Of rowdy seventh graders and their lack of ‘womanliness’!!

“So while Rama, Sita and Lakshmana were wandering around in the forests during their exile from Ayodhya, they came across a small habitation of forest dwellers. Seeing the noble bearing of the wanderers, the villagers all came out to greet them. While their chief  bade Rama and Lakshmana welcome, the women clustered around Sita, exclaiming over her beauty.

“One of women asks Sita, ‘So which of these is your husband?’ Sita, full of the proper spirit of womanly shyness, indicates Lakshmana and says, ‘That is my devar (brother-in-law)’… and the women take her in etc. etc.”

My Hindi teacher relating the story to a class of 7th standard kids – in the mid-70’s. She goes on to praise Sita extravagantly – saying what a woman blah, blah…

The class stares back at her, trying to figure what on earth she was trying to get at. What was so interesting about what Sita did? “Why couldn’t she just have pointed to Rama and said, ‘This is my husband?'” asks one innocent sod.

The teacher’s turn to be shocked: “Don’t you SEE?? (we didn’t!). Sita was so full of vinamrata (humility) and all the womanly graces that she could not even say her husband’s name out aloud!!” We still don’t get it! What we DO get from the teacher next is a diatribe on modern manners, modern girls, their lack of vinamrata, shyness (in a bunch of rowdy 11-year olds??!) and various other qualities supposedly desirable in women!! Ah well, those were the 70’s and the teacher was particularly old-fashioned but those ‘modern, mannerless girls’ in the bunch did pretty well for themselves in terms of making their own ways in the world!

What did stick in my mind from that lesson was that the teacher had said they were wandering around in thick forests of mango trees at the beginning. My one thought was, “Wow, they had mangoes back then???” They couldn’t have been so badly off during their exile, could they? And did they just eat the mangoes raw, with salt and chili powder on the slices or cook them into something? If the teacher could have seen inside my head, i’m sure she’d have been aghast at the very non-vinamr, practical and gourmet thoughts running around in it! Reveries about food and creating food have been an underlying theme in life – here’s the latest…


  • Semi-ripe mango – 2 cups – cut into large chunks. If the seed is hard, save it. If still at the tender ‘jeedi’ stage, discard it.
  • Jaggery – 1/2 cup (approx – more or less may be needed depending on the sourness of the mango)
  • Salt
  • Slit green chili – 1
  • Chili powder – 1 tsp
  • Roasted and powdered fenugreek seeds / menthulu / methi daana/ vendiyam – 3/4 tsp
  • Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
  • Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
  • Jeera – cumin – seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Asafoetida – 1 large pinch
  • Oil – preferably sesame – 1 tsp
  • Turmeric – 1/4 tsp

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds. When they pop, add urad dal, jeera, asafoetida and the curry leaves and fry till crisp. Add the green chili, turmeric and mango. Add 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the salt, jaggery, methi powder, chili powder and a little more water if needed to get a thick consistency. Cover and cook till the mango is tender and falling apart. Taste and adjust the jaggery and salt. 

Superb as a side dish with dosas, pesarattu or plain dal and rice.

And you don’t even need to be a Sita to serve it or eat it all by yourself 😉