Of stories and storytellers…

Thinking back to a time when I first started writing stories. I must have been about seven years old and till then was quite happy to tell stories – many stories – tall stories, short stories and everything in between to my pals at school. Snehalata, my best friend back then, was my favourite and only audience much of the time – listening with great interest all the time and making appropriate appreciative noises at the right time! We used to walk home together from school every evening – taking about an hour to dawdle a distance of less than half a kilometre!

Then there came a time when I was ill with something or the other and out of school for three whole weeks. Then I discovered a new and equally appreciative audience – our cook Shanmugam! Shanmugam came from somewhere in the deep south of Tamilnadu and liked to listen as much as I liked to talk! At least I thought so but maybe he had different ideas because at the end of my three weeks at home, S decided he was missing his hometown too much and left… never to return…

By now, I was hooked – to the storytelling. My audience however, was not! After listening patiently to a particularly long and painful story about a tiger and human sacrifice and some bloodletting and a remedy requiring tiger’s milk (bloodthirsty creature I must have been!), my dad has a eureka moment. Why don’t you write your stories instead? And send them to Chandamama (a much loved children’s magazine which also published contributions from children!) instead?

I am dumbstruck ( a rare occurrence, I promise!) with the sheer brilliance of my dad’s idea! Also  visions of seeing my name in print dance before my eyes. I finish dinner in a hurry and pore over the rules in the last issue of the mag. There is something about the stories being typewritten but I reason that my handwriting is pretty good and they’ll never know the difference if I take extra care! Then something else about writing on only one side of the sheet. Seems like a waste of a perfectly good side of the paper but well, I can do that!

And so, with the singlemindedness of a seven-year old who has a lot to say – so much that it’s difficult to get it all out before it disappears from my mind, I sit down and write eight foolscap sheets (only on one side) of my tiger and milk and blood and gore story and carefully seal it in an envelope, reverentiallly making a trip to the post office and mail off my masterpiece… to be rewarded with a rejection slip a week later! Never having thought of the possibility that my story could be rejected (more of my mom’s genes which come with a sublime confidence in one’s own abilities!), I am once again dumbstruck – twice in less than a month!

But then I reason to myself that Chandamama has missed out on publishing a masterpiece – well, too bad!

I go back to school, all is forgotten and I continue to tell tales to my pal…

And write off and on… till last year when the words refused to be contained any more and this blog was started… with a little help from my friends… thanks to Shruti Nargundkar who encouraged me and Narayan Kumar who designed the whole thingummy and provided much grist to my mill!

And with thanks, here’s a dish for them! Oops, just remembered that SN does not like brinjal but I’ve already written this and made it… so…

VANKAAYA KOTHIMEERA KHAARAM (brinjal cooked with a paste of green chilies and fresh coriander)

  • Small, tender brinjals – the pinky-purply ones – 250 gms
  • Fresh coriander – 1 cup
  • Green chilies – 3-4
  • Ginger – grated – 1 tbsp
  • Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
  • Asafoetida – 1/8 tsp
  • Turmeric  1/4 tsp
  • Tamarind paste – 1/8 tsp
  • Salt
  • Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
  • Jeera/cumin seeds – 1/4 tsp

Grind the coriander, ginger and curry leaves into a rough paste.

Slice the brinjals lengthwise into thin pieces, dropping them into water with a pinch of turmeric in it as you cut.

Drain after cutting (use this water for the garden!) and mix the coriander paste and tamarind paste thoroughly into the pieces.

Heat oil and splutter the mustard, urad dal and cumin seeds. Add asafoetida and turmeric and immediately drop in the brinjal.

Cover and cook till half done. Add salt and mix throughly.

Cook for a few more minutes – 5 or 6 till pieces are tender and the pieces are coated well. There should be no water left.

Serve with hot rice and mudda pappu (plain cooked toor dal with salt) and ghee.

You don’t need any help from your freinds to polish this off!