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The eight-year itch and a menu switch

With a daughter away on holiday, a restless father gives in to culinary experiments

Photo: Samar Halarnkar
Photo: Samar Halarnkar

For the first time in eight years, my daughter has left me.

That’s right, she decided to leave for the US with her grandparents to visit her little cousins. I tried to dissuade her, and she wavered. Her mother, my parents and my in-laws said it would be good for her, and I should stop brainwashing her. She was old enough.

I do not dispute this, but what of me?

I am not used to a life apart from my poppet. When she was a baby, and her mother worked all day, paying bills and suchlike, I cooked for and fed her. We hung out aimlessly in random parks with nannies and mommies. I taught her to cycle and swim. I make her breakfast every morning, and I love putting her to bed as often as I can.

I found it hard to let go.

I have done some letting go in the past, but it was difficult. When the family suggested she start kindergarten at the age of two years and three months, I baulked. I said she was too young, she was happy with me, and may I actually propose that I home-school her? When she had to start school, I wanted her to go to a neighbourhood school, while the family wanted her to try for the faraway, excellent school.

They won each time, and they were right. You see, I just want to be around for as long as I can.

So, she’s somewhere in California, living with aunt, uncle, two cousins and grandparents—and headed for Hawaii, I hear. I get videos and photographs every day, and she’s clearly having a grand time. The other day, I told her I was missing her—the wife, who is not as much of a softie as I am, says I should not make her conscious of the fact—and she replied (with a sigh, I thought), “I miss you too appa."

The aforementioned, hard-boiled wife also misses her, but she made it clear at the start that she was also looking forward to five weeks alone. I must confess there are advantages to being without my noisy child.

To begin with, I sleep better. I sigh every evening, as I look at her little pillow on the mattress next to mine—and proceed to have a good night’s sleep. I no longer rise at 5.45am and sneak out of the room quietly with her. There is no breakfast to make at 6.30am, by which time—as my mother-in-law has realized—she falls apart unless she is fed (a bit like her father in this respect). The other day, I woke up at 7.40am, something I last did last decade.

When I swim, I finish my 50-odd laps within 40 minutes. When she is around, 30 laps take more than an hour, interrupted as they are with underwater games, wild water assaults and backflip challenges. We go for leisurely evening walks instead of morning walks, since there is no one to demand evening attention. We watch more television, and we’ve been reading a lot more.

The biggest change in our lives is food. Let’s see. I don’t have breakfast at 6.30am and dinner by 6pm—I’ve always adhered to her timings. I don’t roast as much chicken or pork, we don’t buy ham, and the motte (egg) dosas have stopped. Our food has more spice, and the variety of vegetables appears to have grown (though the wife is on a get-fit diet and steamed vegetables seem to dominate).

Last week, I did something I never would: I mixed vegetables and meat. My daughter is a purist, as I used to be before vegetables were forced into my life in my late 40s. She does not see the point of methi (fenugreek)-prawn, and she certainly would not have approved of what we did this week—merged her mutton into sai bhaji, the seven-vegetable Sindhi staple that the Halarnkars have taken to after my marriage.

I don’t think I will be able to eat conventional sai bhaji again. As a friend pointed out, the Parsi dhansak is pretty much the same, a combination of vegetables and meat. Except that the default dhansak has meat, while the default sai bhaji has none.

Now that I have sampled this more leisurely and thoughtful life, I have realized one thing—I am ready to give it up. When is that girl returning home?

Mutton ‘sai bhaji’ with apricots

Serves 4


Prepare the meat

K kg meat, with bone

1 tsp garam masala (I used Moroccan ras el hanout)

1 tsp red chilli powder

Salt to taste

Prepare the vegetables

1 medium onion, chopped

2 small carrots, grated

2 small potatoes, grated

1 small, round brinjal, chopped

2 tbsp chana dal, soaked

1 bunch spinach, washed and chopped

1 large tomato, chopped

1 tsp jeera seeds

1 tsp red chilli powder

K tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp garam masala

2 tsp ginger-garlic paste

7-8 dried apricots

1 tsp oil


Pressure-cook the meat in O cup water, on high flame for two whistles. Let the pressure ease, separate the stock from the mutton and keep aside.

Heat oil in a cooker, add jeera seeds. When they splutter,add onion and brinjal and sauté until the onion is translucent. Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté for a minute. Add all the spices. Add dal with water and mix well. Add tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, carrot and apricots. Mix well. Pour in the mutton stock, close the cooker and allow one whistle. Open when the pressure dissipates.

Final stage: Add the partially cooked meat to the vegetables. Check for salt. Close the cooker and allow one whistle on high. Reduce to simmer for another whistle.

This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.

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