With 2020 packing most of us in the safety of our homes, I had to do something to keep my spirits up, to stay positive. A quick look in the kitchen revealed a bottle of fenugreek methi seeds. The discovery reminded me of an experiment I’d done as a child. Soak the seeds overnight, when you see them sprout (tiny tails at the end of the seeds), it means they have germinated and are ready to plant. I remember ‘borrowing’ one of the numerous shrikhand containers my aai and aaji always kept in the kitchen cabinets. Indian homes ALWAYS have at least a few such plastic containers lying around, neatly washed, dried and kept, to be used as quick storage solution, or when something needs to be given to someone without the expectation of getting anything in return… more on that later in a different blog.
Anyway, the science teacher had told us that the container should have good drainage, so I borrowed the container, and carefully poked three holes at the bottom, nevermind the fact that the overzealous younger me accidentally pierced myself in my energetic attempts to break through the plastic. Now that my container, and I, had been pierced, I filled the container with soil from the garden. Back in those days, soil was easily available and free! I keep digressing.
Next, I proceeded to spread the sprouted fenugreek methi seeds in the soil, and sat back to watch it grow. Five minutes later, seeing my crestfallen face, my baba asked me what the matter was. I told him there was something wrong with my methi plant, it wasn’t growing. He offered to take a look at it. Now, baba is a scientist and a farmer, so he was literally my best bet at figuring out what the problem was. He turned the container this side and that, then asked, “when did you put the seeds in the soil?” I replied, “AGES ago!” I remember the way his cheeks seemed to fill up with air, as ifhe was holding back a smile. With a super serious expression, he suggested I cover the seeds with a layer of soil. “Keep it thin or the plant might not be able to break through,” he advised, “and keep it loose, don’t pack it too tight.”
With very little hope, I did as he asked, and once again sat back, waiting for it to grow. Zip. Nada. Nothing. “You know what?” my aai joined us just then, “it is time for you to go to sleep. How about we let the sprouted seeds also sleep, and check what’s wrong in the morning?” Adamant, I was about to refuse, but a ginormous yawn overpowered my resolve, and I bade them both a good-night before heading towards the bedroom I shared with my aaji. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” aai asked. I stopped, turned around, “I am?” She nodded, “did you wish good-night to the plant?” Too sleepy to argue that it wasn’t a plant, I glanced at it, wished it good-night, and feeling like a fool, disappointed that my experiment had failed, I went to sleep.
Childhood is indeed blissful, for sleep claimed me almost the moment my head hit the pillow. I woke up to the sound of birds chirping outside my window. “Good morning!” I called out to the family in general and went about my business. It was Saturday, so no school. When I joined my family in the living room, the aroma of omelette (Indian English is based on British English. Omlet would be crossed out in huge red ink by my teachers, so I’ll stick with omelette as this post pertains to the time when I was still in school) made my stomach rumble. I gleefully dug into my omelette sandwich, which was a thick, fluffy omelette stuck between two slices of buttered bread, with tomato ketchup and coriander (Indian cilantro) chutney slathered on the buttered side, and pressed together in the sandwich maker.
“Is that a parrot I see out there?” my dad suddenly asked, staring out the window. Though parrots were a common sight, it was still too early in the season, so I turned to look, my curiosity roused. Sandwich forgotten, I let out a loud squeal, for there were tiny green leaflets (they were too tiny to be called leaves, so I coined this term) emerging from the ‘faulty’ seeds I’d sown the previous night! “My plant!” I exclaimed in joy. Smiling, my dad told me that plants take their own time to sprout and grow. They need sunlight, water, and sometimes, even food and fertilizer to keep them strong and healthy, just like us.
Excited now, I immediately wanted to water my plant. The holes at the bottom of the container took care of my overeager watering. I kept staring at the plant every chance I got, and by evening, I could swear it had grown another millimeter or two! I wonder how my parents did not get tired of my eager exclamations and running commentary about the growth of my plant. By Monday morning, it was a good inch from the soil, and the leaflets had grown a nice shade of green.
Tuesday rolled around, and I excitedly carried my plant to school, feeling proud that it had grown so well. Much to my surprise, almost everyone in the class had brought the same plant. It was then that our science teacher told us that fenugreek is a staple seed used in our food, and the plant sprouts much faster than most others, and is very easy to maintain. Of course, childhood is blessed, so we all quickly got over our disappointment that ours was not the unique plant we had thought it was.
About three weeks after first sighting the leaves, baba asked if I’d help him harvest the plant. “Noooo!” I was sad, “why do you want to cut my plant?” He chuckled, “because it will go to seed if we don’t harvest it.” Now I was curious. He explained, “left unharvested, the plant will create flowers, which, in turn will generate more methi seeds. But in the meantime, the plant itself will lose its flavour (again, blame it on the Brits) and will taste bitter. Needless to say, the thought of my beautiful plant turning bitter was beyond my imagination, and I quickly rushed to pull it out.
“Stop!” baba warned me. I was confused. “If you pull it out from the roots, it gets over. Nothing can become of it after that point. But if you cut it at the stem, the plant will give you leaves again in a few weeks, continuing the cycle.” Excited, I ran into the kitchen and fetched him a pair of scissors. He showed me how to harvest the leaves, and then handed the pair to me, urging me to go slow, to watch the stem. That evening, we had methi parathas for dinner!
Now that I am done reminiscing, I’ll proudly add that I repeated this entire process, from germinating the seed, to sowing it, to watching it grow, to harvesting, to cleaning, and finally, to making methi parathas that tasted particularly delicious! A complete farm-to-table experience.