Enter at your own risk

When I asked her what cake she’d like for her 5th birthday party, her answer was quick, sure: ‘Dinosaur’. I admit I tried suggesting other options. I couldn’t begin to imagine baking a cake that resembled a Stegosaurus, or any Othersaurus for that matter. But what other options could stand a chance next to earth-stomping, tree-chomping, meat-chewing monsters?

Chotto-ma is a keen follower of all things prehistoric, and a dinosaur party for her fifth birthday was the appropriate rite of passage. So, here we are.

And here’s the day in pictures. It was a good, good day.

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(* The dino illustration on the favor bags is from a lovely blog called Sugar Beet Press. She also has a beautiful Etsy store.)

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You, at five

Five! My poised little, wise little Chotto-ma, you’re one two three four five. How did it happen? Weren’t you crawling and drooling and speaking La-La-Language just a minute ago?

Five sneaked up on us, and I have a sneaky feeling it sneaked up on you too. When you heard ‘five’ your eyebrows nearly ran into your hairline. And your eyes got bigger, if that’s possible.

Everyone says you have my eyes, but I wish I had yours. Yesterday, you looked up at the clouds and said, “The sky looks like a big bowl of porridge.”  I looked up, and wanted a spoon. And I don’t even like porridge.

That lopsided little triangle, from your eyes to your head to your heart, holds thoughts that stretch much farther than your five years. As far as India and Jupiter and Mars. Those thoughts make you call Calcutta to check if Mamma’s TV has been fixed (since she said it wasn’t working the day before). It makes you hold me and Ba tight, very tight, and ask us not to die for a very very very long time. That is what you worry about the most now; every day. You worked it all out in your little head: dogs die when they grow old, and people must grow old too.

Thankfully, the worry melts in the face of good gobbly kissing, or bouts of frenzied dancing. And suddenly there you are as you are, my happy chotku-potku girl; so lovely, my heart bursts. You tease us, you twirl round and round, and you tell us stories of creatures only you can see.

So this is you.
Just the tip of you,
just a whiff of you,
just a smidge of you.
At five, at five,
at fah-hive!

When we asked you what you wanted for your birthday, you said you’d like an Arctic fox. At the shop though, the fox didn’t match up to magic. Sometimes, life just needs an unicorn. An unicorn that gallops out of a porridge sky.

This is your absolute favourite book now. It’s your book with Ba. You plonk down on Ba’s lap, get comfely; Ba reads out one poem after another, and you giggle and guffaw and ask for one more.

You’re always leaving us little messages. Here’s one I found on my study table a few weeks ago. Translated from Bengali, it says Dear Ma, I love you very much (I love your spellings so much, I’m almost sad they’ve started to straighten out)

You clean; and it’s no pretend-play either. I can give you a rag, and mirrors will be shining and table-tops dusted. I can hand you the laundry basket, and clothes will be colour-sorted and loaded into the washing machine. I often walk into the bedroom in the morning to find you’ve made the beds – yours and ours. Pillows lined neatly, the heavy duvets heaved and dragged till they’re folded neatly at the foot. You give me these little surprises every day, and I can’t tell you what a lucky Ma I am.


Here’s what you’re drawing now:

Us, kissing.

Dinosaur, growling.

 

Wolf, howling.

Animals, circusing.

And, a happy monster called Pah dancing with a lovely little monster girl, next to a Stegosaurus, next to a winged man, next to a duck.

You’re the honestest little person I know. You don’t lie. Even when you’re scared of telling the truth, you say it. And your eyes stay as clear and steady as the day you were born.

You’re trying very hard to like wearing jeans (for my sake), but really, you’d rather wear dresses with flowers and butterflies. Every day.

You still hate water on your face during baths.

You love space. And the planets that float and the stars that wink and the moon that waits for nighttime and the rocks that go flying through time. These hang over your bed.

You make a shopping list every time we go to the grocery shop. You have a clear idea about essentials.


We also have purple shoes in common.
(Your shoe size is 9-and-a-half now. We might start swapping soon.)

A few days ago, you told me this in exactly this order of words:
“I love you and Ba so much, so much and it’s so big, so big that it’s heavier than a building. It’s so heavy that you can’t carry it, you can only feel it inside.”

If there was a giant workshop amidst the constellations where babies were made to order, and we’d put in an order on a list so long that the scroll hung down from the clouds and touched the grass, we still couldn’t have thought up a daughter as wonderful as you.

Our Chotto-ma.

[minute] Mouse On Plate

Chotto-ma has developed a crush on the camera; she now holds the Nikon, which is nearly as heavy as she is, in her little hands, and walks around from subject to subject. Her hands and eyes are surprising sure. (Or, I’m just being a real mother about it.)

Here’s Mousie wiping the plate clean. Styled and shot by Une Petite Photographe.

{Photograph courtesy: Chotto-ma, using the iPhone. Uploaded untweaked.}

People who can’t be pickled

A few weeks ago, I bought a bag of redcurrants; so sour they make you wink. They looked pretty and well-behaved, sparkling quietly from their market stall. And then they kicked like a mule right at that soft spot where my jaw met my ears. I brought them home simply because they looked beautiful. And because sometimes, I buy things I don’t know what to do with.

On the walk back home, I thought up a use for them. A redcurrant achaar. A very Indian pickle, with a very un-Indian berry. Back home, I handed the brown paper bag to Ma. And together we set out to fill a jar with pickle-ish things.

Tomorrow, Ma and Baba fly back to India. This time will be especially hard for Chotto-ma. For three months, she has been stuck to her Mamma like the flap of a well-licked envelope. She and Mamma have their own little world, their own secrets,  furtive giggles, games only they understand and the most long-winded conversations you can imagine.

Chotto-ma: Mamma, are you going to cry when you’re back in India because I’m not there?
Ma: Yes, shona.
Chotto-ma: Will you cry a lot, a lot?
Ma: Yes, shona.
Chotto-ma: Ok then, could you cry enough to make a puddle? I’ll go and splash in it.

Her relationship with her Dada is different – she’s my father’s little helper; bringing him his shoes, taking off his knee-cap after his morning-walk, giving him his medicine after breakfast and sitting next to him on the bed telling him one of her long-winded stories. Of Good People and Not Good People and volcanoes and fantastic creatures. 

What will she do without their ready ears? And ready arms. What will she do without the people who can’t be pickled?

Redcurrant Achaar (redcurrants pickled in Indian spices)

This is one of the best things I’ve bottled in a while. The pickle can be dolloped on anything – a lentil soup, a yogurt dip, or flatbreads. I’ve even used the pickled oil as a salad dressing. So good.

Ingredients

300 gm redcurrants
100 gm green chillies, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
10 large cloves of garlic, sliced thin
1/2 tsp turmeric
Sunflower oil
Mustard oil
Sea salt

A mix of whole spices (also called Panch Phoran, available ready-made in any Indian or Middle-Eastern store)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp aniseed
1 tsp black cumin (black jeera)

Roast the whole spices on a dry pan, stirring constantly, till they give off a lovely, roasty smell.
Pound them coarsely using a mortar and pestle.
Put the redcurrants, green chillies, garlic, turmeric, salt and roasted spice mix in a jar. Cover half with sunflower oil, and the rest in mustard oil. The oil should cover all the ingredients.
Seal the jar, and let it sun itself on the window sill for 3 or 4 days.

[minute] Coffee With D

Remember {Midweek Monochrome}, the black-and-white photographs I once made a habit of? I don’t like habits; I always cut them short. I stopped Midweek Monochrome when it felt like they were becoming routine. Why I boxed myself into black-and-whites, I don’t know. I don’t like being boxed in; in the same way I don’t like sleeping in the middle bunk of a sleeper train. Claustrophobic.

[minute]
(noun) a period of time equal to sixty seconds or a sixtieth of an hour.
(adjective) extremely small.

I want to do photo posts, but without a monochromatic cloud hanging over my head. Mostly, they’ll be photos off my iphone, and as they come. Photos of the little ordinaries that I want to freeze and keep.

So, here’s [minute]. Think of it as you will: a sliver of a few seconds; an extremely small fragment of my day.

I’ll start it off with good coffee. A rich Colombian blend, for those of you who like details. The red leaf is a gift from Chotto-ma. The madeleines are shop-bought. And for no reason at all, D and I are talking in whispers.

The art of an omelette

A couple of weeks ago, we drove to the mountains. Remember our winding drive through Wales last year? We went back there with Ma and Baba. This time, Chotto-ma was their glib little tour-guide, having sucked up Snowdonia through a straw on her last visit.

The mountains had been a brownish-grey in September; they’d stood like whittled warhorses against masculine skies. This time, everything was different; the same road now winds through mellow mountains; it’s summertime. Green has grown over slatey grey ridges and covered them in coyness. Their jagged edges gentled, the mountains hugged our car like lush, matronly ladies.

We went back to the lovely whitewashed B&B we had stayed in the last time. Surrounded by conifers, Glenwood House, sits opposite a rocky stream which hums past in steady song. The B&B is run by Marie and Said, a charming couple, with a little boy, warm smiles and seven chickens. They’re easy to return to.

Chotto-ma helped Said collect just-laid eggs in the morning, still warm to the touch. The chickens pecked at our shoes, ate some toast and cleared their throats. They had a lovely home at the edge of the garden next to a busy little brook. Before we left, Said packed up the eggs Chotto-ma had collected and gave them to us to carry back home. Fresh eggs from happy chickens who live by a mountain stream.

They were meant to be omelettes.

Courgette & Gruyere Omelette

Now, there’s an art to an omelette. It’s one of the easiest foods to rustle up, but very few make it well. A good omelette is soft, but not soggy. It’s golden-brown on the outside, pale on the inside. It’s fluffy, but full. It’s seasoned, it’s seasoned, it’s seasoned. I belabour the point for a good cause.

Thanks to Ma, I grew up on artful omelettes, folded off the heat at the right sliver of a second. Her omelettes had a secret. Not a secret ingredient, no. But a secret sleight of hand. A secret rule: Don’t let the egg rest. As you pour the egg into a hot pan, with whatever you’ve whisked into it, take a fork and give the middle a stir. It should scramble up, and parts of the pan should show through. Pat the top of the omelette to fill up those bits. Then, scramble it up again. And pat it again to patch up the top. Let is rest now for a few seconds. Move off the heat, and fold.

For this omelette, here’s what I whisked in:
Courgette, grated.
Gruyere, grated (use any cheese you like)
Coarsely ground pepper
Salt
Oil

Silence

It’s been very quiet here for a while. A comfortable quiet. Sitting between Ma and Baba, the blog blurred; I needed to sneak away from this space for a while. The house is still full, but Ma and Baba have gone upstairs to bed now, D is packing away the leftovers from dinner, coffee is brewing and a little girl is tip-toeing past her bedtime; she’s drawing. So I thought I’d sit and write in.

It’s late, but there’s still some light left outside. I love this time of night, I love the silence. But I also love the smokey sounds that blow in through the window. The wind, a kettle boiling, songs from the pub; I like that silence has its sounds. Our ears are insomniacs, they’re always awake. I can choose to close my eyes shut, black out the room, the trees outside my window, the peaches on the table. I can choose to shush my voice, say nothing, not a word. But I can’t close my ears shut. If I put my fingers in, sounds will still seep in.

I wonder if sound, then, is what our senses need the most. Who knows? It’s not something I’d want to have to prioritise. I lost most of my hearing once; for a month. I was traveling on a flight from Delhi to Mumbai, with a cold and a blocked nose, when I felt a sudden, sharp pain in my ears. This was followed by what felt like a thousand red ants crawling and biting their way from one ear to another. It was almost the end of the flight, and the plane was descending. What I didn’t know at the time was that a blocked nose combined with a quick change in air pressure when a plane drops height can make your eardrums buckle and burst.

What followed was a month of sharp, piercing pain and bloody rivulets on my pillow, but what I remember more sharply is something else. I remember the muted-ness. Conversations looked like mime, very loud noises were hushed like secrets. In the midst of throbbing Mumbai traffic, I’d hear nothing. Just a pale whooshing; a wide sea of a few million people sounded like the inside of a shell from the shores of the Arabian Sea.

Along with sound, I lost something else. I lost my sense of straight. I’d want to walk to the window right opposite our bed, but would find my feet curving me away from the window and straight at the wall. My feet wouldn’t follow my mind. Like a drunk, only dead sober.

Actually, it’s a bit like this post. When I started with ‘It’s been quiet here for a while’, I wasn’t planning on going anywhere near my ear. It was supposed to be a spot of bright, summer writing. Look where I’ve gone.

But there’s food for your patience. This dish is a special one for two reasons: It has potol (parval), a vegetable that has traveled all the way from Kolkata in Ma’s luggage. And the recipe comes from Bubulma’s kitchen, so it has many memories for D.

Dudh Potol 
(potol cooked in milk)

8-10 potol, sliced lengthwise into two
1 litre full-fat or semi-skimmed milk
2 dry red chillies
1 tsp black mustard seeds
A pinch of turmeric
2 tbs oil
2 green chillies
Salt

Heat oil in a deep pan and add the mustard seeds and red chillies. As soon as the mustard starts sputtering, add the potol. Stir for 2 minutes and then add the milk, salt and a tiny pinch of turmeric. As the milk starts to heat and rise, lower the flame a little. Keep stirring the milk with a rounded wooden spatula, and in between, keep the spatula in the milk as it cooks. This (in my inexplicable opinion) stops the milk from curdling. The milk must finally reduce and condense to coat the soft potol in a thick, creamy, textured sauce. The photographs should give you a fair signal as to when you should be done.
Serve hot with steamed rice.