The shrill of the telephone bell punctuates the serene tranquil of a mist-laced autumn-melting-into-winter morning.
Grandma is on her rocking chair, Maa is engrossed in the morning daily, Manikkaka has just returned from the baajar and now relishing his glass of sweetened milk tea, Didi’s adept hands maneuver the ominous bnoti as she peels and chops vegetables before placing them in bowls of water.
It is an understatement that Grandma is supremely fastidious about how vegetables are prepared. She’s obsessed with her theory that unless vegetables and greens are chopped just the right way, the dish doesn’t taste the same.
Maa hurries to answer the telephone.
Who is it, I wonder, calling at this hour.
The smile that lights up Maa’s countenance almost instantaneously is enough to indicate that it’s Mashi on the other end.
I stand behind the pillar, trying hard to eavesdrop.
It doesn’t take long to decipher that Mesho shall be visiting our town for work and our little cousin, all of six and a bag of mischief, shall be accompanying him. He’ll be staying with us for the next week or so. And they arrive the same evening.
I am elated.
Dada and I sketch a comprehensive plan of how to pamper the brat that he is.
Take him to the lake, the migratory birds have arrived.
We need to show him those cute owlets, perpetually asleep, hidden in the gnarled guava tree, I make a mental note.
Teach him to fly kites ?
Has he learnt to cycle yet ?
Would he enjoy a game of cricket ?
Or try his skills at football with the elder lads ?
Do water-colours excite him ?
The list grows.
Meanwhile Maa too starts planning how to spoil her beloved nephew.
But Maa, I hear her complaining to Grandma, he has a staunch dislike for vegetables. Any vegetable.
I am sure he likes something, Grandma challenges with a smile.
Maa shakes her head in denial. Potatoes only. And I am told he is capable of kicking up nasty tantrums when coaxed to try anything else.
Cook your keemar labra bouma, Grandma advises, I am sure even one who dislikes vegetables cannot refuse your labra.
Maa nods in agreement.
And Maa cooks a delectable keemar labra for dinner. Mutton mince cooked with a melange of winter vegetables.
He doesn’t even notice the vegetables and imagine our surprise when he even asks Maa for a second helping.
Did you like it ? Maa asks once he is done, patting his hair.
It was finger-licking delicious, he acknowledges, it’s never so good at home.
Maa looks at Grandma.
Her ploy had worked.
Keemar Labra. Mutton mince stewed with an assortment of winter vegetables. The aroma of whole spices. A whiff of roasted cumin powder. The fire of green chillies.
Perfect when the mercury has just started to dip. Warm and fulfilling.