“Ammamma, nuvvu vellipothunte naaku gundelo baadha,” lisps a little two-year old clutching her stomach to illustrate her pronouncement (Ammamma – grandmom in Telugu – my heart pains when you go away!). Her ammamma, of course, melts into a puddle and decides to stay on for a few days longer.
My mother is a hot favourite with all little kids – I have yet to see a little one not make a beeline for her in a room full of adults – even if they have never seen her before – some people, I think, possess this rather magical quality of innocence which only other equally innocent souls can recognise – and that, of course, is always the little ones!
There is no trouble that is too much for her to take – if a child is involved. And so, once, when this same granddaughter of hers (my older daughter Archana) is spending a holiday with her as a three-year old (yes, those days three-year olds did spend holidays with grandparents and no, the parents were not in attendance and yes, it was not just perfectly all right, both grandparent and granchild had a ball!), I was due to pick her up from Hyderabad (I had been on a business trip to Delhi) and take her back with me to Madras. My mom is obviously a little sad that the baby is leaving and asks her, “So Archu, did you have a nice holiday? Did you do everything you wanted to and did you get all your favourite foods?”
“Yeth, ammamma (did I mention the pronounced lisp which took her years to overcome?!), but you forgot to make one thing for me” – rules the little tyrant!
Ammamma is obviously surprised (the menu everyday for the entire household has been set around what a three-year old child wants to eat!) but asks her what.
“You foggot to make me lime lice!” (lime rice!)
The household is galvanised into instant activity as someone runs to pluck limes from the tree (only the freshest and the best for the granddaughter!), someone else sets the rice on and voila, fifteen minutes later – a plate of the her dream dish is set before the princess!
On the Saturdays that I used to have off from work, one of our favourite things was to get on to my pitta-pitta-mum-mum (my 50cc moped – christened onamatopeically by the same daughter when she was about eight months old!) with our lunch boxes and a packet of chips and sputter off to the Guindy Zoo – very close to home those days. We’d wander around for a while looking at various animals before settling down to my daughter’s favourite activity – watching the crocodiles! Once she’d had her fill of this (actually, once I’d had as much of the reptilian stuff as I could stand and as soon as I could persuade her that maybe peacocks were more interesting!), we’d move away and sit down to have lunch. She got to pick the meal – every single time and she always picked “lime lice”!
So, this summer, I offer to make her “lime lice” for old times’ sake and get a dirty look for my pains – we do NOT like lime rice now! Strangely, recovering from a bug, that is what I feel like eating right now! Illness makes you regress?
Here it is – one of the hoary old standbys of the South Indian kitchen…
- Cooked rice – 2 cups (Warangal mussoori, Sona mussoori, Ponni, samba are the best varieties for this, though any non-sticky rice will do)
- Juice of 1.5 limes – depends on the tartness and size of the limes
- Sesame oil – 2 tsp
- Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
- Green chilies – slit – 1 or 2
- Grated ginger – 1/2 tsp
- Curry leaves – 2 sprigs – crisped in the microwave for a minute
- Asafoetida – 1 generous pinch
- Sugar – 1/2 tsp
- Cashewnuts – 1 tbsp
- Mustard seeds – 1/4 tsp
- Chana dal (bengal gram) – 1/2 tsp
- Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
Heat the oil and fry the cashewnuts till pale gold. Remove and set aside.
Add the mustard seeds to the same oil and let them splutter. Add the chana dal and urad dal and let the dals turn golden.
Add the chilies, ginger and turmeric. Saute quickly and turn off the flame. Add the salt, sugar and lime juice and mix well. Add the cooked rice and stir well to combine. Sprinkle the crushed curry leaves over the top and sprinkle cashews – if you haven’t already finished them by now!
Pack it in a dabba and carry it to the crocodiles – no, the crocs won’t like it but you can watch them and eat it!