As a young woman on the threshold of a new adventure in a foreign land with her young family, I hadn’t reckoned I would be feeling so homesick so early into the piece. After 18 unending months of pining to join the husband, I could barely wait to be with him and even the child’s fever on the morning of my departure hadn’t deterred me from flying out.
But here I was, a few weeks into an unbearably hot summer in an arid Middle Eastern country, living out what had been an unattainable dream in a perfectly appointed home. I was playing wife, cooking, cleaning, washing, baking (yes, I had a proper gas oven for the first time!), busy and happy- and yet for some reason, I was homesick.
I wouldn’t have known it then, but I think I missed the hustle bustle of life in India, the noisy traffic, dogs barking, the vendors coming to one’s doorstep with fresh produce, higgling and haggling with them… the interface was missing - that was the matter! After the initial novelty of the supermarkets, malls and spotless roads had worn off, the quiet had begun to get eerie and the wait for the husband inordinately long.
What had made us wheel and gyre further and further away from the falconer?
What ambition had fuelled our flight so far out of the nest?
Wasn’t it too reckless to dream that we’d grow our roots all over again?
June was the height of summer in Oman and the heat wouldn’t allow us to go outdoors until after sundown. Freshly showered and happy to be out of the lonely house, I would wait with my little one outside the house for the husband’s car to turn into the gravelly lane.
One such quiet dusk, with the cicadas going mad as if cracking from the heat and the forlorn call of the muezzin from the local mosque bringing a lump to my throat, I pace up and down.
Raag Multani… no - Madhuvanti? I grope as I follow the notes into the life I had left behind.
Humming through a constricted throat, I blink back the tears so the little one wouldn’t see them.
At her level and in her own world, the little one is busy looking around curiously, and suddenly stoops to tug at something. Jolted out of ‘Mood Multani / Madhuvanti’, I see she is picking at a mat of red succulent stems and fleshy and shiny sea green leaves, dotted with small yellow flowers bursting with tiny black seeds.
Such sight for sore eyes I had rarely seen. This was ghol! This was kulfa! This was Gangabaikura!
Not once did it cross my mind that this spidery netting (I have arachnophobia) could be an alien and perhaps poisonous weed. I seemed to know, like my primordial berry-gatherer sisters who must have instinctively known the nefarious from the nourishing.
Images of me buying 5 thin bunches of Gangabaikura for 25 paise, or me swearing in irritation as the vegetable seller screams in rustic Telugu, “palakura, thotakura, gangabaikura, chukka kura, pavla ki nalgu …” piercing through my early morning slumber - or me tucking into Aai’s hearty, earthy ‘gholacha varan’ and hot rice or the delicate ‘gholachi koshimbir’ with the bucolic bhakri flash across the eye of my mind.
I would have given anything to go back to that din and dirt just to taste that superlative food again…
As I stooped to touch those leaves, I noted that the mat had grown in the shade of the window air conditioner, braving the heat, thriving almost vicariously on the dripping condensation from the air conditioner in the wasteland. The lot looked at me and cheerfully willed me to pick them.
The soft and soothing touch, the smooth texture and the same earthy taste as ever…It was as if I had met someone from my ‘maher’ or maiden home, guiding me, the message of hope and patience loud and clear.
Over the years and across continents, I have got used to the quiet and the clean, if lonely streets. ‘Maher’ has become a more distant and dim ache as I am moving into the dusk of my life. But I still do miss the sights and sounds and smells of my homeland. Although we get almost every Indian conceivable consumable, including frozen hurda or ponk (tender milky jowar, roasted in the cob) I still yearn for the few things that fall in category ‘almost’ - like fresh tondli (ivy gourd), kartula (spiny bitter gourd) and ghol (purslane or Pig’s Weed).
Well we could grow some tondli in the garden – I add one more mark in favour of moving to the suburbs in hot the ‘suburb Vs. city’ family debate.
On a routine site visit to our under-construction new home - probably the last abode the husband and I will ever build, in the most liveable city in the world that will probably receive our ashes- amidst doubts and dilemmas as to what we will do with such a big home when the nest is empty - I spot a familiar matting of fleshy red stems and mica-shiny leaves on the pavement.
I am understandably more excited at this discovery, than to see the latest developments on the home project.
I am oblivious to my girls squirming and looking around to see if any of the neighbours are looking at this funny lady who is greedily and gleefully pulling out weeds from the sidewalk.
Tugging at the spry stems, simultaneously shaking them to dust off the ants and mites, I imagine them as a safety net, a security blanket.
The succulent weed is a metaphor for us migrants, adapting to growing in even the most unlikely, inclement places – like in sidewalk cracks and between pavers, or in far-flung continents several seas apart from home.
Gholacha Varan (Kulfa Ki Daal)
A wonderful and tasty little plant packed full of goodness, Purslane contains more omega 3 fatty acids than any other plant source. It also contains vitamins A, B, C and E as well as calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium. The pigments in the leaves and one in the yellow blossoms have been proven anti-mutagenic or anti-carcinogenic. As a mild diuretic, it is known to lower blood pressure as well. All this comes for about 15 calories per 100 grams!
2 cups chopped ghol leaves and tender stems
¾ cup cooked toor dal
3-4 tbsp boiled peanuts (you can cook them with the dal)
2 green chillies (or more)
1 tbsp roughly chopped garlic (or more)
Salt and gur to taste
1-2 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 large pinch methi powder
1 large pinch hing
½ tsp red chilli powder (or more)
¼ tsp turmeric
Microwave or lightly steam the chopped ghol. In a pot, mix the cooked ghol and cooked dal and peanuts and add two cups of water and set it to boil on high heat. You will need to adjust the consistency once it has boiled and simmered for a while. Season it with salt and a little gur and keep it simmering.
In another pan, make a little tadka with oil and mustard seeds. Add the methi powder, hing, turmeric and red chilli powder. Add the chopped garlic and allow it to brown well. You can add some curry leaves as well -I had run out of them.
Pour the tempering over the simmering dal and switch off the heat. Keep covered for a few minutes to infuse the flavours. Serve hot with rice, jowar roti or chapatis.