Continuing from before, since we don’t stay at Ghaziabad for weeks like we used to, we decided to go out somewhere else for a change and give all the kids a chance to bond. The plan was to go somewhere close to Nainital – since it is summer in Delhi and around and deadly hot – and rusticate. And since that stretch of road is home to many dhabas, also to eat a lot.
The problem with this plan quickly became apparent to us. That particular stretch of road is also home to many of my husband’s relatives and we came to realize that it was simply not possible to not offend someone by not stopping and visiting. However, since visiting everyone would have given us maybe five minutes in Nainital before we had to rush back home, we needed to carefully plan. So our first stop was at Haldwani.
Haldwani is a place I heard of first when I read about Sher Singh Bahadur and his little brother. Although in this link they call it Laldwani. Anyway. Haldwani is at the foothills of the Himalayas and for the last few years had been home to Asha Di, my husband’s cousin. While her husband was posted in the wilds of Uttarakhand, she sensibly opted to stay back in civilisation. However, she had recently caved in and was moving out to join him. If we wanted to meet her, it had to be now.
My brother who has often stopped at Haldwani en route to the hills has spoken favourably of the Hotel Devashish and the good Italian food to be had at Pots and Stones. Of course neither could be on our agenda.
Reaching Asha Di’s house, a pleasant surprise was in store for us. Since she was living alone, I had expected a small and functional sort of place. Her house though was a villa in a niceish part of town, right behind Pots and Stones in fact, and with a view of the Himalayas from her terrace! She didn’t have plants on the terrace as I would surely have done but I mentally added Haldwani to my list of places I have holidayed in but want to live in.
While we stretched our legs after the long drive, Asha Di and her busy little helpers were preparing a mini feast for us. Her nephew who had dropped by to help her pack had been co-opted into the dinner plan and was cooking chicken curry. Her helper Parvati was preparing palak paneer and soft buttered rotis for the vegetarians in the group. A former paying guest who had dropped in to say goodbye was immediately handed a task. She herself had made makhaane ki kheer, my husband’s favourite dessert. Keeping up a constant stream of chatter, she cooked, co-ordinated and garnished even as she extracted family gossip and news. I have never thought of blogs as places to report much conversation. And Asha Di’s ranges from the confidence and mutual understanding that marks her interactions with Parvati to the bawdiness that signals her closeness to her aunt – my mother in law – which bit made me wonder uneasily if Mr. Darcy would think her vulgar. But laughter is the mainstay of her chitchat and she reminds me constantly of my own beloved Kappu chitti.
What is it about these women that makes them so different from us? What is it that makes everyone want to be with them and help them and when they have one person they can visit, choose to visit them? For one, they never say my driver, or my cook like those people are not people but functions in life. They have that rare quality of seeing people simply as people. And in return they are rewarded by the gift of humanity.
Kappu chitti used to come to Bangalore and cook for ALL my friends. When a friend was passing by her hometown on his honeymoon she INSISTED on hosting him and his wife. And when I’d take her shopping she would chat with all the store attendants who in turn ensured she never had to stand in line. And on the way home she would chat with the autodriver and know his life history by the time she got home. No wonder everyone loved her. And everyone loves Asha Di.
Anyway she stuffed more of her delicious home cooked food into us at breakfast and then sent us off on our way. Nainital is not too far from Haldwani and her house was practically at the foothills. But with all the food in us, we wended our way slowly and lazily to Nainital – Corbett country.