O is for “Ordinary”. Yes Ordinary is regular, mundane and then special too.. and Ordinary is “Oota” ( food in Kannada) …actually the only greeting I know that is related to food in the world ” Oota aayita” (had your food) is actually an Ordinary greeting like “How are you?” Often times complete strangers on the streets in Bangalore are bound to ask you, “Oota aayita”? I am often tempted to say , “illa” ( No) , but have always nodded my head and Ordinarily said, ” Howdo” ( Yes)……
The Blogging: A-Z challenge is available every April to all bloggers. My blogger friend Arti – http://www.artismoments.blogspot.com, did it last year and is doing it again, this year too. I have been enjoying her blog posts. She came up with pretty interesting ones, related to our childhood days in India. Her posts on L for Laundry, M for Maid, N for Naada were spot on! Then, while I was musing about “O”, I found my Oota (food in Kannada) and decided to write about it. While, Arti found “O’ for Ordinary. Oota is a part of our Ordinary lives, it was perhaps the second word I learned in Kannada, the local language of Bangalore in Karnataka – a southern state in India. My first one being ” Gothilla”( don’t know). As a four-year-old going to school in Bangalore, I was taught by my mother to shake my head and say “Kannada Gothilla” (can’t speak Kannada), whenever anyone, be it the aaya ( caretaker) or any of my classmates talked to me in Kannada. And then, Oota was the second word that I learned!
During lunch recess, nobody left the classroom, as all the kids settled on the long benches to eat. A lot of my classmates and adults would touch their lips with their right hand – all fingers and thumbs enclosed together, as they asked “Oota Maadthiya?” ( Will you eat your lunch). There was plethora of food that looked nothing like mine, as they opened shiny steel tiffin carriers and dove into their food, that was mostly rice based, yellow rice with peanuts , plain rice with some kind of daal(lentil dish), rice blended in with yoghurt and green grapes. What more? Most of the food was steaming hot, especially when it was brought in by mothers walking in during lunch time to feed their children. I watched them, while sitting in a corner and eating my roti-sabzi. (flat bread with veggies).
One day, I was excited to see two girls eating halva (pudding made with flour), now that was familiar. As I tried to get a closer look, I heard them talking in Hindi, a familiar language, but they were lost in their own world, laughing, talking, shaking the bench, while scooping the buttery pudding into their mouths with rather largish spoons. I would narrate the day-to-day happenings to my mom every evening, but she always seemed busy, lost in some “Oota project or the other.” Either she was baking a cake or making tomato ketchup or roasting flour in ghee to make some kind of dessert. She wasn’t impressed with the moms that walked to school with hot lunches for their kids. “They live close to the school and we don’t”, she said rather dismissively. Here, I was thinking of how she could sometimes, drive to school to deliver hot lunch. After all, she had the car on the days that my father carpooled to work with his colleague.
After Oota it was Aata (play) although Aata means wheat dough in Punjabi (my mother tongue), it wasn’t hard to understand. Here again, I the new kid, who had joined the UKG (Upper Kindergarten) halfway through the school term, was content to sit and watch my classmates run around as they played tag or hide-and-seek in the classroom. I was getting familiar with some names, that I heard again and again – Ranga, Meena, Malini. Meena was the tallest girl, she was always the engine of a long train, made up of many girls holding on to each other’s skirts as she gave instructions in Kannada, all the girls seem to understand her as they followed her around, I could tell she enjoyed being in-charge.
Ranga was a short boy, who was prone to tripping over the long benches in the classroom, his knees and elbows were full of little cuts and scrapes but he and many other boys/girls endured them for the sake of the game. Occasionally, a girl or a boy would bawl and make a big deal about their cut, especially if there was blood, but it didn’t take long for him/her to amble along after a while, as if nothing had happened. If they were lucky, the aaya( caretaker) would put a few drops Dettol on a piece of cotton and apply it on the “bleeding cut”, accompanied by soothing, empathetic sounds of “ayay ooo…paaapaaa.” Paapaa in Kannada was an endearing way to say, “you poor little sufferer” or another way of addressing a baby or toddlers. A little confusing at first, considering I had a Papa at home who was always rushing to office for work, but I soon got the hang of it!
It took me a few years to realize that a proper oota is actually a balanced meal with as many as 10 to 15 varieties of items consisting of Sambhar (spicy version of daal), Rasam (tangier and more watery version of Sambhar), crisp veggies, chutneys and yoghurt with with oodles of rice in the middle, served on a banana leaf. It was a standard way of eating at weddings and celebrations at people’s houses. My father, especially enjoyed the real “oota”, as he would joyfully remark,”eh log payt tha bada khayal rakhde ne” (They actually care for your stomach, as the meals are light) , obviously comparing them to the food doled out at Punjabi weddings in the North, where the food is always rich, heavy and laden with milk, cream, fat and paneer ( homemade cheese). Mummy would solemnly add, especially when talking to our relatives ( who lived in Delhi), ” Saade taa khila khila ke bura haal kar dinde ne” ( In our celebrations in the north, they insist on over-feeding you). “You can easily attend 3 – 4 South Indian celebrations in a day, but when it comes to North Indian celebrations, just one is enough to keep you full for that entire day and even two days later”, was another slogan they both enjoyed repeating.
Our Punjabi meals at home, called Roti-shoti ( Flat bread-etc. ) were usually light, as my parents were very health conscious, less oil in the veggies, no deep frying unless there are guests. While, we had the humble roti ( whole wheat bread cooked on the griddle) for our daily meals, the guests got pooris ( deep fried bread) and pakoras ( deep fried veggie fritters). As a seven year old, I would sneak over to my favorite neighbor, Meera aunty’s house for their rice and tangy sambhar for lunch, while Ganesh their son loved to have roti with veggies at our house. He spent more time at our house than anyone else’s in the neighborhood. Meera Aunty spoke tamil at home, as her family was from the state of Tamilnadu. So Sapaat meant meals, and Sapd meant eat. I learned that and a lot more words in Tamil, rather quickly.
The Shastrys lived in the rental below ours, they spoke Telegu, another language from the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh, they loved their red hot chilly peppers and pickles mixed in with rice and spoonful of melted butter in their Bhojanam (food). Shastry Aunty was very strict, she was either beating up her four-year-old daughter Taruna, usually for not getting 100/100 in her Math test at school, or yelling “Kot es tannu”( I will beat you). So I was scared of her, I only went to their house, when there weren’t other kids around to play with or I was truly bored to death.
The Singhs who lived in the rental above Meera Aunty, spoke a different kind of Hindi( India’s national language) called Hyderabadi – Hindi, all their sentences ended with an additional sound of “U or “O.” The Singh sisters Soni and Bindu were proud of their Rajput ( warrior clan) heritage, plus they had a lot of nice dolls to play with. Their language was very easy for me to understand, as it was similar to Punjabi. ” Khaana Khaatu?” ( Eating meals), usually involved, Gosht (lamb chunks) – the only meat-eaters in our vegetarian neighborhood. My father brought in fish once in six months or so, but my mother could not get herself to touch it, so our maid who had the longest nails, filled to the brim with dirt ended up cooking the fish for us (my father, brother and me). One day, my brother saw the fish in the fridge and yelled out in disgust, “What are these little dead bodies doing her?” Well! that signaled the end of the my dad’s “semi-annual fish buying spree.”
My mother got busy with her next oota project, learning how to make the local Dosa ( crepes) and Idli (steamed rice cakes), with the batter being ground by using the hand-driven stone mill, as known as wet grinder. Back then, almost every kitchen in Bangalore had the grinder as a centerpiece, ours was no exception!! My mom used that special “hand grinding mill” for at least five-six years, before she started using her trusty mixie (blender).
Be it Oota, Roti-Shoti, Khaana, Bhojanam or Sapaat, Food make our lives interesting. Nothing like Oota to bring people together and what better of way of taking care of folks other than by asking “Oota Maadtiya?” (will you have food?) before greeting/asking them “Oota Ayitha?” ( Had your food? – How are you? )