Shillong is a beautiful hill station. But in those days when we lived there, there was not a single South Indian restaurant worth its name which could produce a decent Masala Dosa. Fortunately there was an Iyer lady Mrs. Manyam (name changed) who could produce divine M.Ds, professionally crisp and delightfully golden in color. Her dosas were always in great demand and she used to have a stall in all the school and club fetes. So, on this annual fete day, I, who was serving as a Maths teacher in a temporary capacity in the school, was eagerly looking forward to savor Mrs Manyan’s MDs.
It so happened that the day previous to the fete was Ganesh Chaturthi. Our newly formed Kannada Sangha wanted to celebrate it grandly. Thoughtfully, the morning was left free for family observance and the afternoon was fixed for the community celebration.
Kannadigas being known for their ‘Live to Eat’ policy, we had an impressive pot luck spread, to which full justice was done after some cursory pooja. We had cultural items and games for the children and I came home by 8.30 in the night with the children (Ramu was away on a course at Hyderabad). Though the hour was late, the festive celebrations and the anticipation of next day’s Masala dosa were quite heady.
As I approached my balcony on the first floor, I was intrigued to find a big sinister looking bundle lying near my door. On switching on the light, I discovered that it was a big stainless steel pot containing soaked rice and Urad dal. There was a chit with it saying, “Please grind this and bring it to school tomorrow”. I was flabbergasted. There was neither a phone call nor an explanation. I thought I had become a teacher to teach maths and not to grind dosa dough for the school fete. But, there was none to redress my grievance! Moreover, I had left my broken-down mixer (imported one) at my in-laws’ place in Bangalore and had instead brought a cute South Indian grinding stone (personally selected by my mom-in law). Its USP was that it had a sloping floor which did not necessitate my pushing the dough inside, thus leaving both my hands free to carry on grinding without stop. My poor Migraine ridden friend downstairs used to ask me crying for respite in sheer desperation, “Vimala, how can you do it so continuously? Don’t you even stop to change hands?”
Well, cute or otherwise, grinding 3-4 sessions of dough at that unearthly hour was indeed a grind. I felt like a fairy tale princess asked to convert a roomful of hay to gold overnight. But there were no elves or fairy godmothers to wave the magic wand. So, I plodded on “A Solitary Grinder” till 11.30 in the night.
In the morning, I got my three children ready for the fete and reached the school with the dough by taxi. There was Mrs. Manyam, a gruff no-nonsense lady (most unlike her daughter- a cute kid and my student) standing in front of a burning Kerosene stove and a hot tava. Her one hand held a dosa flipper and the other hand was on her waist. Thinking that my responsibility would be over with the handing of the dough, I put the dough on the table and prepared to leave. She said menacingly, “Why are you late? You are to help me to make the dosas. Hurry up. Light the stove.” Making 300-400 dosas? Till evening? I felt giddy. Any way, there was no choice. The drooling queue was already building up.
I lighted the stove and kept the tava on. I poured a ladle full of dough, spread it and got ready to flip it over. The ever vigilant Mrs. Manyam shrieked, “What are you doing? You will waste all the dough. What’s your hurry? Wait for the dosa to leave the tava on its own and then flip it over for a second before flipping it back and then spread the potato stuffing.”
Thanking her silently for at least one of the secrets of her very famous Dosas, I managed to work to 50% of her satisfaction and ended the day, sick of the very sight of the Dosas.