The world is a scary place | Article for The Swaddle


I got my first taste of independence when I was around 4 years old and my mother let me walk to my grandmother’s house, around 5 minutes away, all by myself. I remember feeling elated. Almost grown up, like my mother! Over the years I would do a lot of things by myself, even though my friends weren’t allowed to. I would ride my bike on the Main Road, where the big cars and busses were. I would go grocery shopping alone, to the actual market with a different vendor for every item, not a single store with aisles and metal carts.

But with those solo explorations also came some rather unpleasant experiences which, had my mother known about them, would have had me locked in the highest room in the tallest tower. Needless to say, my mom only found out about some of these experiences when I wrote about them in a piece for The Swaddle.

In this piece, I reflected on my own experiences as a child, growing up in a scary world and, as a consequence, turning into a new parent already laying the foundation to wrap her child in bubblewrap. But luckily, a bit of good sense and wisdom from Mum, who does know best at least some of the times, prevailed, and I’m working on some of my control issues. Here’s a link to the whole story in The Swaddle.

The World in a Scary Place, And I’m an Overprotective Parent


Batter for brats + ragi idli recipe


As a kid, I loved to lick things. Lemons, saucers, faces, whitewashed walls, the works! By age 6, there were few things, save for wiggly worms (ew), that I hadn’t attempted to lick.

Looking back on this phase, I always recall my favourite thing to lick even though it was taboo. Actually, maybe it’s the prohibition that led me to enjoy it so much.

In a large open-top grinding machine, with two rough stones that went whirl and grrr, used to be a very large batch of idli-dosa batter my grandmother prepared religiously every week. My favourite pass-time was to distract her, which wasn’t tough, and dip my finger in the whirlpool of thick, fresh batter.

“You’re going to get worms in your stomach,” she’d say hoping to dissuade me, knowing full well my aversion to worms. “These worms will one day climb up your throat and come out of your mouth!”

But no number of threats, worm related or otherwise, could keep me from stealing a lick every time I went to visit. Until one day, when the machine stopped whirling, much like my grandma’s mind, which slowly drifted off to the land of “Aren’t you that girl who eats raw idli batter?” “Yes Amamma. I’m also your granddaughter.”

We didn’t have this machine in my house. Mostly because we really didn’t need that much dosa batter or people who wanted to eat it. So Mum started buying the garden variety batter available in shops that eventually turned into packaged rice powder.

Obviously, it wasn’t the same as my grandmother’s — raw or cooked. It lacked that rugged look, the crispy-around-the-edge crunch and the soft-and-puffy-in-the-middle texture. The store bought variety also came with a very tight, glutinous taste and plasticy sheen that just didn’t seem right. Or natural.

That’s when I gave up on idlis and dosas. Though I enjoyed a plate or three in restaurants, I really didn’t have much of an appetite for the sort you “made at home”.

But recently, when I was speaking to a friend in Singapore and she mentioned how her Mum, who had recently been to visit, had prepared a big batch of idli and dosa batter from scratch, the first thing I said was, “Wow! You actually invested in one of those batter grinders??”

“Definitely not,” she laughed. “You can make it in a mixer-grinder, you know!”

I obviously did not know that. So I wrote to her Mum and asked her for her recipe which she was quite happy to share — one part parboiled rice, half part urad dal, soak, blend, leave to ferment.

In the interest of trying something different and perhaps, making it a whole lot more nutritious, I decided to add some finger millets (ragi) to the mix.

It’s a long process, making the batter — Six hours to soak, 10 minutes to blend, another six hours for it to ferment. While the process, I learned, requires very little skill, save for the ability to measure properly, the wait to make your first batch of idlis and dosas requires a lot of patience.

Will the batter rise? Will it hold properly? Will it taste right? Would Amamma have approved?
Well, Ammamma would most definitely have not approved of my dipping my finger into the batter once the fermentation process was over. I had to, you see. So I could tell if it was just like hers!

What I tasted was amazing. The batter, neither too thick, nor thin, was light and frothy and tasted just like hers — slightly grainy and sour.

A test batch — in silicone cupcake moulds, I must add — was soft, fluffy and ridiculously delicious. If only I’d also made a batch of coconut chutney to pipe on the look would have been absolutely perfect.

I won’t ever find out if my grandmother would have liked my version of the idli-dosa batter. But to know that I can keep alive the memories of my childhood, in which she played a very prominent role, makes me very very happy.


Ragi Idli/Dosa Recipe
1 steamer/pressure cooker
Blender – the regular one that blends chutneys and sauces
3 bowls for soaking
1 pot large enough for the batter to rise

1 cup parboiled/idli rice
½ cup urad dal
½ cup ragi grains

– Boil the ragi for 15 minutes. Take it off the stove but don’t drain it. Just, leave it as it is for a minimum of 6 hours, maximum overnight
– Soak the rice and urad dal in two separate bowls too
– Blend the rice with a bit of water until it’s smooth and silky. Ensure that it is neither too thick nor thin. Repeat with urad and ragi. The ragi may have a few bits and pieces that remain but that’s okay because it brings a little nuttiness to the batter.
– Combine all three in a large pot and mix it all up. Cover and leave for 6 hours or overnight in a cool, dry place (not fridge).
– The batter will ferment and rise by a few inches and will smell slightly sour. It’s now ready to go into the steamer. – Boil the water in the steamer with the lid on. Place the idlis – in idli moulds or any cool mould of your choice – in the steamer. I used silicone moulds so didn’t have to grease them. They just popped right out!
– Steam for 10-12 mins or until a knife poked in comes out clean.
– Let it rest for a few minutes after it comes out of the steamer.
– The remaining batter can be stored in the fridge and used to make dosas too!

This post appeared in Bangalore Mirror on November 15,2014

Silence of the Goats: Why I refuse to eat mutton

When Mum came to visit, the first thing she cooked as she hopped off her flight was Mutton Chops. I took a picture of it and posted it on Instagram. Even in its raw state you can’t deny that it looks absolutely delicious.


My husband ate well that afternoon. And that night. He also devoured a few chops over breakfast the next day.

I, tragically, couldn’t bring myself to taste it. It didn’t matter that it was garnished with semi-cooked onions that went ‘crunch-crunch’ with every bite. It smelled delicious. But I just don’t eat mutton.

Most people are baffled when they hear this. Even if it is the 100th time it has come up in conversation.

‘You don’t eat mutton? How can you not eat mutton?’
‘Isn’t that against, like, your religion or something?’
‘How can you resist mutton chops, biryani, paaya and bheja fry? Especially the way your Mum cooks them all.’
‘Worst Muslim. Ever!’

My Mum’s a bit famous among our friends and family for her culinary prowess. But no matter what she does, says, or how delicious and tempting her version of daal-gosht smells, I can’t look at mutton the way other people do.

I have, what I think, are pretty solid, albeit sentimental reasons for this.

I wrote about it a while ago and was overwhelmed by the response it received from my family, friends and (strangely enough) Mum’s friends.

For those of you who haven’t had a chance to read it. I also drew a picture for effect.


Silence of the Goats

You have to hand it to my Mum. She had this knack for turning simple things into science lessons. Especially if it meant keeping me out of her hair or away from tall trees for an hour. How else was a child to learn something from earthworms in the dormant months of monsoon if not helping them “multiply”? There was also that bit about static electricity and a plastic ruler that had the uncanny ability to turn my sister and I into cats at war.

But I think the most interesting lesson I learned was at the age of nine when Bakri Eid was around the corner and our garage was converted into a goat shed.

It was an exciting time for me as we didn’t have pets and all I wanted was a dog to take out for a walk. A goat isn’t a dog, I know. But mum said I could get my kicks by taking it for a spin around the compound.

“A little exercise and fresh leaves will do it some good before the big day,” she said.

So I did. For almost a week, I took Rolley (forgive my lack of imagination) and Polley (again, not my proudest moment in naming) for walks. There was a caretaker who would hand me the ropes to which they were tied and I would parade them around the compound. It made me quite popular with my friends who visited to ask questions and feed them. It also amused the neighbours to no extent because “Look what that funny little Khan girl is up to now!”

Everyone was happy for a while. That is until I woke up on Eid. It was a day of celebration, Eidie (money and presents) and countless friends and family who would gather to party. But I wasn’t stupid and my parents didn’t try to treat me as such either. I had known since Rolley and Polley arrived that their days were numbered. If anything, my Mum had been ensuring that I knew every day by telling me how much I would learn from the ‘process’.

“Every organ and limb is edible, did you know that? Right from the tail to the brain,” she told me after I returned from my walks. “And the skin… that goes straight to the leather craftsmen who turn it into jackets and bags.”

I listened to these facts and shared them with my friends, father and anyone else who would listen. I even shared them with the butcher that morning who nodded along as he sharpened his knife with a stone and readied a massive chopping block.

But then something happened. The butcher brought his knife down on the block with such force that it stuck. Something about it reminded me of King Arthur’s Excalibur in reverse. Something about it reminded Rolley and Polley of the fate that awaited them. They started bleating. I went quiet.

“There are no purses or paaya without a slaughter first, is there?” I suddenly realised. My feet went numb and a bucket of ice landed in my stomach. I did what any self respecting 9-year-old would do. I ran up to Mummy.

“You knew this was going to happen,” she explained as the butcher did what he was hired to do in the garage downstairs. “It’s just the way it is.”

But then she said something else. Something that would change the way I looked at meat. Not all meat. Just mutton.

“You know, an animal’s heart beats for around 45 minutes after it has died,” as she struggled ready a massive pot masalas for the biryani we’d serve at the party later. “Go see if their hearts are still beating. It’s something you will have to learn for Science.”

I walked down to the garage and asked the butcher if I could see a heart. He placed two on the block in front of me. They were both still beating. Just as Mum said they would.

I put my hands on one and then the other. I didn’t even know which one belonged to whom. I didn’t ask. I just went back up and sat alone in my room.

Hours later, my dark mood lifted and I would be laughing and playing with friends and family. But that was the first Eid I found myself fasting. To this day I can’t look at a goat without thinking of Rolley and Polley. Nor can I touch a piece of mutton without feeling the pulse of a beating heart.

Let them eat mutton biryani on feast days, I say. I’m going to stick with rice and sambar.

Also published in The Bangalore Mirror on July 23, 2014

The fantastical feast

feast 934


My second post in Bangalore Mirror is about the ‘khayali pulao’ I so enjoy cooking. This is another piece I really enjoyed writing even if it doesn’t show me in the best of light.

The feast at the end of Platform  9¾

The cinnamon rolls are in the oven. There are around 12 of them in the tray, sitting snugly next to each other. They’re rising and rising and as they rise, the smell of spice and caramalised sugar wafts through the entire house.

I open the oven and they’re perfect. A crisp shade of brown on top, and soft and moist in the centre, it’s time to let them rest on a cooling rack before pouring the sugary glaze all over them.

But I really can’t wait to take a nibble. So I do. They’re perfect and soft and gooey just like I imagined they would be when I was reading the recipe.

Oh wait. I’m still reading the recipe. The rolls are a distant dream. Time to turn the page. Ah… fillet mignon with sage and another food fantasy to seep into… heaven.

I’m still no closer to being a real life masterchef. However, I am having a whole lot of fun visualising the journey. A look at my Pinterest board and the cookbook nook on my shelf is proof that I collect recipes just as efficiently as I do literature. And strangely enough, I’m not ashamed of it!

Some of my first memories of childhood include images of swans and mermaids and a little boy with a twisted hand. Maybe that last image is well, really a figment of my imagination, but it doesn’t change the fact that my mind finds it easier to retain pictures and colours than just plain factual text.

I love a good story. Any story really – true or fantastical — so long as I can visualise it clearly in my mind’s eye. Some might call it unfortunate, because this means that my reading habits have spoiled a few real-life experiences for me. Like finding a naughty billionaire, taking a train out of Kings Cross and cooking a beautiful dinner, to name a few.

I was lucky enough to learn at an early age that the juicy romance novels I read as a teenager were even more unrealistic than self-spelling wands. But even more disappointing was my discovery that warm scones drenched in butter or even porridge cooked “Just right” wasn’t as mouth watering as the storybooks made them seem.

This also includes my time in the kitchen, or lack thereof, which is actually a time when reality comes flying at my face in the form of a counter stained with flours, oils and herbs and a sink full of dirty dishes. Most times I’m quite content being an imaginary chef even if I divide my career between the occasional practical and the perpetual fantasy.

But I do think the time is approaching for me to change my ways. I have to step out of those food mirages and into the reality of what it truly takes to be the master of my own kitchen. It will be quite an effort at first for someone as lazy (there, I admitted it) as I. But it’s time to start smelling the cinnamon rolls because they’re actually inside the oven rather than inside my head.

I guess the discipline to cook is like a muscle. You just have to start taking it for a walk if you want it to run a marathon. Maybe I just need to stop seasoning imaginary fish and season fish already. But not today. There’s a feast at the end of platform 9¾ I really need to attend.

Here’s a link to the original post published in Bangalore Mirror on June 27.