Vangyachi Bhaji -Eggplant stir-fry bhaji
The balloon of a bhakri is delivered straight from the stove and into her waiting plate before it loses its steam. The ‘toop’ or ghee on top melts instantly as my dear little niece, who is visiting us during her school holidays exclaims “Yummy!” for the umpteenth time.
While she tucks into the bhakri and vangyachi bhaji (eggplant stir-fry) with gusto, I remember my childhood summer vacation visits to my grandparents’ home.
As kids, we would be served first in what was called ‘lahan mulanchi pangat’, sitting cross-legged in a row on little mats, waiting eagerly to be served in steel ‘thalis’ and ‘vatis’ on the open veranda next to the kitchen.
Older aunts and Aai would lounge around very indolently, obviously relieved of their daughter-in-law statuses of their marital homes. We kids would be rightfully offloaded onto younger aunts, mavshis and mamis who would be our temporary caregivers, while their older sisters or sisters-in-law enjoyed their “maherpun”.
Maherpun in Marathi is the pampering a much-harried married woman receives when she visits her maiden home.
Can we find an equivalent word in any western language?
If we could have ‘petrichor’ for the scent of rain on dry earth, then perhaps there is one for maherpun?
Back to our exciting childhood, the exhilaration of being free from school, with cousins, the non-stop nonsense and our grandmother Mai’s delicious cooking whetted our appetites so. Anything and everything that landed on our plates tasted heavenly.
Silky rotis, crusty bhakris, comforting fragrant ambey mohor rice, a very tasty amti daal and different types of dry chutneys such as peanut, sesame, copra and flaxseeds were our main meal. Vegetables in this arid hinterland town on the Deccan plateau were usually the small eggplants, various hardy gourds, cucumbers and the abundant colocasia from Mai’s kitchen garden that thrived on wastewater diverted in little canals from the bathrooms and the kitchen.
A holiday special on the menu was amras made with the little ‘raival’ mongrel mangoes.
Mothe Baba, our grandfather, used to buy these little local mangoes by the basket every other day. There was great pleasure in slurping up vati-fuls of the fruit of our labour, for we had a huge role to play in washing the mangoes in the old dilapidated zinc tub, softening them by hand carefully squeezing out the juice for Mai.
There is no great guesswork to how the remnants were disposed of. We sucked the sap out of the seeds and skins and with audacious confidence born out of official sanction, lobbed them onto the tin roof of the garden shed to dry. Within days, the seeds and skins would be ready to be used as kindling for the huge copper “bumb” of a samovar.
To us city kids, this was the ultimate bucolic adventure, which only the reminiscences of Aai and her sisters could overshadow.
We listened enviously to stories that we were not a part of; greedily wishing we were there rather than here.
Aai often likened her childhood to that of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, spent on the Kansas prairies. So many of those memories and experiences were almost identical to those of the Ingalls family.
Aai’s family had to move homes in the face of adversities such as the shoot at sight order on my freedom-fighter grandfather, dealing with the plague, the great Influenza, the post-war grain shortages and the Razaakars of the Nizam.
Undeterred by the calamities, the legendary ghosts on the shores of the little ‘tala’ lake beyond the Signal Camp, the snakes and scorpions, those kids had an enviable childhood. They played in the wild making mud-pies and had impromptu barbecues roasting stray baingans and hariboot foraged out of the fields. They spent hours playing make-believe, fashioning ornaments out of wild flowers for their re-enactments of black and white mythological films, while the adults built tin sheds in the quarantine plague camps on the outskirts of the town.
My hands mechanically reach out for the last of the dough and my wayward thoughts come home.
Now that I am on my last bhakri, I tell my daughter to photo-shoot the brinjal bhaaji to add to my recent baingan binge on my blog.
She brings me back to reality saying the bhaji I have plated in the plain ceramic bowl looks like road kill.
I am nonplussed.
She seeks a better plate/bowl.
I remember Aai telling me that in those days, in the fields and the great outdoors, the best crockery they had was the bhakri itself.
Nothing can beat the joy of eating bhakri held in the hand, topped with a bit of freshly roasted baingan, a drizzle of raw oil, some thecha and an onion pulled out of the fields.
A bhakri in the hand is worth a banquet on the table.
My last bhakri acquiesces and bows into a bowl.
Vangyachi Bhaji -Eggplant stir-fry bhaji
I have given a North Indian twist to this plain Marathwadi, deshawarli bhaji with the kalonji and the fennel. No peanuts, sesame or coconut!
1 tbsp oil
¼ tsp each of mustard seeds, kalonji, fennel seeds and cumin seeds
A large pinch of powdered methi
A large pinch of hing
A pinch of powdered coriander
A large pinch of haldi
1-2 dried red chillies
2 cups long eggplant roundels, placed in water
Salt to taste
Heat a pan and add the oil. Add the seeds to splutter and then the red chillies and the powders. Add the eggplant roundels and mix them in the oil and spices. Sauté for a few minutes and then cover and cook till done. Add salt to taste.
Serve with hot bhakri. This will go with rice and daal as well.