Castles in the air - they are so easy to take refuge in. And so easy to build, too.

आम्हां घरी धन शब्दांचीच रत्नें | शब्दांचीच शस्त्रें यत्न करुं ||
शब्द चि आमुच्या जीवांचे जीवन | शब्दें वांटूं धन जनलोकां ||
तुका म्हणे पाहा शब्द चि हा देव | शब्द चि गौरव पूजा करुं ||
- abhang of Tukaram Wolhoba Ambile of Dehu

There's No Freedom Like That of a Child's Imagination

கடலுக்கு உண்டு கற்பனைக்கு இல்லை கட்டுப்பாடு

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Eriseri Exultation

It all began with a discussion about lunch. Saturday morning had come to a close, my work at school was done, and hungry stomachs were forcing their respective brains to consider lunch. Shirish Ma'am offered to get me a sandwich, to last me till I got home. She herself had no plans, for she had had a heavy breakfast. And Sukanya ma'am was going home to eat up the Eriseri that she had made in the morning for her father-in-law. And the others were going to....

The world came to a grinding halt. My ears, which were wandering here and there had picked up a signal. The word 'eriseri' was in them. Someone, somewhere had made eriseri. All of my senses, that had wandered off along with my ears, came rushing back. This was a sensory emergency. There was an eriseri somewhere, and a hungry Tambrahm stomach was screaming aloud for it.

It turned out Sukanya ma'am had made 'chenai eriseri' today. For her father-in-law, who was specially fond of this dish. He had been asking for it for a couple of days. Ma'am had been trying to push it to Sunday when she would have ample time to make it. But this morning he forced the issue by washing, peeling and cutting the chenai into cubes. After that she had to make it.

She was complaining that this wasn't a much favoured dish in her household. The Mumbai-born-and-raised daughter preferred Punjabi dishes, while the hubby preferred a spicy, shallow-fried curry. Eriseri and other 'koottu vagaigal' were in a minority when it came to eaters. She didn't know her luck was going to turn.

For who could be a greater fan of the ground-coconut-and-peppercorn flavoured chenai koottu that the portly Raamesh Gowri Raghavan, sitting right opposite her (and by some strange circumstances, on her chair in the office)? I might be a Fauji-Mumbaikar* who consumed vada-pao and paneer dishes on a daily basis, but eriseri still has a magic effect on me.

I broke every rule in the etiquette book and invited myself to her house. No sandwiches for me, when hot eriseri was waiting in her house. And Ma'am was only glad to let me join her for lunch, somewhat stunned that there was someone in the world who liked eriseri and was not her father-in-law.

A short rickshaw ride brought us to her house, and within minutes I was tucking into the most heavenly eriseri I had in a little over four months. For my mother had gone to the USA to visit my sister, wife or daughter I would have in my next birth, my father does not tolerate chenai (it itches in his throat), and I cannot cook to save my life**. When mother was home eriseri was a regular treat; I had resigned myself to living without it for six months. Thus the eriseri in front of me was proof of Divine Existence. Or at the least that the incalculable probability of life sometimes does throw up a positive outcome.

The soft, succulent chenai, boiled just right. The coconut, grated and ground just right. The peppercorns, in just the right proportion. Just the right amount of turmeric for the perfect colour. Salt, in perfect balance. The consistency - exactly that of a koottu. Neither too watery like a sambar, nor as dry as a podimas. Perfect, perfect, aiyo, so perfectly perfect!

Mixed and eaten with steamed white rice, I went bodily to Kailasam, Vaikuntam, Indralokam and whatever other heavens exist in the universe. The endorphins rushed through my brain cells, triggering the reward centres with sheer ecstasy. I don't think there is a drug in the world - not crack, not hashish, not Ecstasy even - that could match the intoxication that the eriseri triggered.

Because it was all about roots. The soul. About who I was. Deep down, behind the secular, cosmopolitan, gnocchi-eating exterior, beat the heart of a 'propah' South Indian boy. The type that will starve without idlis, and wither away without curd rice. To whom rasam is the very humour of life, vadu-mangay ther very purpose of it. To such a boy, eriseri is about the meaning of life. Turn away from it, and one might as well cease to exist. One becomes a rootless wanderer, who has no senses, no taste, no sight.

The post-lunch discussion was about 'koottu vagaigal'. And the whole idea of how healthy it was to consume koottus and kozhambus and avial and pachidis. Little or no oil. No deep or shallow frying. The only vice being all the cholesterol in the coconut. But hey, no life is perfect!

I went home, my belly bursting in true Brahmin fashion. The high lasted the whole day, and still continues as I write on Sunday evening. because there are some things in life, that you must eat not wisely, but well. Eriseri is right on the top of such things. Because eriseri is exultation.

*Brought up in the security of army cantonments across India, and then toughened up on the streets of Mumbai
** This might change. My mother is preparing instructions so I can make it next Saturday.

My sincerest apologies to the late Robert Ludlum, whose style of titling novels I have freely borrowed for this piece.

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