Monthly Archives: February 2015

Fasting and Feasting

Update for fortnight ended 20 February 2015

This week, many Indians spend most of their Tuesday fasting. And Fasting takes a different meaning in India depending on the region you are in. It is by no means, staying away from food. It is staying away from chosen foods….. or in some cases, excluded foods. So in the North of India where the devout Hindu believes that by fasting, they will get the boons that the Gods are about to bestow upon “fasting” devotees, they decide to stay pure to fasting. So no grains, no pulses…. but all else will do and there is no moderation here. So grains are replaced by carb loaded sweet potatoes, or plain potatoes and water chestnuts, and buckwheat. These are patted into little doughballs and flattened and cooked on hot griddles with loads of pure “desi” ghee. Oils are to be avoided as well. Sometimes, these flatbreads are fried into golden puffball breads or “puris” and eaten with potatoes seasoned with rocksalt. Peanuts are welcome, as also fruits in all shapes and colours. Milk is not only used for worship, but also gulped down in litres, if not gallons. And as you move east, where the fish is considered vegetarian, this is a day, when males in the house can partake of their vegetarian fish while the women cook their favourite sweetmeats to be offered to the Gods. As one traverses to the south, the only exclusion to the fasting feast is rice. So no rice…. which is unheard of in their meals, is a huge sacrifice. The rice is replaced by snacky wheat chapatis or rotis. sometimes, the craving for a ‘ricey’ dish gets the innovative south Indian to mix the wheat flour with water and salt and temper it with the ever present mustard seeds, and then ladled onto a well oiled hot griddle, to be spread out into thin doshais. Of course, the common factor with their northern brethren are the fruits. However, as India fasts, their close competitors (or at least in Indian’s minds) start preparing for their annual feast with the families. Families start getting together as many traverse miles in sardine can packed trains that criss cross the cold and frosty countrysides of China to get their hometowns, almost like salmons that brave dangers of rapids, and have jump up waterfalls to reach their “birth places”… trying to avoid the hungry, fat paws of the grizzlies as they wait for easy prey that swims against the current and so is tired. Much like these salmons, the packed sardine Chinese are also prey to petty thieves aboard these crowded iron snakes that gorge on and vomit out human beings as they snake  through the countryside. So the family dinner will have the favourite pork and perhaps some chicken and for seaside residents, there will be plenty of seafood on the table; all to be eaten amidst gaiety and family fun.

Festivities were in the air on D Street as the D Boyz gathered their favourite fast foods for the festival around the corner. Many had asked fro boons or blessings at least, and hoped to get them answered by “sacrificing” the excluded food group from their meals during the day. While some D Boyz did not touch wheat and pulses, some stayed away from rice. But all of them had their share of fruits and milk which must have kept them in good health, as they could not only lift their SENSEX, but actually hoist it above their shoulders to above 29000 for the entire fortnight or so … and even today when they sat down to partake their meal, the SENSEX did slip and that too about 240 points, but still the SENSEX was at 29231… The red buntings of the Chinese New Year feast not withstanding, the treats on the table did get the D Boyz’ mouths watering and they are waiting for their “competitors” to be back next week to see if they can taste the mandarin oranges and its goodness as well hope to receive their red packets.

The Chinese believe that a monster like creature visits homes on the Lunar New Year new Moon night, so to ward it away, they light up red lanterns and paste red sayings on their doors. This is supposed to scare away the monster and therefore protect the Chinese. And then they gift little red packets of cash to the little ones for staying awake all night on new year’s eve, as gratitude while also gifting it to older members of the family as a way of telling them that they need not be worried of expenses as now they have the cash. And for the givers, the saying goes that “One who gives is One who has”, so it means that prosperity is already with you.

With that thought, wishing you all a Happy Lunar New Year …..



The Long Walk

Update as of 10 February 2015

Pichagam, have you made the garlands? yelled her mother. Pichagam was stringing the chrysanthemums with the roses and the green fragrant leaves and had to hurry up. Her mother was dressed in the festive silk saree and she grabbed the last few flowers from Pichagam and told her to go and get dressed, while hurriedly giving finishing touches to the garland. She didn’t use any needles or thread for the garland, but knotted the flowers tightly together with fibre from a banana stalk. When she was done, she took it to the prayer room and placed it at foot of the altar along with the fruits, long needles and hooks, a pot full of milk and the special “prasadam”, sweet offerings made in the morning with jiggery and rice. She bent her head low and mumbled her prayers, as her husband walked in dressed in a yellow mundu, a traditional cotton wraparound garment with a red border. His forehead was smeared with the sacred ash and he prostrated before the altar before picking up the garland, the needles and hooks that had been placed alongside the prasadam. Pichagam picked up the steel pot full of milk and placed it on her head to the chants of Shanmuga, Muruga, and headed out of the house, followed by her father and then her mother. They walked barefoot to the nearby temple where the elaborately decorated wooden contraption was ready with its hook holders. The father’s friends and other well-wishers were already there with a large bowl of the sacred ash and they took the needles and hooks from him and smeared the ash liberally on them. And then invoking divine blessing, they garlanded him and then proceeded to strategically pierce the needles and hooks onto the father’s bare torso. For the first few pricks, the father grimaced, but kept chanting and thereafter, he took each needle pierce with a louder chant – to drown out the pain. And then the helpers, held the wooden contraption up and connected the hooks and checked to see if it was well balanced over his shoulders. Chanting one more time loudly, they then proceeded to embark on their long journey on the hard tarmac street to the temple dedicated to the Son of Shiva. Pichagam carried the pot of milk on her head and she followed her father as they trudged the 4 ½ km long walk along the streets of the city to the temple dedicated to the Son of God. The sky was still dark, but the streets were well lit and there were hordes of well-wishers and passersby who hailed the people walking to the temple. Pichagam and her family were part of hundreds of others who were walking this trek that February morning. There were chants along the route, but the walk was not easy. The hard tarmac and concrete roads were rough on the soles, the needles pierced harder if the walkers moved faster, or lost balance. The heavy wooden contraption only felt heavier with each step and the tiring walk made them thirsty every few steps. But no-one stopped, nor did they have any mishaps along the route.

Even D Street was a lit up early in the morning at this time of the year. There was a lot of hustling and bustling as the D Boyz entered the street. Each step they took was with a clear objective in mind – to keep going straight and making balancing the SENSEX on their shoulders,; but the needles and hooks that pierced them from time to time reminded them of some traditional processions in Interior Tamil Nadu – where devotees of the Son of Shiva would take this pain to offer gratitude for boons granted. The street was not straight – there were obstacles like rough streets, which at times would send the D Boyz off balance. This would result in some more needle pierces or hooks tugging at their skins. The delicately balanced SENSEX would sway from side to side – sometimes up and sometimes down. That was the route the D Boyz took to seek divine intervention to protect them this year. And the D Boyz don’t know if their prayers will be answered – because the SENSEX started at 27855 and climbed all above 29500 before retracing its steps and rebalanced to 28183… all in a span of 6 weeks of the year and there are 46 more weeks to walk on.

Pichagam’s mother was by her side, wiping her forehead of the sweat, as she walked along the route. The crowds swelled as they neared the temple and the morning sun was blazing strongly through the leafy lanes that led to the temple. There was a specially cordoned street that was specially arranged for their entry and the temple volunteers and local policemen managed the crowds that had gathered to watch the spectacle. Many were devotees who also paid obeisance to the carriers of the contraptions. Though most of the crowds were Tamilians, there were quite a few Caucasian tourists who also took photographs of the event. Many Chinese and Malay students joined their Tamil friends to line the street and take in the festive atmosphere in this multi-racial island country, far away from Interior Tamil Nadu.

Have a great year ahead … cheers.