THE TIFFIN TALES

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The word tiffin always excited me as a child. What could have Mum packed for my lunch today? Would be an exciting thought. The fading of curiosity after opening each container of the tiffin and the smile it brought on my face when I would see my favorite food sent, cannot be expressed with mere words, and now, when my son comes back home and very warmly tells me “what an amazing lunch you packed today mom” makes me feel totally satisfied.

 

Talking of the time when I would take tiffin to school, I very vividly remember the first day of my school. My school A.F Petit a very old renowned school, had a huge campus with lots of greenery. The building structure was colonial, old but strong and solid. Since it was located on Pali Hill in Bandra the school was built on different levels. One could describe the school like Enid Blyton would have describe in his stories, just like a fairy tale world.

The pre primary section was located in a cozy corner with a beautiful play ground with slides, swings and sea saws and how could I not mention the jungle gym! I’m going to stop right here, as I could go on.

Exterior - Bai Avabai Framji Petit Girls High School Images, Bandra West, Mumbai - English Medium Schools

I was in Sr KG and it was my first day at school. Mum had come to drop me off and while leaving she promised me a surprise for lunch. As the day began, I mingled with most of the kids, some who were crying aloud inconsolably, some looking in wonder and some who couldn’t care less of what was going around. The two girls that grabbed my attention were Suruchi and Soumya and in no time we were playing together till the bell rang, announcing lunch break. I ran to the window of the class – room, to see Meera our house help waiting with a cane basket. Once my class teacher Ms Fernandes handed me over to her she gave me a warm hug and took me in the garden to feed me my lunch.

 

I was so impatient and curious to see what mum sent in the tiffin. I was not even allowing Meera to place the mat in the garden for me to sit comfortably and eat. But she was quiet a disciplinarian and after doing the needful she brought out a shinny steel tiffin which had 4 containers, a plate, spoon and a napkin. She arranged everything in front of me and opened the containers. While she was opening the containers I was very curiously looking into others tiffin’s as well.

 

Well in my tiffin there was steamed rice, dal, crisp fried mildly spiced potatoes, salad with just carrots and cucumbers and a small paper box with Monginis written on it. As I leaped to check the contents, Meera very authoritatively said that, I could have what’s in it only once lunch was done.

 

Hurriedly I finished my lunch to Meera’s satisfaction and out came the pineapple pastry from the box like the Jin from Aladdin’s lamp. I called out to Suruchi and Soumya who were sitting with their respective parents and we gorged on that pastry and since then became best friends forever. A delicious, tiffin helps in making good friends for the rest of your life too.

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As days passed by our lunch breaks were getting memorable and full of fun. Many TIFFIN TALES to share with you, but slowly and steadily, one by one. I’m sure you all must be having similar memories of your tiffin’s as well that bring a big smile on your face. It would be lovely if you could share them with me too.

 

Cooking …a therapy

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A person who was bubbling with energy and having the zest for life suddenly one morning felt her heart beat fast, fatigued, low, dull and she felt something was amiss. She could not put a finger on what was really wrong but she just didn’t feel energetic like always. She assumed it was nothing but fatigue, stress due to work pressure that was making her feel that way.

As day’s passed by she became irritable and restless. Managing a daily routine became a chore for her. She would snap at people at a drop of a hat and behave unreasonable with her colleagues and then, she would feel miserable about her behavior and weep.

Things were not getting better and soon she found it difficult to go to work and meeting up with her friends, who she was always happy to be with. Getting up in the morning and getting ready for the day was feeling like a big chore to do. She would lay down in bed longer than her usual time not realizing how wet the pillow would get with her tears. She just couldn’t figure out what was going on within her. Her parents tried to talking to her, but she, would just be quiet and cry.

She thought a break from office, and pursuing a hobby would do her good. She loved cooking, painting and listening to music. She enrolled for a cooking class and went for it, but she felt so restless that she left mid way and came home. Her parents were getting worried with this sudden turn that had happened in their daughters life. They spoke to her friends to figure out if something had gone wrong at work or with her friends, or was she on any drugs, but most of them were themselves clueless of her behavior as she had become very quiet and would prefer to be by herself.

She was very fond of cooking and that was one of the things that gave her immense happiness, but in no time she lost her confidence to enter the kitchen and even boil a cup of water. She soon confined herself to her room and would refuse to even come out for meals, she just didn’t feel like eating and lost oodles of weight. She was finding it difficult to sleep as she would be sitting in bed and trembling all night with anxiety. She had become frail and pale. She refused to meet her friends who would visit her. That’s the time her parents realized it was not a very simple issue she was going through.

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Her parents took her to their physician, who recommended counseling and told them she needs to visit a psychiatrist for it. Her parents were wondering why would their daughter need counseling, and probably it was just a phase and they were sure she would get out of it. They thought so probably because they were not ready to accept that their daughter was having a psychiatric issue and also people are still averse to visiting one due to social pressures. But her situation got worse, and finally they were left with no choice. They decided to seek help from a psychiatrist.

The doctor heard all that she was feeling and going through. Many tests were conducted, some medical and some written and finally after the diagnosis was done the treatment started. The doctor had figured out the issues that were troubling her.

Slowly but steadily the counseling started and the  journey of up’s and down’s, working on stability, consistency, confidence and patience started. Certain medication was given which brought down her restlessness and she could sleep well.

The doctor gave her ideas to help her deal with her situation and to get her confidence back and would reinforce the thought that she needed to start her life afresh, which she struggled at first but religiously followed his advice. The medication also helped her sleep better, but yet she was not feeling confident enough to resume work or getting out of home.

Inspite of all that she was trying to do, it was taking sometime to get on track which was frustrating her at times, bringing back negative thoughts, anger and irritation, and at such times the doctor would tell her to hold on and not give up and also reminded her that Rome was not built in a day. He helped her to build her patience and to stay focused and be consistent and the results would be slowly seen.

During the course of treatment the doctor realized her love for cooking and how the thought of food bought an amazing twinkle in her eyes and a smile on her face. She would share some amazing stories with him related to food and travel during her childhood. How she would like to try new recipes and once she would perfect the recipe she would write it down in a book.

He asked her to start cooking again and may be that would make her happy. She  told him she found it difficult to enter the kitchen leave alone cook. So now it was time to deal with her fears he realized. At the end of the session the doctor asked her who was a foodie himself to cook something for him and get at the next session.

When she reached home, a little late in the evening after the session, she smelt her favorite dal being cooked, she stepped into the kitchen and simply sat on the kitchen platform and observed her mother boiling the dal. Her mum was very surprised and happy. Her next few days went in observing what was cooking in the kitchen and seldomly telling how the recipe could be made in another way.

One evening, the father returned home from work a little earlier than usual, not aware his wife was out shopping grocery. He needed a cup of hot tea to beat the fatigue, he asked his daughter with hope in his eyes, if she could oblige him with a cup of hot tea. That evening, she somehow, didn’t have the heart to refuse her father as she saw how tired he looked and slowly she walked up to the hob and after a bit of a struggle she managed made a cup of tea for him. I think Daddy’s girl just wanted to see her Daddy smile. That cup of tea she made, brought a sense of achievement in her and a big smile on her Dad’s face, not just because the tea was nice but it was all about the fact that she had managed to make it. It became a routine for a few days after that, where she would make tea for her father

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Her friend after a long time, came over home to see her after work and was quite famished with hunger and demand something to eat. She made a simple bread, butter and jam sandwich, which progressed to sometimes making corn on toast, or a chutney sandwich later. Some of her friends started frequenting her home again and they were really happy to see her getting a grip on herself and her life.

New year was around the corner and most of the friends were keen on her coming over to  a friends farm house and bring in the new year. She refused the invitation as she was  just was not ready to leave her comfort zone. The thought of doing something different was building in anxiety. Her friends tried talking to her but it didn’t help. Her parents convinced her that it would be all good and a change away from home would help. The doctor too said the same.

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On 31st December morning, she along with her friends left for Karjat. Unsure, slightly uncomfortable as she was out with her friends after a long time. It was very sensitive of her friends to not give her unnecessary attention and make her feel different. In fact they were all having fun and she also became a bit comfortable in sometime. That evening was fun, they sat by the poolside and bar – be – qued and chatting and generally having a great time. She was feeling low at certain moments as she missed home but being with so many friends helped her over come that feeling.

It had become a routine for her to go straight to her room when she would be back from the doctor’s, but this time when she came back home from the trip, she sat with her parents who were keenly waiting for her and to hear all she had to say. While she was narrating all that happened, she realized that it was not so bad after all, in fact she enjoyed it.

Soon enough she felt she needed to snap out of what she was emotionally going through and that, this was no way of leading a life and that she was not a looser. She slowly but steadily started to lead a life like the way she did before. Would wake up and get ready and tried to dress up well. She made it a point to sit in the living room more often and read, go to the market with her mom. Though there were some up’s and down’s in her moods, but along with her psychiatrist and parents she was managing to get a hold on herself.

On one of the appointments with the psychiatrist she surprised him. She gave him a small box of a carrot cake that she would bake well. The doctor was not just surprised but most happy to see the change in his patient, that feeling was more sweeter than the cake itself. The praise she received after he had the first bite, made her think even more strongly that the road ahead was beautiful !

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NOTE: Picture source GOOGLE

 

THE TREE OF LIFE

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A coconut tree is once such tree where each and every part of the tree is useful.

The roots were used to make dyes, tooth brush, mouthwash and it also has medicinal values.

The leaves are used to make thatched roofs. Also used in making containers for storage. We store rice

The coconut water, we all love to drink. The thick, crisp, inner flesh of the mature seed is a regular ingredient in a diet for people in the tropics and subtropics.And from the same flesh of the mature seed oil is extracted, which is used for cooking and frying. Coconut milk is also made from the same, which is used to flavor different curries.

The coir from the fibrous husk is used in making a variety of furnishing products.

The coconut also has a religious and cultural significance in certain societies particularly in India

On this note I want to share some memories of a trip that I took to my village.

The part of India that I hail from Karawar in Karnataka is rich and luscious with coconut trees. Whenever I visit my maternal ancestral home the first thing that is served is fresh coconut water.

I went to Aversa a village  few kilometers away from Karwar where my ancestral home is in the rains. It was a trip that was planned on the spur of the moment. At 8:00 am in the morning I got a call from my uncle Balu kaka, saying I should attend the Nopi festival, which was a day away. So by 9:00 am I packed my bag and headed to the airport. Surprisingly I managed to get a ticket for the next flight and landed in Goa at 1:30 pm.

Found a local taxi that would take me straight to Aversa. It was a beautiful mesmerizing two, hour drive. Driving through the small winding roads and passing through quaint villages was so nostalgic. Finally reached Aversa and on seeing my entire family the fatigued of the travel just vanished.

As always Balu Kaka (uncle) went and plucked a coconut and served me fresh coconut water while the rest of the family was surprised to see me. Balu kaka and I decided to make it a surprise after her had convinced me to come. My parent, cousins, aunts and uncles were really happy that I came.

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The evening was spent well with family, we went for a long walk to our fields nearby and then returned home to see a sumptuous spread that my aunts and mum had made of fried fish, batatya talasni (sauté potatoes), dalitoi (dal made with ginger and chilles and laced with coconut oil) and rice. Nothing to beat a simple home cooked meal.

The next morning was even more fun. We all cousins had left for a town called Ankola at 6:00 am to buy the vegetables, coconuts, fruits and the rest of the ingredients that were going to be needed for the pooja the next day, where after the pooja the entire village is given a feast and so we had to go to the town to procure all the goods. All the ingredients and us cousins were loaded on a small truck back to Aversa, where the truck driver dropped us off to the village temple. The bumpy ride back home was fun but our bones were creaking too at some point.

My uncle who was the chef and in charge sorted the vegetables, fruits, flowers and over 100 coconuts and kept in their respective places. He was going through his lists and checking the stock and scribbling on small chits of papers assigning jobs for the prep.

After a while it was announced that I will be chopping vegetables along with other ladies of the village and then if time permits and my job done, I was also instructed that I would have to assist in making the garlands for the gods. These are anyways a few of my favorite jobs to do.

The menu for the next days lunch was a very elaborate and a traditional one of gajbajya randoi (a vegetable curry using gourds), muga molya randoi (sprouted mung curry), bhendi ghosalya upkari (okra and ridge gourd vegetable), dalitoi, rice, ambaya nonche (hog plum pickle), payasam (Kheera), kesar bhaat (saffron and sugar rice). The number of people eating would be 600, so one can imagine the kilos of vegetables to be chopped and the number of coconuts to be scraped, sounds tough but I was sure it would be fun.

In the afternoon after we returned home, the rest at home were relaxing in the courtyard sipping wine and vodkas and relishing freshly fried crisp mackerel that Balu kaka was frying and having a gala time. We joined in as well and had a wonderful afternoon where lunch went on till 4 pm till we finally one by one crashed in our beds for an afternoon siesta.

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After a cup of hot tea in the evening at around 7:00 pm we all assembled in the temple courtyard where the vegetables were washed and kept. We were 8 women who were on the job of chopping vegetables. As we were about to start one of them started singing hymns and the rest followed. I don’t know how to speak kanada very well so I was a silent observer enjoying it completely. By about 10:00 pm all the veggies were chopped and the coconuts were scraped and everything was neatly kept in a small room and locked.

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The next morning my uncle Gundu who was the chef woke up at 4:00 am and after a cold water bath at the well and headed to the temple kitchen with his team. So for this festival the cooking is done only by the males of the family, while the women get dressed in their fineries and head to the temple for the pooja.

So I along with the rest of the ladies at home, got ready in my fineries and went off to the temple and sat down to make the garlands.

The next few hours were just totally divine and mesmerizing. The melodious sounds of the mantras, the fragrance of the flowers, camphor and the incense sticks and the rain had simply put me in trance.

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By the time the pooja was over it was 1:30 pm and all the villager were queued up with their little offering of flowers, bananas and coconuts. After which they all moved to a hall where the food was going to be served. I too went along with my family, but to serve the lunch that was cooked by my uncle.

It was a long hall with a smooth slurry flooring where the banana leaves were placed in rows. One by one all the villagers sat down and washed their banana leaves with the water that was served for drinking. After that we all started to serve. First the pickles and salt was served followed by the dry vegetables and then the curries. Finally the rice and dal was served. After the priest finished saying some mantras aloud the people started eating. The system of serving was so well organized that I just didn’t imagine we had serve more than 600 people that afternoon. At the end my family and I sat and relished the meal to our hearts content.

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I returned home really tired but totally satisfied. This was indeed one of the best trips ever for me.

THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS… MEMORIES

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As a child, till I was a young adult, dad would take me to Sasson docks at Colaba every Sunday morning and mind you for me it was a very unearthly hour then 5:30 am: I would literally drag my feet and with a frown sit in the car and leave. Somehow I have never managed to sleep in a car, have never figured out the reason till today.

Well, with the windows down, the cool early morning breeze would be refreshing. All the way from Bandra to Colaba early in the morning, the drive would be peaceful. Back then the traffic was not that bad as its today. As we would be close to the dock the stench of the fish would just get into my head. We had a Fiat car and in the back seat of the car there would be two huge ice boxes kept.

The smell of the fish came in stronger as we went closer and I would gear myself for the mehem. Dad had a usual spot to park his car and then we would walk into the docks by 6:45 am and it would a crazy scene there. Loads and unimaginable loads of fish with the fishermen yelling on top of their voices while the auction was going on at every 10 feet was a crazy sight.

Dad would make me stand in one corner and then he would set out to buy the fish. After every ten to fifteen minutes he would be back with 10 huge pomfrets, 10 kgs of prawns, 6-7 surmai, mackerel and on the days he got lucky crabs, clams.

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So I was taken for these adventure trips every Sunday just to guard all the fish he would buy and then help him to arrange them in the ice box and in the boot which was well covered with plastic incase the water leaked!

After all this we would head back home and mum would be all ready with the breakfast of idli, sambar and chutney laid on the table. Every Sunday breakfast was the same. Those days microwave was a luxury so since we didn’t want to trouble her reheating the food again and again we all made it a point to eat our Sunday breakfast together and hear dad bragging about how cheap he got the fish and by the all these talks would on the phone with his younger brother who would lived in Goa and the next few minutes would go in who bought how much and for how much!! They still have the same conversation even today.

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After relishing the soft idlis and the robust sambar I would head for a shower and then off to play. While mum along with her house help Meera would clean all the fish and store it in a big deep freezer we had.

And the afternoon lunch would be a feast. Can you imagine the fish would last only for the week as my parents had a large social circle and their friends would come over very often and my mum was a superb host.

Today I went to the Malad wholesale market and saw the same craziness and chaos that I would experience as a child and missed my parents.Well I bought some clams, surmai and prawns and came home happy and proud of myself with the money I paid and called my dad and told him all what all I bought and for how much? On the other end of the phone I could sense my dad feeling happy

 

And so on this happy note, here is a recipe of the fish that I have fried for my son today.

5-6 slices surmai (you could use pomfret, ravas even prawns)

2 cups of fresh coriander chopped

5 kokums

6 cloves of garlic

1 ½ tbsp chilli powder

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp turmeric powder

Grind all the above to a fine paste using very little water.

Coat both sides with a thin layer of this above masala and marinate the fish for 15-20 minutes

Coat the fish with rava or semolina

Heat a pan with oil for shallow frying and once the oil is hot place the coated fish and fry till evenly crisp on both sides for 3 minutes each on a medium to a high flame and serve it hot.

Yug loves to have fried fish with sol kadi and steamed rice

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