Of forced “volunteerism” and superheroes!

I am “volunteered” by the school to take a bunch of kids to the cinema.

“How bad can it be, anyway?” I reason to myself. Taking a bunch of six and seven-year olds to a show – after all, it’s only a matter of a couple of hours or so! Poor misguided soul that I was!

First of all, the movie the school picks is “Batman and Robin”. Till then, I have always liked superhero movies – but then the only ones I saw before this were the Superman series and Supergirl (Ok, ok – that one was bad but at least it was about a girl with superpowers – haven’t you ever dreamt that you had those!)

Superhero movie, I thought, “Can’t be too bad, can it?”

And off I set to school, where we all piled into the big school buses and traipsed off excitedly to the theatres. The kids were divided into groups of about fifteen each with a couple of parents in charge of each group. The other parent I knew vaguely – but as a very pleasant chap. Then they sit the kids down in the bus and divide them by rows. We get the front half – which has fourteen girls and one boy. I don’t think too much about it – at that age, the gender thing doesn’t make much difference… I think! Well, I couldn’t have been wrong-er! There is one area where the gender thing makes a lot of difference – and that is in public restroom areas – clearly gender-segregated!

So there is this other parent – a man – with one solitary boy in his care and there I am with fourteen little girls to look after! How tough can it be, you think? Take them in fours or fives and the job is done – hah! Try synchronising fourteen bladders, all of whom are thirsty  after a hot day at school and gulp down lots of water and juices, all of whom take varying sizes in bladders, some of whom haven’t learnt how to undo their buttons and get on the throne! It is always these latter, I find, who need to go four times in the space of two hours! Averaging three trips to the john each, that makes forty two trips I made in all!

The one good thing I can say about the evening is that the restrooms were probably a better place to be in than watching a very bad George Clooney and an even worse Arnold Schwarzenegger cavort on screen in their underclothes! I had had enough of underclothes by then, anyway!

No wonder it is the practice of schools to “volunteer” a parent, rather than ask for volunteers!

This is one koora (curry) though, for which you will never lack volunteers, particularly if you have a whiff of Andhra blood somewhere in your genes!

VANKAYA ULLI KHARAM (eggplants in onion gravy)

  • Baby Brinjals – 1/4 kg (try getting the small, purply -pinky tender ones)
  • Sambar onions/shallots – 1/2 cup – chopped  or 1 large onion – grated.
  • Red chilies – 2
  • Green chilies – 1 or 2 – minced
  • Cloves – 2
  • Cinnamon – 3/4″
  • Dhaniya/coriander powder – 1 tsp
  • Red chilli powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
  • Asafoetida – 1 large pinch
  • Grated jaggery – 1/2 tsp
  • Tamarind paste – 1/4 tsp
  • Tomato – 1 ripe – chopped
  • Garlic – 2-3 flakes (optional)


  • Mustard Seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Sesame oil – 2 tbsp
  • Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
  • Salt

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a small saucepan.

Add the cloves and cinnamon.

Saute for a few seconds.

Add the red chilies and stir-fry for 30 seconds.

Add the chopped onion (setting aside 1 tbsp) and green chilies and saute, covered till the onion is pale yellow. Add tomato and let it become mushy.

Switch off and  add red chilli and coriander powders.Let the mixture cool.

Add tamarind pulp, turmeric, asafoetida, jaggery and salt (and garlic if using) and grind to a paste. This is the ulli kharam.

Prepare eggplants/brinjals by slitting them vertically in half first, then quarters. Leave a bit at the stalk end unslit (whole, that is)

Stuff each brinjal with the masala. Don’t stint on this! If there is left over masala, you can always use it for another curry!

Place the brinjals in a microwaveable flat bowl and microwave on high for 4 minutes.

In a large flat saucepan, heat 1 tbsp of oil.

Add mustard seeds and wait till the splutter.

Add curry leaves and stir-fry for a minute.

Add the brinjals and lower the flame. Add 2-3 tbsp of water , left over masala and fry, covered,  for about 4-5 minutes, turning over frequently till tender.

The vegetables will cook and the gravy turn thick – “coating” type!

Serve hot with rice and ghee, of course!

And don’t let yourself be “volunteered” unless you want a story about it some day 🙂

(Pic courtesy internet)