Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Shaken, Not Stirred

Sir Roger Moore in 1973
when his first movie
Live and Let Die was released
Yesterday, when I heard of Sir Roger Moore's passing, all I could think of were the James Bond movies we watched with Anna in our childhood. Anna was a big James Bond fan. He took us at an early age to watch James Bond movies, so that we could "build a real appreciation" for them. I must have seen my first Bond movie in the early 70s - with Roger Moore as the suave and sexy 007. I am sure we saw other movies, like Jaws and Close Encounters, but it is the Bond movies that I remember the most.

Here is how one of our movie outings would play out in the Murthi household.  

We'd be eating dinner at 8pm on a week night. Anna would suddenly ask us what movies were currently showing. One of us would interrupt whatever morsel of food was finding its way into our mouth, and go fetch the newspaper (I believe that the first thing I learned to read in a newspaper was the schedule of movies!). We would specifically read out the name of the movie running at Chanakya - the defacto favorite theater for English language movies.

Chanakya Theater
Photo Courtesy: Wiki
Anna (and Amma) would ask us if we wanted to see it. Of course, we did! What tweenager or teenager would say no to a trip to the movies in the 70s and 80s?

The six of us would finish eating, clearing the table, cleaning the kitchen, changing clothes, closing windows and doors, packing snacks for the movie hall, and locking the flat in record time. Anna would bring the car and keep it idling in the porch of our block of flats. We would run down the stairs too excited to stand still in a lift with Amma, and tumble into the car with no argument on who got the window seat. 

Anna would get us to the theater by 8:50 pm so that we could buy tickets and be seated in time for the 9 pm show. We never missed an ad or a trailer. Even now, I hate missing theater ads and trailers.

Parle Poppins
I loved the red ones
At Interval, snacks would be taken out of various handbags and consumed with gusto. Those were the days when we could carry oranges, peanuts, chocolates, roti rolls, poppins, & water into theaters and have a picnic. 

Quite often, Anna would take our friends out for James Bond movies too. Since all of us could not fit into a Fiat, the elder kids (with one girl to ensure we could get tickets quickly by standing in the Ladies Queue!) would catch a bus. The younger kids would be driven by Anna and Amma. So well-known is Anna's love for James Bond movies that one of our friends gifted him with a CD set of all James Bond movies for his 80th birthday.

Now, often when we push Anna's wheelchair over rough potholed roads, I joke with Anna and ask him if he is feeling "shaken, not stirred". Anna doesn't normally get it the first time. Then I ask him how James Bond likes his martinis. I can almost hear the wheels of his memory grinding.

"You are shaken, Anna, not stirred. Like James Bond's martinis". He smiles every time. Not in the first telling as he used to, but in the second telling. In the second telling, he smiles.

PS: I haven't told Anna of Sir Roger Moore's passing

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Making Snake Gourd Vegetable (Padvalkai Palya), Anna Ishtyle

Goddess Lakshmi
Photo Courtesy:
My father and his two brothers were 3 male offspring of 10* born to my grandparents.  Ajji and Tatha, as they were called, celebrated each daughter's birth as the gracing of their homes by Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, Fortune & Prosperity. That meant a lot, given that they were poor. Tatha was a village schoolteacher who owned some land, but that didn't go very far to feed the 12 mouths in his home. 

Anna told us that in his childhood he often had to wrap a wet towel around his stomach, to dull hunger pains, before sleeping at night.

I believe that this was the reason why Anna could not stand it if one of us said that we were hungry. Anna would ensure that we immediately got something to eat - a banana, a biscuit, some peanuts. Anything really. Just to stop us feeling the hunger pains that he remembered from his childhood.

Padvalkai Palya. 
Photo courtesy: Raks Kitchen
Even tho' there wasn't too much food, Anna and his brothers, learned to cook in their childhood. As was the tradition in south Indian Brahman families, women were not allowed into the kitchen to cook (among other things) when they were menstruating. Also, as the cycles of women in one household often synced, there were days when Tatha had to cook. Simple, two dish meals, made of whatever could be afforded, at that time. As the boys grew older, they were pressed into service, to clean, cut, and cook meals for the family.

One of the dishes Tatha would cook at these times was padvalkai palya (snake gourd sabzi / vegetable).
Watch snake gourd being made village style
Tatha would sit on the kitchen floor, with the boys around him, pealed snake gourd at his feet. He would use a vegetable cutter and coconut scrapper (a curved knife with a circular scraper head at the top, mounted on a leg of wood) to cut the gourd. Tatha would cut the snake gourd horizontally, into circles, and give it to the boys. Anna and his brothers would then meticulously poke out the seeds from each piece with their little fingers! Each circle would be examined by Tatha (his eyes becoming magnifying glasses) to see that there were no stray seeds left. The boys felt like they were waiting for school exam results! Once he was satisfied, Tatha would cut the de-seeded circles into small pieces and then cook the palya / subzi.

Cleaning, de-seeding, and cutting snake gourd
Photo Courtesy: Kurinnji Kanthambam
Anna thought that poking seeds out of snake gourd was the only way to de-seed a gourd for many, many years. After all, his school-teacher father had taught him so! It was only when one day he saw, Amma, my mother, slice a snake gourd vertically in the middle, and take out the seeds in one single swoop, that he realized that he had not been taught the most efficient way!

He has told us this story time and again. Laughing at the time and effort it took him and his brothers to poke out seeds with their little fingers, waiting with bated breath for Tatha to examine each circular slice!

Even now when I recount this story to Anna, he smiles. It seems that his Parkinson's and Dementia fogged brain recognizes and appreciates old stories!

*There were 11 offspring, one died in childbirth.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Coffee Chronicles - Part 1

Drip-Filter-Coffee Maker
Photo Courtesy: Eatomaniac
Anna, my father, knows how to cook. Not gourmet cook, not survival cook, but somewhere-in-the-middle cook.

Given Anna's love for coffee, obviously, Anna makes fabulous coffee. South Indian coffee, of course! The coffee he calls "Real Coffee" or "The Best Coffee".

From as early as I can recall, I remember hearing Anna in the kitchen early in the morning, making coffee. Anna, would wake up sometime between 4:30 am and 5:00 am in the morning. After saying his prayers, sitting cross-legged in the middle of his bed, he would go to the kitchen to make coffee.

My mother, knowing what he would need, would have left a clean and dry drip-filter-coffee maker on the counter top. Anna would just have to load the top chamber with ground coffee, pat the powder down into a "gently packed" cake, place it on the bottom chamber, and pour hot water into the top chamber. While he waited for the coffee decoction to collect in the bottom chamber, he would go to the fridge and pull out a small vessel of milk and boil it. Simple, right? Well not so simple, if it is Anna.

Filter Coffee Decoction
Photo Courtesy: Lime 'n Mint
Three out of seven mornings a week, we would be woken to Anna's hushed-shoutout to my mother from the kitchen,"Saralaaaa, where is the ....". Sometimes it was the coffee powder that he could not find, sometimes the saucepan to heat the water and sometimes the milk.

We would all let out a collective groan.

My mother would respond in a sleepy-voiced hushed-shoutout, "Yane-ree, it's on the shelf / in the fridge / ..."

We got so used to this, that we would wake up at an un-Godly hour to hear Anna and Amma hush-shoutout on various coffee making paraphernalia, and then promptly fall back to sleep.

We were not allowed to drink coffee as children and hence were taught how to make coffee only in our late teenage-hood. We were instructed by Anna on the precise method to get the best coffee decoction - the right quantity of coffee powder to use, how to pat the coffee in the top chamber, the temperature of the water, how to pour water into the top chamber such that the water was clear and not clouded with coffee, etc.

Foaming Filter Coffee at
 Mavalli Tiffin Room, Bangalore
We were only allowed practice runs of making filter coffee. Anna was the one who would always make the coffee at home. Two times a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Even when Anna was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and Dementia, he continued to make filter coffee everyday. He stopped making filter coffee only after Amma died. I don't know why. It wasn't that he lost interest in drinking coffee. He still loves his coffee. Hot coffee. No matter what the ambient temperature is.

Could it be that one of us, his children, took over his early morning coffee making ritual without asking him if he wanted to give it up?

Could it be that our fear of him hurting himself or burning the house down, made us take it over earlier than necessary?

Could it be that he was not able to manage the physical precision that is needed to make coffee?

I don't know. And I probably will never get to know. Anna doesn't talk that much nowadays, for me to ask him. That time has passed.