I was going to give you my Mum's curry recipe in this post but I decided that I ought really to tell you a little bit about her first. You know - to set the scene and make it more authentic like...............
This is the earliest pic we have of my Mum. It was taken around 1960 when she was about 30 (?) and she had to go and have a passport made because she was going to join her husband (my Dad) in England. (Sorry it's so fuzzy but it was scanned and sent to me by my brother in Canada).
My Mum was born around 1929 in Multan which is now in Pakistan. At that time it was in India because the country wasn't divided until 1948. That generation have no idea of their birth dates because they had no birth certificate and when it came to having passports made they just gave an approximate date, month and year! Mum was the fifth of eight children - five girls and three boys.
She recounts a very tough life growing up in a village in India in the 30's and 40's. The family weren't poor and they were self sufficient in most things. A bit like Laura Ingalls - there wasn't much store bought. She was telling me how they would rise when the cock crowed. First they'd milk the cow or buffalo and then they'd grind flour in order to make the breakfast chapattis. Yogurt and butter had to made too. Crops had to be harvested to provide meals and it seems that they grew lots of pulses as well as vegetables. The cotton had to be picked and the whole process gone through - I don't understand half the Indian words related to this activity and I must look up how it's done to understand better. They also made gram flour from chick peas too and this is how they ground their wheat:
They harvested their own sugar cane. Mum says they would take the juice out of the cane and light a fire under the huge vat until the water evaporated. This left a hard substance they call ghurr. Again I need to look up this process too but it sounds like another huge job to me. It was relentless. Mum says they were on the go all day. On top of this they would embroider things for their bottom drawer, weave cotton dhurries for the house, knit and sew their own everyday clothes too. The men worked on the land all day and the women would go and give them their lunch each day.
Partition hit them badly, very badly. My grandfather ignored warnings that India was going to be divided and that Indians should pack up and leave and get back to India. Mum says she distinctly remembers the day soldiers turned up at their door and told them to leave their house. They could take nothing with them - not a thing. They lived in a refugee camp for a month and the terror of that time is difficult to imagine. Everyone was against everyone else - Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus. Trains would arrive in India and Pakistan and everyone on them had been butchered. There were revenge attacks. I guess my mother's family were lucky really in that they got out alive and came back to their paternal village in India.
Three years later she had an arranged marriage and customary to that time she met my Dad on their wedding day. They had a daughter and then in 1955 my Dad left for England to make some money to send home to his dependents (not just his wife but his extended family too). My brother was born in his absence and then in 1960 she was summoned to join my father - for some crazy reason he only sent a ticket for his wife and son and my sister was left behind with grandparents until 1966. England was a huge shock. She arrived on a dull grey November day and as she says her life of drudgery started soon after. My Dad had bought a three bedroomed house in the Midlands and in those days whenever anyone from the village arrived in your town you put them up until they had a job and enough money to move on. So in the early 60's there were at one time three families and two bachelors living in our house!
My Mum also had three children in quick succession. She tells how she'd wake up first and clear and light fires in each room. She'd cook and clean for her family and the other men. The endless washing, three babies, a man she had nothing in common with and who was prone to drink and shout and the heartache of leaving her daughter behind. At least in India she had had the extended family - here it was just her. I look back now and realise that she had some form of depression for most of my childhood she'd often threaten to stick her head in the oven.
I've gone through some awful times with my Mum (haven't we all). I've hated her for being so strict with me as a teenager. I've been embarrassed by her Indianness. I've blamed my post natal depression on the lack of a close relationship with her. But as she nears the end of her life (she's an elderly, unhealthy 78 year old) and she gives me the silent treatment on the phone cos I haven't phoned for a week I try to remind myself of what an amazing woman she is. She upped sticks and came from the middle of nowhere to a big English city. She raised six children with no help from my father (who was busy earning a pittance to keep us all). She's completey illiterate - can't even read and write her own language let alone English - yet she carved out a life here and even managed to learn to speak English (which is more than my father ever did). She's the best cook in the world and her handwork skills are amazing. She has knitting patterns in her head I tell you. She used to borrow peoples jumpers when she worked and bring them home and memorise the patterns. She made all our clothes when we were young and fed us the most delicious food. I haven't picked up the cooking and knitting skills from her but I have inherited her friendliness. She would chat to everyone in pigeon English - even the grocer and the milkman and everyone was invited round to sample her cooking. Our house was always full of people and she was the life and soul of the party. She's old, tired and fed up now and I want to try and remember and see, the real woman inside.