One of my closest friend, who’s called Pinky, lives in Baroda. We met via work – at The Times of India and even though we haven’t been colleagues for over a decade now, we remain in regular touch. And in spite of the fact that I now no longer live in Baroda, she regularly visits my mother – who lives on her own. My moving away hasn’t meant that she has stopped visiting our home.
So coming back to Pinky. She has cultivated a little kitchen garden. Her garden bears her papayas, bitter gourd, bottle gourd, green chillies, taro leaves, lemon grass and I believe, she has also sown turmeric. Previously she also had a banana plant.
Now, as it happens, a couple of days ago her mali (gardener) came over and noticed that a bottle gourd had managed to hide itself high among leaves, the creeper having climbed the compound wall.
The bottle gourd was huge. Since it had gone unnoticed, it had allowed itself to spread out like a well-fed man (or woman) and was, undeniably fat and wholesome.
The mali brought it down, and everyone surveyed it in wonder. Pinky’s domestic helper said that the bottle gourd resembled a child, and one could easily hold it against one’s chest and cradle it!
The celebrity bottle gourd was now weighed. It was a whooping 2.5 kg.
However since it was no longer tender, it wasn’t suitable for making a vegetable curry. But it was perfect for anything that could be made by grating it.
Pinky immediately cut it into half and called my mother.
Aunty, she said, would you be making handvo this week? (Handvo is a Gujarati delicacy, made from lentils, rice, and grated vegetables – bottle gourd being the chief one. All the lentils and rice are soaked overnight and then ground to a paste. Once the paste/mixture is ready, the grated bottle gourd and other ingredients are added and the mixture is poured out into a tray to be baked. Traditionally it was made in an aluminium container with a circular tray of sand, which helped in the baking process.)
Why, said my mother. I am just about to make it tomorrow! I have already soaked rice and lentils.
Perfect, said Pinky.
She packed the dudhi, two homegrown karelas/bitter gourd, and a taro leaf. These went to my mother.
From the remaining portion of the bottle gourd, Pinky made dudhi no halwo (a sweet dish made by grated bottle gourd, milk, sugar and condensed milk or khoya.) She also saved the peels and seeds, and mashed them up along with a tomato, a stub of ginger and green chillies and gave the mixture a nice tadka (tempering) of mustard seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves and salt. And voila, she had a rather delicious chutney too!
All of this from a single bottle gourd. A bottle gourd who was clever and managed to hide itself from watchful and eager eyes of the mali and Pinky and everyone else. A bottle gourd who eventually weighed 2.5 kg and gave two households (and its many guests) some delicious treats – both savoury and sweet.
I thought it was all so rather nice, simple and wholesome. And how food when shared — whether when we are sharing what we have grown or bought or when we are sharing what we have cooked — becomes a language of its own, bringing people and communities together.
This bottle gourd and its story made my day. I hope it makes yours too.