A trip to the Indian grocery store yesterday reminded me instantly that the month of Shravan must have begun! Back in India, the Monsoons in the month of Shravan not only brought an end to the intense heat wave in Delhi, but also ushered in the festive season. As with everything else, my unforgettable memories are those of food- starting with vendors selling litchi, jamun and Phalsa, followed by the appearance of Pheni and Ghevar in the sweet shops. And who can forget those charcoal-roasted bhutta sellers that sprang up on every corner. Sprinkled with masala and neembu, fire roasted corn cobs are the quintessential Indian street food during the monsoons.
My mom and I bought those bhuttas every evening during the rainy season. This ancient old man in a ratty turban would materialize out of nowhere when it was time. He lined a few bricks in a semicircle, and filled the middle with charcoal that he lit for fire. On top of this make-shift fire-pit, he placed a largish, semi-circular jaali. As he fanned the fire with a large woven palm-leaf pankha with his left hand, his right rang a loud, clanky brass bell. Slowly, a crowd gathered around him. Children returning from school, some with their moms in tow. Neighborhood “aunties”, just waking up from their afternoon nap and ready for a small snack and big gossip. Younger kids, fed up from being locked inside their home all morning and hankering to be taken out for some air. As he removed the silk and husk from the corn; orders rang all around him - masala, mirch-masala, extra neembu, light-roast, charred…..He gave everyone a nod, without looking up. And yet, he never made a mistake. Everyone got what they wanted. He was sold out within an hour- and he always returned the next day with more. As the rains waned, the old man disappeared again- only to return the next year.