Friday, August 26, 2011
India is fortunate in having 29 major Festivals for we have 6 Ethnic groups and 6 religions amongst us.For me, Diwali,Eid and Christmas have a very special in my heart.Many of my friends are Muslim and one of my best friends Jacob Aunty was a superb Cook.The entire house--specially Sayali--would wait for the special "Sheer Korma" or Vermicelli Pudding she used to send on Ramzan Eid--the culmination of the Holy Month's fasting!!Not just that, the Girls would invited most evenings to share in the special Food preparations and flat Earthernware Bowls of cold "Phirni" a Rice Custard and "Malpua" sweet syrupy Pancakes often found their way to our home!!The wonderful Kababs,Biryanis and Kormas would be a gastronomical treat but I loved a mish mash called "Haleem" made by slow cooking Cereals,Lentils and Meat together with Spices and Condiments.This would cook through the entire day and by evening this one Dish Meal would be deliciously ready for devouring!!It's first cousin "Khichada" to was just as yummy----and both of these were Ramzan Favourites!!Similarly we'd wait for the succulent and tender Meat from the sacrificial Goat on "Bakr Eid".The Goat would be fed a special Diet and fattened for sacrifice and this Meat is perhaps the tastiest as anyone who has eaten it would certfy!!Many of Sudhir's Muslim Clients too would show up with parcels of Fresh Meat or Tiffins full of Meat based Dishes on that day---those truly were the days!!!The Parcels of Meat still arrive but since I trim off as much Fat as I can it just isn't the same!!The Fat does add to the Taste!!
I came into close contact with Catholics at the age of 3 years and 6 months---when I was enrolled in Carmel Convent in Chandigarh.The Nuns with their starched Wimples and Black habits were very impressive to my childish eyes and the Lord's Prayer imprinted itself on my mind.All through my School years the School Chapel became my Haven each time I was worried or upset by something---and the Black and White policy of thinking about Life taught to me by the Nuns and Moral Science continues to be an integral part of me till today!!The story about the birth of Jesus and Christmas itself became a very dear Festival.Decorating the Nativity scene before School closed for Winter holidays became a favourite activity during the days preceding Christmas.My friends and I would stay back after School every afternoon to finish decorating the Scene---and of course the Christmas Tree planted in our School Garden also would be festooned with chains of shiny Paper Streamers and garlands of Crepe Paper flowers!!Daddy had got me Peter Pan books as well as various books on Santa and the Elves and being a firm believer in the Little Folk I truly believed in the Magic of Christmas!!Daddy and I would sing Christmas Carols every evening for a month preceding Christmas----specially "Silent Night" and all those Christmas Songs sung by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jim Reeves, would echo from the Gramophone late into the night!!I knew each of these by heart and sang along too!!!Those were magical days--the ambience and the flavour has been lost today---the Magic too has disappeared!!After our marriage Sudhir and I would love celebrating Christmas by dressing up formally and going out to Dinner--and later when our daughters were young taking them to see Santa Clause to "Akbarally's" in Fort--standing patiently in line just so that they got their chances to clamber up into Santa's lap!!Thoufgh all those same Books were a part of their growing up too--the pragmatism of their Generation didn't sprinkle the Star Dust in their eyes and it saddened me!!
Diwali is the Festival of Lights----and since childhood the noise of Crackers was it's only negative aspect---and as far as I'm concerned--still is!!We had 3' high Brass Drums---and each year in my childhood Mummy and her friends would sit in our back Verandahs with Kerosene Stoves, wide Brass Woks and other Food Supplies in front of them--making the Diwali Goodies---both Sweet and Spicy!!There would be 5 types of Sweet Items and 5 types of spicy Snacks---and these drums would need to be replenished during Diwali thanks to the inroads we made into them!!Those were fun days to be a child--no worries,plenty of simple pleasures and uncomplicated lives.The best part however was the Ritual itself.A Silver Oil lamp would be lit in the wee hours before Dawn.Rangoli would be drawn round a polished wooden "Paat" made of Shisham Wood.Daddy and I'd be stripped down to bathing Trunks and then Mummy would ceremoniously rub us with scented Almond Oil from head to toe.That done she'd scrub us vigorously with "Uttaney"---an aromatic coarse Scrub made with Turmeric,Sandal,Herbal Powders,Chick Pea or Lentil Flours mixed to a thick paste with Fresh Cream.This is an excellent exfoliant and would be sent in one of my Aaji's Parcels from Poona---made by her with precise and loving care.When washed off with warm Water leaves the Skin silky smooth,soft and fragrant!!The moment I turned 6 years I was handed 2 Silver Bowls and had to anoint myself with both the Oil and the Scrub---Mummy condescended to oil and wash my thick hair though!!Till today I bathe for the 4 days of Diwali with this scrub---and though I have the Recipe I buy this ready made from my favourite Ayurvedic Store.New Clothes were stitched for the Festival--four Sets for 4 days---and that was the crowning glory after this wonderful bath to slip into a brand new Set each day of the Festival!!
Earthern ware Oil Lamps would be soaked in Buckets of water and dried in the Sunshine to season them days before the Festival and would be kept ready with Oil and hand rolled Cotton Wicks---these would be lit and placed on both sides of the Front Door---picking out the freshly drawn Rangoli in between in their golden Light!!These Oil Lamps would be used in the Dawns and the Evenings to decorate the parapets of homes in intricate Patterns---twinkling and glowing like tiny Stars in the Darkness!!Then the "Puja" would take place at Sunset---worship of all Metals in the House as well as Pearls,Diamonds and all precious Gems on "Dhanatrayodashi or Dhan Teras" at twilight that day for Dhan or Wealth consists of all that one owns!!This would be followed by "Narka Chaturdashi" and this involved ritual bathing,wearing new Clothes and visiting Friends and Relatives throughout the day.Next would be Laxmi Pujan or Diwali and this would fall on the last day of the Lunar Waning Cycle--on the Moonless night.A Puja would be performed for the Goddess Laxmi in the late Evening and on this day the Traders would close old Accounts and ceremoniously worship new Account Books and mark these with a "Kum Kum" Swastika---and the new financial year would be ushered in!!The next day is "Bali Pratipada" and again after a ritual bath a ceremonial Puja hails the new Financial Year!!On this day husbands give gifts to their wives and is celebrated with a lot of gaiety and fervour.The noise of Crackers bursting precededs Diwali by a week and exytends beyond it for a week or 10 days!!
To this day I stick to the tradition and still love anointing my family with the ritual Oil and Uttaney Paste.I still make all the Traditional Sweets and Snacks but in vastly reduced quantities because we don't eat all that much anymore!! The excitement of the Festival however remains and I love to follow all the Rituals as traditionally laid down by earlier Generations.Our daughters however have grown up and flown the Coop long back and I'm left with just the one Chick to smother---so poor Sudhir catches the entire brunt of it!!
Thursday, August 25, 2011
The month of "Shravan" by the Indian Calendar falls in July-August and is the start of the Festive Season in India.For the Hindus it has maximum number of Festivals in it and this brings a festive Air about it!!In the old days most people would observe Vegetarianism during this month---steering clear of even Onion or Garlic during this month.Mondays were special and Food was prepared according to the Menus passed down from Generation to Generation.Only the children would be fed Breakfast and Lunch on Mondays--all the adults both male and female fasted that day.An elaborate Meal would be cooked and served at 4.30 p.m. for those fasting.Rows of rectangular wooden Slats called "Paat" would be set out in rows.There would be square four legged Stools called "Chaurang" placed in front of each "Paat" and these had Silver Flowers hammered into each corner.Each Chaurang would also sport it's individual Silve Pot and Tumbler--this was known as the "Taambyaa-Bhaandey".My Aunts would draw fine threads of Rangoli around these Chaurangs and Silver Incense holders would be interspersed strategically in these rows to create a Festive and pious Atmosphere.The Chaurangs would then be set with washed and wiped Banana Leaves and the condiments would be served from left to right of the Leaf---beginning with a pinch of Salt,followed by a wedge of Lemon.Then came the Pickle,Chutney,Panchamrut,Koshimbir(Salad)
,Raita(mustard flavoured Yoghurt Salad),the VegetableGravy was followed by a dry Vegetable which in turn was followed by a fresh Bean preparation---say a Green Peas Usal which brought us to a Silver Bowl full of a Coconut Curry made with Tomatoes/Radishes/Green Mangoes or sprouted and peeled Mung Beans.There would be a mould of plain steamed Rice placed in the Center with a generous helping of Lentil Curry called "Varan" topped generously with melted Ghee.The Sweet would change with each Monday---the first Monday it would be Fresh Coconut stuffed deep fried Pastry--- Sweet Crescents called "Karanji/Gujhia/Ghugraa" and on the last Monday it would be "Puran Poli" a sweet Lentil stuffed Paratha.The intervening Mondays we were allowed a freehand in deciding the Sweets---so "Dudh Paak" a sweet Rice Pudding served with crisp deep fried puffed "Puris" was the popular choice for the second Monday.The third Monday was reserved for Vermicelli Pudding called "Shevayaanchi Kheer/Sevaiyaan" and again this would be served with deep fried Puris.In case the month had 5 Mondays an additional Family favourite of "Kesari Bhaat" or sweet Saffr5on Rice could be added on!!There would be a variety of "Bhajiyaas" or Fritters as well as fluffy Rice Pappadums and cCrispies.Small Silver Tumblers of thick "Kokum" or Mangosteen Curry were served along with the last serving of Rice to aid Digestion!!This entire Meal would stretch on an hour or two with the men and children being fed first and the women last!!
Besides the Mondays there were "Narali Pournima" or Coconut Full Moon Night---dedicated to the Sea and Cocnuts were ceremoniously offered to the Sea that day."Naralli Bhaat" or Special Sweet Rice flavoured with Coconut and cooked in Coconut Milk was served on that day.The birthday of Lord Krishna had a set menu as well the highlight being the "Saanzoree"----a sweet Paratha made by stuffing a Sweet Semolina Pudding flavoured by Saffron,Cardamom and Nutmeg Powders and liberally added Dry Fruits, cooked in Coconut Milk in crisply fried Flour covers would be served.Dishes made from tender Taro or Colocassia Leaves also were relished and cooked as Curries with tender ears of Corn or rolled with spiced Chick Pea Flour and steamed.These Rolls would then be sliced into rounds and served seasoned by a "Tadkaa" or Seasoning of hot Sesame Oil flavoured with Black Mustard, Sesame and Cumin Seeds with a generous pinch of Asafoetida Powder or deep fried like Fritters till crisp!!The entire month would pass by feasting to the gills--and finally the Ganapati Season would arrive!!
Many families hosted Lord Ganapati for a day and half or 5/7/10 days ---and this was a strict religious ritual--hence Food served was "Sattvik" or Pure !!Different Fauna and Flora was required for that period---the Menu too handed down through earlier generations and cooked the most popular item on the Menu being the steamed Sweet "Modaks" or Dumplings made of Rice Flour covers stuffed with raw shredded Coconut,Jaggery,Poppy Seeds and Saffron stuffing.These resemble steamed Dimsums and taste simply heavenly!!The best part of this was the variety of Vegetarian Food served during these 40 days!!It used to be so extensive that one didn't miss non-vegetarian fare at all!!
I still remember the excitement of beginning to eat Fish again after Lord Ganapati left---the moment the Idol exited ceremoniously through the Front Door with a lot of Fanfare---Fresh Mackerels made their entry into the house through the Back Door---and vigorous preparations of breaking the Fast with a Dinner of hot spicy Mackerel Curry served with hot Fried Mackerels ,Steamed Rice and Pickles would begin in earnest!!!
Pictures of plump Steamed Modaks!!!
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Pushpa's durable Rangoli.
Rangoli in a combination of Flowers and White Marble Powder.
Rangolies below are done using the Dot Method and Traditional Design in White Marble and Coloured Powders.
Since early childhood the Traditional "Rangoli" has held a very dear place in my heart!!An integral part of the Festivals all through my growing up years and right up till now it is an Art Form I simply love!!"Rangoli" Powder is fine White Marble Dust----and trust me a little weighs a lot!!This fine but rough Powder slips through one's Fingers to trace beautiful semicircular Motifs and Patterns outside the Doorsteps of our homes,round the Traditional Banana Leaf Platters or sparkling Silver Thalis(Plates) at Mealtimes and as decorative Floor Designs in corners of our rooms during Festivals.Various Colours are mixed with this Powder to create a Multi Coloured Design---the result is a rich effect of these Pictures brightening up the drab floors!!The earliest recollections I have is of Mummy drawing this around our Silver Thalis during Diwali---using an silver Incense Stick holder.This holder could hold 5 Incense Sticks and had 5 holes at various levels on it. Mummy would upturn this triangular thimble like thing,fill it with the White Marble Powder and use this as an Instrument to draw intricately linked Patterns. I still remember watching fascinatedly the beautiful movements of her supple hand as she first traced out these slender white threads of Freehand Patterns in a round shape and then placed Silver Thalis stacked with Traditional Sweets and Snacks in the centers of those graceful lines!!Of course the ones she made just outside the Doorstep would be semi circular but she'd draw one in a corner of the Front Door--using bright colours depicting Flowers or Geometrical Designs.She had a ruled thick Brown Paper which was divided into tiny Squares.All four corners of each square had holes made in it with a smouldering Incense Stick---this was Daddy's job and hence it was very precisely done.This would be laid in the Floor and the Marble Powder sprinkled over it.When the Brown Paper was lifted it would reveal a large number of equidistant Dots on the Floor.These Dots would then be joined by thin fine lines to create Patterns and these lines would be defined even more by using some extra Marble Powder.The Patterns formed would be filled in with a myriad bright Colours and Contrasts--creating a stunning Piece of Art!!
On periodic visits to our Family home I still remember my Aunt Shashi Kaki would first sprinkle Water from a Silver Pot (Taambyaa) outside the Front Door in the narrow lane leading to our Ancestral home in Kolhapur.She would then proceed to draw fine threadlike lines of Rangoli Powder on the ground using her thumb and forfinger to do so--these would be Traditional Patterns in Geometrical Designs.She would bathe in the early Dawn and then draw fresh Water and perform this task---before worshipping the old Wood and Coal Stove prior to lighting it---an unbroken age old routine --she still worships her Gas Stove in her new Flat before she lights it even today!!!
I began doing this as soon as I was old enough to draw recognisable objects---and progressed to making huge Rangolies on my Drawing Board---a Gift from Daddy on a Birthday.By laying this flat it gave me an excellent base for making this---and our Garden outside would be full of Flowers---and sometimes I'd use those instead--or mix both the Mediums--specially in our Drawing Room---the Jewel bright beautiful Colours and heady scents of the Flowers would permeate the House---adding a new Dimension to the Festivities!!After I married Sudhir, Atya got me a large square of darkly polished Wood--this became my Canvas for Rangoli Pictures---the subjects ranging from the prints on our Saries,Curtains or Bedsheets to copies of the elaborate Greeting Cards we recieved during the Festive Season!!Each time I wiped off the old one to draw a new one Atya would regret the absence of a Camera---those were pre Camera days in our family!!
After we shifted here in 1975, Savita Vahini and I became neighbours----of the same age and both having 2 daughters each---we began living diagonally across the Landing from each other.Both of us were artistic minded and each major Festival saw these Rangolies drawn outside our Front Doors---we'd wake up early at Dawn and spend hours squatting crosslegged on the floor drawing and colouring these for hours. Savita Vahini and I would participate in an unspoken race to out do each other with our inventiveness and to be the first to finish our Drawings---even if it meant waking up as early as 2.30 a.m.!!!She and I continued this for a long time.Unfortunately her husband Arun Bhai passed away in August 1994--and that put a damper on things.Besides being of the same age the two of us were also undergoing Menopause---so things sort of began quietening down .Five years back she sold her Flat and moved away to Pune to live near her daughters---and since then everything has changed.Today Anuradha, my next door neighbour, is a renowned Artist and she draws beautiful Rangolies----patiently drawing and colouring her masterpieces---while I draw a small Design to mark the event.My Drawing Room these days smells of Flowers as these Flower Rangolies are easier and quicker to make---I also use various coloured Lentils and Rice as well--for this means a tasty Hot Dish named "Khichri" the next day---so no wastage----but though I am now too heavy to sit down comfortably and besides it is difficult to get up without support but still I spend an hour drawing this outside my Front Door--after being woken up at 3 a.m. by the burst of Crackers in Diwali!!My friend Pushpa uses a Wooden Base,Mirrors,Gold Tissue Cloth,Gold Braid and Sparkling Crystal Beads of different shapes to make durable Rangolies which can be displayed as Objects of Art for 6 months or more.Her Rangolies come in various shapes and sizes--making ideal house warming Gifts as well!!The Blog begins with a Picture of Pushpa's Rangoli!!
Here are some Pictures of Flower Rangoli--with a lighted Lamps embellishing these!!
The immediately above Picture is of a combination of Rangoli Powder and Fresh Flowers.
Monday, August 22, 2011
I really thank The Almighty for having enriched my life with so many people who have loved me and whom I've loved!!Some of these people are very lovably eccentric and idiosyncratic---but without them Life would have been a bore!!I'm talking of my Parsi Friends--a very tiny but extremely prominent Community in the History, Educational and Financial Fabric of India.A short story I love hearing about this Community is about their advent in India.A ship full of these reached the shores of a place named "Sanjan" in Gujarat,on the Western Coast of India.The Chief of this group requested Sanctuary but as an answer in return the King sent him a Vessel full of Milk.The Chief added Sugar to this Vessel and they were given Sanctuary.The Vessel filled with Milk meant that there was no place for them to live--by adding Sugar they replied that like Sugar they'd dissolve into the local scene---and they did!!The Tatas belong to this Community as do many more Luminaries.
Since birth I've been surrounded by these Parsis---the immediate next door neighbours of my Grandparents were Parsis.My maternal Grandma learnt a lot from Pavri Bai---baking Cakes and Pies,sewing a fine seam and of course beautiful Embroidery too---stitches so small and neatly even that it was difficult to find out which was the "right "side!!Most of all I love the Chinese Embroidery done by hand on their Heirloom Saries called "The Garaas" which come out to grace every festivity in the family!!These Saries were brought by Parsi Traders to India from China in the early 1800s--Silk Thread Embroidery on Chinese Silk Cloth---and very soon these became the speciality of the Parsis with many Parsi women mastering the technic and embroidering their own Garaas in Jewel bright Colours in Silk Thread!!
There was Sherry Aunty in my childhood in Chandigarh--the Principal of the Home Science College.Known to her students as a strict disciplinarian to us she was just dearest Sherry Aunty--a very warm hearted and loving person who occupied a Suite of Rooms in Hotel Mount View in Sector 11--near the College.Sundays would turn special each time she visited and there would be Parsi Gujarati flying around as both Mummy and she tempered their sentences with exclamations of "marey re!" during the course of their conversations.To my very young eyes Sherry Aunty was the epitome of Sophistication--clothed in Pure Silk,Chiffon or Crepe de Chine Saries,discreetly made up but smothered in French Perfume and extremely elegantly shod in handmade Calf Leather shoes----made exclusively for her by Chinese Shoemakers who had a tiny shop on the Mall Road in Shimla---she oozed sophistication and was an example in discreetly stylish way of Dressing!!She'd send these Shoemakers the designs by post and they'd send back the Shoes the same way---and be paid by Money Orders!!!Later after Sudhir and I married,I made it a point to buy at least a pair of Shoes from this tiny shop each time we visited Shimla!!
Our Family GPs were Parsis too.How I loved going to Dr. Adi(ENT Specialist) and Dr. Noshir(Cardiac Specialist) both brothers had inherited their father's practice opposite Cama Baug in Central Bombay but my favourite was Dr. Pilloo--Dr. Noshir's wife.Always very spiffily dressed she looked a lot like Lauren Bacall to my eyes and because she was a trained Paediatrician all of us made a beeline for each time our children fell sick!!My neice Alpana(Kunda's daughter) wanted to emulate Pilloo Aunty in every way and would love wearing my heels and walking around loving the clicking sound the heels made on the Floor--just like Pilloo Aunty!!Both my daughters too adored her---and the most valuable Gift that she gave me was a little Black Book filled with the required Dosage of various Medicines needed to combat minor Illnesses the Girls could suffer--since we were moving into the Suburbs!!It is a separate issue that today we fall in the category of "Central Mumbai" and they in "SoBo" or South Mumbai!!
The most interesting feature of this Community is their special Festivities.The "Nav Jyote"s of young Boys and Girls mark their inclusion into the Community---something like The Catholic "Communion".There would be a huge Feast to celebrate this Event---as would the Weddings!!!The Venue would be an Agiary or Fire Temple--Cama,Albless or Colaba Baugs were very popular---but the Colaba Baug was the best!!The Event would be full of Song and Dance with a live Band playing and Couples dancing.There would be Drinks,Soft Drinks and Starters circulating---all very chic and civilised.Everybody would be all dressed up---the men in Formal Suits and the women---specially the women in their beautiful Garaas dripping with sparkling heirloom Diamonds,Rubies Emeralds and South Sea Pearls---looking very dignified,sophisticated and regal.Pandemonium however would break loose at the call"Jamvaa chaalo nee!"meaning "Dinner is served" and all the Sophistication would be stripped away as those elegantly attired females hitched up their Saries to above their knees and literally RAN to grab a Chair at the rows of Dining Tables set out!!
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