Monday, January 29, 2018

Mangsho'r Jhol, Pound Cake, and Moni

It's Moni's birthday today. The first one after her death and it feels strange. A year has gone by marking the first this and the first that after she's been gone and in a couple of weeks it will be her first death anniversary too. Yes, a year has passed as years inevitably do. And we are figuring out what to do to mark the date.

She specified very strongly that there were to be no rituals. No rituals at the funeral, no observance of 'ashauchh' or the immediate days of ritual mourning, no Shraadh on the 13th day. While we followed her wishes to the letter it left me feeling a little lost, rudderless and even deprived...

We scoff at rituals, deem them meaningless, a show, a waste, and very often they are just that. But sometimes the rituals are an anchor, something to hold on to, something to focus on as you grieve, as you accept change, especially as you accept death. Maybe they were designed to simply keep the mind occupied; the rules told you what to do so you went the through the days mechanically without having to engage your mind wondering what to do, thinking about what to cook/eat, what to wear, etc. And then, after a reasonable period of time you have a ceremony where family gathers and you formally end the mourning period. And limp back to life because life goes on regardless.

And so here we are again with no rituals to cling to, to show us the way. Instead we have to make up our own and get through the days.

Mothers are usually the person we learn cooking from and I learned from Moni. The first thing I learned from her (apart from prepping the pressure cooker with washed daal and rice put neatly in the separator containers) was a basic pound cake.

It was a random afternoon and post lunch I was bored. She was in bed enjoying a Mills and Boon. To get me out of her hair so she could read in peace she set me baking a cake. Since she always make a double batch (my brother could, and often would, devour an entire pound cake on his own while reading his comics or a Loius L'Amour novel) I was doing the same. I went back and forth from the kitchen to her bedroom getting the recipe in installments and showing her what I was doing.

Ingredients were carefully measured, brown paper packets were cut to line the bottoms of the cake tins, the oven was set to preheat, and I proudly mixed the batter using Moni's precious Kenwood stand mixer. Eventually the batter was ready, the cakes were in the oven and I waited quite impatiently for the fruits of my labour. Finally they were out, and then cooled enough to be cut.

Oh NO! My cakes were thick and fudgy instead of being beautifully light and spongy. I was heartbroken and Moni was not amused at the monumental waste of all those ingredients. As usual I got a solid scolding for not paying attention to her instructions. In tears, I went through her instructions again and that's when we realised she'd only said three eggs instead of doubling them to six! My father had a hearty laugh and all he had to say was - this is what happens when you have your nose buried in those blessed Mills and Boons! Of course, Moni insisted she'd said six and not three eggs...

While Moni wasn't particularly fond of cooking she was ironically, a fantastic cook. Whenever we had friends over she'd make mangsho'r jhol and it eventually became her signature dish and we couldn't envision a get together without her making mangsho'r jhol. Every visit home to Kolkata involved demands of mangsho'r jhol to be kept ready for me to dig into as soon as I stepped into the house. The brother's demand was the same. Make mangsho'r jhol. And make cake.

So on that first anniversary I will make mangsho'r jhol, and cake. I can't think of a better ritual. 


Kurush F Dalal said...

She was cantankerous and crotchety, she was gwumpy as hell, but she was a fab ccok, a great conversationalist, and when she made an effort a lovely person, RIP MA Thakrun.

Unknown said...

Tell me these days who writes few...can count them on fingers! I think we all have mothers, daughters and sons with their respective nuance. But still we love them to the core. I think your mother strikes me as a significant personality if age no bar she can still be an indigenous fan of Mills & boons then what else you could expect out of her. I still love those days when I used to read them I think I should start reading them again.
I think there couldnt be a better way to celebrate a birthday, mangshor johl and cake it is.

Cheers to Thaku Maa