Today is another one of those “pinch me, I’m dreaming” days. We hopped in the jeep and drove out to Pukhraj’s grandma’s house – she’s 100 years old, and don’t tell me she’s not just so beautiful. Look at that skin! We asked her for her beauty secrets: ghee on the skin, and she only eats some sogra bread and some milk each day. Well, I’m not ready to commit to that diet (not with Papu as our cook at the Ashram anyway) but I have been putting ghee on my feet at night…
When we arrived, Pukhraj was there, beaming with pride and happy to show off his family and their home. He was immediately into super-host mode and totally in his element: orange juice for everyone, chai for everyone, taking pictures of us and with us. His family was welcoming and friendly, as all Indian folks have been.
In particular there was a little baby girl who looked thoughtfully at each of us, then decided Gracie was definitely her favourite and crawled on over to her and ignored us for the rest of the night. I think she might have been a bit of a hustler though, as she used her cute baby eyes to get a lot of Gracie’s OJ…
Dadi (grandmother) holds Guruji’s hands and tells a long story. Even before Pukhraj translates for us, we know what she is saying: I remember when you were just this tall, running all over the place!
I am laughing because she is just like my grandmother, like every grandmother the world over, probably. She won’t sit down, despite the fact that she had a bit of a fever today. And when we finally get her to sit down she’s back up again, giving handfuls of candy to each of us (and I mean HANDFULS). Guruji tries to help by taking some and giving one to each of us who are sitting a bit farther away, but she berates him – not enough! – and comes over to give us each a proper handful. Sometimes I can pretty much understand Hindi, without understanding Hindi. You know?
She also insists on giving us each 20 rupees, unbelievably sweet. No use refusing, they insist. We all sit at Dadi’s feet for a little while, receiving her blessings and just enjoying the family dynamic. Times like these, when we spend times in Guruji’s family and friend’s homes, I feel a little less homesick. I reflect that people are the same everywhere – and that’s one of the great things about how much our generation is traveling. We get a bad rap as we all take a gap year and “run away” to sunny climates, but in a world where Donald Trump can run for president, I think it’s pretty important that we all get out and see what foreign people are REALLY like. Which is: the very same as us.
But I digress. Next we hop back into the car to drive to Pukhraj’s house proper. Dadi can’t walk that far, so we bundle her into the car and SELFIE!!!
An interesting thing to note is that at Indian gatherings the cooking starts after the guests arrive, it’s part of the fun. And like always, the party ends up in the kitchen. Only in this case the kitchen is the interior and immediate exterior of a cow-dung hut.
We sit down with the women and start chopping veg, peeling garlic, grating raw tumeric root (didn’t even know you could eat that, but it’s the star of tonight’s dinner and so good for you).
Pukhraj holds court inside and begins the 1.5 hr dinner prep.
It takes long enough to cook, and the smells emanating from the kitchen are so powerful, that by sundown all the tummies are rumbling. We peek inside to see what’s cooking and I swear I see all my favourite ingredients of my whole life going into that pan. I can’t wait.
We eat in the courtyard, all lined up against the wall and served food until we burst. It is, without a doubt, the best thing I have ever eaten. Better than my father-in-law’s Osso Bucco. Better than my dad’s Paella. Better than the risotto I had in Auckland.
It’s. The. Best. Ever.
It’s flavourful and creamy, with a hearty gravy that is so rich, but stops just of the verge of being too heavy. The textures and shapes of the veg drive my brain crazy: firm little peas that pop under your teeth, cauliflower florets, sweet raisins and toasty cashews, shredded tumeric fried in ghee, on and on…
Every bite I think “I can’t have anymore, maybe just one more” and Pukhraj keeps coming by with the ladle. Chapati after chapati, we are just shovelling it in.
And it’s not just that curry. There are curried veggies on the side. And then paneer pakoras come out. I’m not kidding!!
Eventually we all retire onto the family’s wire-framed beds in the yard to digest a bit so that we can walk again. Dadi has gone home, I didn’t get to say goodbye. That’s my one regret. But it was still a perfect night, and my tummy will remember it for the rest of my life.