Celebrating India’s (food) festivals!!!

It’s that time of the year in India. The scorching heat of the summer is behind us and the monsoon wherever applicable is in its last lap. Come August and the general mood in the country changes in line with the changing weather.  Though we don’t have a pleasant spring as a season in India (except may be Kashmir), in this time of the year, there is a spring in everyone’s feet.  Starting with Id and then the Rakshabandan it’s an avalanche of festivals in India from August till Feb next year.  One can see this festival spirit manifesting itself in the media, in streets, in shopping malls and where have you. What I have noticed in the last many years is that irrespective of the state of the economy, the mood of the people in this period is in a state of buoyancy.  Then it dawned on me that the day-today lives of millions of people is also linked to the economics of festivals – the increased spending on clothes, on festivities, religious ceremonies, investment in real estate, starting of new businesses, renovation/painting of homes, feasting on food,…,… So festive season is one happy season for all.

The difference is while most of the countries in the East and West and the Middle have just one or two important festivals in a year, we in India are blessed with many. Thanks to the number of Gods we Hindus subscribe to. This is one thing in which we are clearly the envy of many countries.  And thanks to our regional identities, we don’t have the concept of one important Pan – Indian festival which we all celebrate but many. If it is Diwali in the North, it is Durga Pujo in Bengal, Onam in Kerala and so on. In my earlier company, my Japanese friends were bemused and amused to see different holiday lists for our different branch offices.

In all this, one thing which cannot be missed is the connect between the Pet (stomach) and Pooja.  It is interesting to note that just like each festival has its own link with a God, it also has associated unique food items going with it 🙂 These are supposedly meant for offering to God which eventually ofcourse find its way to our stomachs. So if it is Kozhakattai (Modak) for Ganesh Chaturthi, it is Appam, Cheedai for Krishna Jayanti, Pori Urundai for Kaarthigai, Different types of Sundal for Navrathri, and so on. So much so for many years I didn’t know why Kaarthigai was celebrated but knew that Karthigai means Pori Urundai 🙂 🙂    In fact celebration of Onam festival is never complete without the traditional “Ona Sadhya” which with its array of dishes on the plate or rather leaf challenges the digestive ability of many a stomach of this generation.

Sadya

One really wonders how our elders came up with this timetable of different dishes for different festivals. Safely I inclined to conclude that they saw themselves in God and came up with things what they liked depending upon the season.

This brings me to the old or rather our youth times when at home the mother gets extremely busy during festival times trying to do justice to the “Naivedyam”(Food offering) specifications for each festival by preparing all at home.  The preparations usually start 1 or 2 days in advance. Keeping the prepared items from our prying eyes or rather mouth till the Pooja / Naivedyam are over was always a mission unaccomplished for the mother 🙂 🙂  The festival times also provided opportunities to showcase their culinary skills to friends and neighbours by distributing the home-made stuff and earn ‘likes’ in a pre-Facebook time.  Among the neighbourhood, it was always few mamis’ stuff apart from our mother’s which were in demand. I vividly remember in the 9 days of Navrathri the houses we choose to visit depends upon the cooking skills of the mamis 🙂 🙂

These days the mothers have different challenges. Since the entire process of preparing appropriate dishes for festivals has been “Adayared” (If outsourcing and losing of jobs to Bangalore is called “Bangalored” then outsourcing of the preparation of food items to ‘Adayar Ananda Bhavan’ is called” Adayared”!!!), knowing where to outsource/source what for different festivals is the biggest challenge.  At home, we as children displayed humongous appetite to polish off things prepared in quick time. These days the children have little interest and less appetite to gorge on the different offerings which come along free with festivals.  So gradually the linkage between pet and pooja is gradually dwindling I guess.

Today is Krishna Jayanti. Time to wind this up and time to finish the Pooja of Lord Bal Krishna, do Naivedyam and then launch into next Pooja i.e Pet Pooja 🙂 🙂

Postscript:  While we were discussing about Gokulashtami,… this morning, my 7 year old daughter asked her mom, “Even after eating so much butter, how is Krishna not fat???”  For GenY, Pet poojas can wait I guess.

Deepavali at “D-97”!!!

 It’s the eve of Diwali and as I gaze outside the windows of my flat in Mumbai, a rocket pierces the Mumbai suburb skyline. I and my daughter of 5 follow the rocket’s trail as it culminates into a colourful sparkle in the sky.  The excitement in her eyes watching that rocket sparkle and explode is palpable.  The last few Diwalis, our tryst with crackers has been limited to just using the senses of our eyes and ears.  It was not like that 3 decades ago.  Diwali or rather Deepavali in those times was more than just a festival.

Flash back to the 70’s – as a 10-year-old, we were living in Thillai Nagar a residential colony in a small town called Trichy in Tamil Nadu where I spent my entire schooling years.  “D-97″ the house in which we lived for better part of those 15 years – is etched in our collective family’s memories.  As a family, we have not celebrated Deepavali as we did in “D-97” before or after.

The excitement starts 6-8 weeks before the D-day I mean Deepavali Day.  Unlike these days where, as mall rats we keep doing shopping at the drop of hats and buy clothes as and when, those days clothes buying happened mostly once a year basically during Deepavali.  At an appointed day, doing that clothes shopping for all in the family for Deepavali was certainly fun. In those pre ‘Ready to wear’ days, tailors during Deepavali time were more sought after than Sadhu Maharajs of today!.   The next task was to buy the crackers.  Invariably there was a competition between friends and neighbours as to who were burning more currency on fireworks! Even correcting for today’s inflation, I guess crackers were affordable those days.  Spending 50 Rs on crackers was considered sort of reasonable and if you spend more than Rs 100 you have arrived.  We used to spend Rs 30-50 and that was enough to last for the whole of Deepavali day with few pieces remaining for Karthigai – another light festival which follows soon.  The 3rd bit was related to gastronomic delights which were homemade!  So there was, my mom – going all out to prepare savouries and sweets at home in time mostly all alone.  Buying outside and eating or distributing to others during Deepavali was considered inappropriate for the occasion.

With all these preparations in place – you await very excitedly for the day to come.  While Deepavali in south India mostly is celebrated to revel at the killing ofNarakasura” by Lord Krishna, in North India it is to celebrate the return of Lord Rama from Vanvas!!!  But frankly speaking, it didn’t matter. Deepavali was more about new clothes, crackers and Pet puja!  The previous day to Deepavali – one would sleep early to wake up quite early ( 3 am ) on Deepavali day. The idea was to go out there 1st and burst the 1st56 wala giant (garland like crackers) and try to announce to the neighbourhood that you are up.  After the customary oil bath with hot water from a boiler (heard of this appliance of late???), we use to wear the new clothes, pay respects to parents and the next minute we are down for the most exciting part of Deepavali proceedings – bursting of crackers.  For the next 4- 5 hours it was just pure fun as crackers, bombs, flower pots, trains, chakras and sparklers from your house and outside compete to increase the decibel levels and luminous intensity of the city.  The side effect is the driving out of mosquitoes from their water-bed apartments! (drainage to be precise)!!!

While the kids ( we ) get into the tiring zone, its time for the elders to emerge and do their bit of cracker bursting for “Sasthram” (tradition) and customary exchanges of Ganga Snanam Aacha? The bath you have in your bathroom under a shower on Deepavali day is akin to taking bath in the Ganga River as per Hindu mythologyGanga Snanam ??? My daughter understands “Gangnam Style” better!!! Part 2 of the cracker bursting (which are usually the left overs) starts after the breakfast.  The staple Idli somehow tastes better on Deepavali day!    As I mentioned earlier, there is an unwritten competition as to who bursts more crackers and the same is judged by the amount of kuppai’ (garbage) in front of the house.  The person who always had the last laugh on this was our next door mama who used to wake up late, get ready at his own pace, come out last after all of us kids finish our crackers and fire few dozens of walas one by one thereby generating more noise and more Kuppai!!! The ‘Hare and the Tortoise’ story didn’t have better live similes.

The next few hours go in adding few kilo calories as you taste one peda from one plate, one piece of halwa from another and few jamuns from here and there.  After all you are expected to do justice to your friend’s moms who have taken trouble to make and distribute.  Did thoughts of cholesterol, fatty acids, .. cross your mind ? Well, Nope.  You had the specially made “Deepavali Legiyam” (medicine) to take care of all your gastro issues. In the evening again part 3 of cracker bursting is done and with that Deepavali comes to an end.   Eating of the sweets continues for a few more days though!!!

As I grew up and got into the teens, the festival of light kept changing its colours.  At 15 and after, crackers are not fun anymore and they are more of “carbonizing” hard earned money.  What’s the point in burning away money in crackers for few hours (which became minutes in few years) of fun?  Do all teenagers get this streak of socialistic idealism in that period? It’s not just the age. Blame it on technology as well. As cable TV revolution swept India, not only Deepavali, but nature of celebrating any festival changed forever.  So quality of your Deepavali depended on the quality of programming in the channels that year!  From Sun to Vijay to Jaya to Raj and back to Sun, Deepavali day became quite hectic and tiring operating the remote and hopping channels.  I was never into watching films so much those days – so films were not part of my Deepavali routine. But for many, watching a Deepavali release movie on that day itself  gave a high and perhaps this is the only part which has lasted till date!!! I hear that one has to fork Rs 500 for a ticket for SRK starrer “Jab Tak Hai Jan” for tomorrow!  There are many ways to get into the 100 crore club you see. Either get more people to watch or increase the ticket rate for the few people who come to watch!

Tomorrow is Diwali and as Mid-life crisis catches up though in Mumbai now – we are trying to celebrate the “D-97” way. Want our daughter to remember “Diwali” not as another holiday or a new film release day or a day where you have special programmes on TV throughout the day!  Crackers are back though in very small measure abandoning the thought that crackers just carbonize your money. And yes will have a nice “Ganga Snanam” in Mumbai!!!

Postscript:  It’s been after quite a while that I stepped into a cracker shop. As I was looking at the list the shop keeper asked “Sir can I give you a new item? – Kejri bomb” khub chalti hai aajkal !!!”