The spud and the dud
“YOU’RE A NOTHING!” said the potato to the puri. “A cipher.” And thus started the end of a durable Indian fast food romance.
The puri sank a little lower into his plate, and a little steam escaped from a crack. This was certainly not the first time the crude thought had been put to him that he had a serious personality defect. Usually the remark would come from his constant companion, the insufferable boiled potato.
But it was true. The puri was almost unbearably fat. Just a few minutes in the heat had done it to to him: turned him a warm golden brown. A clear liquid, definitely oil, dripped off his sides and gathered in a pool. You felt like poking a finger into him, and allowing the pent-up stuff to escape. With a hiss.
“It is my deeply held belief that you are the ugliest and most arrogant thing that ever grew under the mud,” spat out the puri, with whatever dignity he could muster. It is not easy to look respectable while steam is escaping from a crack in your hull.
The puri and the potato are (appearances to the contrary) actually old friends locked in a complex relationship, which works sometimes and fails at others. Each knows that it is nothing without the other, but the potato knows he has the edge because he can always go to parties dressed up as a spicy wafer. The puri has no such illusions. Whoever wants a crisp puri?
The potato took off his jacket and burped. “Say what you like,” he said equably. “Around here, I’m the dude. You’re the prude.”
The truth hurts
It was so true it hurt. For as long as the puri could remember, no one had paid heed to him or his illustrious family, which included the little, dark-brown, thick-skinned fellows that were fried up off cauldrons at weddings; the dal puris, noble and golden, like old soldiers, almost perfectly spherical, spiced on their inner surfaces; Bengal’s white-faced luchis, made of refined white flour, and full of pulchritude; and the clumsy oval puris served up at Udipi restaurants, along with yesterday’s reheated dishes.
The puri, reminded of his own heritage by such thoughts, swelled up a little bit and said, as loftily as he could, “You’re not a dude. You’re just a muddy spud. I’ve seen many like you, and most of them, by the way, are better than you. I remember, in the Mathura railway station. . .”
The puri’s eyes misted over at the recollection. For years, the puri and the alu bhaji at the Mathura station platform had been the closest of friends, like Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra in Sholay. They had been made with rustic love, in good ghee. The puri knew he would always turn out becomingly warm and browned, if a little on the oily side. The potato, comfortable in his gravy, knew he tasted better than he looked. He was dressed to demolish. It was a classic romance of Indian fast food.
One day, the puri suggested that they should move to nearby Delhi, where only kulchas and bhaturas ruled, accompanied by those thugs, the choles. “We could take over the territory,” said the puri temptingly.
The potato declined. “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that,” he said.
A dum fool
Looking back now, it seemed to the puri that they had let a good opportunity go by. “You were a dum fool,” he said. “It could have been so good. We can do so much together, if only you’d stop pretending you were Al Pacino.” Deep down, the potato knew he was just a pompous windbag himself. Under the skin, he was just a puri of a different kind. People were kind, they treated him like a personality, but whenever there was puri, the potato knew he sang better.
I had been listening covertly for a while now. I could see that things were not well between the puri and the potato. I cleared my throat and said, gently, “You know, I think you fellows should give it another go.”
They looked up, both of them, instantly suspicious. “Are you from Mcdonalds?” asked the potato. “Are you going to standardise us and franchise us?”
“No,” I said. “I’m just a potato lover with a soft spot for puris. And I have something for you. If you’re interested, that is.” I told them about the puri-masal.
The puris should be the best you can make, thin crusted but not flaky, about six inches across. It takes about 20 minutes to make the masal. To cook for four, boil about six potatoes, peel off their skins, and then, lovingly with your fisted knuckles, mash them into soft pebbles.
In some oil now, toss in 1/2 a teaspoonful of mustard seeds. When they start splutterig, add the following: 1 tsp urad dal, 2 dried red chillies torn in halves, a few curry leaves and a little asafoetida. Stir till the urad turns a golden brown.
Now throw in 2 onions chopped medium fine, finely chopped ginger, green chillies, more curry leaves. Stir till the onions turn translucent.
Make up a medium-thick solution of 1 tbsp chick pea flour with a quarter tsp of turmeric powder with water. Pour this in, and quickly follow with the potatoes and salt. Stir it till the potatoes have mixed in well, and add some water so that a gravy forms. Let it simmer for about five minutes, or till the gravy is not watery any more. Squeeze in the juice of two limes.
That’s it — masal, waiting for its puri.
“How do you like it, boys?” I asked the puri and the potato.
The puri, easily pleased, smiled . The potato looked huffy. “It’s all right, I suppose,” he said. “But this guy’s still the dud. I’m the stud.”