Amma’s Dabba for Rotis: LIfe in Simla of the Sixties
(When I looked at this chhabri at home, I was reminded of my Amma’s Sabba for kee;ong chapatis)
Life back in Simla of the Sixties was a laid down affair. Nothing to hurry about and run after except, of course, the Angeethi. Which when once lighted could not be afforded to lie idle for a second! Everyone must put the hard labour put in the lightning of Angithee to best possible use, As soon as it would be brought inside by carefully covering the hot handle with a multi-layered folded “pauna” in common parlance some stray piece of cotton fabric, recycled into pauna. Every activity after that would revolve around the sacred Angithee. Chapatis to last the day and for each and every person who had a share in them were prepared in the simmering hot angithi. Once the ritual of meal taking was over, Amma would longingly put the leftover chapatis to be used during the day!
Today I am going to write about Amma’s dabba for putting in chapatis. It was another of a meticulous ritual to put these chapatis neatly folded in another Pauna which was different from the one used to put on or off the pans and pateelas from the angithi. This pauna to wrap the chapatis in would be neatly held separate from the other paunas in the kitchen.
Those were the days when we had little heard of casseroles so either you had a brass dabba for keeping the chapatis or as my Amma had, a rounded basket type dabba with a tight lid, made of the basket material.
Now there is another background story about this famous dabba.
Amma had searched for someone to stitch her “bahar wale”suits and this seamstress lived in the Ladakhi mohalla. Next to her home lived another family who had shifted from Pakistan and were called refugees(?). This family owned a floor mill at the road from Gunj Bazaar touching the Cart road at the entry path to Ladakhi mohalla. When the men worked so hard at the floor mill, the women, the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law would weave various containers in a special grass, meticulously covered, wrapped around with palm leaves. Some of the palm leaves would be coloured in red and green and these would add a sprinkle of colorful patterns and weaves in the golden coloured baskets. I would watch those two women making those baskets so neatly with their nimble fingers hardened by the work they were put into. What a great contribution they were making to add to the family income. Those were the days when no one talked about women empowerment or women finding their own space but looking back I can see with perfect hindsight that these women, along with the seamstress living next door to them, were the perfect examples of women empowerment, though silently doing their job without making a fuss about it.
Amma bought this dabba made by these women for keeping chapatis. It was a beautifully and lovingly weaved dabba with a perfectly fitting lid made of the same material. When we acquired it, it became a piece of family pride as all our neighbours would come to see it. But wise neighboutr wanted to wait to see how soft the chapatis would stay in this dabba. Lo and behold…the chapatis when brought out at 4 p.m. when we would return from school and scourge for chapatis in the dabba, turned out to be soft like the fluffed cotton!!! We could relish them without waiting for them to be heated in the dimming light of the Angitthee which was waiting to be re-lit in the evening.
Amma would make chapatis in the morning and put them in this dabba. She would never count chapatis but when she put them in the dabba, there would be two which she would make for the sweepress who would collect chapattis and a little of vegetable from every home she served. And two chapatis would be kept for an old man who circled the entire neighbourhood at around 11 a.m. without fall, This man had strange tell-tale marks on his face, with a little mangled nose as well, and I was certainly afraid of him till the day I was told that he was, perhaps, once mauled by a bear and though he was able to save his life but not the looks of his face. After that painful incident he had devoted his life to the service of Bhagwaan Ram. He would collect leftover chapatis from the homes in the entire neighbourhood, put them in a big jhola the kind that Sadhus carry, hanging on his shoulders. We would know that he is around as he would announce his presence in the neighbourhood by chanting Ram-Ram in a loud voice with strange intonation, whenever he would be around. We were told that he would carry those chapatis to the cows which were somewhere at the lower regions of Simla slopes….I never learnt where they were but he was much welcomed by everyone.
And then the remaining chapatis were left in that dabba were for Amma’s kids…we would scour out the chapattis even when Amma was not there. They would be soft to touch just like my Amma’s hands, sweet in mouth on chewing and gliding down the throat even when taken with a piece of Aam ka achaar from the martbaan!!