It is that time of the year. Winter is gone ... not going, going ... but gone. Fully, completely, well and gone. For good.
At least for a good eight months or so.
And it was not even the mid of March when the temperature hit 32 degrees.
Yes, Pune will burn this summer.
The trees are bare and the roads are lined with yellow leaves. Rather, the roadsides are. The roads are clean.
As is the sky. Bright blue. With a brighter sun. And a dry, hot wind.
Even the large Peepal standing erect and proud is devoid of its covering.
In a few days, the tips will have tiny leaves sprouting, that, with time, will slowly unfurl, revealing their shiny red baby leaf colour.
And then will turn into a shiny, fresh baby green. Then move on to its original dark green.
All the while shimmering brightly in the early summer sun.
The bird bath needs to stay filled. Always.
What with the dry weather, it dries up every two hours now.
Early morning, the Bulbuls come. And the sparrows.
If the bird bath is empty, they make big noise. Persistant chirping fills the morning quiet.
And if they find water, there will be much noise too ... but happier, chirpier ... as they drink and enjoy playing in the water.
A little later in the day, it is the turn of the pigeons, crows and swallows. Sometimes a couple of parrots too.
They are quieter ... do not demand out loud for water. So I need to be extra vigilant, making sure the bath is filled all the while.
By noon, when all is quiet in the intense sun, the insects come.
Yes ... the wasps especially. They settle down quietly just near the edge of the water and take a long drink.
We mortals are swinging from "Oh, is it hot today!" to " Wow! this breeze will help cool down the weather!"
"This summer is going to be one scorcher".
For the last two days.
Yes, it is that time of the year when we can't decide if it is still winter or spring, or well into summer.
The woolens lying around insist it is still winter.
The calender says it is spring.
And the daily temperature says it is summer; surely, confidently, without a doubt.
In our childhood, we used to abhor this time as it would mean the inclusion of the much dreaded Neem to the daily menu.
Apparently it is good for the immune system that needs a boost during these confusing days.
While Bengali meals always start with something bitter ... usually the karela fry or the Gima shaak, this time of the year, when the Neem flowers and breaks into baby leaves, it is the neem on the plate.
So, the lunch plate would see the very innocent looking, small dark green pile on the right, at the very begining. We would eye the other dishes ... the Macher jhol or maybe a mutton or chicken dish and the tauk too.
But no ... we could not reach them until we had waded through that small pile of unspeakable bitter.
Quickly we would mash it up with a little rice, make balls and gulp them down as fast as we could ... sometimes with the help of a glass of water, wipe the plate clean to get rid of whatever bitter is left, rush off to wash our hands and come back to a tastier meal.
Today, I have developed a taste for the very same bitter neem. With a little extra salt and green chilli added to the mash, I actually enjoy it.
The leaves used have to be from the very tip of the branches ... very soft and slightly reddish in colour.
Combined with the sweetness of the brinjal, it turns into a good, tasty fry.
Fresh neem leaves
Brinjal / Begun - cut into small cubes
Salt to taste
Oil to fry
How to :
Pick and wash the neem leaves and dry well on a kitchen napkin.
Heat a kadahi. When properly hot ... not smoking hot, switch off heat and let in the neem leaves.
Stir them well till they shrivel and dry up.
In another pan or kadahi, heat a little oil.
Let in the brinjals and add salt.
Cover and cook till the brinjals are done.
Remove cover, add the fried neem leaves and mix well.
Serve with plain rice at the begining of a meal, usually lunch.
Enjoy good, healthy food.
Stay well; don't reach for that cold drink or ice cream; don't use the a/c to pretend you are in Antartica; don't sleep with your hair still dripping wet; don't ....
Someone say Gesundheit! ... pleeese.