One cup flour.
Half a cup each of sugar and butter.
As the kitchen filled with smells of fruit and nuts it took me down the memory lane once again.
I was fifteen years old and I rode all the way to the IUCAA residential campus on my Atlas bicycle. It was a long way from my place but I loved it because it took me to one of the happy places in my life. It was Mangala mami's house.
She is better known as the wife of my mom's cousin Jayant Narlikar but for me she has been the switch that turns on all the positive energy in you. Her house used to be fragrant with fresh baking at any given time of the year. She is an artist who was misled into being a mathematician and a really good one at that! I used to go to her place to study maths but it was the least of my interests then ( and I think even now). I was terrible in mathematics and if anyone has successfully made me think of that branch of science ( is it science really?) with some sympathy and compassion, it is Mangala mami. Just to explain how the medians of a triangle can be extended to make many more identical triangles, she once showed me the picture of hundreds of horses fixed into each other like a jigsaw. I never really remembered the triangles but I still remember the picture frame on her wall.
She is a perpetual student and her everyday life is filled with learning little things. My uncle goes around the world as a visiting lecturer in Universities everywhere. She comes back with a new recipe from every country.
Conversations with Narlikars are really amusing. Jayant mama is frugal with words but whatever little he says is always one of the best jokes of the evening. Mangala mami does all the talking. She has something to say about everything. Whether it is the best place to get red meat in Pune or quotations from the Bhagwad Geeta! She will infuse your minds with bits of refreshing information as she brews a cup of tea with real gardenia flowers. Some smells get locked in your memory with certain incidents. The smell of gardenia flowers and french roses always reminds me of her.
Sometimes, little things seem really daunting for me. At such times I have pictures of few strong women I have seen in my mind. Mangala mami is one of them. She raised three beautiful daughters and took care of demanding in laws as gracefully as she used to do a postulate on a piece of paper. Her slanting, pretty handwriting that never saw the limitations of margins. She used to write at the speed of light, giving neat "therefore" and "since" signs between all the lines and even saying it all aloud. She was expected to stay at home in the conservative and "cultured" Huzurbazar ( my granny's family) tree. However you could see her sitting on the lawn with all the servant's kids teaching them maths. Many of them ended up clearing their junior college exams and getting degrees.
She is dressed in pastel colored saris and her hair is always falling out of the clip that she wears. Her fragile, porcelain hands and her spectacles that run halfway down on her nose make her one the most charming figures I have ever seen in my life.
Get her talking about gardening and her face lights up.
When her ever-so-strict mother-in-law was on her deathbed, Mangala mami encouraged her to walk by giving her one point for every step she took. It brought tears to our eyes to see the happiness on the terminally ill woman's face when Mangala mami gave her two bonus points for taking that extra step. The love of flowers runs in the family too and during her very last days Mangala mami wheeled her mother-in-law outside just to see the jasmine bloom.
She would have her daughter's friends come over to get their difficulties solved in order to appear for competitive exams. She used to have her legendary "classes" at the dining table. With the oven buzzer going once in a while and her lectures happily intercepted by fruit cakes and tea.
She goes round the world these days but she writes to me from everywhere she goes.
When I wrote to her a few days back to get this recipe off her, she merrily wrote back from Johannesburg airport.
Ten years ago, as I sat at the big dining table in the Narlikar house, eating my big piece of cake awkwardly as was trying to make sense out of a theorem, I would have never thought that I would be baking the same kind of cake one day. Now, as my house smells like orange peel and rum, I thank God for giving me someone like her to think about!!
Thanks Mangala mami!! I wish I could do better than this for you!