Monday, April 6, 2020

E is for Embers #AtoZChallenge

Snuggle up close. It's cold. Very cold. Winter is at its deepest. The sun sets earlier each day and the nights are getting longer. The year is Emergency.

At four and three quarters years of age, I'm not interested in politics but Mrs. Indira Gandhi's face and words fill up newspapers and fog over adult conversations.

And I have a bone to pick with her because some of the boys of our gully call me Indira Gandhi on account of my very short hair. They call out, "Oye tu kya apne aap ko Indira Gandhi samajhti hai jo apne baal katwa liye?"  Who do you think you are? Indira Gandhi?

I hate the rowdy rascals. I don't like Indira Gandhi that much either. Why did she have to cut her hair? Did her mother make her do it too?

Our mother has her hands full. She doesn't want to fuss with plaits and pony tails in the morning when Seema and I have to get ready. Plus, the problem of head lice is perpetual in my nursery school. Honestly though, apart from the hurtful comments thrown my way near the temple where we all meet in the evenings to play, I don't mind my short boy-cut. I actually like my hair very much. It suits my frog personality. And Mummy always calls me her soni kuddi (beautiful girl). The rest of the world doesn't matter if Mummy thinks I am beautiful.

Dinner is over. We are sitting in Papaji's room: Seema is in his lap and I'm sitting next to him. All three of us are bundled together and if you enter the room and look at us you will think we are a human tent. Papaji's grey, scratchy kumbul (blanket) is keeping us cocooned in its woollen warmth. Only our three heads are peeking out and his is wrapped up in a checkered muffler. The silk edging of the kumbul that I always prefer to feel on my face is icy tonight, so I snuggle deeper into Papaji. He is warm and aglow. Two soft pink spots appear on his cheekbones. I shuffle a bit more so that I can put my hands on the kangadi too, like he's doing. He tells me to put my hands on top of his. They're so warm. The embers inside the kangadi glow and wink. 

We ask him who he loves more. Seema or me? He starts singing a bhajan and doesn't answer but squeezes us closer to him, tucking in any errant edges of the kumbul.

"Papaji, dhudh lai lo." (Papaji, your milk) Mummy comes in wrapped up like a mummy in a shawl. We can only see her eyes. She's holding a tall steel glass with both her hands. Her hands are also encased in her brown shawl. Steam swirls up from the glass as she places it carefully in front of Papaji. 

"Don't be too late. You have school tomorrow." she reminds us.

We say "hunjee" (yes) in unison.

She leaves the room rubbing her hands together and saying "Badee dhundh hai." (It's too cold) to herself.

Papaji takes a sip cautiously; his lips puckered around the rim.  He blows on the milk a few times, sips to check and offers it to us. We turn up our noses.

He insists we take a sip as there's extra sugar added to make it tasty. We don't want to as both of us hate milk but take a sip each anyway. It's yummy.

He seems happier when we drink it than when he's sipping it. 

Meanwhile, the embers in the kangadi are busy roasting the pine nuts Papaji had put in before the three of us had entered the kumbul tent. The brown shells are turning darker and the fragrance is making me hungry again.

Papaji lifts the kangadi from his lap, holding its rattan handle and puts it on the floor in front of us. His fingers juggle the hot, hot neje (pine nuts). He uses a little wooden stick to turn the embers and digs for more nuts buried in the ashes. Satisfied with the loot, he places the kangadi back on his lap. The warm and almost blackened nuts lie in a heap in front of us. He picks one. Peels it and pops it in our waiting mouths--turn by turn, like a bird feeding its fledglings.

The chestnuts he'd roasted earlier in a lohe ka tasla (iron wok) on the chulha (earthern stove) are still buried in the kangadi. They'll need a bit more time. Papaji will fish those out with his bare fingers. I'll look at him in awe and wonder what super human powers he has that his fingers don't burn when they dive into the dying embers and hot ash.

He will blow on the chestnuts, their skins blistering open and do, 'phoo, phoo....aye kha..aye mittha hai...."  eat this one...this is sweet.

We'll gobble them up greedily and ignore Mummy's calls to come to bed.

While we'll nod off in Papaji's cosy godi (lap), India will smoulder in the cold grip of the Emergency.

A dear friend brought this kangadi for me a few years ago. Thank you Gauri.
I haven't used it for its intended purpose, but is makes for a handsome addition to my collection of flower pots.

Plans are being made while fire and embers turn dough to bread.
This was in October 2018, on our way back from Chainsheel, Uttarakhand.

When was the last time you ate something prepared on an open fire? 
What was it?


  1. Hari OM
    OH - grandfathers are such pillars of our memory, heh na? Last time I had open fire food was back in OZ more than a decade ago; making damper and heating baked beans!

    The Emergency... hmmm... there are those who are concerned that the current crisis is going to give some world leaders the incentive to take over power by decree... there is more to this virus than a cold or pneumonia. Stay well, stay safe. YAM xx

    1. Yes: to both your points here, Yamini.
      Sending you love and hugs.
      Keep safe.

  2. Mmm, roasted chestnuts... Such a strong smell and taste for good memories :)

    The Multicolored Diary

  3. Extremely fortunate are those who have had the blessings of their grandparents while growing up. Am happy we have been those fortunate ones. Wonder if we will be fortunate to have our grandchildren with us someday! Love the human tent you described i could instantly imagine. When our cousins gathered for any functions or family gatherings it was almost a ritual that our Amuma fed all of us. So she would take her position first and all of us would form a semicircle around her. She would then take a large kadai,mix rice with curry of the day (rasam or sambhar) plus subzi with her magical hand. Each of us would have to show our right hand forward and we all will be served turn by turn.Not to miss,this food was loaded with too much love and affection that would melt all our eating tantrums in no minutes.
    Last food on openfire was when we had our last BBQ in our overnight camps 2 yrs back.Food was BBQ Panneer, Cauliflower, Potates & Corn.

    1. Thank you darling Vidya for sharing your Amuma's memories with me. Love the image of her feeding you all. Such blessed childhoods we've had the privilege of. There's so much to be grateful for.

  4. Replies
    1. In the spring I went to a local state park with some of my children and grandchildren and they toasted marshmellows in the fire place. I think I ate one, but I'm not sure. I used to enjoy peeling the skin off as we would toast them again and again when we had campfires in the yard, both when I was growing up and when I had children of my own. My cousins and aunts and uncles and parents and either we were the children or our children were.
      Such beautiful ordinary moments.
      Finding Eliza

    2. Sounds yummy Frederique.

    3. Dear Kristin. Thank you for sharing your marshmallow memories here. Ordinary is always beautiful, I feel. It's the calm that keeps us safe as we go through the ups and downs of our lives.
      And now, when we reminisce, we can feel the warmth and the sweetness of those moments.

  5. Wow such a nostalgic narration... Made me remember my grandparents...and all their stories! Although I didn't have any food with them on open fire but yes I do remember the chullah on which my granny used to cook at times and wonder how she ever does that!!

    1. Cheers for visiting Ira. My Beji's chulha almost made it to my 'C' post but then I chose chaunsa instead:)

  6. The Emergency is something I only learned about a few years ago. Seriously, I feel such shame for the neglectful education i, and so many others in my country, received. But your story definitely warms my heart - such tender images. I can imagine that smell of those nuts roasting and the treat of having them parceled out to you.

    The kangadi is a lovely holder of lovely flowers. I'm sure it enjoys its current station.

    It strikes me as amusing that you were teased for your short hair, while I was teased for wearing my in a long braid. Life is funny isn't it?

    1. Hey Deborah. I can't imagine you wearing long braids. The pic of you on your website suits my image of you so perfectly.
      Life is funny, indeed:)

      I always learn a lot whenever I participate in this challenge. We are all busy filling in the gaps left by our education. Thank heavens for those gaps! At least we can mould ourselves to our own rhythms.

  7. I enjoyed your narration very much! It was the last thing I read last night and snuggled up cozily in bed and dozed off. My takeaway was how this time of lockdown is similar in certain ways to the emergency and it is up to us as parents or grandparents to make our children feel safe and feel loved

    1. Cheeers Namratha.
      Hope you managed a good night's sleep.

  8. You know you have been a it for your grandpa or for your loving readers. You always win to teleport me to the incidents you describe Arti. I was feeling the same cold, could see the steam in the milk and could even see you gasp at papaji for opening those shells. You have send me through sweet and sour memory lane of my childhood. So happy that your challenge started in this difficult times to look at things positively. Hugs.

    1. Thank you Pinkz. It's always so lovely to read your comments.
      Hope you and your loved ones are well.
      Hugs. xx

  9. I could imagine cold winters of Dehradun, and you and your sister in the kumbal with papaji.

    Regarding when did I last had roasted food in open fire, perhaps it happened decades before. I remember the Holika dehan the first day of Holi, where we used to roast the tender wheat grains in the open fire. I can still feel the yummy taste of roasted grains. Its lovely to go through your childhood memories, at the same time I also peep into some of my own memories. Love, Nisha

    1. Thank you for sharing your Holika dehan memories Nisha. They sound like our Lohri ones. Only, we used to pop corn instead of wheat.
      Happy to have you as a companion on this trip down memory lane.

  10. Autumn has always been my favourite time of year - crisp cold morning air against a pale but yet slowly warming sun in the mornings here in the UK (sadly not nearly as nice as your wonderful setting in the mountains!) ... but your recount of dusk, and nights with Papaji, will now make me see the dark and chilly nights in better light! Thank you for another astonishing piece dear Arti, what a treat for us letter mortals who have not had the same privilege of visiting your welcoming mountains on the Himalayan foothills that we are now able to see them through your eyes - and words! Be blessed always my sister.

    1. Aww! Thank you Raj for this warm, warm --fluffy like a duvet kind of comment. I truly appreciate it.

  11. I didn’t know what a kangadi is until now .The earthen chula took me back to my grandmom’s kitchen . Me and my sister found the iron pipe used to blow air to keep the coal burning very fascinating and took turns .
    Very beautiful read Arti ❤️
    I think Iam falling in love with papaji

    1. It's impossible for anyone who knew him not to be in love with him dear Sahitya. He was a very special man.
      Thank you for sharing your chulha memory:)


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