This is a story from my days as a paying guest. Hope you enjoy!
“I miss the aroma of Sooji (Semolina) roasting in ghee on Rakhsha bandhan mornings.”
“You are such a foodie,” my roommate retorted.
We were discussing the things we missed being away from home and somehow this topped my list. I missed the festivities of celebration of the day dedicated to the special bond between a brother and a sister.
“But you don’t have a brother. Right?”
It would have been difficult for a sister of three brothers to understand but I still tried to explain it to her.
“I tie Rakhi to my father and nephews’ hands. And it is about the spirit of Rakhi. I miss celebrating festivals with my family. Everything is so different here.”
I had never stepped out of Punjab before moving to Bangalore and it was shocking for me to find out that Rakhi, Dushehra, Lohri and Vaisakhi were unheard of in this part of India. I did not even have many Punjabi friends in the city.
I had celebrated Friendship’s Day in August with my friends while none of them knew what Rakhi meant to me.
My roommate being a happy positive person tried to cheer up.
“So why don’t you make Sooji Halwa yourself? That way you get to smell and taste it too”
“I don’t know how to make it,” I said, now feeling even more depressed.
“What’s the internet there for? Search it.”
I suddenly got excited. We browsed for blogs on Indian food and jotted down the ingredients and instructions and then ran into the kitchen to make ‘our’ first Sooji Halwa!
Once we started roasting Sooji in Ghee, we had no idea how brown it should turn for us to add water and sugar to it. My roommate asked me to smell coffee powder, a trick we learned while perfume shopping, and go to the dining room.
I sat on a chair cross legged closed my eyes to let my sense of smell be more dominant. It took a few seconds for me to get into the state.
“I remember this smell. It is mild right now. Keep stirring.” In another two minutes the hair on the back of my neck stood up.
“Add the water NOW,” I shouted running towards the kitchen.
She added water and sugar and started stirring diligently. Both of us were smiling ear to ear. Tears rolled down my face and I hugged her from the side.
“Your turn to stir our halwa,” she said calmly. And then we giggled.
I wiped my tears and looked at the pan full of brown sugary heaven. It looked perfect.
I stirred it for a minute and it was done. We were too excited to wait for the halwa to cool down so we served it immediately in 10 bowls and distributed it to everyone on our floor and then sat down to enjoy our first Sooji Halwa.
Everyone was delighted to get something homemade on a Sunday morning.
“What’s the special occasion?”
“Nothing I’m going to learn cooking, that’s all,” I said proudly. Later I called my parents to brag about my Sooji Halwa.
My first successful experiment paved way to many more trials at making the things I missed being away from home. Within two years I had cooked everything my mother made except Sarso ka Saag (a Punjabi delicacy).
It was more than 6 years ago and now I wonder when I would have decided to step into the kitchen to do anything other than returning the dirty utensils. Thanks to the smell I remembered that helped us make a perfect Sooji Halwa.
Even after making it hundreds of times, I still close my eyes to smell the scent of a perfectly roasted Sooji! But the story does not end here.
After Rakhi we decided to celebrate Janamashtami the same way – partly because we wanted to recreate the magic and partly because Sooji Halwa was the only dessert we knew how to make!
I was super cocky in our ability to make Sooji so I told Sammie that I would make Halwa while she can chill near the dining table and get accustomed to the smell at the various stages of Sooji Halwa preparation. She agreed.
I stirred happily and sang a few songs.
“Can you smell it now? It is 50% done.”
“Can you guess it now?”
My chest swelled with pride, this halwa is going to be “perfect-er” than the first time.
“Smells like it is done,” Sammie said nonchalantly.
I was not sure so I went out of the kitchen to smell it and sat next to her while she browsed internet on her laptop.
“Surfing the web?”
“What? Sooji would burn.”
“Oh no….” We both ran into the kitchen.
Semolina had turned black. I turned off the gas. I was devastated and embarrassed.
She switched on the exhaust fan which I had forgotten to do while cooking and then we started blowing air using old newspapers at the pan in an attempt to guide the smell of burnt Sooji to escape through the window.
I ran into my room and sprayed my expensive perfume in every corner of the kitchen, even the Sooji in the pan.
“What did you girls burn?” Aunty asked while hasting down the stairs.
Our lips were sealed.
“Don’t burn my house down!” she said entering into the kitchen.
“Sorry Aunty,” we said in unison. “I was trying to prepare Sooji halwa but… sorry aunty,” I said taking a step forward.
“And why does it smell odd?” she asked looking around as if to find suspects or eyewitnesses.
“I sprayed a perfume to combat the smell.” I knew I sounded stupid mixing White Musk and burnt Sooji scents together but I was in panic at the time.
She raised her eyebrows and started laughing. We couldn’t help ourselves and burst into laughter.
“Let’s wait for a few minutes.”
We followed her to the dining room and sat next to her.
We laughed a little more about how it all happened. I was embarrassed but Aunty seemed amused by my situation.
“I never messed up Sooji Halwa but I remember burning Wheat-flour while making wheat-flour halwa. It was taking more time for roasting and my hand got tired.” She giggled like a little girl, her eyes were distant.
“I cannot believe it,” Sammie said and then bit her lip.
“We all do it in the beginning. I still do sometimes. It is rare but it still happens.”
We looked at each other in delight.
“And next time you do something like this, don’t spray your perfume. Use a room freshener!”
We laughed in unison. Aunty left without going into the kitchen and I cleaned up the mess I created. A few more spritz of my EdP and the kitchen smelled like me after getting ready in the morning – a bit citrusy, a bit musky.
I promised myself that I will never step out of the kitchen when the flame is ON. But I went to the department store near my PG house and bought a bottle of room freshener just in case.
I have written this post in response to the ongoing “From Smelly Air to Smiley Air” contest held at Indiblogger in collaboration with AmbiPur India. The task was to share the nostalgic memories associated with different smells or fragrances in our home.