There is one last time for everyone and everything in life. I hugged my maternal grandmother for the last time on the evening of 11th December 2020 in Bangalore, a few hours before I boarded my flight back to Mumbai. I thanked her for being the best grandmother, relived my childhood memories with her, expressed my gratitude for all that she had done for me, sought forgiveness for the time I may have hurt her, told her that she will live through my work and gave her the assurance that she is in a safe place and will be divinely guided and protected through her next journey in life. I felt the lump in my throat and could hear the thumping of my heartbeat when I sought her blessings, well knowing that I would never be able to see the teary eyed face whenever she saw me go, again! In the wee hours of 12th December 2020, she was gone!
As I write this, my mind races back to the time when I was a little girl in her Bangalore home in the 1980s. My earliest memory of a kitchen is her kitchen with a pantry of neatly lined dabbas (cases) with shelves demarcated for cooking ingredients and prepared delicacies. In those dabbas, one would always find all the ingredients to rustle up a delicious meal and treats like laddus and chaklis for guests and afternoon snacks.Â My first memory of cooking is making pickles under her supervision. Her kitchen was my culinary playground and proved to be the best culinary institute that I could have attended in life. It was here that I was introduced to tastes, textures and flavours of ingredients and it was here that I got lessons on how to marry spices, grains, legumes and vegetables to produce the best flavours that a tongue could taste!
Her cooking was loved and relished by her family and large circle of friends as my grandparents never ate alone. Ajji turned out fluffy puris with with aloo ras bhaji on wednesday morning for breakfast, the most delicious vegetables, rice and unleavened bread preparations for lunch and dinner as they had a set menu for each day. It was very unusual for them to be without a relative or a friend(s) at their breakfast, lunch or dinner table. Ajji had a keen interest in learning new recipes and apart from the Karnataka and Maharashtra food she prepared, she used to also make food like rava cake, after having attended a baking course in a nearby culinary institute.
Apart from my cherished childhood memories with her, I had the good fortune of having her all to myself when she visited me thrice in Mumbai, the first two times being an extended visit. Although in her late seventies, she insisted on coming with me to the market to select the best limes to make limbu pickle. It was at this time that she patiently taught me how to knead the dough for chiroti and holige, how to make puran, burfi, laddu, pickles and chutney.
It was from her that I learned the art of seasoning and she taught me the right way to roast spices before grounding them into masalas, the amount of sweetener to be added in sweets and a host of traditional dishes. All my basics of cooking were learned from her! If my besan laddus are loved by everyone and the recipe is a much loved, tried and tested recipe amongst many others on divine taste, all credit goes to her! She was my first guru in cooking!
Being a foodie herself, she cherished whatever I did, loved and praised my cakes and her eyes lit up whenever she saw a new post on divine taste or an episode of my show.
Born on the 6th of June 1931, ajji had an idyllic childhood being the favourite child of her zamindar grandfather. Life had a lot of twists and turns for her later on as she went through an unparalleled loss after she lost her 12 year old son to a horse riding incident in the ancestral village and when she lost my grandfather 33 years ago. What stood out through all of this was her resilience and patience as she continued to nurture her children and grandchildren in the best possible manner.
Although she had studied only until the fourth standard, she used to read and write kannada, marathi and english. As a child, I still remember her diary where she maintained all her hisaab kitaab (accounts) to run her household.
Ajji was one of those women who always loved to present herself well and was all dressed up in the morning in a neat saree and powder on her flawless milky white face, irrespective of the occasion or day of the year. Nearing ninety, she wore a saree until her last days! Probably I get my love of sarees and pearls from her! And how can I ever forget that my first saree was bought by her! She took me to cooptex and got me my first saree a beautiful red one with gold border. Over the years, I received many sarees from her and if I ever complimented a saree of hers, the next thing I knew was that it would be under my possession!
Throughout her life my impeccably dressed ajji continued to touch the lives of people around her through her food and cooking, until the time her body stopped supporting her enthusiasm. The fact that relatives from different parts of the state came to see her in her final moments, braving a pandemic was a testimony to the fact that she had touched their lives with her love and affection. Amongst the many messages I received, my uncle Dr. S.V Bhat wrote to me saying that she was an embodiment of selfless love and affection; I consider myself to be lucky to have received a small share.â€ He told my mother that ajji used to make jowar bhakris for him when he used to visit his house construction site, close to her home.
Some people are unaware of how profoundly they influence the lives of people around them and ajji was one of those people! Wealth can be of different kinds and ajii left a legacy behind in the knowledge that she imparted to me. She will live through my work and continue to touch the lives of people through my food and recipes.