Saturday, August 8, 2020

About Nestlings and Fledglings

"What we know is a drop, what we don’t know is an ocean" – Isaac Newton.
 My knowledge on birds minuscule indeed despite owning the field guides. And this instance reeling under the false knowledge of all times i really didn't know what to do. The fact that if i touch the poor creature and provide some comfort it will be abandoned by it's own parents and banished from the community. All of them could smell me on it and considering it alien might peck it to death
The poor creature which i knew to be a baby had fallen down, perhaps from it's attempt at flying or could've accidentally fallen out of it's hole nest in a tree. i wouldn't know. All i knew that it was lying below the pomegranate tree, seeming quite helpless and afraid. 
Torn between the dilemma that arose because of the ill baked knowledge and also the fact that i should not interfere with nature i kept guarding the poor thing from being a meal of cats/dogs. But how long could i do that. My presence there might perhaps be making rescue by parents difficult too.
i realized then how nothing i know about what to do when i find a baby bird that looks abandoned or lost.  
For starters i held the baby. Tried to comfort it through affectionate human gestures. Soft caresses and gentle sounds.Trying to convey that it was safe and would not be harmed in any way. Then tried feeding some water by opening its beak gently and squeezing drops of water out of a moist cotton ball. Later placed it in a bed of a hanging basket of money plant so that it could feel that it is in a familiar setting and then sat down to think what i should do next. 
As i stood in the balcony i couldn't help but notice a flash of green rushing past and disappearing into the dense foliage of mango tree visible from the balcony. Perhaps it was the mother searching for her baby.
i decided to take the baby and put it back safely among the branches of the pomegranate tree. i followed my instinct and did just that. It was below this tree on the ground i had found the bird.
The baby perched and sat there as i stood for a while making sure that it is still there when once again i noticed another green with a long beak fly past and before i could see who it could be it got merged in the oblong shiny foliage of the nearby child life tree aka Putranjiva.  
It was time for me to move away and let nature take it's course. 
Sitting in my balcony i had my anxiety though. i wondered if the mother was able to find her baby. i wondered about many things because we have legs and hands and can do a lot while they have their beaks and their wings and have limits to what they can do.
After finishing my daily chores i decided to google and find out if i did right or was my handling of the situation a non caring or halfhearted one. i ought to know better.
Found this not only helpful but also received some sound learning/knowledge which also dispelled the myths i had about baby birds. 
It was not difficult or bothersome when once again i found a 'nestling' of the Indian Robin aka Bulbul bird that had perhaps fallen out of it nest. As mentioned in the internet site about what to do i made the baby safe from predators and later searched for the nest. It was not a long search and i could locate the nest in the Rangoon creeper aka Madhumalti. Not without some flurry of activity happening around me. A couple of Bulbuls chirping loudly were hovering around me and it seemed that they were panicking. Nearby perched on to the thin branches of the Indian lilac aka the Neem tree which was swaying in the breeze another Red Vented Bulbul  kept calling continuously. It sounded more like a war cry/ alarm call than just the usual chirp.  
i quickly put the nestling in it's nest and scooted from there as fast as i could hoping that the shrieking birds should sense my intent. That i was only trying to help.
i can only hope that my intrusion was purposeful and that the baby grew up to be another Red Vented Bulbul and is chirping around living it's life. So do i imagine about the Basanta aka Brown Headed Barbet i had placed on the pomegranate tree. 
i too feel like how Karen Blixen felt in the story 'Out of Africa' by Isak Dinesen. 
Do they remember me ?!
Just how i remember them and have a memory of them do they too have one of me ?!

If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?” ― Isak Dinesen

Wednesdays i generally wear green. Not that i am a devout Hindu who wears colors as specified in the Hindu astrological almanac for each day but for saving time have i decided to follow it. i have too many clothes. Much more than i actually need. 
But is is not the color of clothes i had wanted to talk about. It is basically about another who wears green. Not on Wednesdays only but always. Not commonly seen as one would see a crow or a common starling (Myna) but generally heard. '' Call it a monotonous kutroo, kutroo, kutroo or kutruk, kutruk, kutruk uttered throughout the day. Very noisy in hot weather, often calling in chorus.'' ( Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp & Tim Inskipp). 
They remain very near to us and sighted sometimes but mostly remain camouflaged in the foliage of the trees.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Maama From Singheeyaa

A friend noticing my penchant for pickles called me chatori and i lolled at the funniness of it all, the word and how she put it across just to pull my leg like all bum chums normally do. 
It is hard to give one word in English that can explain the word completely. i can definitely say that it is a word generally used to describe anyone who likes spicy food. Most harmlessly use it to tease a person who is passionate about eating. So Chatori for a She and Chatora for a He.

Not all is bad about the pandemic. From what i see that there was a lot of talent erupting from here there and everywhere and the monsoon season brings this analogy to mind almost immediately. Just like the rain brings the earthworm out of their comfort zone into the open the talent is wriggling out one by one in the cell phone driven world.

i have been following many food preparations and some i try as soon as can while some i reserve for later. Watching so many pictures and food videos creates in me the desire to share my own stuff too.
i really want to for anyone who cares to understand that we are not only a sum of our experiences but we are also a sum of what we lack. What we do or don't do is governed by both. 
i see him clearly as i recollect, a Maama (Mother's brother) having quite a funny face visiting us once in a year perhaps carrying a big earthen pot of Mango pickle fastened with coir rope. This memory invokes in me sadness and some sort of a longing which i can't explain. He was blind in his affection towards my elder brother whose birth he was a testimony to as being nothing short of a miracle. This Maama and a pet-parrot in a cage had provided my mother with companionship/succor for the nine months that my mom stayed in confinement at a rented clinic room eating food without salt till my elder brother could be delivered safe and sound but not without a precarious Cesarean operation. i was told he even cooked and cajoled her to eat her tasteless food on time distracting her mind from the nourishment which lacked a major flavoring agent all the while narrating her tales of siblings at home and many other stories, successfully cajoling her to eat something. Before this elder brother my Ma had lost her two sons as she had a medical condition which rejected the fully formed fetus. First time during her seven months of pregnancy and second time even earlier. This after some years of hopelessly trying to start a family and get her own child. The trauma that my parents went through has been narrated by many family members and family friends who also were privy to not only my mother's medical condition but also of my Dad's pain/ worry on two accounts. First on account of she and her child she was carrying being in danger and later of having to remain childless or perhaps even wife less and a widower, God forbid!. 
Dad recounts that troublesome period sometimes and still remembers the name of the Doctor who delivered my elder brother and all the precautions that were taken to keep him alive even after he was born because he had some kind of lactose intolerance and hence had to be given a formula as advised by that Doctor which was imported in those days from abroad. All through infancy my elder brother remained quite a sickness prone very thin, unhealthy baby.     

Maama maintained a strange distance with me which i'm sure was unintentional and perhaps sans biases and yet as a child i felt ignored/unworthy. i wondered about all the tricks he would show my elder brother or how it would feel to piggy ride his back. i yearned for that and also to sit on his lap as my brother would when Maama animatedly narrated so many fascinating stories. His mimicry for fictional creatures, animals and those witches who resided in the Peepal (Ficus religiosa ) tree, i wanted to feel and also interact with sitting snug and comfortable just like my brother did. If and when i was around i would see and hear it but from a distance. Something didn't feel right even when i did and i would walk away sulking.    
During meal time i would wait for the cook to give me a small piece of the pickle that he used to bring in the Ghaila as folks in Bihar call the earthen pot. Ghaila or Matka one and the same thing.
i remember the taste and the aroma so distinctly as it was a typical one.  
Today i wish he were there and i could tell him how unique and how rare that pickle was which was almost dry but so piquant and delicious that i have not yet found any pickle to match the aroma or the flavor of that 'Sookha Achaar' (Dry pickle). Maybe ask his help if he could beget of the recipe in writing. The exact proportion of spices to mix and the exact amount of oil to get that mix. 
And i would've pestered him to teach me those knots made from the rough-to-touch basic coir rope that made it so convenient for him to carry the ghaila all the way from his village called 'Singheeyaa', somewhere in the Bhagalpur district of Bihar to Patna. Some distance covered in train but most of it traversed on foot. 
His nonchalance for me although i also remember very well will not be questioned not at all. Even when perchance he appears in my dreams. 

Someone just recently gave me a long lecture on how bad pickle is for health. i could get that resentful vibe of all the condescension even over the phone. 
i might've not heard all the cautions thrown at me barring those two features about pickles that i already knew. Too much oil and excessive salt. 

Whoever claims to know much and who think that they can control how things pan out in the long run are in for a major surprise i would say.
There is a lot many things people obsess about and they must all be having substantial reasons to do so. 
For me too the reasons are real and only i can put a finger and point to some if not all. Because what gets submerged and what erupts years later from the human brain is yet another mystery.

At the moment it should suffice to say that my Ma never cooked, what to talk of her making pickles or drying potato chips like the others aunties in the colony did. We also never had affectionate home made gifts reaching us from our village which all elders still keep reminding us of as our 'Roots'. 
Roots mean the villages where our agrarian grandparents and the rest of the kin resided. The gifts generally referred to as Saugaat arrived from the roots in the form of assorted pickles of all kinds, aampaapad / amoth (sun dried ripe mango pulp candy), Badis, Adauris, Tillauris, Paapad, home grown/processed aromatic rice or even aromatic beaten rice called Chura or home prepared puffed rice called Murdhee, and last but not the very least the ubiquitous Sattu, the much celebrated roasted chickpeas flour.  
Badis, Adauris, Tillauris are all sun dried dumplings, some smaller than a marble and some large, slightly larger than a lemon made out of lentils, grains, vegetables and seeds. Paapad is also a sun dried cracker which can be deep fried or dry roasted.

Some of my friends in the colony/school would receive whatever their mothers couldn't make from their roots. All forms of saugaat  sometimes even cooked. Special greens of the season that were cooked on slow fire (wood) the entire night. Chana ka saag, Khesari ka saag as they were called. Pickles of all sorts and flavors. Some sweet some sour and some a mix of sweet and sour.
Affections reaching from Nani, Dadi , Bua, Chachi, and even Maami...
Most of my friends' mothers cooked too. And these friends had delicious looking food in their tiffins (lunch- lunch box). Some of the yummy looking edible stuff i didn't even know their names. For all of us who went to school in my family tiffin meant one and one thing only. The shaped like a triangle Paratha and aloo kee bhujiya. Paratha is a kind of shallow fried in clarified butter or cooking oil of Indian bread and can be shaped like a triangle, circle or square. Whereas aloo ke bhujiya is a dry vegetable preparation made mainly of potatoes sometimes with seasoning spices and sometimes without.

In my Dad's place at Patna only this Maama with a funny face, twinkling eye and hairs that grew out of his ear like a cat's whiskers would get us this pickle in the ghaila. Once he had even got us the very famous Chana ka saag slow cooked and infused with all kinds of herbs and spices. Something up for the grabs by the adults in family. But the undeveloped childhood palate which knew sweet from sour and had a penchant for sour did not understand the rare ness or the times taking cumbersome preparation what to talk of the great health benefit of it all hence along with the piquant dark looking mango pickle, the slow cooked tender leaves and stems of chickpeas plant remained somewhere in the brain only to emerge years later. Like now.

Now everything seems important to me. The simple knots, which are functional, environment friendly and so cheap that i suppose even the poor can afford. 
The recipe of the dry mango pickle which although needed mustard oil to mix and fix the spices and hold them together caused no lily pool of oil on the plate nor any greasy slick on the fingers as we chewed on to the goothlee ( mango kernels). And this pickle like old wine aged adding not only more flavor but also had a very long shelf life. No synthetic vinegar or any chemical preservative were added to it but just the home grown spices each having great health benefits too and perhaps having their own preserving characteristics. If you picked out a piece from the jar it was amazing to see how the delicious spices sat very well in the depressions of the mango kernels. Looking at it one would be tempted to describe it as stuffed-with-spices cooked raw mango slices. 
i remember scooping out the spices and spreading it on my chapati ( traditional Indian bread) then making a roll of the chapati/ roti  relishing each morsel and forgetting the dull and quite unappealing vegetables on the plate. Later when all would be over slowly enjoying the sourness of the mango piece and chewing the kernel till it was reduced to a shrunken mass which looked part fiber part wood before throwing it away. The chewing of the goothlee was the ultimate pleasure derived from this pickle or i should say any mango pickle with kernel for that matter.  
The pandemic made me aware that all those things made in the villages were survival foods. In times of excess (harvests) lentils, grains, vegetables like potatoes were ground, made a paste of, mixed with aromatic spices and dried in the sun. To be used just in case one ran short of fresh supplies. The shortage could be seasonal or even otherwise. The purpose not only related to satisfying the palate but also making effective use and thereby reducing wastage of food. 
Sometimes to be used as a special side dish to the rice and lentils if and when special guests arrived. Special dishes were then always deep fried in oil. Not the very least was that these stored away dried items painstakingly prepared from excess were also food reserved for the rainy days. 
The dried dumplings/ crackers provided extra flavor when mixed with curries or eaten like a side dish with the simple meal.
Almost all vegetables could be pickled, stored and used whenever to enthuse a special zing to the daily standard meal of cooked rice called Bhaat and cooked lentils called daal and perhaps fresh vegetable that one could avail fresh from the kitchen garden. 
i will not go on to rant about the zero wastage functioning of our agrarian system because that's not the real reason why i wanted to write this blog.

The act alone as to why we do things has some reasons which only the heart knows.
Some times it is peer pressure, sometimes it is a genuine whim no matter how fickle/ transitory it could be, to learn a new thing.
Other times it could be need based like how the lock down made many of us creative and innovative chefs who make do with whatever is available to create a new dish ...

There could be more reasons. Reasons viewed by any on the other side as being rather shallow or even profound. It depends which side you are standing on.
i don't know what to call mine but i certainly felt a lack of certain things in my life which has always propelled me to do what i do. 
Sometimes i want to compensate other times i want to hold on to my roots. Maybe it's also in the genes to crave for a certain aroma of a certain spice mix which tied to the roots emerges from the deep recesses of the walnut like brain and seizes the heart to go on an endless search. 
It also could be an urge to hold on to what feels like slipping out swiftly and hence of panic to realize that some recipes, skills will soon be obliterated if not forcefully but eventually. For those who knew about it were just too plain or too simple to have realized the importance of their knowing something specific belonging to that specific region to pass it on what to talk of recording it somewhere.
Or is it that the pandemic made me more aware of 'surviving minimally ' and so i feel the strong need to know and try out more. Be it the specific kinds of knots or ways and means to preserve food, why! even train the self to seek simple and remind the palate that less is more than enough.  

It could be all of these and yet one dominant childhood memory also remains etched like a scar on my passionate-about-eating foodie soul. My school lunch box made by some careless cook always had ugly looking dark parathas having burn spots and aloo kee bhujiya each day which no friends wanted to share when i was in primary school and i used to eat alone feeling a bit ostracized and a bit alienated. Sometimes i felt too embarrassed to open the tiffin box lest the familiar/ boring aroma startled the rest who would happily be digging into each other's boxes and sharing the goodies that their Ma had put in for the day. 
And i also never had any unique candy or pickle to share.
One which Nani ( Maternal grandmother), Dadi (Paternal grandmother) , Chachi ( Wife of father's brother), Bua ( Father's sister) or Maami ( Wife of mother's brother) had brought or sent.
Also no one even bothered to ask me at home why the lunch box had returned unopened/untouched. 
One of the collateral damages perhaps of being born bonny having the bonny ness despite the absence of care or fuss that usually is created when the child has not partaken his/her food. 
No one at home was aware even explain to me that why food should be respected no matter what is as a blessing and not wasted. Definitely i was also never reprimanded for not eating.  

Strange as it may sound now i want to know who made that pickle/ chickpeas greens which Singheeyaa waaley (from) Maama used to bring. If he had a wife who painstakingly prepared it then why didn't this particular Maami ever visit us like the other Maama and Maamis who always did. i remember Dad telling me that he was my Ma's cousin brother and was not so well off, rather his living was barely subsistence level as he owned a very small fragmented piece of land. How did he then have the largest heart when the rest of the very flourishing own brothers of my Ma only indulged, at all that my Dad's money/ position could provide. And why didn't this man who always walked miles with his saugaat before catching a train and then again walking all the way from the Patna Junction (station) to our home didn't.  

About the picture of the jars in my blog. Well ! i learnt how to make a loop and then a knot seeking help from the internet. Of course with all online deliveries suspended during the first phase of lock down and shops remaining closed i could not get the specific chord mentioned to make those knots. i made use of the naada (drawing strings) to learn the bottle knot which made carrying the jars to the terrace for sun cooking the mango pickle so much easier and stress free.  

True it is what they say about absence making the heart grow fonder. And lack of anything perhaps getting you obsessed. If i do about the food that belonged to my roots it could be anything. My desire to survive, learn or to hold on to what matters the most.
Suffering is a catalyst to teaching too. i felt eager to learn to cook even when i could not reach the stove table. Dad would make me stand on the footstool, tie a local towel called gamcha (traditional checkered towel) around my frock and teach me how to cook. It was a gradual process starting with the peeling and cutting of onions using both a hansua/ boti/ pirdai ( Indian traditional knife that involves sitting down and cutting) first and later the knife. Class six onward class friends started including me in their tiffin (lunch) sharing and no one squirmed or called my tiffin boring anymore and rest is my own cooking food history. Compliments come but i owe it all to my Dad, his innovations/ improvisations and his emphasis on the the color and aroma of the food which proclaims the entire truth about the hands that cooked. 

All through mid school and high school and college i prepared my own lunch box. Nothing very outstanding or out of the ordinary. If at all it can even be considered as a feat then i guess i am way behind the many little girls who start to cook even earlier. Specially if we go to our roots meaning our villages then even today we will find very small girls cooking and feeding the entire family before heading out to their respective schools if at all the village has a school.
Why then have i been fussing over the lunch box, be it my husbands' or my sons', or why do i want to learn the four way knot with a rough coir rope, and last but not the very least my frustration at the Angika (dialect) speaking folks of my native Bhagalpur who are busy Tik Tock ing making silly videos and taking selfies and not uploading recipes when the rest of the regions all over the country are sharing/ uploading all kinds of recipes using plants, and other edible species endemic to their region.
i hope someone realizes it soon enough and uploads that which might be on it's way to extinction. The sookha aam ka achaar in an earthen pot called ghaila with the rope tied in a four way knot making it not only easy to carry outside for slow cooking in the sun but also to hang comfortably somewhere away from the reach of chatori kids like me who might perhaps finish a years ration supposedly kept for special occasions or reserved for a rainy day, in less than a maybe a couple of months. 

Perhaps my intense desire to learn a simple bottle knot was my way of remembering Singheeyaa waaley Maama Jee who was poor yet never made any visit to our home empty handed. Enduring a long hard journey, making compromises, perhaps even sacrificing a lot of his meagre income to bring this saugaat (rare gift generally given on special occasions) for all of us to enjoy.
All done so quietly without banging a single drum of self righteousness/ praise and being blissfully unawares of the great abundance in his heart. To share whatever he could and make all of us feel like it cost him nothing at all...