How to Make Daal

Spread lentils on a rattan tray, surveying every single grain. Scan for tiny pebbles masquerading as lentils. Close your eyes. Feel with fingertips for hard pebbles amidst the suede of lentils.
 
Rinse once. Drain. 
 
Rinse again, watching bits of dirt surrender—the flotsam you wish you could cull in your life. Drain.
 
Rinse again. Wonder if it’s ever completely cleansed? Be reminded of scars. Drain.
 
Repeat till it feels redundant or clear, whichever comes first.
 
Cook low and slow in a silver-clad handi —stir in all the spices you can muster. Simmer till the tiny beans forgot they were tiny and turn into fiery silk. Lace with garlic slices fried in ghee. Entice everyone within one kilometer of the house.
 
Ladle two big spoonfuls of steaming daal onto an island of gleaming white rice. Your plate: cheery and hopeful. A ruse.
 
Suck in your breath. Brace yourself for the unabashed heat. 
 
The first spoonful is confrontational, the second, loud. The following are demanding—your mouth feels numb and your skin lets go of beads in apology for all you can’t go back and heal.
 
Remember—it’s punishing and delicious. Remember your childhood zeal for it annoyed your mother who made perfectly delicious daal herself, though hers didn’t try to pick a fight with the world; being so brash, like your grandmother’s.
 
Your mother’s daal: a well-constructed, post-colonial argument, checking off all the vagaries of politeness and repression. Her daal took the path of perfectly balanced civility in spices, tried to smile its way out of anger, tried to look to the ground to mask moments of rage. 

the author's Nani and mother on her mother's wedding day in 1975

the author's Nani and mother on her mother's wedding day in 1975


You are definitely full. Ladle another big spoonful.
 
Because this reverie will end the moment you lick your fingers. You’d be back yearning for a home that never was.
 

- Saadia Muzaffar is a marvellous, brown, work-in- progress - trying to feel her way through life, friendship and love while fighting to stay angry.

Of Modakams and Meticulousness

Savoury Modakams were everyone’s favourite. Soaked uraddhal and chillies, coarsely ground then steamed. Seasoned with mustard seeds, curry leaves, a pinch of asafetida and a generous amount of grated coconut.

The author's Patti, whose nimble fingers moulded perfect modakams

The author's Patti, whose nimble fingers moulded perfect modakams

“Never leave the coconut for more than thirty seconds in the hot oil,” was Patti’s thumb rule.

“The determinant of a good ‘Modakam’ is its wafer-thin skin and not the sweet or savoury puran whose taste lingers on after the consumption.”

Pinching off a ball of wet rice dough, cooked in boiling water with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of oil, she would use her fingers to flatten the edges and work the middle to get a cup shape. Then she would spoon the filling, nimbly bring the edges closer to taper it at the top and break off the extra dough. the finished Modakam would join the army in the steaming plate.

"Innipu kozhukkattai" Image by  Jayashree Govindarajan/Wikipedia  

"Innipu kozhukkattai" Image by Jayashree Govindarajan/Wikipedia 

“It is an endurance test, a testimony to becoming a good wife.” I would look at the broken dough in my hand, panic shuddering through me. Secretly smashing it, I would start again.

As the making peaked, Patti would multi-task. She would knead fresh batches of the dough with water and oil, splash water on the cooked Modakams, coax them apart and transfer them to big steel bowls after they cooled.

The process would go on throughout the day. By night, not a single Modakam would be left. Patti would be stretched on the heirloom wooden swing, expecting no praise.

- Vijayalakshmi Sridhar has been surrounded by stories since young - both telling and listening to. Her day job as a freelance feature writer for the mainstream dailies and monthlies is the platform through which she meets people, many of whom have found their way to her stories’ characters- either as they are or in disguised forms. She believes that human relationships and their dynamics are the most interesting things to write about. She is keen to explore her journey as a story writer in non- specific genres. A mother of two girls, Vijayalakshmi is also interested and involved in many other creative pursuits.

Warding Off the Evil Eye

It is strict adherence to ritual that keeps your loved ones safe. Rise at 4 am to pray. The Gods are most attentive in the early hours. Morning prayers, an oil lamp lit every evening before the electric lights are flicked on, a ban on Friday travels, these are your lines of defence against evil.  

Be watchful, ever vigilant for the intrusion of errant spirits into the family. A crying child in the evening, a sure sign of the Evil Eye.  

Gather your arsenal while muttering under your breath about the visiting neighbour-woman, with her too abundant praises, her too ardent admiration of beauty and intelligence in the child. Steel yourself, this is no trifling issue. Shut your ears, your heart to the child’s sobs, she is held and comforted by her mother.  

Work quickly, ignoring the arthritis gathering in your joints. Before misfortune falls.

First the dried red chillies, one, two.  

Then the black mustard seeds. A small pinch will do. 

Gather together with grains of rice, 

Circle the child’s head precisely thrice.

Throw the spices with deadly aim

Into the fire of licking flames.

Chanted prayers allay the fears,

And distract the young one, now no longer in tears.

image by Asha Rajan

image by Asha Rajan

Keep a keen eye for the wisps of smoke rising from the fire-flung spices. These mark the demise of the Evil Eye, the restoration of the world to its rightful order. 

Your daughters, and one day your granddaughters too will repeat these actions, and think of you.

- Asha Rajan

The First to Go

The first time you cook for her after moving in, make sure it’s something fancy. A rubbed pork-loin perhaps. Spend a week researching it online, and all day cooking it. When she comes home, the delicious smells will permeate the hallway. Serve it with ginger mashed potatoes and Harissa-infused butter. “What’s Harissa?” she’ll ask. You will explain. It will be delicious.

After you get engaged, take things a step further. Prepare an Indian-spiced turkey with a green rub that sits in the fridge for days. It will look disgusting but result in the most juicy, flavorful, subtly-spiced turkey any of your friends have ever tasted. Serve it at the annual Thanksgiving potluck. It will be the first to go. 

image by Meredith Counts

image by Meredith Counts

Collect spices. Common and obscure ones. Things she’s never heard of. Things she has no idea how to use. Garam masala. Fenugreek. 6 varieties of pepper. So many spices that you quickly run out of room in the limited cabinet space provided in a small, New York City apartment. Build a custom spice cabinet from scratch to accommodate them all. A narrow base cabinet, 6 inches wide and 24 inches deep. Buy a new wooden butcher-block countertop to cover it, and while you’re at it, replace the old, peeling Formica countertop throughout the entire kitchen. 

Go to sleep and never wake up. A month before your wedding, she will be out of town and one of your closest friends will find you there, in bed, covers wrapped around your still body. The spice rack, and spices, and the hard drive full of untried recipes will remain. Maybe one day she’ll find the strength to use them.


- Gyda Arber is a theatrical writer/director best known for the transmedia theatrical experiences Suspicious Package (The Brick, 59E59, Edinburgh Fringe, Future Tenant: Pittsburgh), Suspicious Package: Rx (published in Plays and Playwrights 2010), the award-winning post-apocalyptic dating show FutureMate (Lincoln Center, The Brick) and the ARG-inspired Red Cloud Rising (called “brilliant” by the NY Times). Named “Person of the Year” by nytheatre.com, Arber is the director/creator of the interactive play Q&A: The Perception of Dawn, the writer/director of the short film Watching (Bride of Sinister Six), and the director of The Brick/FringeNYC sold-out hit Theater of the Arcade: Five Classic Video Games Adapted for the Stage. Also an actress, Arber has appeared at Lincoln Center, The Public, 59E59, and most frequently at The Brick, where she also serves as the executive producer of the Game Play festival, a celebration of video game performance art. A graduate of NYU and the Maggie Flanigan Studio, Arber is a 4th-generation San Franciscan, currently residing in Brooklyn. www.thefifthwall.info