When Benson Town was under seige and all the shops had closed down, she stepped into her garden, plucked a papaya off her tree, mixed it with godhi hittu (aata) and baked a glorious papaya gateau. Another day she made a kothambri soppu (corriander), avocado and strawberry bread which was, well, interesting.
While she says the secret to her phenomenal baking is gobs of amul butter, I haven't given up searching her pantry for that little vial of magic potion that's actually responsible for it. The most wonderful part, however, is that I am her self-appointed food taster. With her success rate of 100%, I am only too happy to stuff myself to bursting capacity with all her goodies, while giving her my extremely satiated two-paisa opinions on them.
Missy M made a green almond sponge cake the other day, which she had layered with chocolate and pistachios. She'd also made an unpronounceable Italian dessert with bansi rava (semolina), and called wondering if I wanted to drop by and try them out. Didn't I just! In about 43 seconds, I was squeezing through her front door, trying to prevent Coco and Buster from squeezing in with me. Dogs out of the way, I addressed myself conscientiously to my assigned task of stuffing myself silly. No eggs, she announced, since it was Deepavali after all.
The almond sponge with pistachio and chocolate icing was wonderful, as expected. Or as Appa would say "Mundiriparuppu, pista, vennai, sakkarai ellaam potta kasakkumaa?" (Cashew, pista, butter, sugar, all put means bitter it will be aa?). As always though, there was Missy M's unmistakeable touch, that made it a superlative almond sponge with pistachio and chocolate icing.
A quick kodbaLe break later, I was onto my next arduous task: sampling the unpronounceable Italian dessert. It was a cake-like kesari bhath, with the consistency of a very very fluffy Mysore pak. I blinked appreciatively at the legendary baker, unable to move any more muscles in acknowledgement of her fantastic culinary creations.
"Alright", she announced, "I figure you could use a walk. Care for a stroll down Williams Town? I need to buy some clay lamps." "Glurgh", I replied, indicating that I needed to be rolled off the Benson Hill first. So off we went: one goggle-eyed cake-taster and one diligent baker-deepavalist.
Williams Town, though adjacent to Benson Town, is in stark contrast to it. It struck me as nice and quaint, though not particularly affluent or spectacularly beautiful. Neat rowhouses abutted a sweet looking park, in the old world Bangalore style. The vaulted mangalore-tiled roofs of the rowhouses stuck out at the back, while their modernized frontages lined the clean streets. A few 1950s-style biscuit boxes with rounded verandahs stood in pristine splendour in their little gardens. A bunch of boys, a gaggle of girls and an assembly of aunties stood around in groups discussing the happennings of the day. We saw kids bursting crackers and lighting lamps, old men readying themselves for the evening namaaz, and several young people at the shrine of the virgin, lighting candles and singing softly. I was amazed at the diversity, and charmed by the old-wordliness. Missy M snorted a pretty snort and strode on smugly, reminding me that we were in the Cantonment after all.
A few well-swept streets later, we found ourselves at the central square of Pottery Town. "Wow. There's a potter's square in Bangalore?", I said, looking around in amazement. "Um, yes", said Missy M, "but it's been here forever, and we've never thought of it as one." I gaped open-mouthed at the quaint potters' shops around the square. Huge terracota planters, lamps, urns and basins lay around everywhere. Shopkeepers looked up at us lazily and went back to doing nothing. I meandered off into one of the shops, fascinated by some large urlis that seemed perfect for my irritatingly non-blooming water lilies.
"Focus", said Missy M gently, as she dragged me into a shop where she spied the diyas that she wanted. The sweet toothless adukulajji (betelnut grandmother) at the shop took an instant liking to us and made us come into her house and see all her wares. Pots, that is. We bought about 75 lamps for 100 bucks or so, and walked back through Williams Town, stopping to admire a collection of unsold clay ganeshas that escaped this year's mass-drowning. I chattered incessantly about the quaintness of it all, until Missy M suggested cooingly that I shut the hell up, as she was getting a migraine. I muttered my remaining remarks to my sandals and followed her back home, where she fed me home-made pizza and sent me away.
So if you're into quaint small-town 1950s enclaves and aren't afraid of jumping across a nullah or two to buy some pottery real cheap, go check out Williams Town and Pottery Town. And if there's enough of you coming that way, I'll ask Missy M to set up a bake-shop shop next to adukulajji.