UTTERLY, BUTTERLY


Some beautiful moments in life don’t have names.

Unlike falling in love or becoming a parent or watching a sunset or spotting a shooting star, there are some instances that we simply don’t give enough credit for; things we don’t celebrate because they seem so mundane and mediocre in our everyday settings. Some episodes in life have beauty blended into them so intrinsically that you don’t notice it, until you churn the moment and separate the joy to behold. Like butter from curd.

Among the many things that I had taken for granted during my younger days at home (with my parents) was the ghee that Amma made by melting home-made butter. The smell of that ghee is something I would die for. The fact that it was a privilege I would not get forever was not known until I left home and came to the Gulf, where milk and yogurt were bought off the shelf. The milk wasn’t ‘fresh’ nor was the yogurt ‘curd’.

Despite the pronouncements made by the manufacturers that they were made from the purest sources with the most modern technology for the best of our health, there was something missing in their promises - the aroma of Khoya as the milk boiled on slow fire and cloying taste of butter in the yogurt. There was either something added or removed from them. It wasn’t the original stuff as I had had back home. But then again, like most things that we have by now got accustomed to having in the fake (from love to friendships to flowers to Louis Vuitton bags), I got used to having full-cream milk and yogurt that barely had any cream to claim. Sometimes, getting used to the duplicate makes you forget what the original was like.

The only way I kept my memory of the real alive on my palate was by having filter coffee made with freshly procured cow’s milk in Palakkad, and bringing back to Dubai a bottle of Amma’s home-made ghee. I must confess that the curd back there has now got a bit too greasy and loaded for my comfort. Years of spooning yogurt from a prim plastic tub has made me alien to the curd set in a base-worn stainless steel utensil.

The ghee from home was exclusively consumed with meals, not used in tadkas and sweets. Can anything match the rich but self-effacing taste of home-made ghee poured over steaming rice before ladling some sambar or curry on it? No matter how stingily I used it, the day when I had to scrap the bottom of the container would eventually arrive and I would return to the readymade ghee or the ones I made from branded butter. This has been the routine for more than 24 years now.

The last big, frozen dollop of ghee from my last visit home is still stored safely in the fridge. I had made it last for nearly 4 months and if I stretch it with judicious consumption, this bit might last for two more weeks. It was a vexing thought. Should one stress over small things like milk, curd and ghee, one might wonder. Maybe, not. But some joys, as I said in the beginning, do not carry happiness tags. They are silent influencers that can change the way we appreciate life.

And so it transpired that during a recent conversation with a friend, I learnt that there was a place from where I could procure fresh farm-sourced cow’s milk. I was enthused. It suddenly opened up the scope of having my own curd, my own butter and my own ghee, which I need not worry would bottom out. The idea of a golden pool of ghee spreading its divine aroma in the house was too exhilarating for me to ignore. I couldn’t wait for the adventure to begin. Three litres of fresh milk was brought in, boiled and turned into curd. The amount of cream that I scooped out of the curd could cover the entire surface of the moon. That was when it hit me – I didn’t have a precise idea of how to get the butter from the luscious lump I had in store.

Amma has an ancient Rico mixie which she uses only for this purpose and it works like a charm. It has been repaired and mended a hundred times and it still hasn’t stopped working. It is her exclusive butter churning machine, which never lets her down. But I didn’t have Rico. I only had my Preeti and an old wooden churner. Will they work? I didn’t know, but I had to give it a shot with the things I had.

I transferred the cream into the mixie jar with a prayer on my lips. It was my maiden attempt and I so wished it didn’t fail. But things don’t go the way we desire or dictate, do they? The cream swirled and stirred and frolicked inside, going up and down, down and up, but no butter seemed to emerge from it. Several attempts later, I gave the handheld wooden churner a chance. Right to left, left to right, thus it went till my hands threatened to fall off. I stared at the wholesome mess I was creating around me with all the churning, but no hint of butter anywhere. It was heart-breaking.

That coveted thing I so yearned for was there for the taking, right there, but I didn’t know how to obtain it. That familiar feeling of knowing it’s there, but not having a frigging clue of how to acquire it, that common frustration of not knowing how to separate peace from chaos, happiness from humdrum, of finding the ultimate from the limited; the disappointment of having the gift of life in hand and not knowing how to extract fulfillment from it. I couldn’t let that sinking feeling get the better of me. I couldn’t give up on my pursuit of fetching the butter from the cream. What would it take for me to accomplish it?

I put out a post on a hugely resourceful ladies group on facebook asking for help and I began to receive tips of all kind. To each, her own. They gave ideas that worked for them. Among them were two gems. ‘Patience’, said one. ‘Good mood’, said another. They were profound points and I took note. Butter wouldn’t show within a few spins of the churner. I must stay at it, allowing it as long as it would take, convinced that sooner or later the butter would start collecting. If it is there inside, it must reveal itself eventually.

As for good mood, I knew, anything done without cheer will not bring worthy returns. ‘Doing it with joy’ is the key to success. So, I had to do undertake the project when I had nothing else worming inside my head and today seemed like a fairly laid-back day. The mental worms were still there, but they seemed to be in a snooze. We have now learned to coexist amicably, giving each other space.

‘Try churning with the cake mixer,’ the husband suggested, seeing I was beyond myself with dismay after the failed attempts. I must admit that he participates equally in all my adventures, but this one sounded too preposterous to even consider.

Egg beater for churning curd? That which combines cannot separate.

I threw a mocking side-glance at him and continued to wait for advice from my virtual sisterhood on FB. That was when a lady shared her success story with the egg-beater.

‘What?’ I exclaimed and showed the husband the message.

He read the message and duly gave me a I told you so look which I accepted with a sheepish smile. He isn’t a culinary expert, all right, but he has more common sense than me, I admitted grudgingly.


Thus began our next round of churning with the cake mixer. The man was chivalrous enough to offer his services and I was gracious enough to let him do it for me.

Slowly but steadily, with blobs of curd splattered all around us and his clothes too amply dotted with the creamy concoction, we began to see islands of butter forming in the white sea in the pitcher. With some more persistent action, we accomplished our goal. Handsome lumps of butter floated in the buttermilk. It felt as if the moon had cruised down for an earthly sojourn.

It was a moment of great triumph. Nothing spectacular had happened, there was no earth-shattering discovery made, we hadn’t cracked the code to sure-shot success nor had we won a lottery. We had merely made butter at home. The elation of having achieving something so meagre was uncontainable for me. I felt as if I had touched the stars. It was a moment of joy that has no name. The final part of that anonymous joy is now waiting to be experienced in the freezer. It will materialize shortly in the form of home-made ghee and fills the air with its heady aroma.

How many such unexplored moments of happiness might be lying in wait for us around the corner? How many butter delights are left for us to uncover from the creamy layers of life? How fantastic it is to know that if you churn relentlessly, one day, the butter would finally emerge from wherever it invisibly lies!

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