By Swati Moheet Agrawal
A song, a peculiar sight, a distinctive taste, a certain touch or smell transports us back in time. It stirs something deep within us and takes us back to the carefree days of yore. Such is the incredible power of our senses.
The aroma of freshly ground whole wheat flour and sizzling sugar wafting from a neighbour’s kitchen triggered a warm memory. Beautiful memories of my childhood came flooding back to me: Dadima used to make sugar-stuffed round chapatis for us kids, chini ki puri, as colloquially known in Hindi. Crisp and golden, it was the perfect delicacy to satiate our hunger pangs. While there were only a couple of ingredients that went into making it, there were a host of ingredients that created the happy experience which is why it sticks out in the warehouse of my memories.
Anytime we rushed home, famished and fatigued, little tummies growling with hunger, dadima deftly tossed up the most decadent chini ki puris for us. Kneading the dough, filling it with sugar, then rolling it with her dexterous hands, placing it on the pan, flipping it with impervious fingers – every step of the process was sprinkled with love, affection and care.
She was mobile then, full of life and vigour, and exceedingly beautiful of course. The striking brown of her eyes, the sound of her laughter, her fuzzy touch, the scent of her body, her flawless skin, and her tresses black and lustrous. Dadima never shampooed a day in her life – occasionally she’d use Shikakai soap to rinse her hair. “We never had shampoos and fancy conditioners in our time, but my hair remains strong and shiny,” she often taunted good-naturedly.
She also invariably chided me for my Plain Jane looks, especially my bare ears. “When will you learn to dress up your ears? A woman is supposed to be ornamented at all times.”
You can climb a mountain, you can run a marathon, you can close the biggest deals, you can win the Booker, but some of the most defining moments in life are the ones spent with grandparents. I wish I could travel back in time and relive those days of innocence and bliss, and unrivalled family time. How I yearn to treat my palate to chini ki puri again. Nothing compares with the unmatched taste and joy of dadima’s chapatis, not even the widest array of chapatis available in the swankiest restaurants and dhabas in Mumbai.
Sometimes, the ordinary things in life fill us with extraordinary joy, and they never ever leave us. We didn’t know we were making memories; we were simply eating back then.
Chini ki puri reminds me of the passage of time and the legacy my grandmother left behind. From immunity boosters to fertility boosters, fat burners to mind calmers, beauty tips to home management tips, my grandmother knew the tricks of the trade and she skillfully handed it over to her daughters in law.
My grandmother died eight years ago, ten days before my wedding, but she left behind an entire continent of memories. She taught us the art of making do with less, she taught my mother and aunt the art of tossing up the best delicacies with the available ingredients in the kitchen. Her tips and tricks, her anecdotes and antidotes, her love and levity – those were simple times, those were meaningful times, those were happy times.
To paraphrase Muriel Rukeyser, “The Universe is made up of stories. Not atoms.” Truly, it is our stories and memories that bind us together. Some moments pass us by without leaving a trace, others, we cherish forever.
One day, our whole life will flash before our eyes – we need to ensure the journey is delightful, delectable even, and it should definitely include chini ki puri.
About the Author:
Swati Moheet Agrawal lives in Mumbai, India. Her work has appeared in Ariel Chart, Café Dissensus, Friday Flash Fiction, Indian Periodical, ActiveMuse, Setu, Kitaab and is forthcoming in The Dribble Drabble Review and Free Flash Fiction. When not buried between the pages of a book, she likes to dabble in decoupage art. Follow her on Instagram @ swatiwhowrites
Chini ki puri – wheat flour chapati/flatbread stuffed with sugar
Dadima – grandmother