Of forbidden fruit and attempts to be “cool”!

Everyone goes through those rites of passage of growing up – trying the forbidden cigarette and the first glass of alcohol – whichever generation you belong to. I wonder what would happen to these if all the forbidden stuff – the “don’t dos” were removed from parental vocabularies! Kids would wear hangdog expressions and go about with a constant halo of depression – inwardly shrugging, “What are we gonna do? What are we gonna do?” I can smoke, drink, swear all I want and be no cooler than the kid next door sucking on his lollipop! How can I ever be “cool”?? Teenagers, please be aware that parents serve an important function – of administering anti-depressants like forbidding stuff and allowing you to break the “forbids” and be “uber-cool”!

In our own childhood, it wasn’t that there weren’t plenty of fruit available – Hyderabad is after all the land of cheap and plentiful fruit – but rather the thrill of stealing into the neighbours’ grape garden, tantalising the gardener with just a glimpse of our hides (which it was his duty to try and whip!) before scrambling over the fence to safety – no, we never got caught – ten and twelve year old legs are far too nimble for any forty plus OOOOLD guy to catch!

Imagine a world where parents allow everything – what a deprived childhood and adolescence kids would have!

My parents rarely expressly forbade anything – but rules were understood. And retribution swift and direct enough to deter us!

Despite that, obvious temptations did present themselves – one being smoking. My dad being a heavy smoker and me being allergic to nicotine did not kill the secret desire to blow smoke rings through a looong cigarette holder – how totally cool! And so, one day, a bunch of us – we were in the tenth standard then, i think – about fifteen-ish, met up at the home of a friend who had the luxury of having an outhouse in the back garden. Her dad, being a film producer, a lot of film props were stored in the outhouse. We had a glorious time trying on false moustaches teamed with glittery, sequined outfits and shiny plastic boots – i don’t think we could have thought ourselves cooler if we’d been at the North Pole!

The “boy” – it’s a wonder how many of the species existed in households those days – their jobs being to do odd jobs around the house while they learnt a trade – was bribed to go fetch us a packet of cigarettes – cheap ones obviously! Then we shut all the windows and doors and send out the boy again – cigarettes don’t light themselves, you know – you need matchsticks! Everyone lights up – never having had a particularly active Scouts and Guides movement at school, this takes some doing! And in two minutes flat, there is gasping, heaving and much retching as we flop about on the sofas trying to breathe! Some make it to the bathroom before puking, some….hmmmm…the hardier souls open the windows and doors and flap the curtains about to let some air in! There wasn’t one of us who wasn’t sick!

You think we’d have learnt our lesson, right? No, wrong!

Some years later, at my PG hostel mess, a cigarette salesman comes in, dressed to the nines as befits a salesman – selling to a bunch of scruffy students! There are two of us women sitting at the first table and a few guys at a table beyond us. The salesman passes us and moves to the table with the guys and whips out his packets of “Charms”.

“Gender”-ed ire is aroused. We beckon to him to come over. He comes over – warily and a bit nervous – this was 1985 after all! And for his pains receives a lecture on gender equality, his morals and so on! Poor chap – completely overwhelmed and sweating profusely by this time, apologises and offers us free samples! Nonchalantly, we light up, hiding our lack of expertise rather expertly! The effect is ruined within a few seconds as we run out of the mess, coughing our lungs out!

The salesman must have been devoutly grateful for his payback time! As were the roomful of guy students who got their laughs for the day!

What better way to hide those giveaway smells of smoking than mints? Or today, mint!

Here’s an all in one meal dish that freezes superbly and doesn’t need even bread to go with it!


  • Masoor dal – 1 cup
  • Onion – 1 medium – chopped
  • Garlic – 2 cloves – optional
  • Tomato – 2 large – chopped – about 2 cupfuls
  • Carrot – 2 – peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 cup rice – either Basmati or any fragrant rice
  • Red chili powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Salt
  • Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
  • Butter – 1 tbsp
  • Dried mint – 2 tbsp (use any other dried herb for a different flavour)
  • Jeera – cumin powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Green chili – minced – 1 – to serve – optional
  • Chopped fresh mint and coriander to serve – 3 tbsp
  • Sugar – 1/2 tsp
  • Cinnamon – 1″ stick.
  • Thick yogurt to serve – 1 cup – whipped

Heat the butter in a large pan – I use a pressure cooker – large one. Add the butter and the sugar. When the sugar caramelises, add the onion and garlic and sweat, covered for 6-7 minutes till translucent.

Add the carrots, tomatoes, salt, chili powder, cumin powder, turmeric and rice and dal.

Add 5 cups water and cook for about 40 minutes till rice and dal are soft. You could cook it under presssure by adding just 3-4 cups water. 

Cool and puree – either in batches or using a bar blender – to a reasonably smooth puree. 

Add 4-5 cups more water and bring back to the boil. Add a stick of cinnamon at this stage for added flavour.

Serve out in bowls sprinkling minced green chili (if you like a bit of heat) and coriander and mint and a dollop of yogurt.

It’s a hearty soup and you don’t really need anything to accompany it with.

And if you’re still craving that cigarette, just smoke the tomatoes on the stovetop, peel and chop – there’s just the hint of smokiness!