The Tuesday just before the Lenten season begins with its prayer, fasting and reflection on our humanness, and of being dust and returning to being one with it, has been and will always be synonymous with… Pancakes!
I’m talking crêpes, the thin, curled at the edges kind of pancakes I grew up eating every Pancake or Shrove Tuesday from the time I could eat solid food. But now my kitchen’s been laid siege to, ambushed by a couple of painters who are trying their best to overcome their natural instinct to dawdle and still do their work with a smile, while nodding sagely at every comment I make or fault I point out, and then promptly forgetting it the next moment. But they’re a nice twosome. The older one with his collection of racy Bollywood songs on full volume and a mobile phone with 3G on cricket match days so he can watch the Indian cricket team lose to Australia and then to Sri Lanka in the tri-series during his break, lamenting loudly whenever the home-team drops a catch or loses a wicket. The younger one, eager to move on as he told me yesterday, and away from a career in house painting to start a food stall selling fried batter coated spicy potato balls called batata (potato) vadas.
They work in tandem to get the job done these two and they’re not bad. Better than most I’ve encountered before them, they get through their day cracking the odd joke or two, sans any protective gear against the acridness of the primer they apply to the walls, or from the dust they inhale from sandpapering the walls. They’re simple folk, the older one hasn’t been to school, taking up jobs within a certain radius of his home because he cannot read the destination on the bus, even when its written in the vernacular. But he’s happy that I understand and attempt to speak his language, even though my attempts are at best atrocious.
I should inform you now that India is a country where hundreds of different languages and dialects are spoken, so it’s impossible to know them all. That said, it pays to know the local lingo, howsoever broken your attempt may be. So I pop by every now and then and engage in banter with the guys. It helps get the job done.
My kitchen still needs a couple of coats on the highlight wall, a brilliant yellow, but they ran out of colour… again. I’m planning to have a couple of words with the painting contractor when he drops by next, but given that he did that with my bedroom as well, it seems like the norm. The concept of ethics when it comes to work is still a very niche concept in India, with customer service way down the pecking order of things. ‘You want, you buy, and you shut up’ the mantra, or, perhaps it’s… ‘I’m working isn’t it, so what’cha cribbing about’.
A school friend who now lives in Canada and works as a physiotherapist there, once complained about the patients at the hospital where she worked. Many of them on state sponsored medical care, they cribbed about the wait and the quality of treatment, and just about everything else, she said. Those were the moments she thought most of home. Of having to wait hours in the waiting room of a doctor’s clinic, despite paying an average of 200$ US per visit, for just for a 5 minute consultation. No chance of reclaiming your money unless there’s something seriously wrong with you which warrants surgery. Then you can add that tab to your Medi-claim bill, cross you fingers and send up a prayer to the Lord that the doctor spelled your name right, and hope that the consultation fee was for something related directly to that surgical procedure. ‘Proximate cause’ and all that spiel.
Medical Insurance is big business in India, and human life here (and I suppose in many countries around the world), cheap and dispensable, not to mention that we’re all potential cash cows. So you better take that medical insurance policy, pay your yearly premiums and hope and pray that you don’t need to use it. The government does precious little apart from implementing new schemes mostly in rural areas for the economically deprived, most of which are prone to misuse and abuse from within that hallowed bunch of government servants themselves. Can you imagine one woman delivering eight babies in a five year period and we’re not talking multiple births. Now where are those Guinness Record guys when you need them. So the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) gets scammed of hundreds of thousands of rupees, with fake birth claims and cataract operations on non existent patients, and my medical insurer loads my premium when I put forth a claim for money already paid for an essential surgical procedure. That, when the amount I have claimed is less than half the amount I’m insured for. I wonder if it happens around the world, but I’m really peeved with my insurer. So I’m increasingly on my knees praying to the Lord to keep me healthy. I just hope I don’t need to get my knee-caps replaced.
Speaking of prayer, I started this post with pancakes. So yesterday once the painters had left for the day I managed to reclaim part of my kitchen and whipped up a tiny batch of pancakes. I couldn’t let the day go by without at least trying to whip up a couple even though my kitchen was quite bare. Rather than stress myself out, I decided to go with what I had instead of griping about what I didn’t. And I ended up with a delightfully light and tiny, but extremely delicious batch of Orange Pancakes. All it took was some self-rising flour, an egg, orange juice and yoghurt instead of milk. I added in a little nutmeg, grating it on the edge of a serrated knife, and a little sugar (just about a teaspoon) to counter the acidity from the citrus. The next time I make these I’ll zest the orange as well, but the zester was packed away.
I love crisping up my pancake at the edges, so they don’t just look like they have a frilly edging of a different colour, but the texture provides a lovely contrast to the softness of the pancake. Then place some cut segments of a lovely plump orange all along the centre, before drizzling over some condensed milk.
My mum’s Pancake Tuesday pancakes are filled with sweet and juicy grated coconut with raisins, with a touch of rose water and cardamom. So these pancakes are a departure from tradition as I know it, but they were delicious nevertheless.
Paint Update: They’re still not done with the kitchen, and I’ve plateaued as far as take out goes. Another bite shall make me… I’m not saying the word. After all, this is primarily a food blog.
Have a holy Lenten season.