Ashlesha’s story

My mother made Rajma-Chawal on Saturdays, the day we were home from school and rice for lunch made sense (Weekday school tiffins were Roti Sabzi because it was easier). My sister loved Rajma.
I learned to cook properly because of the lockdown too. I needed to! I tried to make Rajma, like my mum did. I haven’t succeeded. Can’t ask her, she passed away in February, just before I needed to learn to cook. Just before I cared about the food I enjoyed as a child. As far as I remember, it was not Garam-Masala-ey. All the recipes I’ve tried so far have felt heavy on Garam Masala. I remember the flavors of mummy’s Rajma as subtle.

Oh! And I had the best Rajma-Chawal off the highway when we were traveling from Jammu to Srinagar. Recreating either will feel like a win. My mum’s Rajma probably tastes like nostalgia only.

My experience cooking, eating and feeding Rajma

  1. I have no memories associated with Rajma Chawal. None at all, in 28 years of living in India. I never eat it growing up, and if I did it clearly did not leave a mark.
  2. While I cooked, R and papa lurked around hungrily, waiting for the Rajma to cook. This was a first for me: preparing a real, non-back-up meal that is waited on and had for lunch. I was having a bad mental health day, so eating would be tough. I took my own bowl of Rajma Chawal to my bed and ate it while I wrote this.
  3. I love the smell of Indian food cooking, each stage has a different smell. I now know the smell of cooked onions, garlic, ginger and chili, of tomato and masala. I love each and every one of them.
  4. I pick recipes based on gut feeling, which is mostly formed by seeing who the author is and how experienced they are in making this food/teaching to make it. This time, I picked a Rajma recipe based on the amount of garam masala it suggested and in following it, I only added half of it. The absence of the strong taste of garam masala made other flavors noticeable. Aunty knew what she was talking about.
  5. I cannot believe the privilege of my life at getting to be a part of-in whatever capacity- such a memory and story. To be able to witness, if not understand, a different type of loss than mine.
    While I cooked, Lootera songs played in the background. “Kabra par mere, sar utha ke khadi ho jindagi aise marna hai mujhe”. I had believed that this line was asking me to leave a mark on the world, which I don’t care for. But now I realised that it was asking my life to be fuller, for its own sake. And mine is, for being a part of these stories. Thank you for this one, Ashlesha.

I was doing well when I put the Rajma to soak that night. I was not when I woke up the next to cook it. Overnight is a big commitment for someone who lives with her triggers.

I stuck it in the fridge, pushed the making to the next day. Next day was only worse. But the Rajma would not wait any longer. So I started cooking, tears still flowing from my eyes, mummy’s hurtful words still reverberating in my ears. R put on songs and sat on the counter giving me company.

I was not thinking about the cooking. I mechanically started chopped the onions and tomatoes instead of using a food processor, which I would usually do. I used mortar and pastel for grinding the ginger, garlic, chili. I don’t know if it was the distraction or the repetativeness of the process caused it, but the heaviness lifted-a slice of onion, a stroke of the pestel at a time.

It kept reducing till it became manageable- thoughts came and took their regular place on their chairs, vision cleared, the next moment became imaginable- by the time the rajma was ready. It became manageable but did not completely leave, but that’s too much to ask of Rajma, don’t you think?


I used half the Garam Masala it told me to use and more mirchi.

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