Playing 'House' : A Khichudi Recipe Story

The food fiction bug's truly caught me. I had a few stories in my head and then I saw that Sandeepa's launched the next edition of the food fiction blog event. Coincidentally the theme is 'Mother's Day'. This fitted with one of the stories I had in mind. Being a man of few words when it comes to our conversations, I thought I'd be better off writing a story for my mother.


It is tricky to write about someone else's memories. Still I let my mind wander and pieced together a few stories and nuggets from the past. This is for my mother who was the one who always encouraged me to write.


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                                Playing 'House'

She was bringing in the dried clothes from the garden.

The old English lady from next door was sitting on a chair in the verandah of her house and knitting. She put her needles down. Her face crinkled into a warm smile and asked "where is that handsome husband of yours?"

"He has gone to the hospital today. Should be back soon. I will make lunch in a while".

The old lady got up and walked towards the little white wooden fence separating their houses.

"Those green apples in the tree in your garden are cooking apples. I make jams with them".

She listened to the old lady and smiled. She thought of her mother back home in Delhi stuffing pickle bottles with spices, mustard oil, carrots, peas and lemon rinds and putting them under the sun.

"I'll see you later Mrs Taylor. He will be back soon".

She entered their house. Switched on the TV. TV and that too colour were both novelties for her. Though the band of four long haired boys who were now playing on telly were being aped by her friends back home. It was eleven in the morning. Just a month back she would have been preparing to go to the college where she taught. While her mother got her lunch ready. Her mother was clear that she wanted her elder daughter to study and focus on the career that she had never had. She would take care of the kitchen. She didn't want to see her daughter there. This was a new world. And she wanted her daughter to have the opportunities which she never had after she was married off at the age of fourteen.

Well her mother was far away. As was the world where she taught in a college. Literally. She was in a foreign land. England. The country whose literature she had studied. And taught. A million years back. Today she was in a small town in England. Trying to ignore the cold. Getting used to the empty spaces around.  Cut off from her past. The last aero-mail that she got from home was a week back. Her husband, a man she barely knew, her only connection with her country.

He had gone to work for the first time after they landed in England. And she was alone at home for the first time in the country. No lecture notes to prepare. No lunch prepared by her mother. No little sister to say goodbye to.

Before he left for work he shyly asked her if she'd mind preparing lunch. Something simple. Khichudi perhaps?

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He walked briskly down the garden into his house. Taking off his shoes at the door. You could take the Bengali out of Bengal ... slipped into his lounge slippers and walked into the kitchen. The first thing he saw was his wife standing with a forlorn face. Looking lost like she never had since their wedding. She had never looked as tearful since the time she waved goodbye to her parents, sisters and brothers at Palam Airport.

He walked up to the pan which was on the gas burner. There was a strange sound of tiny pebbles clanging against a glass pane. He peered in and saw a kaleidoscope of images flickering in front of him. The pan was full of water. The water was bubbling. There was a thin film of yellow on top. He parted that with a ladle and was intrigued to see what was going on. There were white grains of rice and yellow dots of daal (pulses) circling all over the pan. Soaring up. Going down. Bumping into each. Hitting the sides of the pan. Chaotic particles swirling around in a drunken dance. More a Russian ballet than anything that suggested lunch. The yellow and white continued to twirl as he stood in their spell.

"I don't know how to cook. I can make toast. That's it. Ma asked me to study. Get a job. Be independent.... she cooked... I'll learn... I'll write to her ... Please don't be angry ...."

He smiled. Put his hand on her mouth. Shushed her and tried to stop her incoherent pleas.

They headed to the hospital canteen. For once she quietly ate the fish and chips without complaining about how tasteless the Cod was.

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Next Sunday their cooking lessons began.

He started by teaching her how to make khichudi. Slowly the aromas of rice, daal, ghee and whole spices began to shroud the kitchen and soon spread though the rest of the house. The stark print of the matrimonial ad, memories of his first visit to her house, the logistics of shifting across cities and countries for the wedding in Calcutta, the rituals, the exchange of garlands, the blessings by the priests and elders, the dinner that followed, the little girl who sulked at the stranger who was taking away her favourite sister ... all begun to blur in the pot of rice, dal, spices and ghee which meshed into each other as the newly married couple ceased to remain strangers to each other.


                                                       Happy Mother's Day
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I made khichudi for the first time a couple of years back in my kitchen in Mumbai. It was rainy and I felt like eating this traditional Bengali rainy day dish. I had an idea of what to do but wanted re-affirmation on my plans. For some reason, I didn't call my mother. I called my grandmother instead to clear my doubts. Here's how I make khichudi:

  • I roast a teaspoon of white jeera (cumin) powder in a  tablespoon of oil in a pressure pan
  • I add half a cup of moong daal to this and roast it
  • I add half a cup of soaked basmati rice once the dal gets a brownish hue
  • I stir this for a while and add half a chopped tomato and one split green chilly and a peeled potato chopped into two
  • I then add half a teaspoon each of turmeric powder and salt and half a teaspoon each of cumin powder, red chilly powder and sugar and stir this for a minute
  • I then add two cups of water (1:2) and some whole garam masaa. I cover the pressure cooker and keep the gas on high. Once four whistles happen, I reduce the flame and keep the khichudi on the flame for ten more minutes before switching the gas off.
  • The end result that I am looking for is dryish Though many like their khicudi to be more watery.
  • Khichudi is best enjoyed with fried hilsa, an omelette or fried sliced brinjals.



This is my entry to the second edition of  Chalks and Chopsticks hosted by Aquadaze, Sadeepa and Sra, an amazing collection of food stories by bloggers.
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