22 January, 2009

Pickeled Prose or Aunty’s Achaari Masti

I sniffed, a crinkled nose desperately tried to decipher what the pungent smell plundering it in this insolent fashion was. It was strong, full of character, a sense-tickling medley of flavours. It was familiar, in the way a nursery rhyme is – its not your favourite song but you will always recognize it no matter what. I had bunked dinner that day, in sympathy for the gurgling in my stomach, magnified by all the echoing through the convoluted recesses of my intestines. And then I had assaulted my uncertain appetite with a very unhealthy snack of Bingo Mad Angles “Achaari Masti”. Now looking around the room, the red packet adorning the dustbin seemed to be trying to lie as innocuously as a silent farter does. Accusingly I sniffed its way and realized it was the culprit. Achari Masti. I sniffed my fingers gingerly and a deluge of memories flooded my mind.

Achaar or pickle (its fancier English name) is a savoury accompaniment to most Indian dishes made from preserved vegetables, fruits or dry fruits (yes yes I have eaten kishmish achaar but more on that culinary marvel later) and an integral entity in every Indian kitchen.

As a kid, winter vacations meant long sessions of snoozing in the sun, nodding your head in tune to some background chatter and systematically shifting the gadda with the movement of the sun in the rustic environs of Rasmai, my village. And as I look back, the picture isn’t complete without someone slicing lemons for pickling, sorting chillies to stuff, vigourously shaking a "martabaan" (oblong jar), exclaiming that fungus has crept upon another unsuspecting jar or simply tasting a carrot to see if the pickle was quite ready. Breakfasts meant parathas and Amma’s famous gobhi-shalgam-bean pickle. We would devour vast quantities of this pickled delight with alarming speed over the vacations. The vacations also proved to be extensively educative with Ammaji (great grandmother) experimenting with different pickles. So we were treated to grated mooli pickle, kishmish pickle, harh ka achaar (harh is a vile-tasting root, very good for one’s bowel’s movements) and various modifications to the basic mango and lemon pickles. Mami, the Deccan influence in our patchwork family introduced us to the non-vegetarian marvels of pork and fish pickle and fiery, pungent pickled green peppers.

The next leg of my achari adventure began when I had to leave for hostel. It was an unspoken rule in hostel. The unstated law. The undisputed survival kit. Whether or not you carried your toothbrush, everyone brought "matthri achaar" as tuck from home. People were known by the achaar they brought. There was SA who brought her famous mixed pickle in a humungous 5 kg Dalda jar. It was lovingly lugged out at each treat, occupying the most revered position in each hogging ceremony. There was SR who brought this irresistible oil-free green chilli pickle, adequately hot and easy to munch with rotis smuggled from the mess. Then there was SK, a chronic digester of all things pickled and was once known to have finished an entire jar of pickle in a single day (to say that she was sick after that would be emphasizing redundancy). Pickle was eaten with mathhri, roti, bhujia, anything else you would deem edible and in grave famine conditions, alone. By the time I was in class 10, I thought I had seen it all in the pickled world, I was a proud connoisseur of salted preserves, a seasoned pickle-eater. And then SS sauntered in with her garlic-ginger-green chilli achaar. Imagine crispy chillies diced small, coated in garlic paste with grated ginger in a salt and vinegar base. The memory of it has me drooling.

Once school ended, my love-affair with pickles suffered a bitter, tragic setback. With plenty of home-cooked food fed by a zealous family and the opening of the whole unexplored avenue of fast food, my pickled partners were relegated to the indecorous backseat. I began ignoring the mirchi pickle which sat and sat and sat on the shelf till it just gave up and went ahead and got spoilt. The lemon pickle threw its hands up in the Fungal Feud of 2005 and its mycorhhizal remains were recovered only last year in the annual spring cleaning session. This time I visited the village, I found the martabaans sitting in stony silence, refusing to entertain other undistinguished guests like moong ki daal and rice. The pudina chutney was chuckling, having finally earned its rightful position on the table, out of the shadows of its gaudier cousins at last.

My reminiscing was cut short by another embarrassingly long growl. After all these years, even my stomach was complaining of the pickled hiatus. The Achaari Masti of Bingo Mad Angles had caught its convalescent self unawares. No, it had certainly not been a snack of extraordinary standards. It had just, unknowingly, lurched my stomach’s short memory into a pickle.

13 comments:

  1. Let me get this right; you call 'yourself' Aunty?

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  2. I am dying to hear the answer to this one man!

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  3. Hehaha uncle I know you are DYING. I couldn't control my laughter when I saw the comment myself.

    Unforgiven: Ermm, I do call myself that, mostly for the laughs. Some uncles also call me that, not so much for the laughs as for the fact that they consider i AM an aunty. Its very confusing terminology you wouldn't want to familiarize yourself with. But this post was the last of the aunty posts. I will go back to plain old me from now on.

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  4. Oh continue by all means. I was just, um, curious.

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  5. At first, the post sounded convoluted, its sentences long and winding. A second read necessitates a comparison to Jug Suraiyya. And it's not the first time that is happening. Isn't it? The article seems a perfect fit for some Incredible India! pickle campaign.

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  6. Marvin: Yup rather long n winding sentences (rather tedious at times I realised on a second reading). Anyway being compared to Jug Suraiya is more than a compliment. Has me smiling for sure.

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  7. oh damn... now you have gone ahead and reminded me about SR's chilli pickle... i shall wallow in nostalgic misery for days now.. hehe

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  8. Achaar.. i jus luvv them!! home made mango pickles, nimbu ka achar or for that matter mirchi ka achaar.. yumm..
    i cant wait to get back home now.. :|

    vaise nice post.. made for a good read.. :)

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  9. This name of yours reminds me of this long ago ad "nima roz (rose) nima roz, roz roz nima roz". Ok that was rather insane.

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  10. Aah.. i remember the ad...
    nd insane? umm no... random? probably yes..

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  11. I couldnt recognise this SS..have never had that achar.. how could you forget NM's kala numbu ka achar and VG's heeng /aam ka achar

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  12. SS: Shivangini Singh. and NM's was heven too..drool

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