I really miss sharing good and bad, happy and sad moments of my life with the readers and followers of this blog of mine but when the times are bad, one feels too vulnerable to open up and pour the heart out to the people he or she is not well acquainted with. And yet sometimes withholding piled up emotions or sentiments makes you feel suffocated and drained out. The roller coaster ride of emotions leaves me exhausted and depressed but there ought to be the light at the end of the tunnel..right?
January usually is a much awaited month for me since it not only marks the beginning of a new year but also the blog anniversary of SindhiRasoi.com, as the blog was born on 29th January 2008. From past few years this forlorn blog is crying for some attention and every time I try to revive my mojo for blogging, an air of despondency surround my world and my futile attempts to breathe life into the blog leave me disappointed and disheartened.
Last two years were emotionally and physically very taxing for the family as my ailing father’s health deteriorated to the extent that he was completely bedridden and so frail that he could barely speak. Watching your foodie father pass his days without having a single morsel of solid food, was heart-wrenching to say the least!
We lost him on 9th January 2019 and all that was left behind were memories !!
Today marks his first death anniversary!
Nostalgia kept enveloping me in its warm cocoon once I accepted the fact that he is in a better place now, free from all his sufferings!
The memories of a robust guy who loved eating all sorts of food, the person who would never say no to whatever edible was offered to him…the memories of him cajoling me and my siblings to try out variety of vegetables and fruits..memories of him savoring those greasy pakoras and tangy dahi puri, Panipuri and sevpuri from roadside thelas, despite of my mom’s warnings concerning to his heart disease…he always ate to his heart content!
My blog is like an ode to my mother and I often share my memories related to her but there is so much that I haven’t shared about my foodie father.
No doubt that it was my mother who taught me nuances of cooking food but I have to give full credits to my father for introducing me to the world of varying cuisines. He kindled my interest in buying carefully, fresh vegetables and fruits from local vegetable market. He always made sure that we ate food according to seasons and his greed to load his cloth bags with maddening variety of fruits and vegetables would often result in fights with my mother.She would call it over indulgence!
I have distinct memories of accompanying him to local vegetable market on every Sunday morning to buy our weekly quota of veggies and fruits. It always was his duty to stock groceries and vegetables as my mother would hardly venture out due to her nagging health issues. So every Sunday morning, me and my father would walk around in the market and he would mentally make a note of carts with freshest stuff. He would then walk back to those particular carts and meticulously pick the best from the lot. He had some of his favorite halts as well; like the old but physically fit lady sitting on the ground with a jute rag spread in front of her, lined with bunches of green leafy vegetables. After exchanging greetings, he would squat and pick the greens of his choice. The aaji would put some green chillies and curry leaves in our bag, of course complimentary, and my father would handover a piece of fruit like orange, banana or sometimes a chikoo, to the lady. This mutual exchange of food/ingredients went on for years and one fine day, the spot was occupied by another vendor selling similar stuff and my father was visibly upset for many days when he came to know about the sudden demise of the old lady. Some bonds are enigmatic, no?
Once in a month he would visit the local kiryana shop with a list in his hand and would make sure to check the quantity and quality of groceries being packed.He was very sharp when it came to calculations and would precisely figure out the total amount of money he needs to hand out even before the shopkeeper did his calculations on a calculator.
Once back home, he not only helped in storing everything but would also sit down with us to pick green leafy vegetables, to shell peas and to stock everything in refrigerator. He had OCD and would keep shuffling the contents of refrigerator till he was pleased with the arrangements. Next on this agenda would be to take the stock of onions and potatoes (he always purchased rice, wheat, onions in bulk..like 50 or 100 kg in one go!) and sort the stuff. He would check each onion and potato and discard the really bad ones. Those that required immediate attention would be kept in a separate basket and the good ones would go back to their hiding place ( In our humble home, the hiding place used to be the area under the wooden sofa). So practically his Sundays were spent replenishing food stock.
I fondly remember how he would relish chilled watermelon and cucumbers on sultry summer Sundays after a hearty lunch of either Kadhi chaawal or Tidali dal dodoh ain machi (Mixed lentils served with patted jowar roti and tawa fried fish) before enjoying the much awaited Sunday siesta. Sometimes he would ask us to get some cool and refreshing falooso (falooda) from a nearby cart. He was so fond of street food that even when we would visit doctor for a follow up or for routine tests, he would make sure to have a glass of sugarcane juice or Nimbu sherbet or buy some uncooked patties from the famous shop so that we can enjoy snacks at home after the depressing time spent at the clinic or pathology lab.
He was crazy about seasonal vegetables and fruits. Ber, farwaan (Phalsa), mangoes, dhyamun (black jamun/plum), fresh anjeer, dry ber, jung jalebhi (Jungle Jalebi), Rani mevo (Raan Mewa/Khirni fruit) or be it Saawa Phota (Cholia), Dhodhi (Lotus pods), Dhadhri (Lentil pods), Suhanjhro/swaanjhro (drumstick flowers), lotus stem, Lohr, ….every seasonal fruit/ vegetable was bought and fed to us.
He used to travel in local train everyday for his job and on many occasions he would bring along aluwadi and kothimbir wadi…my mom’s favorite snacks, from Dombivli/Kalyan station while heading towards home.
He would always carry a folding cloth bag in his office briefcase and once in a while would bring goodies from Sahakari bhandar and I remember how excited we kids used to feel, as he would walk towards home, carrying that red and orange cloth bag stuffed with eatables and what not. He was our Santa Claus for sure!
On every Mahashivratri, the old but sturdy boat shaped, stone mortar and pestle was cleaned and put to good use. He would grind the mixture of poppy seeds, almonds, cardamoms etc to make Thaadal (thandai), a laborious task that required almost an hour of manually blending all the ingredients and straining it multiple times through a muslin cloth, to get fresh, milky, potent paste of thandai masala. Chilled milk and ice cubes were added to it and that fresh home made thandai was a festive treat for us.
Similar are my memories of humid summer afternoons when he would help my mother to make rose sherbet for sending it to aunts, the constant banter between my parents while making Vado before Diwali would sometimes annoy us for a while but then the things would get amusing as they both would act as a team to mix the nuts in the caramelized sugar before it hardened.
Like a typical middle class man, he would bargain with the fishmonger to get the plump and fresh fish. He would argue with the butcher in the meat market over the meat cuts and would hover around the guy as he would mince the meat, instructing him about how fine the mince should be. I would often feel embarrassed standing beside him as he would haggle over the price but now I do the same and my kid avoids going out for shopping with me for the same reason ;-). Circle of life!!
My father is responsible for the love affair that I have with local vegetable market and till this date nothing else excites me like vegetable/fruit shopping from small local markets. So obsessed I am with local markets that I always make a point to visit one, even when we are holidaying in a touristy place!
His office colleagues would often talk about his love for food and whenever they would visit our home, the talks would revolve around politics and food, over the multiple rounds of tea and pakora.
Every Sunday morning my paternal cousin and aunt would visit us and he would discuss the menu with my mom, who loved to cook food for near and dear ones.
After the Ramayana and Mahabharata serials became a part of our Sunday morning rituals, he would make sure to finish his market routine before the teleseries started. He would also buy street food like Chola dhabhal or Dal moong so that mom would get some respite from kitchen and enjoy her leisurely Sunday morning.
He was the man obsessed with gadgets and though his salary wont allow him to indulge, he somehow managed to invest in some. Refrigerator, Vacuum cleaner, VCR, water filter, air cooler, camera etc were purchased by highly adjusting the monthly budgets and only he would know how he managed to do so.
My mother was very shy and introvert while father was easy going and extrovert, always curious to know about the latest happenings in the world. He was the one who would push his daughters to go for school picnics. He would buy packets of candies and would also pack green cardamoms, fennel seeds and the kind, for us to consume while travelling in picnic bus to overcome the dreaded motion sickness.
To my mom’s horror, he would rent a movie cassette so that we can watch a movie on VCR in the middle of our school exams whenever he would observe my sister/s to be too stressed out due to exam pressure (both of my sisters were really serious about the studies).
I remember the first time me and my elder sister cooked something in kitchen. It was Raksha bandhan day and my mom was away at her maiden home and got stuck up due to heavy rains. In the meantime, me, my siblings, a cousin sister and my father, we all were at home, hungry as hell but had no options for satiating the hunger as there were hardly any restaurants then, and most of the street food stalls were shut due to the festival.
So we all finally entered the kitchen and made Koki. He kept guiding us while we, the young ladies struggled to make something edible. The kokis turned out ok and we managed to keep ourselves sane till mom came back. The kitchen though, looked like a post hurricane spot and I am not going to share my mom’s reactions when she freaked out after catching a glimpse of kitchen and knowing about the mishaps that happened during our maiden cooking attempt.
My father, the official food taster at home always encouraged his daughters and wife by praising the food cooked by us, no matter how terrible it tasted. I remember the special Sunday afternoons when Kadhi was made at our home, mom would pass on a small bowl with few tsp of kadhi to him, for tasting. He would slurp some and say ‘anya tehike‘ (need to simmer for longer time). The process was repeated number of times, till he could taste that perfectly simmered Kadhi.
He always helped mom in planning the daily menu and also for packing school tiffins for his daughters. Some mornings when my mom would be too ill to cook, he would either make quick sandwiches or just a butter bread toast and would help us in getting ready for school. He would then drop our lunch boxes for recess at our school before catching up the train for his office.
They say that there comes a time when your parents become your child and you become a parent to them. I somehow believe that to be true. After finishing college and before getting married, me and my elder sister would cook and pack his office meals and he, like a child would ask us if we can cook his favorites. He loved to savor an elaborate meal and mostly his office meal would consist of subzi, roti, papad, salad, pickle, some mithai and something fried. He would help in chopping, rinsing vegetables etc and also helped in packing his own tiffin.
His love for pickles was astonishing. I still remember the old wooden ‘pie safe’ ( wooden kitchen cabinet with multiple shelves and netted doors, used to stock perishables) at our home would always shelter few barnis of different types of pickles. Every season mom would pickle seasonal vegetables and a wide variety of sweet and sour mango pickles were always available throughout the year, at our home.Unlike rest of the males around, he would happily help mom in making pickles and even papad, something uncommon for a ‘man’ in our community, to do, in those days.
He always looked for an excuse to celebrate in his own little ways. If a kid in the neighborhood got good marks, he would gift him or her a chocolate or pencil box. If an electrician or a plumber fixed something at home he would treat them with tea and snacks. He would step out on a rainy Sunday evening just to buy hot corn on the cobs or on a cold weekend night to buy boiled eggs to savor.. He would buy a cake to cut on Christmas. He would make sure to stock loads of sweets for Holi and Diwali. It was a ritual at my maiden home to cut a cake on 31st night and to have it with chips, biscuits, chocolate and piping hot alu tikkis .
After he retired from his job, the spare time made him restless.Just to keep himself occupied he opened a shop. I was married by then and would often pass by his shop while running errands and he would ask me about the meal I had or about my meal plans for the rest of the day. Whenever mom would pack my favorite food in his tiffin, he would send someone in, to share the food with me. Arguments between mom and him would sometimes end up with him carrying no lunch. He would snack on junk for a while but would ultimately call me and ask if I can send some Poha or any snacks and tea for him. He was stubborn yet child like.
Things changed drastically after my mom’s demise. Perhaps it was his loneliness and sadness that made him bitter and difficult to please. Everytime I would visit him, I would come back with a lot of emotional baggage and would often experience resentment and anguish.
But our world turned upside down when he got hospitalized for Pneumonia and it was a downhill journey from that moment onwards. Day by day, his health deteriorated and he was bedridden. He no longer relished his favorite foods and it would require a lot of coaxing and pleading to feed him few morsels.
It was very painful to see him refusing food and drinks. All the food that he loved in the past, no longer appealed to his senses.
His birthday came and our whole family gathered to celebrate the day with him hoping that it would augment his desire to bounce back. He was happy but refused to eat. We all sat there, beside him, consuming all of his favorite dishes that we got for him, while he kept slipping in and out of his sleep due to the drowsiness caused by the medicines. Somewhere deep down in our hearts we knew that it was probably his last birthday that we can celebrate with him being around. It was heart wrenching.
Each day brought with it, loads of anxiety, depression, worries and emotional trauma .We felt sad and despondent. It was getting difficult for us to hide our fear of losing him and perhaps he noticed it. He would open his eyes, give us a sad glance and would turn his back towards us with a distressing moan. He could barely speak and had no interest in food or anything else going around.
It was the night of 8th January 2019 when things started getting worse and I could sense the quiver in the voice of my sister when she told me, over the phone, how gloomy the situation is. It was a restless night and suddenly all the memories of my childhood associated with him, ran through my mind.
Next morning I left home earlier than usual, feeling distressed, hopeless, almost blank, as I sat staring outside the window of the moving local train, my heart skipping a beat everytime my phone buzzed. I could barely feel my limbs as I got down from the train. Everything looked blurred, there was the regular maddening chaos on the roads yet it appeared calm in comparison to the emotional turmoil going on in my head.
When I finally was there, he was lying calmly, his caretaker was trying to wake him up so that he could freshen him up. But he would barely move. He opened his eyes, gazed at his daughters and moaned bleakly. It was perhaps his way of saying a final goodbye.
The robust man who faced all the hardships to make our world cozy and comfortable was now merely a frail and cold body.
So many words were left unspoken, so many apologies yet to seek, so many grievances to resolve, so many happy moments to share, so many celebrations to witness but there was nothing that I could do to make things better
The year had been dull and I found myself thinking about him every time I cooked or ate something that he liked. It hurts to know that he no longer can taste the food cooked by me, that he no longer would ask me to send over his favorite dishes, he won’t be around as we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, cutting the cake and gulping it down with the potato chips and biscuits that he believed to be mandatory for any celebrations.
The fact that we can no longer catch him enjoying his morning sun and evening breeze sitting at the entrance of the home, chit chatting with neighbors, distributing candies and chocolates to the kids around, sipping his tea or buying that dreaded chaat from the vendors roaming in the streets, buying Laachi (peppermint flavored pulled sugar) and forcing reluctant relatives and family members to have it, is so heartbreaking! His framed photo on the wall reminds me how unpredictable life could be and how human emotions are fickle, erratic and yet how some sentiments will always occupy a special place in your heart, how some moments spent together will turn into memories…memories that make you nostalgic, happy memories that make you cry, the sad experiences that you tend to forget, the sweet ones that you wish to cling on, memories that you may cherish till your memory fails you.
I probably can go on for hours sharing the thoughts bubbling inside my mind, but I need to pause. I need to collect the treasure of memories, wrap it in a soft cover of emotions and store it in the box of my mind, peeping inside, now and then, drawing comfort, till I see my parents on the other side !