Tribute to my Mother-in-law, Smt. Ahalya Bai (1915-2003)
N. Meera Raghavendra Rao
Born into an aristocratic family, my mother-in-law studied in a convent School. Being the only girl child, with two younger brothers, she had a pampered childhood. Yet when at the young age of 15, she was married to Shri Nandagiri Rama Rao, a chartered accountant, she soon settled well into her new, large family. Despite having a handicapped first born, she was never one to moan her fate or make others in the family miserable.
From the very day I entered my husband’s family as a young bride, I felt a part of it as my mother-in-law enveloped me into her fold more like a grand daughter (she used to plat my hair everyday), than a daughter-in-law. We truly shared an excellent rapport.
When we had get-togethers at our house, she would enthusiastically become scorer for the games organized, ready with a pencil and pad to write the scores of participants.
Among relatives she was addressed as Ahalya Akka, and her friends called her Ahalya Maami. I used to call her aunty. She welcomed all those who came home with a warm smile and would never let them leave without accepting her hospitality. Above all, she had a soft corner for the poor and believed in parting with whatever she could to make their lives a little easier and bring a smile on their lips.
She loved sweets so much that sometimes she would even make a meal of payasam and laddus. But when my father-in-law passed away (she was in her late sixties then) she gave up eating those very sweets which were so dear to her. When asked about it she would say it was a very small sacrifice she was making as a tribute to my father-in-law, with whom she had shared her life for more than five decades.
She wore only Madurai Sungadi sarees and patronized Rangachari Store on Luz Church Road.
She was very good at sewing, especially smocking and kutch work besides embroidery. She would gift smocked frocks to newborns and hand-embroidered bedspreads and smocked night-wear to newlyweds. A number of ladies, half her age would learn the art from her and her handwork was often displayed at various exhibitions.
Her culinary prowess was remarkable, her specialties being cashew nut cakes, and wheat halwa among sweets and bisi-bela-huli-anna (a dish of Karnataka) and stuffed brinjals.
When she passed away at 88, six years ago, she left a great void in my life (having lived with her for 33 years). I felt I had suddenly aged by 20 years. I am happy to share one of her favourite recipes here in this wonderful space for tributes.
Brinjals, small-sized (light green or purple variety) – 250 gms
For the stuffing:
Urad dal—1 tablespoon
A small piece of hing (the hard variety)
Red chillies – 5-6
Dry coconut – 1 tablespoon, grated
Coriander leaves – 1 tablespoon, washed and chopped fine
Gingely oil – 1 tablespoon
Salt to taste
1) Dry roast the above ingredients for the stuffing and grind into a coarse powder. Mix 2 teaspoons of oil into this mixture to bind it.
2) Remove the stalks of the brinjals and make criss-cross slits from the top. Wash the brinjals and immediately stuff the mixture through the slits.
3) Shallow fry the stuffed brinjals in gingely oil, tossing them occasionally. When the brinjals have cooked well, take off the flame.
4) Alternatively, you can steam them for 5 minutes and then shallow fry them in oil.
5) If any of the mixture for the stuffing is remaining, sprinkle them over the cooked brinjals.
Serve with rotis or as a side-dish in a meal.