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Sydney, Australia
My musings and meanderings on childhood - mine juxtaposed with that of my kids'. Everyday incidents and images from our life in Sydney turn my thoughts towards my own wonder years growing up in Bandra, Bombay, India.

23 July 2008

Message in a Bottle

I cooked khuddi curry the other day. Think it came out quite tasty - but it was definitely different. Different perhaps because the coconut juice came out of a can instead of being grated on a koita like in the olden days. Different perhaps because the garlic, chillies, etc. were not pounded to a paste on an ancient grinding stone but in a modern-day mixer. Different perhaps because the Bottle Masala wasn’t stored in a beer bottle but in an old jam jar…

If you don’t know what Bottle Masala is, don’t read further. OK, I’ll give you the Dummies’ version – it is the cornerstone of East Indian cuisine. And my being an East Indian makes it impossible for me to give you the recipe. You should know by now that we EIs never give out traditional recipes, and ESPECIALLY not for Bottle Masala!

Each EI clan will claim to have the “correct” version of the recipe handed down from generation to generation. So the recipe that the Pereiras of Pali Village have under lock and key will be similar, but not same, to the one that the Gomeses of Bandra Bazaar have, or the Almeidas of Amboli, or the Vessaokars of Bassein. But don’t even think of asking for it; well, maybe on your deathbed. And I wouldn’t trust the East Indian recipe book (with its yellow & black cover) for the secret recipe either; in typical EI fashion, it has left out a vital ingredient – or ten.

My memories of Bottle Masala are as vivid as the blood red Kashmiri chillies laid out on old godris to dry under the hot-hot May sun for days on end. The masala makers would arrive – old ladies with enough strength and stamina to put a stud horse to shame. Nana would give them the chillies along with a myriad (24? 33?? 46??? the exact number is anyone's guess)other ingredients – coriander seeds, khus-khus, jeera, star anise, cloves, etc, etc, etc… All this would be pounded for hours in a wooden mortar that was waist high with a larger-than-life pestle. Thup-thump, thup-thump, thup-thump. Us kids would watch hypnotised by the rhythmic beat, while the spicy scent wafting through the waadi cajoled the adults to have a siesta.

At long last the Bottle Masala was ready. It was first put onto old newspaper and then carefully funnelled into cleaned dark brown beer bottles (Arlem Pilsner perhaps?) for the entire tribe. Hence the name.

Wonder if Caitlyn will even know what Bottle Masala is when she grows up – or if she cares enough to care? Wonder where I’ll get my stash of this red gold from in years to come?

20 July 2008

Sail Away

Went to the Maritime Museum at Sydney’s Darling Harbour a couple of days ago and saw all these school kids buzzing around one particular exhibit, ‘Les Bateaux Jouets’ – a collection of toy boats from Paris dating back to the 1850s. Which reminded me of the two kinds of toy boats we sailed as kids – the paper boat and the motor boat.

The Paper Boat

If it’s June it Bombay, it must be the start of a new academic year, and if it’s a new school year, it must be the monsoon, and if it’s the monsoon, you must have paper boats to welcome the rains.

And what better way to eradicate all evidence of your previous school year’s dismal performance than to transform all those tedious textbooks into paper sailboats. So the pages would be ripped from their binding and after folding, folding again and folding some more, the folds were pulled apart to reveal a paper-boat. Experience taught you to make extra since the wet weather was sure to knock the wind out the sails of a few of them. Or, if you were nifty enough, you could pinch an old Times of India newspaper before your mom hoarded it for the raddiwalla. Imagine your boat the entire size of a broadsheet! You’d be the envy of your peers...

Armed with your armada, you'd get set to launch your ships. Open gutters were the best bet. Gutters were also great for catching tadpoles in your gumboots, but that’s another story. Sitting on your haunches, you’d place the boats into the gushing water and off they’d go on their perilous journey, bobbing up and down at the mercy of the rips and eddies, sailing further and further away, until at last, they’d meet their watery graves.

The Motor Boat

If it’s September in Bandra, it must be the Bandra Fair, and if it’s the Bandra Fair, it must be the Novena at Mount Mary’s Basilica, and if it’s a trip to the Mount on the Feast Day, it must be numerous stops down the way back home to the various toy stalls, and if it were the toy stalls, it must be a china tea-set for me and a tin motor boat painted red and yellow for my brother.

Of course, bathrooms in Bombay didn’t come with bathtubs, but a large plastic bucket filled with water was enough to float your boat. You grabbed a short stump of a candle from the family altar (thank-you Jesus!), stuck said candle to one of your dad’s beer bottle billas and set this inside the boat. Next, you filled two tubes in the boat with water, then nicked your uncle’s cigarette lighter to light the candle and, before your eyes, the boat would take off, putt-putt-putt-putt-putt-putt, propelled by the heated water. Ingenious!

Must remind my dad to buy a motorboat from this year’s Bandra Fair so that Caitlyn sail away on her own adventure.

Perth was Perfect!

Caitlyn with Grandma Juliet

C had a grand time in Perth where she was pampered non-stop by all our rellies there. And just when she had gotten used to the numerous new faces and the two-hour time difference, it was time to return to Sydney!