Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What Katy Did

There was a box at home that was slowly disintegrating. It held pottery that my mother in law had excavated even before I was born. As I sat sorting through the beautiful painted sherds of Harappan pottery, packing it anew, I missed her all over again. It will be two years since she has gone and there is so much to miss...

Katy Dalal with her two daughters in law (Farah and Myself) and her daughter Freny

One individual and so many personae! The wife, the mother, the boss, the caterer, the archaeologist, the bookworm, the mother in law, the friend, the teacher, the daughter, the did she fit it all into one lifetime? She just went ahead and did.

I first met Katy Dalal in St. Xavier's College, Mumbai. She was to teach three papers in my TYBA course. She was the most generous teacher I have ever met. She Xeroxed entire books and distributed them to every student in the class. She took class in the college canteen and plied us with tea and samosas as she explained Indian Philosophy. She took class with three of us students at the Rangoli at the NCPA once. We were fed a sumptuous lunch and then she insisted on giving us taxi fare to go home, all the way to Andheri! This was just before the TYBA final examinations and she didn't want us to waste time waiting for buses and trains. We were welcome to go over to her house whenever we needed to, in case we needed help with any of the papers, even the ones she wasn't teaching us. Such was her love for teaching...and her son Kurush is just the same. How could he not be!

Katy studied archaeology at the Deccan College in Pune and did her PhD under the guidance of Prof. V.N. Mishra. Many years later Kurush went to the same college and also earned his PhD degree. Prof. Mishra was his guide too.

Armed with a thorough grounding in History and Archaeology Katy returned to Mumbai but found that there were no suitable jobs. Though acutely disappointed she wasn't one to sit around moping. She saw opportunity and grabbed it. What started as a favour to a family friend soon grew into a Parsi Catering service of great repute. There was a time when she ran the kitchens at the Free Masons Hall and the Ripon Club simultaneously while  catering private parties and sending daily tiffins to peoples' houses and offices at the same time. She was also bringing up three kids alone as her husband was away at sea. In the later years she also taught at a few colleges in Mumbai, whenever the opportunity arose. The older members of the staff say "bai kab sotatha malum nahi".

Lunch with Katy in Lonavala :)

Once Kurush came back to Mumbai with his PhD completed she said she's had enough, the business was all his. She sat back, always keeping an eye on what he was doing, and settled down to fulfil yet another dream - write a cookbook. The first book, Jamva Chaloji, was a runaway success and she went on to write five more.

She was a very sensible and practical woman and when Kurush and I decided to marry, she made space for us to have our own home, separate from her household. We were just upstairs, at hand when required, but still independent. She loved her children to bits but she was mature enough not to cling to them and strangle them with her love.

In the early days I worked alongside Kurush helping him with the catering business. The 'glamour' of being in the food business had always attracted me but now I got to see the dogged hard work, day after day, that went into producing flawless, well presented food every time. I learned to pay attention to detail from Katy. Go straighten those napkins, arrange the serving spoons properly, taste everything before it is put on the counter, why does that waiter not have a bow-tie...the list was endless but that's what made all the difference.

As we got used to each other Katy and I became friends. In 2007 I started writing professionally. After a couple of starter jobs I got the chance to work freelance for a company based in the UK. The money was excellent and I loved the work I was doing. No one was prouder of my achievement than Katy. She would always scold Kurush "don't waste her money buying silly things. She is working hard, save it!" All of us know the joy of indulging others with money you have earned yourself..Your first pay check - the saree you buy for Mom, the iPod you buy for yourself... I took Katy shopping and we had such a blast! Though she did scold me for 'wasting' money she was thrilled. And very proud of her daughter in law.

Katy blessing Kurush and me 

Katy was addicted to romance novels. If you happened to drop by to meet her you would always find her with a pile of Mills & Boons nearby. On one birthday, her husband Feroze bought her as many Mills & Boons as her age that year. Yes, she was a spoiled wife and she was worth the spoiling!  She was always happy to share her books with me and would even tell me 'this one is quite spicy!' with a twinkle in her eye! She and I shared a great love for Georgette Heyer and once I discovered other historical romance authors, half the joy in buying their books was in sharing them with Katy. That is something I keenly miss today.

Her love for romance and for history led her to start writing a romance novel set in India at the time of the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Her heroine was a Parsi girl. Katy was in her element! She was so taken up by the history of the Mutiny that she delved deeper and deeper, forgetting her novel and just enjoying the research and all the little unknown facts she unearthed. She would carry her notes and her books in and out of the hospitals too - she was never too ill to read, to research and to learn. She didn't finish that novel but finishing it wasn't the point.

Katy with Kurush at our wedding

Katy lives on in her children and her grand children. And she lives on in me too. I like to believe that.

You can read a few things her friends and family have said about Katy here and here.


Saee Koranne-Khandekar said...

Almost had a lump in my throat as I read through this--she really sounds like such a gem. I would have loved to meet her. Having eaten food catered by Dalal Enterprises, I must say her obsession with perfections shines through and all the credit goes to you and Kurush for making sure it does. I'm sure she's looking down at both of you with great pride. Big hug to you both.

Pinku said...


have read a lot many posts about parents, grand parents and family. This is the first post on a mom in law that shows so much respect and love.

Am sure Katy was a person who well deserved the praise you have heaped and more.

Hats off to both of you.

Sunshinemom said...

A lovely, honest, touching ode, Rhea! I would have loved to meet her. I see she has passed on her love to both of you and like Saee says, I am sure she is beaming with pride!

Riffs and Rants said...

Loved it as u did ur ma :)
Cheers to her and the life she lived

Shireen said...

Lovely write up Rhea. You have truly brought out the beautiful & meaningful relationship you shared with your mum in law. I have been a huge fan of her cook book on Biryanis but have never known that she was such a multifaceted person as well until now. People like her truly enrich lives and I can see that she has done that in more ways than one to yours. I didn't know her personally although I would have loved a chance to meet her. God just blessed the world with such a lovely person!

raiyomand said...

Rhea, you brought tears to my eyes! Yes, people we love live on forever in our memories, and remain a part of our life forever. We think of Katy Aunty often and miss her presence. Your narrative was simple honest and all heart. A big hug to you

Arundhuti said...

Loved the way you have described your relationship with ur ma in law...something rare these days..u both are lucky ladies to have had each other.

ruttonk said...

I thought she was a Anthropologist, She would supply her tiffins to my house when my mother had cancer and I would go over every month to pay the bills. I remember a long conversation I had with her on Inter-marraige in the parsi Community and throwing open the doors to even conversion. She was always a liberal at heart but had this very important take on the matter. she told me that over hundreds of years several races had come to India, they had come from Europe and Africa and Central Asia, and mostly to escape persecution , a situation quite similar to the Parsees, but just a few hundred years later there was no trace of these races at all, they were all gobbled up by the great melting pot that is Hinduism. And such a situation could easily have happened to the parsees as well if it were not for our rigid laws. And today there would be no trace of the Parsees as well. Dont get me wrong Katy dalal was a liberal and a very kind hearted woman , but then she had her facts, I suppose there is Ying and yang in Everything in Life

Kurush F Dalal said...


that's wishful thinking ... 60% of our (Parsi) mitochondrial DNA is of the Gujrati kind. send me an email id if u want the full paper :)

we did what the times required now we need to innovate. mum was a liberal but a traditionalist too ... she was one of the few Parsis i know that could straddle both sides of the debate in a rational manner ... balancing tradition with survival and taking into consideration the time we live in.

thank u for your kind words ... she touched many a life and its good too have evidence of the same ... Ushta te.

ms said...

This is such a lovely portrait of a grande old dame.

Unknown said...

Rhea so beautifully written. I had tears in my eyes reading through this. Out of curiosity did you meet Kurush when you were in her class?
Oh Do tell that story too.
Also I want to try your food soon.

Unknown said...

so beautifully you have captured the essence of Katy aunty. I actually felt like I know her, after reading your post.
And I didn't know that she was your teacher :)
Your blog is rocking :-)
Have a lovely day,

Unknown said...

I am a caterer in NYC and my first job was catering my own wedding with my new husband who was already a chef. Our relationship has continued to be centered around our passion for food. 29 years later we still love and respect each other - and still have our passion for food and catering. Your story was touching and lovely.

I too would have loved to have met Katy but felt like I did through your story. I hope she passed on her family based traditional recipes. Did you ever get a chance to make any tapes of her cooking and such? I wish I had done this with my grandmother - although I do have some of her baking recipes which I cherish.

Are you also working in the catering business with your husband? Would love to exchange stories and such. We have a mutual friend on FB - Anamika Singh - I will send you a friend request.

sailaja said...

You are fortunate to share a wonderful relationship with your mother-in-law. She comes across as a very warm, affectionate and humble person. The length she would go to help her students speaks volumes of the kind of human being she was. A heart touching ode indeed, Rhea. Btw, love your blog and art work.

k said...

The post was so good I felt like Katy was holding my hand and telling me her story