Monday, 10 November 2014

The Season for Making Preserves--4

Come September and the women in our town got busy making Badi and Mungaudi preserves for the harsh winter months. These little dry nuggets that could be cooked with minimalist spice mixtures to produce a most delectable accompaniment to rice at lunch time, were made with lentil paste with subtle flavourings. Their greatest quality was that in the high altitude mountains they softened far more easily than the traditional Dal, thus saving much hard work and , ofcourse, precious fuel. Enormous quantities of these were made each year and stored in tightly sealed tin containers for round the year use . During the monsoon months with unrelenting showers whenever the sun came out the preserves were put out in the sun upon old home laundered cotton saris so they may lose any mould- causing moisture they may have.
The houses in the hills in those days had gently sloping tin roofs not the silly flat cement ones one sees now. The Badi making began for some strange reason on the first day of the Shraddha season, and was over before Navratri when the Badi makers observed tedious nine day fasts to please the Goddess . As we left for school and began our daily down the hill treks, we'd see pretty women of the Shahs who owned most of the shops in the bazaar, resplendant in their gold jewellery and heavy traditional nose rings, squatting upon their roofs with large brass platters of lentil paste, oiling their neatly washed roofs before delicately dripping tiny blobs of the paste upon the tin . The Badis were made with Urad Dal and the Mungauri with either Moong or red Masoor Dal . There was also a much loved variety of Badis called Naalbadi, made with spicy lentil paste miraculously made to cover the smooth stems of stem of Arabi plants to form Seekh kebab like shapes that were chopped to bite size pieces when half dry . The Nalbadi was handled only by the most skilled dowagers in families who were much sought after during the season and acted pricy .
While the women made roofs full of Badi and Mungaudi in shades of white yellow and reddish pink, they conversed across the roofs exchanging recipes, menus and information about impending weddings and child birth . My writer mother loved the season that became raw material for many of her works . She learnt the art of making Badis and Mungaudis from a garrulous and kind neighbour much to my father's dislike. Babu hated the sour smells that the house emanated during the act and also the annual disfigurement of the roof. He was also of the firm opinion that his wife with her priceless gift for writing should devote more time to cerebral pursuits and not sit gossiping with semi literate neighbours on roof tops, making preserves that could be bought any time from the local Khadi Gramodyog Bhawan .
Ah those Khadi Bhawan preserves ! Mother laughed . Like most Gandhians their products are dusty, colourless and hard. And when  I can make them at half the cost ( very doubtful given the bounty she extended to her teacher comrades) why not ? When roads break down during monsoons and snow storms, it is my preserves that feed you all ! Ghar ki bani cheez ki barakkat hi aur hoti hai ( homemade things have a glory of their own !) she ended . We laughed at Mother's eccentricities but enjoyed the hot Vadas and Moong Bhajias that were a by product of the preserve making week .
There was a local superstition that if the rain gods wised up to women's designs for making Badi Mungauri, they were sure to send showers and wipe out the first day's efforts . For that reason on the first day only a limited amount was put out . Mostly a stray shower did wipe most of it out before drying and an uncle who owned a big hotel in town would call up my mother and say with mock anger, look Gaura ! once again you and your cronies including my own wife are spoiling my tourist season with your Badi making activities !
Years later after my husband's father retired to the hills with his wife, my ever so humble and gentle mother in law told my mother that she wanted to help the local women who could do with a side income and a day job . My mother suggested to her that she organise the local women and set up an outlet to help them sell their traditional preserves to hill families living in the plains and pining for good old Pahadi Badi Mungaudi . The venture took root soon despite my father in law ( like Babu) discouraging his wife from such domestic pursuits. For the next two decades till she lived, she helped the humble semi literate women of the small town make and sell several quintals of preserves each year. She helped them get Dal at reasonable rates from the farmers in the Terai region and used our large family circuit to hoard and sell the consignments she sent . After she passed on the groups disintegrated but some of them are still producing the wares and being helped by another family to sell.
Thus women's perseverance notwithstanding frowning husbands and rising prices !
(Next-Know your spices)    


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