The Laadu Makers

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Oh my, my mother is making ‘besan laadus’ today
Oh my, my mother is making ‘besan laadus’ today

Even before my eyes open, my mouth starts watering. The air vibrates with the smell of roasting besan and ghee. Oh my, my mother is making ‘besan laadus’ today. Is it my birthday? Is it their anniversary? I roll over and sniff the air. But it’s gone. Just like all the other fragrances.

My mother is young and beautiful. She has glowing skin, large eyes, well-defined eyebrows, and a big nose—a feature which I have inherited. She has very long hair, braided in a plait that reaches below her knees. I never saw her hair worn like this—it is how she wore it before I was born. I’ve seen photographs. And I’ve seen pictures of tables laid out for Shabbath prayers and dinner at her parents’ home. The polished brass Star of David oil lamp, lace tablecloths, platters of fruit and small cups of raisin ‘sharbath’. Or am I imagining that room, that table? Did I imagine it all?

My body is the vault that holds these histories, these memories
My body is the vault that holds these histories, these memories

So much is fading already, but the tastes never do. Neither do the smells, the smiles or the sorrows. My body is the vault that holds these histories, these memories. They are mine and mine alone. No one else in our family will remember the same things or remember them the same way, even if they were present then, at the same time and place. Her hands are quick as she stirs the dried ‘channa’—split chickpeas—in the ‘tava’.

 

From a pale yellow, they turn to beige, to gold-brown. Then she grinds them by hand till they turn into a medium-fine powder.

 

A few crunchy pieces remain. She adds this ground ‘besan’ to a large flat-bottomed ‘karahi’ where the ghee is already warmed and ready. Stir, stir, stir. She wipes her forehead with the edge of her Calico sari ‘pallav’.

My grandmother has come to check if she is doing it right. Tough bossy woman, who has taken over my mother’s life from the time she is married to my father. 

It is time to shake in the sugar little by little. The greyish crystals are large and crunchy and not all of them melt completely. Stir, stir, stir. Slowly, it is all coming together. The aroma is thick and sweet and spreads all over the house, and wafts off the balcony tothe other balconies and houses, and breezes blow it down the street. The crows hang around the kitchen window. Today, they seem antsier than other days. So am I, as I wait for the rituals to be over. They will get their share too.

She adds this ground ‘besan’ to a large flat-bottomed ‘karahi’ where the ghee is already warmed and ready. Stir, stir, stir
She adds this ground ‘besan’ to a large flat-bottomed ‘karahi’ where the ghee is already warmed and ready. Stir, stir, stir

Now, she adds the fried raisins and cashews into the almost pliant, almost-sticking-to-the-pan mixture. Earlier that day, she has

picked the raisins and cashews over for stones and they have been washed and air-dried. Still, it is not unusual for a grain of sand to hide in a crevice somewhere and appear suddenly under your molar when you are eating. Ouch. The pleasure and the pain. Inseparable, sometimes.

Granny is inspecting the mixture with her fingers. It’s time to taste. Yes!!! My turn now. Have you washed your hands? Yes, yes, yes. I drop a blob on my tongue. Yes, yes, it’s so good. Mmmm, she says as she does the same. Now we all dig in with our hands. Not to eat, but to roll the sticky-crumbly mixture between our palms. We form lime-sized balls and lay them out on a tray to harden. Then we will arrange them in our big steel ‘dubbas’. Some we will distribute to our neighbours and friends. But the rest is ours. For now, we keep rolling, rolling, rolling. How I long to lick my fingers as we do this! They are watching my every move, so I don’t. The reward is exquisite, so I will wait patiently. I can handle the wait. I am grown up now. Or so I think.

I will wait for the ‘laadu’, the gold globe that is made by their hands. I will bow my head and open my palms to receive it. A world

held in their hands, then placed in mine. Heavy and earthy in my palms. Its deep and nutty flavour coats my tongue as I stand here at the edge of reality. This is not a figment of my imagination. It’s what makes it all real. That the joy existed. That my parents, Ruby and Sunny, existed, and my grandma Hannah, existed. That love wrapped around me like these aromas. That my mouth and tongue are blessed by them. ‘Goud-goud bolah’, they say in Maharashtra on the day they feed you a spiky little bead of sugar and sesame seeds. Speak only sweet words. The wise hearts of the ‘laadu’ makers taught me—good thoughts, words and deeds. And what of contentment? They blessed me with that too. No matter how little or how much I may have or own, how my situation may change from year to year, I, ‘laadu’ eater,

All Images: Google

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