Every summer, Didumoni would arrive from Muzaffarpur. To spend time with her grand daughter – the 12-year-old Khukumoni. The young Khuku studied in an elite boarding school in the hills and would come home for her summer vacations from May to June every year.
Didumoni would bring jhola-fuls of Shahi Litchi, Langra Aam, ripe Kanthal, dark, plump Jaam, sackfuls of rice and dal and gawa ghee and other seasonal homegrown fruits and vegetables for Khuku and her parents, Didumoni’s daughter and son-in-law.
Dadu always stayed back to take care of his barristery work. He would however send his old navy blue Aston Martin with red leather seats and his young wife of 58, the two most precious things of his life on a road journey with his most trusted Dhanushdhari Singh to Patna.
In June, Patna would be hot. A strong, hot, arid wind would blow all day making it impossible for humans and animals to be out when the sun was shining. The brave ones who ventured out would have their faces covered with a gamcha drenched in water. Others stayed indoors enjoying the cool breeze of their khus and mogra-scented air coolers. And some others spent their afternoon in the kitchen! Just like Didumoni.
Even in the scorching heat of 40 degrees, Didumoni and the young help of the house – Beenapani spent hours in the large kitchen making goodies for the family. Didumoni knew her time at her daughter’s home was limited to the one-month she spent with them every summer. She wanted to make the most of it. She wanted to make all of what she had learnt from her Mother and Thakuma.
When Didumoni came to Patna, gas stove cooking would stop. The clay unoon would flare up, and Beenapani would fan it with all her vigor with the haathpakha to make the embers go leaping like an untamed adolescent.
One late afternoon, Didumoni and Beenapani were busy slowly cooking the creamy milk to make kheer. It was a cooler day today and they kept the windows of the kitchen and bhandar ghar open for some ventilation.
Lucy, the family dog, whose pedigree no one knew or talked about lay on her back outside the kitchen. Her legs looking up as if asking the heavens to shower her with Didu’s kheer!
Beenapani was meticulously following Didu’s instructions and gently rolling the oranges between her palms to loosen the segments inside. Then, with deft fingers, she peeled each fruit to expose the juicy, delicious wedges. She was further instructed to remove the thin, white membranes off each wedge of orange and gently keep each piece of flesh in a bowl.
That, Didu said would complete the kamala kheer she was making for Khukumoni.
Just when Didu was finishing up ladling her kheer in a rekabi to go into the fridge, she heard a gentle yet sprightly whistling sound. Someone was standing by the bhandar ghor window and whistling!
The whistling sound was soon followed by a very familiar sound. A slight hiss made when someone disposes their liquid on a wall! Someone was relieving himself by the window!
This got Didu furious. She plucked the jug full of water from the floor and splashed it from the kitchen window, aiming towards the whistling visitor.
Clearly, the intruder was taken by surprise and let a startled squeal, which got drowned by Lucy’s full throated barking.
Meanwhile, Beenapani who did not want to be left out, stretched her arms out of the bhandar window and threw some orange peels and seeds at the hapless human with the gamcha around his neck who had succumbed to a full bladder.
Didu muttered a couple of chaste syntactic beep words in Bengali and cursed the dhuti-wala man who was taking a leak by their window.
Beenapani thought this would teach the man a lesson and continued to praise Didu and tell her how clever she was to splash him with water.
Just then the sharp bell of the door at the entrance of the garden rang. Beenapani and Lucy sprang in action and went running to the door.
There was Masterji, Khukumoni’s Hindi tuition teacher walking in with his rickety bicycle, his wet gamcha lying limp on the handlebars of his rickety Atlas cycle. His head heavy and chin drooping. His limp, wet tiki lay curled on the crown of his bald head.
Beenapani realized who the intruder by the window was and quietly tip-toed away to Didu. She whispered her great discovery with bouts of giggle in Didu’s ears. Didu was nodding her head and suppressing a laugh all at the same time.
Didu bit her tongue and winked at Lucy. Lucy let out a boisterous, long yawn and returned to doing what she did best - sleep.
Later, Didu asked Beenapani to take a bowl of chilled Kheer Kamala to the study for the Hindi teacher Masterji. That should work as a peace offering. After all, teachers are incarnations of Gods. A bowl of cold thickened and flavored milk and fresh, juicy oranges should re-ignite a damp ego and get that floppy tiki spring back up with pride.
Ingredients for Kheer Kamala are:
1 liter half and half
2-3 oranges, peeled and each section cleaned off the white membranes/threads, and opened up to expose the edible flesh
5-6 drops of orange essence
1 heaped tablespoon of zest of orange
Sugar to taste
Slow cook the half and half till it reduces to a thick, creamy consistency. It usually takes about an hour of cooking on very low heat and stirring continuously to get to the kheer consistency.
Midway of the cooking process, add the zest of orange and the orange essence. Keep stirring continuously and scrape any thickened milk and cream from the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat off and stir in sugar to taste. Let the kheer cool off. Chill for a few hours.
Gently fold in the sweet, juicy pieces of orange into the chilled kheer and serve. Your Kheer Kamala is that simple. But you’d agree, most precious things are simple. Just like our own grandmothers.