Of fancy dress competitions, Zulu warriors and musical challenges!

And that was the most memorable school day of them all… at LFHS… where my brothers went to school…

My brother had put himself down for plenty of competitions – from painting (at which he excelled) to singing (despite our genes!) and a fancy dress competition! No one could ever accuse us Chenji kids of being chicken hearted – we were as immune to the “slings and arrows of fortune” as we were to the hoots of derision which greeted us whenever we tried to sing!

And so, the afternoon programme at the boys’ school starts with the fancy dress competition. Remember with a very busy mother who had a more-than-fulltime profession, we kids were very often left to our own devices. So to get Arvind ready for the fancy dress comp was… let’s put it this way… a full-on sibling effort! We had to figure out first what he would go as – we were just then full of one of the Tarzan tales so a Zulu warrior was the unanimous choice.

Now came the all-important question – what did they look like? With no computers invented yet (or none at least that we had heard of!), much less Om Google-aaya namaha, we had only the vaguest of ideas. The dark skin was easy – Cherry Blossom shoe polish to the rescue! We had a feeling that maybe Zulu warriors wore a grass skirt (obviously mixed up with Hawaii!). How to make our very short grass into a skirt was definitely beyond us. My skirts wouldn’t fit either.

So we thought and thought… we thought very hard… and the eureka moment (which has never let us down so far!)  happened. I had just started taking tailoring lessons. I’d had just one lesson but nothing loth! You can’t make a grass skirt out of just nothing, can you?

So we dug around (thank goodness for working moms who can’t ask you unanswerable questions!) and found a sari of Mummy’s that we thought would do. It was a pink (strawberry ice cream pink, as a matter of fact) nylon sari. Nylon, in the form of a weird product called “644 Nylon” had just come into the market and someone had given my mom one. We didn’t think much of it and decided our mom would be better off without it!

We strung a nada (pyjama string) between two door handles, carefully laid the sari over it, halving it’s breadth, just as carefully made pleats and with my newfound tailoring skill, I ran large stitiches through it from end to end – voila – Zulu skirt!

All it needed now was for Arvind to blacken himself, tie “pink nylon grass skirt” around waist, smear chand (red bindi paste) on his lips (Zulu warrior in drag??!) and set off to school. The boys had to go earlier than the rest of the family so the full glory of the Zulu hit my parents right there – on stage! I don’t remember whether he won a prize or not, but he should have – for sheer effort and effrontery!

But that was not the end of the story… the singing competition followed on the heels of the fancy dress comp. With no time to change, we had a ten-year old Zulu belting away Yaadon ki baaraat lustily and tunelessly!

I think my dad needed a stiff one that evening!

Arvind, I am sure, would have revelled in this unusual pink dish.


  • Arborio rice – 1.5 cups
  • Beetroot – 1 – grated with a few small pieces reserved.
  • White wine – 1 cup
  • Onion – chopped – 1/2 cup
  • Milk – 1 cup
  • Green chili – minced – 1 (ok, I’m Indian!)
  • Garlic – 1 flake – minced
  • White pepper  – powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Rosemary – 2 fresh sprigs or 1/2 tsp dried
  • Feta or soft paneer / cottage cheese – crumbled – 1 cup
  • Vegetarian stock or water – 2 or more cups as needed.
  • Salt
  • Olive oil – 1 tbsp
  • Butter – 1tbsp

Fry the green chili, onions and garlic in the oil plus butter mixture till the onions turn golden yellow.

Add the arborio rice and stir well till the oil coats the rice.

Add the grated beetroot plus the pieces and wine and cook till the wine is absorbed. Add salt.

Add water/ stock and milk a little at a time, stirring continuously till the rice is no longer chalky but rather – chewy. Add the pepper and mix well. Crumble feta/ paneer over, reserving a little for garnish.  Cover and let it rest for a few minutes. .

Serve garnished with feta and rosemary. One beetroot will make this deep pink. If you’re keen on strawberry  pink, use half!