Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Inside the pickle jar! - Indrani Mathew

When Lisa first asked me to write something about my childhood, I agreed immediately. “Sure thing!” I said, all enthused. It could not really be that hard, I had thought then. It has been few months since and I have not been able to put words down on paper! Even now, while writing this, I keep asking Pravin “How much should I write? How long does one expect these pieces to be?” Pravin, of course, gave a vague reply saying “As long as you want it to be…”

It is not that I have shied away from sharing snippets of my life; I just did not know where to start from. So after much thought, I have decided to start from the beginning…my earliest memories. They are quite a few…

I remember being born into a house with many people in it; a house which was constantly busy. My father was the third child in a family of eight – five brothers and three sisters. My grandfather, the patriarch of the household had built 3 houses connected by a common compound. I was the fifth grandchild born into this family; one cousin sister, Meghali and my younger brother, Riju followed soon after. I remember spending most of our days running around the house, upto our own antics…

A lot of our activities were around the main kitchen of the house which was on the compound. This kitchen was a haven (I remember waking up to tempting fragrances). Huge vessels of rice were boiled throughout the day on the kiln (no one used gas stoves at that time). All the women of the household would be busy cutting, chopping and stirring up meals which tasted divine! The non-stop chatter around this area; the endless supply of food…

But of course, being kids, we were hardly likely to be interested in regular food! Amidst all the food, my grandmom’s secret hoard of pickles existed somewhere; she used to make and then guard extremely closely in a meat-safe. These pickles were doled out very carefully during the evenings when we would eat luchis (assamese puris) and sabzi. To give you a better understanding of what the temptation was for these pickles, you would need to step back and imagine the different jars containing different types of pickles that one could find – starting with the extremely spicy chilly pickle with yellow mustard seeds, raw mango pickles and on to an assortment of sweet and slightly spicy pickles of olives, tamarind, gooseberries, and ber (the red small berry). These were the kinds which once eaten, one could not stop. This was almost like the chocolate factory for us kids in those days. Especially since it was out of bounds, it was even more alluring! So it was that every evening, a group of mini soldiers got together, with a single point agenda of stealing as much pickle as possible, without getting caught! Of course one would eventually get caught, when ones stomach was upset; but until then, raiding the meat-safe just had to get done!

The pattern was always the same... There were 5 of us – 2 experienced soldiers - Bhonti Ba and Jitumoni Dada (our elder cousins) and 3 of us novices – Meghali, Riju and I. We would start the session by playing hide and seek. One person would become the ‘den’, while two of us novices, also the credible innocents, would be sent to hide in the room where the meat-safe was located; the remaining two would hide in different parts of the house. Two minutes into the game, one would inevitably hear exclamations of ‘cheating! cheating’ being yelled out by any one of the latter 2 players. A furious argument would ensue. The adults of the house would inevitably run to sort out the arguments and to pacify the arguing players. In the meantime, the two people hiding in the meat-safe room would quietly get to work - raiding the pickle jars and grabbing as much pickle as possible. Within minutes, both of them would have two fists full of pickle, while the argument in another part of the house would die down. We would all assemble in one dark corner, and quickly gulp down as much pickle as we could…

We continued to pass on this ‘tradition’ to our younger siblings, while the elder siblings moved on to new areas of interest. In all those years, one of us was always caught with our hands in the pickle jar, always admonished (in the case of one time offenders) or given few slaps (in the case of perennial chors); but nothing could deter any of us Bhuyan siblings from our grandmother’s meat-safe!

Unfortunately for us, this tradition died when my grandmother got older and was no longer able to make her secret recipe pickles anymore. It could have possibly continued with my eldest aunt, Renu, since she had learnt the art of making those pickles to perfection; however, she was always too generous with her pickles…and the excitement no longer lingered…sigh!

1 comment:

Kavita said...

Hehe really neat Indrani!!! :)