August is a difficult month. Possibly the most difficult depending on where you are born. For Nagas, it is the month of independence declaration. For Indians it is also the month of independence declaration. For one group it is a physical reality, for the other it is a mental reality. The drama of being forced to buy and fly the tricolour should not have come as a surprise. But it’s difficult to be preempt beforehand even if one suspects something of that nature will happen. Suddenly everyone has to identify as a political animal in August, doesn’t matter which way your political inclinations lean. This is not a piece about politics, by the way. I think the whole tamasha is a bit like the gender debate. Best to not poke it further. August is a difficult month, apart from the enforced flag rules. Month of droughts for some, and floods for others.A bit like a can’t-make-up-her-mind month. This summer, the UK tabloids dramatically reported heat waves and burnt grass in park areas like Greenwich. But citizens who have seen the UK drought of 1976 are scoffing at the Armageddon type of reporting by the papers. Back in 1976, in the middle of one of the country’s worst droughts, Denis Howell was appointed the minister of Drought. Exactly seven days after his appointment, the UK was hit by heavy rainfall that caused flooding. Not sure if they nicknamed him the rain man after that.
August brings back memories of the very tasty dried fish from Manipur that was a delicacy for many Naga kitchens. Known as rani mas, the dried variety measured about two and a half inches and was very expensively sold in Kohima markets. Some years ago, the shops were empty of rani mas. The Meitei lady sitting in her dried fish shop in the heart of the town said, they had been fished to extinction. That was five years ago. Another report that was more recent claimed that the fish had returned to its native waters again. Hope that teaches us to eat more judiciously. In either case, here is a recipe for rani masif you should ever come across it. Boil two potatoes sliced into four lengthwise. Add some local tomatoes, not tree tomato, be judicious not to use more than eight or nine cherry tomatoes. Add pounded dry chillies, salt, axone, rani mas, and pounded garlic. That should do it.
Isn’t August the season of maize and mellow fruitfulness in our parts? What a blessing of late mangoes, star fruit, pineapples, peaches, pears and melons it brings. Jam, make jam. Homemade jam sure beats the factory variety with its highly artificial taste. Admittedly, it is tedious work to stir a pot of mashed fruit for hours, but the end result is never regrettable. But jam-making is tied to good timing in an indisputable manner. Simply put, start boiling jam early so that it doesn’t have to go into the wee hours of the night before the consistency you desire can be arrived at. I know of at least two women (maybe three or even four) who ignored this rule and found themselves up past midnight stirring a pot of fruit that took its time to solidify. If you get tired of stirring, you can cheat and make jelly instead, because it cuts down a little more than a quarter of the time needed to make jam.
August is the month of chayote in abundance. The humble squash. Iskus, bisku, whatever you will. Best way to boil it is in very little water, like enough fluid covering the bottom of the pot, the reason being that squash is itself a very watery vegetable. The Sümi are best at making boiled squash with minimum water, and a pinch of salt. No axone please. Honestly, some people seem to think that we put the soyabean wonder into each and every of our broths. We don’t nor do we have to. Okra is another August vegetable that is quite edible when made along the same lines. The trick some cooks use is to leave the okra intact, not cutting off the receptacle else that would make it release all the gooey stuff.
August can still be the month of bamboo shoot, fresh, uncensored bamboo shoot. Wonder why we ferment it? It tastes just as nice unfermented, the Chinese way, and when added to different meat preparations. Anyway, to each his own. And cheers to Naga food!