Tapaka Neethi

Neethi was busy getting the batter ready for pesarattu*. Her husband was returning after an official tour. Being a vegetarian, he never could get good food while travelling and he just loved pesarattus. Humming a tune she added salt to the batter when the vessel tipped and fell; she cried out’Devada’ before catching the vessel just as it was about to touch floor. ‘Uff’, she said to herself,’ saved right on time’ and brushed the sweat off her forehead.
It had always been like that. Things just happened to fall of her hand. So much that in grannys place she was banned from the kitchen. It was an old house with thatched roof and everyone was afraid that if she went into the kitchen she might burn the whole house down. Her brother used to call her ‘Tapaka’Neethi. Tapaka being the Telugu word for firecracker. For wherever she went she would be accompanied with a bang and a burst.
During childhood she could never steal chocolates from the kitchen as invariably something would fall and her mother would come to know of her antics. After marriage initially her husband Nimit would arrive home and check if she had any burn marks or cut marks. Nowadays he would arrive and check if everything was intact.

‘I never do anything deliberately, it just happens.’ She thought.
After having his fill of pesarattus; Nimit called out’ See Neethi what I have got for you’, and he took out a beautiful ceramic bowl. I got it from an exhibition. Its quite expensive but the craftsmanship is exquisite. You can use it for special occasions. But please do be careful and store it properly.’ It was a beautiful bowl and she kept it on top of the showcase where her hands normally could not reach.
‘Neethi see, there is a cookery competition organized by the ladies club. Why don’t you take part,’ asked Nimit early the next morning browsing through the newspaper.
‘Yes, why not, you are a good cook,’
‘But what shall I make?’
‘Hmmm. Why not that capsicum raita* in the salad section? The smoked capsicum with the cumin and peanut powder gives it a distinctive flavor. And who knows its simplicity might win over the judges. Also you have a lovely bowl to present it in.’

Neethi liked Nimit’s suggestion and so sent her entry for the competition

The day before the competition, she stood over the chair to take down the bowl, when crash it went. Nimit came running to find that the bowl previously one was now in four quadrants.
‘That’s it Neethi, never am I going to buy you anything again. Can’t you handle anything properly’, he screamed and shut himself upin the study.

With tears streaming down her cheeks she began to clear away the mess when the telephone rang and she found her brother on the other side,’Annayya’ she called out and again there was a fresh bout of tears. ’What happened’, he asked and she recounted the whole story.
Her brother just could not control his laughter.
‘Annayya, Nimit is so angry’
“Give him some time and he will come around’
‘But how will I serve my Pacchadi tomorrow,’ she asked.
‘Hmm you will have to be innovative’ he said

Afterwards she went for a walk to clear her mind. After a brisk walk she stood below the jackfruit tree. It was the only tree left in the colony, that too because Mr. Burman loved Jackfruits and refused to let it be cut. She looked at the tree and its leaves and some memories of childhood flitted by. Their neighbor Mrs. Kamath would weave small cups with four leaves of the jackfruit tree and steam idlis in it. She still could smell the aroma of the idlis. ‘Eureka, she thought why don’t I wove a cup similarly for my raita. It would look lovely and would be eco friendly too. Only thing the cup should not have any gaps or the raita would seep through.

So she took some leaves back home to find Nimit still in a foul mood, ’And what are the leaves for? Do you want to make a bonfire now and burn the whole house down, is it?’ She hurriedly went and hid the leaves in a corner.

Next day with a lot of trial and error she could make a cup that would not fall and would not spill. Then she roasted the capsicum slowly over a fire and got the salad done.

At 4 p.m. she got ready and left for the venue. Nimit who was still in a bad mood refused to come for the event. For presentations she put a banana leaf and then kept the leaf cuo over it. on one corner of the banan leaf she arranged some flowers and on the other the ingredients of the salad. The participants had to present the item with the recipe. So she had written the recipe on chart paper with a quill using vegetable dye. The salad she put in the cup just before the gong for the competition was rung.

The judges came and stood before Neethi, one of them asked about the procedure while the rest tasted the dish. Then the second judge asked about her unique presentation.’ I wanted to present it in an economic and eco friendly way. Hence I used this cup. When the use of this cup is over, it can be thrown in our garden. It disintegrates completely. Or it can be used as fodder.’

The judges were visibly impressed.

When the judges moved away she too mingled with the rest of the participants and made many friends but looking at their exquisite recipes she realized that her entry was too simple to gather attention. And so when the results were announced, she was not surprised when she didn’t win any prize.
‘Now I would like to make a special mention for a unique presentation, which is economic and eco friendly’, the MC announced,’ the judges would like to give a certificate of appreciation for innovative presentation; and it goes to Mrs. Neethi Nimit’. And Neethi was called on stage to receive the award. From the dias she saw Nimit in the audience giving her a standing ovation.
The next day Nimit arrived from work with a huge bag. ‘What’s in this bag, Nimit?’, asked Neethi.

‘I had been to the outskirts for a survey and found some wonderful flora. I thought with your tendency to break things, maybe we could use these to beautify our home’ and out tumbled an assortment of leaves and twigs.
Tapaka-A Telugu word for firecrackers
Devada-A telugu term for God
Annayya- ATelugu term for elder brother
Pacchadi- salad
Pesarattu-A type of dosa made with green lentils and raw rice. Its usually stuffed with upma and served with ginger chutney ( An Andhra speciality)

Capsicum raita– Capsicum is charred over charcoal or on the gas burner. When it is cooked, the burnt skin is removed, washed and chopped. To this is added roasted peanut powder, cumin powder, red chilli powder, grated coconut salt and thick curds. Usually garnished with coriander leaves.

The jackfruit leaf cup called as Khotte in Konkani and a very common way of steaming idlis amongst Konkanis. In earlier days when the there were joint families, the ladies would sit and make these cups while exchanging gossip. These cups were later given as fodder to the cows.

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