Maltitai was my grandmother’s eldest sister and also her favorite one. She was a widow and lived alone all by herself for more than six decades in Pune. As much as the previous sentence would sound grim, her personality was absolutely contrasting. She lived alone but she was never lonely because she considered all her siblings as her family, their families as her own and their children as her very own. So did the latter.
|The inseparable sisters- My grandmother (R) and Malutai|
Malu tai as everyone fondly called her was the liveliest member of her generation. A very warm person with an unmatched sense of humor; an artist with extra-ordinary cooking skills and a storyteller in every sense of the word. She played the sitar and her passion for the instrument reflected in her choice of sarees, her culinary experiments and in her smile.
She would often accompany us children for our summer vacations to my grandparent’s home and with every few miles during the journey, her stories would get more intriguing. She had a knack for narrating her daily incidents which would make good stories for children and the elderly. In our family gatherings everyone would surround her as she would gradually open her treasure of anecdotes and no one realized where time dissolved. We children used to then remind her of our favorite incidents from her narrations and then she would repeat them as seamlessly as she did for the first time. We would hear all her encounters with the most uncanny characters several times but we would still want to hear them over and over again.
Malu tai probably had a serious side to her as well but none of ever saw it. She did have her share of sorrows but her expressive eyes would only emote the brighter side of her life. Why I miss her especially during this time of the year is because of her finely sculpted 'Modaks'. Modak is a quintessential Maharashtrian delicacy prepared exclusively during Ganesh Chaturthi. It is made of steamed rice flour stuffed with a sweet coconut and jaggery mixture. Then comes the arduous part of shaping them. As much as she was meticulous about the spices she put in her cooking, she took much more efforts in garnishing everything she made. That is the reason I say ‘sculpted’ Modaks. All her Modaks would look alike, every piece finely crafted just like the other.
|My memory of Malutai sculpting each and every modak with love, every Ganesh puja morning.|
On one of the Ganesh poojas some years back, we children sat down with her to try our hand at this unique delicacy. We all struggled to form the basic shape while Malu tai created series of them. We would make one and then get it approved from her. She was a veteran but she appreciated our efforts of an attempt to try something that takes years of practice to perfect.
Malu tai was one person who taught us that cooking is worship. Its worship to God and more importantly to the people you are cooking for. You cannot take either for granted. As much as someone would enjoy what you have made for them, they must first be able to appreciate it just by its appearance.
I never asked Malu tai her age. Rather it did not matter, she was young as young could be till her last breath. Her ability to connect many families as one, carved a special place for her in everyone’s heart. That is what people like her do to you; they make you believe in love, affection and unconditional giving.
Your Modaks still remain the most sought-after.