My boys and Lal Pari
I grew up in a house full of girls. So when my son was born, I was at a loss. How would I learn to mother this miracle? I knew nothing about sports: holding a racket or hitting a ball were alien concepts. I was into classical dancing, debates, cooking, reading, writing… but I had no idea how to raise sons.
When the older one, Jai, was about four, he asked me to tell him my favorite childhood fairytale. It made me uneasy. My favorite tale? It was about an Indian fairy princess, Lal Pari (The Red Fairy) who lived in a golden castle. She had seven brothers whom she loved and took care of. Of course, there was a witch who tried to lure her away but the brothers always took her care of their sister. She had a magical pot in which she could make anything her heart desired and it never ran out of food. The food only finished after she ate from the pot. I worried that this story was too “girly” for my son and then worried about cultural context.. he was being raised in the US and this tale was from my childhood in India, would it even translate?
But then I remembered when I had first heard the story. My parents and I used to live outside India but every summer we would go home to our homeland and stay with my grandparents. There was a old lady in my grandma’s house who would tell me tales of Lal Pari. She and I had nothing in common – she had never been to school, spoke no English and had never left India. Yet, her stories carried me through the summer and became memories and a critical part of my life. I figured since the stories translated for me so perhaps they would for my boys.
My original Lal Pari tales would end in her marrying a prince. My son loved adding his spin and sometimes the princess would be a doctor, usually a veterinarian, and would end up marrying Shrek. Other times, the gentle princess would be transformed into a superhero and have lasers, and sing along with Barney. I was grateful that he could take my stories but transform them to his world.
Jai grew up and outgrew Lal Pari, and then seven years later, my new son wanted to know about the fairy that he had heard about from his brother.
But this time, it was different, Arjun, three, would not add anything to the stories. He would simply listen, often looking lost. I wondered if my words made a difference. He would ask questions like “Does Lal Pari fly?” “Where is Lal Pari’s mother?” “Who taught Lal Pari how to play cards?” “Why does Lal Pari love her family so much?”
It was a Monday night, I remember now. I was away in NYC all day for meetings and reached home late at night. The boys were in Jai’s room and I stopped to listen at the door.
Jai: Lal Pari was going out to the market.
Arjun: Bhai (brother), she doesn’t go, Mama said she flies.
Jai: No, people cannot fly.
Arjun: But Mama said.
Jai: Okay, fine. She flew out and there she met Shrek and Lightening McQueen.
Arjun: No, Bhai, Mama said, she met her friends at the market and that is where is bought bananas. I think Mama is like Lal Pari. When is Mama coming home. I miss her.
Jai: Okay, okay. Yes… okay.
I opened the door to the room to have both boys come running towards me and pounce on me. They wanted to cuddle with me in my bed and have me tell them the Lal Pari story.
So without changing, in my business suit, I lay down with them. Jai lay on the right side and Arjun lay on the left.
I told them about Lal Pari going to the market. She went there each Sunday to buy food for her family. She bought tomatoes, and potatoes, and ginger, and garlic. She bought long slender bananas and plump round apples. Her brothers, who were with her, helped her pick out the ripest mangoes and carried the bags home in their shining new Lightening McQueen car.
There, she made spicy potatoes in her large magical bowl. Her bowl had been blessed. The food in it never ended until Lal Pari took a taste. Of course, Shrek stopped by for dinner with the family. They all sat together at the table, thanked God for the food and ate as they laughed and played silly games.
Lal Pari served herself at the end and the food was now gone.
I was so busy with my story that I forgot to see if the boys were listening. They had both fallen asleep in my arms.
You know, we all say that life doesn’t come with instruction books. I think that is why God made kids. Mine teach me how to love them, how to guide them, and how to nurture them. In return, I am blessed with watching them bloom and blossom in my home. With Lal Pari, and Shrek and McQueen and that never ending bowl of spiced potatoes.
Julie Sahni’s Hot Curry Leaf Potatoes
6 to 8 servings
My kiddos love this potato dish!
2 pounds medium (unpeeled) fingerling potatoes, scrubbed clean (try a mix of French, Russian Banana and Purple Peruvian)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste (plus more for the cooking water)
2 teaspoons cayenne, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon asafetida (a strong-smelling powdered spice often added to Indian curries; optional)
Juice from 1 or 2 limes (1 1/2 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
8 to 10 curry leaves
Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, the cover and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Drain and cool to room temperature.
Cut the cooled potatoes in half lengthwise and place in a large bowl. Add the salt, chili powder, turmeric, asafetida, if using, and the lime juice; mix to coat evenly.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the mustard seeds and the curry leaves. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to sputter, add the potatoes. Cook for a few minutes, constantly turning the potatoes over with a spatula, until well browned.