Making mustard paste at home was an elaborate ritual. Grandma, an accomplished cook with an obsessive penchant for perfection, would personally supervise the proceedings.
Didi, Grandma’s shadow in the kitchen, had been doing this chore for as long as my memory goes, yet Grandma savoured superintending every step.
And especially this morning when she wanted mustard paste for her favorite begun basanti.
Did you add both yellow and black mustard seeds ? Grandma asks Didi.
Didi nods in approval.
Was the mustard soaked in warm water for long enough ?
And, did you remember to add the green chillies, the ones I had set aside for the mustard ?
Didi maintains her reticence, she loves Grandma and her fuss, she even knows what query Grandma would have next.
And a pinch of turmeric ? I hate my mustard paste to look anaemic.
What about a couple of grains of rice ? The last thing you would want is your mustard paste to be bitter and spoil the whole dish.
Didi smiles, the questions, even the sequence, haven’t altered even a tiny bit in the last decade.
Enter the ancient sheel, the Grand Old Dame of the kitchen, pampered silly, a flat grinding stone that Grandma proudly claims has been in the household even before she came in to the family as a bride. Every so many months, a man in a battered bicycle carrying a clumsy satchel comes over to etch a fresh set of inscriptions on the sheel, usually disciplined rows of dots, but a couple of times, when I tiptoed to the kitchen later in the evening to have a closer look at the refurbished sheel, I did spot fishes, with listless stone eyes and adeptly engraved scales. And once a proud peacock as well.
The nora, the inseparable sidekick of the sheel, a stone rolling pin of sorts, is deadly, it is he who moves up and down the sheel, bludgeoning unwitting subjects to an unrecognisable pulp.
Didi gives the sheel a wash, places the mustard near about the center, draws the nora to the end nearer to her and begins her deadly demolition drive. Up and down. Up and down. She pummels the distraught mustard. The vanquished mustard starts breaking down, the chillies have already been battered. Didi continues with ever more disdainful ferocity, splashing some water occasionally, dragging the nora to the further end of the sheel and dragging it back with an even more monstrous vengeance. Before long the yellow and black mustard armies lie conquered, reduced to a gorgeous yellow paste. With flecks of green. (Memories of the chillies, I chuckle)
Didi looks up at Grandma, she stoops down to have a patient closer look, a benign smile of satisfaction gradually grows on her face, Didi knows she has passed her test.
Grandma moves on to her begun basanti.
As I blitz my mustard this morning in an electric blender, in preparation of begun basanti, another of Grandmas delectable recipes, I can’t help but imagine a disapproving frown on her face from the heavens above 🙂