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…