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Diwali around India

Zubin D’souza

Each year the festivals get harder to bear. I look around me, realise that people are out celebrating and know that I have to be at work catering to these occasions.

Right from January 1 where hotels all around do a champagne brunch to help the stragglers from New Year parties recover from their night of excess to December 31 when we ply the stragglers and early birds with the aforementioned excesses, we are at work.

Chefs always realise that celebrations and food go hand-in-hand and to ensure that folks celebrate, we have to forego our own.

It does get increasingly difficult though.

The spouse can only have so much patience and the innocent questioning eyes of the offspring give way to increasingly angry and volatile outbursts.

Why can’t there be at least one occasion that can be celebrated together like a normal family?

The cajoling stops to work; the bribes stopped taking effect a long time back.

My only saving grace is Diwali!

Diwali or Deepawali is the Indian festival of lights. A much treasured festival all around the country that commemorates the triumph of good over evil; of light over darkness.

It is the one Indian festival that is truly unifying; it transcends boundaries of race, creed and religion to encompass us all in the celebratory spirit.

It is the one festival where I do not mind being at work and amongst my ilk.

This year, I got my team together and we were to do a potluck with a twist. Each one would carry with them the one food that represented this lovely celebration back home.

What I was asking for was a sliver of their memories; what I got in exchange was humbling and overwhelming.

Prashant being Maharashtrian brought ‘Anarsa’ which is deep fried sweet bread made from rice flour and palm sugar and crusted with poppy seeds. As an accompanying dip he made a saffron shrikhand which is sweetened thick yoghurt with Kashmiri saffron strands and dotted with toasted melon seeds.

Not to be outdone, Pednekar who is also Maharashtrian brought in Puran Poli which is sweetened unleavened griddle cooked bread stuffed with unprocessed cane sugar and scented with cardamom.

Arun brought in ‘Babroo’ which is another deep fried bread but from Himachal Pradesh. His mother and his aunts always made this by kneading together flour, sugar and yeast before shaping them into round discs and deep frying them. He also carried with him some reduced milk rabdi which we scooped out with the babroo.

Pallavi being Bengali launched into a long tirade of the necessity of upholding traditions before she produced ‘chhodo shaak’ with a flourish. This dish requires patience and 14 varieties of leafy vegetables that are blended into the dish before it can be placed on the table.

The Delhiites grouped together to bring in ‘Kheel batasha’ which are sickeningly sweet puffed rice and sugar drops. The traditional disc shapes had company in the form of the same mixture being converted into animal shapes and called ‘Khilone’ and the tower-shaped, foot high ‘Hathri’ which was ushered in with much pomp and ceremony.

The Agra-ites wanting to put one up over their distant Delhi cousins carried in the extremely rich and dry fruit heavy ‘Mawa ladoos’.

The Tamilians looked at this with sheer disgust, not believing that people would stoop down and be as crass as to have an ostentatious display of materialistic one-upmanship.

Instead they proffered ‘Marundu’ which is a traditional mixture of round carom seeds, raisins, honey, poppy seeds, palm sugar, nuts and ghee.

Apparently it is an auspicious food that guarantees a year ahead of prosperity.

Just so that they did not appear too cheap, they also brought in ‘thenkuzhal’, which is a crisp sweet noodle-like snack that translates to mean ‘tubes of honey’.

The Garwahlis and Kumaonis pooled together to prepare ‘Singal’ which looks rather disgusting; pretty close to something that you have probably vowed never to eat. However, one bite of this fried batter which is made from cardamom scented banana, semolina and yoghurt and you are sure to forget the fuss about the shape.

The Oriyas contributed ‘Rasabali’ which are deep fried cottage cheese dumplings steeped in sweetened reduced milk.

And finally the Punjabis strolled in last with ‘Pinni’ which are ladoos or dumplings made from a ghee roasted wheat flour mix enriched with dried fruits and nuts.

And as we sat together to eat, as one huge majorly dysfunctional family, was when I realised that I really did not miss celebrating festivals with the outside world anymore.

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