Monday, February 04, 2008

Nirupa Roy, the Rocket Scientist

I have turned into Nirupa Roy. Or, if you prefer, Achala Sachdev/Kamini Kaushal/any filmi "Maa". In the sense that I’m in the “Maa ke haath ke laddoo” phase. Not at the receiving end (though I still am that, Mom Zindabad!) but, newly, at the giving end. With kid no.1 in hostel, I look out for people going that way, and press made-by-my-own-two-hands laddoos/cakes/namak paare into their hands, to be delivered to my baby adult pining for goodies-from-home. Only difference----Nirupa Roy’s laddoos came in brass dabbas, further wrapped in red-checked cloth; mine go in Ziploc boxes (recently discovered, as opposed to Ziploc bags). On the other hand, it is also reminiscent of tuck-boxes bound for Malory Towers, St. Clare’s, Linbury Court and Billy Bunter (I forget the name of his school).
Recently, we found one such Samaritan, and promptly requested some precious space in his luggage for my laddoos---the incentive, obviously, that he could share in the tuck. The exercise involved ten simple steps:
Step 1: Ring up said Samaritan’s Mom, to reiterate request and ask for address. Murphy’s Law immediately swings into play, by making sure that the address is on the other side of Delhi!
Step 2: Make sure other half (better or worse? For better or for worse!) knows somebody who can take parcel across Delhi and deliver it safely.
Step 3: Get all ingredients from market. Ring up Mom to confirm proportions, etc. Naturally this is around 10pm. Equally naturally, Mom asks if I’ve got the khoya. Still more naturally, of course I haven’t. Without going into the actual recipe, I’ll just say that usually, I use milk as the adhesive to bind the matrix into laddoos. I was told that milk might be the culprit making the laddoos go bad in hot and humid environments, so it would be better if I used khoya for the richness, and then used boiled water for binding, so that preservation would not be so difficult. Obviously, friendly neighbourhood halwai is closed at this time of night, so postpone the entire process to next morning (i.e., the day they have to be delivered to the Samaritan).
Step 4: Listen to hubby’s disapproving tsk tsk’s. The conversation then proceeds along familiar lines:
Him: Why didn’t you get the khoya earlier?
Me: Arre, Mom told me only just now.
Him: Why didn’t you ask her earlier?
Well, that’s what prevents me from being a rocket scientist----I didn’t envisage/anticipate any road blocks.
(Aside: There was actually a time when I was really contemplating being a nuclear physicist if not a rocket scientist---Physics majors in those days spoke only of BARC, TIFR, ISRO, DRDO and DRDL)
(Another aside: Ever notice that rocket-scientist-grade-ladies are not allowed a single mistake/error/foolishness/goof-up, whereas the below-average-intelligence-waalis (no offence) have kind, solicitous husbands who don’t expect them to do anything properly and are very nice about it, to boot?)
Step 5: Rush to sweet shop for khoya next morning. Start the process with keen concentration. Concentration shattered in a jiffy by phone call from intended recipient of laddoos—“ Mom, I’ve got a swollen eye---some strange insect has bitten me I think.”
Me: Put the eye drops I gave you, in the eye.
Kid: I can’t---the eye doesn’t open.
At this stage, I took a deep breath, told myself it couldn’t be that serious, rang up the family doctor and relayed his advice to the kid.
Step 6: The driver is here for the parcel. Aah. Well. Hm. Send him off on quickly concocted errands.
Step 7: Diligently stir the laddoo mixture, all the while. Bear in mind parameters like water of crystallization, steady state, equilibrium, threshold stage and cooling curve.
The threshold stage is where you have to remove the pan from the fire, otherwise, the water of crystallization evaporates and one does not get that just-about-to-be-sticky matrix. That done, you have to sprinkle water/milk in little portions at a time, wait for the mixture to cool to touchable temperature, and start making the laddoos. Probably because of the phone jammed between ear and shoulder, I added too much water to the mixture. It immediately became a seething mass, rapidly attaining steady state where it would not harden even on cooling. It was in equilibrium, but I certainly was not!
Step 8: Damage control. Quickly roast some more semolina, add sugar in proportion, again bring it to threshold state, and add to seething mass. I had to do this twice, but it worked! Those years in the Physics and Chemistry labs were not in vain! Start fashioning laddoos just as soon as the mixture cools down enough to be touched---it was still very hot, but what is a blistered hand compared to young one's joy? Vintage Nirupa Roy, that!
Step 9: Put fan on full blast (mid-winter in Delhi!) for laddoos to cool and dry, before packing and dispatching.
Step 10: Put feet up. Hog rest of laddoos to satisfy sugar cravings brought on by stress!