Of driving lessons for mother and cars with no horns!

And then there was the summer (why does it always seem summer and the holidays when you think of childhood? Existential question… ) when my mom learnt driving. I’ve talked about my mother’s penchant for ‘projects’,’new’ things, enthusiasms that came on suddenly – that made life with her so exciting…

And so, one year when she had crossed fifty years of age and I was about to join college, she decides that she cannot go through life not knowing how to drive. Not possessing a car does not deter her – my dad having met with a bad accident some years previously, cannot drive. So my mother sets off and buys herself a second hand – a very second-hand Standard Herald. Now, as anyone who grew up in that generation knows, a Herald is the boxiest of boxy little cars with a couple of wings sprouting up in the front, tipped with enormous headlights (see pic) – looking rather like a retriever with its ears standing up straight! And promptly enlisted the help of one of her office drivers to teach her. This lesson used to take place every morning and evening on the way to and from work – from Jubilee Hills to King Kothi Hospital – a distance of some ten or eleven kilometers along some of the busiest of Hyderabad’s roads.

Picture this – a novice driver, no second set of brakes (this is NOT a driving school car!), said novice driver over fifty years of age and never having been on any kind of wheels on any kind of road in her entire life – well… it made for some ‘interesting’ situations, to say the least! Not forgetting the fact that the car was at least ten years old and not in the best of condition! Well, the essentials were there – the brakes worked – just about… the horn was a temperamental creature and many times when we were rounding a blind curve, we had to resort to beating a tattoo on the side of the car with our hands so that the guy around the blind curve could figure that there was some strange beast around this corner!

One memorable summer, there were seven of us in the car – four well-endowed aunts (manchi personalities) and thankfully, three of us skinny nieces! The car started up one of those steep patches on the main hills road, groaning its way to the top… almost but not quite making it and then slowly slid right back down! With my mother heroically trying to manouver it, the car slid back in an S-shaped curve towards the end – a steep, ten foot drop on the right of the road… some of us struck silent with horror, one voluble aunt squeaking away and manouvering my mother’s shoulder as though it was the steering wheel! But did the lady turn a hair? Not a solitary one! The car slid to a halt inches from the chasm! Holding our breath, we got out from the other side carefully. My mom, having kept the engine going through this hair-raising ordeal (there was no guarantee that the engine would start again if allowed to die!), puts it back in gear and crests the hill triumphantly! ¬†We climb the hill under our own steam and clamber back in, reaching home in one piece – where my mom coolly proceeds to tick everyone else off for losing their heads!

On yet another occasion, as my mom is driving, flames suddenly shoot out of the steering wheel! She quietly switches off the engine, pulls the car into gear and collecting her belongings, climbs out. Normal? So far! But then, she waits for the flames to die down, gets back in the car and drives back home! Not quite as normal!

Some few months later, she tried teaching me how to drive – I crest the selfsame hill from the other side – and drive straight into a flock of sheep – braking just in time and narrowly missing making a mutton biryani on the road! Lessons with mother stop. I join a driving school!

And thankfully, never having killed anything on the road, manage to stick to my Buddhist principles and ghaas -phoos diet… like this one… the classic…

CAULIFLOWER CHEESE

  • 1 cauliflower – washed well, cut into florets
  • Milk – 1/2 litre
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cheddar – grated – 1 cup
  • Plain flour – maida – 4 tbsp
  • Butter – 1 tbsp
  • Breadcrumbs – 3 tbsp – optional

Boil florets in about 1 cup of water till just done but still crunchy. Strain out, reserving water.

Add the milk, salt, pepper, butter and maida to the reserved water and cook, stirring continuously till the mixture thickens. (If you make a roux first, with frying the maida in the butter, you will need a lot of butter – this way, we reduce the fat)

Add the cheese (reserveing 2 tbsp) and mix well. Switch off.

Layer the cauliflowers in a baking dish and pour the white sauce over. Top with the remaining grated cheddar and breadcrumbs.

Bake at 200C for 25 – 30 minutes till golden brown and bubbling on the top.

Quintessential comfort dish – after near misses on the road!