From Shantha and Njondi, my mind’s motion pictures rolled back to the face of that young Tamilian belle who used to drop by once in a month or two, selling fresh produce. Whenever grandma asked for unreasonable bargains, she had a wide grin on her face, showing her stained teeth and rosy pink gum, telling my grandma in her own way that she was not going to settle down for that rate. Even when she was tired and tanned, walking in that scorching summer, her face always beamed with glow when she smiled that way, especially during those days when she was pregnant with a baby girl. I don’t remember her name, grandma always used to refer her as Thamizhathi (the one from Tamilnadu) but I still remember her well, wearing a green sari and red blouse with a money pouch tied to her hips, and the coins jiggled when she walked along with her ‘Kolusu’ (anklets), and flowers from the Chemabaka Poo strings looped into her hair danced to her walking pace.
The next familiar face that popped up in my mind was the mobile bakery guy who used to come by around 3.30- 4pm in the evening with hot puffs and samosa which we used to have with hot tea. Though grandma used to have in her regular glass tumbler, I insisted the maid to serve me the tea in the pretty delicate ‘VIP guests only’ La Opala tea cup; for some reason I felt tea tasted better in that one!! Then that ice-cream man who came on mid mornings whose cycle bell rang continuously when he neared my maternal house, on his three wheeler cycle cart which had Joy Ice-cream logo painted on the cooler box..............the cotton candy man who passed by our street in the evening and I never missed his melt in the mouth cotton candy which he used to pack in a newspaper cone for 50 paisa onwards……then ofcourse the ice-fruit man who visited the neighborhood at the noon, selling colored ice cubes made with more water and less milk; he was not entertained at our gates as it was rated among the not hygienic stuff we were not supposed to eat.
Now when I write this another classic character with her shriveled hands and wrinkled face comes to my mid; my grandma’s long-term maid cum companion, Choochi, a 60+ old Anglo –Indian woman who used to chaperone me after my school hours, whenever I was supposed to come over to grandma’s on weekends for my dance classes. I remember my grandma writing her name ‘Madatheena’, in her expense book and marking her salary against her name. Choochi was popular in that neighborhood because of her signature ‘over-heated langue’ and on the walk back from school, she would chance upon someone she knew in front of John’s tailor shop or at the Khader’s pettikkada ( a small shop). It was from Khader’s shop I used to get my share of Bobanum Moliyum, Poppins and Jeeraka Mittai (multi colored candied cumins)……
Then I remember the communist leader, Pappan chettan’s house behind my grandma’s house, her other neighbors Thankamma…..Mable teacher….Rosy whose son was serving his term behind the bars ……then the one and only 14 storied building where stayed the naval officers from northern India and their wives, who always applied bright pink or red lipstick and dyed their hair with henna and always wore flashy Salwars and Sarees. The more prominent of all was the Holy Cross Convent which was just opposite to our house and that was the landmark given for auto drivers…….the nuns always exchanged a smile or had a word with my grandma whenever they met her but I must say that I always felt that they were very stingy with the mangoes they harvested from that huge mango tree, in their front yard which yielded hundred of mangoes every year….. young boys used to try their luck with sling shots when mangoes were in season. Nuns gave a small share of green mangoes to my grandma every year during the harvest……BOOM! Suddenly real life strikes and I happily step into my present……
At this point, there is a surge of characters and buildings from that neighborhood that shared a part of my childhood and I can go on and on about those days ….these people may not even remember me but this thamizhathi and the cotton candy man, Choochi and Khader all are characters from a colourful childhood I enjoyed and they will always be part of my cherished memories until the day , lets say, the beast Alzheimer’s attacks me!! Frankly, I dread that day!!!!
Well, since my memory tape was paused at the green mangoes from the convent, it kept playing in my head until I noticed some decent green mangoes at the Indian grocery store in our town. And I put it to best use; I paired the sour green mangoes with gentlemanly jackfruit seeds to recreate the classic Chakkakuruvum mangayum thenga arachu vechathu aka populary known as Chakkakuru- Maanga Curry which is green mangoes and jackfruit seeds cooked in a ground coconut base. It is one of those delicacies most Keralites crave for and here is my mother’s recipe to recreate the classic in your kitchen:
- 1 cup Chakkakuru/jackfruit seeds, cleaned and cut into medium thin strips (I used frozen)
- ½ cup sour green mango, cut into the same size of jackfruit seeds
- 6-8 drumstick pieces of 1 ½ inch length, cleaned and cut (Optional)
- 3 green chillies
- ¼ tsp turmeric powder
- ¼ tsp chilly powder
- Salt to taste
- 1 + 1/3 cup water
- 1 cup grated coconut
- 3-4 green chillies
- ¼ - ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 1 small clove of garlic
- ¼ tsp turmeric powder
- 4-5 curry leaves
- ½ tsp mustard seeds
- 2 dry red chillies
- 2 small red pearl onions
- 1 sprig of curry leaves
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- Grind grated coconut, green chillies, garlic, cumin seeds, turmeric powder and curry leaves with a dash of salt into a fine and smooth paste and keep aside. Add some water if your mixer giving you a hard-time.
- In a deep vessel, cook Chakkakuru/jackfruit seeds mildly spiced with red chilly powder, turmeric powder and salt in 1 cup water. When Chakkakuru/jackfruit seeds are almost done, add sliced mangoes and drumsticks with green chillies and add around 1/3 cup water, until everything is cooked well. Mango and drumstick gets cooked fast. To this add the ground coconut paste and pour around ½ cup water or enough to get your desired consistency and bring to a boil in medium heat and turn off the stove immediately as the texture changes badly if u continue to boil the ground coconut mixture.
- In a shallow pan, heat coconut oil and splutter mustard seeds, dry chilly and sauté small onions and curry leaves for a minute and pour it to the curry. Let it rest for minimum one hour for the curry to embrace the sourness of mangoes and blend with the seeds and creamy coconut paste.
- Serve with warm rice. It tastes better the next day.