Bottle Gourd and Chana Dal Subji ( Lauki and Chana Dal)
In his sonnet ‘On His Blindness’ John Milton laments his inability to fully exploit his talent and fulfil what he thinks is his purpose in life- to serve God. Patience murmurs to him ‘Who best Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best’.
Sitting in Dr. Nagarajan’s office and listening enrapt to the brilliant scholar’s discourse on justifying the ways of God to men, I have been oblivious to the hunger pangs.
Sitting with friends during the break, I hand around my lunch box of bottle gourd and chana dal subji and chapatis freshly made that morning. My friends grab my box and pass it, er, toss it around like piranhas while I wait patiently to reclaim my lunch. As the only married girl in the class, I prepare my own lunch and whatever I cook gets polished off by the motley crowd I call friends. Two boys who live in the university hostel and two girls who think it isn’t hip to bring lunch in a stainless steel tiffin box. I get the box back and look at half of a torn chapati and a spoonful of lauki and chana dal subji with an indulgent smile…
Back in Dr. N’ office, we listen to his heavily accented but sonorous voice chant over and over again, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’. Various nuances explained, interpretations invited from us students, insights that come with age and experience shared … in the midst of this charged atmosphere, my stomach rumbles the most embarrassing sounds of hunger. There is no way I can stymie the gurgling. I am hungry. I am reminded of my foiled plans for the lauki bhaji and chapati…
That is the moment of realisation, the dénouement- this humble vegetable in the tame rendition of bhaji with asafoetida, turmeric, fresh curry leaves from the garden and one small chilli has a special providence in the scheme of things!
Its silky mildness will give any spicy, onion-ginger-garlic-garam masala- curry very stiff competition. The lauki subji will not stand out and demand attention on a table laden with exotic spicy gravies, but anyone who is in need of comfort and succour will reach out and find this soul food. Battered palates and ulcer-sore stomachs will crave the doodhi- quite literally the vegetable full of the milk of human kindness. The lauki is never in our face, we seek it out.
Dr. N is reciting, and I zone out. All I can see in the eye of my mind is the tender and soothing lauki, patiently bearing its mild yoke.
It also serves as it stands and waits…
Lauki and Chana Dal Subji
1 small and tender bottle gourd, peeled and diced small
2 table spoons chana dal, soaked for 30 minutes
1 tbsp oil
½ tsp mustard seeds
A generous pinch of hing
½ tsp turmeric
1 red/green chilli (or more)
A few curry leaves
1 tsp sugar/sweetener (optional)
Salt to taste
1 tbsp grated coconut or powdered and roasted peanuts (optional)
1 tbsp chopped coriander to garnish