Are sansaar sansaar, jasa tavha chulhyavar
Aadhi hatala chatake, tevha milate bhaakar
(Rough translation: Life is like a hot griddle on a stove/You will burn your fingers before you learn how to make bread)
I love poetry spun from life’s gritty fabric because not only is it starkly beautiful, but it can be transcendentally wise and gloriously witty.
It is said that Bahinabai, a 19th-century poetess, responded with these lines when her mother-in-law chided her for scalding her hands as she made bhakri, a delicious rustic bread that’s eaten in Maharashtra, a sprawling state along India’s west coast. Here’s the kicker, though: Bahinabai could not read nor write and her poems were all composed verbally, flowing from her eagle-sharp observations of life and nature.
Although she died before her poems were published and before anyone in the wide world knew about her, Bahinabai’s poems have become an indelible memory for many like me who grew up speaking Marathi, the language of Maharashtra. I heard her songs, often sanitized into “cleaner” Marathi (she composed in a dialect) but with their essence intact, sung by other singers on radio. I remember, as a child, watching a TV film about her life with images of a very simple but radiant woman singing beautifully as she strained to grind flour in a stone hand-mill.
But most of all I remember those two lines, and I can’t help but hum them ever so often. They strike a delightful analogy between the two worlds we live in: the practical world that we all see, share and enjoy/endure each day; and the emotional one, that secretive, sometimes dark place we allow no one but ourselves to visit, but where we also find our strength.
Last night I thought again of Bahinabai and her earthy wisdom as I made Mints’ Khandeshi-style methichi bhaji. I don’t really know a whole lot about this region along the northwest border of Maharashtra that’s famous for its distinctive, fiery, earthy cuisine, but I do remember reading somewhere that Bahinabai was born there.
What really captivated me about Mints’ recipe was the use of peanuts. The cuisine of Maharashtra tends to be deliciously and generously spiked with this nutty legume which, as you likely already know, is great for you. (Even Lucy loves peanuts– especially the ones still wrapped in their fibrous, golden shells. She will wait patiently for Desi to peel some for her, and gobble down the peanuts. If he forgets to give her some, she will sit next to the jar, look at it, then look at Desi, and this will continue until he notices. Sometimes, when he’s not looking, she’ll steal the stripped peanut shells and munch on those too!)
I followed the recipe faithfully except one addition– curry leaves. I love these flavorful leaves so much, I am always looking for a chance to add them to whatever I cook up. I toasted the curry leaves along with the green chillies and peanuts, before grinding them up into a paste. We ate the dal with some aloo parathas hot off the griddle. And I used a spatula, so no, I didn’t burn my fingers! .