But I am home

You're going home after so long?

How did you stay away all this while? We try to go home every year, if not every other year.

Enjoy your trip home!

Didn't you miss home?

But I am home.

I bit my lips, quelled those words and smiled because they meant well. But try as hard as I might, I could not think of my visit to India as going home or returning home because I am home. My home is where my husband and child are. We build the walls of our home together. It does not matter where we live.

Recently, an Australian woman living in Boulder tuned into a Sydney radio channel while making dinner for her family and tweeted that "Surrounding myself with home is pretty awesome." Again, I brushed away those same words.

Your slip is showing
Hmmmm?!


Familiar sounds, including language and accents, form a huge part of the connotation of home. I remember a time when the day was heralded by the signature tune of All India Radio, followed by the temple bell that tolled without fail at the same time every morning, and the milkman who rang the doorbell shortly thereafter. The layers of sounds thickened with the whoosh of steam being released from pressure cookers in neighboring kitchens, the incessant cawing of crows and the slowly amplifying crush of peak hour traffic which was like a crescendo that, unfortunately, did not die out until the fatigued day gave in to the darkness of night.


The rhythms changed as the flickering television sets tried to outdo each other in volume, until they too succumbed to the night. As if by clockwork, packs of stray dogs took the baton from the crows, in the relay to keep the decibel levels going. These were the sounds of home for a little over a decade of my adult life.

Familiar smells ranged from the aromas of different regional cuisines that wafted from open kitchen windows, to the grimy sweat of the relentless crowds, to the lingering metallic odor of trains and buses on my hands and my clothes, to the fishy rotting stench of the bay. I have not missed any of these smells except for the first. I make it a point to have those endearing aromas fill my kitchen on a regular basis.

Bus
Suburban traffic

Truck
Goods Carrier

Street_0430
Small suburban street

market
Pigeons everywhere

Bullock cart
Bullock cart

The flight from Zurich to Bombay was a troubled journey for me. I knew that I would not recognize the city that I once claimed as my own and, sometimes, still do. The landscape has changed dramatically with the new flyovers and bridges, some under construction forever. The skyline that was once a characteristic of South Bombay is now muddled by taller buildings in previously unknown and not-so-cool suburbs. Many physical landmarks have either been torn down or have been obscured in the wild rush to build much-needed infrastructure. I was reminded that I lacked the home that every willingly-displaced Indian speaks yearningly of, where their latent baby self is encouraged to emerge so that they can be pampered and indulged. Comfort and the feeling that you belong; a safe zone. Isn't that what it's all about?

My anxiety grew as I began to feel like I had left my home behind. As corny and cliched as it may sound, I looked around me and realized that as long as I had my husband and my child with me, I was always home. The smells, sounds and sights that most people associate with home are not important to me. These two people are. I drew her closer to me and reached out across the aisle for his hand - thirty-three thousand feet in the sky and yet, I was lucky to be home. I relaxed and slept the sleep of a weary traveler.

Hearts 'n lips

Varan


  • 1 cup tur dal
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • pinch asafetida
  • Salt to taste

Varan
Varan

  1. Rinse and soak tur dal for at least an hour, more if you have the time. If you are short on time, do a hot soak. It's good for you!
  2. Drain tur dal and add it to the pan of your pressure cooker with 3 cups of water.
  3. Add cumin seeds, turmeric powder, sugar, asafetida and salt to taste.
  4. Stir and pressure cook according to the directions on your pressure cooker on medium-heat until the tur dal is soft and can be mashed easily with a fork. In my pressure cooker, this takes 3 whistles or 3 whooshes of pressure release.
  5. Turn the heat down and cook for another 10 minutes.
  6. Allow the pressure cooker to cool and open only when it is safe to do so.
  7. Stir well or if you like use a hand blender to bring it to a smooth consistency.
  8. Add lemon juice and ghee and serve immediately over bhaat, steaming hot rice.

Varan bhaat
Varan bhaat, bhaji ani lonche

Notes:
  • Traditionally, lemon juice and ghee are added to the varan after it has been poured over a mound of rice. I like to add it to the pot to keep my life simple.
  • We like our varan to be a little thicker. Add more water, if you like, and adjust salt, if you do.
  • In many homes, a meal begins with varan-bhaat and in others, it must end with varan bhaat.
  • I grew up eating only varan-bhaat. I did not explore anything outside of varan bhaat until I met free range chicken in Nairobi. Then I switched to eating only chicken.
  • Varan-bhaat must be on the menu at every Maharashtrian wedding. It took great skill to sit on the floor in all your finery, for lunch, and then have to leap out of the way as the servers tossed hot varan on the steaming mound of rice in your disposable plate made from banana leaves. Just when you thought you were safe, the guy - why is it always a guy? - serving warm ghee showed up and you had to do that maneuver all over again.
  • There are many variations of varan and this is the simplest of them all.

Varan bhaat
Varan-bhaat, the ultimate in comfort food

When I eat varan-bhaat, I am home.

24 comments:

Shammi said...

Lovely post. I mean, LOVELY post, Manisha. Home is where my family is... home is also wherever I am with my husband. I just consider it as having two homes :)

sunita said...

I echo your sentiments about 'home', Manisha. Love the look of your comforting meal, it can't be anywhere else but 'home'.

Soma said...

This post is like reading my own mind. for the past few weeks, after we booked our ticket I did not know what to think of myself as I am not comfortable to leave my home here and go home with my 2 girls (without A). I do not want to admit, but I am scared and that makes me ashamed.. kind of.It is such a mixed range of feeling... since I lost my mom, it got worse - going back simply does not matter to me anymore.

on another note, I bet I left a comment on the post of those beautiful switzerland photographs, for I spent a LONG time on those, only now I do not know where I wrote the comment :-) losing my mind?

Soma

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Great post :) It's beautiful the way you've captured the feeling of home. For me, India is home. At the risk of offending A (who doesn't care or my parents), I am super patriotic and so India is home!

That said, it's so easy to make Varan. I didn't know! I'm going to make this meal with the beans sabzi with peanuts that you have? and eat with Amla Achaar :D

Cybergabi said...

I usually say, home is where the Internet is. Teehee.
But of course, being with your loved ones makes it complete.

Beautiful post!

Mona said...

Manisha, this year I visited Hyderabad, where I have lived before I got married. I went to Hyderabad to visit my parents. The last time I was in Hyderabad was 3 years back, but during this recent trip, I felt Hyderabad has changed, it wasn't the one I had grown up in. I missed my husband, and although I was with my parents in the house I knew since childhood, I didnt feel at home and was always on edge. But now that I am here with my husband, I once again have that same strong feeling to go back and visit them and enjoy Hyderabad.
The pictures made me very nostalgic and reminded me of India.

zaiqa.net

Anjali said...

Manisha this is the voice of most people who moved away from their parents home and made their own home wherever they went. Yesterday was talking to my cuz who returned to Mumbai from England after 12yrs, says he has lost his world that he associates with home and so now is going back to England and will live 6 months in both countries now on. Strange our lives are but we are the bearer of the change that redefines HOME. Your Varan is exactly like how we like it, kalvun khayla maza vaTte:D

GB said...

My sentiments exactly. Now that I'm "home" I miss home. Two weeks back I was fighting all odds to make my trip to India. Now, I'm almost ready to start planning the trip back home.

This is what we signed up for I guess and I like to think that we're richer for the experience.


PS: You were right about the pollution! OMG! Where did all these vehicles come from? where do they go at night(is there enough square footage to park all of them in Delhi)?? Delhi roads are a nightmare! "Dilli sari dekh badal gayi" as the song goes! :D

Aparna said...

I echo your sentiments about home being where one's heart is, with your family wherever that is.
Yet, even though I grew up and spent half my life outside India, a big part of me is always in India where I truly belong (in my mind). So for me, India will always be home no matter which part of the country.

Anita said...

What a lovely read this is - evocative of what it really means to "be home!" Varan-bhaat is one of those comfort meals for my family as well. Lime juice, ghee, and khobra-dhaniya chutney are the mandatory sides. These days I add some friend bhajjies for some glamour. Though it doesn't really need to be glamorised at all.

Our saada varan is even simpler - no spice except turmeric, and a pinch of hing! Cherish your beautiful family! Hugs!

Happy Cook said...

Indeed a beautiful read.
I always get question from the non Indians here dont you miss your country, your home and then I Look to them ann tell same as you say, my home is were my husband and daughter is. And they really look to me in a strange manner.
Then I get questions from my Indian friends dont you miss home then I tell the same again.
Ofcourse I miss India , I dont know if it is India I miss I miss not seeing my mom often as I want.

Vrushali said...

loved reading your post..and i agree with u .. garam garam varan tup bhat and batata bhaji is a real comfort food.. another one is pithla bhakri / or bhat.. yummy

iyer-n-chef said...

for a moment there, I was in the midst of suburban mumbai, the crows, dabbawalas, harbour line local, the koli fisherwomen who have the uncanny ability to make the sea of humanity part on the railway platform a la Moses!!!
Thanks for that precious whiff of Nostalgia...

Medini said...

Manisha (ok so I now know your name....as I know you only as indianfoodrocks lol) yes, home IS where the heart is!

Very nicely said, enjoyed reading!

Shulie said...

On multiple levels I understand what you mean. I also have only one child and home is where my husband and son are. I just as you was robbed of the Mediterranean sand dunes I grew up on and the urban highrises were taken over. This is a wonderfulpost Manisha!

kamala said...

Manisha, when I went to India for a visit, last year by myself, I told everyone in the USA I’m going home. After I reached India, I kept referring to USA as home! Maybe I’m confused or maybe I have 2 homes now. 

Anshu said...

It was lovely reading your post as well as the beautiful comments..I am in US only from last three years...came here just after marriage and started this beautiful journey of married in New Jersey...since then we have moved to three different locations here in United States..and home that I missing the most is the one in New Jersey...much more then the one in India...

Manisha said...

Thank you for your heartfelt responses to this post! Home can mean so many things to each of us. I think the important thing is to embrace it and make it our own, whatever the ambiguities or seeming conflicts.

Shammi, you're a lucky girl!

Sunita, thanks! We're kindred spirits then!

Soma, you'll do just fine! You and the girls will have a fabulous time! Did you leave a comment on my photostream on Flickr?

Nandini, I almost wrote that this post doesn't apply to Nandini and here you are confirming exactly that. Patriotism is an interesting phenomenon based primarily on one's place of birth, which is never of one's choosing. I hope you made my varan!

Gabi, you're too funny but I know why you say that!

Mona, you, too, have two homes which may be why you long for one when you're at the other?

Anjali, parents and their home remains home for most people, even when they have their own families. I know I would feel exactly as I do now regardless of where my parents were. Actually at this point, I'd just be happy to have my parents cos I miss them both very much.

GB, so where is home and what defines home for you? And yes, the pollution is nasty. :-(

Aparna, I once thought like you, that i belonged in India. Now, it doesn't really matter. It's where I make my home that's more important.

Anita, fried bhajjis? As in sent for a swim in hot oil? No sugar in your sada varan?

Finla, I hear you! I hope you get to see your Mom soon!

Vrushali, I haven't made pithla for a long time now! I usually serve It with phulki or rice.

Niv, it's even more crowded than what I thought it would be. Surprisingly, some parts of Bombay have been cleaned up and gone are the streets lined with squatters and their shanties!

Medini, thanks and I'm glad you agree!

Shulie, we may wander but we're never far from our true home!

Kamala, maybe you do; in which case, you're a lucky gal, too!

Anshu, what pulls you back to NJ? Maybe if you can nail that and try to incorporate it into your new home, maybe you won't miss it so much?

Miri said...

I grew up eating varan bhath in my neighbour's house in Mumbai and its got a special place in my heart. We make this version, the Tamil version and the Konkani version on a regular basis in my home and its the complete comfort food.

We were so against moving to Delhi - and now (while we still are a little sceptical about living here forever) we know that moving back to Chennai will probably not fit in with what we want in our lives. I feel sad about that, but thats the way - to look forward to new things which make you grow.

Maven said...

Fantastic post! I think I'll try this recipe one of these days. Looks simple enough! :)

JoAn's Blog said...

Thanks for sharing, Manisha! Nice to meet you and your daughter at the cooking school.

Manasi said...

I was in Bombay about 2.5 years ago and everything was so different, the noise levels, pollution, population and prices had increased manifold and I hardly thought that was possible, pshaw!

To me, home is where I am with my family, just like you and many others have mentioned, i do miss my parents, a lot. Sometimes I think I am losing it, I imagine them with me, at home, or when I am driving, all alone.. even that makes me feel like 'home',am I making sense? I don't know how to explain that part~sheesh~!

Loved the pictures and it is amazing to see such a lovely, green lane in Apli Mumbai! and the pics with the flying pigeons.. my first thought was, Dadarcha Kabutarkhana!

Thank you.

Manisha Pandit said...

Miri, I miss you so, Raji.

Maven, I hope you like it!

JoAn, good meeting you too.

I'm sorry my replies are so late!

Manasi, it changes exponentially each year. I was mostly in the northern suburbs on my last visit. This was in Borivali on a really crowded street. Every time a bus went by, you couldn't see the sky, just pigeons! And I totally get what you're saying. It's more a feeling than anything else. Hugs!

Susan said...

Among your many great shots, the pigeon comp needs to be printed and framed - all that motion blur. Stunner.

Diaspora is complex, but you've sorted it out. What you write is not corny at all.

Though different, many of us who grew up in America feel it, too, with moving all over the States for education and job opportunities. If anyone doubts it, all you have to do is look at the travel stats from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Home is always where the family is.