Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mummychya Kahi Aathawani - Memories


Papalet


My mother's name was Meena, which is sanskrit for fish.

She had this very funny habit of humming songs with names. Let's say the plumber was coming over to the house to fix something and his name was Keshav (which is another name for Lord Krishn). From early morning mummy would start humming Keshava Madhava tujhya namat re godava (Keshava, Madhava, how sweet are thy names). In due time the doorbell would ring. She would go to open the door, still humming Keshava Madhava tujhya namat re godava and Keshav, the plumber would be standing on the other side. This happened to her many times with different people. Most Indian names come from either our mythology, nature or just everyday speech and they are embedded in our songs. Like Akash, Sagar are sky and sea or Anand is happiness and there are plenty of songs, hindi as well as marathi with these words in their lyrics. If a friend called and said her new grandson was named Sagar, mummy would start humming jithe sagara dharani milte. Then she might remember that the new baby has an older brother named Anand. So she would switch to aanandache dohi aanand tarang.

Mummy's kitchens

Even though my mother was a good hummer and in-house singer, my memories of her are visual, culinary and mostly fishy. From time to time I like to peak into her old kitchens. पहिलं स्वयपाकघर आठवतं ते ठाण्याचं आणि त्या स्वयपाकखोलीत विळीवर बसून पुढ्यातले परातभर मासे साफ करणारी मम्मी. मासे खायची आवड आई -वडील दोघांनाही होती. पण मम्मी मासळी बाजाराच्या जवळपास कधी फिरकली नाही. तिथला तो ओलसरणा, माशा काहीच तिला झेपत नसे. ती दारावर येणाऱ्या कोळणीकडे जे मिळेल ते घेई . त्याउलट वडील. मासळी बाजारात जायचं म्हणजे त्यांच्या अंगात एकदम उत्साह संचारायचा. घरी असले कि रविवारी सकाळी त्यांचा तो आवडीचा कायर्क्रम असायचा: बाजारात जायचं आणि एकदम भरपूर मासे घेऊन यायचे. मग ते साफ करून फ्रीजर मध्ये ठेवायचं काम मम्मीला करावं लागायचं. ढीगभर मासे साफ करण्यात तिचा खूप वेळ मोडायचा आणि कंटाळाहि यायचा. पण करणार काय. ताजे मासे लगेच साफ करून, वाटल्यास हळद- मीठ लावून फ्रीजर मध्ये न ठेवण म्हणजे त्या माशांचा अपमान. तो तर तिनं स्वप्नातही कधी केला नसता. फक्त पुढल्या रविवारी वडील मासे आणायला निघाले कि ती त्यांना आठवण करून दयायची, "जास्त मासे आणू नका. मागच्या रविवारचे अजून उरलेत". मग ते मुद्दाम आणखी एक पिशवी भरून मासे आणायचे.  मुद्दाम आणायचे कि कोळणीभगिनींच्या आग्रहाला बळी पडायचे कुणास ठाऊक. कारण मासळी बाजारात शिरलं आणि कोळणी मागे लागल्या, "भाऊ, इकडे ये. हे बांगडे घे. बघ छान मोठे आहेत. सुरमई घे. एकदम ताजी आहे"', कि त्यांच्या पुढ्यातले सुरमई -हलव्याचे रक्ताळलेले पातळ काप, बोंबील नी तारली नी मूडदुसं नी मांदेलीचे वाटे सोडून, मन घट्ट  करून ते न घेता पुढे जायचा कणखरपणा  माझ्या वडिलांच्यात बहुतेक नव्हता. त्यांनी आणलेले पिशवीभर मासे बघितले कि आई अर्थातच पुन्हा वैतागायची. आणि बिच्चारी विळी आणि परात घेऊन ते साफ करायला बसायची. बायको नको म्हणत असताना पिशवीभरून मासे आणणारे, सहज घरी आलेल्या पाहुण्यांना आयत्यावेळी जेवायचा आग्रह करणारे नवरे आणि नको म्हणत असतानाही नवऱ्यानी आणलेल्या कोलंबीचा ढीग हात दुखले तरी सोलून ठेवणाऱ्या आणि संध्याकाळी कामावरून परत येताना त्यानं अचानक बरोबर आणलेल्या त्याच्या मित्रांना ड्रिंक्स बरोबर खायला ती कोळंबी तळून देणाऱ्या बायका आता बहुतेक इतिहासात जमा होतील.


Bombil
                             


मुंबईच्या उन्हाळ्यात सगळा स्वयपाक सोडा, नुसत्या रोजच्या चपात्या करणं म्हणजे कंटाळवाणं काम. उकाड्यानी जीव घामाघून होतो. त्यातच वडिलांना अचानक कोणालाही जेवायला ठेवून घ्यायची सवय म्हणताना मम्मीनं रोजचा स्वयंपाक मग स्वयपाकीणकाकूंच्याकडे सोपवला. दादरला घरासमोरच्या चाळीत रहाणाऱ्या मूळच्या अलिबागच्या मामींकडे आणि पूण्याला मुळच्या लातूरच्या मंदाकडे. दोघीही बायकांनी मम्मीच्या पाककृती पाळत पुढली कित्येक वर्ष आम्हांला अतिशय चविष्ट जेवण खाऊ घातलं. मामी मम्मी सांगेल तसं, सांगेल तेवढ व्यवस्थित करायच्या तर मंदा म्हणजे स्वयंसिध्द सुगरण. न्यूयॉर्कहुन पूण्याला गेलं कि दुपारच्या जेवणाला मंदा तिच्या झणझणीत मटणाच्या किंवा माशाच्या रश्शाबरोबर ज्वारीची मऊ भाकरी सरळ तव्यातून माझ्या ताटात वाढायची तेंव्हा माझं तिच्याबद्दलच प्रेम, आदर सगळं काय ते शतपटीन वाढायचं. ज्वारीच्या भाकऱ्या अलिबागच्या मामींपेक्षा लातूरची मंदा जास्त छान करायची. मामीहि करायच्या ज्वारीच्या भाकऱ्या, नाही असं नाही कारण मम्मीच्या स्वयपाकघरात तांदळाच्या भाकऱ्या फारशा होत नसत. पण मंदाच्या ज्वारीच्या भाकऱ्या म्हणजे like butter एकदम मऊ आणि पातळ.

I think my mother was a perfectionist, at least in the kitchen. नक्कीच. ती परफेक्शनिस्ट असणार. निदान स्वयपाकाच्या बाबतीत तरी. तिच्या पुरण पोळ्या आणि उकडीचे मोदक नेहमीच फार सुंदर व्हायचे. तिची बांगड्याची उडीद मेथी, सुरमईच लोणच, खिमा pattice वर्षन वर्ष अगदी त्या एकाच मूळ चवीचे होत असत. तिच्या स्वयपाकघरात कुठल्याही (कन)फ्युजनला परवानगी नव्हती. वडीलांचं कॉलेजच शिक्षण पूण्यात झालं होतं. त्यामुळे त्यांना पूणं आणि चिंच -गूळ घातलेल्या भाज्या ह्या दोन्ही बद्दल फार जिव्हाळा होता. ते अधून मधून हळूच आईला सुचवून पहात कि - "आज आपण चिंच -गूळ घातलेला झुणका करून पाहूया का" वगैरे. पण ती त्या सूचना धुडकावून लावत असे. काही गोष्टींना तिच्या स्वयपाकघरात साफ मज्जाव होता. तिला बहुतेक भाज्यांची "अलर्जी" होती. डाळीची आमटी आणि कोशिंबिर ह्या व्यतिरिक्त कुठल्याही स्वयंपाकात तिनं टोमेटो कधी वापरला नाही. पालक, पनीर ह्या पंजाबी कंपनीला तिनं कधीच तिच्या स्वयपाकघरात शिरू दिलं नाही. किंबहुना अमेरिकेला येईपर्यंत मी पालक आणि पनीर ह्या दोन गोष्टी कधी चाखल्या नव्हत्या किंवा त्या कशा दिसतात ते हि मला फारसं माहित नव्हतं. मम्मीच्या पालेभाज्या म्हणजे मेथी, माठ, मुळा नी चवळी. शेपूचा वासही तिला सहन होत नसे.

Mummychi papaletchi koshimbir

I would not say that papaletchi koshimbir was my mother's signature dish. She didn't make it that often. But when she did, she made it well. It is a deceptively simple dish to make. All you do is take some medium size sliced pieces of papalet - no fillets, you want the bones. If papalet is big, cut the pieces across the bone. Take some thinly sliced onion, some grated fresh coconut, green chillies, crushed garlic, finely chopped coriander, kokum, half a teaspoon of coarsely ground cinnamon and clove powder, a pinch of turmeric and salt. Mix it all by hand, gently crushing the onion so that the juices of onion, coconut and kokum blend well together. Drizzle a spoonful of oil on top, cover and cook on a medium-high flame. It's a dry dish that can go awry easily and end up as a watery, over-cooked fish masala which it is not supposed to be. You want some masala sticking to the fish but not so much juice coming out of the onion and coconut that you will have to keep cooking until all the excess liquid has evaporated and in the meantime the fish, which tends to cook rather quickly, will turn into a disintegrated mush. My mother managed to find the right balance between the onion, coconut and the papalet, almost every time.

May was a month of celebration in our family. It is after all the month when the mango season is at its peak. So the presence of boxes full of hapus mangoes resting in hay, waiting to ripen would be inevitable in the house; which in itself would lend a bit of excitement to the otherwise hot, sweaty summer days. We didn't celebrate Mother's Day, but 13th May is my Father's birthday and 11th May is my parent's wedding anniversary- one of the couple of days in the year when we went out for dinner. Daddy was just shy of his 25th birthday when my parents got married. Mummy was six years his younger.


                         


What would I say to my parents, besides wishing them happy birthday and happy anniversary, if they were alive today. In marathi we don't say, "I love you" to our parents, neither do they say it to us. It's understood. Considered a given. No need is felt to express it in words. In any case, I have a feeling maharashtrians of my parents' generation would probably prefer to hear, "I respect you mom, dad" from their children than "I love you mom, dad". However, having lived in the US for so many years, I now feel it is okay to say some things openly, especially the nice things. So I'd probably say to them, and I can do this because neither of them is around anymore- nor would I be able to say this to them in marathi - but I can write it in english, that- you created a good home together mummy, daddy! You made a nice home for your kids! I appreciate its importance now, after having a child of my own and realize how simple they made it all look. As if it is as easy as going to the fish market on Sunday morning: bring home some fresh catch; fry some, make some curry or sukka; have lunch; cut some mangoes; doze off while reading the Sunday newspaper; wake up from nap; have tea and get ready to watch the Sunday night movie on Doordarshan.

I was reading Mindy Kaling's new book recently. In the book she says her mother thought Mindy was the smartest person she ever met in her life. I don't have that book with me now to double check her exact words but it reminded me of my mother. Mummy thought I was the most perfect creature that ever lived on this earth. In a country where boys are sometimes valued more than the girls (at least in some parts) that was no insignificant message to give to a daughter.

My mother was not very religious. The love and pride of urban, middles class maharashtrians in those days - writer and humorist P L Deshpande (lovingly called Pu La), singer Lata Mangeshkar - were some of her idols. She liked all pop music -hindi as well as marathi, but the songs that touched and moved her the most I feel, were a couple of old Latabai songs. One of which is Ja muli ja dilya ghari to sukhi raha (go daughter, dear, be happy in your new home). It sounds like a pathawani song. The word means bidai in hindi. Bidai is a very poignant finale to weddings in India when after all the marriage ceremonies are over, the newly -married daughter bids farewell to her family and goes to her in-laws home. Bidai scenes in Indian films always show- over the background of a very sad song- copious amount of tear shedding by everyone present at the scene, especially the bride and her parents. What a mother is saying to her daughter in this song is no less heart -wrenching.



I am afraid my translation will not do justice to the original lyrics - some verses have specific cultural references that are difficult for me to translate. For example the line that I have translated simply as -my love is saying to you, go- the original marathi verse is kadh mayeche tula sangati ja. The word maya is used in rural marathi for love and the word kadh is used in cooking, as in - for how long should I cook this fish curry? - ek kadh yeyee paryant- till it gets its first kadh, meaning till it starts to boil. Kadh mayeche sounds sweet in marathi, which unfortunately I couldn't translate equally well in english. Very roughly translated the song says -

Why these tears in your eyes dear,
go now, sweetie
go
be happy in your new home.

As you hug me tight, baby
your childhood comes crawling back
I remember everything
and my eyes are wet too
but my love is saying to you
go dear
go
be happy in your new home.

Young brother-in-laws are waiting to take you home,
here, wipe your eyes to my sadi
hold your sadi well
leave your image in the frame for me and
go dear
go
be happy in your new home.

You're daughter-in-law of a big family now
look, even your green wedding bangles are smiling
don't look back
sweetie, look ahead
don't forget your mother though
go dear
go
be happy in your new home

yesheeandmommy@gmail.com


                             



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