Monday, June 03, 2019

Dear CJM

As I pressed and shaped these cookies while the oven was heating, I wondered why they looked familiar, and wasn't sure what they reminded me of - but the shape, the size and the edges were exactly like something I'd seen somewhere.

After they'd cooled a bit, I broke one into pieces and tasted it - and memories came rushing back. Memories of the 'tuck wallah' who sat near the junior school building at break time and outside at the car park (the one inside the big gates, where we never saw a single car parked, ever) when the going home bell had gone. We had junior school morning assembly there, and later, as seniors, that's where we played throwball.

I can actually see the tuck wallah, with his big, bony frame, hair and beard orange* with henna, loose pajama-kurta and small neat trunk of goodies. And the goodies, all packed carefully in packets of see through butter paper, folded and stapled at the top. He had a sort of tray with compartments and  it held all the items, arranged so attractively!

For 15 paisey, he sold a cookie like the one in the picture, packets of salted shelled peanuts, thick salted potato chips, red hot chilli potato chips and little squares of light brown or white fudge. There were small samosas, priced at 25 paisey, and I think there were veg. and mutton patties as well. The mutton patty was the 'expensive' item.

The bestEST thing in his trunk were 'sticky chips'. I'm sure none of my friends has forgotten the taste! Deep brown shiny sweet coating on cruchy pieces of chips. Oh it was heavenly, especially if you'd bought one just as the bell rang after break. You could open your desk and eat a little bit in the Sanskrit period (always the first period after break)!

The sticky chips came from the same source as the other chips - they were deep fried sun dried sliced potatoes. The fried chips were broken into little pieces and coated in really dark caramel and allowed to dry. My adult mind worked out the composition of course, those days they were just deliciously sticky and mysterious and never to be seen anywhere else.

Please write to me if you want the cookie recipe.

*I remember asking my father how some men had orange and red hair; was it because they used red coloured hair oil?
The sticky chips scholar

One of our wonderful teachers Ms Susheila Mani, with dear Sr Dorothy who was the principal when I joined school. Thank you for putting up this pic on Facebook, Ms Mani. And thank you for everything, CJM.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Walk of Life

We lost Simba on Thursday, July 5.
He left us just before five p.m.: the time when he would set off joyfully on his evening walk. He had the quiet and peaceful end he deserved. Till the last, he was giving us all the love and comfort he could.

He waited for S to come home and improved enough to spend a few days - almost a week - with her. It's as if he knew. The last time P came home, he'd be there to wake her up in the morning and then spend every waking moment with her.

He was so tiny, and he's left our bungalow so empty. I don't think we humans are capable of loving with so much devotion. We have to learn to live without our darling Simbu who woke up so joyfully, as if there was something to celebrate each morning. 

He'd welcome M when he came home for breakfast and bark his head off, posititvely herding him to the table so he could hurry up and get little chunks of apple.

He was a true tea planter's dog. He lived in the Dooars and in Darjeeling before coming to Assam.

Until two years ago, he bit anyone whom he didn't like. He hated painters and bijli mistris. No one knows how he became the soul of benevolence.

M was calling him a 'sant' these past few months.

Simba was evolving into a lifestyle guru. Loving, enjoying life and laughing, in spite of failing eyesight and poor hearing. He looked about six, not sixteen and a half.
                                                          Right, boy. Run free now.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Look Through My Window

It's that time of year when the fruit trees are laden with lychees and mangoes.

There's a large lychee  tree outside my bedroom window. The bedroom's on the first floor since this is a chung bungalow, and the tree is one of the first things I look out on every morning. 

Last night was a little blustery as rainy nights go, and I wasn't feeling too bright so I stayed at home while my husband went to the club. I had a good book* to read and decided to turn in early. The wind was fluttering outside my window at regular intervals in a rather strange way. I drew the curtains apart to see what it was.

Bats! There were at least two of them, taking turns to fly in from different directions to pick a lychee off the top of the tree, and each with a wingspan of at least two feet. Pale moonlight, rain, chilly gusty winds and these huge bat silhouettes wheeling about.

My very own Saturday night horror show.


*Norwegian Wood

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

April Fuel

April is bonus time for garden lovers.

Showers bring the last of the cold weather flowers to life and they bloom with renewed vigour, shimmering against rain-washed skies and new foliage. Heaven knows the same plants were looking dead just two weeks ago.

When the beds are filled with flowers in February, I'm already sated, but greedy. Where I'd longed for abundance, I expect perfection.  I'm impatient if all the beds aren't in sync, and feel sad if something hasn't come up to the previous year's standards. And then the heat picks up and I've learnt my lesson.

Then April weather comes along, and, gosh, are those the dahlias we were going to yank out of the ground?

 These gerberas are picking up so well! They are certainly not worrying about how summer or the   monsoon will treat them!
This azalea bush sulked through the cold weather, and has suddenly decided to have its own Matsuri!
 These salvias were planted - as fillers - in the bed where our showy Inca marigolds held sway till mid-February. They look all stylish now!
              Was someone calling us 'junglee'??
 A little wilderness where we saw the resident 'dhamna' snake in its usual corner for the first time this year.

                   Easter lilies are the new stars in the garden, popping up like magic everywhere.
         And there are new delights, the flowers of the season :passion flowers, orchids, cosmos, cannas.
Each year, the sounds, scents and sensations of April bring new hope and a sense of rejuvenation. It's an end to my moaning about how much I will miss the cold weather. These 'in-between' seasons have that quality; they change the way you look at the world.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Forward, March!

There was a time in my life when March meant school exams, and for years after, it came to mean that thing we all dread in tea, drought. The days are long gone when drought was the only obstacle to a splendid season ahead!
Every time the cold weather ended in the Dooars, it was dry and droughty. The longest drought that we experienced there lasted over 130 days. All the minor vegetation looked as if it was set to go up in flames.All except for the trees; the trees would put out leaf buds.

At this time of year, I long to visit Chalsa forest. There's a fragrance in the air that is as difficult to capture and hold as the fleeting season itself. Some traces of it linger under citrus trees, especially under the pomello and the 'curry patta'.  We spent a lifetime in the Dooars, and its forests, rivers and hills will always be ‘ours’ to treasure in my mind.

Time to return to the here and now: Easter lilies are popping up to keep late dahlias and other cold weather blooms company and the grass is green!

We moved to Upper Assam two years ago. There's much here that is the same as the Dooars world, but the climate is completely different. Weather patterns have changed over the last decade quite drastically everywhere, but these are my observations of the moment.

We’ve had rainy spells around the end of the cold weather that have lasted for three to four days. Days and nights were never so cold in December. The sun drives winter back into hiding in cupboards with sweaters and knitting baskets for company.
The mighty river that flows at the garden's northern boundary is at the heart of all things here. Our skies – ‘Brahmaputra blue’ - are the deepest blue I’ve ever lived under. The nights skies are spectacular.

P.S. The night of the equinox was rainy with chilly winds.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


I miss my father whenever there is an eclipse. He'd have been amused by the media hysteria around this 'triple' phenomenon or 'three-for-the-price-of-one' hype which is all around us.

When there was a total eclipse of the sun in India in 1980, there was no internet or satellite television. We didn't even have 24 hour telecasts on our lone TVchannel. There was a special telecast of a very popular Hindi film to keep people indoors that afternoon.

My father thought it was ridiculous to create fear and keep people indoors during a solar eclipse. Delhi only had a partial eclipse, but it was exciting enough. We assembled a couple of simple 'eclipse viewing kits' and he said we could get some customers to watch if we wanted!! Only, the streets were deserted on that February afternoon in Delhi. I was quite happy to stand outside with my father and watch the reflection of the eclipse in water. Many years later, my wish to see a total solar eclipse came true.

In tea gardens, if a thing is heard or seen on television, it is accepted without question.

I put on one of the news channels this evening to check the time of the eclipse. I couldn't help but feel a little superior, as one who's known all about these things since childhood. I put on my coat and went downstairs to take a look at the sky. From the stairs, I heard screaming and metallic banging sounds coming from the workers' colony nearby and froze. The first thing that comes to mind is elephants - but there are none where we live. It had to be the eclipse! It must be whopper of a show, I thought.

Out in the open, the sky was dark, with not a glimmer of light anywhere, not even a star. The shouting and metallic banging continued. The sky was covered with clouds!

Half an hour on, status quo.

One hour later, the celebrity hadn't shown, but appeared to have cancelled without notice. Pink Floyd wasn't playing Dark Side of the Moon tonight. We'd got 'Obscured by the Clouds' instead!

The bawarchi came in for his evening shift. I asked him what was up, since the sounds had died out. They must all have gone home, he said. He was in social commentator mode today, shaking his head sadly. 'Baap re! Anyone would think a wild animal had entered the village. They didn't see a thing, but they screamed and shouted!'

Monday, January 22, 2018

A Pepper Tiger

Pepper's my favourtie spice. We never had to buy any in the fifteen years we spent in Moraghat Tea Estate, where it grew in abundance. We planted some vines in Bhatkawa T.E. and some here in Thanai, too. The photographs above, however, are of the peppercorns we bought in Tinsukia town yesterday. Our vines haven't fruited yet.

We bought one kilo of black and half a kilo of green for just R.120. What a steal!

Green peppercorns are popped into boiling water for a couple of minutes, when they turn black and are ready to be dried in the sun for storage. The black ones that we found in the bazaar yesterday had already been boiled and were damp, so we gave them another good boil at home.

I plan to use the green ones for another couple of days before boiling them up.

The veggie bazaar at Tinsukia is one of the most colourful I've seen, and if I hadn't been on a pepper chase, I'd have stopped to take pictures!!