St. Valentine’s day versus Kaamdeva divas… both are rooted in ancient springtime festivals to do with the story of love and affection!

by Tara Narayan

Eating is Fun / Eating is Yuck! – A variety food column

FOOD for thought this week. It’s that time of the year again when love is in the air, or is it? I call it the business of love if you don’t mind! Call it Vasant Panchami, Shivaratri, Holi — all seasons of springtime by the Hindu calendar and the world over wherever Mother Nature is alive and kicking with the energetic rites of pollination. When birds, bees, butterflies…buzz around dizzily, giddily, entirely at the mercy of their physiology, biology, whatever; the natural world does not swear by civilization like we humankind do or at least pretend to.
In this country we remember the mythological-religious love story of Krishna-Radha and they were no husband and wife but just sweethearts; as well as other great love stories of times gone by and our current life and times. All love stories are not mesmerizing like Romeo-Juliet, Laila-Majnu, Scarlett O’Hara-Rhett Butler (although I think that was a one-sided love story in “Gone with the wind” and see how love wears out with time and vile tantrums)…my all-time favourite love story is the “Titanic” love story! True blue love stories are rare although they are there and oftentimes go unrecognised and unacknowledged. Many love stories I know fade with the usual wear and tear of time and failing memory…
Hey, how many love stories can you count in your own life and times? Most love stories are mundane affairs of convenience and when I look around me I find friends who got married passionately are now together but no longer even on talking terms in the same home! There are love marriages and arranged marriages and increasingly I find folk prefer to marry wealth rather than human beings if you understand what I mean.
One colleague tells me, “Most of my friends are divorced, I know of only one ‘happily-ever-after’ married couple!” And then again, do we believe in happily ever after in our cynical, corrupted, easy going, life and times? All around me I see singles waiting forever to make up their mind about marriage, to marry or not to marry — and then again whether to have or not to have children? No children? Why marry then?! Meeting and parting is such bitter-sweet sorrow and pleasure and so on.
Women are increasingly financially independent and keep looking for Mr Perfect like Mr Perfect keeps looking for Miss Perfect. Perfections, I’m convinced, are just a euphemism for compromise, fear of the future and above all lack of guts to stand up and fight for …whatever!
THE Valentine’s Day story is to do with a European story about a priest of the Roman Catholic church who used to secretly marry couples in love. So Valentine’s Day for us has become just a day in which we go out of the way a little or a lot to express our love and affection for anyone playing a welcome role in our life, and a lot of young courting couples think it’s the day for them to propose or gift their sweethearts with some sweet somethings, be it cake or chocolate or rossogolla or sandesh, a bit of gold or that diamond ring which for some reason every woman craves (all my cravings for diamonds died after I lost a pair of gorgeous diamond earrings during a bus ride in Mumbai from Colaba to Ballard Estate long, long ago).
But to stay with the business or sentiment of declaring and reconfirming feelings of togetherness, they are very real of course and I’m happy with some chocolates or flowers or a glass of wine and a desirable meal out, which more or less says it all. Not grand gestures. I’m happier if love comes with a single gauti rose or chrysanthemum or even a handful of harshingar…. and there is the food associated with love. Why is food associated with love?
Come St Valentine’s day and Panaji cakeshops are decked with all kinds of chocolates, pastries of hazelnut chocolate or Ferrero Rocher, etc, and shop windows are painted with hearts and the slew of symbols of springtime in the air. February-March I usually remember our very own Vasant Panchami story of god of love, Kamadev, sneaking around with his magical buzzing bow and flower-bedecked arrow with his entourage of friends, targeting young folk to take the plunge into marriage or there would be no human race left one of these days! It’s my ever-appealing, timeless story from Hindu religious mythology where reportedly 33 million gods and goddesses play at being mortal human beings forever tangled and snared in issues of pure love or mundane lust!
PERSONALLY, I think if this is the season of love in the air it must be also be the season of fruit. So think fresh fruit in the market or from your own farm! There’s all this seasonal fruit in the market to make springtime a joyous affair and I keep looking for organically cultivated strawberries but can’t find them for love or for money. There’s a world of difference in taste between fruit cultivated honestly, ethically, lovingly and that cultivated commercially to look big, beautiful and utterly lifeless in taste and flavour.
I mean this is the season for berries and only strawberries may be found, where have all our wonderland of native wild berries gone? For example, I can’t find black or purple-black or greenish-red mulberries anywhere any more. No one is cultivating them?
Come the cool months (rapidly turning warm) I always think make the most of strawberries, avocadoes, grapes, oranges, bananas, pineapples are also in season currently, pineapple (an excellent fruit for arthritis sufferers, pineapple is a fibre-rich, enzyme-rich fruit, but don’t chuck the stem, chew it up)…apples have become a sad story and I find even the apples of Kinnaur are terrible this year, like last year’s stock. Perhaps the organically cultivated apples go into exports while the leftover worst stock comes to the Indian market for Indians who don’t know and don’t care.
WHICH reminds me I must write a little bit more about Goa Tourism’s now over food and cultural festival. One of the evenings one of the singers was actually singing an old Elvis Presley number “Just want to be your teddy bear” and enchanted I prowled around for some food to make me rejoice! I chucked the cocktail of gin and sugarcane in my hand because it ruined both the taste of gin and the taste of sugarcane….and then stopped at Wow Wada!
Where enterprising Mujtaba and Tasneem Haaziq were doing a most agreeable take on the humble wada-pau – but these were very special savoury wada affairs stuffed into soft pau loaves with crunchies, salad greens, hot and tangy chutney layered in and with/without slices of cheese…Rs 50 plus, plus but worth it. I also fell for their piece de resistance moong samosa (three per plate, 100). The Haaziqs have their own outlet in Mapusa but are hoping to come to Panaji soon and I promise to buy their moong-stuffed samosa at least once a week and also the wada but without pau. THIS Valentine’s Day I’m wondering if I’m doomed to die eating! An invitation has come in to dine at Hyatt Centric Candolim where a specially curated five-course set menu is featuring such things as organic barley soup/lamb harissa soup, zucchini fritters, Turkish tavuk kebabi, chargrilled eggplant, chickpea stew with warm broken wheat salad, Turkish home stew with lamb, carrot and potato, sparkling wine on the house. Cost:3,999 per couple, plus taxes.
Sorry, I don’t go to places which price tag themselves to the last ninth of a rupee! Also, I’ve decided to stop eating my heart out here, there and everywhere, including at home.

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