Still here after all these years
Our little balcony has two seats, a flowering creeper, and it is washed every evening by Bengaluru’s cool, evening breezes, filtering through the branches of two giant rain trees. It is a great place to contemplate life and smoke a cigar.
“That’s what we did the last time,” said my friend, a sportswriter from Singapore and a grandfather, given to frequent bad jokes and occasionally fine prose. “You remember?” I did indeed. We smoked fine cigars, swirled the smoke and gassed about what was and what might be—as we always do during reunions.
But that was more than three years ago, and much had changed since. We were older, which did not matter. The march of time, however, had left us with some health issues, which did matter. It did not appear to matter as much for our other friend—mother to two talented young women and a giggly, bustling investigator of a woman’s place in emerging India—as she frequently left our four-day soiree to smoke her cigarette in the peace of our balcony.
So, there we were, the wife, I, the two friends and the six-year-old, delighted at the full house and attention lavished. The others from our old gang were not there, but they followed the reunion over WhatsApp, so I guess there is something to be said for intrusively irritating social media.
We’ve known each other for more than 20 years, and a characteristic of our relationship is the fact that we can—mostly—take each other for granted. We may sometimes disappear from view, but when we reunite, it’s always as if it was just yesterday. We’ve worked together, vacationed together, fought, watched each other age, seen our children marry, shared joys and sorrows and now, as we line up on either side of 50, our bluster and laughter sometimes gives way to quiet contemplations if we should grow old in the manner we have done so much else—together.
Of course, since the reunion of last week stretched over four days, it gave us time to mull over what living together might entail. I, for instance, had to endure an irksome 3-hour-long dissection of a movie from the others. Pink was reasonably different from the normal Bollywood codswallop, it had a message, and it was time well spent. What else is there to say? I suppose that with so much time on our hands, even a 10-minute discussion can stretch to 180 minutes.
That’s also a great thing about reunions—time slows down. It helped that I was laid up with a bad back for most of the period, so we largely stayed home, following a routine of reading, gossiping, going on walks (some of us), drinking—modest, a drink or two every night—playing music (from Delhi 6 to Dire Straits) and eating, the last of which was sparse compared to the gourmandizing of preceding years. It wasn’t only cigars that had faded from our lives.
Everyone appeared content with “whatever was there” and “simple food”. Breakfasts saw no ham and sausages, lunches no roasted pork and dinners no butter chicken or mutton curry. I was struck by our caution, indifference and reduced appetites. I did make some reasonable roast chicken, but, really, everyone is just fed up with bland broilers—the six-year-old is running her own private insurrection against them.
So, throwing caution and low culinary expectations to the wind, I decided to prepare a leg of lamb, which I had last done a decade ago. As it was roasting, my friend walked in and narrated the story of a perfect murder: A woman bashes her husband to death with a frozen leg, and when the police arrive to search for a murder weapon, it is roasting peacefully in the oven. As she laughed uproariously over her macabre story, I knew that whatever else might change, we would always have our laughter, we would always have each other—and, hopefully, we will always have a leg of lamb.
Roasted leg of lamb
1and half kg leg of lamb, cleaned
3 tbsp rum
6-7 pieces of garlic
Salt, to taste
For the masala
1 red chilli
1 star anise
5 green cardamoms
1 tsp poppy seeds (khus khus)
Half-inch piece cinnamon
1 piece mace (javitri)
1 tsp coriander seeds
Roast the spices on a griddle until they begin to smoke and release an aroma. Allow to cool and then grind to a powder. Make small slashes over the leg of lamb. Marinate it in the fresh masala and rum. Rub in salt. Stuff cloves into slashes. Wrap the leg in foil and marinate for at least 6 hours. Roast in the oven for about 2 hours and 20 minutes at 170 degrees Celsius. Unwrap and check. The meat should come easily off the bone. Serve hot with cut tomatoes, onion and cucumber.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes the fortnightly column Frontier Mail for Mint and is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. He tweets at @samar11.