In my previous post, “The Tastes of Childhood: Part One”, I wrote about tastes which appealed to most kids of my era. This post is about “tastes” which are perhaps very personal to me. Maybe some of you will identify with a few of them.
Of thekuas, nimkis et al:
The blue Amul milk powder tin kept on the top shelf in the kitchen always held stuff of great interest to me. These were filled with Bhojpuri region snacks prepared painstakingly by mai and stored for the unannounced guest or for an odd-time snack for the kids. Thekua, made of atta and sugar, the popular all time snack. Chunky and hard with intriguing floral patterns on the face made by pressing a small ball of dough on a wooden mould. One bite of a thekua was enough to make you hasten to consume the rest of it. And then another thekua, and one more. Visits to the blue Amul tin would increase till someone discovered what I was up to or till all the thekuas were consumed!
If the sweetness of the thekuas was overbearing, there were always the nimkis in the neighboring Horlicks jar. Soft in texture, but with a hard bite, nimkis with their ajwain and mangrail and salt were just the perfect change of taste between successive thekuas. Heavy maida dough, rolled into a thick-ish roti, cut into elongated parallelograms and deep-fried in Dalda till they were crisp and slightly puffed up. A fistful of this sinfully delicious stuff would be smuggled into the study room and placed next to the thekua on the book I was supposed to be reading. Never mind the Dalda stains on the book, a hardworking kid had to have nourishment through his studies, right?
The sweet cousin on nimki was the belgarami, called shakarpara in rest of the Hindi speaking world. Crisp and crunchy, with a saliva-inducing sugar crust on the maida substrate. A few licks of the sugar to start with and then teeny-weeny bites to ensure that each belgarami lasted a while! Once in a while mai would prepare Pewarakia, those thick maida crescent filled with sweetened sooji with a sprinkling of finely chopped dry coconut– gari- and saunf. Sometimes, filled with sweetened khoa. Pewarakia was typically made for a special occasion, a festival maybe; no Holi celebration was complete without this.
When I grew up and left home for my studies, Amul tins were religiously filled by mai with kilos of these snacks. Mai always had nightmares about food served in the hostel mess, and homemade snacks were the perfect antidote to the mess food! In the hostel I would conceal the tins in the street trunk we all had those days. This was kept under lock-and-key lest the stocks were wiped out by hostel mates. The snacks were consumed furtively in the evening after return from the classes and shared only with a very small circle of close friends, only with those who would share their stuff with me. I still remember the many nights spent cramming chemical equations and solving thermodynamics problems for the exams in the engineering college made less unbearable thanks to these delicacies from home.
Sugar: Outside and inside!:
Like most kids, I too was partial to sugar. Sugar consumed in any form, in milk, in sherbet, or just plain, by the spoonfuls. Sugar was also a key ingredient in many of the snacks prepared specially at my request. When I would come back after games in the evening and with dinner still a few hours away, I would turn to the aforementioned Amul tin. And if that was empty then the quickest solution was picking up a roti left behind from a previous meal, applying a generous coat of ghee to it, sprinkling a large spoonful of sugar and rolling the roti up to form a “cheeni-roll”. “Chonga” was what I called it, I do not remember if it is a universal word or a descriptor coined by me. A deep bite of this roll was enough to calm frayed nerves and take care of hunger pangs! And prepare one to mess around with school books till dinner was served.
A variant of this was the paratha which had sugar inside it, cheeni-konch was the name given to this cheeni-paratha. Made much like the aloo-paratha but with a sugar filling inside. The taste of the slightly liquidy sugar as one bit through the crisp paratha, some of it dripping down to the plate only to be efficiently wiped and licked off the fingers.
Milk and malai ka mazaa:
Milk has always been a favourite drink. Milk of various densities and consistencies delivered home by the faithful milkman. Milk with sugar, with Horlicks and with Bournvita. Milk any which way. But it was the malai which has been my all-time favourite. Not that the appalling level of milk dilution left much scope for any appreciable quantity of malai. The shriveled-looking layer of malai was spooned off the surface of the milk which was left to cool after boiling. Malai as-is, malai-in-milk, malai-over-a-roti with a sprinkling of sugar, malai-coated jalebi, the possibilities with malai were endless.
And the malai afficionado that I was, I would grab the empty milk vessel, scrape out the malai stuck to the inner wall with my thumb and savor the taste much after dinner was consumed!
In this era of health paranoia, malai is banned for me by my wife. And my kids, poor souls, do not like the taste of it. So it is collected for conversion to butter. I confess that even now I raid the fridge sometimes at nights when I am up late and help my self to a spoon or two of the delicious stuff.
PS: I may have mentioned about the dilute milk delivered by the milkman who was a permanent fixture for decades. Much after my siblings and I left Jamshedpur to chase our dreams across geographies, the milkman took credit for our reasonable success in academics and careers. Said he, in Bhojpuri, in frequent chats with our parents, “Paatar doodh ke ee kamal dekhein ki bachcha logan ke dimag-o katna paatar ho gayil baa!” Difficult to translate this in English, but let me try. “It is the magic of the thin milk which endowed your children with such keen wits!”