Letters from Home, Gujarati Cuisine, Stories of Africa.
Gujarati Cooking and Street Games
My dearest Komal, Anjli and Amar,
2017 Already. New year new adventures! Now that you have all returned to your daily lives, the house has descended into the quiet and dark realms of early January. Unfortunately most of you missed the coming of the lovely snow. Very late this season. Usually the white blanket covers the fields from mid October. The views are just magical. The front path has been worked upon four times already! I feel the snow decided to be kind to you and it arrived after YOU left. Besides enjoying the pristine views and atmosphere of fresh snow I was also able to test my new acquisition of snow-shoes.
I have to admit that the title of my letter is ambiguous. Cooking and playing games clash with each other. They certainly clashed for me. I acquired the label ‘a novice in the kitchen’ when I was younger and to this date find it hard to discard this label. It was expected of all the females of my generation to be expert cooks, luckily not the case nowadays, cooking wise or gender wise. Perhaps that was the reason why girls were not encouraged to go for further education. With four competent ladies in the kitchen busy cooking food for the large flock, we youngsters would have been under their feet! The chore I was assigned to was to set the dinner table for the adults before meal times. I was always too busy playing street games with my friends in Ripon Garden and it always ended with either Lalitaba or Dikaba standing on the front steps and shouting out for me. I can still hear those echos of my name in that Ripon Garden air.
All my cooking skills were acquired either by spending hours at the neighbour’s kitchen (with Kiranmasi and Narmadaba) or later on when I moved to England. Oh! how things changed then. Now that Lalitaba was working, it was my duty after school to get part of the evening meal ready. She would come in and complete the meal for when Dada entered the house an hour later. Dada had always been used to marching into the house and immediately sitting down for his meals. The fact that he was a diabetic also played a big part in this scenario. So I prepared the rotli dough, the vegetables, the daal and the rice. When Ba arrived from work, she would spice up the vegetables and daal while I made the rotlis. This was the best cooking education for my later life. Clearing up after meals was a job for Atishmama, Achalamasi and myself. What about Neshmama? Well he was after all contributing his income to the household! Actually, every Friday he would hand over his wage packet to Dada, minus a few pounds for personal expenses.
These days, street games are something you do not see much of. We were lucky with the big green field in the middle of our square where many of the boys played cricket. Strangely football did not feature in our street games. I loved it after the council gardener had cut the long grass and before he came to pick up the hay. We would use the hay to draw out outlines of houses and play ‘housie-housie’. I even had a miniature aluminium kitchen set that would be strategically placed in the ‘kitchen’ area.
As for the street games, we played with all the neighbourhood friends in their front concreted verandas. Games with gujarati names like, magharmach (મઘરમછ), khokho(ખોખો), karom(કેરમ), hide and seek(છુપ્પા રુસ્તમ), gili danda(ગીલી ડંડા) and naagel(નાગેલ), to name a few. The last of these involved piling up 7 stones of differing sizes which were alternatively stoned down or built up by the two opposing teams. Follow the link to see how it is exactly played. All this reminds me of all those friends I played with in my neighbourhood, Nalu, Kamu, Umi, (all nicknames) and many more. Through these street games, we all developed close ties with all the other children in the neighbourhood. Where are they now? I am in touch with some, but would be nostalgic to catch up with many others.
Another pastime was playing cards: DoTeenPaanch (દો તીન પાંચ), rumy(રમી), grim(ગ્રીમ), satyu(સત્યુ) and countless more. My aunt Dipakaki (Dikaba to you) loved to play cards with us and she taught me many different games and also many cheating tricks! Numerous manoeuvres to ensure getting the best deals in hand and devious ways of ‘communicating’ with your playing partner. Oh! those lazy hot afternoons in the shades were highly entertaining, pretty hilarious and great bonding sessions. Those memories were revived for me when we were in Hanoi last November. Centre of Hanoi has a picturesque lake with a walkway all around and many attractions along this walkway. The main roads around the lake are closed off for motorized traffic from Friday evening to early Monday morning. During this period besides thrilling live bands, we found groups of youngsters playing these almost extinct street games. It seemed like a lot of fun. I wonder what these children did with their smart phones at this time? Vietnam was dynamic and interesting.
Komal I have listened to your input and with this letter, have attached two ‘quick’ recipes for you to follow: egg curry and papdino lot, both gluten-free. Are you becoming an expert cook? Even I would not adorn the ‘gujarati expert’ hat yet and so will wait a little while before placing it on your head!
As usual, happy cooking. I would love ALL of you to be more active in the kitchen as ALL of you enjoy eating!
So until my next letter, loads of love, hugs and kisses,