Monday 5 September 2011


The first time I saw Laxmi, I forgot my manners and stared a few seconds too long. If I had just one word to describe my first impression of her, it would be 'peculiar'. Odd choice of adjective for the woman who was our cook.

It was the summer of 2004, and D and I had just moved to Bangalore from Kolkata. We'd unpacked ourselves into a sunny little apartment in leafy Defence Colony, and dived into busy new jobs. Then, one Sunday morning, Laxmi knocked on our door.

She was a small, frail woman, who could've been of any age; anything between 25 and 45. I still haven't a clue, and according to her, neither did she. Her face was like a collage, arranged in a hurry. An assortment of borrowed features, all fighting to have their say, much like a Cubist painting. Large, intense eyes sat on bitter-chocolate skin, the dark brown pupils obstinately meeting each other in the centre.

Her eyes were shy, but very busy. They flitted across my face, then to the far corner of the room, out of the window, to the neighbour's, then somewhere far away, and back again. I had the feeling that she had talked her arms and legs into being still for the sake of our first meeting. And had ordered her mouth into monosyllables. The only thing she couldn't quieten were her eyes. And her laugh. It was a sudden burst of sound, high-pitched and ill-timed. It came without warning, or much reason, and for a few minutes, it rearranged her eyes, nose and mouth into a slightly different collage. Another odd jumble.

I think it was Laxmi's laugh that startled me into giving her the job. On that Sunday morning, this little woman, who looked too frail to lift a frying pan, became my cook.

I soon found out that she was anything but frail, and had a personality to match. She was like the food she cooked - fiery and eccentric. Sometimes that meant coming back home to noodles that had been tortured with cumin and coriander powder and dollops of ketchup.  But when she managed to curb her need to experiment, the table would be laden with beautiful, aromatic food - lentils with curry leaves, vegetables with freshly grated coconut, a Kerala biryani, or a spicy fish curry.

But I don't remember Laxmi for the food she cooked. Her quirks were even more endearing than her cooking. I remember her big, unrestrained smiles. Her constant state of motion. The inexplicable sulks. I remember the stories she told of her family, and her feuds. A sudden, awkward hug from her thin, gangly arms. The way she cared for us so fiercely.  I remember her startling laugh. And then, her short, stoic goodbye.

We were in Bangalore for just a year. Not long at all. But long enough for my idiocyncratic cook to have stayed with me.

Laxmi's Cumin & Coriander Cabbage

This was one of Laxmi's simplest dishes. Cabbage stir-fried with cumin and coriander leaves. It's delicious, and one of the few dishes that I haven't tried 'adapting'. It's the quickest thing to toss up, and can be served up as a warm salad, as a side with grilled chicken, or with Indian flat breads like chapati.


1 cabbage, sliced in thin slivers
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 green chilli, sliced lengthwise and deseeded (optional)

1 cup chopped coriander leaves

1 1/2 tbs oil

Heat oil in a pan. When hot, lower heat to medium and add the cumin seeds. As soon as they start browning, add the cabbage, half of the coriander leaves, chilli (if using) and salt. Stir fry for 5 minutes, cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Then add the rest of the coriander leaves and stir till the cabbage is cooked but still has a bit of its crunch.


  1. You have such a beautiful way with words (and with a camera!)! Laxmi sounds like a wonderful character, and working in Bangalore sounds amazing! Emma :)

  2. this is such a beautiful post. so very very beautiful, I feel like a bucket of something rich and delicious was just been thrown at me by reading this. x

  3. Gorgeous photos!!! I always enjoy reading your posts too :)

  4. Seems like the good old cabbage uperi that we make at my mum's.

    Laxmi seems like an interesting character

    Beautiful photos and post, as usual

  5. :) Thanks Emma! Laxmi wasn't the easiest person to sketch out in words, but I great time trying. xx

  6. Leluu - your comment just made this post totally worth writing :)

  7. Thanks Chinmayie. The blog love is very mutual.

  8. I'm happy Laxmi's cabbage brought back memories of your mum's kitchen, Anita! There's really is no better place.

  9. Pia, you got me. For a moment there [a moment] I thought you'd share with us your meeting with Padma. I realized quickly she spelled her name Lakshmi instead.

    What a character your cook was! You are a gifted writer and photographer. I just love this.

  10. Jus love the way you described her... so funny yet sweet. Brought a smile to my face :) In India our domestic helps are such a huge part of our lives! everything comes to a standstill if we have to do without them for a single day... a perfect ode to all our dear maids!

  11. Annapet, you've got me grinning! Writing about Padma wouldn't be half as interesting, methinks :)

    Ah, Swati, the luxury of having help in the house, and company in the kitchen! Good days :) Glad you enjoyed 'meeting' Laxmi :)

  12. Pia,
    Found you from the comments section of Chinmayie's blog.
    You seem to be either a voracious reader or totally gifted with words. Either ways, I simply enjoyed reading your post on Laxmi.
    "Bitter Chocolate" Wow! Darker complexion was never more flattered I guess. Your choice of words are simply out of the box..

  13. Simply loved the description of your really have a way with words. It's too good!!

  14. Thanks Anamika! Great to see you here again :)


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