Rocky and Mayur reveal the food memories that bind them

Woodpie Blog, November 20, 2015

Mayur and I grew up, and to this day live, in a small place called Uday Park in Delhi which was a small colony where plots of land were given to the families who had lost a member to the war of 1971. The resulting demographic therefore was a lot of working ladies who were the heads of the family and a lot of kids without fathers who had only each other to really learn from. Ours was a world where every noble cause was real and not just a ‘lesson’. Being a ‘good friend’ was the most critically important thing in the world and letting a friend down was a blasphemy of unspeakable proportions. We told each other the usual stories all kids in India hear and we were the characters in them. We were Ram and Lakshman and the mighty army that marched to Lanka. We looked out for one another and it was us versus everyone else. We taught each other lessons in loyalty, goodness and strength. We stuck together and our support structure was us. The older boys were responsible for the younger ones; the younger ones in turn respected the older ones. The girls who played football and cricket with us were pals and those who played with dolls were to be avoided at all costs. When the chips were down, it was either turn to a father who was not there or a mother who was the sole bread earner and was away. Neither worked for us and so we evolved the greatest bond it had been our honour and good luck to evolve: the bond of friendship that runs deeper than most relationships. No matter what the problem was, we were always there for each other. If someone broke a window while playing cricket,
we all stood in silence with the breaker and got screamed at by the uncle or aunty whose house had suffered the damage. If                         someone was not well, we all accompanied him or her to the local doctor. If someone was falling behind in studies, one or more of us brought them up to speed; we exchanged comics and books till we were all readers, we discussed ideas with our naive black-and-white wrongs and rights and became the people we admired. To this day we do it: a sort of one for all and all for one. The advantages of having this whole group of people to back you are many but the greatest joy of all was, is and will always be, the food! We were a little India crammed into one small area. There were ‘aunties’ from all across the country. War isn’t selective—from Kashmir to Kerala, from Gujarat to Arunachal they were all there. Do you begin to see why the breaks were so important? A quick first break took me to hot Idlis and Dosai. This is when it paid to have friends, and I had many. I would ensure Mayur was on my team as his daadi made the most amazing
paranthas; while we waited for our turn to bat, it was a matter of minutes to run down and ask her to make some paranthas for us. Between paranthas we would run back and forth from the park to see the status of the game because batting too, after all, was important. Once into the fielding part it was a little tougher to get away but since we were all solid pals, the batting team provided a substitute fielder as we ran to Joyjit’s house for some machher jhol. We would be endlessly hungry due to all the running we did and lunchtime was an important occasion when everyone discussed what was being made in everyone else’s homes. My favourite was, and to this day continues to be, Pinku’s house where Raj Aunty would make the most amazing Kashmiri Pandit food. Yes, it was all vegetarian as she was a vegetarian but the kathal she made was better than any mutton you will ever eat. Her daughter, who was my classmate in school, has gone on to become world famous and I’m talking about Dr Shikha Sharma of Nutri Health Systems who is the best-known face of nutrition in India. Luckily for me, Shikha always ate small quantities which meant more for me. Once in a while, I still get that much-loved tiffin with a few of my favourite things in it. But that’s another story. It could be mutton made at Puneet’s house by Mona Aunty, or Bhopali dishes made at Bobby’s place by Baby Aunty or those amazing stuffed karelas that were made by Malti Aunty who is
Manoj’s mum, which were almost as good as the chicken curry that Rita Aunty made at Biri’s place. The list goes on and the foods were magical. Post lunch we would be forced to rest for an hour as siestas were still the order of the day back then. This is when the fruit situation kicked in. Fruits were not things that were bought in ones and twos from the market. Fruits were sent in by the crate from family members who owned orchards, and were brought in by family that would travel to Delhi from ancestral villages. Mango season particularly comes to mind here. Buckets filled with water and topped to the brim with mangoes were left in a corner somewhere. In a couple of hours the mangoes would be cool and we would eat them literally by the bucket. Plums, pears and litchi were my favourites and came from our place in Dehradun. One family could never finish those quantities but help was always close at hand. Now you may begin to see a pattern emerge as to why Mayur and I are such good friends to this day. We would help other people find solutions to their
food-storage problems—we were always like that. Cricket would resume at four in the afternoon, and only mad dogs and us were out playing. Kids who lived close to the park were responsible for cold bottles of water being brought to the park during drink intervals. But this was only till 5 p.m. After five the party would start in earnest. We could hear ‘Garaaaaaammmmmmm’ from a mile which meant the choley bhature wallah was coming. I kid you not when I say that you will not find such delicious choley bhaturey anywhere else even today. The guys who come now are the sons of the old man who made his rounds when we were kids, and the cholas still taste exactly the same. The game would be suspended and those who had money would buy and those who did not would beg for a loan which was always extended. Memories are a funny thing since Mayur and I were always friends. This is why we are still friends after thirty-eight years. In one word: FOOD. Let’s get back to our game of cricket which would only then be resumed after Doodhnath had gone. Who was this Doodhnath you may ask? He was our legendary ice-creamtrolley-wallah. The man with a cool attitude and a cool solution to all your heat problems. The man with the ice cream. He was also the man with the copy in which he wrote down what we owed him as we had large appetites and very little money. He would be paid on birthdays and other festive occasions when we ran into some money. Sometimes we ran up bills to the tune of a thousand rupees. In today’s day and age that would be roughly the equivalent of Rs 10,000 and that, my friends, is a serious amount of money. But Doodhnath never complained, he never said no to anyone and when you finally did clear your bill, he always gave you a mango duet for free.

Excerpted with permission from ‘The Food Wicket’, by Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma from Chillies and Porridge: Writing Food, edited by Mita Kapur, HarperCollins Publishers India.

This entry was posted in Chillies and Porridge, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.