Saturday, October 23, 2010

Methi Bhaat (Spiced Fenugreek Rice)

Sukanya sighed and looked at her watch for the umpteenth time, as if looking at the watch innumerable times would make the train miraculously roll into the platform.

Her day had begun badly enough; it seemed it would end no better.

She had been chasing time all day today - she had woken up late in the morning and was therefore late getting in to work. Consequently, she had had to leave later than she usually did. Now with the trains running late, there was no way she would get home before 8.30 tonight.

She had been feeling unusually exhausted all day making her wonder she had caught some bug. All she wanted to do was just curl up and sleep, but knew that was not to be. She was all too aware of the dinner that had to be made and some other sundry chores that had to be attended to at home.

She looked at her watch once again and sighed deeply as she looked at the swelling crowd on the platform; with every second more and more people seemed to be waiting on the platform. She sighed once again, mentally resigning herself to standing for a better part of her 75 minute journey back home.

A few more minutes of waiting and finally the train rolled in. As expected, she could not find a seat but managed to find a toehold beside the train doors. It was certainly a little unsafe but at least she would get some cool breeze on her face and some fresh air to breathe in – that was immeasurably better than being crushed between sweaty bodies or having someone’s smelly armpit shoved in her face!

Normally, she would chit-chat with her friends - she had made friends with several women who travelled on the same train as her every evening. However, today she simply rested her head on the door and closed her eyes reflecting, with a little despondency, on the rut her life seemed to be stuck in.

She was roused out of her thoughts by someone’s cheerful ‘hi Sukanya’. Opening her eyes, she saw a face that looked vaguely familiar but she couldn’t quite recollect the young girl’s name or where she had met her.

“Remember me? Naina….we met at the Diwali party a few months ago….”

Of course, now she remembered. Naina was married to someone….now what was his name……who worked in the same company as her husband. She now remembered being introduced to her.

She smiled, “You looked so different in all the finery that I couldn’t place you at all. How are you and your husband….umm…Sameer?”

“Can’t blame you….I’ve changed my hairstyle soon after. But I think we’ll meet often now that we’ve moved somewhere very close to your building. Do you always take the 6.13?”

“Yes,” said Sukanya, smiling at Naina’s exuberance. “So where do you….,” she wanted to ask her where she worked but was interrupted by the ringing of Naina’s cell phone.

‘Think another 50 minutes.’
‘Baingan bharta? Ok. But don’t roast the baingan on the gas, the whole house will get smoky. Use the oven. And listen…..’

“Shit....the network’s gone!” she said suddenly with a mild note of irritation as she tried to call back.

Sukanya hadn’t meant to eavesdrop but Naina was talking loudly enough for everyone in the compartment to listen. Probably giving instructions to her cook, she thought to herself. High time I employed one too. At 45, age is starting to creep up on me - I do tire easily these days. Maybe I should ask Naina for the number of her cook, no matter the resistance from the husband.

“Your cook?” she asked Naina who had given up dialing the number but was turning the phone this way and that over everybody’s heads in the cramped compartment in an attempt to get the signal back.

“Cook!” she exclaimed incredulously. “I don’t employ one – well I used to but that was over 4 years ago. Actually that was Sameer asking me what to prepare for dinner tonight.”

“Sameer cooks? That is great. Lucky you.”

“Well, he can’t really cook….neither can I, but we manage. And no, he is the one who is lucky. After all, I work too and I also have to travel to work every single day, unlike people like Sameer and your husband whose office is so close to their homes. They are the lucky ones, I say!”

Sukanya merely smiled but she couldn’t help but feel a just a teeny bit jealous of Naina. Mine can’t even make tea…..he wouldn’t even if he could, she thought a little bitterly. He was one of those who believed that cooking and other housework were solely a woman’s responsibility. If only he were a little sensitive to her travails. Like today for example. It was so easy for him to ask me to make methi bhaat at dinner. “It’s been so long since you last made it. You know how much I like it,” he had complained.

They all loved methi bhaat, but separating the leaves from their stalks was a lot of work and she would have much preferred to do it over the weekend while watching T.V. However, her protestations about how tiresome and time consuming it was to separate the leaves from the stalks was greeted with some whining of how he never demanded anything elaborate from her at dinner. “And I don’t understand why can’t you do that in the train on your way back?”

She glanced at the bundles of methi leaves in the bag that she had been unable to sort standing in the crowded train. She would have to do it all at home, she looked at her watch and estimated she would be home in another 20 minutes.

When she reached home, her husband was sprawled on the sofa watching cricket on the T.V., his feet on the coffee table. “You are late today….trains, huh? Just make the dinner quickly, I am really very hungry,” he said through a mouthful of chivda.

She shook her head in resignation and put the methi bundles in the kitchen. She was very quick in the kitchen and reckoned she would have the dinner ready in under an hour but she needed to take a shower before she began cooking.

She passed her son’s room on the way to her own. She peeped in; her son was glued to the computer playing some game. “Oh mom, you spoiled my game,” he said. Just at that instant, she heard her husband exult ‘great shot.’

Something in her snapped at that moment. Like father, like son, she thought. No one was bothered to even offer her a cup of tea or ask her how her day was.

“Aniket, I am going to take a shower. In the meantime, go to the kitchen and cook some rice and boil some potatoes too,” she said, much to her son’s horror.
“Mom, not me, I don’t even know how to…”
“You are 17 and old enough to learn. I’ll tell you what to do.”
“Mom….,” he stopped mid-sentence, realizing she would not accept any argument.

There was nothing she could do to change her husband’s attitude – it was too late for that, but it was high time she influenced the way her son turned out, she thought as she headed into the shower.

The suburban train network in Mumbai is its lifeline and is the quickest way to get from one end of the city to the other. There are some people who travel for as little as 15 minutes and there are others who travel almost 2 hours one way to get to their place of work. In the evenings, they are back in the train for the same length of time.

The trains are also very crowded; at peak hours, it is not unusual to find people hanging out of its doors, sometimes, you even find some perched on the roof of the compartments. In many ways, the suburban train travel in Mumbai is a great leveller - no matter what your occupation, no matter the money you earn, at the end of the day, you are

People have found many ways to keep themselves occupied - other than chatting and reading and sleeping, there are groups who sing bhajans or play cards to while away the time.

But it is in the ladies' compartments that you really get to witness glimpses of people's lives, their joys and their struggles. The chatter is endless; most of the times, there is laughter and occasionally, fierce arguments too. But beneath all the chatter is the anxiety and eagerness to get home as soon as possible to attend to the children and other chores. The women do much more than just chat or play cards or sing bhajans - they use their time in the train far more productively - it is not unusual to see women knitting, their needles going clicketty clack, or even cleaning some vegetables in preparation for dinner.

The story of just another day in Sukanya's life which is my (again very late) entry to Of Chalks and Chopsticks that PJ is hosting is based on the small nuggets of conversations gleaned from my train travels many moons ago.

Methi Bhaat/ Rice with Fenugreek leaves


Onion: 1 large, finely chopped
Tomato: 2, chopped
Garlic: 7-8 cloves, choppped
Boiled potatoes/sweet potatoes: 1/2 cup
Methi/Fenugreek leaves: 2.5 cups, washed and chopped
Dry spices: Turmeric, red chilli powder, garam masala
Jaggery: 1 tbsp

Rice: 1.5 cups, cooked and cooled completely


Cut the boiled sweet potato into cubes. Grease a frying pan with some cooking spray and lightly fry the cubes till brown. Set aside.

Heat oil in a wok and add in the chopped garlic. Saute till the garlic turns brown.

Then toss in the onions and fry till they turn pink. Next, add in the tomatoes and cook till the tomatoes become soft and mushy. Add in the dry spices, the jaggery and the salt.

Add in the methi leaves and turn up the heat. Stir constantly till the leaves are cooked, about 4- 5 minutes. Then add the fried potatoes and mix well.

Add in the cold rice into the vegetable mixture and gently stir till all the grains are evenly coated with the vegetable mixture. Cover and steam on a very low heat, stirring occasionally till the rice is heated through.

Serve with some yogurt and papad.


  1. awesome way to introduce recipe...

  2. Lovely story. I love the description about ladies sorting methi and knitting in the ladies compartment. :)

    Glad Sukanya is getting her son cracking. The whole survival of the fittest thing is about feeding yourself. How it has come about that grown men cannot feed themselves in this day and age is almost illogical.

  3. Such a beautiful story..Methi bhaat looks comforting and healthy..

  4. Ah, your story ... it's throwing up thoughts one too many to put down here ... I don't think I've ever had methi bhaat.

    I completely missed the C&C announcement this time!

  5. Aqua,
    lovely story..So near to realities of life..never had methi bhaat ,looks delicious..hugs and smiles

  6. Jaya, Saumi and Priyanka, thanks.

    SS, some grown men are not only incapable of cooking for themselves, but also harbor the feeling that they don't have to - some woman - wife, mother, daughter will and should be there to wait on them. Pathetic!

    Priya, thanks. Will update and send this to the complete the thali event you are hosting.

    Oh Sra, but I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Look forward to reading something from you on the next Of C and C.

  7. HI Aqua,I remember traveling in the Cheenai suburb trains just once and gosh, after that experience I have never stepped into one.All ur descriptions -being crushed between sweaty bodies or having someone’s smelly armpit shoved in her face!,was really ,..,I better not tell that out;)..

    Nice read Aqua :).Always better to train the son so that he can understand and share the wife's chores when needed.It is never possible to change the husbands attitude I guess...


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