My Time Machine!



It’s hard to imagine Moms and Dads as youngsters isn’t it? They always seemed like such dorks when we were growing up. And when we finally ‘grew up’ and built our own nests, Moms and Dads became the infallible, indestructible Gibraltors of our lives. It is really difficult to imagine the Dads goofing off and loafing around during the college days. It is really difficult to imagine the stern and ever-so-practical Moms simpering over Rajesh Khanna. And that’s why, this particular book is so invaluable to me. It is probably 40 years old or more. It’s my very own time machine. Like Calvin’s cardboard box. Like Dumbledore’s pensieve. All I have to do is open those pages, and tumble into Amma’s younger days.

First of all, it looks like she had this note book right from college. She got married while she was studying, so she must have brought this book to her new home, which makes it all the more endearing. I can almost imagine her, a shy bride with her precious and sparse belongings, accepting a new home and new family as her own. And how typical of her to have carried a book with her!

Also, it looks like it was her Chemistry notebook in college. There’s “State the important differences between mixtures and compounds. Illustrate you answer with an example.” And - “Under what conditions does hydrogen combine with Chlorine, Sodium, Ethylene?” and so on. These were the college notes of the early seventies. And I realize that I broke my head over the same things in the 90s! Her handwriting is clear and neat – just like her character!

After a couple of pages, the Chemistry notes give way to a lot of bhajans and shlokas that I grew up with. The lyrics are neatly written down in Kannada, and as I run my fingers over the words, I can see her in our small kitchen, humming away some keerthana of Purandara Dasa or Thyagaraja, as she went about her chores.

And of course! The most precious legacy of her magic hands – the timeless recipes! Recipes that she received from her mother and aunts. It’s a treasure trove of recipes that most of my generation no longer prepare at home. There are recipes for pickles, ‘sandige’, exotic sweets, cutlets, savouries, jams, jellies...and even detergent soap!

Those were the days when there was no concept of ‘bottled’ pickle being sold in kirana shops. Everyone made their own pickles at home. I remember large porcelain jars – specifically used for pickling! Every house had a couple of such ‘Uppinakaayi jaadi’. Same was the case with pappads and crispies, known as ‘Sandige’ in Kannada. Summer used to be sandige time. All the ladies of the road would get together and prepare the ‘batter’ for the crispies. Some would be made of a mixture of rice and urad daal flour. Some would be made of sabudaana. I remember Amma getting up early and keeping the batter ready. Then we would troop out with large plastic sheets and bricks to any neighbour’s house that had a terrace. The plastic sheets would be spread on the floor, bricks weighing the sides down - you see the batter had to be spooned onto the plastic sheets in small dollops, and sundried.

The sabudaana sandige was easy enough, and we kids were allowed to help her. We had to take a scoop of the gloop in a small ladle and smear it on the plastic sheet in a small circle. The rice crispies were tougher. They had to be put through a perforated press that would bring out the batter in a ‘noodly’ form. The consistency and temperature of the batter was key here, and it had to be done fast! All this had to be done by 7 or 8 in the morning, so that the sandiges get the best of the searing sunlight. I remember those lovely summer mornings with all the aunties bent over their plastic sheets – laughing and chatting and exchanging cooking tips. We kids had the important task of guarding the sandige as they sundried – we had to shoo away the waiting crows and sparrows, and after a couple of hours, we were supposed to turn the crispies over so they dried evenly on both sides. Amma had two large aluminium containers which were lined by a plastic sheets. She would store the sandiges neatly in them – to be fried on special occasions or whenever bisibelebaath was prepared!

Those were idle summer days, when we kids could sit for hours – without TV, without Nintendos and XBOXs – just making up our own games and stories as we watched the sun dry our sandiges. We did not care about sweating it out in the searing sun, blackened like coals as we played our ‘just-invented’ games. There was no fear of sun-tan, no fear of skin cancer, no fear of dehydration (we used to drink litres of tendercoconut water...did’nt we?)

Ahh! Amma has written down the recipes for the lip-smacking rasam powder, sambhar powder, vangibaath, yengai...yumm! I suppose the same recipes have been around for generations! Preparation of these powders used to be a ‘once-in-a-quarter’ affair. Spices were to be roasted in a particular order, and in particular proportions. Once they cooled, they would be packed in big steel dabbas, and then we had to head out to the ‘Machine’. Yeah, coming to think of it, these ubiquitous shops were known as ‘Machines’. It was basically a shop with this monstrous machine, which made horrendous sound while in operation. From one end, the owner/machinist would feed in the whole spices, and from another end, the spice powder would emerge. Now, there were specific Mom-rules here too. These rules were followed by all Moms. We had to first check what had been put in the machine earlier, so that the taste of our powder does not get adulterated. If someone was waiting to get their whole raagi (millet) seeds powdered, it was common sense and decency to wait for them to finish. And so, the ‘Machine’ was another place where Mommies would hang out exchanging news, while they waited for their spice powders to be done. And of course, the stern inspection of the powder – the rasam powder had to be absolutely fine, the sambhar and yenghai should be slightly coarse. The sambhar powder had to go in only after the rasam powder is done...and so on! Phew! But the machinist was more often than not, a pro. These creatures know the intricacies of South-Indian spice preparation. Once the machine job was done, we would go home, and Amma would lock us kids out of the kitchen lest we get the spice in our eyes or nose; you see she had to sieve the different spice powders to ensure clumps are filtered out. She would emerge after a while – tears stinging her eyes because of the pungency, yet triumphant. Her perfectly balanced spices were ready, and packed in air-tight containers for use!

Another nugget of a memory! Tucked away in a corner of the book is this sales receipt from Bata – possibly from the early 80s. It was for ‘Snow White’ costing Rs.5.50! This was a ‘white’ polish for the white keds shoes that we had to wear in primary school I think (before they mercifully switched over to blue canvas shoes). Keds had to be worn once a week when we had P.T. ..and it was a pain maintaining them. Well, why am I complaining...it was Amma all the way – washing the keds, drying them, and then spanking our butts to make us sit and ‘polish’ them.

And her usual financial account – rent was Rs.300, Gas and kerosense was Rs.100 and so on!

It also looks like I first discovered my self-proclaimed talent as an artist in this notebook of hers. Perhaps I was bugging her no end, writing on walls and eating chalk pieces instead of using them on a slate – so she spared this book of hers! Some of my art pieces -
A weirdly happy king
An early self-portrait - clearly made of zeros.

When I look at this book, I think – my God! How active, how full of life Amma was! Never a dull moment – always trying out something new! She was probably in her mid-twenties when this notebook ran out of pages – and she has left a legacy of spirituality, recipes and innovations! How diverse! And above all, how useful to me and my sister. And perhaps for future generations too! On the other hand, I remember, with a squirm, that when I was her age, how frivolous I was – drawing hearts with arrows around Kurt Cobain’s name written in red sketch pen! Yew!

That had me thinking about ...well, myself. Will my children, if any, have a chance to reminisce about me after I’ve finally kicked the bucket? Well, first of all, the logistics – will this blog server still be up decades later? Should I save all this rubbish I dribble in a blog in a USB stick and pass it on as legacy? Will USB sticks still be around at that age? Maybe I should write down each blog in longhand. Coming to think of it, when was the last time I used a pen to write something? I took a look at my blogs again. There’s ranting against corruption, there’s ranting against journalism, there’s ranting against thin models on a stupid TV program, there’s ranting about how everyone have ignored the Vedas, there’s ranting about my weight...oh my god...! Fifty years down the line, if someone reads this – they’ll say they had a senile schizophrenic woman in the family tree. Guess I’ll leave the blog as is, in a digital format.

© Sumana Khan - 2010



Comments

  1. I am glad you took part. Have no time to read now. Will do so leisurely later on.
    Good luck with the competition.

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  2. Even my mom has a multi purpose book like this with her poems,recipes,paper cuttings..and in no way I am allowed to handle it:P...lovely post...made me remember those crow chasing days in Ajji mane..saying 'kaka'and guarding all her Sendges:)

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  3. I loved your post, Sumana. My grandmother had a notebook like that, which my mother now has.

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  4. @Shail...having a great time in Dubai? :) Thanks for sharing the link in the first place.

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  5. @Raksha - thanks for stopping by! It was such a typical South Indian lifestyle isn't it? Simply lovely!

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  6. @ThatandThis - so will the legacy continue with you? :)

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  7. Lovely post! I too hold a lot of such stuff Mom has used so close to my heart,her letters to me when she was away etc. I too started writing for my nephews and neices but none of them like to read not even on the net. I also try to do many things myself like making pickles at home I learnt them from my Aunt but family says I love burning myself out. Though I was born and brought up in South Mumbai and we lived in apartments all the while the community activities like the papad making and diwali sweet making was part of my early childhood. Finding a place to dry the summer goodies was always a challenge as our bldg was in the midst of a commercial area and we would go to a near by Fire station which had lot of space to dry them. Our Masala grinding happened in the village though. Life has changed so much! I used to laugh at elders telling stories of their pasts and now I too do the same. Signs of old age I guess :)

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  8. @Anjali - LOL @ papad drying in fire station of all the places!! Pickles at home? You go girl! And you are so true about 'feeling old' :) Life has indeed changed so much! All the while, I would thank MTR, Maggie and so many brands for keeping things ready for me :) Now, I suddenly wake up thinking we are losing touch with everything. I guess we are the ones going kicking and screaming into the future :)

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  9. Very good post.

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  10. That's a special book to be cherished! It lets you dig out such exquisite pieces from memory and chew over it!

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  11. Sakkath maja banthu ee post :)

    Reminded me the days when I ran to the Mill to get Godi Hittu, Akki Hittu, etc and as you rightly put, keeping in mind the order of getting these ground, dependent on what previously went thro' the machine. The Uppinakaayi Jadi, the Sandige plastic sheets, Aralu Sandige, Aloogadde sandige, all these come to my mind.

    And on the lighter side, loved the way you said about what people might think about your blogs 50 years down the line. Believe me, you would be a great author and an inspiration to a lot of people then :)

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  12. @Niks! Thanks man! Thats a great treat for the ego. Fame at 80 plus at last! I wont have any pressure to look good and all those celebrity trappings! woohoo!

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  16. Straight to the point and well written! Why can’t everyone else be like this?

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  17. This was really interesting. I loved reading it

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  18. Great to read!
    Here is my own time machine experience.

    Cut to 1974.
    I land in Bangalore in Oct 74 as a young man having just completed his engineering education and reporting for his first job, (I later got married in June 1975.)

    My salary ? Rs 750 per month total.

    Expenses?

    My first rented house: Hall bedroom and kitchen with a mosaic floor . Rent Rs 180/- (yes, just Rupees one hundred and eighty!) and located in Jayanagar.
    Nandini Haalu was just Rs 1.10 per litre.
    KEB's electricty bills were Rs 18 per month.
    BWSSB water bills were Rs 0.50 (fifty paise per month)
    Petrol was 3.10 per litre. I bought my new Yezdi motorcycle for Rs 6000.
    Bus fare from Jayanagar to Majestic was 25 paise.
    The great Rajnikanth had not yet become a star. He was a bus conductor on the Malleswaram Gandhi Bazaar route.
    The ride from Jayanagar to the City Rly station took just ten minutes on my Yezdi if I was lucky at the signals, otherwise 12 to 13 minutes. And no, I didn't have to ride like the devil.

    There were no one way signs anywhere. Even Kempegowda Road was two way.
    Auto fare was 45 paise per kilometer, and the minimum fare was 75 paise.
    Kamath/Pai restaurants served a thali for Rs 1.50 to Rs 1.75
    (These Darshini's and Saagars did not exist)
    Janata hotels were even cheaper.
    There was no TV. The only entertainment was cinema.
    Nartaki Cinema Balcony ticket was Rs 3.50 whereas at Plaza on MG road the balcony ticket was Rs 2.75
    Pop corn was just 50 paise per packet.
    Iyengar bakeries served a slice of bread with chopped onions and grated carrot for 15 paise each.
    Coffee/Tea/Baadaami Haalu was just 35 paise a cup.

    Want to go back further?
    Cut to 1955-56
    I was in primary school in Mumbai
    Mera Joota Hai Jaapani, Eena Meena Deeka were the popular tunes of the day.
    I hired a cycle for two annas (12 paise) an hour.
    Masala Dosa at the local Udupi hotel was also two annas and so was Joy icecream.
    My mom made us run errands and a coconut from the local store was just 3 annas (19 paise)
    Petrol was 78 paise per litre. My school fees in an expensive English medium school run by Catholic missionaries was Rs 12 per month. Other vernacular medium schools charged just Rs 7 per month.

    Ah! the good old days!
    Any time I feel like getting into my time machine, I retrieve the old family photo album.

    Regards
    GV

    ReplyDelete
  19. Great to read!
    Here is my own time machine experience.

    Cut to 1974.
    I land in Bangalore in Oct 74 as a young man having just completed his engineering education and reporting for his first job, (I later got married in June 1975.)

    My salary ? Rs 750 per month total.

    Expenses?

    My first rented house: Hall bedroom and kitchen with a mosaic floor . Rent Rs 180/- (yes, just Rupees one hundred and eighty!) and located in Jayanagar.
    Nandini Haalu was just Rs 1.10 per litre.
    KEB's electricty bills were Rs 18 per month.
    BWSSB water bills were Rs 0.50 (fifty paise per month)
    Petrol was 3.10 per litre. I bought my new Yezdi motorcycle for Rs 6000.
    Bus fare from Jayanagar to Majestic was 25 paise.
    The great Rajnikanth had not yet become a star. He was a bus conductor on the Malleswaram Gandhi Bazaar route.
    The ride from Jayanagar to the City Rly station took just ten minutes on my Yezdi if I was lucky at the signals, otherwise 12 to 13 minutes. And no, I didn't have to ride like the devil.

    There were no one way signs anywhere. Even Kempegowda Road was two way.
    Auto fare was 45 paise per kilometer, and the minimum fare was 75 paise.
    Kamath/Pai restaurants served a thali for Rs 1.50 to Rs 1.75
    (These Darshini's and Saagars did not exist)
    Janata hotels were even cheaper.
    There was no TV. The only entertainment was cinema.
    Nartaki Cinema Balcony ticket was Rs 3.50 whereas at Plaza on MG road the balcony ticket was Rs 2.75
    Pop corn was just 50 paise per packet.
    Iyengar bakeries served a slice of bread with chopped onions and grated carrot for 15 paise each.
    Coffee/Tea/Baadaami Haalu was just 35 paise a cup.

    Want to go back further?
    Cut to 1955-56
    I was in primary school in Mumbai
    Mera Joota Hai Jaapani, Eena Meena Deeka were the popular tunes of the day.
    I hired a cycle for two annas (12 paise) an hour.
    Masala Dosa at the local Udupi hotel was also two annas and so was joy ice cream.
    My mom made us run errands and a coconut from the local store was just 3 annas (19 paise)
    Petrol was 78 paise per litre. My school fees in an expensive English medium school run by Catholic missionaries was Rs 12 per month. Other schools charged just Rs 7 per month.

    Ah! the good old days!
    Any time I feel like getting into my time machine, I retrieve the old family photo album.

    Regards
    GV

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Could not help smiling! THose days will never come back! esp. loved your 50s details!

      Delete
  20. Loved this post. Invoked very nice memories! Looks like our lives resembled each other's quite a lot. :) "mishan" as the mill was called, used to open late in the morning and we had to make sure that neither ragi nor chillies were put through them based on what we were carrying to be ground and once most of the grains were put in the mishan, the operator used to bang the little metallic conveyor hard, to get the remaining grains to be grounded all the while controlling the granularity through that little wheel in the front of the mishan. And then the flour would pour through the cloth tube into our huge dabbas and that cloth tube would be invariably a cut-off leg from the owner's old pants! Yuck!! :) I was always fascinated by the belt connecting the motor and the mill. We kids used to watch over the drying happaLas, sondige, pheni, with a stick in hand to scare the crows. Often times gulping down hurriedly before someone catches us doing so, some the half dried ones ourselves much to the annoyance of elders who used to yell at us that we would get stomach-ache. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. it's as if we were living on the same street Hima! and haahahahahaa yes the cut-off pant lollllllll how could i forget that!!

      Delete

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