Tag Archives: Childhood

Janaki Atha

The last week was full of fun and celebration in our household. We(me and my wife) had come down to coimbatore to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday with all his sisters and their families and my cousins. Like any gathering many made it and a few couldn’t. It also didn’t matter much that my dad discovered he was actually born a month later than what he’d known for 60 years. So we celebrated his ‘certificate’ birthday while he is jet setting to europe to celebrate his actual birthday among the gladiators. Two things made me write this post. Diogeneb was the trigger but….

A discussion we had amongst ourselves about her (she passed away a few years back) about how her lives had touched ours. We spoke about how she was not our favorite early on but she became a favorite over the years. We spoke about forgiveness, love, affection, familial bonding etc. I spoke about the stories I heard but I was soon reminded that I should only talk about the stories I lived. I realized how amazing she was for me. She was my dad’s dad’s sister. I called her Atha (meaning aunt) because my dad called her that. And it stuck. She never corrected me. She was cool like that.

Through they years, she came to stay over in our house every summer for the ram navami functions that were held in her sammandhi’s place. Since the festival took place during the March-April period, it invariably fell during my annual exams. As most people from the 90s would remember, Annual exams were a very stressful period for a child. I was hardly 10-11 years old when she started coming home. In those days, we had exams in schools in a 2 1/2 or 3 hour period with a morning shift of exams and an afternoon shift. All the sub high school kids wrote in the morning while 7th std and above wrote exams in the afternoon. Both my parents were working so every day after a stressful exam I would come home to an empty house with janaki atha there. Every day without fail I would have a cold glass of rooh afza waiting for me. I would sip it while she would go to the kitchen and mix the first rice (sambhar) and bring it with some koora (sabzi) and a helping of something crunch like mixture or chips or appalams. This was at 11 – 11:30 AM. I would complain saying this was not my lunch time yet. She pulled a masterstroke by telling me it was ‘brunch’. I felt so privileged to be eating a meal that no one has ever served me in my life till then that I was more than happy to oblige. Now that I think back, it’s amazing a 60 + yr old lady from the villages knew about brunch in the 90s. If the exam had gone well, I’d be chirpy and we’d have a good time eating and talking about what I wrote. I would explain all my answers and we’d calculate together to see how many marks I’m likely to get. This was all top secret of course because for my parents the exams always went ‘well’. This was doubly useful because for annual exams we wont get our answer sheets. Only the final rank if we called the school and the usual ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ result post card by mid April.

My Janaki Atha loved rasam rice. She had a peculiar way of eating it. The rice mixed with hot (heated on the stove) rasam would almost be of soupy consistency but on the plate not a bowl. She’d make a cup using her hand like how we do for taking theertham from temples and scoop the rasam with rice in a beautiful motion and slurp it in her mouth. There would not be a drop of rasam either dripping on her hand nor any from her mouth. In next to no time she would be scooping the next bit. I used to watch her in awe when she did that. I thought rasam was too advanced for me so I first tried that with thick curd rice diluted with a little but of rasam to make it slushy but not liquidy. It took me 2-3 months but I’d perfected the curd rice. Now I took it to the next step for the grand inauguration of that technique in a family function. To put it mildly, my parents said if I don’t stop slurping I won’t be given food. Needless to say, I stopped the slurping. But I never managed to do what my Janaki Atha did. Even though secretly I’ve tried it many times at home far into adulthood (shhh).

Once we were done with lunch, I was allowed 2 hours of *rest* before I had to start studying. Being the ‘kaamchor’ that I was, I’d immediately say I was hungry about 20-30 minutes into my ‘study’ time that was mostly spent talking to an imaginary villain who attacked my home and held my grandmother hostage while I rescued her with the contents of my geometry box. My divider was my secret weapon that could be controlled by my protractor. Knowing that a child’s protests were impossible to deflect, she figured the best way to calm me down was to give me a snack. Grandmothers, unlike mothers, are excellent at making snacks with leftovers. Hence I found my milk bikkies sandwich. A Delightful preparation on two milk biscuits with a sandwich of jam and mixture/karasev. This followed by a cold glass of rose milk and even I couldn’t complain. By the time all this nakra was done, my mom would be back from office and would realize that I had barely started my preparation for the next day’s exams. All hell would break lose, I would be sat down and made to study till I finished my syllabus. The same story would repeat the next day.

I still remember my Janaki Atha like this. I’ve decided that this is the only way I am going to remember her. Love you Janaki Atha. Thank you.


The perfectly imperfect after school snacks of the 90s

I am going home to coimbatore this weekend. It’s a momentous occasion because my dad’s retiring and with that event we may move out of the home I grew up in. While I was thinking about this all the good and bad times came flooding into my mind. Nothing more than how dad used to pick me up from school and we picked up a few evening snacks on our way home.

My evening snacks were an adventure for me. Everyday I would wait to see if my favorite snacks were available. Three of them specifically come to mind.

1) Chutney Sandwich

2) 25 paisa onion samosas

3) Kalaan (roadside mushroom)

Each of these three snacks have a particular set of circumstances under which their availability would be assured. This post is going to talk about how each of those three snacks was special in their own way.

Chutney Sandwich : The sandwich itself was nothing spectacular. It was two slices of white bread with butter on one side & a mint coriander & green chilli chutney on the other. There are two reasons this is special. I realized I hated sandwiches only because of the crust of the bread being left off (these guys removed the edges). The second reason is my mother. She would come home tired from office at 5:30. I’d wait patiently & hungrily from 4 till she came home so that she could work her magic on that sandwich. Within 15 minutes that sandwich would become something yummy. mostly, veggies that were leftover from my tiffin box or raw vegetables that I hated eating. In fact, it’s thanks to this sandwich that I even had any raw vegetables at all. I still hated carrot so all that would be added was cucumber, onion, tomatoes and if my mom had time/mood, boiled potatoes. On those occasions when potato roast was on  the lunch menu, that would get added to the sandwich too. Those were my favorite sandwiches ever. I loved them so much, I sometimes used to run early from class to get those sandwiches (shop was close to my school) so that I could get them before they were sold out. I’ve had sandwiches that were more expensive, better crafted etc, but those sandwiches that first introduced me to the world of sandwiches remain by far my favorite. It’s a taste I still search for wherever I go.

25 Paisa Onion Samosas : In our school canteen, they had two types of samosas. One was the ‘regular’ samosa which sold for Rs. 1.50 & second was the ‘Bombay Samosa’ which sold for Rs.2.50 both of which were princely sums in my childhood. However, I didn’t like either because the 1.50 samosa had kabuli channa that was usually too hard for my liking and the bombay samosa was frankly too costly to be had daily. One day when I was coming back with my dad, he stopped to buy something from a kirana shop. I saw another shop nearby in that ‘complex’ which had a wonderful fried onion aroma coming out. It was a strange shop. It was not a bakery, nor was it a eating joint. In fact, I’ve racked my brain to picture it but I cannot think beyond the cashier on his desk and maybe two items that I’d eaten there. That was the first place I realized that samosas could be bought for 25 paisa!! I could get 6 samosas for the price of 1 in my canteen. My dad didn’t like them too much but I loved them. I used to buy 1 dozen samosas for 3 rupees!!! and I used to eat about 8-10 of them in the evening. they were bite sized samosas but they were AWESOME!! I still drool thinking about them. The samosas would have an oily but tasty coating with crisp skin at the corners and soft skin in the center of the triangle on the outside. The masala on the inside would just be spicy sauted onions that would be sweet from the onions and spicy from the green chilli. The combination was delectable (which explains why I’d have 8-10 of them as a teenager). Apart from their awesome taste, the reason these held such a special place in my heart is, the days my dad was late and I couldn’t get my favorite sandwiches, this samosa saved the day. Gradually, I began preferring them to the sandwiches 😛 sometimes ending up making ‘samosa sandwich’ myself and presenting it to my bemused mother when she came back. She hated oily food and usually made a face but she’d take a bite and give me the rest which I was more than happy to gobble up 😀 This samosa was probably my first comfort food/craving as well now that I think about it. I’ve never found them as good anywhere else. I still miss those damn samosas.

Kaalan (roadside mushroom) : In Tamil Nadu, specifically in coimbatore, the 90s saw a veritable boom of roadside ‘chat shops’  basically they would make one concoction of chole masala. one concoction of pani. some basic boiled yellow toor dal. However, the best thing in their shop (that I liked the most) was the gobi & mushroom :D. I discovered mushrooms very late in my youth, maybe when I was 15-16. I had this habit of watching all cookery shows with my mom. In those days in star plus every morning at 8 AM (I think) we used to get this cookery show with international chefs. I have no idea who they are now but I remember each of them specialized in a cuisine. One day I distinctly remember, the chef said he was making food with ‘milky white mushrooms’ I scoured every grocery store (since I’d accompany my dad for the provisions) and asked every vegetable vendor for mushrooms (because the dish had a green dot). I used to specifically say ‘milky white mushrooms’ but to no avail. Most didn’t even understand what I was trying to buy. One day my dad bought these packets with holes that contained little beautiful mushrooms with these little black dots on them. I was immediately reminded of Tintin and the shooting star with those red dotted things and realized my dad had bought mushrooms 😀 I was overjoyed to say the least. My mom without any internet or cook books randomly made some amazing curry with mushrooms that only moms can and since then it’s been my favorite ‘vegetable’. So back to me at the counter of this pani puri fellow and he said he had ‘kalaan’ I had no idea what that was but it smelt divine!! I went home and asked my dad what kalaan was and he told me it was mushrooms 😀 Yayyy!!! since then my evening snack became two packets/portions of that kalaan whenever I could. I had this specific way I wanted it to be cooked. I liked it to be cooked till it was dry so it shouldn’t have liquid but will be slightly wet. It should have a little crunch in the middle so not too much of the ‘juice’ they used for cooking the mushrooms. No ajinomoto because mom said it was bad for me. Extra raw onions on the top because I love raw onions. No lemon because it overpowered the taste. This was my love affair between my 10th and 12th board exams. If I was hungry, kalaan. Bored, kalaan. Going for a scooty drive, kaalan picked up. I loved it so much I even ate it for dinner if my mom made a vegetable I didn’t like (I was a brat then). The funny part is, I think the reason I loved it was for the masala. Frankly I don’t think there was too much mushroom in there. But the taste was DIVINE!!!

Anyway, ladies and gents, these were my favorite after school snacks growing up. I wish they were still available but the chutney sandwich place closed down. The onion samosas guy disappeared when I hit 10th standard. The kalaan guy made shit loads of money & is gone now from my neighbourhood. I still wish I could go and eat them sometimes. I search for them every time I make a visit home in hope that my memories can come flooding back and I have that moment of pure joy that always comes when you have your favorite after school snack after a long day of being lectured. Do you have any favorite after school evening snack that you still crave for? I’d like to know.