Vibrant traditions


My husband and I are walking down a crowded street in Bengaluru, India. It is late in the afternoon, and the sun’s rays form net-like patterns on the pavement and the road.

Hundreds of small shops line both sides of the street. The shopkeepers and street hawkers are doing brisk business.

We need to stock up on cotton wicks (for our lamps), incense sticks, and a few other items. There are four shops that cater to our needs. They are all adjacent to each other, for they know that if we do not get what we want from the first shop, we will head to the next.

All four shopkeepers nod, and welcome us enthusiastically. We stop at the first shop. As I place my order, I am transfixed by the display of turmeric powder and kumkum (the red powder used for the Bindis that Indian women wear on their foreheads).

Art and Science are both at work here. The shopkeeper has painstakingly created mounds of these powders, by compacting them. They look so vibrant and colourful. The shopkeeper has planned this with precision. Just the right amount of powder to maintain the balance and prevent it from collapsing all around.

I ask him if I can take pictures. He obliges. I ask him, how he manages to take out powder from these mounds, if a customer wants to buy some!

He shows me how; I watch with bated breath. He does it with the ease of a seasoned professional. This is his turf and he smiles at my surprised look.

He packs our wicks and incense sticks. Deep from the recesses of his shop, a little boy comes running out. Presumably his son.

Family businesses that have been around for generations, carrying on the traditions of their forefathers. Selling simple, everyday things with so much creativity and beauty.

Wisdom from 150 Beans!


I am flipping the pages of one of my handwritten recipe books. The book is yellowed – with both age and stains from the kitchen; from having balanced the book near the cooking pot or from having turned the pages with hands coated with dough or turmeric powder or a hundred other ingredients.

Against each recipe is a small note in my handwriting, which rates how the recipe turned out.

This book has recipes from my grandma, my mom, my mother in law and my dad’s sister.

Today, I can stand in front of the stove, and estimate the quantities of ingredients mentally, I can gauge by the aroma, if all is well. Skills that have been acquired over many years.

But there was a time when I was a novice cook, navigating the world of recipes with precise measurements and quantities. Life in the kitchen revolved more around the science of cooking rather than its creative side. My tools were a set of measuring bowls and spoons.

I remember one evening, when we had a potluck dinner with our friends. I had to prepare a vegetable side dish for around 40 people.

I used this very same recipe book then. However, I had scrawled down the ingredients and quantities, but had not written down how many people the recipe could serve.

Then began the complicated math. The recipe said 2 carrots, 15 French Beans, 3 tomatoes, 1 onion and so on. To me this seemed like the quantity for around 4 to 5 people.

Being an expert at the math of cooking, I multiplied the quantities by 10 to serve 40 people. When I wrote my new quantities down, the 150 beans seemed out of place………..and thus it began – my journey towards learning that cooking is more about intuition, and less about precise quantities.

Courtesy – http://www.123rf.com

It has taken me many years and many errors to get here. There have been times that the dishes looked good but tasted anything but! Then again, there were dishes that crumbled, but tasted delicious.

It has been a long and enjoyable journey. Today, as I stand in front of the stove, I add salt and spice with practiced ease, I can see and tell, smell and diagnose what is right or wrong. I am a better judge of quantities.

After all, it is the wisdom acquired from 150 beans.