A woman is incomplete if she is not a mother?

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I am at a junction where it’s almost inevitable that I am facing multiple questions about my thoughts and future plans of having kids. Doesn’t matter if I say the same thing again and again, some people are unstoppable. They are very perplexed if I say “no I don’t have any plans and I might not want to have kids ever in my life”. They try to convince me by saying “oh, now it’s fine, but you’ll be very lonely when you are old”, “you might regret later”, “Oh no, why?” “you are already old, don’t be stupid, do it before it’s too late”. Really? How do they know I’ll be very lonely, how do they know I’ll regret later? Am I in a rush to keep up with the social guidelines?

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Did I grow up with the sole purpose to get married in my twenties, have kids in my thirties and then be a mother forever until I die? That’s the social norm and I better abide by it. I should not deprive my parents from having the joy of being grandparents. What about me? I might not be capable of bringing up a kid to be a good human being with good values and principles. What if I decide to take that responsibility and then fail miserably? Giving birth to a child is no big deal but caring for a child is not everybody’s task. I have heard a zillion times that “it will automatically happen, don’t worry, it happens to everybody”. No, it does not happen to everybody. I have seen many, many mothers and fathers failing miserably to raise a kid. I am not saying they did it intentionally but they had no clue what they were doing. They just had a kid or many because that’s what you are supposed to do. I don’t think I am ready yet. I might not feel like I am ready ever in my life or it might be just tomorrow. Who knows?

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Our society sees married women without kids as incomplete, they look down upon them. They look at them with pity and if you are lucky enough, with sympathy if they know that you tried your best but couldn’t have a kid. As if they have wasted their womanhood. I see many of my friends, colleagues, relatives and neighbors being lost in the ocean of motherhood, completely losing their identity as a person. They look like they waited all their life to be mothers and only mothers. I know I’ll be showered with criticism for not being sensible enough to understand the greatness of motherhood because I am not a mother. That’s completely wrong. We deify mothers, we see them as super humans, we demand them to be more than just a woman. We expect them to absorb pain and suffering because they are the mothers. The women also take pride in their godly role.

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Don’t get me wrong, I am all for mothers, all the great mothers (and also the not so great ones) who feed us, nurture us, take care of us. To me, my mother is also my lifeline, the very basis of my existence but in the process she forgot to have a life of her own. She gave all her life to be a good mother (and also a good wife). She is still not done. It’s a lifelong exam and you have to try your best to do your best. I am not that brave and not yet ready to start that journey and I will choose to be incomplete for now.

This daal is a humble everyday daal just like my mother. Nothing extraordinary but still special. It’s simple yet delicious. This is my mother’s recipe with a little bit of my tweaking, just like I am almost my mother’s replica with a bit of tweaking.

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Recipe:

Ingredients:

Red lentils/musur daal: ¾ cup

Water: around 2-3 cups (doesn’t really matter, you can always add or reduce the water)

Turmeric: ½ tsp.

Radhuni seeds/wild celery seeds**: a little more than ½ tsp.

Dry red chili whole: 2-3 nos.

Mustard oil/olive oil: 2tsp.+ 2tsp.

Shallots (small)/small onions: 10-12 nos., peeled. (I usually use small onions)

Or, Regular red onions: half of a small onion, thinly sliced or finely chopped.

Salt to taste

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  • In a deep bottom medium pot bring the water to a boil.
  • Wash the red lentils and add it to the boiling water. Let it come to a boil again. Once it starts boiling, bring the flame to medium (the water should still be in a rolling boil).
  • Periodically remove the white scums (foamy substance).
  • Once there is no more scum on the top, add the turmeric powder and mix with a spoon.
  • Let the lentils get almost cooked and then whisk it with a hand whisk. Do not whisk it vigorously and you don’t need any fancy electrical whisk too.
  • Add salt and let it boil for few more minutes.
  • While the daal is boiling, heat up two teaspoons of oil in a frying pan. Add the shallots or the small onions and bring the flame to medium. Shallow fry them until there are multiple brown spots on them. Slow and shallow frying will make them sweet and a bit smoky in taste.
  • Add the onions to the almost cooked boiling daal and gently boil it for another five minutes or until the daal is completely cooked and reaches your desired consistency. You can add more hot water here if the daal looks very thick or boil it vigorously if it looks very thin.

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Seasoning/tadka/phoron:

  • In another small deep ladle or pot add the rest of the two teaspoons of oil and slowly heat it up. Don’t let it burn.
  • Once the oil is hot, bring the flame to medium low and add the radhuni seeds. Let them sizzle, it will take around a minute (slowly sizzling the seeds will flavor the oil).
  • Add the dry red chilies and let them come to a shade darker.
  • Pour the seasoning into the daal and immediately cover the pot with a lid and turn off the gas/flame.
  • Keep it covered for 5 minutes and then serve it with plain white rice and lime wedges (not lemon). You can eat it as a soup too.

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Variation:

*Instead of adding slow roasted onions, you can deep fry the thinly sliced onions, crumble them and add them add the end.

* You can skip the slow roasting part and add the radhuni seeds, followed by the red chilies and then finely chopped regular red onions and slowly fry them until a little brown. Make sure that the spices do not get burnt. You can skip the onions altogether but that will steal the taste.

** Radhuni is a very special spice mainly used by the Bengali community in India. It is called wild celery seeds in English but do not confuse it with celery seeds. If you do not have access (which is very likely) to radhuni, grab a Bengali friend to provide you some or use anise seeds instead. I have never used anise seeds for this soup but they are the closest in terms of taste.

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The border we share, the foods we don’t: Kumror khosha diye daal/lentil with pumpkin peels

DSC_0309We are very similar but very different. We speak dialects of the same language, eat foods made from the same ingredients but cooked differently, sing the same folk songs but adapt the lyrics based on whether we are Hindus or Muslims. But where we are still very different is in the way we perceive each other. “They” are Bangladeshis and “we” are Indians and vice-versa. Deep inside our heart, we are all “Bengali” but that is overpowered by the tangible political border and intangible cultural border separating our two countries.

Bangladesh or former East Pakistan was part of undivided India. After India got its independence, it became a part of Pakistan. Finally in 1971 Bangladesh got its own independence after suffering a horrific and largely undocumented genocide at the hands of the Pakistani army that would make the Nazis look like flower children. In those dark and turbulent days, India was flooded with Hindu refugees escaping targeted mass murder at the hands of Razakars, roving bands of killers sponsored by the Pakistani armed forces.

My grandparents and some of my uncles and aunts were among those refugees who crossed the border with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Living as refugees in India, they didn’t have the luxury of eating good food and couldn’t be picky about the ingredients. It was a question of pure survival; they ate whatever was edible. If possible, they even made the inedible edible. Years of struggle and deprivation fostered recipes which bore the indelible stamp of being poor man’s food. Magically, many of these were unbelievably tasty. The refugees of East Bengal made delicious curries with vegetable peels, roots and leaves, fish bones, shrimp heads and even the water hyacinth that abounded in our land of lakes and ponds. Gradually, these survival foods became delicacies in their own right and today we write blog posts about “potoler khosha bata” (stone-ground pointed gourd peels) and “lau er khosha chNechki” (stir-fried bottle gourd peels). Forty years after the horrors of 1971, these foods have finally lost their “refugee” stigma and are bona fide components of Bengali cuisine (although you might still hear an occasional snicker or two from the housewives of old North Calcutta families – “E baba, oi shob abar bhadrolokey khay naki?” or “My goodness, would a gentleman ever eat those things?”).

DSC_0317Among many recipes which were invented by these unfortunate refugees is daal cooked with pumpkin peels. I have adapted my recipe from Simon’s ‘pet pujo and adda. She has a soul touching story with the recipe. Feel free to cook it either way. This is the first time I had daal cooked with pumpkin skin. In fact this is the first time I cooked something with pumpkin skin as an ingredient at all, although this will become a staple in my kitchen from now onwards. A big thanks to Simon for the wonderful recipe.

There is not much to measure. Eye ball the ingredients. I am writing the approximate measurements.

Ingredients:

Red lentils/Masoor daal: around ½ cup

Pumpkin peel: around ½ cup as well. I kept a little bit of flesh with the skin

Kalojeere/Nigella seeds: ½ tsp

Mustard oil/olive oil/vegetable oil: 2 tsp

Green chili: 2 nos.

Dried red chili whole: 2 nos.

Salt to taste

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  • Wash the lentils with several changes of water.
  • Start boiling 1 ½ cups of water. Once the water comes to a full boil, add the lentils.
  • Add ½ tsp of turmeric and keep on boiling for several minutes. Take the foam/scum out while boiling the daal.
  • Add the pumpkin peels when the lentil is half done.
  • Add salt and the green chilies. Let the lentil cook for several more minutes until the peels are cooked. Check for salt and adjust accordingly. If you like your daal to be thin, add more hot water.
  • In a separate pan heat up the oil. Once hot, turn the flame to medium or the spices will burn. Add the Nigella seeds and let them sizzle a bit.
  • Add the dry red chilies and let them darken one shade.
  • Add the Nigella seeds and the red chili-oil mixture to the boiling daal and immediately cover the pot. Turn off the heat. Keep the pot covered for few minutes and then serve with white rice.
  • You can add a pinch of sugar if you want, I didn’t.

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