Chota Amma


Negotiating a new life isn’t easy,   especially when you find yourself being driven down from the station in a jeep that raised red dust and pulled up suddenly in front of a mansion that wore the distinct look of a haunted house. Except, it had a lovely rose garden that was concealed from your view by the exposed, barren front entrance and a rickety gate. Except three dark smiling faces who welcomed you and were introduced to you as “Your Out-house Servants”. You were young, remember?   Fresh out of a campus that taught class privilege was a sin.  Naming was a trial too. That was part of the negotiation. You were the DAO’s wife.  —Memsaab.  The Saab was uneasy in his garb as well, and took to smoking pipe to prove to the world that ..but that is another story.

Mornings were inviting …the sky that was a canvas through the French windows, and the maalis hunched on the green grass in the garden, tending to the roses,  mingled with the Darjeeling tea that was brought to you by the Telugu Bai on a Kashmiri tray, a lovely hue and smoke emanating from the bone china mugs with faint floral patterns on them. Pink.Green. That you bought them from an Auction House on Park Street was a secret to the smiling Bai. She beamed, for she was in touch with greatness.

Afternoons simply were. The kitchen was not your territory, certainly not for long!   “Memsaab log khaana nehin pakaata; filom dekhta;  kilub jaata” , was the Bai’s expert advice to the memsaab whom she found hopelessly ‘chota’ and completely unprepared for the greatness that was thrust on her. So  at an auspicious hour she walked up to you and told you with an open smile that from that day she would call you “Chota Amma” in her singsong  Telugu Hindi for you were (or so she suspected) younger than her ‘larki’.  While  you negotiated, adjusted yourself  to your chameleon identity,  Mrs DAO/ DAO Memsaab/ Chota Amma, lazy afternoons became training sessions  for the Queen and the maid. The Queen on her bed, the maid on the floor. The spatial politics was a mockery, naturally. The maid taught the Queen the intricacies of mutton curry cooked with tamarind and curry leaves, the magical fermentation of urid daal and parboiled rice, the occult science of making curd  that was not smelly and pungent, in a bowl. Kancheepurams were part of the training too and (a furtive glance around to see whether or not thebadmaash bungalow peon was eavesdropping) the maid would suddenly drop her voice: do not encourage ‘Essistant Engine Saab… there was an odd look in his eyes when Saab  brought him home for tea! such bad bad men Saab brings to the house, ….

  Above the antique mantel was displayed

 As though a window gave upon the sylvan scene

 The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king

 Filled all the desert with inviolable voice

 And still she cried, and still the world pursues,

 “Jug Jug” to dirty ears.

So you listened. You learned all about Rava DosasUpmas, Uttapams, voyeuristic transgressions, as the afternoon sun drooped on the lonesome highway that led to Kharagpur  IIT. Time for the Saab to return home.  Time for the bungalow  peon to start the water …arrange puri sabzi/ chicken sandwiches on the tray and take a peek out of the kitchen window to watch out for the Jeep that shall bring the pipe smoking King home.

Five O’ clock. Officers were gentlemen; they came home at five sharp; never drank tea after sundown. Were to be found preferably at the club, guffawing , or playing Tennis, or doing both.

“What shall I do now? What shall I do?

I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street

With my hair down, so. What shall we do to-morrow?

What shall we ever do?”

The hot water at ten.

And if it rains, a closed car at four.

And we shall play a game of chess,

Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

At the club, the ladies drank over sweetened milky tea and crunchy onion pakoras, played housie, laid bare their men and marital intricacies to each other. You cringed. For you were taught what happened between a man and a woman was stuff for heightened narration, even  in a fallen state:  Madame Bovary… Madame Karenina… so you turn away and walk up furtively to the smoking room  and make a gesture… you take a deep breath in the darkness as strange fragrance oozes from the banyan trees lining up the avenue of what was once the European Colony.



 Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow is other negotiations…



Negotiating a life isn’t difficult either. But that is something you learn later, especially as things start to fall into place, like a jigsaw puzzle, like a Rubik cube or a tangent metaphor and suddenly  life isn’t a hieroglyphic anymore!  The DRM’s Bungalow is more spacious. Mrs Chopra prefers to make Dum Aloo for Kitty Parties; Mr Nagpal is allergic to prawn; Rum is to be bought only from Kalaikunda Army Canteen; Prafulla, Mrs Mishra’s Bungalow peon has to be brought in if you’re throwing a party for the engineers on training (How they eat, Ammaaaaaa);  Chief Medical Officer’s wife throws all formalities to the wind and openly addresses you as ‘Bou-ma’  much to the chagrin of the Duchesses around.   Meat achaar, mango pickles, soft unsalted butter wrapped in a plantain leaf, Chandrama , the Bai.. Afsha Ahmad from Lucknow and her effortlessBiryanis, the earthy green curtains bought from Jhargram Cooperative , the Maruti Gypsy of the Engineering Department, Winnie Court.. all seep into you, arrange and unfurl into a many splendored thing inside you  and become a philosophy in a strange way, beyond regrets, beyond a sense of loss: there is  Neelachal Express…there is Godfrey Mansion  .. . there is Chandrama and Mr. Gopal Krishnan,  and there is, above all, ‘Chota Amma’ who is yet to become a mother…


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Swedish Cinnamon Rolls


Sweden is known for many a culinary things and one of them is the Kanelbullar. The Kanelbullar even has its own day – October 4, which is celebrated as Kanelbullens Dag (Cinnamon Roll Day) . Ha! A whole day dedicated to celebrate baked goods. This iconic cinnamon roll is usually had with coffee and tradition of serving coffee with a baked good is called Fika . Oh! fika! I already love the sound of it all. The sweet spicy bread is wonderful  with or without coffee.


Swedish Cinnamon Rolls

Swedish Cinnamon Rolls


  • Ingredients
  • For the Starter:
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • For the Dough:
  • All of the Starter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt (if using salted butter, otherwise 1 1/2 tsp)
  • 6 to 8 pods cardamom, powdered
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup caster sugar
  • 60g butter, soft at room temperature
  • 1 medium egg
  • For the Filling:
  • 75g butter, soft at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, loosely packed (or 1/3 cup caster sugar)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup coarsely ground almonds
  • For the Topping:
  • Egg wash
  • Pearl sugar or large sugar crystals


  • Instructions
  • Make the starter
  • Mix together all the ingredients for the Starter into a sticky dough, in a large bowl. Place the Starter dough in an oiled bowl and loosely cover it and then refrigerate it. Since it’s cold here these days, I left it out on the counter for 7 hours.
  • The next day, about 30 minutes before you are ready to start on the dough, take the Starter out and leave it at room temperature. As always this can be kneaded by hand or in the stand mixer. Since my starter was already out, I moved to the next step.
  • Tear the Starter to large pieces and drop into the processor bowl. Now sift together the flour, cardamom and salt into a bowl. Add this, the lemon zest and sugar to the bowl and run the processor till well mixed.
  • Now add the soft butter and egg and knead well until you have a smooth and elastic dough. If your dough feels dry, add a little milk or if it feels wet then add a little flour till you have the required consistency of dough.
  • Now turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and then roll it out into a approximately rectangle about 20” by 12” in size.
  • Apply the softened butter all over the dough, and sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon all over.
  • Sprinkle the coarse almond powder over this.
  • For the rolls – tightly roll the dough jelly/ Swiss roll style and cut it into 20 equal pieces with a sharp knife. Place these, cut side down on a lightly greased baking sheet leaving space between them, or in white cupcake cases.
  • For the buns – fold the dough over in half and cut into 20 long strips with a sharp knife, twist and shape them as desired. Place these, cut side down on a lightly greased baking sheet leaving space between them, or in white cupcake cases.
  • Let them rise for about 10 to 15 minutes till they look a little puffy but not swollen up. Brush the Snails/ Buns with milk (or egg wash) and sprinkle with pearl sugar, large sugar crystals or brown sugar.

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