Satbir Chadha
Cooking and preserving in Karol Bagh were communal activities
Most families had a ‘tandoor’ in their courtyard, an open clay oven
Sweltering summer afternoons followed by cooler evenings
Ladies invariably baked the chapatis in the open, fanned by the breeze
So when one put the logs to light the ‘tandoor’, she’d message the others
“I’ve lit the tandoor, come on and bake your rotis while it’s hot”
And as they all patted the round balls of flour into shape with their hands,
It looked like a silent prayer, with each bringing her hands together
In gratitude and blessing

Come August and the talk in was mangoes, raw ones to be pickled 
The huge pottery jars brought out from store rooms, washed and dried in the sun
The women planned and rode out on the auspicious day to the local ‘mandi’
Striking bargains, choosing the best plump green and tight ones
Oh the delight on their faces that day, and the rush to wash and dry them
Lest they ripen overnight, the spices ready, cleaned and accurately measured
One of the men would have got the mustard oil, freshly pressed, from the mill
In different quantities for all the families
Every ‘tenner’ saved was valued back then

Then came the man specially equipped to chop them to bite sized pieces
What a rickety wooden chopper it was, and we were in awe of his expertise
Fearing for his hands, unnecessarily, as he brought the large blade down on each mango
The messy mixing in huge metal tubs and pouring into the jars, all ready at last
Like an annual ceremony, to be eaten at every meal, each spice giving out
Its special flavour and digestive and medicinal benefits
Jubilation at having successfully pickled the ‘aachar’ that would last till next year

October was for pickling green chillies and lemons, the ladies together 
Slitting and salting each lemon and chilli, chatting up the cool weather
Thus, our lives were sorted and panned and pickled year after year
Though the advent of winter was made colourful, by collectively planning 
The sourcing of wool and Knitting needles and looking for new designs
But that story will have to be told another time.

Satbir Chadha is a recipient of the Reuel International prize for her book “For God Loves Foolish People”. Her second novel is “Betrayed, tale of a rogue surgeon”, a medical thriller. Her poems and short stories have been published in over twenty national and international anthologies. She has three poetry collections to her credit, “Breeze”, “Glass Doors”, and the recent “The Last Lamp”. She was awarded the Litpreneur Award by Authorspress for her contribution to literature. She is the founder of the NISSIM International Prize for Literature, awarded every year to upcoming writers of English prose and poetry.

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