It’s a Sunday morning. But this one is a little different – it’s deliberation day. My father and I sit nervously at the dining table, trying our best to not make eye contact – both of us are anxious gigglers, and both of us know better.
On the other side of the kitchen door, it’s equally tense, but not quite as quiet. My mother has been inside the whole morning, trying to recreate her mother, my nani’s pindi chole recipe.
Don’t misunderstand the tension, we aren’t sceptical of my mother’s cooking skills. She is one of those people, who are annoyingly good at anything they do. We just know how much it means to her to perfect this dish. We’ve also been witness to the few times that she has tried and failed to perfect this particular dish, and seen just how dejected it makes her feel.
It’s just one of those mother-daughter things. I understand it more and more as I grow older.
Pindi chole is the perfect Sunday afternoon dish – tangy from the anardana used, charcoal grey from the hours of being patiently stirred in a cast iron pan, comforting from the warmth of the freshly ground spices being infused in the curry, and finished off with a crunchy bed of fried green chillis, slivers of ginger, and chunks of potatoes. But to my mother, it’s so much more.
To her, it’s a reminder of the years of standing on her tippy toes trying to get a glimpse of the magic her mother conjured on the stovetop, and later in life, of playing apprentice and contributing to the sorcery.
It was this alone time in the kitchen, when my grandmother didn’t have the option to walk away, that my mother would sometimes use to have difficult conversations – “I am in love with a boy.” (gasp) “He’s not Punjabi.” (gasp) “He’s not a doctor.” (gasp) “He lives in a joint family, has seven siblings, and is from Jaipur.” (ladle drop). That Sunday lunch was eaten in deafening silence.
It’s also the memory of being told “It’s going to pour cats and dogs at your wedding if you keep doing this” every time she would be caught licking the kadhai clean (It did, by the way, rain cats and dogs at her wedding, to the not doctor from Jaipur, who I now call Papa).
Pindi chole to my mother is also a way to fulfil every daughter’s secret wish, one that they’d never admit to – the want to be like their mothers. It’s also a metaphor for the two conflicting roles mothers often play in their daughters’ lives – the ultimate source of comfort, and the highest benchmark.
And finally, it’s about coming to terms with the guilt of not having all the conversations she wishes she’d had with her mother before it was too late, including asking her for her favourite pindi chole recipe.
I am yanked back to reality with a resounding “It’s ready!” from across the kitchen door.
My father and I finally exchange glances. It’s a look of “We’ve got her, no matter which way this goes.” And then the kitchen door is flung open. And in a few seconds, both of us are smiling. We know which way this is going to go.
The next 40-odd minutes are spent tearing bhatooras, and wiping our plates clean. At the end of the meal, the three of us are stuffed, and satisfied. “This was exactly like nani’s chole,” I tell my mother. She smiles. “You know, I always regretted never having asked her for the recipe. I took it for granted. But figuring it out myself, just like she would have all those years ago, is a different kind of special.”
That afternoon, all of us decide to climb into the same bed for our Sunday afternoon nap, and hold on to each other a little tighter as we surrender to the pindi chole-induced food coma.
‘An Ode To’ is a monthly feature…no, love letter, to a cuisine, dish, drink, ingredient or maker that impacted the writer in big ways and small.