Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Lasting Legacy - A tribute to my Grandmother and Mother this Diwali

Aanewala Pal Jaanewala Hai
Ho Sake To Iss Mein
Zindagi Bitaado
Pal Jo Yeh Jaanewala Hai

Ek Baar Waqt Se
Lamha Gira Kahin
Wahaan Dastan Mili
Lamha Kahin Nahin
Thoda Sa Hasaake
Thoda Sa Rulaake
Pal Ye Bhi Jaanewala Hai

Aanewala Pal Jaanewala Hai
Ho Sake To Iss Mein
Zindagi Bitaado
Pal Jo Yeh Jaanewala Hai

(The moment that is coming will be gone soon, if possible spend your life time in this one moment that will soon be gone. Once time drops a moment, only the story of that moment is found, never the moment. Moments are fleeting, they make you laugh a little, cry a little and are gone. The moment that is coming will be gone soon, if possible spend your life time in this moment that will be gone soon.)

These lines come from a song in the movie Golmal, that I associate with my childhood, my Grandfather and Father. It has been the theme on my mind since Sunday.

That day my Mom came over laden with trays and boxes of traditional Gujarati snacks. As I carried them in, she kept apologizing for the containers she had brought a couple of the more delicate things in - old style aliminium boxes that she had inherited from her mother in law, my Grandmother, Kapilaben Munshaw. What she did not realize is that there was no reason to aplogise. To me those boxes and their contents were a symbol of Diwali. You see every year come Diwali one thing that induced almost painful nostalgia for idyllic times, was the snack making that happened in Moti Mummy’s kitchen. 

Moti Mummy (elder mother) as we called her came from Thasra, a small village in Gujarat and brought with her the culinary legacy imbibed in her by her mother. She applied that knowledge to living in Mumbai and a large part of it involved an annual cycle of producing food for storage. In the agrarian tradition that most of India follows, she provisioning for the entire year with tons of grain and pulses would be negotiated for and delivered to our home every harvest season and an annual cycle of pickling, preserving and drying. 

A fortnight or so before Diwali every year she would get into action with Maharaj and all the ladies of the house, churning out snacks by the boxfull. Once lunch was wound up and everyone had rested for a half hour or so, the kitchen would slowly wake up as everyone trickled in and sat down to their tasks grabbing favourite rolling pins or clattering around in the looking for the utensils they were comfortable with. Maharaj would crank up the stove and a huge kadhai would be heated up and the afternoons industry would be off to a good start as the assembly line warmed up to making the snack of the day crescendoing with a huge box of some new and mouthwatering goodie for us kids to sample.  

Over the next few days Fafda, Mathiya, Ganthiya, Chakli, kachori, cholafali, ghughra, laddus, would all roll of the assembly line to fill huge aliminium boxes and be stored in the smaller Kothar (storeroom) near the living area of our house. As kids we would wait for the door to open, ever ready to sneak in and steal a favourite treat. And then Diwali would be upon us, the living room, with its green walls, ornate wainscoting and large glass and wood showcases would be the focus of our attention. Or more specifically the large round elephant table in the middle of this room would be, because on it would be spread Moti Mummys best table cloth and finest serving-ware crytal bowls my uncle had brought home from his travels, laquer ware bowls my father had brought back from Japan, trays and platters, filled with all the snacks that had been made and arrived as gifts. All to be offered to guests that visited to wish us.

Come afternoon, when all the adults retired for revelry induced naps, we would raid the table, sneaking favourite treats and carefully replacing the silk cloth Moti Mummy had thrown over the table to keep us out. Moti Mummy would be so upset to wake up and find empty bowls. She would grumble all the way to the store and back as she refilled them and admonished us. But not once in all those years did she ever change the way she did things or keep us out of the room, so I suspect she secretly enjoyed our antics! 

Besides all the dry snacks that were made, there would also be a special hot snack made that day and the next day which was Gujarati New Year for us (this is the day that trading and business families start off their financial year). Gujaratis are gourmands in every sense and food is important to us at any time, so obviously at this time of the year its feast time!  
Gujarati cuisine is unlike any other Indian cuisine. Distinctively vegetarian it is dependant on the use of fresh seasonal ingredients which result in large variety of vegetarian dishes that transform from region to region mainly due to changes in climate and available produce. It also has what is probably the largest repetoire of snacks I have ever come accross. These are actually divided into two categories, namely Nasto and Farsan.

Nasto literally means breakfast but is not relegated to the morning meal, it could be served at any time in the day when one desires a between meal filler or something to munch on. Nastas are usually dry, made of deep fried spiced Chickpea batter and come in a variety of forms and flavours. The most common form of Nasto are Sev and Ganthia, made from besan or chickpea flour. Most Sev and Ganthia are extruded from a “sancha” (a gadget with holes at one end and a handle at the other from which the dough is pressed out) into boiling oil; the holes are of various sizes and types, allowing different variations: crunchy brittle sticks that vary in thickness from as fine as vermicelli to the thickness of a strand of wool and come in a variety of flavours like garlic, chilli, methi and more recently tomato and cheese. One step up are Ganthia (perhaps so named because they resemble squiggled knots or “ganths” when they are extruded into the hot oil). Ganthia also vary from sev in texture – they are softer, less crunchy and come in myriad forms from the thick stubby cylindrical Bhavnagari, to thick flat papri that melts in the mouth and crisp crunchy foot-long fafda gathiya. Whatever their avatar, ganthias will usually be accompanied by golden jalebis, mild bavnagri chillies and/or “papaya ni chutney”, made of green papaya and chickpea flour tempered with cumin and mustard.

A combination of some or all types of ganthiyas and sev is called the “Bhuso” and is available in various combinations. Another popular merry mix is the “Chevdo” and is usually made of beaten rice, rice crispies or even corn flakes and tossed with peanuts, or other nuts, slivers of dry coconut, spices and raisins.  

Also deep fried but painstakingly rolled out paper thin are the Mathia dusted with crystals of salt and chilli powder that leave the lips tingling. Slightly less cholesterol inducing are the Cholafali made of several lentil flours and the Khakhra which are essentially thin rotis that have been dried out to a crisp on the griddle and eaten with a special salt called Surti Jiraloo, a blend of cumin spices and black salt similar to Chaat masalla.

While Nastas are great niblets, Farsans are the heavy artillery of the Gujarati snack repertoire. No self respecting cook of Gujarati food will present a thali without a farsan or two gracing one corner. Farsans run the gamut from deep fried bhajias or pakoras (fritters) to ghugras (fried half circles of pastry stuffed with a savoury fillings), kachoris (fried circular pastry usually stuffed with a savoury potato filling) and comparatively lighter steamed offerings like Dhokla, Muthia, Patra and Khandvi. 

A Hot Farsan platter with (clockwise)  Dhokla, Kachori, Handvo, Ghugra & Pattice
Dhoklas are steamed cakes usually made of fermented rice or Chickpea flour and come in a variety of avatars from the simple - Khatta (sour) dhokla made from rice and yoghurt, commonly served in mango season with chilled Aamras (mango puree) and the canary yellow Khaman dhokla tempered with curry leaves and mustard seeds and garnished with lashings of shredded fresh coconut - to the elaborate – the Damni dhokla made of a combination of ground lentils and the Sandwich dhokla in which a slice of paneer and various chutneys are “sandwiched” between two layers of Dhokla.

Also steamed and later shallow fried are the Muthias made of chickpea flour and grated vegetables and the Patra which are Collocasia leaves spread with a batter of chickpea flour, rolled into cylinders, steamed and sliced into pinwheels that are later pan fried or deep fried. Khandvi is a batter of spiced Chickpea flour and yoghurt that is thickened over a flame until it reaches the consistency of a runny jelly. This is then spread over the backs of oiled thalis while still warm, allowed to cool, cut into strips and rolled into dense little rolls that we called “bistras” because they resemble tiny bedrolls.
My daughter woke up asking for a laddu today and my son wanted Ganthiya and Chivda for breakfast. I scolded them but smiled to myself. And every time I have scolded them for stealing a treat from the snacks I have arranged on the side board I have remembered Diwalis past, my grandmother, father, cousins, the adults of my growing years that are no more with me and the way things used to be. I have wished that my grandmother was here to see her great grandchildren bite into traditional recipes that are her legacy. I have wished that my father and father in law were here to share a beer with my husband and rag him or admonish me for scolding the kids and indulge them with a special smile and treats. 

This year I am infinitely aware of the cycle of life, so many of the adults of my growing years have passed on, taking a piece of me with them. And successive generations have moved into their space, to carry on their legacies and add some of their own tradition to the mix. The children of yesterday we were are the adults today. And it is up to us to keep traditions alive. I can invest in gold for my children, give them gifts, but I am also aware that, that is not what will carry them through their life. It is not what makes me smile or cry today. What will carry them through life will be their grandparents legacies, their sense of belonging to something beautiful, that is family, the messy rangolis we did together, eating hot pakoris as they came out of the kadhai with their dad, indulgent hugs from their Mamas and Mamis and the illicit pleasure of gorging on contraband treats with their cousins.

Thank you Ma, for making it possible, I hope that I have half the energy you have when I am a grandmother because I want to pass all of this along to my grandchildren and my nieces and nephews! And to all of you, apologies for a long, too sentimental post, but I have realized we need to savour THIS moment, love who we are, what we are and love those around us. We waste too much time and emotion on what might be or could be! Best wishes from all of us in the Ghildiyal home, for a fabulous, delicious Diwali and a wonderful healthy wealthy safe year to come.


Suvir Saran said...

Hungry for Nasto at your table and home.
Come visit us in NY. Make a plan.
What an honor it would be to spoil you.
Rushina - you are a gift to have in this world and to know as a friend.
Your grandmother, mother and all that helped form who you are - should be very proud of you and themselves.
Happy Diwali to you and yours.

Salony said...

This post is a reflection of so many Indian/Gujarati households and it brings back such fond memories! Oh I miss all the nasto!!! Wishing you and your family a very Happy Diwali!

Prima from A Woman of Process said...

Thank you for that wonderful nostalgic post. It reinforces my belief that we need to expose our children to family traditions - they are the best way to build memories.

rhapsodiesofawanderingmind said...

Best post yet Rushina!..
Echoes a lot of emotions I am going through during this time of the year, being a daughter, a wife and so much more.
It really is important that we pass the legacy on, and such a valuable one at that.
Truly, proud of you dear!..
Happy Diwali to the entire Munshaw and Ghildiyal clan!

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post! Wish you and yours a very happy Diwali and a prosperous New Year. Sukhi rehjo!

Srivalli said...

Rushina, that's such a lovely and beautifully written post..you have managed to capture the sense of what I was feeling yesterday, going through the same feeling of how it was during my childhood..your list of Nasto and farsans are a die for..I hope I get to learn some of the dishes you have mentioned here..:O)

Saee Koranne-Khandekar said...

Just read this and it warmed my heart as memories from Diwalis of the past came flooding back. Thank you for this beautifully written post and the visual treats. And I'm not just talking about the food!

Anonymous said...

That was beautiful - thanks, Satyam

Amarendra said...

First time on your blog... really very interesting space. Hats off!!

Gulshan Kwatra said...


Diwali has been long gone. Read your blog today . So wonderfully written and brought back many memories of the past. Poking in cloves in the Lawang Latika's ,mom slaving over the angeethi ( specially lit for making snacks and sweets) ,eating odds and ends and trying to find the Pinni boxes (Punjabi Laddoos). Our parent's have passed away long ago and siblings have settled worldwide but the memories remain. Thank you for this wonderful write up and the lovely tempting pictures.