking, not in my wildest dreams! She tries though and that’s more than enough. She is more of a support and a mother/sister to me and therefore she deserves some credit in my upbringing.
So that is it, that’s the 3.5 women in my life. Shaping me into who I am today. Thank you to all of them from bottom of my heart. Love you ladies to the moon and back! I love my life today, entirely because of you…