Wednesday 27 March 2013

Drift off into the late

It's been an oddball week.

Large snowflakes drifted past our window; the joke's on you, Spring. Chotto-Ma's skin was burning hot, her fever left us all yesterday. The snow too melted yesterday.  I have a good feeling about the long weekend, unless I'm run over by an Easter Bunny.

Amidst insolent snow, and strips of wet cloth to calm a fever, a few good things slipped in still:

I read some William Trevor. His stories are so warm and wise, they never fail me. They walk and waltz from irreverence to scathing humour to quiet despair, but lightly like snow. That's what his stories are like - frozen, splintered flakes falling on your eyes and nose, each one a different pattern, each one melting at a touch.

The book has his portrait on the cover; his face is kind, and crumpled like an unmade bed. It made me want to  take out my pencils and sketch; I haven't sketched in years, but I thought I'd try.

Chotto-Ma saw me drawing, and got herself a sheet of paper. Her William Trevor took all of  six seconds, and one, cursory glance at the book cover.

This week, D took out his guitar, and played after a long time. One of my strongest and first memories of our time together, is of D playing the guitar, and me sitting on his old, single bed hugging my knees and swaying to the music. That was seventeen years ago, but it feels just the same. Last night, he sat on the bed and played, and he played me to sleep. There isn't a better way to drift off into the late.

Apart from that, we ate well to make up for dying daffodils and a lack of Spring. I cooked Biryani, which is a slow-cooked pot of lamb (or chicken), potatoes and long-grained rice. It smells of saffron, rose water and spices dealt with a gentle hand. There are many versions of this dish, and in different parts of India, Biryani takes on a different avatar, much like its gods. But in Calcutta, the version that's worshipped comes from the Nawabs of Lucknow. It's a subtler Biryani with pale strands of rice flecked with the gold from the saffron, and not a fried onion in sight.

I made Malpoa too. Bengali Malpoa, with a touch of aniseed. Some we ate crisp and hot, the rest we dipped in a light sugar syrup and left to soak. It's my favourite sweet in the whole world.

I'll write recipes another day. It's time to pick up a little girl from Nursery. Sweet 'spring', happy Holi, and a lovely Easter weekend to you all.

Sunday 17 March 2013

My purple-time person

Old ladies have a thing for purple. I don't know whether it's just old English ladies; I think it might be. I noticed it when we first moved here. There'd be soft white hair tucked into a purple hat, the hat matched with a purple skirt. There'd be a purple raincoat with a purple-handled walking stick. A purple bag, purple socks. And not the quiet kind of purple, either. It always made me smile.

A few days ago, I read this poem, and it made me smile too. I read the first line, and I thought - I was right! It's a fact, like belly-buttons are a fact: when you become old, and English, you wear purple. After an entire lifetime of benign greys and polite browns, something rips out of them in purple song. Look, I'm here, and don't you dare think I'm done, they say. It's the way the sky turns purple just before the day ends. Twilights.

This poem is for D, I called him at work to read it out to him. But then, he's my purple-time person. My purple-time, every-time, my in-between-time person.

There's a recipe too at the end. Only because I happened to cook this good, spicy aubergine, and aubergine's purple too. It matches the poem, and it matches the lovely old ladies who make me smile.

The poem first:

by Jenny Joseph
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.