Legendary writer R.K Narayan is said to have insisted on indulging in a sweet after his meal even when in his nineties. Modern day food habits seem to have forsaken taste in favour of longevity. Sugar free, fat free, cholesterol free and every other item that makes food worthwhile doesn’t seem to be the order of the day. Succinctly, one asks, what is the purpose of healthy food, if it is meant to help us live longer, and eat some more bland, healthy food?
Being born in a diverse country such as ours, there is one depravation we never have to worry about being subject to – festivals and the spread that accompanies them. These spreads are not subject to the vestiges of the health movement and being born in Tam Brahm household, a slew of festivals ensure that our taste buds are never idle for too long. All the dishes were assiduously prepared by the matriarch of the house, my grandmother.
The year begins with ‘pongal’, the harvest festival. Steaming bowls of pongal and delicious vadas to go with them were prepared. Invariably, Pongal is the first holiday of the year and is celebrated with much greater aplomb in the Deep South. An auspicious beginning to the gastronomic year ahead. For the uninitiated, having a matriarch in the house came with its own unwritten terms and conditions. For one, the kitchen is their Holy Grail. Entering the Holy Grail when the food was being prepared can result in censuring and reprimands. Steer clear and maintain peace and harmony in the name of food. Amen.
The next occasion is Krishnashtami, where the spread assumed a little more gusto. Appams, rava ladus, shide , burfis, payasam, and some assorted fried items to keep them company. Another protocol to be followed before devouring the food – all the items are first offered to the Gods. Once all heavenly obligations are met, the mere mortals partake in the gluttony. To a ravenous foodie, the wait can sometimes be agonizing, with all the dishes spread in front of your eyes, and no human form was to have contact with any of the delicacies until signaled by the matriarch. A couple of times, the delinquent in me sneaked in a couple of items before they were supposed to be eaten. But I reckon if the lord himself were to show up, I doubt very much he would have resisted the temptation.
This brings us to Lord Ganesha, someone who enjoyed his food as much as I do. During Ganesh Chaturthi, a unique dish called modagam (made from rice flour with a stuffing of grated coconut, jiggery and dry fruit) is prepared. The idol was immersed a few days later, but our appetites weren’t as Dasara followed soon after. The festival is marked with the house being decked with ‘golu’ or dolls. ‘Shundal’ (a delicacy prepared with gram) was distributed to all visitors.
As with all things in life, there is a pinnacle, a Mount Everest you reach after having conquered all obstacles in your way. The pinnacle of festivals is Diwali. The enormous spread is duly supplemented with equally humongous contributions from neighbours and well-wishers. Preparations for the festival began a week in advance and the rules were relaxed. Delicacies could be devoured before the festival and the entire family partook in preparing items such as mixture. The spread featured mixture (a personal favourite), burfis, appams, vadas, and a few other delicacies that I cannot recall. Dutifully, Granny also prepared a dish to aid easy digestion (which was the need of the hour). Even that wasn’t spared by me. For a fortunate few, the presence of a matriarch in the house ensures that traditions are upheld and that your plates are never empty.
After the matriarch passed away, the vast spreads no longer accompanied the festivities. And personally for me, the festivals have lost their flavor too.
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