Those years in Bokaro Steel City, Jharkhand are still very ripe in me, even after 35-40 years. I was studying in Kendriya Vidyalaya, Sector IV in the small steel manufacturing town, managed by SAIL (Steel Authority of Indian Limited). Born in a Telugu Brahmin family but brought-up in Eastern India, I was very fond of north Indian food from a very young age. My mother learned preparing north Indian dishes from her neighbors – phulka, dal makhana, mixed vegetables, aloo-gobi, aloo-mutter, bhindi do pyaaza, aloo parattaa etc. and they are still my favorites at 54.
I used to do errands for my mother almost every alternate days in the nearby Ram Mandir bazaar near Sector IC where there used to be a pani poori (phuchka) thelaa (Bihari term for mobile cart) vendor. He used to serve hot pani-poori with tasty tamarind and mint water, chutney and potato mix curry. It used to be so tasty that I never missed them whenever I came to shop. Hot and tangy, so tasty that still I remember them melting in my mouth. I even remember the vendor who used to serve with lots of stories on his business, a very jovial person. I used to save 1 or 2 rupees for the purpose and had the pani-poories. There were varieties of chats sold by the same vendor – dahi chat, papadi chat, samosa chat, bread samosa, aloo tikki chat etc. All were very delicious and mouth-watering. There used to be a huge crowd around his thela and we needed to be in a queue to get our order served. But it was worth waiting.
Another item which I used to have in plenty was the chana choor (dried, pounded and salted chick-pea) outside the school campus in Sector IV. It was really fantastic – chana choor served with slices of onion, cucumber and lime juice. The chana choor vendor used to sing a hindi song to sell his product which goes something like this (heavily depending up on my good memory)
‘garam garm chana-choor, lelo bhaiyon and behano,
Aisa nahi milagey kahin, garam garam chana- choor.
Pyaar se khilaa rahaa hoon, kahin nahi milegaa,
Lelo bhaiyon and behano.’
It used to cost only 50p or 1.00 Rs and quantity used to be just 4 or 5 mouth full but I used to eat till I reached my home in Sector IC by rickshaw. Yes, those days, three wheel manual rickshaw was the main transport. Whenever I could not manage having some money with me, my rickshaw wallah used to treat us. I still remember him very fondly – we called him ‘tikki wala’ as he used to have a small tuft of thick long hair at the back, a symbol of Bihari Pundit.
My foodie experience during my school days can never vanish – I still try to enjoy north Indian food in Chennai but I do not get the same tanginess and experience which I had 35-40 years back. I still long for them. Now I try to cook myself on week-ends – using you tube, books by Sanjeev Kapoor, Tarla Dalal etc. – aloo baingan, aloo mutter, aloo gobi, baingan baaja etc. and treat my sons.\