Some years ago while working for an Indian company I had to move to Bloomington, IL, for an assignment at an American establishment. Bloomington, which is about a 100 miles from Chicago, was then a small humdrum city (town?) and had absolutely nothing ever happening there. People who know me are well aware that it doesn’t take much to please me. I’m not the outdoorsy, or the carousing kind. Nor do I need that constant stimulation around me to keep me alive. So, if I have to say a place was dull and boring, trust me people, you would want to move there only if you are seeking isolation or running away from the law.
So on day one, as I stepped into this town from its tiny winy Airport, the bitter arctic air bit right into my marrows, so hard, that I immediately began hating this place with every fiber of my being. Though it was fairly early in the evening as I drove to the hotel from the airport, the only visible sign of habitation were a handful of cars that drove past me. All around me were deserted streets, snow sprawling her icy limbs as far as my eyes could see and my sinking heart hit rock bottom. The fat fact that I was still recovering from a recent heartbreak goaded the situation further. My balance was clearly upset and I pictured myself growing old and miserable in this small town, all by myself, with frost bitten hand and limbs, microwaving cold single dinners while picking at my cold sores.
Days passed and I began settling down. Though I had a caring family and strong circle of friends who called me every single day to check on me and keep me going, I continued to wallow in self pity and persisted at loathing every minute of my existence in that little town. Then, unnoticed by me, two little (in size only) packages of delight walked right into my life. A1, my high spirited little Kashmiri roommate and A2, my little Punjabi colleague who sat right behind me at work. We all worked for the same employer and though we were acquainted with each other from early on, it was our stay in this cold secluded place that sparked a connection which, to this day I remember with great fondness.
We were much younger then, each at different stages of committed relationships. A1, was engaged to be married, an arranged one, and obviously was chary of the risks involved. A2 was picking up lost ties with his childhood sweetheart after several years of break up, and was now contemplating marriage with her again. And me like I said earlier, was grieving from a recent break up, sworn off all men and was determined to die an old maid. This unusual combination of wary, hope and distress between the three of us, brought about a new perspective in our individual lives. Each one of us saw through the other ones eyes, and in a strange way received reassurance. Together we explored the quaint little town, which turned out not that bad after all. In each others company we cooked during the winter, traveled during summer, partied during the weekends, survived a car crash, spoke through the nights, slept through the days and most important of all spent long hours of familiar silence in each others comforting presence. After a year in that place, the three of us moved out. I moved to sunny California to marry my soulmate, R, who, but for my friends, I don’t think I would have found. The little As too soon married and are settled now with more little As of their own. And I somehow know for certain they’ve found their true loves too.
This post is for friendships found when you least expect it. It doesn’t matter if you keep them forever or you move on. They were there when you needed them and that is all that matters. Like someone rightly said, friends are the siblings God forgot to give us.
The little As both fine cooks, exposed the Punjabi and Kashmir cuisines to my then budding awareness of the culinary world. I owe my curiosity to explore more of these cuisines to their superior cooking.
Punjabi Garma Masala
1/2 cup cumin seeds/ jeera
2 tbsp coriander seeds / dhania
1½ ” (1.5 inches)cinnamon stick /patta / dalchini
1 tsp green cardamom seeds /elaichi
1 tsp black cardamomseeds /moti elaichi
2 tsp cloves /long
1/8 nutmeg kernel /jaiphal
2 blades of mace / javitri
1 tbsp black pepper corns
2 whole star anise/ chakra phool
4 bay leaf /tej patta
Kashmiri Garam Masala
1/4 cup black cumin seeds /shahi jeera
2-3 bay leaves, crushed
2 tsp green cardamom seeds
2 tsp black cardamom seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
2 tsp whole cloves /gramboo/long
1 tbsp fennel /saunf
1 tsp crushed mace /may flower/javitri
1½ ” (1.5 inches) cinnamon stick /patta / dalchini
1/8 nutmeg kernel /jaiphal
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds