To indulge a whim, I scooped out my mother's old cookbooks and recipe-books from a dusty old cupboard in a dingy room at the back of the house. I gathered a bundle of them, old diaries full of scribbles and notes and flopped onto a bed, eager to devour old recipes and anecdotes that I know she has the habit of writing down along the margins. I love those old ruled diaries. Blue and purple lines, blue and red lines, little quotes printed on the edge of each page. The parchment is old with the experience of many a dark corner, many a dust-laden shelf and they spew forth stories by the hundred, only if one cared to inhale the scent. Story-telling scent. Of spiders and hidden silver coins and lost earrings that caused stormy fights.
It was so delightful to flip through them. I imagined her, young, newly-married, eager to impress her husband with her culinary skills and wide repertoire, writing down recipes for everything from Mutton Korma to Pineapple tropical salad. Then, strangely enough, in one of the diaries I found a different handwriting and recipes that I know my mother wouldn't be THAT interested in recording. Things like I like. American frosting. Pineapple custard. Ginger Carrot Cake. Chocolate Buttercream-the easy way. I had a hunch that it might be my grandmother's writing but I was too excited and not certain so I ran to mum and confirmed my suspicions. All the while I kept dreaming of my own kitchen and fantasised cooking all those wonderful dishes which made my mouth water endlessly. At one point I was afraid that my appreciative salivation would drip onto the old pages and leave a mark. I also made a mental note of packing these to take away when I have a home of my own and creating a series of my own recipe-books.
My mum and I then had a long chat about my grandmother. Wonderful stories. She went to teach in America for 2-3 years when my father was a lad of ten. My great-grandmother came over to look after him during that period and mum tells me that he was very pleased to be away from his mum's strict disciplinary regime. She made some great friends there and she lived all by herself and wrote regular letters to her husband and when her stay drew to a close, she asked my grandfather to meet her in London so they could go on a Europe Tour before returning home, a proposal he readily agreed to. Mum told me how she was such a gutsy lady, so forward in those days...lived all by herself in a foreign country, made numerous friends who cherish her to this day and to that effect maintain good relations with my mum...she had everything from beef to pork and on one occasion even tried Octopus, at the invitation of another bengali family! (some spanish lady who had married a fellow in their family cooked the aforementioned delicacy.)
She had impeccable taste, loved expensive jewellery and had the most beautiful saris which she wore perfectly, devoid of a single crease. She marched with head held high, taught mathematics, could speak German fluently and cooked fantastically well...she loved everything rich...even the average korma/kheer was attacked with generous amounts of ghee that would give a heart attack to any high cholesterol patient. I used to be told earlier that I'm a little like her. She was so feisty and I am a little of that too. In those days she had very libertine ideas. And she was so educated! She was a double M.Sc. in Mathematics! During her last days, she'd accept a little water from me... I remember she was extremely fond of me and gave me all sorts of affectionate names. She was also quite crazy and unreasonable at times and superbly dominating but that makes for other interesting stories.
2 years ago