The blazing, glaring sun appeared to have decided that that was the day it was going to burn everything down. The air was arid and the child, all of four years old, needed water. Having spilled the last remaining drops from the bottle, she was feeling the impact of the hot sun. The car was without an air conditioner. Most cars in those days in India were. At least the one I could afford then, definitely was. The highway driving and the scorching Hyderabadi sun was adding to the discomfort. It must have been a holiday of some kind as the very few shops we passed by were closed.
The little girl was doing everything in her power to not cry and beg for water. But I could see her in my rear view and I knew the look. She was really thirsty. And she was trying to be a good kid who doesn’t yell in the car while mommy is driving. But she was almost at the verge of being done with the good kid routine. My friend was trying to keep her interested in activities but I had to find water. And I had to find it fast.
A few minutes later we passed by a small village and a road side cart. The vendors, a couple were standing under a blue plastic shade with rows of codd neck bottles filled with soda, rows of lemons and a big earthen pitcher. I hoped that the child would not see them But she did. She had been vigilant and she squealed – paaaaaniiii ( waterrrrrrrr .. yes exactly that way).
I worked my mind as fast as I could. What were the chances this vendor will have any water to drink. I knew she wouldn’t drink the soda, but I didn’t know if the guy had any packaged water for sale. By the time I arrived at a conclusion (I didn’t) the good kid had lost the patience and was now screaming. So I stopped the car, and told her that we will go ask the good people if they had water to sell. And if they didn’t we would move on. She agreed.
We turned back (it took a few moments to not arrive at a conclusion) and drove up to the cart. Before I could say anything, the kid spoke in her best voice, “Uncle, paani hai?” ( Do you have any water, uncle?) The vendor did have bottled water. What he also did have was the soda and the spiced mint and tamarind water. None of us had ever had that concoction. The couple told us that the spiced water helped with the heat and we must try it. They were however a bit reluctant to have the kid have some.
So we gave the kid a small sip and she was over the moon. Oh Mirchi ( chilli) paani! Yummy! Four pairs of eyes were looking at the kid with wonder. It was spicy with heat from green chillies and she was drinking it with pleasure. When offered the bottle of water from their small cooler, the kid refused and insisted she wanted the Mirchi paani. The couple was so enthralled with her that they smiled big bright smiles and filled her bottle with some spiced mint water for free. The kid had a big bright smile on her face even when she dozed off a little later in the car on the way back home.
This was the beginning of a tradition for the kid and me. We had to stop at a similar vendor’s to drink ‘mirchi paani’ or eat some Paani puri every Sunday after swimming. Now that the vendors are in a land far far way, the little big girl asks for this every now and then. The bonus is she does all cleaning afterwards.
Though technically this is more salty and spicy than sweet, but since it has lemons and sugar it does sort of fall into a spicy mint lemonade category. The teen still calls it “Mirchi Paani”.
Try it at your own risk!