A Gujarati lady (let’s call her Geeta Ben) comes in and helps me with the cooking once in a while. She talks in what she thinks is Hindi and I do the same. I think my Hindi is better though. I told her to use very little oil and no sugar in her dishes. The ‘No sugar’ was a bit of a blow to her, but she bore it stoically, shook her head and added a disclaimer that she was not sure how the dishes would turn out without sugar and very little oil. She tried anyway. They turned out to be fabulous.
The usual fare is some chappatis, a few aloo parathas for the daughter and a side dish or two. I don’t think our conversations can bear any more than that.
A sample of our conversation is presented for your reference:
Once our small talk is complete Geeta Ben asks for “Aadu” (‘Aadu’ in Tamil means ‘goat’ incidentally. I can be pretty sharp when I want to and rule out the possibility of Geeta Ben asking for a goat to make a vegetarian dinner. )
“Haan aadhu – soonth na adhu”
Apart from the “Haan”, the rest pretty much washed over me. I try to clear my fuzzy brain by guessing that she has the chillies, she has the garlic, it must be ginger that she is asking for and say “You mean Adhrak?” Years of fantasizing about ‘Adhrak Chai’ leave me in no doubt that Adhrak is ginger. But Geeta Ben disagrees.
“Na – aadhu – aaisa” and she mimes a ginger for me.
I’ve played dumb-charades in my time. (I can’t say I am stellar, but I manage. I have some blogs on Dumb-C that I will have to get to one day), but I have to admit ‘Ginger’ would have had me stumped. How do you enact a piece of Ginger for the audience? Yet Geeta Ben doesn’t flinch. She gives off a performance of a carrot, but I reach for the ginger anyway. She congratulates me on my quick wit (in Gujarati) and I beam. She could well be calling me a dumb ass but she would not do that. Geeta Ben is too sweet for that – she has an innocence about her that makes it hard for people of her caliber to call people dumb-asses.
And so it goes: Geeta Ben gets her laugh; we get tasty food.
Some friends of ours had come to stay with us for a few days and it so happened that Geeta Ben wanted to come in at a time we were not sure we would be home. But our friends(Mr and Mrs Friend) said they would be home then and off we all went after telling Geeta Ben to hop on over. I could have told her that my friends would be home, but I did not want to risk saying something like that on the phone. Once before I got chatty on the phone with her and she thought she was not supposed to come and went off to the Temple. So, Geeta Ben knocked and my friend opened the door. Poor Geeta Ben’s smile went halfway through and then recognition hit. Her smile froze when Mrs Friend welcomed her into the house. She first tried peering past her to see if she had the right house. The decor seemed to indicate the right house. She asked her, “Shoma Ben?” Mrs friend assured her it was my house and welcomed her once again.
Poor Geeta Ben took a few steps into the house and stopped hard in her tracks. See, she could take a friend opening the door, but she hadn’t really bargained for the next scene. There was Mr Friend lounging around on the sofa with a glazed look on his face in his banian. Mr Friend was working, and when working, he dons a look that stumps the best of us. It knocked the wind out of Geeta Ben. She ran past him into the kitchen and took refuge in her work. Just when Geeta Ben put her mind to rest and started off with the dishes, Mrs Friend conveyed my request to make Mooli Parathas(radish parathas).
“Nahin aloo na aloo”
“No – aloo nahin – mooli paratha”
“Magar mien Aloe paratha hee banathee hewn”, (I always make aloo parathas) says Geeta Ben making round ball like movements with hands – falling to her time-tested habit of miming potatoes when in the presence of the weak Hindied. The miming catches on and Mrs Friend tries miming a radish.
It was during the radish vs potato miming competition that the husband walked in and Geeta Ben breathed again. At least she was in the right house. She knows better than to ask for clarifications to the husband in Hindi. An encounter in Hindi with the husband is not for the weak of heart. She makes a brave face that all is not lost in the house and Radishes or Potatoes, Mr & Mrs Friend or no, she will make what she is told before the husband starts explaining in Hindi.
She almost hugged me when I came into the kitchen and half apologetically asked me whether Mooli parathas was what I conveyed. I nodded and her heart resumed beating at a normal speed again. Bless Geeta Ben!