|My first doodle. Of this memory. I ahve been saving it for today.|
Wednesday, July 02, 2014
Dear Ma, A letter to my Mother on her 60th Birthday!
Today my mother turned 60. A milestone for all of us. For the last few months we have been celebrating her birthday with family, friends and loved ones all over the world. It has brought home to me just how many people's lives she has touched. She has been a stellar example to me in every role a woman must play in life. As a daughter, wife, mother, ma in law, friend, businesswoman and now grandmother. If I manage to be half the woman she is, I will be happy.
Putting all that is my mother into mere words will not do justice to her, in fact it seems a temerity.
I am going to start by sharing one of my most precious memories of her with this extract of the first cooking lesson I got from her .. If you have read my book, you might have read this story. Here is the unedited version.
Afternoon tea was a daily ritual in our home. Whoever was home at the time congregated in my grandmother’s room as they did that fateful Sunday I made chai for the first time. I was 11 or 12 years old then and it was a late Sunday afternoon. The family had just risen from an afternoon nap — the sort that comes after a hearty meal — and gathered in my grandmother’s room for afternoon tea. The preparation of chai was a duty usually carried out by the youngest daughter-in-law present. However, that day, by popular consensus, it had been decreed that I would make tea. It was time — as reasoning went — for me to learn how to make chai. Basking in all the attention I was getting, I didn’t bristle as I was usually wont to at the mere mention of my getting married, but determinedly made my way to the kitchen, followed closely by my mother. It was a rare moment when I had my mother to myself and I revelled in it. None of my other siblings were around to divert her attention and every nuance of the afternoon is etched clear in my mind. My mother’s soft hands guiding my smaller ones as I measured out the ingredients; her voice as she listed ingredients and proportions, steadying me as I grasped the heavy tapeli (pot), holding me back so I wouldn’t singe my nose on its hot edges, looking in and helping me carry the heavy tea tray to my waiting family. But most of all I think I remember her proud smile as I basked in the glow of praise from everyone.
My mother, Heena Munshaw is an incredible woman. She has survived the loss of her, husband and steered her family through the ups and downs of financial and emotional hardships with amazing grace and strength,. She is also an exceptional cook, and carries forward the culinary traditions from both her and her husbands sides of the family.
But none of this was evident in the Heena that married at eighteen. She could not cook anything then. In fact the first she ever cooked in her life was baked potato croquettes with a tomato sauce for her dad and her fiancé to be, (my father). And as a young married woman whenever she was given a kitchen task in her new home, she would call her mother and Poria, the faithful retainer in her maternal home would arrive at her in-laws under some pretext and do her share of the task I am always surprised by this storiy of my mother’s early life, because the mother I know could not cook badly if her life depended on it! The most memorable dishes she cooked were her renditions of Indian Chinese. My parents ate out a lot, and Mom, ever her mother’s daughter, having eaten at China Garden often, managed to recreat an entire Chinese meal at home some picked up from culinary legend Nelson Wang’s himself, whose restaurant China Garden was the hottest place to be in the day and many using her own creativity
And what an event it was when Chinese was on the menu. Mom and Dad would go shopping to Crawford Market for all the ingredients returning to spread the spoils of the shopping trip out on the dining table. Tasks would then be assigned; so much preparation was involved! In those days a meal for the family meant cooking for upwards of twenty people!
The prepping and cooking would plod along interrupted by endless cups of chai (nothing can happen in our family without chai) as Mom orchestrated everything from the kitchen and the walls would resonated with noises; the brisk glide of the spatula against the wok, the clunks of lids being lifted and replaces and the occasional deafening clatter of something falling to the ground. To this background score would be matched the happy chatter of my large family, punctuated by the rhythmic swish of carrots being peeled and knives clicking against cutting boards as vegetables were chopped. The whole house would be redolent of that special aroma I associate with Chinese food — of ginger -garlic paste sauteing in hot oil and stir-fried capsicum.
The singular quality I am proud to have inherited from my mother , is her ability to reinvent herself into the cook that the person she is cooking for needs her to be. For instance, taking the trouble to cook an egg-free soup for my grandmother so she could enjoy that Indian Chinese meal as well; or, mindful of my juvenile diabetic cousin, braise garlic in oil and stir-fry vegetables for him, instead of feeding him the unhealthy Vegetable Sweet-Sour full of sugar and corn flour.Today, if my first thoughts are of scheduling the day’s meals, and planning things everyone at my table will like, If through the day, stray reminders will parade through my head — of those lettuce wraps that my friend Priya will love, that batch of mayonnaise I have to whip up for my brother, or that bottle of chutney I have to send to someone. Its all thanks to my mother. Like mother, like daughter. Food has become an extension of love for me, and through it I have learnt to go the extra mile for those I love, so that they feel treasured in my life.
Happy Birthday to my beautiful mother. It took becoming a mother to understand what went into your bringing us up. Thank you for running after MF Hussain to get his autograph for me when I was obsessed with art, thank you for all the crazy things you have carried back for me after I became an obsessed foodie, thank you for continuing to hold my hand through the ups and downs of life to date (this mainly stems from the packing you did for me on Friday to shift my house while I worked). And Thank you for always, ALWAYS believing in me! But mostly thank you for being my Mother. I will never stop needing you. Happy Birthday again, Ma, celebrating every woman you are, today, and always.