At the Home, after the last bell rang and the kids clattered down the two or one flight of stairs, their Taylor Frame Slates & cane in place …(you should watch a blind kid run down stairs!) they served red rice with coconut chutney and bitter gourd fried. It was the tastiest thing I’ve ever had; how did they get the acrid rind to taste juicy soft delicious?
Marie Ann the French girl from Meghalaya, an Intern, she could not keep her fingers off the bowl. She put down her fork and knife and went at it with all her fingers.
It was marinated then fried in chillied seasoned curd, onion shreds stir fried with garlic. All this in turmeric seasoning, dried red chillie, rock salt… cook said. I’m sure there was coconut oil involved, and an amount of jaggery.
What I remember best about that moment there in the dining room with gourd delight, was the little silence around lunch and the relief of laughter later. Oh the sharing of recipes, from totally academic people who could not have touched much Cuisine in their life span. The interest shown here! Detailed love for forms of Gourd and its life: both as vegetation and as essential to human peace.
I love that about what good fellowship of food does to us Homosapiens, I especially love when one is surprised by unexpected flavors.
There was no ‘magic’ in Penja’s bowl, nothing but her basic steamed rice in turmeric & garlic fried curries.
If we were fortunate we were treated to stir fried onion rings, tomato pickles and home made breads.
When Penja served you her glass of water it was in copper tumbler scoured clean with tamarind. She didnot own one store bought masala tin or even toothpaste. When you had her rice cooked in earthen ware, you smelt the rice field it had grown in; you were made to think of the farmer’s ride to the grain bazaars …of hands that bore that rice sack to the city all the way to Penjas store room next to her mango tree and coconut stack.
All this made you feel well. It cured Dantri’s asthma, and Shom’s colic. We didn’t talk of it but we knew. If anyone saw Penja whispering in her pot as she cooked, no one said anything about that. We just knew it worked.
She had no visible gods and goddesses in her rooms or in her compound where she lived alone with her mint garden and pomegranate. Oh she served pomegranate in juices, in salads, in curd, with dessert, or by itself. Oneday she told us how we had everything to live well, and how to thank God for the workers who brought them to us. It was confusing at that time. Like we were responsible for causing that much work to farmers. Or God. But Penja, our neighborhood friendly aunt lived grateful. So everything she touched spilled with that emotion. I’m thinking it’s a cure all by itself: gratitude to mankind, the planet and God for all favours received, and for necessary or unnecessary hardships. It all clung together somehow, all of us going round and round the sun in a merry go round of events that made sense or none, but it was like algebra. It worked itself out if you were patient and waited for itself to settle. Somethings didn’t settle fast. Like trigonometry for me, or tonsillitis. Not till after the surgery, and after my throat stopped feeling like a thousand cuts, after which there were food restrictions and no icecreams till later. Penja felt kind especially during those times. She made illness and pain feel important and celebrated. I got a eucalyptus throat wrap and inhaled sweet camphor under our guava tree, the one with tiny anthill and crumbly sand. It all was gold washed in sunset or early noon. You let the sun fall on you, it made you feel altogether and not odd. You picked that up from Penja if you lived nearby or stopped over on the way back from school.
Penja had a ritual of sitting a few moments every now and then to be still. We were too young to know the depth of that. But it felt good to watch when we could. It was like the sky and earth met up somewhere between her ears and gave her joy. This was more than Peace. She had been a young widow, now she was silver white like her cotton saris and ragged hymn book. Oh a golding white, like ripe corn in a setting sun….her hymn book, her prayer sheets and hands – as if they were rinsed in Light. That’s all I could think even back then. Even her low voice singing words hard to decipher, my guess is they each were thankyou words, she loved God like that. Like a personal Person. She was too much a home body to go out to a chapel but it was all in her heart someplace shining out her eyes.
She died recently and left me a legacy I’m trying to pursue in these days of Essential Existence ~ in the art of tomato chutney seasoned with curry leaf or roasted red chillie/ cumin seed. Yeah, all those chillie farms and onion braids in bazaars ripe with God’s own aromas of life.
Oh and her pomegranate juices, they made you think differently of ordinary events like after -school messy socks and trails of homework, ugh. Sigh yes! Like an Elixir.
Penja, wherever you are out there in His Courtyards, I love you for making me think of all that now.
The past few days I’ve been impatient for a real nice surprise. D’you feel like that recently? And I mean yelling impatient. Crying impatient. Life began to feel boring, staccato boringgggh.
But! not! today!
My husband and second daughter Kitsy were out on another highly budgeted shopping round for Essentials; food stores are at their emptiest, blockades have come up right across our main, I think we’re cordoned off as some Covid hotspots are being sectioned off here in Bangalore. Hmm scary.
Never mind. So Kitsy and Jeff go out the door with mask and warnings about ‘The Budgie’ (budget): our Kitsy has sweet tooth, sweet fingers, sweet everything. She lives for shopping, adores food racks, or any activity that includes sale of edibles, wearables, bakeables.
Anyway, they were driving up to local Store, when a very young girl looks in at window and says a word, “Rice.” She was requesting. This meant now, for our 20 year old to not just part with something from her list, but also to help this kid get her bag of rice, I mean buy it for her. The girl didn’t know how to handle those counters and two meter sections of long queue outside in a chalked bubble enroute to the inside of Reliance Fresh. Which Kitsy did too, her face beaming with curious pleasure as they got back home….
but they… we all had a bigger surprise. We get a surprise gift from a long distance friend. The gift he sent was a hundred times more than what our Rice-Girl got from us. What d’you say to that?
I don’t know about your country, but here it’s tough enough without looking into needs of Migrant workers/ daily wage workers left high and dry without the everyday wage they depend on for existence. I just do not know what to say enough about everything. It is all too much too think on. Personal needs/ citizen needs. You can grow multi-coloured hair just thinking on everything that can go wrong, and there is terrifyingly little one can do except do the next thing you can.
Sigh. Sometimes it is hard to even reach them with a helping hand, at a time like this. Restrictions are now at the gate. We daren’t all go out together, leave alone visit another section of community. I’m so glad that Rice Girl arrived when she did. Glad she got that basic need met: and look at what God did, at probably the exact time Kit was at that sales counter.
It is past midnight… so ‘Easter ‘ already here. We need more than essentials in this time of existence. We need Life and Life abundant. May the Risen Lord Jesus Christ fill your heart with His Touch, His Presence.
Our Kitsy used to get ‘spooked’ at prayers like that, till she began praying her own brand of little impatient prayings. Prayers to please let her older sis stop being annoying, or to please help Joh her brother just behave. Words from her young heart that were true and real; as I watch her life unfold I’m more and more convinced of a God who walks with us, and stalks our needs in His own inimitable way.
I pray everyone will get back jobs and health, but too, that we will never forget the times we prayed and were answered. I asked for a nice surprise, thankful Heavenly Father for a beautiful one at that!