The resilience of everyday things

When I sit in the balcony of our house, I see one older woman in the building diagonally opposite to us. She is going on about her daily work , her details visible only when she comes near the window. Folding plastic bags neatly into a small rectangle and keeping it under the bed so it flattens out, watering the single but splendidly fresh plant in the window, sorting through sprouted pulses looking for a stone or an un-sprouted grain, folding and storing newspapers in the corner of the window, storing some more documents in plastic bags , neatly compressed to save space in a Mumbai apartment. Her rhythmic movements and her quiet, self assured way is a great accompaniment to my morning cup of chai. And the pair of sparrows who seem to have adopted me as their guardian. They are okay with me sitting in the balcony while they go on picking seeds from the bird feeder, removing the outer cover and chewing on the seed. My two companions before the world around me gets active and starts buzzing around.

Since the coronavirus threat started in our country, we asked Akshay’s 84 year old grandmother Tara ajji, to come and live with us till this all clears away. She wakes up much before anyone else does and sleeps much later. As you grow older, you tend to need very little sleep she tells us when we are amazed at finding her awake all the time. She is always busy around the house. Making tea, making chapatis, cleaning and sorting the vegetables, cleaning bottles and jars with such intense care , they must be feeling rather loved. In our super fast life of consumption, we don’t care about these things that much anymore. We are a use and throw culture, lack of time, easy availability of fancier items. Use cups till the bottom corners get so stained that we replace them. Use hand towels for a while and once they get worn out , throw them away or convert them to rags. But not for the women of Tara ajji’s generation. She spends several minutes per cup ensuring each and every inaccessible ring is cleaned till it is spotless.

I remember my paternal grandmother go through similar activities when I used to go stay at her house. She would put on the radio _vividbharati_ at 6 am and start her chores. Boiling the milk, making tea, making breakfast, rolling the chapatis, combing her long hair and tightly fixing it into a bun.

These daily rituals, routine mundane activities which need to be done every single day are the real crux of life. They lend a certainty and order inside the home, inside our head so that the big wide world broadcasted into our homes via news channels and social media can stay out and not disturb our peace.

I also remember my uncle, my mama, getting the bags of milk every morning and washing them with a spray of detergent water and then washing it again under running water before it went into the fridge. We also do it now in the covid19 times, but we used to be more careless earlier under the guise of building immunity.

What would we do without these rituals that separate the day into morning noon and night?

When my son was a baby, we used to have an elaborate night time schedule of winding down. Taking a shower, drinking a cup of milk, reading a quiet story, asking each other questions about the day and then he would finally snuggle into me and go to sleep.

We still do more or less the same things at night, but I have to reluctantly pull him from the world of fantasies in his head and then he sleeps in his own bed while continuing to ask questions about Star Wars or Jurassic Park, which I know nothing about. He seems to be closer to his dad than me now, because dad is the cooler one, a Jedi with a lightsaber.

I am thankful for these little things I get to witness especially when the pace of life has slowed down and we are all looking inwards.

Is it too mundane? Too ordinary?

It’s essential. No matter what, the sun also rises and sets everyday, the plants continue to grow and birds continue to forage for food.

And human? We continue to do all these things and more. Day in and day out.

What would be life without it?

Xoxo,

Rutvika

The road less travelled

Rutvika on a scooter

Riding a scooter on the pot-holed Mumbai roads

Like any other teenager, I was very excited to learn to drive. Two months before turning 18, I got the learners licence. And there it began. Countless number of hours spent behind the wheel, trying to look at the road, keep the car steady and simultaneously change the gear depending on the speed. We had Maruti Omni then, that famous kidnap car from Bollywood movies. It had no bonnet and the driver sat exactly on top of the front wheels. I loved that car, it was easier for me to gauge the vehicles in front of me and I believed that it is responsibility of other drivers to not come and bump me from the rear end, which was very long considering that it was a van type of a car.

I took insane hours of lessons to learn driving. First it was the motor training school. The driving school cars have two sets of brakes and clutch etc. So driving that car during those lessons was a breeze. I only had to control the steering wheel and go left or right when and as the teacher said. And perhaps brake as an afterthought because it was he who actually controlled the car. During the driving exam, two months later, all they asked us to do was start the engine and drive 20 feet in a straight line. Even an eight year old can do it, and needless to say I passed the exam and got the driving license.

I was elated. Little did I know that driving a training school car and an actual car are entirely different things.

The first day in our car, the Maruti Omni, the engine stalled every single time I tried to change the gear from first to second. Or if someone was crossing the road and I stopped, I could never get back in motion without the engine shutting down. It was almost as if it was dissuading me from driving. But I was persistent. Rather my dad was persistent and persuasive . He spent several weekend mornings taking me out to drive and it always ended with me crying on the way back and not talking to him for the rest of the day because A) humiliation and B) realisation that I still can’t drive. Every time I had to change the gear I had to look down at the stick shaft and wonder where 1-2-3-4 is. And every-time I pressed the clutch, the car jumped in terror.

After several weeks of this ritual, my dad hired another guy to teach me to drive our own car, one Mr.Godbole. He was a patient man, and after two more months and a several thousand rupee fee, I could finally drive. My heart still pounded wildly every time I was in the drivers seat and I sat as if ready to jump out any minute if something went wrong. Nevertheless, I ferried my family to and fro from short distances and once even drove 2 hours to Esselworld through murderous traffic. That was the high point of my driving stint.

For years before that I was riding my cycle to school and already knew how to balance a two wheeler. The lovely little Scooty Pep came easily to me and and I would vroom through the streets of my suburban Mumbai. Even now, I put my baby in the baby carrier and off we go to the park on the Honda Activa. So I have some traffic sense, right?!

But the car. That’s a different story.

About six months after I learnt to drive, my father replaced the van with the smaller Maruti 800 so that I can drive it easily.

My cousin and I drove to the movie theatre one night and while coming back, at a right turn to get on to a flyover, the car stalled. I couldn’t get the car to turn on and move forward. Traffic started piling up behind me and people started honking. I got very nervous. I revved the engine, kept my foot on the clutch and willed it to move forward. In all this commotion I forgot to look on my right and an oncoming truck hit the bonnet of my car and drove away without a pause. The bonnet opened up like the mouth of a crocodile, we banged our heads against the roof of the car but thankfully we were alive and mostly unhurt. We silently drove back home, now wondering about how to tell this to dad. Short tempered that he was, he was also very scared for the safety of his children. And the extra expenditure to get the car fixed. All in all, it was a terrible situation.

We went home, and told my mom about what happened. She has always been the cushion between dad and us. We use her a medium to tell things to dad when we lack the guts. All of us went to sleep and the next morning she told dad.

He immediately went down to the parking lot, examined the car and came up seething and obviously quite upset. For the next 2 hours (or was it 10?), I was grilled about how the accident really happened and how was I so stupid to drive this way etc. Regular stuff which parents say to their kids.

But again I was terribly upset. A) because of humiliation and B) realisation that I can’t really drive. The angsty teenager that I was, I vowed never to drive dad’s car again.

The car was fixed and we used it for a couple years more, but I never got behind the drivers seat again.

My husband now wants me to learn to drive again.

I say, ‘not today’. And tomorrow never comes.

Faithfully,

Rutvika

An extended version of this post appeared on DirtyandThirty.com

Sesame Whole Wheat Long Rolls

We stay in Mumbai , the biggest financial capital of India, and one of the major cities in the world. Technically, we have everything. Water, electricity, roads, trains, schools, housing complexes, markets, parks, art, theatre, everything. For majority of the people.

But barely 100 feet away from where we live, there is a colony of slums, of tin walls and tarpaulin roofs, of rooms so small that everyone has to squat on the footpath outside the walled tins. No electricity, no running tap water and we are not even talking about anything else. But what they have in abundance is kids. Of varying ages. As if it is a kid making factory, to be let out into the world. At least a dozen kids belonging to three or four houses are always running on the adjacent road, and wait, those parents are not even done yet. Barely 30 odd years old, they still have at least 15 more productive years and the capacity to bring another 5-6 screaming, naked kids into the world, per couple. And we are talking about folks whose daily income is less than Rs. 200.

Now I understand that not everybody gets equal opportunity to study, to work and earn a decent living for themselves and their family. They are entitled to the way they want to manage their life, but for gods sake stop producing so many kids! Often I wonder how those people are unable to comprehend that every additional mouth to feed, to sustain, is a drain on their already meagre income. My heart goes out to them, but there is hardly anything I can do.

Our maid once told me that her drunkard, seasonally employed brother had four kids, before he died of a liver failure, when he was 32. The first born child, was a girl, and hence they had to have another child, in the hope of a son. The second was a son, but he was very sick and they had no hope of him surviving. Hence the third one, another girl who again was expected to live for 2-3 years because of her frail health and thus, they had to have another one, raising the count to four kids. All the kids survived and the oldest girl is in her early teens, but their father, or the sperm donor really, is long dead. Our maid and her other sister now take care of all those kids, in addition to a one or two of their own.

In olden times, in the villages when agriculture was subsistence, it was okay to have a dozen kids who would eventually be helping hands in the field. But that situation no longer applies in the cities of today, where resources and opportunities are limited and highly competitive. The Government provides free primary education, but thats not sufficient at all. It in effect leads to another generation of uneducated youth who would be emulating their parents, because thats all they have known.

But in a way, I find it miraculous how those women manage to bear and rear so many kids despite the circumstances. Nutrition is poor, they don’t have access to vitamin and protein supplements, most of them are doing manual labor; doctor visits and sonographies, if any are limited to emergencies and yet, life finds a way. While we, the educated urban population, on the other hand, thinks at least 300 times before having a kid, spends hours planning a nutritious healthy diet and has a minimum of 6-7 sonographies and a dozen tests to check the wellbeing of the mother and the fetus. None of it is available to those on the streets, and yet despite poor health and diet, those women in the tarpaulin shanties give birth to healthy and kicking babies.

That is nature. Strange and powerful.

Rutvika Charegaonkar


For brunch this weekend, we made Whole wheat rolls. Yes, our house smelled like a bakery and we nibbled on bread and cheese like the French. I have adapted this recipe from The Bread Bible written by Beth Hensperger. It is really a bible, and every time I bake a bread, it is better than the earlier one.

Sesame whole wheat buns

Sesame Whole Wheat Long Rolls

What you will need :

  • 1 and 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup warm milk
  • 4 tablespoons butter (salted), melted
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoon raw sesame seeds
  • 1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 to 4 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • Rich egg glaze of one egg + 1 tablespoon milk

What to do :

  1. Pour the warm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast and pinch of sugar over the surface of the water. Stir to combine and let it stand at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl using a whisk or an electric hand head beater (with dough hooks), combine milk, remaining sugar, butter, salt, sesame seeds and whole wheat flour. Beat hard until smooth, about 4-5 minutes. Or you can do it in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.
  3. Add the yeast mixture and all purpose flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a dough that just cleans the sides of the bowl is formed. Switch to a wooden spoon when necessary.
  4. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead for about 5 minutes, dsuting with flour only 1 tablespoon at a time as needed to make a smooth, soft, slightly sticky dough.
  5. Place the dough in a greased deep bowl. Turn once to grease the top and and cover with a plastic wrap. let it sit at room temperature till doubled in volume, about one hour.
  6. Gently deflate the dough . Turn onto a lightly floured work surface. Grease or parchment line two baking sheets. Divide the dough into 16 equal portions.
  7. Shape each portion into an oblong oval. Roll each oval up from the long end tightly and pinch the seam closed, like a mini french loaf.
  8. Place the rolls 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest until puffy and almost doubled, about 30 minutes. Brush with rich egg glaze before baking.
  9. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 180C. Place the baking sheet on the rack in the centre of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and hollow to sound.
  10. Transfer to a cooling rack.
  11. Spread with some mayonnaise and fresh cucumbers, tomatoes etc and your brunch is ready! I used the Cremica Tandoori mayonnaise which came with the huge gift hamper from Indian FOod Bloggers Meet 2014 😉

Sandwiched long rolls

Notes :

  • I always use Amul salted butter readily available in the market. If you are using unsalted butter, increase the added salt by 1/2 teaspoon.
  • If using active dry yeast, increase the amount to 1 and 1/2 tablespoon.

Buns with mayonnaise

Vegetable Enchiladas

Vegetable Enchiladas

After coming back from work and yoga on a Wednesday evening, we wanted something zesty and yet again something quick, to fill up our starving stomachs.

Enchiladas seemed perfect, cheesy and melty, with our storage already stocked with some Corn Tortillas. (They are still not available in all stores in Mumbai, but most malls stock it in FoodBazaar, Hypercity etc. )

This time, the trick was to make it look colorful, with the variety of fresh veggies available in the market.

Ingredients :

  • 2 large onions chopped
  • 1 carrot sliced vertically
  • 1/2 cup sweet corn
  • 1/2 cup green peas
  • 8-10 baby corns vertically sliced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cabbage
  • 1/4 cup spring onions
  • 1 small tomato thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese
  • 2-3 corn tortillas
  • Oil for cooking, butter for baking
  • Salt as per taste
  • Pepper, basil, thyme, some sea salt and chilli flakes/powder for flavor

I use and swear by the Kirkland Signature USDA Organic No-Salt Seasoning (http://www.amazon.com/Kirkland-Signature-Organic-No-Salt-Seasoning/dp/B002W5SDEQ) which we always ask our friends and relatives in the US to get for us. But otherwise, even the seasoning packet which comes with Dominoes Pizza works well for flavoring.

In a skillet, heat some oil and saute the onions. After about 3-4 minutes add the shredded cabbage,  carrot slices and baby corn verticals. Put a lid on the skillet ad let this cook for about 5 minutes.

In another bowl mix the sweet corn and green peas and add some water and microwave it for 3 minutes or steam for about 5 minutes, and then drain the water and add it to the veggies in the skillet.

Add some salt, and the seasonings as per taste, mix it well and put the lid back on for about 2-3 more minutes.

The filling is ready.

IMG_4836

Take a medium sized glass baking dish and lightly line it with butter.

Place one tortilla on the dish and layer it with vegetable filling and sprinkle some cheese on top. Repeat with another layer of tortilla, veggies, tomato slices, and then a generous layer of cheese. Sprinkle some coriander and it is ready to bake.

IMG_4863

Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C and bake the enchiladas. Normally it takes about 10 minutes once the oven is heated, but be careful to not let the cheese particles on the sides of the baking dish to burn. (It still tastes amazingly crisp, but looks a little odd)

IMG_4884

Done! Easy enchiladas are ready to be eaten.

IMG_4889

Bon-apetit!

Cheers,

R