Of Kashmir, friendships which lasted a lifetime and starvation diets!

“Please Mummy. Please, Daddy. Please, please, pleeeeezzze. Please let me go. Everyone is going (lie no.1). My whole class is going (lie no. 2).”

Repeat ad nauseum over ten days and the toughest parental resistance (not so tough in my case though!) is bound to break down. 

The year is 1973 and just short of ten years old, I am pleading to be allowed to go on a school trip to Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmir – the very name evoked total awe and the spirit of adventure in a ten-year old’s soul. My very first school trip, parents were understandably nervous till a “BIG” girl – Nimmi – my neighbour and all of eleven years old, added her entreaties to mine – “I’ll take care of her, uncle. Please let her come.” And so resistance was overcome and the princely sum of two hundred and twenty rupees  was paid out for a fourteen day trip to Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir – travel, food, accommodation all included! Some guilt too – I was convinced I had paupered my parents! Imagine my surprise when before leaving, my mom gave me a purse with a whole hundred bucks in it for spending money – that much money existed???! 

And so started an adventure which has given me memories to laugh and cry about over four decades! Armed with a few frocks, one sweater to ward off the October cold of Kashmir and a few pants (made out of leftover green striped curtain material!!), we set off. The first incident happened the night we left Hyderabad when my then closest pal Snehalata’s (may her soul rest in peace) suitcase was stolen on the train. We ended up sharing the few clothes I had for the next two weeks – layering them (without ever having heard the term!) to stay warm. Neither of us made much of it but I remember when we reached back home after two weeks (full of head lice and half-starved!), her dad, who was a farmer from Nalgonda and a lovely man, blessed us both saying he wished that our friendship would last a lifetime. We lost touch some years later when she left for a different school and then migrated to New Zealand but she found me again on Facebook (God bless Mark Zuckerberg) a couple of years before she passed away of cancer last year and we spoke often – so yes, it did last a lifetime…

Back to happier times and the trip. It was my school’s first experience of organising a trip… with predictable consequences. Missed schedules, inadequate food and accommodation – none of these troubled us small fry very much (well, the inadequate food did, a bit!) because we could play and had fun any which way! The older girls – 13 and 14 years old – had a tougher time of it. The nun in charge used to give us five bucks every morning to pay for our food for the day! We found a vendor on the Jammu platform who would give us a hot meal of 3 rotis nad aalu saag for a buck – and so wherever we were during the day, I remember going back there for breakfast and dinner!

It didn’t occur to any of us that spending the money parents had given could be spent on food – that was meant for GIFTS and gifts it had to be! Saffron and some bright orange stones for my mom to be made into a necklace(!!), a Kashmiri kurta for my brother Arvind and one kilo of walnuts to be shared between my dad and Anand – these were my choices of gifts! Unfortunately, there was some snafu with our reservations on the way back from Delhi to Hyderabad and we slept on the platform for a night before managing to get into an unreserved compartment. Food was woefully inadequate so I ended up eating and sharing my walnuts with Sneha and carefully preserved TWO of these as gifts for my dad and Anand  – mea very culpa indeed 🙁 thereby proving the way to… is paved with noble intentions (very noble indeed)!

Maybe it’s that sojourn in Kashmir but aloos (potatoes) have always been a serious comfort food. 

Here’s an somewhat unusual and extremely simple potato curry.


  • Boiled, peeled baby potatoes (or potaotes cut into chunks) – 1/2 kg (I usually boil and peel them the day before i need them and store in an open container in the frig so they get crisper when roasted)
  • Turmeric – 1/2 tsp
  • Peppercorns – 1 tsp
  • Jeera  – 1 tsp
  • Curry leaves – 1/2 cup – crisped in the microwave for 2 minutes
  • Oil or butter – 2 tbsp
  • Asafoetida
  • Salt

Pulse the peppercorns, jeera and curry leaves in the mixer for a second – till the peppercorns just break apart and don’t become a powder). Set aside. Or crack them in a mortar and pestle and crumble the curry leaves with your fingers.

Heat the oil in a large flat saucepan, add the potatoes, asafoetida and turmeric. Let potatoes roast till crisp and golden. Add the salt and the crushed pepper-jeera-curry leaf combo and roast for a few more minutes. 


And if you have money left over, buy gifts for the family!