That historic evening, with the children away at a Christian camp, the house was very quiet.
Elizabeth Lal Din, the pastor’s wife and Libbo to her friends, reached out for the aubergines. The eggs were on the boil and the broiler glowing. The open kitchen drawer rammed into her side and she swore in Punjabi.
Ammi-jee was such a loving mother. Her visit had lasted longer than the butcher’s opening hours. It wasn’t just the samosas and tea, but their delicious gossip of two impending marriages, a divorce and a funeral. Besides which, she wouldn’t dare cut her mum’s visit short.
Determined to give Charles, a confirmed carnivore, the best default vegetarian meal of his life, she was not to know that it would exceed her hopes.
Discreetly undulating her hips to the kehrwa beat, she sliced a couple of aubergines length-wise, zebra-striped them, sprinkled salt on the inside and put them next to the bowl of finely chopped tomatoes.
She turned the radio off and slipped a disc of Punjabi hymns into the CD player. To the sound of khushi khushi manao — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ensjWNHwd2M — she rinsed the aubergines and then scooped out the soft part over the chopped tomatoes, adding half a grated onion, a garlic clove and two inches of grated ginger. And of course, green chilies, coriander and mint.
She brushed the aubergines with her home-made organic ghee and put them under the broiler. To the sound of yesu ke naam mein hum fatah patay hain — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c6wwQuyTI1o — she put ghee in a thick bottomed frying pan, sprinkled salt, added a few cumin and mustard seeds, let them sizzle, then with her wooden spatula, slid in the mixture of the scooped out aubergine, tomatoes, onion and garlic. She stirred it, added her home-made garam masala spice mixture, put a lid on the frying pan and lowered the heat to a simmer.
She peeled and chopped four tomatoes, crushed them with a potato masher, added salt, pepper, red chillies, sliced ginger, crushed garlic and white and black cumin, chucked it into hot ghee in a pan and then reduced the heat to very low.
The inside of the aubergines under the broiler was golden brown. She got them out, sprinkled salt and pepper on the inside, took the frying pan off the gas flame and filled the aubergines with the mixture. Some of it was surplus, which she diluted with water, added fenugreek powder, and added to the simmering sauce.
The eggs were hard-boiled to perfection. Mum’s Christmas egg-slicer gave her perfect cuts. She pressed a slice of egg into the middle of each aubergine half.
Taking her frying pan off the flame, she gently put the aubergines into the sauce, covered the frying pan and put it back on the flame.
The phone rang.
“Oh yes, yes mum. I do remember your starch-free basmati rice recipe … pardon?
“Ok – wash a cup of rice five times or until the water in which it’s soaked is clear.
“After thirty minutes, chuck it in boiling water and wait for a rolling boil.
“Drain and rinse
“Put the rice in my thick-bottomed pan — yes, the one you gave Charles for his birthday — and add a cup of water — yes mum, not two cups, one — let it come to the boil with the lid on, then turn the gas off and it’s done in twenty minutes of steaming.
“thanks mum …. yes, bet it’s so delicious, he faints!
And actually, as history records, when Pastor Charles Lal Din finished his dinner after a prayer meeting, marriage counselling and the church accounts, his eyes suddenly started glazing, his fleshy lips parted, Libbo appeared to be undulating, breathing hard and the floor rose to meet the ceiling.