Of bhindi and Hindi!

“Amma, what do you call ‘ancestors’ in Hindi?” asks my twelve-year old daughter, coming home from a Hindi exam. Now, as everyone knows, there is no exam that quite fazes a Chennai-based kid as the dreaded totally ‘firang’ language as the Hindi one!

Nothing seems to make any sense in that textbook, why does everything have to have a gender and for heaven’s sake, what does Chandragupta Maurya have to do with my life??? rises the cry… Chandragupta Maurya, an emperor of the Maurya dynasty who lived and died over a thousand years ago, still inspires much passion – of the wrong sort – a sort of passionate despair would be more like it! – amongst kids of twelve and thirteen who have to learn about his interminable exploits and spill them out on paper during the exams! 

So back to our ancestors – i think for a minute before tentatively venturing a “buzurgon?” (the Urdu word for ‘elderly people’). Think some more and then correct myself – “It’s ‘pracheeniyon”.

“Oh”, comes the response.

“Why, Kanch, was it there in the exam today and what did you write?”

“Well, i thought and thought and thought (ok, i get it – she thought HARD!) and answered, ‘Mare hue oopar wale parivaar'”!!

“WHAAAA… ???? WOOOHOOO, WHAT WAS THAT AGAIN??” I ask – not quite crediting my ears! The literal meaning of what she had written was – the dead family above!! Phew – wonder what the Hindi teacher made of it!

The next day, a Hindi speaking friend comes home and we (obviously – how could it be resisted???!) related this tale without telling him what the original question was. Gave him Kanchana’s translation and asked him to guess what it could actually mean. He scratches his head for a while before offering up a truly priceless “ The dead family on the first floor?”!!!

Tales of Hindi horrors emanate from every household in Chennai which has a kid trying – with precious little success – to learn an alien tongue! Am sure the same is true for kids across the world…

What is learnt much easier, of course, is the cuisine of the Hindi-speaking states of the North of India. Food, after all, has only the language of deliciousness – or otherwise!

One of my favourite North Indian dishes that I learnt – of all places – from a very South Indian cook in a guesthouse in the deep South (he’d worked for a couple of years in the North) – is a very simple, everyday bhindi subzi (okra/bendakai/vendaikai curry)


  • Bhindi – 1/2 kg – cut into 1/2 cm pieces. It helps to spread it out on a newspaper after cutting for about haf an hour – to remove some of the stickiness.
  • Onion – chopped very fine – 2
  • Green chilies – minced – 2
  • Ginger – 1/2″ piece – grated
  • Jeera (cumin) powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Saunf (fennel seeds) – 3/4 tsp (roughly pounded)
  • Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
  • Salt 
  • Red chili powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Oil – 2 -3 tbsp

Heat the oil in a large, flat saucepan. (Deeper pans tend make it clumpy). 

Add the onions and green chilies and fry for 3-4 minutes on a low flame. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the bhindi and salt) and stir gently for 2-3 minutes. Add the bhindi and cover and cook on a low flame for 10-12 minutes till the bhindis are tender, stirring occasionally. The bhindi shrinks during cooking so add salt AFTER it has shrunk to get the right amount of salt in. Cook on an open flame, stirring occasionally till the stickiness has gone and the bhindi is tender. 

I usually microwave the bhindi on high for 4-5 minutes before dropping it in the pan – speedens up the cooking process!

Goes best with rotis.