Of chembus and village weddings…

Imagine this… three pairs of feet running as fast as we can, clutching a “chembu” ( a water container – rather like a large bulb at the bottom with a narrower top) full of water, trying not to spill the water… we’re in a lemon and spoon race?
Naah, nothing so easy… we’re in a race to reach the… no, wait, I’m running ahead of myself!
This was the early ’70s and we’ve been carted along by the parents to the wedding of somebody – third cousin’s fourth grandson or something like that – like most kids those days, we not only didn’t have much of a choice, the possibility of a choice would probably have stumped us completely!
So there we were – in this little village somewhere in Cuddapah, at the wedding of someone we’d never see before (come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen them since!)But never mind, they are family!
The wedding is in a truly beautiful old temple (sub-ten year old philistines that we were, the grey stone carvings still made an impression on my mind) and we are staying in a sort of choultry attached to it. Speaking of choultries, there is an actual place in Tamilnadu called McDonalds Choultry (no kidding, check it out in Salem district, which over the years has become Magadanchavadi – I love these name evolutions. Think of a Hamilton Bridge in Chennai becoming corrupted (or evolving, as I prefer to call it!) to Ambattan Bridge ( the word “ambattan” in Tamil means “barber”!)
Ok, diversion over, we are back to our choultry at the wedding. All is fine, except that the village of P has not yet evolved to the stage of having indoor toilets… or, as we discover to our horror, no toilets at all! I don’t eat for a couple of days – basing my actions on the simple logic of input-output. I manage – till hunger almost kills me on the third day! Plus it’s wedding food after all. Give in to temptation on the third day and eat everything – including ladoos and whatnot – with inevitable consequences!
Three pairs of feet, three chembus clutched in hands and the lemon and spoon race has nothing on our anxiety to get to the great outdoors pit which serves as the toilet!
The older ladies are in a quandary. Till we find out that in one house in the village, one soul – who happens to be the junior engineer in the electricity board, has built a toilet in his house! He is suddenly very pleased to be entertaining twenty five members of his boss’s (my dad’s) family. Except that of the twenty five, there are only twenty four present in his drawing room at any one point, with the twenty fifth disappearing quietly amidst sotto voce hisses of “Don’t take too long” and “My turn next”!
All that deep Andhra/Rayalaseema stuff reminds me of this curry my ammamma (grandmother) used to make –
(ok, that sounds like quite a mouthful but it’s basically a spiced gourd stewed in milk)
  • Chowchow/Chayote peeled and cut into 1 cm cubes. Remove the inner white seed. – 3  OR
  • Snake gourd (potlakaya) OR
  • Bottle gourd (sorrakaaya/aanapakaaya)
  • Turmeric 1/4 tsp
  • Milk 1/2 cup
  • Salt
  • Sugar – a generous pinch

MASALA POWDER (the pindi miriyam – literally pepper powder!)

  • Urad dal 2 tbsp
  • Peppercorns 7-8
  • Raw rice 2 tsp
  • Coconut grated (fresh) 3 tbsp – (optional but yum!)
  • Red chillies 2 or 3
  • Any vegetable oil 2 tsp
  • Mustard seeds 1 tsp
  • Jeera/cumin seeds 1/2 tsp,
  • Red chillies 1-2
  • Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
Microwave the vegetable on high for 4 minutes.
Meanwhile dry roast and grind the ingredients for the pindi miriyam, adding a little water if necessary.
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add mustard, jeera and red chillies in that order. When they splutter, add curry leaves.
Add the boiled vegetable and sprinkle the turmeric. Mix well and add the ground masala, salt and sugar.
Let the mixture cook for a couple of minutes and add milk to adjust the consistency.
Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes.
Serve with rice and a plain pappu (dal)