Digging into the past

There are very few things that I can hold up for show-and-tell when it comes to my past. Most of my memorabilia lies gathering dust in a dark cupboard about 9000 miles away. Even in that collection though, I don't have much by way of tangibles. What I do have are photographs. Photographs that were supposed to last through my lifetime, but have instead faded and come unhinged from the albums into which they were carefully pasted.

My parents' wedding, 1956

Not many people in that wedding picture are alive today and perhaps they, too, like my parents left behind rusting eyeglasses, fading pictures, and a few solitary possessions that their families hold on to.

KK Brand

When a nomadic life became ours through our calling, I took with me what I needed to sustain us for the next couple of months, at the most. A pressure cooker with its inserts was the only essential item in my suitcase. The rest I would do without or I would find suitable substitutes. If push came to shove, I would leave my pressure cooker behind, too. My memories, I knew, would go with me wherever I went. I did not need tangibles, show-and-tells.


It was only when we decided to grow some roots that I realized that I had left home with four suitcases, a pressure cooker and my memories. And, a void. I began to want to hold, to touch and to relate; more so as my child grew older, away from extended family who might have filled her in on her father's motorcycle escapades or her mother's exciting safaris, or brought to life the grandparents she never knew, including their travails and triumphs. I began to want those very things that I had shunned as unnecessary and I swore that I would bring them back with me on my next trip.


Priorities shift over time and it's a fine balance between want and need, as it was on that proverbial next trip home. There were six suitcases this time, more space that only proved to be amazingly inadequate because now every memory had not just a tangible form, but a measurable weight to go with it. Needless to say, I came back with fewer things than I wanted and a deeper void than before.

One of the blessings I brought back with me was a kitchen tool that had been gifted to my mother by my Dad's best friend. It has her name and his name engraved on it, that is how I know. Was it a wedding gift? I don't know. But what I do know is that this man was our only claim to fame for a very long time. He had worked with Kamal Amrohi in the making of the film, Pakeezah, or so the legend went. I can't find his name in any of the online references to Pakeezah but apparently his name is there in the credits. Suddenly, there is a need watch the tragedy queen Meena Kumari throw herself on her bed and lip-sync hauntingly mournful songs.


This kitchen tool is made of brass. It is heavy and becomes heavier when its cylinder is filled with dough. I can see my Dad standing by the stove, turning the handle to press the dough through the holes into hot oil. My sister and I did our share, too, as my mother could only supervise this part of the annual faraal preparation for Diwali.


My heirloom has four discs, the three pictured above and a fourth with a star-shaped hole.  It can be used to make chakliganthia and sev of varying thickness. I don't have lymphedema nor do I have arthritis but already, it is too heavy for me because of other reasons. Medha will have memories of her Dad standing by the stove, turning the handle while her mother stands close by, giving instructions.

the whole picture

There are modern versions of this tool and then there are shinier, lighter remakes but for some reason, the faraal never tastes the same. Maybe because it lacks the invisible but vital ingredient: memories.

Click: Heirloom - which one?

Oooh! Chakli, Mumma?
I hope so. Saturday morning, ok?  
I can't wait
and she was gone.

Saturday morning had other plans for us and those who depended on us. There were no Belgaum-style chaklis made this weekend for IFR: Memories, just tylenol, ibuprofen and endless bowls of soup.


Poornima said...

Such an evocative post. I have one exactly the same, shiny with years.No etchings though!
Get well soon. And thanks for the lovely read.

Shammi said...

I'm always fascinated by - and interested in - remembrances of the past. It doesnt even matter whose past, as long as the writing brings that past life and lifestyle to - well, life. Loved your post.

sra said...

Nice post, Manisha! We had a similar one, the top was different, though, it was a double cylinder and the top one was pressed down on the dough filled in the second one.

Stella Devine said...

Ah, the world traveller's lament. Wherever you are, there is somewhere you are not. And it is never possible to have a party with all your friends at the same time. But it's all worth it for the mountains you would never have climbed, the meals you would never have eaten and the people you would never have met without making your journey.

Sometimes it's good to hang on to the tangible evidence of where you've come from. It helps you know where you're going.

TKW said...

Lovely post! I am obsessed with old photos and trinkets from my family's past. As I grow older, even moreso.

I'd love to see how that thing works!

Desisoccermom said...

Lovely post Manisha. I too remember my mom and aaji making chakli and sev with one of these heavy, brass ones.
You are right. As we grow older and want to leave our progeny with the memories of our past, we begin to cherish and crave things we never had use for or thought too old fashioned. I feel the same way for my son, who is growing away from our extended family back home. He will never know the thrill and pleasure of meeting cousins and uncles and aunts and being pampered and indulged.

Anonymous said...

That was really beautiful Manisha- touched my heart.

Anita said...

Stella has put it so well - we need tangibles to hang on to.

I especially enjoy using the kitchen implements that I have inherited. The one I have for this purpose in lighter than yours - part wood, part brass, but a bit hard to operate since you have to push from top (no cracking system). I do what you do, stand aside and instruct. :-)

Nirmala said...

Manisha this post has created some void inside me. Sure! My amma too had one muruku achu of brass but I don't know where it is. You are actually far before deadline dear ;)hmmm Manisha somehow weiredly I love to have cold. The stuffed nose, clogged throat and coughs somehow comforts me and I never curse anybody when I get cold. Really weired right? Take care dear!

Wordsseekingavoice said...

Beautiful post, Manisha.

We call it the "sevaka nazhi" and use it to make idiappams too as you would know. But my current agony is that, back from our vacation, I can't find any of the discs. Looks like I kept them in too safe a place.

Srivalli said...

Ah.. ,,the woes of a traveler who wanted to carry the world on her shoulders...lovely post manisha..expecting to read more such ones for your event.

and we are off for a trip, so my wishes in advance..hope with the endless soups you will share some time to enjoy too..:)

Aparna Balasubramanian said...

I really enjoy reading what you write. Wheteher like this or when you rant. :)

And I have just the same kind of press (except for the lettering which is different)which was my mum's.

maybelle's mom said...

WOnderful post; I have my mother's and I always love to look at it. (haven't made anything yet.) I love the way you described its weight.