Of aunts, livestock and bad karma!

Just returned from a long two day drive to Reno and Lake Tahoe and exploits on the road have been much on my mind…

Sssqueeeeaal… go the brakes as my uncle’s car comes to a screeching halt on the dusty village road. A couple of fading squawks and then silence… for just a few minutes – when is there ever really silence on Indian roads??!

A crowd gathers, chattering excitedly. The hen, which had run into the path of the car, is examined and pronounced definitely destined for the pot that night… the excited chatter turns threatening, the owner of the hen praises the hen (scrawny and stringy by the way!) as being the best of the lot, even tempered, destined to fetch many, many (manys are added as he speculatively eyes my uncle, sizing up his possible net worth and how much can be safely scammed off for the very dead hen!) rupees on the market, all the eggs it would ever have laid if allowed to live, its bad karma (my uncle curses his bad karma under his breath), how much they would have fetched on the market if they had been sold but the family is very attached to said hen, you see, it is invaluable, you see! That is the crucial point in the discussion at which the bargaining begins!

Half an hour later and poorer by many rupees and richer by many points rise in his blood pressure, my uncle finally manages to get going again. The whole incident has been punctuated by an elderly aunt (an animal lover of the highest order) who has been yelling at him for being a murderer and so on – the crowd loves her obviously and makes encouraging noises!

They drive on, tempers slowly cooling down. Until… no way… yes! There is another squeal and and yet another set of quacks, this time as he runs over a duck!

The uncle has learnt his lesson and instead of stopping to inquire what’s happened, he speeds up and drives off as the villagers (thankfully another village!) begin to gather – shaking their fists at him! The aunt almost has an apoplexy and the crescendo of her quacks of protest rival the duck’s!

The  uncle’s hair is standing on end by this time – after all, poor man, vegetarian that he is, must have been pondering the implications of his being the cause of two slayings in one day! The aunt doesn’t cease her berating either.  It is altogether too much – the man is losing his concentration as he drives and tries to make explanatory noises to the aunt, who will not be placated! He yells, she screams…. and the inevitable happens. We are still on Indian village roads and livestock is aplenty! This time the squeal of his braking tires is accompanied by much agonised, almost-human squealing. Pale with wondering if he’s run over a sleeping human this time, my uncle stops the car and gets down – to face a very indignant pig!

Luckily it is not dead but with the quite speechless (speechless but not soundless – she is squeaking with frustration!) aunt behind him and the gathering clouds of villagers, I am sure he is wishing himself safe in Yama’s shelter! The wearying process of negotiation over, he pacifies the aunt (though she never quite forgives him!) and gets back in the car, arriving at his destination, cursing the Government, the  roads, villagers, their animals, intransigent aunts and everything else. His wife is a very wise woman – she takes one look at the suffering soul and makes his favourite food for him – vadas! All the irritants fade away… aunts are consigned to  Moradabad (where they came from), villagers cursed into early graves and so on!

Yes, this is actually what happened to an uncle a few decades ago – the story has passed into the family’s chronicles…

Here’s an unusual vada


  • Green gram (whole moong) sprouts – 2 cups (to sprout at home, soak whole green gram in water for 4-6 hours. Drain and tie in a loose cloth, placed in a colander over a basin. Keep in a warm place, sprinkling the cloth every 2-3 hours, for about 24 hours. Open, rinse and use)
  • Chopped onion – 1
  • Ginger – grated – 1/2 tsp
  • Green chilis – 2
  • Saunf (fennel seeds) – 1/4 tsp
  • Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
  • Asafoetida – 1 pinch
  • Salt
  • Garlic (optional) – 2 flakes
  • Mint leaves – 3/4 cup – washed and drained
  • Oil to deep fry
  • Rice flour – 1 tbsp – set aside

Grind everything except the onions, rice flour and oil together into a very rough batter, without adding any water.

Add the rice flour and onions and mix well.

Shape into small patties and deep fry in hot oil on medium heat till golden brown on both sides.

Serve with ketchup as you calculate the odds against one man driving over three animals in one day with a PETA loving aunt in the backseat!