Numbers, standing in their natural order, are so ordinary. Look at them.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5
They could be anything. The number of toes inside your left shoe. The number of times you’ve pretended to have read A Brief History of Time. The number of cats in the house next door. The number of times you can sneeze in a row. The number of times you came that close to winning the lottery. It could be anything. Or nothing much.
Now, reverse the order of the same little numbers, and as if by magic, they become less ordinary. They become a countdown.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
A countdown has a sense of drama, of anticipation. They tease you closer to something exciting. No one ever counts down to a non-event. Well, I certainly don’t remember counting down days to my dentist’s appointment.
But I do remember counting down to my wedding day. To the 20th-week scan when I was pregnant. To the minutes before our flight takes off to an unexplored city. To Durga Pujo, when we were growing up in Kolkata. I remember my 12-year old self, counting down to the birthday when she would wake up a teenager, and suddenly be taken seriously. (Yeah, right). And now, I see my daughter counting down before her spaceship blasts off into outer space.
Do you remember the last time you counted down the days? Or a momentous countdown from a different time, a different year?
I like my numbers backwards even more so this week. In another three days, Ma, Baba and my brother are going to be here. My house is going to fill up with family, and with warm, familiar banter. With bear hugs and arguments.
There really can be nothing better to count down to.
While I wait for the last few days to trickle down, here’s something adapted from Ma’s kitchen. It’s butternut squash, but with a personality. In Kolkata, we would use kumro (pumpkin) to make this. But here, butternut squash makes a great alternative.
Spicy Butternut Squash with Garlic & Cumin
1 medium butternut squash, cut into equal-sized pieces
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp paprika
A bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1-2 green chillies
3-4 tbs oil
Heat oil in a deep pan. Once hot, turn heat down to medium. Add the cumin seeds.
As soon as the seeds turn a light brown (3-4 seconds), add the chopped garlic.
When the garlic turns a light brown, and lets off a nice ‘roasted’ smell, add the butternut squash.
Add the green chilli. Split it down the middle if you want it hot, or keep it whole with the stalk intact, if you want just the flavour of the chilli, without the heat.
Sprinkle the whole thing with salt and paprika, give it all a good stir, and cover. Cook for 15-20 minutes.
Then take the lid off, add half of the chopped coriander. Stir and taste for seasoning.
Cover and cook for a few more minutes if needed. The butternut squash should look a little bit mushy, with the pieces sticking together.
Transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with the remaining chopped coriander.