The Onion Pakodas

“Taste is the feminine of genius.” – Edward FitzGerald, English writer. (1809-1883)

I do not think that at any point in my life, I have considered my mom a genius. She has always been the epitome of care and affection, but somehow among the regular mundane dealings of life I had never paused and reflected if it would really take an enormous amount of effort to be the person that she is. Pretty much like the salt in your food, its presence is never acknowledged but its absence is always felt, she added the taste to our lives, literally and figuratively, without any one of us ever noticing the same. Then one fine evening, after I had moved out on my own, I decided to make onion pakodas!

When I was a kid, we used to have frequent load shedding in the evening. While the entire colony was in a black out, it was family time for us. My dad would have just returned from office and my mom would have just completed all the chores for the day in anticipation of the power cut. Huddled around an old oil lantern, we would discuss politics, play word games, analyze the actions of a particular neighbour or a relative and read out the headlines from the newspaper. However, none of these evenings were ever complete without munching on the delicious onion pakodas that my mom made.

Every day just before the power cut, she prepared them in three varieties – the salty ones for me, the spicy ones for my dad and the bland ones for my sister. For almost twelve and a half years we munched on them almost every day and strangely the taste never bored us.

The onion pakoda is a traditional Indian snack made out of onion, as the name suggests, by dipping it in a batter of gram flour and then by deep frying it. However, it is not as simple as it reads in the recipe book. The flour has to mix well, the oil has to be hot enough, the frying has to be proper and the amount of salt has to be constant from pakoda to pakoda. Even though I gave my best shot that evening, by the end of my herculean effort, I was left with a dozen of inedible pakodas, a bunch of utensils that needed to be washed, oil all over the stove and a realization that making pakodas required one hell of an effort. To think of the fact that she went through this every day for twelve years and prepared them in three varieties seemed an enormous effort now. She did it with a smile on her face, least perturbed by the indifference we showed to her efforts. I made a mental note of thanking her the next time I met her.

We met sometime later that year. During one of our many conversations I brought up the topic of onion pakodas and told her “You know I never thanked you for the efforts you took in making them. I should. Thank you mom for those wonderful evenings.”

She looked at me with awry eyes, smiled sheepishly and mumbled “I did have my rewards.”

“And what exactly do you mean when you say rewards?”

“Well the reward came from the way your eyes twinkled when you saw a plate full of onion pakodas and the delight with which you relished them. Making onion pakodas every day was a tenacious job but I so loved the smile on your face when you saw a plateful of them that I can go through another twelve years of making them. No work is as pleasing as the one that makes your loved ones happy. In that happiness I found my reward.

Someday when you will have kids, you will see to what extent you can go to see a faint smile on their face. You would realize, that faint smile, those little words of appreciation can make you do crazy things again and again. Like for example making onion pakodas every day for twelve years – the magic will be passed on to you then.”

My mom is not a genius or she would have known how to put it better. That magic is called love!

In a world where not finding the charm in your work is the buzz word, my mom had figured out the magic in making onion pakodas in a small kitchen every day for twelve years. Ask her if she has ever complained. You would get a sheepish smile and a plateful of onion pakodas!

Shreetam Shubhrankar

A graduate from NIT Nagpur in Computer Science and Engineering, his interests lie in Creative Writing and Story Telling. He is an Engineer by education, an Application Developer by profession and a Storyteller by passion.