Capsicum and spring onion curry with chickpea flour: Of old men and their dhotis!

“The old man is tying a dhoti.”


The old man is tying a dhoti... ajooba dhotar nesthaat, ajooba dhotar nesthaath, ajooba dhotar nesthaathajoo… zzzzz…” and the voice fades away into the gentle breathing of childhood sleep….

“Wake up, Tej, time to get ready for the exam,” and the poor kid is awakened – not rudely though…

….mumbling, “Ajooba dhotar nesthaath… ajooba…” all the while he is getting ready for the Marathi exam at his school in Mumbai.

His dad (born and bred in Madras, barely able to string two words of Hindi together!), also helps matters along by prompting  helpfully… “Ajooba… ajoobaaa… ” and applauding with joy every time the kid finishes the sentence – “…Dhotar nesthaath“!! Yay!

And thus, murmuring this formula for success, they arrive at school… in time for the exam.

Proud dad wishes kid all the best, confident kid (he knows all about ajoobas and dhotars, remember?!) waves jauntily and positively swaggers into the exam hall , finds his place and sits down. The question paper is handed out. Kid peers at it, sure that he’ll ace the exam…. wait… whaaaat?? No mention of old men and their dhoti-wearing skills???! Phussssss… goes the confidence… he struggles through the exam, trailing home sadly at the end of the day – it so not fair – I know Marathi and that lesson on old men and dhotis – how can they not give the question in the exam?!

The dad, being a sympathetic sort – remember our pal with the towel around the long hair  in the lift? Also the gentleman with the BMW keys? Same dad – he understands the son’s predicament very well – having been in the same predicament in a Sanskrit exam decades ago! Let me digress a bit and go back some thirty five years into another exam hall – in Madras this time. The subject is slightly different – Sanskrit – but the principles of old men and dhotis stay unchanged.

In those days, one could write the Sanskrit exam in English – basically as long as you understood the question, it was okay to answer any which way! Having been assured by a good friend – the nerd of the class (it is always a good idea to keep in with the nerds!) that he would help him with the exam, our pal has gone completely unprepared – to find Mr Bill Gates-to-be’s pen flying across the paper – in Sanskrit, not English! We are defeated! We do the next best thing – we become a very sympathetic dad – vowing never to let son down in any language paper – hence the dhoti-tying session!

The son trails home disconsolately. The dad reassures him : “Never mind about the exam. The important thing is that you learnt Marathi!”

And thus, there is a father-son duo floating around in Bombay looking for an occasion to practise their Marathi – when they can remark fluently and like native speakers of the language, The old man is tying a dhoti!  Unfortunately, till the time of this going to the press, the occasion has not arisen…

One doesn’t need an occasion, though, to make this unusual Marathi dish…




  • Capsicums/bell peppers – 2 large – slice into thin slivers – about 1 cm long by 3 mm thick
  • Spring onions – 1 bunch – about 2 cupfuls. Slice the white onion part into rings and the green stems into 1 cm long pieces.
  • Chickpea flour/besan – 1 cup
  • Chili powder – 1 tsp
  • Dhania/coriander pwd – 1.5 tsp
  • Jeera/cumin pwd – 1 tsp
  • Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
  • Asafoetida – 1/8 tsp
  • Sugar – 1 tsp
  • Salt
  • Oil – 2 tbsp + 1 tsp
  • Garlic – 1 or 2 flakes – crushed (optional)
  • Ginger – 1/2 tsp – minced
  • Green chili – 1 minced
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Chopped fresh coriander to garnish


Mix the powders and the flour together. adding salt. Roast in a dry pan for 5-6 minutes till it becomes a golden yellow and smells nutty. Heat the 2 tbsp of oil and pour it into the besan. It will froth a bit – not to worry – just watch your fingers!

Transfer to another plate to cool. If you leave it in the same pan, it will continue to brown. When cool, mix well with your fingers to break up lumps.

Saute the capsicum pieces on high heat with a few drops of oil for 3 – 4 minutes. Set aside.

In the same pan, add 1 tsp oil and saute the ginger, garlic and green chili. Add the whites of the spring onions and stir fry on high heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the greens and continue to saute for a minute more. Add the besan mixture and the capsicums and the sugar. Stir well, cover and cook for about 5-6 minutes till vegetables are tender.

Remove from heat. squeeze over lime and garnish with coriander…


Serve with rice or rotis or pooris… to the old man waiting to tie his dhoti!