A throwback to long summer afternoons spent over lazy, languid meals of stacked besani rotis smothered lovingly in desi makhan, salty lassi and mangoes…
Let me take you back, on a journey to the mid-seventies when I wasn’t more than six years old. We lived in Edinburgh, Scotland, where Abu was completing his P.HD but summer would be spent in Lahore, in Wahdat Colony to be exact, where my Dada and Dadi lived. Those were the days of joint families, so my Dada and Dadi lived in a house with my younger taya and his family. In summer, we’d be a family of 12, at least. We never were just 12 though. Summer meant holidays across the country, so there were visitors, countless wanderers of all shapes and sizes, who’d be welcomed with charpoys on the roof and standing fans that would start and stop as WAPDA so desired. It was all very basic, and yet it was all so pure.
The most memorable parts of those days were the meals and then the torrential rains that visited as frequently and as loudly as the noisy relatives.
The days used to be as hot as hell. It would be so hot that you could see steam rising from the unfinished brick courtyard when water was sprinkled to cool the angry earth down. There were no ACs in Dada’s house so all kinds of thermal experiments were done to make the unbearably hot days a little tolerable.
Meat was a luxury that was allowed, but not too often. But those meals, those finger-licking vegetarian meals, were more memorable than any feast today. Dadi used to make besni rotis, constructed from scratch with ground channa daal. The dough was knead with onions and anar danas and hari mirchis and then made into dry rotis that would then be smothered in desi, white makhan.
Accompanied by just a chutney, these rotis would be churned out by the dozen, like newspapers in a printing press, and it would be a meal fit for a king. Topped off by jugs of frothy namkeen lassi and mangoes chilling on a bed of ice, the feast would eventually nudge everyone into a state of inertia. I don’t remember anyone working too hard back then, though they must be working for those rotis and mangoes to keep coming.
Those hot summer afternoons, serenaded by the friendly neighborhood koel, were incomplete without naps. The central living room in the house had one desert cooler, a contraption lined with straw and an uncomplicated mechanism that turned the fan inside it, into a mist fan.
One of the boys would go and water the straw on the outside of the cooler, and then fill it to its capacity inside, and once the powerful fan was turned on, it would draw in cool air. That air was like wine, if cool air could intoxicate, because it drew everyone in its spell.
The family emerged when it was tea time, for chai in the verandah, under the summer sky and setting sun and rumbling clouds that would bring rain at night…