Nostalgia finds its way to our hearts via the stomach! (clockwise from top-left)Googra, crunchy Shankarpali, matia, magas and much more…
BY TARA NARAYAN
DON’T laugh! This is all a countdown to year-end blues rolled into lots of connected things. I bit into my first best boondi ladoo of the festive season I could find in town (Mishra Peda’s in Panaji had this special desi ghee quality, Rs 580kg) and savouring it, moon mooned that with both my parents gone, my favourite aunts, uncles, cousins, friends…gone with the wind, who’s there left to celebrate Deepavali with. I’m lost only in memories of those I loved and had a lot or a little affection for!
I’m not too much into mithai feasting anymore but take an interest in buying whatever I can find which is worth buying just so I have something at home for “muh mitha karo” welcomes at home and office…otherwise, if you’re asking me, it’s progressively the worst Deepavali of my life this year.
Don’t ask me why but the old pure love for family has waned with the wind and in its place bittersweet emotions choke me whenever I think of Deepavali past and present, when both my mother and father were alive. My mother would scold me into staying at home to help her make a Gujarati range of sweets and savouries: Roasted gram flour golden magas with home-made white ghee forming an interesting sketchy layer atop it with thick almond slivers; savory generously caju-kishmish filled chevdo not too spicy, not too sweet; crunchy sev; may be white suvali or crispy pepper flecked savoury puri; googra (the Guju nevreo is a creamy fat affair stuffed to the gills with dry fruit enriched semolina filling).
My Hansa mami from Anand or Sumati masi from Ahmedabad in Gujarat would always be sending us matia (the thin round golden crispies to die for mostly but also to live for and all of us discussed who made them and how good or bad they were!); we also had an ivory blush-tinged thin large round puri which was creamily, sweetishly delicious as it crumpled in the mouth (like Goa’s fenori maybe but superior because it was only mildly sweet if not encrusted with fine sugar)…can’t remember what it was called. Mother dear also insisted we make savoury, crunchy, soft, thyme and sesame seed- -flecked shankarpalli…deep-fried and therefore absolutely to die for!
Then if there had been a wedding in the family we hadn’t attended there would be wedges of scrumptious “gundar paak” or white magas, a right royal treat; also rose-flavoured tartish white jalebi (nobody can make these anymore). Forget the sweets, the hard-working (much exploited!) women of my mother’s generation have gone out of my life and nothing tastes like what it used to taste in my 20s! What’s there to live for and who’s there to live for?
Or so I was thinking on Wednesday morning deepavali dawn while watering my few plants and to my joy a burst of fragrant yellow-hearted white frangipani flowers and some pinkish zayo buds cracked open into smiles of greetings for me in my tacky rented courtyard…do you know that frangipani is the flower of immortality because its cuttings will grow anywhere without demanding too much fussing (the Chinese people are particularly fond of laying only frangipani wreaths on the coffins of their dead ones in Malaysia).
Do you know that even the sacred herb of tulsi grows most prolifically in Goa without demanding too much tender loving care? All my Shyam tulsi is flowering and seeding in bushels and I have lots of leaves to put in my morning tea…one of these days I must tell you all about the very real goodness of Indian tulsi be it the hardy violet blue Shyam or lissome green Vishnu tulsi, or even the most delicate green aromatic lemon basil which goes into Italian sauces. Chew a few tulsi leaves every morning if you can for refreshing bonus benefits.
I REMEMBER at Dr Modi’s Karjat naturopathy centre, they used to serve us a morning herbal tea brew of fenugreek, coriander seeds, tulsi and lemon grass stalk bits, honey. Can take the place of sugary milky tea any day. After that I find it difficult to love even tea and coffee any more no matter how recommended they come…which just means age has caught up with me and as the hubby says we’re in the departure lounge of life with only one last flight left to catch before or after each other one of these days!
I am learning a few favourite Sanskrit prayers and recently learned this one, my current favourite: “Anayasena maranam/vina dainyaena jivanam/dehanthe thavasenedhyam/dehime parmeshwaram….” These days I’m taking an interest in Sanskrit prayers of old and some of them are very captivating, the above lines are all about seeking a good death…google and find out more. Most times we pray for a good life, why not for a good death too?
Do you know there are prayers to first respect and bless the food that we eat? I dare say if we respect and bless any food we would eat it better, more slowly, more graciously. So many I see today eating like junglees (mostly men but also women)…it’s not because I am a snob or my bourgeoisie background but gratitude for food on our plate has gone out of our lives or something?
For some reason I am reminded of an uncle of mine who as he grew older and started drifting in and out of his mind, courtesy the premature loss of his only son out in US of A….well he acquired a habit of eating on and on mindlessly. He would actually forget to stop at the table and continue polishing up everything while we looked on aghast, amused. Until one of my aunts gently or rudely reprimanded or urged him, “Leave something for others!”
Oh I had a very soft corner for this uncle of mine. He was mother dear’s eldest brother and a sweetheart actually, although irritating sometimes. I have this final evergreen memory of him as Shanti mama who would invariably turn up with a bag full of vegetables in his hand for whoever! Being the eldest a lot of wrongs courtesy a younger brother piled up on his heart and I still bleed for him when I remember him. Sibling cruelty, etcetera, every generation sees this mess up of relationships. But I think I picked up my desire to gift a bag of veggies to a friend on an occasion from him!
Well, I did say this was a moon mooning Deepavali for me. I remember special people in my life gone with the wind whenever I eat something which reminds me of them, say a veggie like field beans or cluster beans or green lentils! Fresh green lentils from a village field in countryside Gujarat were a real treat and they would go into making “leeli tuver ni kachori” or “leeli tuver ni dhokri” or “leeli tuver ni puri.” Most of the leeli tuver filling in whatever would have a hint of clove and cinnamon in it and I loved the flavour but only if it was not overpowered with garam masala! Okay, no more food talk although this is primarily a foodie column.
DON’T know about you but this is the warmest November with a lot of feverish sniffles, clearing of throats and noses, viral infection all around in Goa. Narkasur Chaturdasi dawn (second day of Deepavali week) I found all the hallaballoo over burning Narkasur effigies out at street suicides nauseating….almost fell off my bike while taking a turn as some ghastly explosive music hit my ears!
What are we celebrating? Sounds more like a celebration of victory of evil over good than anything else — Narkasur over Ram/Krishna/Lord Siva/etc! Then I realized that it’s our politicians who give away sums of money to finance these monster Narkasur effigies to local groups and later mid-morning one may see a few drunken boys sway their way home. Can’t we offer our young men better things to engage their minds with than such farcical burning of the soul over Narkarsur effigies?
I am so happy Deepavali is over with and now the Christmas/New Year season is rolling in. We celebrate more than we work in this country.