A very long time ago, my folks converted some extra space into an independent house and rented it out to a young couple and their 6 month old baby boy. Little did they know then that this family would influence their 4 young girls (3 daughters and a niece) in the most unexpected manner and leave an unusually lasting impression on them for the rest of their lives.
The young R couple moved in with very little baggage and a baby that looked as beautiful as the moon. I was less than 4 years old then. And as my mother showed them around, I timidly hid between the pleats of her sari and gawped wide eyed at the good looking family. Auntie R with her fair milky white skin, silky auburn hair and spellbinding beauty could easily pass for a movie star. Uncle R carried his chiseled features and tall personality with such refined grace that I felt certain he was a super model. Baby R gurgled in his mothers arms, tugging at my heart strings for he looked exactly like the blond, blue eyed doll I often longed for. They settled in decorating the place with their fine taste. Just into their twenties, about over a year into their marriage, the couple were deep in love and behaved like newly weds. Their open displays of affection often amused us 4 (obviously, we’d never seen anything like this before, our parents being the – no touch, no hugs and absolutely no kissing kinds). At times we overheard them singing bollywood love ballads to each other and we giggled amongst ourselves, pretending to be entertained by their silliness, but secretly reveling in the romance of it all. We embraced the refreshing excitement that had come about our otherwise prosaic being.
In the years that followed, though raucously different from us, the Rs formed an integral part of our family. Baby R who grew up and blended into our all girls team with ease, sought in us the companionship of siblings he never had. When uncle R’s Royal Enfield Bullet thundered through the colony, flaunting his voguish grin as he nodded at us in recognition, we girls gleamed smug at our playmates. Such class was unheard of in our bourgeoisie neighborhood and to be associated with him gave us great pride. And auntie R, she was a whole different story. An eye-opener to the exciting world of the adults, she was our first grown up friend. We girls, every so often hung around her while she cooked and went about her daily routine engaging us with detailed and glorified tales of her childhood, wild teenage years, family gossip, movies, parties she’d been to etc etc.. Name it and she could and would talk to us about it. The age difference, never a problem. The young impressionable girls that we were, we often reached to her for advice about grooming and clothes. And since our folks could (would?) afford only the inexpensive kind and though we knew well that they didn’t come anywhere near her tastes, we still scurried to her and she gave us unprejudiced advice and approval. We often joined her while she shopped in the upscale parts of the town and the best part of these trysts were the elaborate treats that came after – Decadent food in some of the finest restaurants of Bangalore. Life was good and the Rs added to the marvel.
After having witnessed more than a decade of this frolic, when we girls were well into our teens, we had to watch helpless and bewildered the house of cards collapse as Uncle R’s business went under. Their earlier extravagant lifestyle had left them with nothing to fall back on. My parents whom I’d always been embarrassed about for their frugality and thrifty lifestyle, rose to the occasion and for their part, let the R’s continue to board, rent free. I think they secretly helped with the groceries too. Nothing was said in the open. But we understood. A couple of years later when nothing seemed to work, the R’s moved to a different part of town to live in with their parents. They left leaving a big gaping hole in the lives of us 4.
The R’s are doing fine today, Baby R is a successful professional, married and settled. But often, when I look back to those days, though they were mostly sunny and happy, it is the last two years of distress that really clamors in my memory. Plan for the future, that is where you are going to spend the rest of your life, I’d often heard my parents say. And after what the R’s taught me, I couldn’t agree with them more.
This morning as I cut the radish for the sambar, I couldn’t help but remember auntie R. Apart from the many other things that impressed me about her, her unparalleled cooking was at the top. When I sat whining at the table, as a kid, refusing to eat my mom’s food, a bowl of sambar from auntie R’s would have my plate wiped out in no time. Yes, I miss the Rs dearly today. But I’m glad they are all fine.
Sambar Spice Mix (Sambar powder)
If you want to make a bigger quantity of the mix to last for later, follow these proportions
1/2 cup urad dal
1/2 cup chana dal
2 tbsp cumin seeds
3 tbsp pepper corns
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
2 tsp poppy seeds
1 cup coriander seeds
1 cup desiccated coconut / copra
1/2 tbsp pepper corns
1 tsp of cinnamon clove spice mix
4 tbsp chili powder
4 tbsp paprika (key ingredient that gives the rich red color)
3 – 4 sprigs of curry leaves
The following proportions can be used if you want to make fresh spice mix on the fly
1/4 tsp poppy seeds1 tbsp coriander seeds
1/2 tbsp urad dal
1/2 tbsp channa dal
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp desiccated coconut / copra
1/4 tsp poppy seeds
1/2 tbsp pepper corns
1/5 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
big pinch of cinnamon clove spice mix
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika (key ingredient that gives the rich red color)
3 – 4 curry leaves
Dry roast all the ingredients individually (except the cinnamon clove spice mix and chili powders), grind all the ingredients together to a smooth powder. If you are making the bulk quantity, store it in an air tight container to use later.
I’m not a big fan of adding multiple vegetable while making sambar. I think adding a single vegetable at a time gives a distinct and unique taste to each kind of sambar you make. My most favorite is the radish sambar. I love okra (bhindi), egg plant and cucumber sambars too. But given a choice between the four I always choose radish any day.
2 cups of white radish sliced
1 onion or 8-10 shallots chopped fine
1 cup tuvar dal/ lentils (pigeon pea)
2 plump and ripe tomatoes chopped
11/2 tsp rasam powder (or however much spicy you want the rasam to be)
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric
5- 6 curry leaves
a pinch of asafoetida
1/2 tsp tamarind paste or 1 lemon sized ball of pitted tamarind soaked in warm water and pulp extracted
1 – 2 tsp jaggery shavings
2 tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)
2 tbsp clarified butter /ghee
salt to taste