Ayurveda.. a monsoon trip!

Ayurveda’s renaissance man Harish Johari: That’s how Yoga Journal described him. The versatile Johari was an artist, composer, chef, author, teacher, father and tantric — unparalleled in his creativity and output. He lived for many years in Princeton, New Jersey and Berkeley in California, USA; eventually returning to Haridwar in India where he passed away in 1999

BY TARA NARAYAN

FUNNY, all one has to do is fast during the month of Shravan-ka-mahina and all kinds of perspectives open up and especially those to do with self as an unknown quantity and quality! Chasing one good meal a day is a privilege in this country, I know that; the poor are grateful if they get one simple meal a day… Bharatdesh these days may be going digital but most aam aadmi homes struggle for ghar (with sauchalya attached), paani, roti. Never mind if our badshahi government dreams of putting a mobile phone in every impoverished hand to solve primary problems.
It’s like if you have no water and food, better go purchase a mobile hand phone and the government will shower all kinds of blessing on you (if you have an Aadhaar card)! I hate to say it but the current government is all about wasting money on its own khaas aadmi priorities and that too at the cost of aam aadmi’s miseries and basic rights. On top of that everybody wants to listen to good news only, keep the bad news under covers, top secret officially if not unofficially. Mercifully we still see both sides of the coin courtesy our diverse and largely united media people, and especially the small, rebellious, pig-headed, struggling media in state after state of Bharatdesh… may the good fight continue.
AND on that note to foodie matters. My more or less fasting and feasting tamasha continues amusingly…funny, none of the Panaji eateries in town think they should cater to whoever is fasting during Shravan-ka-mahina. You may find the odd sabudana wada and sabudana khichdi at say Fidalgo’s Legacy of Mumbai but on one occasion I asked for plain potato wedges/alu sabzi but couldn’t find it for love or for money!
Got some homespun sabudana khichdi from the motherly Rajashri Dikshit, who delivers an unfailing tiffin dabba to officer goers noon and evening in the Tonca-Panaji area. One day Rajashri made thalipeeth and sent me an sms to pick up (`85 for three heavyweight thalipeeth redolent of cucumber with a small plastic container of curd, her wheat chapatti are excellent at `10 per piece). But Rajashri’s food is too spiced up for me. A couple of days I slip up on the one meal a day I promise myself but mostly I succeed with the help of a banana or a bit of bitter chocolate or a handful of moofali when hunger pangs strike!
Actually this convention that we eat morning, noon and night is unwarranted. We should eat when we are hungry and that’s all. This business of feeling hungry at breakfast, lunch and dinner is just because we have gotten into the habit of feeding body beautiful copiously out of turn and whimsically and because there’s time to kill… till time kills us.
Only during Shravan-ka-mahina when I try to micromanage hunger pangs that I realize how much super smooth, rich, mod con civilization has spoilt us vis-à-vis the other animals of the animal kingdom and all that adulterates and corrupts mind and body, heart and soul all around! Perhaps that’s why most religious insist we put in regular fasting to get in touch with ourselves from the inside out….no???? Hey, do I hear a whole lot of folk out disagreeing with me? Okay.
TO continue with my view that Ayurveda and Naturopathy are the finest preventive healthcare systems to learn from and practice with intelligence and understanding …my friend who lives half-way up the Altinho of Panaji called to ask me if I could recommend an Ayurveda primer for her. She wanted to find out all about it and Googling on smart phone doesn’t agree with her. She prefers a book in hand the old-fashioned way! Wow, I thought, my Christian friend wants to bone up on what to date she considered as `something religious, only for Hindus!’
These days she is doing yoga and getting engaged with Ayurveda. I’m addicted to the books I recommended to her myself, namely `Dhanwantari’ by Harish Johari and `Thus Says Ayurveda’ by Dr Shri Balaji Tambe. Both are affordable hand-friendly paper books and full of insight which you may agree or disagree or half agree or half disagree with, but will surely find educative and useful mostly. There is a lot to be convinced about without making mountains out of molehills or vice versa in questioning minute detail. Question by all means but sometimes questioning without putting anything into practice smacks of arrogance and who’s the loser?
Hey, keep an open mind. Harish Johari’s `Dhanwantari’ is a best-seller, readable over and over again. This time around I like what he says about fasting as “reprogramming the organism”…food, sleep and sex are the three pillars of life which drive humankind be it at different times of life’s journey. He says the average man can survive 40 days without solid food, many days without sleep and a lifetime without sex (the lord alone knows what that does to them though). How much of food, sleep and sex do we need to feel alive and kicking, like life is worth living?
`The practice of fasting evolved as a means of self-understanding. For only by the act of volitional denial of a fundamental urge can its effects be clearly understood and from this understanding one can then reprogram his behaviour more in accord with his real needs. Accordingly, there are specific practices for fasting from food, sleep and sex – and a fourth practice for dealing with the uniquely human ego: speech fasting.’ Well, that’s in a nutshell. All fasting is clearly healing and don’t worry, you won’t turn into a saint or a godman/woman but that’s my comment here.
Read the rest of it yourself. I’m intrigued by Johari’s take on a buttermilk fast. I love buttermilk and will drink it in lieu of water (the best plain buttermilk is to be found at Bhojan, (Guju-cum-Rajasthani food thali restaurant at Fidalgo group of restaurants, though I don’t know why they bother to put a plastic bottle of so called mineral water at each table when there’s buttermilk!). But more about the Bhojan thali later. Johari’s buttermilk recommendation is interesting and a little complicated: `To two cups plain yogurt add an equal amount of crushed ice, mixing with a hand beater until all ice dissolves. Skim off and discard the white foam that forms (or mix with raw sugar and give as a treat to children). Now set the yogurt-ice water mixture aside.
`In a metal ladle melt one teaspoon of butter over a medium flame. When the butter begins to sizzle add an eighth-teaspoon of cumin seeds and allow to brown completely. Now remove ladle form heat and add an eighth-teaspoon black pepper and a pinch each of asafetida and black salt.’
Fast on buttermilk if you wish for a day or two and see what happens. I used to make my buttermilks very exotic though, a lemon-juice spiked buttermilk is `superlicious’ (coining a new word here!) and you may check out adding orange/cucumber/ beetroot juice, whatever juice you like — in Guju homes of old for a hot summer’s evening moong dal khichdi with tempered buttermilk is served…the buttermilk tempering or phodni is with bit oil, bit rai (mustard seed), pinch hing (asafetida) and curry leaves, sea/rock/black salt for flavour. Buttermilk may be flavoured lightly or strongly, lighter flavours are more delicious and agreeable.
I will add crushed lemon or ajwain (Indian borage) leaf to buttermilk and so on. An Ayurveda guru once told me to keep my buttermilk simple with just a little spiking with sea/black/rock salt, pinch roasted jeera powder and pinch hing. Stir and drink daily. Interestingly, in Ayurveda food is seen as hot or cold and curd or yogurt is seen as a cold or cooling food and it’s inadvisable to go on curd or buttermilk fasts during cold and rainy seasons, basically winter and monsoon months.
Yet again, `If heat is required by the system, one may take a mixture of one-half teaspoon honey and one-eighth teaspoon black pepper.’ I find curd and honey a great combo to calm hunger pangs, better than the marketplace sweetened yogurts of various denomination…make your own great yogurt snacks at home adding fresh or dry, soaked fruit.
According to Johari the recommended term for a healing fast is from seven days to 40 days, but seven days is the minimum number of days required `for clearing the immediate effects of other foods from the system: three days to complete digestion, three additional days to cleanse chemicals from the bloodstream and the seventh day to enable the system to attain equilibrium…’ Well, if you go a strict Ayurveda establishment they would put you on a fast from a minimum of 21 days to 40 days…this doesn’t mean you get no food, you do but in limited quantity and there is something like what food and when it should be eaten…there are some more do’s and don’ts.
EASY? Nope, up to you and how much you are suffering vis-a-vis body beautiful or chaotic mind! By the way there is also something called the return diet from fasting which is more crucial than the fasting itself. That’s why I say for any serious fasting to sort out long-standing health issues it’s advisable to go to an Ayurveda or Naturopathy hospital/retreat/centre where there is qualified guidance, supervision and service. You can’t do it all by yourself, not long-term fasting for resolving health issues and it’s not like you may go back to old hedonistic ways once a fast is over. Lifestyle modification is required forever as in as long as you live…don’t waste money and time if you’re only interested in temporary confetti changes!
`Dhanwantari’ comes with a chapter on home remedies which are very interesting, this book is a worthy buy and you’ll thank me for it. (`Thus Says Ayurveda’ by Dr Shri Balaji Tambe, next week, watch this space).
POSTSCRIPT: Café Tato in Panaji town offers a superlicious `turmeric milk’ (`30) if you’re interested, and Café Real has `hot jeera paani.’ Down south India folk start the day drinking warm jeera paani (cumin seed boiled water)…and I’m warming up to the idea myself these days.

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