I broke the cashew nuts into small pieces while my grandmother squeezed the grated coconut. The milk ran down through the strainer and filled the bowl.
“I saw that! Child, if you eat the jaggery now, the dodol won’t be sweet enough. Remember that!” Grandma smiled, her eyes twinkling.
Christmas was in one week, and we’d been making sweets for a week now. My grandmother’s kitchen was huge! It was also as busy as a bazaar for people dropped in, bringing bags of food, tasting one sweet here and one sweet there.
The firewood in the stove crackled, mingling with the laughter in the room. But best of all was the mix of smells floating in the air-coconut, melting jaggery, butter, sugar, roasted cashews, and cardamom. Mmmm, if I could eat the air, I bet it would be delicious!
“Ooooh, so you have a little helper in your kitchen, I see!” a booming voice announced the arrival of our neighbour, Mrs. Lobo.
“Hello there, Mona!” Grandma greeted her friend.
“Here, Mimi, this is my granddaughter, Smita. She’s visiting us this year, and I thought you two might keep each other company,” Mrs. Lobo moved to a side, and a pretty girl with smart glasses stood smiling shyly.
“Oh, go play Mimi!” Grandma waved me away.
“Do you want to play in the garden?” I went toward the back door. As always, My little sister Nessa trailed behind us.
At tea time dad brought the tin of Kal kals down from the cupboard, and we sat around munching.
“I have to go to the art class in a bit. I’ll come over when it ends,” I told Smita.
“Why don’t you take Smita with you? I’m sure your art teacher won’t mind. I’ll call and let her know,” ma told me.
I didn’t need any other reminder. Smita and I ran to my room, grabbed my art supplies and drawing pad, and walked out.
“How come she gets to go to class with her friend?” I heard my sister complain. We giggled and hurried away before they decided to send Nessa with us.
The class was fun; Smita and I worked together. The others were curious, but we were so busy with our project that no one could talk for long.
Finally, we hung our paintings to dry. Trisha had been waiting to talk to us…well, to Smita.
“Hi,” she waved at Smita.
Hi,” Smita waved back.
One by one, the girls surrounded Smita and wowed her painting. Then they bombarded her with questions.
“Alright, kids. Don’t forget to sign up to bring something for the class party on Saturday. Smita, you are welcome to join us for the party,” Ms. Alicia
“Oh, Ms. Alicia, I’m bringing my gran’s famous Kalkals,” Trisha called out loudly, her eyes never leaving Smita.
“Oh, good!” Ms. Alicia beamed.
“My gran, she makes the best KalKals in this village,” Tricia explained to Smita. “She and I are going to make some tomorrow. I’ll bring it to the party on Saturday,” she continued.
Smita and I looked at each other, but we managed not to laugh.
‘My grandmother also makes delicious sweets,” Jennet added.
“Now, now girls, Let’s not make this a competition. Everyone feels that their grandma makes the best sweets here. See you all on Saturday!” the art teacher shooed us home.
Smita and I sped out of the door and onto the pavement. Trisha’s voice sounded loud and clear behind us.
“But Ms. Alicia, everyone knows that my grandmother won the prize at the….”
Smita and I giggled and skipped home.
That night, I hugged my gran tight before I slumped into my bed. “We have four more days before the Christmas party. Making sweets has become a serious business, Grandma,” I mumbled between my yawns.
“Oh, a serious business, is it? Then we must be serious about it. I’ll have everything ready before you get back from school.” She promised.
Smita is coming here to make sweets with us,” I told her and closed my eyes.
School couldn’t end soon enough for me the next day. I hopped off the bus and saw Smita waiting for me at the bus stop. We waved to Mrs. Lobo and walked home. When I came down ready to cook, mama raised her eyebrows. “Oh, I’ve never known you to freshen up so quickly before, Mimi! Maybe we should ask Smita to move here.”
“But what about my friend, Anna? Can she move here too?” Nessa again!
The kitchen looked ready for us. But where was Grandma?
“Mimi, I’m going over to pick up grandma from her friend’s house. You can make the Kal Kals when she gets back,” mama called out and shut the door behind her.
We looked at all the ingredients waiting for us on the table. Trays, Bowls, atta, sugar, salt, baking powder, eggs…. Looking at the eggs gave me an idea.
“Let’s boil the eggs so that it is ready when grandma gets here!” I pulled a pan and filled it with water. Mama had just taught me to make boiled eggs, so I knew to turn the stove on to boil the pot of water.
“Yes, let’s,” Smita agreed grabbed the bowl of eggs and washed them. Plop, Plop, she dropped them gently in the pan of water. Then we sat on the floor to read some comics.
I don’t know how long it was, but we heard the front door open.
“Nessa, get your homework.”
The house burst into life. Smita and I shoved the comics into her bag and ran to greet grandma.
“Hold on, dears. I’ll be there in ten minutes,” she reassured us.
“Mimi, check if Nessa’s work is correct. I’ll be there in a second,” said mama. So Smita and I stood there peering over Nessa’s head, checking her homework.
“Bang! Bang! Bang!”
Nessa flew off her seat, her fingers digging into my arm. Mama froze with one foot in the air. Grandma peered out of her room, her face all eyes.
Then Mama put her finger on her lips and shook her head at us. She tiptoed down the steps and picked up a heavy brass flower vase. Grandma silently padded towards us with a long-handled broom.
I unpeeled Nessa’s fingers off me and made to follow them.
“No, No!” she shook her head silently, her eyes ordering me to stay there. The three of us stood unmoving, our hot breath on each other.
My mother stood with her back to the wall and slowly peeped into the kitchen. Grandma stood right behind her, the broom handle ready to crush the intruder.
And then the vase fell from my mother’s hands! Grandma looked confused just for a second there, and then she stepped into the kitchen too.
“Aaaah? What happened, grandma?” Nessa ran to her, Smita and me behind her.
Smashed remains of the eggs lay all over the kitchen—on the ceiling, the wall, and more crumbling on the floor.
“Oh, the eggs! What happened to the eggs? We boiled them so they would be ready for the Kalkals,” I mumbled.
“You boiled the eggs for the Kalkals?” The grown-ups looked at me puzzled.
“Yes, I saw the eggs, and mama taught me to boil them. I thought if I get them ready….” My eyes filled with tears and threatened to drown us all.
Grandma wrapped me in her arms and hugged me tightly. “What a lovely thought! We have to teach you to cook some more dishes. Let’s clean up the kitchen together. We don’t have any eggs left, but how about we bake nankhatais for your party?” she hugged me.
I don’t know about Smita, but Nessa and I have never worked that hard to clean up the kitchen, ever!
Grandma measured the atta. “You need a pinch of salt and then some sugar.” We added them one by one into our bowls. “Cardamom, don’t forget the cardamom,” she crushed the pods with her belan.
Then came the ghee. We poured it into the flour. The dough crumbled in our hands as we mixed it all up. “Oh, that calls for more ghee!” Mama passed us some more.
Soon the dough was soft and smooth. Grandma took a pinch and rubbed it between her fingers.
“Mmmm,” she nodded. “Time to spread butter on the trays, so the cookies don’t stick.”
Smita and I rolled the dough into small balls and patted them down into little flat plates. Rows after row of nankhatais!! Nessa put a cashew on each nankhatai and gently pressed it down.
Grandma slid the trays into the oven. Mom dragged Nessa back to her homework while Smita and I read her comics.
Glug glug glug…my stomach growled. “Ooooh…that makes me soooo hungry!” I took a deep breath as the smell of the nankhatais floated into the room. We heard the sound of the trays being pulled out, and we ran to the kitchen.
Nessa’s hand came up, and I swatted it before she could touch the nankhatai.
“You are not sharing,” she whined.
“It’s hot! You’ll burn your hand,” I pretended that I didn’t care about the biscuits.
“Girls! There’s enough for everyone. Get your snack plates,” Grandma checked the biscuits to see if they looked right.
“Ooooh, it is delic…” a piece fell out of Smita’s mouth, and she jumped, trying to catch it. I bit into mine and the nan khatai melted in my mouth.
On Saturday, Smita and I carried our tins of nankhatai to class. Trisha was there, waiting to show us her grandma’s kalkals. We put the container of nankhatai on the table. Halfway through the party, I came back for more, but the tin was empty!
Feeling happy, I told my teacher the story of the flying eggs.
“I think that was a good thing because your grandma makes the best nankhatai!” Trisha said, taking another bite of the biscuit on her plate.
Okay, so maybe her grandma does make the best Kalkals on our street!