Thursday, November 08, 2012
The last Week has been kind of surreal----as if I'm a part of a Nightmare that I'd like to desperately wake up from but somehow it is never ending and I just can't!!The day I was dreading but waiting for has finally come and gone---Sudhir has been laid to rest with all the proper Rituals and Rites of Hinduism.Yesterday--7th. November--was his first Death Anniversary according to the Hindu Lunar Calender----and it was marked by a solemn Religious Ceremony to honour it.Yesterday Sayali performed the "Varsha Shraadh Puja" for him and he now is supposedly fully released from all Earthly bonds and ties.
For us Hindus this is a very solemn occasion---a kind of a final "Goodbye" to the departed Soul.A Feast is cooked--consisting of some mandatory Pulses and Vegetables as well as those that the deceased was fond of.Since we are Gowd Saraswat Brahmins----or GSB for short----our food is cooked fully without the use of Onion and Garlic for Foods such as these are considered unfit for the Soul to eat!!Since his sisters and mine had not been a part of his final Rites in the USA I wanted them to have a sense of closure---and a chance to say their Farewells to him.The Rites and Rituals entail an elaborate variety of Stuff--and since Sayali had told me that she'd be here on the 6th. November I got busy running around and doing most of the stuff before she arrived.
As usual she flummoxed me---had Sandy not intervened she'd have been here last Friday--the 2nd.November itself--but she actually made it in on the 3rd. November because BA was busy flying people home in the week preceding those dates.For me it was a wonderful and lovely surprise as well as a great relief to have her with me as we finished making the final arrangements together.The Caterers had been fixed as had the Priest performing the "Puja" and the Lists had been systematically ticked off to ensure that everything was in order.Preparations for cooking Sudhir's favourites at home began on the 6th.---with Sayali making one his favourite Indian Desserts--"Shrikhand" at home.I cooked a savoury dish he was extremely fond of named "Panchamrut" signifying the essence of Life---tickling one's tongue with five different flavours--Sweet,Spicy,Sour,Bitter and Salty.This is one of those mandatory dishes--and a must for all "Pujas"---both in Happiness or in Death!!Then I cooked his favourites----Fresh raw Black eyed Peas,sprouted Field Beans,sprouted Mung Bean Curry also mandatory and "Doodh Paak" a rich Indian Dessert which is made with Ghee roasted Basmati Rice ground coarsely and cooked in Milk.Sugar and reduced,thickened Milk is added once the Rice is fully cooked----along with Saffron Strands and Cardamom-Nutmeg Powders.Besides that I also cooked the plain "Varan-Bhaat" or Dal and Rice--another mandatory dish.By 9.30 a.m. everything was ready and by 10.15 a.m. the Caterer and his men had reached.The priest arrived by 11.15 a.m. and after assembling the Components ritualistically the Ceremony began at 11.45 a.m.---continuing till 1.45 p.m. when the feeding the Crows Ceremony took place.
This Ceremony of feeding the Crows is an interesting thing to observe and has always fascinated me.A Silver/Copper/Brass/Steel plate is lined with a fresh,tender Banana Leaf,filled with Food and ceremoniously laid out in an open space for the Crows to feast on.Many times the Crows begin eating out of it immediately--signifying that departed Soul is pleased and happy to participate in the "Puja" being offered for it but sometimes they just gather around and don't touch the Food at all--circling around the Plate instead.It is then that the relatives think of different reasons as to why the Soul is reluctant to participate in the Ceremony and begin uttering various promises to appease the departed person.A particular promise may click and then the Crows may begin to eat the Food offered---but in case that does not happen a Crow made of Hay is used and the Ceremony completed---leaving a niggling sense of doubt, defeat and inadequacy in the hearts of the relatives concerned.However such cases are far less than the ones where Crows gather round immediately and within minutes the Banana Leaf is empty!!Such was the case yesterday---we were followed by Crows the moment we stepped out of our Apartment Building the Crows began flocking around us--following us to the designated spot.The moment we set down the Plate the first Crow dipped his beak in the serving of Sayali's Shrikhand---and then all of these feathered messengers of Souls began polishing off the rest of the Food in earnest!!!The Leaf was overflowing with Food--for there were 20 courses and 7 Sweets on it!!The funniest thing about the way they ate--for they followed the same pattern that Sudhir would have--with "Shrikhand-Puri "first--the "Bhajiyaas/Pakoras,Kachrees and Chutney" next next and then the "Varan-Bhaath with Papadums and Panchamrut"!!!
I have a sense of satisfaction because of the way everything functioned smoothly----the whole Ceremony unfolded sedately--moving on well oiled wheels.The other aspect of this--the one which is tearing me apart internally---is to finally accept that he will never be coming back to me ever again!!I hope all the positive Vibes both Sayali and I received mean that he is happy and contented with everything we did yesterday and that he completely approves of it.Now I face a bleak Future alone--surviving till he finally comes to fetch me when it is time for me to go.So--collecting lots of logical data to bicker on with you when we meet again--hopefully very soon!!
Friday, October 26, 2012
Possessed of a fiery temper I learnt to stand up for myself at a very young age!!!The best part of my early childhood was that though Chandigarh was the much touted "Modern" Planned City the ambience and atmosphere was unabashedly rural!!For me those were the real halcyon days---for only those who have experienced the true nature of Rural India will relate to my Memories!!The beautiful "dusty" Plains of The Punjab are populated by an expansive,large hearted people----who are perhaps the most caring of all Indians.Unfortunately their attitude towards women is very flawed---and those women who are modern in their outlook and demeanor are looked upon as being forward---which is another word for "loose charactered'" and hence considered easy prey for all those macho B******s who like to revel in what they think is their masculinity!!
My Nanny, Amma was a simple Hill woman---very beautiful to look at.Many of my mother's friends would ask her how she was comfortable employing such a person--to which my mother would reply very simply that she trusted my father implicitly!!I feel proud to assert that she was one hundred percent right--for my poor,besotted father never had eyes for anyone else but my mother--a fact which earned him the name "Devidas" from his nephew Milind!!Devi happened to be Mummy's name and "Das" means Slave in most Indian languages--including Marathi and Hindi!!I was brought up mainly by my Nanny--and would accompany her to visit her relatives---even eating there if it happened to be Mealtime.Both my parents were never class conscious---and that is why we had the most beautiful childhood any child could have dreamt of!!Today what I miss the most is the unconditional warmth of those relations--for these people accepted me as myself--not Amma's ward!!While I was cocooned in this warm acceptance Amma also made me aware of the seamier side of the World---teaching me to interpret which people I should be wary of---as I grew up and also how to use my knees in self defence!!
My preferred weapon since very early childhood has been the "Chappal" as we call our Indian slippers.The earliest opportunity when I used it was on my "Masterji" or Teacher.It so happened that I was an extremely mischievous child--- constantly getting into scrapes and being "disciplined" by Mummy---for those were the days when the Proverb "Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child" held true!!!Thanks to this we did not share a very cordial relationship---and it was Amma who'd act as the mediator between us!!One day I climbed on to Daddy's Study Table and copied a few letters on his typewriter--unknowingly typing out his name---and this convinced my thrilled father that I was a Genius---a misconception he harboured for the rest of his life!!The result of this was that a Master was hired from a nearby Village to come and teach me and my coterie of Friends.Those days we had large Wooden planks that doubled as Slates.These Planks would be rubbed with a sticky Mud and left to dry in the Sun on the previous day.Once dried we'd mix Ink Powder with a little Water to form Ink and use a Cane Quill to write with--after it had been dipped in the prepared Ink.In Hindi these were called "Takhta (Plank),Kalam (Pen) and Dawaat (Ink)".This master was another one who firmly believed in corporal punishment--his favourite form of inflicting torture being pulling our ears!!I complained many times to both Amma and Mummy--who both turned around and asked me to pay attention and behave instead of blaming "Masterji" who was to be revered because he was a Teacher!!We hail from Kolhapur--a Principality in the Deccan very famous for it's Gold Jewellery,Red Chillies and Spices and also Leather Ware.My paternal Grandma Akka had sent me a pair of handcrafted "Kolhapuri Chappals" made in the old fashioned manner with very thick,layered Leather soles bound together with Leather thongs--not nails.We used to remove these and keep these next to us on the floor while sitting cross legged on the "Chataaee" or Grass Mat while studying.That day Mummy and I had already had an altercation before Masterji arrived so my mood was pretty bad to begin with.Add to that the fact that he took objection to the way I'd written my Hindi Alphabets--out shot his arm and closing his fingers around my ear he hauled me up!!
As he hauled me up I gathered one of my chappals in my right arm--after which all Hell broke loose!!I started clobbering poor Masterji around his head--shouting all the while in Hindi"Merey kaan kheenchegaa?" meaning" Will you pull my ears?"In desperation he began running around the huge Verandah we used as a Classroom--with me speeding behind him,my little chappal held aloft--landing in a few good ones at each opportunity I got!!By the time Amma and Mummy got to me I was completely incensed and he totally cowed down!!While Amma tried to calm me down,Masterji turned to Mummy and said "Bibijee aapki beti toh toofan hai--yeh kabhi bhi kuchh nahin banpaayegi" which translated means that Madam your daughter is a Hooligan who'll never amount to anything!!Mummy paid him off for the entire balance month and sent him on his way---and after he left we had a glowering match--which I'm proud to say I won--for my poor ear was red,swollen and painful!!
This encounter gave me a taste for fighting--and while I never started a fight I never let anyone walk over me either--just because I was a puny,little girl.Here a lot of credit goes to my father and Jeanneret Uncle---- both of whom included me in their Treks and Climbs in the Shivaliks--where I learnt to love and appreciate the beautiful bounty of Nature.This also turned me into a wiry and physically strong individual those days called a "Tomboy" .Daddy used to call me his "Pathan" and he helped me grow into a confident,well read and physically fit young woman.Add to that the muscles I developed because my physical activity which included grinding a variety of Masalas on our huge Grinding Stone for Mummy each Sunday morning.I can never forget the incredulous amazement on Atya's face when I ground the Coconut Curry Paste fine on the even bigger Grinding Stone in our Kitchen in Bombay--for these tasks were done in my new household by the male hired help---never the women!!
Thursday, October 25, 2012
I watch a Program on NDTV India International Channel called "Highway on My Plate" and it features these two crazy guys called Rocky and Mayur who roam the length and breadth of India sampling the Cuisines in the most accessible as well as the remotest areas in India.Today's Episode was based on New Delhi and featured a Shop I've loved and salivated over for my entire Life---Wengers---situated bang in Connought Circus!!!To me this one Shop is what the Taj Mahal Hotel's La Patisserie is to my daughters--a lifetime of wonderful treats!!
Daddy's visits to New Delhi during my childhood meant getting Parcels of the yummy Shami Kababs that Wengers is so famous for.Visits to New Delhi also meant standing in Wengers and eating calorie packed Fresh Cream stuffed Chocolate Eclairs,Pastries and Tarts---all fresh and just made!!The Chicken patties--made with Puff pastry shells stuffed with minced spicy Chicken as well as the yummy,meaty Shami Kababs--crisp on the outside and scrumptiously meaty on the inside tempered generously with Spices and Mint Leaves even today invoke a mouth watering nostalgia!!
Daddy's visits to Delhi during my childhood meant the fabulous Masalas or Spice Powders from Roopak Stores at Ajmal Khan Road in the Karol Baugh area of Old Delhi.This Shop was started by by a family of refugees from the Pakistani Punjab in 1958.Till today their Spices retain the old taste that my tongue remembers from my childhood---and this was one place where Sudhir would lose his cool each time we visited it--for our Luggage weight would rise by a minimum of 3-4 kgs on each trip---and my Freezer would be stuffed with my precious hoard!!!Even today I'm constantly on the look-out for this brand in Mumbai--and snap up the maximum quantity of these whenever and wherever I can.In the 1960s Kusum Atya--Daddy's younger sister lived there and Delhi became a place to visit regularly for us.The sights and smells of the fabulous Delhi "Chaats"--Street Food---still lingers in my mind each time I think bak to that period---so also does my father's naivete in buying stuff at Ajmal Khan Road in good faith--only to discover later that he'd be gypped!!Mummy never let him hear the last of his escapades---even though he surrendered unconditionally to her superior judgement!!
Sudhir used to get Migraines during the early years of our marriage--and because of this I would travel with him each time he needed to go to the Supreme Court in New Delhi.It was during one of our visits there that we discovered a delightful Hotel named "Centre Point" at Barakhambha Road in New Delhi.This was a short walking distance from Connaught Circus and became a favourite place to stay for us.The Centre Point was an old sprawling Bungalow or "Kothi" in old delhi parlance converted into a Hotel.Because of this their Suites were huge with huge Bathrooms--all old fashioned,marbled claw footed Bath Tubs and solid Bronze fittings.The Girls simply loved it when we stayed there in the Winter of 1978----the beautiful old World ambience and the huge Lawns were something they fell in love with at first sight!! Wengers became a regular part of their lives and walking in the chilly evenings to snack on the yummy Pastries and Tarts as well as the fresh,hot Chicken Patties and Shami Kababs became a regular routine for our family each time we visited New Delhi.We all loved Centre Point also for the wonderful taste of the wonderful Punjabi Food it served---eating it sitting on the Lawns was something that turned each well cooked Meal into a Feast!!
During those days we could still carry Food as a part of our Cabin Luggage and the number of times that we flew back home to Bombay with Cakes,Puddings,Pastries,Tarts,Patties and Kababs from Wengers as well as large Containers of Roghan Josh and Mutton Biryani from Centre Point are innumerable.Today the Security Staff at the Airport would confiscate any such Item as soon as they'd cast their eyes on it!!
New Delhi holds a host of Memories for us as a family for we spent many Winter Vacations and also parts of the Summer Vacations there.For me New Delhi has held a very special place in my heart and has been a part of my childhood and later my married life as well.This is a place that holds a lot of beautiful Memories--and a large part of my life is still somewhere connected to it because of this!!
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