I was introduced to this dish in Gokarn, during my first six month trip to India in 2001. Shanker, a great friend who managed the beach side guest house cooked it for me one evening after the sunset.
Gokarn is a tiny holy town, south of Goa and auspicious to Hindus; a dip in the sea is good luck for one’s father and the sea washes away sins. It’s a town i fell in love with. I ended up staying for four months! I have since returned almost twenty times and whenever i do i eat Beetroot Curry.
The food in the photograph was cooked by Nela, Shankers wife, at their home in 2012.
Bunch fresh beetroot
2 fresh green chilies – Chopped finely
3 cloves of garlic
1 red onion
1 inch of ginger
1 green pepper – Sliced
1 half of fresh coconut or dedicated – Grated
Fresh coriander – Chopped
1 tomato – Chopped
1 tsp Salt
1 tbs sunflower oil
1 cup of water
2 tsp Black Mustard Seeds
2 tsp Cumin Seeds
Half tsp Asafoetida or Turmeric
2 tsp Garam Masala
Peel and grate beetroot and leave to one side. Grate ginger and garlic or grind into a paste. Chop onion, pepper, tomato, chilies and prepare coconut. Basically everything needs to be ready to go into the pan fast.
Heat oil on high heat and add black mustard seeds until they crackle. Add cumin , chili and onion and fry until soft. Add ginger/garlic and fry for one minute. Do not burn. Add asafoetida or turmeric and the sliced tomato and green pepper. Fry for three minutes. Ad salt.
Add beetroot, coconut and a little water. Cover and cook until beetroot is cooked. Around 10 minutes. keep stirring. Serve with fresh coriander and home made chapatti.
The veranda looks older than previously, like we all do apart from his beautiful wife, radiating youth and beauty, working away in the kitchen in oranges and yellows. Slight silent tinkles of aluminum suggesting that the meal isn’t far from ready. High on the wall an image of grandpa amongst the gods, remembered and revered daily by the powdery red dot in the lower center of his forehead. The first-born now walking and talking, shy but allured by my gift of a multitude of sweets and a small percussion instrument – polished coconut filled with rice on a stick. She looks like and adores her father, quite rightly so. The newest born being bathed then made up with talcum powder, holy ash and charcoal , screaming in discomfort of a white face so close to hers – our first meeting.
Then there on the right hand side of the porch, on a concrete slab my host, my brothers mother lies. “Namaste”, i say, ” A ram” but she is far from OK. She just looks deep into my eyes to the heart of my soul and beyond. Her face swollen like a cat and her body thin as old dead sticks, draped in green. No longer sitting, no longer eating, lying there dying of tuberculosis, no older than fifty-five. A women once so beautiful, so open and so feisty; a lady so elegant, so charming so kind and my friend of eleven years. Face cat-like, arms twig like on a concrete slab, covered in green, dying.
Yet the children with their new lives fill the air with smiles, with new-born fresh energy, so unaware of the concept of death. From shy to talking, to playing with mobile phones and cameras, bemused at seeing themselves on-screen, surrounded by love and fruit trees.
The most amazing meal arrives, the perfect same as always. Beetroot curry, dahl, rice, roti, papad and pickle. Waiting and tasting the glorious feast in silence, my vista being a dying lady, a friend, a happy memory in pain, being turned into the last days of her life. Smiling children as i try to taste the beets without breaking down in tears; i think the first time i have cried and eaten simultaneously. It breaks my heart. A death-bed and a dining room all in the same six feet by twelve feet space. Reality at its most real, taste at its best but sadness at its deepest. Privileged to be there but devastated to think that that is the last time she will be. Namaste i say gently as she sleeps. Goodbye to the children, goodbye to his beautiful wife and goodbye to a lady i will always remember with so much elegance, so much charm and so much love.
She died early the next morning and was burnt soon after.
It’s Monday morning and the last one to be spent in my beautiful attic flat. Its pretty much packed up, box’s being strooned where belongings once sat. It feels more positive than negative. We leave this coming Sunday after five years. No more rent to pay, no more bills and a break from feeding the British Government council tax. I will be happy contributing to other world economy’s for a while, paying individuals rent on a daily/weekly basis will please me. Not just making rich people richer. I will not have a salary after next month so no more deductions for the good of British society.
Still its thirty-seven days until we fly to Mumbai. The exact amount of days until Ganesh Chaturthi – India’s biggest celebration of Lord Ganesha and the birthday of the elephant god himself. I have been lucky enough to experience this festival in India – Dancing in the streets of Mumbai and partying in a ten-hour procession, following a giant deity on the back of a truck heading to the sea, in the south-west town of Gokarn, covered in paint and glitter.
I spent a total of fifteen months in Gokarn where i came to know the community very well. It would be very easy to arrive into India and head straight back to the people i know, some of whom i love very much. However i need a change. I need to be blown away by the mother land all over again. That will not happen if i retrace very familiar steps. I think it’s time to head straight north towards Nepal, via Varanasi and the holy Ganga. A city i have not visited since my first trip to India in 2001. I am sure it will be beautiful in the rain, or as beautiful as Benares can be. Certainly an intense new beginning for a change of scene. The ashram i booked can wait!
One of the very last things i have to pack to store away is a blue box of photographs i started to compile during my first degree. Images documenting moments past. A box of pre Facebook prints, pre-dating my own digital camera access. Friends i rarely see, pets which have died, houses in which i lived, partners i have loved. Birthday cakes, meals, parties where ive partied. A box i have carried around from move to move, adding to whenever required. There were years where i was obsessed with chronicling time; evidencing moments not only as memory’s but as proof of existence. I guess blogging is this box’s predecessor. Looking over the several hundred scenes i am tempted to discard so many. To choose what i want to keep and what i don’t. Physical aids to memories which seem to have lost importance. Like putting memories in a recycle bin i put evidence. As time progresses the less important the past becomes. It’s about now and the future and that feels like a very positive thing. I don’t need to remember the first time i went to Amsterdam, or times working on film shoots. That journey seems less important than the one i am traveling now. In ten years time these writings may be deleted, but for now they feel important to me, like the photographs i am discarding now, did then.