Okhra odyssey


My mother had many pet peeves but there was one in particular that always got her goat.

Deciding the daily food menu had been a constant struggle all her life. Barring my younger brother who, we were convinced, had a bottomless pit for a stomach, and would eat anything set before him at any time of day or night, everyone else in the seven-person strong joint family that lived together under one roof in the house of my childhood in Punjab had their own unique demands and grievances when it came to the food they wanted to eat.

While the verbal tussle for triumph over one another’s culturally common albeit definitively distinct Punjabi palates was a ubiquitous domestic affair, the one binding vegetable that kept the dwindling unity, (and my mother’s wavering sanity) afloat was Okhra. (Bhindi as we call it in our Mother Tongue).

I never really understood why. What was it about this sticky, slimy green vegetable coined ‘Lady Finger’ by early American and French settlers owing to its apparent resemblance to the shape of a lady’s fingers, cooked alongside a hefty dose of chopped onions to keep it company, that had quite inconspicuously triumphed over other food items during daily familial jostles that it knew nothing about?

Its not that we were in love with Okhra. In fact, I don’t think we paid much attention to it even while we served it to ourselves as we congregated each day around the dining table, filling our plates as we chatted noisily.

“Oh great, Rajma rice again”, retorts my brother, attacking the normally quite coveted curry dish of chickpeas served with boiled rice. The sarcasm too has been served in a healthy dose with his words. He proceeds to load up his plate with some extra Okhra as if to compensate for the irritant Rajma rice. He would always do this without even glancing at the Okhra dish. His disgruntled eyes never left the traitorous Rajma dish.

“And here we are – the delicious Bharta once again. Yay.” This time my sister, not to be left behind, chimes in with her own dollop of sarcasm as she makes her way purposefully towards the Okhra, the saving grace in this blasphemous meal, casting a searing glance at the eggplant enemy that is perched insolently in a glass dish nearby.

My mother rolls her eyes as she does every day at these impudent utterances and pretends to be deaf to them.

I myself have always liked Rajma rice too. And yet, unwittingly I find that the Okhra will always reach my plate first. This has remained a mystery. Why? I don’t love Okhra. In fact, I don’t notice it much either. I am quite certain it is written off in our minds as a daily mundanity – an occurrence of such frequency in our daily lives that we begin to cease noticing its existence.

Fast forwarding a few years when I have found myself a husband. As fate would have it, he turns out to be no mild fan of Okhra. In fact, quite the opposite. What a surprise. I seem to be able to channel some of my own innate sarcasm now. Swiftly, the invincible Okhra makes a ubiquitous place for itself in my matrimonial kitchen too. Thankfully though, there was also unequivocal shared interest in Rajma rice.

Another few years fast-forwarded mark the arrival of our son into the world. After some initial fretting and fussing over his diminutive appetite and wrestling with his food habits, the dust finally settled and brought along with it some profound poetic justice and a love for all things Okhra!
It was as if the legacy of the Okhra Odyssey had all but plateaued out.
“Mumma, I want Bhindi Chips”. The toddler had single-handedly managed to address the issue of the blatant mundanity of the sought-after green vegetable being cooked only one way all these years.

Deep-fried Okhra chips were now the ‘stuff that dreams were made of.’

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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