She lives in an Altoids box

Did you all have lots of toys when you were little? I didn’t. It was a different time, wasn’t it? At least where I was standing. Parents didn’t just go out and buy a talking doll along with their weekend grocery, nor a hopping bunny when a child did all her chores. Money was far more thoughtfully spent, and children far less, well, indulged.

I have to admit, I liked that time. I liked it even when I was in it. When you don’t have a lot of toys, you become a little more ingenious with your time. Which reminds me of a line I saw on this poster recently – Creativity is subtraction. It really is.

Till I was about nine years old, we lived in a joint family, in a large old house in Central Calcutta. I remember sitting on the terrace with my friends and making clay utensils, and dolls from scraps of cloth. We would bake the little clay dishes in the sun, and have lavish weddings for the dolls. With real food. The food was always real. And usually stolen from our respective kitchens.

D and I try to give Chotto-Ma a sense of that…lessness. She still has more than we did, but less than most. And one of her favourite toys is a little cloth girl that I made for her some time ago. Like the little cloth girls I used to make in the old terrace in the old days.

This is Zaza. She lives in an Altoids box.

To me Zaza, and her curiously strong bed, stands for the sparseness of another time. A time when I made do with what I had. And made memories that stuck in my head like multicoloured Post-its.

It’s also the way I cook best: making do with what I have. Foraging through my cupboards without a plan. Throwing things together as I jigsaw tastes in my head. Do you do that?

Butter beans & pistachio tikki

You can soak the butter beans overnight and boil them, but I had canned butter beans sitting in my cupboard. (Because sometimes you just need cans.) And then my eyes landed on a jar of pistachios.
Tikkis came about, and they were very good, so I had to share them with you.


These tikkis have a very interesting combination of spices, but don’t hold yourself to them. Make do with what you have. Swap butter beans with black-eyed beans, pistachios with cashew, basil with parsley. Let your cupboards take the call.

3 cups boiled/canned butter beans
1/2 cup pistachios
A handful of basil
1 green chilli
1/2 tsp sumac (if you don’t have this, add a squeeze of lemon juice for a slight tartness)
1/2 tsp coriander seeds (dry roasted in a pan)
A sprinkle of coarse black pepper
1 tbs flour (if needed)
Olive oil

In a blender, or with a mortar and pestle, coarsely ground together the pistachios, basil, roasted coriander seeds and chilli along with 2 tbs of olive oil
In a bowl, add the soft butter beans, the oil-herb-spice mix, sprinkle in the sumac/lemon juice, pepper and salt. Mix well with your hands, coarsely mashing the butter beans. Sprinkle in a tbs of flour if you need to tighten the mix a little.Β With your hands, form flat, round tikkis.
Heat a flat pan, and drizzle in some olive oil. Pan fry the tikkis till they’re nicely browned on both sides. Enjoy!

18 thoughts on “She lives in an Altoids box

  1. Loved this post.”Creativity is Subtraction” — I am going to frame that somewhere.
    We too had few toys as a kid,most people I knew had less but I had lots of books and that made up for everything else.
    And my kids have way more toys though I myself have bought only a few of them. Surprisingly they hardly play with any!!
    That cloth doll is super cute. Love to CM

  2. πŸ™‚ So true, Sandeepa – most of the time, it's the most expensive toys that are the least used, aren't they? Chotto-Ma was always keener on scraps of paper and empty cereal boxes. Yes, her books too outnumber her toys.

  3. I still remember that I cut ur doll's hair, and now after all these years i am feeling guilty after reading this. I too had only one and named het TUTUL. She is still there wid me….reminding me of a time when everything was happy and things were yet to turn ugly……

  4. Misht, more complicated than ugly. Why don't I remember Tutul? Did she live in Durgapur? I don't remember you chopping off my doll's hair either, so no scars there. It's strange, we often feel worse about the stuff that we do, rather than the stuff that are done to us. I do remember you chopping off your Ma's saree though :))

  5. What a wonderful story from your childhood. I really enjoyed reading it. It reminded me of when I was little and growing up in southern Louisiana. My neighbor and I would play with little lizards. We would tie strings around the poor little things and act as if they were our 'pets'. We had little beds made out of match boxes and toilet paper. We would spend hours making items for our lizard babies.

  6. Never had as much toys as my little one does but she has far far less compered to what I see other kids have. Fortunately she loves her books and my kitchen utensils more than most of her toys. Less is more…always, and I don't want to forget that.
    You have such a beautiful way of reminding little things that are so intrinsic to motherhood.

    Never had tikkis made of beans but it works for sure. I improvise all the time…there is fun in it. Also, I love those plates and the vintage looking fork. I am a prop hoarder, and a prop gawker.

  7. Yes, Tutul lived in DGP, cos there wasn't enugh space in the suitcase to bring her along to Kol. Believe me, i feel equally bad bout the stuff dats done to me :p, and won't let any soul trample on my precious soul! ya, i did chop off ur doll's shiny blond mop. and the scary episode wid mom's saree,he he, well actually dat was for TUTUL, she needed a cover to sleep! dat ws d only tym i brought her to Kol n i think u were in Tejpur.

  8. Yet another gorgeous post, with lovely food and the cutest doll. I have to say though, the name made me laugh out loud. The Five Year old has a girlfriend call Zaza and they get into all sorts of trouble together. πŸ˜€

  9. Little lizards for playmates! πŸ™‚ Yes, matchbox beds were very popular at the time, weren't they? I also remember making walkie-talkies with matchboxes and a rubberband. They were inspired by Dr Spock in Star Trek, and they would flip open just like his πŸ™‚

  10. Yes, less is definitely more, Debjani. And more is definitely more, where books are concerned πŸ™‚
    You know, I've just come to a point where I've just stopped hoarding props. When we were moving, the packers looked at me, and told Deba, “No matter what happens in life, Mr Roy, at least you'll never run out of spoons, forks and plates.” That was my cue.

  11. You mean we didn't come up with an absolute original?! Gah!
    I bet the 5-year old Zaza who gets into all sorts of trouble is way cuter though πŸ™‚

  12. Oh, a blanket for Tutul – now, that makes everything alright. Yes, how could Tutul have slept without a cover in the cold of a Kolkata winter?! Unthinkable πŸ˜€

  13. My parents probably indulged me far more than most my age. i did have many toys but never attached myself to anyone because by nature I was the outdoorsy kid. somehow I feel, subconsciously we just follow the nurturing pattern that our own parents followed. It was wonderful to read this post. So thoughtprovoking!

  14. You very right, Anita. We copy the the all the things our parents did right, try to avoid some of the things they did wrong, and make plenty of new mistakes of our very own πŸ™‚

  15. You gave me a nice shake. yes, I too did not have much toys to play in childhood but still the precious memory of my clay dolls and their show box have a permanent shelter in my heart after these many years.
    But whenever Thanksgiving or Christmas come, I go and buy bunch of toys for my little one. I really do not see him playing much with them though, but its that craze. Thank you for the post.

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