And then there was this annual school trip – the BIG one – each trip being planned by the powers that be at my school with more enthusiasm than skill or knowledge! Unconfirmed tickets (for a journey of over a thousand kilometres from Delhi to Hyderabad!), unscheduled stops, natural disasters, missing cooks, stolen luggage, inadequate arrangements to stay, toilets – everything that could possibly go wrong usually went wrong on these trips! But the unkindest cut of all, as far as I was concerned was the inadequate food! Too spicy, too late and almost all the time, too little of it!
Nothing seemed to faze the good sisters of the convent where we studied and plans were made for even more elaborate trips year after year! Of course I hated missing them! Who liked missing the fun of endless bus trips with tuneless (and endless) antakshari games? The giggling, the sleeping together squashed with inadequate covering, four to a bed meant for two – you fell off if you so much as turned over! The bedbugs, mosquitoes and on one memorable occasion, a hole in the roof through which the rain actually poured down on us – didn’t even have the decency to drip decorously into a bucket! Of course we had to go!
One trip stands out in my memory – the trip made in the month of November , 1977. The year the worst ever cyclone to hit India hit the entire state of Andhra and the neighbouring states. The year the school decided to take us on a bus trip of the South of India! It rained, of course. Incessantly. Our suitcases which were loaded on top of the bus were soaked though. Clothes developed fungus! After several days (or what seemed like it) the good sisters finally saw sense and decided to cut the trip short – turning back from somewhere close to the halfway point. Being about thirteen years old, we didn’t really care much! Also, we’d just finished with Kerala where most places we could afford to eat in had only red rice and coconut-ty accompaniments. Our very Andhra stomachs had quailed, worked up courage, tackled the food and then, quietly lain down to die! We were secretly rather relieved at the prospect of going home!
And so we drove back. And the bus started to cross a bridge on a river. Halfway point. There was a sudden flash flood. Water rising up to almost window height. The teachers, some of whom had brought little children along, started praying to every god they knew for succour. Our cook and his assistant were more practical – they promptly clambered on to the roof of the bus – if we had to get washed away, at least they’d be the last to die! I notice a fish – a rather large two-foot specimen – swimming just below my window and excitedly call everyone else to look at it. The bus teeters perilously to my side and then rights itself as everyone screams and rushes back to their seats!
We – i think everyone in the bus below the age of about fifteen – thought it was the most hilarious thing that had happened to us! There was no realisation of the danger we were in…
Luckily, the bus had got stuck in the middle of the bridge in a large pile of sand. A few hours later, some brave villagers swam across and harnessing the bus with ropes and things, pulled us across to the other side… the only discomfort we felt was in not being able to go to the loo!
A couple of days later, we were safely, if rather stinkily (remember the fungal clothes? – we couldn’t change!) back home… after, as far as we were concerned, yet another fun trip!
I learnt to love much of Kerala’s cuisine later, though the red rice still defeats me… but one dish which stood out in my memory is a dish from Karnataka – eaten somewhere on the Karnataka roads, obviously! Akin to the Andhra mukkala pulusu, this had a unique taste of its own.
- Sweet potatoes cut into chunks/drumsticks/bhindi/okra/shallots – any or a mixture of these – 1 cup
FOR MASALA PASTE
- Urad dal – 1 tsp
- Sesame seeds – 1 generous tsp
- Fenugreek/methi seeds – 1/2 tsp
- Red chilies – 6
- Asafoetida – 1 large pinch
- Grated coconut – 2 tbsp
- Dhania powder – 1 tsp
- Tamarind paste – 1 tbsp
- Jaggery – 1.5 tbsp
- Turmeric – 1/4 tsp
- Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
- Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
- Curry leaves – 2 sprigs
- Sesame oil – 1 tbsp
Roast and grind the ingredients for the masala paste except for tamarind and jaggery. Grind and set aside.
In a pan, heat the oil and temper with mustard seeds, urad dal and curry leaves.
Add the vegetables and fry for a minute or two. Add a little water, cover and cook till half done. Add the tamarind, jaggery and the masala paste and a cup of water and bring to the boil. Simmer and cook till the vegetables are tender.
Sweet, sour, tangy, slightly nutty from the sesame (reminds me of the good sisters of my convent!) this is a great side dish for a dal or if you want a light meal, just by itself with rice!