Of homecoming daughters and faked tummy upsets!

“Mummy, I think my tummy is upset. Can I not go to school today, pleeeze?”

It doesn’t take much to convince a busy mother, already run off her feet trying to get three kids off to school and then to her hospital – all before 7.30 in the morning! A quick examination, some realistic groaning on my part combined with six or seven much publicised visits to the loo – not difficult because in those days, there were no bedrooms with attached bathrooms – only an outhouse and a separate bathroom in the backyard. So one could run across ostentatiously, bang on the door to hurry up whoever was in there and get them out in quick time. 

Nine times out of ten, there would be nothing wrong with my tummy – just that I had the exciting prospect of a new library book to look forward to and and a whole day spent in school waiting to get home to my book… was not to be thought of!

Not liking the prospect of leaving me alone at home the whole day, my mom would drop me off at a cousin’s place – much to my happiness. This cousin (Padmakkayya) had several things going for her – first, she could see through my subterfuge completely where my mom never could but being a youngish woman – in her twenties then – she used to give me a knowing wink as mom dropped me off and then proceed to make all my favourite foods – skin potato fry, pappu (dal), loads of ghee, aavakai and yogurt – for a supposedly upset tummy! Her husband, Venkatesh annayya – was also a class A brick – knowing that I was spending the day there, he’d come home in the evening with a newspaper parcel filled with mirchi bajjis – not a word – then or later to my parents about upset tummies! That’s the stuff the best cujjins are made of!

The upset tummy was also an excuse to gorge myself on “fatafats” – little balls of tamarind and jaggery with some digestive stuff in them. It was only after I grew up that I learned they were digestive pills – I’d been eating them like candy! Excess was the name of the game with the result that the digestive pills ended up giving me real indigestion – then again how was I supposed to know that three dozen was an overdose?! And at one paisa per little ball, they didn’t exactly break the bank! Half the pleasure of bunking school was in knowing that everyone else had to go – akin to what a free man feels when he passes a jail, i’m guessing – all those poor sods inside! Definitely top of the world feeling like today when…

Am on the… top of the world… killing the fatted calf for homecoming daughter! 

I still have a huge fondness for the sweet and sour stuff  and when Arch was planning her winter trip to Madras from America with a list of all the things she wants me to make – the first day’s list (today’s) was dosa with three chutneys and sambar!  – sweet and sour was definitely on the menu – with an onion and tamarind chutney. 
  • Onions – 3 large – sliced
  • Tamarind – 1 small lime sized ball – washed 
  • Jaggery – 3 tbsps
  • Jeera – Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
  • Green chilies – 3 – slit
  • Salt
  • Sesame oil – 2 tbsp
  • Fresh coriander – 2 tbsp

Heat oil in a saucepan. add jeera and green chilies and saute for a minute. Add onions and fry till golden brown. Add the tamarind, jaggery, salt and coriander. Let it cool and grind into a slightly knobbly puree adding a couple of tbsp of water.

Serve with dosas, adais, pesarattus or dibba rottes.

This is one dish that masks its great taste behind a boring brown slushy exterior! Lesson: DO NOT judge a book by its cover or a chutney by its colour!