Samosas Fried in Mustard Oil
Banaras also known as Varanasi or Kasi is a holy place to Hindus, one of the ancient cities located on the banks of river Ganges. It is a belief that cremating one’s body on the river banks and later immersion of the ashes into Ganges is a sure way to the salvation. People living faraway distances carry ashes from cremation of their loved ones to Banaras to immerse in the river Ganges.
Some people in their old age make Banaras their home, hoping cremation of their body on the banks of river Ganges would facilitate their Atman or spirit to rest in peace for ever. These old folks live near the Ghats or river banks connected to a network of very narrow streets in the old city near the famous Viswanath temple.
Juggernaut was enrolled at country’s oldest university in Banaras to pursue graduate studies. It was one of his dream travel/education adventures, inspired by reading railway guides from his father’s book collection. Juggernaut has no contacts at all either at the university campus or in town, and couldn’t speak Hindi, the local language. But, he was ready and excited to experience the unfamiliar place. The only connection he had with Banaras was, in early nineteen hundreds, Juggernaut’s paternal grandfather made living by accompanying pilgrims from south India to Banaras for a fee (like present day tour operator). A long trip on bullock drawn carts, sometimes on foot and other means that took months through jungles and areas unfamiliar to folks living in Deep South. Juggernaut learnt very little from his grandmother about his grandfather except she accompanied him ones or twice on the pilgrimage to Banaras and spent some time there in an area exclusively people from South lived around a particular Ghat. Juggernaut’s grandfather died long ago, in fact he died in his forty’s from an infectious disease.
On arriving in Banaras, Juggernaut stayed in a small motel in the old city near the temple. On the way to the university next day, Juggernaut took a ride on a rickshaw. Pungent smells of frying oil emanating from roadside vendors preparing breakfast and other snacks permeated the streets. Suddenly, the rickshaw stopped and a young woman jumped into the rickshaw. The woman didn’t say one word through the entire ride to the campus, on reaching the campus; she paid her share of the fare to the rickshaw puller and walked away. All along, Juggernaut was sitting in silent wondering who this girl was and why the rickshaw puller allowed her to share the ride without asking for his consent. Later he learnt that it was a common practice to share a ride to the campus from the city center.
With little understanding and totally incapable of speaking Hindi, Juggernaut spent the next few days to find a room at the university dorms. The next thing on his mind was to find the area around the river Ghats where her grandmother mentioned about an exclusive area where old folks from South India live. This was the areas where Juggernaut believed that his grandfather stayed intermittently in early 1900 with pilgrims from south India.
Riding a bicycle, Juggernaut ventured into the ghat area known for inhabitants from South India. The street was narrow perhaps 10 feet wide with dilapidated homes on either side. From a distance, Juggernaut noticed few widows and identified as from south India from their clothing pattern (as a custom some south Indian widows wear white saris wrapped in a manner to cover their heads sometimes clean shaved, an ancient custom now abandoned). The plan was to stop by them to strike a polite conversation to seek information about his grandfather’s visits in the past. As he approached, the women hurried themselves into their homes and closed the door as if they were frightened. Puzzled, Juggernaut moved forward to meet an old man sitting on a concrete verandah. The man ignored the salutation and refused to communicate. After travelling few more minutes on the bicycle, he experienced the same with few more old widows. It appears the folks on this street were scared of strangers, especially a young man like Juggernaut, and this could have created a serious suspicion on the part of the old folks. Juggernaut felt as if he was like a village rowdy or villain terrorizing innocent folks. With hopes dashed to trace his grandfather’s footprints in Banaras, Juggernaut took a slow ride on his bicycle on the narrow streets back to the campus.
While riding back to the campus, Juggernaut noticed some vendors on the roadside frying snacks in open large oil pans, and from here, the pungent smells of smoke of frying oil was emanating. One of the popular snacks was samosa, a snack prepared with a vegetable curry wrapped in thin sheet made from flour in shape of a triangle and deep fried in oil. In a conversation with the vendor which involved a whole lot of sign language since Juggernaut couldn’t understand the language, he learned that it was the mustard oil that was emitting the pungent vapors when it was heated almost to smoking for deep frying the samosas. The vendor in sign language explained that the oil is good for heart and the pungent vapor is good for the lungs. A deep fried snack which is good for heart, a rear combination indeed thought Juggernaut but couldn’t express in words, so he made a salutation to the vendor and left with two crispy samosas deep fried in mustarded oil. Though he couldn’t trace his grandfather’s path in Banaras, Juggernaut did learn that samosas fried in mustard oil are good for heart.