All the Hindus begin their New Year today on Chaitri Pratipada as it is known.This day is also celebrated all over India as being the day that Rama arrived home in his kingdom Ayodhya after 14 years exile in the forest.Many people observe a fast for the next nine days and this is also called the" Rama Navratri" or the nine nights of Rama as his birthday falls on the 9th.day of this month.
Me, I am more of a Seeta person who was Rama's wife.Why people worship Rama and call him an ideal is beyond me.A man who abandoned his preganant wife in the Forest just because a washerman(Dhobi) cast aspersions on her character is beyond me----least he could do was to ensure her safety!!!Amma used to tell me stories from the" Ramayana" the epic written by Rishi Valmiki in verse form.The travails of Seeta have always wrung my heart.Married to Rama she accompanied him into the Forest---- exiled by her step mother-in-law Kaikeyi who wanted the throne for her son Bharata.This couple was accompanied by Rama's younger brother Laxmana.Bharata followed Rama and placed his "Paadukaa"or slippers on the throne and acted as Regent till his return.While in the forest towards the end of their exile Rama caught the fancy of the Demon Princess Shoorpanakhaa(Sharp Nailed),a sister of the demon King Raavana.Rama spurned her advances and asked her to wed his brother instead.Enraged at thisShoorpanakhaa asked Seeta to intervene on her behalf.This angered Laxmana who in a rage chopped off her ears and nose as retribution!!!
Raavana decided to take his revenge and employing guile he abducted Seeta by tricking her away from both---her husband and brother-in-law.He brought her back to Lanka, his country(today's Sri Lanka)and imprisoned her in the Ashoka Vatika a beautiful Garden under the vigilant eyes of Demonesses under the supervision of Tratika.Rama gathered an army of different Kings who welcomed him in friendship and offered him their aid.There was a war between Rama and Raavana which Rama won-----and Seeta was asked to prove her chastity.This she did by passing through the burning fire unscathed.Husband and wife were re-united and returned home to Ayodhya at the end of their exile to live happily ever after.
After a few months after their return home, Seeta concieved.During this period the wife of the washerman had eloped with her lover and a few months later returned home to her husband.This is when he uttered the words doubting Seeta's chastity as well, which caused Rama to ask his brother Laxmana to abandon Seeta in the Forest.Following orders Laxmana laft his heavily preganant sister-in-law in the Forest and returned home.Here she was rescued by the Rishi Valmiki who took her to his Ashrama.She lived there till and after the birth of her twin sons Luva and Kusha who became ace pupils of the Rishi who by then had begun writing the Ramayana.On an anniversary of Rama's Coronation the Rishi went to Rama's Court and Luva-Kusha recited the verses of the Ramayana before him.The two boys impressed Rama and before he could ask who they were the Rishi and his wards had left.
After this Rama performed the "Ashvamedha Yagna" in which a Horse is worshipped and let loose to roam free.All the territories he passes through----if willing to become Vassals pay homage---those unwilling to do so fight the huge Army accompanying the Horse-----stopping the Horse is declaration of War.
This Horse passed by the Ashrama(Hermitage) and Luva-Kusha stopped the Horse.They fought so well and valiantly that rama was forced to come and see who these two courageous boys were.On finding out that they were his sons he was overjoyed----but Seeta still needed to prove her chastity if he was to take her back.This time she ran out of patience and asked the Earth to swallow her up if she was indeed chaste.
Lo and Behold!!!That is exactly what happenned---the Earth opened up and swallowed Seeta up into her folds----Rama was left high and dry!!!Since then Seeta has become the epitome of Indian womanhood------but I have always been dissatisfied with this tale.Why should Seeta have been asked to prove her Chastity again and again----- having done it once publicly that too ---immediately after the War???
I cannot respect a husband who couldn't protect his wife and that is why this is one Fast I never undertook!!!!This evening we're sure to have our regular yearly clash in the Complex compound over this issue---AND I know---I'll return home triumphant---the unbeaten winner this year too!!!!
As the evening Dusk would fall
The Sun a glowing Orange Ball
With the scent of Chaaphaa wafting on the Breeze
The Birds return---clustering in the Trees
Noisy chatter as they settle in the safety of their nests
The returning Cows amble home from the Pastures to rest
The dust rising from their impatient feet
Hanging like a Cloud in the narrow Street
As pennants streak the Horizon in a colourful blaze
Oil lamps in the Temples glow in the darkening haze
Somewhere in the distance fading Cuckoo calls
Slowly quieten as surely but gently the Night falls.
Like I said in an earlier Blog---I blinked and Summer rushed in pell mell!!!All the trappings arrived in full force too---the Heat,the flowers and ------The Alphonso(Haapus) Mangoes!!!
My association with these Mangoes(Aambey/Aam) is full of fond memories---each year my maternal Grandfather(Aazoba) would send us huge wooden Boxes of Mangoes---each carefully packed in paper and nestling on a bed of Straw---to protect it from bruising.There would be about 6 dozen Mangoes per Box-----it was heaven to see these laid out in the shade in the upstairs Verandah on thick layers of Straw-----the first Parcel would arrive by mid March----Chandigarh still used to be balmy and cool then.The last lot would arrive before the end of May-----once it began raining in the Konkan Mangoes lost their taste----or so it was thought.
The entire Summer in Bombay and Poona during our Vacations was full of fabulous "Aam Ras" with crisp puffy Puries( deep fried Indian bread)----for this a strain of Mangoes known as "Paieeri" was used extensively.There was also the "Balsar Alphonso(Haapus)" harvested just before the Monsoon in early June and available throughtout the month of June---but this is considered inferior to the "Devgarh Alphonso " considered to be the original Variety---and the King of Indian Mangoes!!!
End of May and in the beginning of June and July the markets would be overflowing with many beautiful varieties of Mangoes--- The Kesar,The Dussehri,The Langda,The Chausa and the Totapuri.One variety that was cheaply available in abundance was the "Raaeeval or Choopney Waala Aam".These used to be available freely and we never counted how many we ate---there used to be tubfuls of Water containing these to keep these cool----they tasted so heavenly!!!My Grandmas---Akka and Aaji used these to make Curries---Saasam,Ansaa-Phansaachi Bhaaji and Aamba Poli.The last mentioned was a Sweet ---dried Mango Pulp layer upon sundried layer till it reached 1" in height.This was then cut and stored to eat as Sweets as long as it lasted!!!Yhis used to last us for the coming six months!!!
Today the Devgarh Mangoes are very expensive----they are widely exported and many times the vagaries of nature in the form of unseasonal Rain destroys the crop.The cheapest variety of Mangoes too are rarely available---we have to request the Fruit sellers to get us specific quantities of these if we want to cook Saasam or Ansaa-Phansaachi Bhaaji----just washing and sucking the Mangoes is a thing of the past---we cut each Fruit before making Mango Pulp(Aam Ras) for fear of the Mango turning out spoilt!!!In my childhood this never happened---Mangoes were washed and the Juice squeezed out---maybe because they were allowed to ripen till the maximum period on the Tree itself!!
When my daughters were still in Mumbai----the crates would start arriving from mid-March till the end of May.My daughters literally gorged dozens of these during their Vacation-----for which I'm glad today!!!Living abroad as they do,now they rarely get to taste the Fruit!!!After Lotta's marriage we'd gift a 4 dozen Crate to her family as a Traditional gift for "Gudhi Paadwaa"----the Hindu New Year.They would return the compliment with a similar crate of "Kesar"---- the "Haapus" of Gujarat as they are Gujaratis!!!
Still the sight and smell of this luscious and juicy Fruit is enough to drive me mad---only these days we buy by the Dozen as there are just the two of us at home----- and I eat a slice sometimes if my Sugar is low---otherwise these days for me Mangoes are the stuff my dreams are made of -----in Summer!!!!
We had arranged a Lecture in our Condominium Complex on the benefits of Ayurveda--the Ancient Medical Science of India in our Condominium Garden.The Lecture was given by Medha Tai,herself a Yoga teacher and a disciple of Ayurvedic lifestyle.She gave us a lot of tips of which I'm sharing a few here.
Like Quinoa,Amaranth(Rajgira/Rajagra/Bathua)gra ins are used often in Indian diets.These are predominantly eaten during the Fasts that we observe---these are considered to be a part of certain "Pure" Foods---hence these provide nourishment during the 24 hour Fasting period---midnight to midnight.Some fasts like Nav ratri(Nine Nights)last for 9 nights at a stretch---these again provide the sustenance and energy needed.Rich in Calcium,Potassium and protein for a diabetic like me they are a boon.Amaranth Grains or Flakes eaten with Milk and a Banana or a few chopped Dates are very nutritious as well as a rich source of certain minerals our body needs.
Secondly she advised the use of Horse MilletNaachani/Raagi)used extensively in Maharashtra and the Southern States of India.This grain is a very rich source of Iron and Calcium and including this in our daily diets can work wonders. Grinding this to a coarse flour and making it into thick unleavened Indian Bread(Bhakris) and eating it with any meal gives on a dose of nutrition and Fibre in it's natural form.
Flax(Alshi/Ulsi) Seeds combined with Carrom SeedsOavaa/ajma/Ajwain),Fennel Seeds(Badishep/Saunf),Licorice(Jyeshtimadh /Mulethi)Powder and Black Rock Salt(Paadey Loann/Kaala Namak) lightly roasted and ground together to a fine powder make a tasty "Supaari"or Mouth Freshner to be eaten after meals as well as helping in Digestion and Heart health!!! all these components are readily available in India and in Indian stores abroad.
There are many more such tips which she has promised us Xeroxed copies of---will be sharing those as well when I get them.I was unaware that my Kitchen was such a great source of Medicinal Herbs---Knowledge has now spread the Light!!!
Mary Anne's Blog reminded me of my two little Babies---- Ming and Tina.I was lucky to blessed with their presence in our Family for 11 and 12 years---unfortunately they both passed on to Doggie Heaven---and I am left with happy and beautiful memories!!!
Ming was born on 23rd.December 1981 and came to us on the 14th.February1982------he was a miniature Lhasa Apso who could fit in my outstretched palms as a puppy!!!Black with dirty White muzzle, paws and ears,he had a very curly tail-----totally circular!!!Sudhir is no Dog lover---but against the combined pressure from the girls and me---he was totally isolated and Ming or Mingu as he came to be known---arrived in style!!!The next day after Mingu's arrival the deliriously joyous greeting Sudhir recieved on his arrival home after a hard day at Court----forced him to recapitulate his misgivings and Mingu became Daddy's boy!!!In June 1982 Sudhir brought home Tina---a part of the same litter---as companion for Mingu-----we felt he needed some company.Tina became our Darling---all five of us---the 2 girls,Mingu, Sudhir and me were totally captivated by her---she was a beautiful Strawberry blonde with very thick long hair,a plumy tail and Kohl rimmed melting brown eyes-----was a true Beauty!!!Was she aware of it---you bet------she used those eyes to the maximum for effect!!!!
Mingu was strong and wiry---Tina was a ball of fat---it was a sight to watch her waddle around----but she ran like the Wind when I had to chase her to feed her things she hated---Medicines!!!Both the kids were very attached to me as we spent almost all 24 hours together----I had to suffer their howling and yapping each time I went out leaving them behind.I'd get a a truly boistrous welcome--accompanied by Tina's singing and pulling my hair out of my bun in rebuke!!!
These two slept with Sudhir and me---Mingu in between the pillows near our heads and Tina stretched out like a boneless piece of warm hairy dead weight rug---with her head on my stomach!!!The girls were prone to eating midnight feasts----and would quietly steal these two into their room to share the spread----Bacon,Ham or Sausages and Eggs-----the four of them would gorge themselves silly in the middle of the night!!!
There was a new rule established by "Da Tuna"( as I called Tina) on the third day of her arrival home.She was to get the first choice when the feeding bowls were kept at each meal---she'd carefully survey each bowl---giving it due deliberation---and then decide on one to eat from.All this while my poor little Mingooli waited patiently till she made her choice!!!Things didn't stop there----if she felt he was eating with relish---she'd shove him away from the other bowl too!!!I agree---sometimes she behaved like a total bitch(pun intended)!!!!
They travelled all over India with us on various Vacations----literally Kashmir to Ooty(Ootacamund)---it cost us more to take them with us than the girls----we had to get permission of the Captain before we flew---they travelled with us--totally frozen with fear!!!Theybecame veterans of road travel---specially to Kolhapur---which was a home away from home--and there too they were immensely popular!!!!
The bane of my life those days was bathing these two---the commotion they made---one would think I was beating them black and blue!!!They had lovely thick long hair----being a Tibetan breed----and mornings were spent combing and brushing out all the tangles from their hair---removing the knots was a truly knotty affair---I kept a pair of Scissors nearby to cut the more tangled ones---and recieved reproachful glances from Da Tuna each time I did that!!!
Sayali had named Tina "The Nude by Picasso" thanks to the way she'd spread herself out---boneless and heavy!!!By now they were an integral part of our life---their antics filling our days with loads of Love and Laughter!!!
Then came May 1987----we were going on a Pilgrimage high into the Himalayas and couldn't take these two---so made arrangements with a reputed kennel Keeper and left them with him in his care.What a shock we got when we came back---my babies were in a terrible state!!!Mingu was just skin and bone and fat little Da tuna was thin and mangy----they stank to high heaven!!!Mingu required prolonged treatment at the Vet.'s and to Tina's greatest regret----her beautiful hair was shorn off--the tangles were impossible to remove otherwise!!!
After this we never left them behind again.Mingu died of a relapse of Jaundice in October 1992-------my heart broke but I still had Tina to console me.By now the girls had grown up----- Lotta was married and Sayali in college----Da Tuna became my constant companion----she'd pad along after me----following me around the house.In early 1994 she was diagonosed with a cancerous growth in her jaw---and the situation deteriorated rapidly till finally the Vet.s decided to release her in early April1994.I was broken hearted---and missed her silent companionship tremendously.I still feel her presence near me sometimes---the feeling is so strong that I turn back to see if she's there!!!
There was good news round the corner----Lotta announced her preganancy---and Life assumed colour again.My Raavana was born on 23rd.December 1994---on my babies' 13th.birthday!!!