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The memories of summer are also the memories of mothers making papads, achaar, and the very special friendship of women around this tradition. A beautiful look at a ritual that tugs at the heart.
Mom came to visit me last month. And with her luggage was a huge bag full of all the summer special homemade snacks and delicacies. Suddenly, half of my tidy kitchen was flooded with things like papad, pickles (errr….not pickles, but achaar) shevayya (vermicelli), chakali, satu che peeth (sattu atta), kurdayaa (basically, papad made from wheat dough) and a huge jar of fresh and homemade cow’s ghee. And all this in equal amounts for my brother as well.
In spite of my irritation that she had spent so many days of her peaceful life toiling to make all the stuff, I was deliriously happy for this treat.
I opened the papad ka dabba for a minute. The aroma which had been leisurely locked inside the dabba was enough to make me feel hungry, grateful, nostalgic, happy all at once. I wanted to eat it and I wanted to not eat it as well. What a feeling!
It was definitely not about the make and the taste of the papads, but just a little of the aroma made me experience my entire childhood in a moment. As with most of us Indians, at my home the papad making was always a yearly ritual which has been followed over generations since time immemorial. Every summer, once our exams were over, my aaji (grand mom) and mom would set aside an entire week for the papad making activity. And believe me – this week was coordinated with my aunts, neighbourhood aunties, the dadi, naanis and maids all together. The entire seven-eight days would be a place for all the women (their pallus tucked determinedly at the waist) to sit together for hours, catch up on the gossip, enjoy their aam panhha and limbu sherbet together, share, care, cry, laugh, joke and in the meantime prepare truckloads of delicious stuff.
We girls loved to eat the papad dough (yummm! I can still feel the taste on my tongue). When the women would spread out the world’s roundest and thinnest papads, we struggled to keep the dough from not sticking to the belan. In the middle of the cacophony, there would always be that one old lady (with bent back and a piercing look in the eye) who would scold us for not making the perfect round papad and yet at the end, would hide some dough for us to eat. And then again the entire exercise of drying the drum full of delicate papads on the terrace and placing them in the dabbas without breaking a single one. Phew!
The same was the case with the achaar. Aaji would carefully and delicately select every single kairi (raw mango) from the shopkeeper. The washing, cleaning, breaking and cutting of the kairis was a huge task. And the mixed fragrance of the mustard seeds and hing (asafoetida) popping in the hot oil, the grinding of all the spices together – it was priceless. There was no joy better than simply eating the fresh achaar – without rice, without roti. Just like that. The raw mango making your teeth and tongue go sour.
It was all a big celebration. A big get-together. We didn’t know any other way.
I still remember the efforts it took to make the kurdayaa, the shevayya, the karanjya (gujhiyaa) and the rest. No – my mother wasn’t a housewife. She was a working woman. Yet, she took leave for the whole week. It wasn’t just the pickle making but a reason to spend time with her children, with us, during our vacations. And in this one week, we created shared memories to last a lifetime. We made friends; even the ones whom we we had fought with before – we made up and shared the papads with.
The options for readymade papads and pickles were abundant even in those times. But those were rarely considered. The delicious homemade things ensured that nutrition, nourishment, love and warmth was passed on to the children and the family for the entire year. It was true. It is true even today. Isn’t it?
This time, my mom was on an extended stay with me and she made a suggestion, “Let’s make papad here this year. Thoda sa. For Narayani (my daughter and her granddaughter)”. And without a thought, within a second I said – “No Aai. Not now. Not this time!”.
Damn it. Why did I do that? This beautiful tradition has been a part of my family and my husband’s for generations. Yet here I am with all the resources and comfort at my service, brazenly rejecting to continue it.
I am afraid that it will be too much of a demand on me and it might go horribly wrong. I am unsure – what difference does it make anyways. Aai brings everything from home every time. But most of all, I am unwilling and lazy – it will consume my entire weekend or may be more. Who will take all that hassle? No, no, no!
But I know that a part of my heart wants to do it. All the mess and all the hassle. I want to bring back all the smells, tastes and memories. So what if it is costing me a weekend – or a week, the outcome will last an entire year. And I also want to call my friends, cousins and colleagues who would like to be a part of it. All my modern, busy, working women, who still have a part of our culture and childhood left intact in their hearts.
We might not make the perfect papads or the tastiest of achaars. Instead of kairi panhha, we might enjoy our mojitos or vodkas. But we would still have the memories to cherish and our kitchens would be filled with happy chatter. It will be our tribute to our summers, our memories and our very own and desi ‘Papad achaar wali maa’. It will all be worth it.
So it’s still a couple of weeks before the monsoons. And a couple of weekends as well.
Image via Pixabay
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