Jaleebiii!

A unique love affair..

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That gujjus have a sweet tooth is a well known fact. But then that fondness for all things sweet transcends boundaries on Dusshera. The chief source of weakness – the humble jalebi! Aah..light golden yellow, crispy,twisting its way around delightfully in concentric circles. Ably supported by its perfect partner in crime – besan na lamba papdi ghatiya and the sweet spicy papaya chutney with hari mirch… what a way to start the day!

Jalebi_and_Fafda

“What!!!!”  My non-Gujju friends exclaim in unison. Jalebi and ghatiya as breakfast!! No wonder we always have gas problems, they joke. But I just smile. They cannot appreciate the magical fusion that happens when a delectable jalebi and a fried ghatiya is popped in the mouth. And washed down with adrak and elaichi ki chai. Its akin to reaching gastronomical heaven.

And on Dusshera, this love assumes epic proportions. Every gujju bows down before the jalebi on Dusshera. I don’t know how this tradition started. But my grandfather had it on Dusshera, my father had it as well. I remember my love for Jalebis blossomed during Diwali vacations at my nani’s house in Calcutta when she used to order Jalebi and ghatiya every Sunday. It’s a legacy, you see. Cherished and preserved from generation to generation. Dusshera should be christened as World Jalebi Ghatiya day, we should make a petition to those greeting card companies! Brand Ambassador – who else but Jalebi B(h)ai!

There are three main temples in Ghatkopar, a bastion of Gujjus in Mumbai, where they make a beeline for to buy their Jalebis. Haribhai kandoi, Morbiwala and Tip Top. Preparations at all these shops begin at least a week in advance. Massive amounts of oil, besan, sugar etc are ordered and stocked. A day before, huge pandals are put up to cope with the throbbing crowd. A makeshift kitchen is created to deal with the demand. Temporary staff are hired. The air is abuzz with excitement. The atmosphere at these halwai shops is electrifying. In Gujarat you can multiply the shops, excitement and buzz by a million times.

The Dusshera day dawns. I wake up at 7.45 am and curse myself, fearing a huge queue. These shops open sharp at 6 am. By 6.05 am, 5 people must already have reached there standing and waiting. I get ready quickly and by 8.30 am I reach Morbiwala. The scenes there are just as I expected. There are atleast 70 people in queue. Which keeps getting longer by the minute. But no one seems to mind the wait. The good things in life always need patience and are worth waiting for. A few uncles have come prepared for the long wait, carrying newspapers and books to while away the time. Most have come in groups. A couple of uncles and aunts behind me are in a jovial mood as they crack jokes and laugh merrily. I join in the fun.

Just then, one uncle comes out of Morbiwala, holding two bags and looks as pleased as punch. As he goes past us, the aroma of jalebis reaches my nose. I wonder how they would be. The shape, the texture, the crispness, the sweetness. And I tell myself that sometimes the pleasure undoubtedly lies in the wait, the anticipation. I look around. The onlookers faces reveal whether they are gujju or not. Gujjus just shrug and move on as if the long queue is nothing new. Non-gujjus stare curiously and wonder.  On being told this was a line for jalebis, they open their eyes wide in disbelief. They have to taste it to believe it, I tell myself.

The line behind me snakes its way around the corner now. At least 50 more people are behind me now, eager to get their hands on the jalebis. Foreigners would be forgiven for thinking that the iPhoneX was about to be launched. Finally at about 9.45 am, I enter the shade of the pandal. The makeshift payment counter contains neat stacks of ten, fifty and hundred rupee notes and one, two and five rupee coins. I collect the coupon and present it to the serving counter. Finally I can see the jalebis. It’s love at first sight. Golden yellow. Sprinkled with kesar and rose petals. I take my parcel with glee and reach home.

At 10.15 am, I have my first bite of jalebi and ghatiya. They taste exactly as I had imagined. I relish the moment for some seconds. It felt as if I had been transported back to the dining room at my Nani’s house in Heysham Road, Calcutta all those years ago. The wait had been well worth it. And then some more.

A Mountain of Memories

Keep Traveling, Keep creating memories

“You never climb the same mountain twice, not even in memory. Memory rebuilds the mountain, changes the weather, retells the jokes, remakes all the moves.” -Lito Tejada-Flores

“Uttarakhand?! Again??” I was asked with incredulity by friends and family. The answer to how many days left them more stupefied. “Uttarakhand?! Again?? And that too for just 3 days?!??” That’s how our planned weekend break to Uttarakhand was greeted with. And of course, our friend Murphy didn’t seem too pleased either about the trip. Our flight from Mumbai to Delhi had to be delayed which led to us missing our connecting train to Kathgodam. If well begun is half done…

That chain of events saw us getting up really early in the wee hours of the morning when even the blessed milkman was sound asleep. We stumbled into our taxi, where surprisingly, but thankfully, we were greeted by our rather cheerful driver. Even then, our mood wasn’t helped by the deserted and sleepy, fog-filled Delhi roads and the approximate journey of 7.30 hours appeared daunting..

We swept past Delhi and Ghaziabad and hit the national highway just before daybreak. The silhouette of under construction buildings and giant oversized hoardings gave way to an open expanse of land on both sides. The first light of dawn revealed a carpet of lush green as far as the eyes could see. Monsoon and mathematics had worked together to create magic! Rectangular fields of different sizes and hues of green were laid out, like a giant quilt; tall narrow trees lined up on the edge of the fields, equally spaced out, a neat arithmetic progression; little square ponds and watering holes popped up every few kilometers. The pretty patterns were broken only by the randomness of the shops and houses jostling for space in the towns which whizzed past – Hapur, Gajraula, Moradabad, Rampur, Swar, Bazpur. Our driver, Mr. Sonu was from the mountain ranges in Himachal and started talking about his village in the Kangra valley. A few hours on the road and our moods had considerably brightened..

As we passed Bazpur, the highway had narrowed down to a 2 lane road. Suddenly, the farms started giving way to wild shrubs and grasslands. The road seemed as if it was cut through a jungle, with dense foliage on both sides. The signpost on the side read – Kaladhungi – 1 km ahead. We were close to Corbett territory – the sprawling notice announcing that Jim Corbett national park is just 44 kms, tempted us to take a detour but we kept going. Just as we began our ascent up the hills, the clouds and fog had descended down to greet us. The road had now started snaking it’s way around hairpin bends amidst almost zero visibility. We dutifully followed the road signs as we divorced speed and were really gentle on the curves. I rolled down the windows. The gush of cold crisp air felt comforting and familiar. The smell, the sights and the sounds, all felt familiar. And yet, that feeling of deja vu was absent, in spite of being on these winding roads many many times before. It felt as if each time these mountains have that unique capacity to surprise and delight with every fork in the road, with every new vista that they lay out in front of us..

Indeed, you never climb the same mountain twice. While the same mountain range appears forbidding and imposing on a trek to Gaumukh, it also appears benign and beguiling at its foothills in Hrishikesh. Sometimes it appears as a picture perfect postcard as the Mandakini flows gracefully from its bountiful glaciers, caressed by grassy banks on both sides at Harsil. Sometimes, it is in the mood to show-off all its glory, resplendent in white, basking in different hues of yellow and red and orange in Kausani; while sometimes it appears moody and brooding, refusing to reveal it’s might at the edge of the world in Munsiyari. Today the same mountain range appears covered in mist and fog in one instant and in the very next appears draped from head to toe in the same lush green carpet from the plains, with the oaks and deodhars and pines adorning it amidst broken clouds and scattered sunrays…

We had reached Nainital for a quick pitstop after a journey that unexpectedly ended up being quite memorable. And then, equally unexpectedly, Murphys good brother helped us stumble upon a poem from the inimitable Ruskin Bond, printed on the back of a restaurant menu. It summed up my mood perfectly…

“Once you lived with the mountains

Under the whispering pines

And deodars, near stars

And a brighter moon,

With wood smoke and mist

Sweet smell of grass, dew lines

On spider-spun, sun-kissed

Buttercup and vine;

Once you have lived with these,

Blessed, God’s favourite then,

You will return,

You will come back

To touch the trees and grass

And climb once more the windswept mountain pass.”

Yes. Every time you climb a mountain, it feels different. The only constant however, one you are amongst them is the promise you make to yourself to keep returning and keep creating more memories…

Under the Pillow..

Memories, experiences are the best gifts that Life has to offer. Go and make memories!

“If I were you, I would check under my pillow…”

The young boy, frantic by now, had almost given up hope when he looked up at his mother, his eyes pleading for a hint…

It was his tenth birthday that day and mom had promised last night that he would find a surprise waiting for him in the morning. He could barely contain his excitement as he tossed and turned his way to sleep that night.

The next day, for the first time, he woke up without his mom being his alarm clock, without him having to ask her if she could wake up him after just 10 more minutes. He looked around alert, searched his drawers, searched under the bed, searched his cupboard and almost every possible hiding place..

Dejected, he went to mom with his most innocent helpless expression which he knew had done the trick in the past. Sure enough, Mom told him the password. He jumped on the bed and turned the pillow over and finally found his gift…

pillow

A gift which he found almost every year thereafter, neatly gift wrapped, resting under the pillow…

It was his birthday again today. He was in his thirties now. He looked under the pillow and sighed. The gift was right there.

It was a Memory box. A collection of stories. Incidents of shared love and laughter. Songs sung together, movies seen together, trips taken together. Memories, to last a lifetime. All under his pillow…

A story in a tea cup

Everyone has a favourite story, a favourite memory which revolves around tea. Which one is yous?

Aaaahhh” You could almost hear the entire landscape of Munnar say it in unison, as if it had just partaken of a sip of hot, refreshing cup of tea, whose leaves were plucked just hours ago. On that Sunday morning, the scenery around the tea estate evoked that same feeling of refreshing energy. Those endless rolling, sloping, tea gardens had draped themselves in the freshest coat of green as the dew drops glistened and bathed themselves in the sparkling winter sun. In the midst of the tea gardens, the flame of the forest shone a bright orange, matching the intensity of the sun. The bees swarmed and buzzed around happy flowers as the hazy fog shook of its laziness to reveal the mountains and forests beyond. It was time to have a cuppa myself, I thought..

Chai

The tea was had just the right balance between sweetness and kadakness. But instead of that “aaaah” which usually follows a well made cup of tea, I sighed. There was something missing, the same deja-vu feeling whenever I have had tea in these last 6 months..

In a family of self-confessed tea addicts, where my uncle had even composed an ode to his fondness for tea, it may seem surprising that I started consuming tea on a daily basis only after I joined the corporate world. Though it may seem obvious, I can assure you that there is no correlation between the two..

On one of those days after I had started working, my mamaji had come to visit us. I was excited, for the simple reason that mom was bound to prepare an elaborate feast for her brother. Lunch was served, was seen and was heartily consumed. I sprawled around on the sofa, looking dazed and confused, with half droopy eyes, a reaction befitting a glorious gujju lunch. Mama looked satisfied as well, but I sensed he was waiting for something more…

As most gujju family get-togethers go, lunch soon gave way to tea time. Uncle’s lips curled up in a ear to ear smile as he took in the aroma wafting in from the kitchen. The first sip led to an almost meditative closing of the eyes, as if he was transported into a trance like state. I wondered what had mom added in that tea which otherwise did not induce any such feeling on a daily basis….

I cautiously took a sip. It certainly was different. There were a couple of elements which she did not add normally which enhanced the flavour dramatically. There was the usual slight hint of ginger and then there was fresh lemongrass and mint. It was wonderful. And it was unfair. Why was this not served on a regular basis, I demanded as I did my best Oliver Twist expression, asking for some more..

Though she always gave a roundabout answer, I guess that it was more to do with the fact that certain things are meant to be kept for certain occasions. A sort of artificial scarcity. Like when she had family coming over. Or on some special days. Or the time when she had to impress my in-laws, life imitating that silly bollywood song on mummy calling home for chai and my father-in-law’s reaction as he told his daughter “please learn this recipe and make it for us the next time you come home….”

Unfortunately that recipe was never written down and it never felt the same even though several honest attempts were made. The proportion of milk, water and sugar, the quantum of lemon grass and mint, and the brewing time – all went through numerous iterations and permutations. But again that feeling of something being amiss refused to go away. Maybe, to use a cliché, the missing ingredient was love. Or perhaps, she wanted it to remain a fond memory, undiluted by reality…

…As our leisurely breakfast continued, I told this to my wife. She just smiled and said “yes, maybe we will never be able to create that tea that your mom used to make. And even if we were to come close, perhaps, it is your mind who just wants it to remain a memory, a small little legend…”

Aaaah! Yes, indeed. The legend of my Mother’s Tea..