“Sarojabai, your daughter is ageing. You’d better get her “married off” before she becomes so old that no man will look at her!” comes the unsolicited advice from the ladies of the locality. The locality is Ulsoor, one of the suburbs of Bangalore and the year is 1942. The girl in question (all of fourteen years old, by the way!) is my oldest aunt – Bajja to the family and Sundara to the rest of the world.
My grandmother turns a stern eye towards the women. No way the daughter is going to be “married off” while the dad is still away at war and also while she is still so young (in the mother’s opinion). So she refuses all offers that come her way and with the daughter being reckoned something of a beauty, there are plenty of offers!
The person telling me this story is the same aunt – Bajjamma – some sixty years later! She is a great story teller and has us all in splits with tales of their growing up years and the offers that she, or rather the mother, received on her behalf.
One morning, a neighbour drops in. He is a man in his thirties, has recently lost his wife in childbirth and is looking for a “replacement”! Offers to “take” the eldest daughter (said Bajja) off the mother’s hands and even pay for the wedding expenses himself! (most unusual in those misogynistic days, i assure you!). The mom does not want an old man for her lovely daughter and refuses. He gets importunate. “But you don’t even have to give her any jewellery or anything. My late wife had plenty of that and it will all come to your daughter! And she even had a vaddiyaanam (a gold waistbelt!)” He is convinced that the waistbelt, his trump card, will definitely clinch the deal!
The mother refuses – a little more rudely this time – no way her daughter is going to be married off to an old man! The neighbours are aghast! “A gold waistbelt he offers you and you refuse? You must have got a touch of the sun or something,” they shake their heads in collective amazement and trail back to their homes!
The story ends on a happier note – the dad comes back from the wars three years later and the daughter is married – at the reasonable age of eighteen to a man much closer to her in age and much more eligible.
Unfortunately, she doesn’t have much of an idea of cooking (despite the mother being a noted cook) and churns out some pretty horrendous stuff (as she tells us later!) – boiling okra in a sambar without frying it and serving up a sticky brown lump of something which resembles gum more than anything!
The husband, otherwise a reasonable man, but bred in the traditions of his times, takes one bite and chucks the whole bowl away!
For any of you out there harking back to “the good old days”, those good old days were not always so good – as she reminded us during that story telling session…
Bajjaama became a rather accomplished cook later on and her home in Bangalore was refuge to a number of nephews and nieces (including yours truly) living in hostels and craving for home food!
Here’s an okra recipe that might have got her off the hook!
OKRA WITH CHICKPEAS
- Tender okra – 1/2 kg – sliced into 1 cm chunks or whole. Cut off the heads though
- Cooked chickpeas (kabuli chana) – 1.5 cups
- Onion – chopped – 1 cup
- Garlic – 3 flakes
- Ginger – 2 tsp – grated
- Green chilies – 2 -minced
- Tomatoes – 2 large – chopped
- Cumin powder – 1 tsp
- Coriander powder – 1.5 tsp
- Red chili powder – 1/2 tsp
- Tumeric – 1/4 tsp
- Pepper – 1/2 tsp
- Sugar – 1/2 tsp
- Oil – 2 tbsp
Spread out and dry the cut okra pieces in an open, microwaveable tray in the frig or on the counter for a couple of hours. I find this removes a lot of stickiness from the okra and it absorbs less oil.
Microwave them on high for about 4-5 minutes, stirring once. Set aside to cool.
In a large saucepan, heat the oil and add the onions. Fry till pink. Add the garlic and ginger and the powders and continue to fry. add the okra and saute for 4-5 minutes.
Cover and cook for a few minutes more.
Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, salt and sugar and cook till the tomatoes turn mushy.
Serve with hot rice or rotis and a raitha or a tzatziki on the side.
And if anybody throws anything at you, first dodge and then chuck it right back at them! And if it is a gold vaddiyaanam, keep it!