Grandma is not addicted to her paan. (betel leaf)
It’s only those time-stops-still afternoons, once, maybe twice a month, when her friends gather in our courtyard, that Grandma doesn’t mind indulging in a paan or two.
On one such occasion, when Grandma had torn a tiny bit from a paan leaf and handed it over to me, I, in frenzied eagerness, had popped it in my mouth in a flash only to have an irresistible desire to spit it out a few seconds later.
I loathed the taste.
Grownups are funny, I was convinced, clueless on what could ever defend such an elaborate ritual to prepare paan.
I hear Didi reminding Manikkaka as he heads to the bazaar this mellow morning to get paan leaves.
Don’t forget Manikda. Ginnimaa’s (Didi referred to Grandma as Ginnimaa) friends are coming home this afternoon.
The gorgeous green paan leaves come home.
Didi, as punctilious as Grandma when it comes to chores, scrutinizes the leaves one by one. For that odd blemish. A careless tear. Or just a natural imperfection.
Manikda you don’t seem to have examined the leaves. Always in a rush. Wait for Ginnimaa to see how many leaves have had to be discarded. She shall be livid.
I am sure Manikkaka can hear Didi. He doesn’t respond though. Silence is his strength.
The carefully chosen and fussed over leaves are given a luxuriant soak in cold water, in Grandma’s brass bucket that stands by the well in the courtyard, glistening proudly in the sun, then pat dried and left to rest under a damp red cloth.
Away from the cruel gaze of the midday sun.
Each leaf is slathered with what Didi tells me is lime. A slurry white liquid that Manikkaka has got from the market.
The green leaves get a white makeover, I chuckle.
Grandmas heirloom betel-nut cutter, a pompous peacock with a stunning plume, cracks the rock-hard betel nuts into halves and then the halves reduce, just as effortlessly, to quarters.
Looks can be deceptive, I conclude, as the polished blade of the pretty betel-nut cutter, cruel and ominous, continues to decimate the now-fatigued army of betel nuts.
Now comes the array of spices.
Green and black cardamom. Pummeled to coarse dust in the ancient mortar.
Fennel seeds. Even the candied version, the ones that come in transparent sachets in a rainbow of brilliant colours, that Manikkaka sometimes gets home for Dada and me. If we have not been naughty, that is.
And did I notice peppermint too ?
The fuss continues.
Finally a lavish dollop of gulkand.
The moment I have been patiently waiting for.
Didi smiles and places a generous blob on my outstretched palm.
I lick my palm. Relishing every morsel.
The divine fragrance of roses sends my olfactory nerves into ecstasy.
These moments come racing back as I stir my pot of milk this afternoon in preparation of Gulkand ki Rabri.
I hold up the container of gulkand to my nose, close my eyes and take a deep breath.
That smell. That unmistakable scent of roses.
Nostalgia. Sweet nostalgia.
Gulkand ki Rabri. Languorously boiled milk. The sweet fragrance of gulkand. The decadence of rose water. Chilled.
If this is not food of the Gods, what is ?
If you haven’t yet planned what dessert to cheer up your Holi with, my Gulkand ki Rabri is just the panacea you need !!!
Gulkand Ki Rabri (Milk Pudding with Rose Petal Jam)
- 1.5 lit milk
- 2 tbsp condensed milk
- 2 tbsp gulkand
- 2 tsp rose water
- dry rose petals for decoration
- Pour the milk into a heavy bottomed saucepan and allow it to simmer over a low flame.
- Every 4-5 minutes or so, gently push the malai (cream on the surface of the milk) towards the sides of the vessel with the back of your ladle. Continue till the milk has reduced to less than half its volume.
- Gently scrape the sides of the pan, fold the milk solids collected on the sides of the pan into the milk. Mix well.
- Now add in the condensed milk and gulkand. Give it a hearty stir, if you like it sweeter, feel free to indulge - add some more condensed milk !! Cook over low flame for 5-7 minutes.
- Add the rose water and switch off the flame.
- Refrigerate for 2-3 hours. Garnish with dry rose petals and serve chilled.