Everyday beauty

A GUEST POST by my aunty Dr. Bindu, on occasion of International Women’s Day.

It did not strike me at the time. It came to me much later. The sheer beauty of so much that my mother made and did. From dawn to dusk. The early morning making of tea, as she sat on the floor, with her boiling a big ‘tapela’ (pot) of milk, gently blowing the cream to one side, scooping it with a spoon to collect in a steel container later to churn and make butter then boil to make such tasty ghee.

After her bath, a puja where a variety of Gods were bathe, chandlas and rice applied to a small baby Krishna, and a not too big but impressive trio of Ram, Sita and Laxman  they standing on a brass stage with an arch behind them. After the chandlas, the adorning of baby Krishna with flowers. Putting a simple garland of green leaves and available/seasonal flowers for the big 3. Marigolds were reserved for festive days like Diwali and Dussehra. The packet of flowers and garland delivered every day in a small leaf packet tied with string. Finally the diyas were lit, agarbattis too – their fragrance enveloping the tiny kitchen where she cooked and the Gods resided. A little bell was tinkled to end the puja.

All the while she sang various slokas in a gentle voice, indeed she sang these all morning long as she cooked and made toor dal, rice, shaak (vegetables) and rolled out phulka rotis. Needles to say each phulka puffed up like a perfect circle as did her puris the latter only made on ceremonial occasions. I can recite these slokas today once I am started off, some listing the 12 Jyotirlingas strewn from Kedarnath to Rameshwaram and Somnath to Jharkhand, others aartis celebrating Shiva or selected verses from the Bhagavad Gita.

Some afternoons she would make chakri – round whirls of a mix of ground wheat/channa/rice flour etc, delicately and accurately flowing out of a hand-operated sancha (machine) and fried, and shakarpara – rectangular pieces of wheat and chana flour mixed with masala and whole jeera (cumin). Both while being delicious were also works of art.

But the sublime came at Diwali – the making of Ghugras, each semicircular crescent filled with roasted cream of wheat, sugar, slivers of almonds and pistachio, its edges being brought together with an exquisitely handmade curled border. Mathiyas which my Fui (paternal aunt) would make, tying a thread to her great toe and rapidly breaking of ‘luvas’, small disc shaped pieces of flour which were then dipped in oil, rolled out and deep fried. Several other snacks were made – farsi puri, sev – and thalis were filled with them and sent to neighbours and friends who in turn sent us thalis.

Diwali was “Umbar sathiya” time from Wagh Baras till Bestu Varas, for the 5 days (Wagh Baras, Dhunteras, Kali Chawdus, Diwali and Bestu Varas) each threshold was decorated with at least 3 designs created by artfully outlining these with a coarse white powder. A lacquer box with many subdivisions was filled with raisins, pistachio, walnut, almonds, dried apricot, and cashews to offer to those who came to wish us Sal Mubarak.

At Navratri she sang songs in praise of Ambe Ma, recalling Mata’s many wondrous attributes: her establishing Champaner, her wanting to bless the Raja of Pawagarh with territory, a huge army of horses and elephants, even the earth, but all he wanted was for her to grace his chambers. Mata flew into a rage at this request and cursed him that he would lose his kingdom in 6 months which he did…. Mummy lit an oil lamp and maintained it for the 9 days of the festival. She bathe early to add oil so the lamp would not extinguish and was very distressed when it sometimes did.

The annual events of fresh masalas to be ground, famed Warangal mirchi being dried then the making of various pickles – methiya no athanu, tadka chunda no chundo, murrabo, gor keri. Intricate, time-consuming, lots of measuring, roasting, adding oil, salt, sugar, ground methi seeds – the peeling, cutting, boiling of raw mangoes as needed, the daily exposure of Chunda to the sun till old Aditya (one of the sun’s thousand names which she occasionally recited), if there were not too many clouds, had done its job fermenting it and the Chundo ready in 7 to 10 days.

Masalas and pickles filled in large glass bottles and special ceramic ones “Chinai Mati” neatly tied at the top with soft cotton cloth before the lids were put on. This allowed the pickles to last through Bombay’s long monsoon and endure its high humidity. How elegantly she arranged our various pots and pans, tapelis, kadhais (woks) like a bewitching pyramid with gleaming brass, copper and stainless steel vessels living together in harmonious symmetry.

In her cooking repertoire “Undhiyu” reigned supreme. A karandiya, a cane basket, came from Surat, about 160 miles away, with Surati papadi, brinjal, kand, sweet potatoes, green garlic, chibdas, small potatoes, bunches of coriander, coconut and what not. The Surati papdi was shelled, each pound of it taking an hour and a minimum of 6 to 7 pounds were needed; the other ingredients chopped, sliced, cleaned and the whole mixture cooked on medium heat on a big coal stove. After some time the aroma of papdi would fill the air and the huge tapela of Undhiyu lifted and shaken. No water was added, the whole ‘stew’ cooking with the steam generated by the vegetables themselves and the oil that had been added.

Undhiyu was a one dish meal eaten with puris, a slice of lemon and fresh coriander chutney. It was/is near divine. Mummy toiled hard to create this wonder. Her undhiyu was so renowned that neighbours and friends waited each year for the day she would send them a generous portion. Her face was suffused with joy that her work was appreciated, indeed even today I don’t savour any Undhiyu that deviates from her special way. No bananas and lots of Surti Papdi, and only green masala with methi bhaji na muthiyas (fried Fenugreek dumplings) added. Ummm, tasty!!!

She knit with ease, cardigans, pullovers, sweaters of simple and intricate designs. I have one with a complex pattern that she knitted when in her 70s – a maroon one made of Aran wool – it draws compliments whenever I wear it.

She wore cotton sarees with a bright border in the Gujarati style with the pallu in front draped over the right shoulder. The same saree all day, and at night too. A saree that was never starched indeed never ironed either but folded carefully and the lot kept one on top of the other miraculously needing no ironing when worn. The only makeup used when going out was a generous dusting with powder on the face and a bindi applied with a glass stick. Handbags were for formal occasions only. For visits to friends and relatives was a small heart-shaped purse which was tucked into her blouse. Everyday she had on a gold bangle, a mangalsutra and simple gold earrings. Together with her cotton saree draped on her she was the picture of a quiet elegance.

Your mothers must have created their own everyday beauty. Share these with us.

I have specially chosen to write of these things and celebrate women in their everyday life as the world is not in good shape to say the least and the catastrophe created by too many wars and indiscriminate use of natural resources is close at hand. But we fight the GOOD Fight no matter what and in that we are together!

Happy International Women’s Day!!!