Of the bitterness of injustice and the balm of friendship!

I’ve had a ‘thing’ about convent schools most of my thinking life – am very anti-them! Swore not to put my kids in one and stuck with my decision – thankfully there was no opposition from any quarter. 

Having studied in one and formed friendships which have lasted me a lifetime – this is rather strange, right? But not really – not if you think about it. The friendships would have been made anyway – and good friends would have stuck with one whichever school we went to… but some of the injustices that are meted out in convents are quite… well, horrendous, to put it mildly. I remember once, when i was about six or seven years old and had been moved up two classes – from class 1 to class 3 because the teacher thought i could deal with the work in the higher standard.

My first day started with a Hindi class which a Hindi “sister” as we addressed the nuns, in charge. She asked me to write something. Now while I knew my vowels pretty well (that was all we were expected to learn in Class 1) and having missed all of class 2 in the “double promotion”, I had no clue about the consonant sounds at all. The sister, who must have known this background, decided she needed to punish me for being “uppity” and saying I didn’t know so she caught hold of my ear between her thumb and forefinger and twirled me around! The physical discomfort I don’t remember at all but the humiliation – well, that was quite another thing! Smarting with tears that I did not want to shed, I walked back to my place and spent the next few days learning the alphabet completely – so that I would never have to lose my dignity that way again! Strong reaction from a seven-year old? Ah well, that and one more incident involving Sister P in class 6 (which i have written about earlier) laid down the roots for my crusading nature which does not allow me to lie down quietly under any kind of injustice to anyone!

Back to that first day in the class 3 room. I walked into the new, “BIG” classroom clutching on for dear life to my dad’s hand – not one familiar face there and I was quite terrified. So my dad introduces me to the class teacher – an incredibly kind lady named Jayalakshmi teacher (see we crusaders have the memory of an elephant – for both slights and kindnesses received!) who welcomed me and asked me to sit down. But where? I stared down at my shoes hoping the stone-paved floor would open and swallow me up… and asked my dad to sit in the class with me. He laughed and said no – obviously!

Then a voice pipes up, “Come and sit next to me.” I didn’t do more than glance in the general direction of the voice before making my way across – thankful that someone was rescuing me from my predicament. Sat down and kept my head low till I found the courage to examine the girl who’d asked me to sit next to her. A toothy grin with one tooth missing, two ponytails, tied any which way with the ribbons sliding off the ends (later I’d figure out that these ponytails needed to be done up at least three times during the course of the day if the possessor of the grin was not to lose her ribbons – she’d slide down between two of us on the last bench and we’d quickly do them up!) – introduced herself as Neeroo. I’ll always be grateful for that rescue and that grin!

It was in Neeroo’s home that I first experienced the delights of rajma – completely alien to South Indian kitchens in those days. I still think Neeroo’s mother makes the best rajma ever!

Here’s my…

RAJMA a la KUSUM auntie

  • Rajma (kidney beans) – 1 cup – soaked overnight. Drain and rinse.
  • Green chilies – 2 slit
  • Ginger – 1″ piece – minced

Pressure the rajma for 4 whistles along with the green chilies and ginger and 300 ml water. The beans should be cooked all the way through but still remain individual (like human beings, right??!) Mash a  few with the back of a ladle.

  • Onions – 1 large – chopped fine
  • Asafoetida – 1 pinch
  • Tomatoes – chopped – 3
  • Cloves – 2-3
  • Black cardamom – 1
  • Cinnamon – 1/2 ” stick
  • Dhania (coriander) powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Jeera (cumin) powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Red chili powder – 1/2 tsp
  • Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
  • Amchur (dry mango powder) – 1/2 tsp OR 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Kasooti methi – 1 ts
  • Salt
  • Sugar – 1/2 tsp
  • Ghee – 1 tbsp
  • 1/4 tsp garam masala

Heat the ghee in a pan, add the sugar and let it caramelise. Add the whole spices and onions and brown. Add tomatoes and all the powders and fry for 3-4 minutes. Pour this over the cooked rajma in the pressure cooker, add one cup water and pressure cook for one whistle.

Let cool, open and add kasooti methi and 1/4 tsp garam masala on top. Serve with hot, plain Basmati rice and a dollop of ghee!

And let’s see any Hindi sister try to twirl you around after that!!! 

P.S.: The best variety of rajma is the small Kashmiri variety called gawari rajma.