My grandmother’s house in Ulsoor, Bangalore was not very large. I remember a large central room with a kitchen and a couple of rooms leading off it. There was a little strip of corridor at the back with a dark, old fashioned toilet – I was always terrified of going here and a bathroom with a built in “anda” fired by wood – to heat bathwater for the dozen plus people who lived here. My grandmom bore ten children in this house, brought them up, performed weddings and naming ceremonies and death rituals and the mundane business of feeding at least a dozen mouths at every meal. Relatives were always welcomed – to share whatever they had.
What fascinated me most about the house was the enormous (to a very small me, that’s how it seemed though when I went back there a couple of years ago, the room seemed much smaller!) central ‘hall’ with a red oxide floor where they lived, ate, slept and to my wonder – where there were at least five or six kids studying at any point in time. During WWII, when paper was in short supply, the room was divided off into squares with a piece of chalk and each kid got his / her own ‘homework’ corner! “Rough work” in Math was done on the floor with chalk and then neatly copied into the precious notebook! At about six or seven, this seemed such a romantic thing to do and I remember pestering my mom to be allowed to get a red floor for our stone-paved house in Hyderabad so I could do the same too!
Baths for a dozen people in one single bathroom? My super efficient grandmother made do! That bathwater – super hot in cold Banglaore, smelling of woodsmoke as you were pummeled with oil and your skin scrubbed off (well, almost!) has given me a distaste for cold baths that has lasted a lifetime! Even in midsummer Madras, I need my hot water!
Like most households of that era, there was no breakfast but rather a large brunch. For people who needed to leave early, “saddannam” (pazhedu / left over rice soaked overnight and mashed to a thin pulp with buttermilk) and a lemon pickle to go with it served as breakfast. For us kids who were there on holiday, this was sheer torture! We were used to having a substantial breakfast early in the morning before setting off to school and to have to wait till ten or eleven for our first meal of the day created unbearable hunger pangs! Suddenly, we became extremely fond of morning walks – with our kindhearted mom – the walk lasted all of a couple of furlongs – to the nearest Udupi joint where we sustained ourselves with masala vadas and dosas – for a couple of hours till brunch was served! The quantities that we could put away at lunch meant that no one was the wiser about the sneakily eaten breakfast!
One of my favourite foods at home – from the magical hands of my appamma (my aunt Shanta makes it just like “mom made it” now and also makes it for me every time I visit her in Bangalore – she’ll never see the last of me! ) – was the very South Indian salad called “koshumbri”. Made specially for the Rama Navami festival, it was also made occasionally on request! Every time they serve a ‘green salad’ in a restaurant – basically a few pieces of cucmber, carrot, tomato and onion with a whole green chili on top – I can practically ‘see’ my grandmom turning up her nose at the chef’s idea of cuisine!
So, if you don’t want my grandmom (and yours too, i bet) turning up her nose in disdain, do make this!
- Moong dal (green gram/ pesara pappu/ paitham paruppu) – 1 cup – soaked ofr a hour and drained
- Cucumber – chopped fine – 2 cups
- Carrot (optional) – grated – 1/2 cup
- Raw mango – grated – 1/2 cup (if not available, squeeze lemon over the salad at the end)
- Coconut – grated – 1/2 cup
- Chopped coriander – 2 tbsp
- Minced green chilies – 2 or 3
- Sesame oil – 1 tbsp
- Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
- Asafoetida – 1 generous pinch
- Curry leaves – chopped – 2 sprigs ( i prefer to microwave whole curry leaves for a minute on high till they are crisp and crush them by hand over whatever dish i’m making. This way, they don’t get pushed to the side of the plate or spat out!)
Mix all the salad ingredients together and temper. Squeeze the juice of 2 small or one large lemon over the salad at this stage if no raw mango is available.
Aside: Wiki tells me that ‘kachumbari’ is a Swahili word originating from ‘kosambri’ or ‘kachumber’ in Sanskrit and also meaning a chopped salad – how cool is that??!