Weddings in North India are moments of great celebration. Families and friends from far and wide join the bride and groom over many days of fun filled merriment. Food is an integral part of this experience. For the Mathurs (a North Indian Hindu community), food defines the purpose of a wedding! We live to eat, marry to eat and eat our way through moments in life, both happy and sad!
Most traditional Mathur families had their favourite cooks, who would be called in when the occasion demanded. The cooks would arrive a few days before the ceremony and would chart out an elaborate menu. They used to carry their own cooking implements that had been passed down through the generations. It is said that the pots and pans added their own unique flavour to every dish. After much discussion and deliberations (typically over several mouth watering meals), the Mathurs would decide on the menu. What followed was a frenzy of activity where the finest of ingredients would be sourced. Being fond of their food, most families had a direct connection with the source of ingredients and freshness and flavours would consistently be second to none.
The cooks had an amazing repertoire of capabilities. From snacks to pickles to the most delicious deserts and everything in between they had the ability to make every meal a celebration. Our family’s cook was a delightful old gentleman by the name of Gopal Pandey. His age was indeterminate. I thought that he was quite old but his slight frame was a power pack of energy. A meal for a few hundred guests would be prepared with amazing speed and panache. In fact, it was quite a sight to watch his small team orchestrate a sequence of frenetic chopping, vigorous stirring and frying. The old man, bent with age would go about his craft like a virtuoso.
We loved him especially for his ability to weave magic with the meats. His piece de resistance was a dish called badam passanda, which was a sublime combination of blanched almonds and the finest cuts of goat meat which was slow cooked to perfection. The fragrance of the dish was so over whelming that suddenly neighbours who often looked at weddings as social disturbances would be at their civil best. The tragic part of this dish was that no generous estimate could ever satiate its demand and as a kid I was always left wanting a lot more! As a family, I don’t think we ever managed to get the estimates right!
Over the years, I remember Gopal Pandey continuing to cook up a storm and improve his craft further as we navigated through our journey of celebrations. In the early 2000s, the trend shifted to hosting weddings in hotels and farmhouses and his appearances became few and far between. As we got busier, our weddings also got less elaborate and the convenience of hosting it at a hotel or a farmhouse was just too tempting. I don’t recollect having met him for the last decade.
In my recent visit to India, I learnt that as he grew older, his sons decided post their education to get proper ‘office’ jobs and looked down upon their rich culinary legacy. I guess progress is also about moving on and forging a new beginning. However I can’t help but feel nostalgic. The wonderful smell of the badam passandas still lingers…
When things fall apart some other things fall in together! I realised this the other day when I had to get my wife’s car tyres replaced. I was upset since the tyres had been replaced not too long back and due to some imbalance in the car’s weight, had to be written off. The truth is that when you buy big expensive SUV’s, you have to buy big expensive tyres! It has never been easy for me to spend money but spending money on car tyres was somehow particularly irritating, especially when my ‘old’ tyres looked new to me! I just could not get myself to throw them as I found my yard suddenly busy with four huge tyres!
Over the years we have become slaves of technology. In true 21st century style I passed my problem on to google. I asked Siri! Suddenly a whole new world opened up. Old tyres are being used today in such diverse ways! From coral reefs to dog beds, used tyres are finding a useful place in our lives. In Africa, tyres are being used for making attractive footwear as well. I chose to make mine into flower beds. With the help of my talented mother-in-law we painted the tyres in bright colours and suddenly my garden had an attractive new resident.
I was narrating this story to a friend of mine who had recently lost his job. I alluded to the wheels of life needing a fresh set of tyres from time to time. “It’s good for everyone”, I said. The tire analogy suddenly evolved into an exciting conversation about his future full of interesting alternatives. It’s amazing how sometimes unrelated things just make so much of sense!
All I can say is that the next time my tyres need a change, I will be more ready than I ever was. The exciting circle of life always spins! The fact is that if you are willing to turn, you re-tyre and enter into a whole new world of possibilities!
Our garden is blooming again! After an unusually hot summer our garden has sprung back to life. As the season improves we hope to welcome the migratory birds and wake up every morning to enjoy the weather. It’s such a pleasure to savour the simple joys in life!
Mr Tripathi was one of the most dignified drivers that we have had the pleasure of employing. He was an integral part of the household, playing a significant role in making our lives comfortable. From the daily running around to just having a nice presence, he was a positive influence in my life while growing up in the historic and culturally vibrant city of Lucknow.
He was always on time which was quite a novelty in Lucknow where the Indian Standard Time became the classical Indian Stretchable Time for most. I could never fathom the whole point of giving a time reference and not sticking to it. But that’s Lucknow and intrinsic to many parts of India. From a VIP at an event to a groom arriving for his own wedding, coming on time was almost a bizarre concept for most. But Mr. Tripathi was different. He used to dress sharp and run our lives with clockwork precision.
But all was not hunky dory. While he was perfect through the day he would demonstrate a surprisingly strong streak of aggression in the evening. Suddenly our Trekker in his hands would turn into a true beast. The Trekker was the Indian equivalent of the Hummer ( in the 1980’s) minus the sex appeal. It was a big bulky fuel guzzling machine that was built like a tank by a designer of questionable talent. It never gained popularity despite the best efforts of the manufacturer for obvious reasons!
Talking about beasts, Lucknow roads like most North Indian towns were co-inhabited by humans and a fascinating variety of four legged creatures. During the day, stray cattle would make the roads their own and the adjusting traffic would find a way through them. In the evenings, the cowherds would use the roads to get their cows home with scant disregard to public convenience. The cows would take their time to navigate the streets as the hapless humans waited in anticipation to get by. There was a strange equanimity demonstrated by both parties in this particularly vexing situation. But as they say no one is ever in a particular hurry in Lucknow!
However with Mr Tripathi things were a bit different in the evening. The Trekker would just need to announce its arrival through a sharp series of horns and the bovines would dutifully make way for our car. It was pretty amazing to see this and gave us as a family a bit of an edge. As a boy it got me to believe that my dad was so important that even the bovines on the road make way for us! The truth was that the bovines had realised the hard way that Mr Tripathi and his beast stopped for nothing, not even them!
My father in turn always suspected that Mr. Tripathi had an extra tipple every evening and that caused his aggressive road behaviour. From time to time he would accuse Mr T of having a drink which was passionately denied. Mr T would swear by all the gods known to us proclaiming his innocence. It always ended with my father reluctantly accepting his pleas for innocence and warning him to drive better in the evening. This went on for the three years that we were posted there and then one fine day we embarked on our next journey as my father was transferred to another city. I was sad to leave my friends, my home and my school but at the same time filled with excitement about our next adventure. Kids have an amazing sense of optimism and resilience and I guess I was no different.
I still remember our final day in Lucknow. Mr. Tripathi arrived smartly to drop us all off to the station. Our bags were packed and we were ready to go! The short journey from our home to the railway station was filled with us as a family thanking Mr. T for serving us well. As we arrived at the station we continued with our extended farewells. Suddenly in all my earnestness I popped the question that had bugged my father for the last three years about his aggressive driving post sun down. I asked him if he drank? He sheepishly whispered into my ears – “Baba, I am suffering from night blindness. I could not tell this to your father since I would have lost my job. Please keep this a secret and never let him know about our conversation!” As a nine year old I did not understand what that meant but the words stuck to me. Plus I was a loyal friend and kept this secret to myself.
Two years later my teacher was a bit puzzled to see my horrified cum amused expression as she taught us what night blindness meant!