Diwali is all about traditions new and old. For many of us it is about holding on to certain traditions of the past, to pass them on to the next generation. Vijetha Rangabashyam goes back in time, to her grandmother’s kitchen during Diwali, picking on memories and rituals she would love to pass on to her children one day. Oh, and also digging out an old family recipe for all of us!
This is my favourite time of the year. The roads become crowded with more vehicles, filled with excited folks who are so eager to shop. Mirchi lights adorn trees, display windows, restaurants, residences and what have you; though I admit I prefer the old-fashioned diyas or ahal vilakkus as people call them where I come from. There is cacophony of course, caused by the intermittent bursting of crackers or upbeat Bollywood music blaring at a nearby colony. I frown upon the traffic, pollution and the noise, because let’s be honest, this city doesn’t need more of those; yet I love every bit of jollity that prevails in the air. It’s kind of a love-hate relationship, you could say, but I must also confess that as you grow older, you tend to become cynical about things you were once deeply infatuated with.
There isn’t a single Deepavali (again, that’s just how we pronounce Diwali in the South) where I don’t reminisce about my childhood. My mother didn’t buy me 10,000 or 20,000 walas, because she didn’t see a point in “throwing away money” as she would put it, on things that would burst into flames and ashes (literally)! But I’ve had my fare share of flowerpots, pattu paavadai chokka (silk skirt with blouse) and delicious food.
Food! What I loved most about this festival – ghee-laden sweets, buttery murukkus (chakli) and unctuous meals prepared by my grandmother. All these more than compensated for the lack of ‘walas’ followed by many zeros.
The preparations would begin a week before – nothing, and I mean nothing, was ever store bought. Rice would be pounded and dried from scratch to make murukkus and ribbon pakodas, and the most arduous of all was the South Indian mixture. My grandmother would make the sev and boondi from scratch. She would then fry all assortments, like cashews and peanuts one by one, in ghee and finally she would combine all of them together to create a melt-in-mouth, salty medley called ‘mixture.’ It was no Deepavali at all without Gulab Jamuns of course, and even the mention of ready-made Jamun mix was blasphemy at home.
But my favourite of all was Mysore Pak – not the ubiquitous, melt-y ones popularized by sweet shops across South India to the rest of the country. This recipe was handed to my grandmother by her mother, and to her mother by her grandmother. First, fresh white butter would be melted, and as it melted, my dormant olfactory receptors would come alive, because they knew something delicious was in the offing. Mysore Pak would only be prepared in this freshly made ghee. My grandmother would then roast besan in this ghee. Then she would add it to a sugar syrup that had to be just the “right” consistency. I insist on the word right because the lifeline of Mysore Pak like most Indian sweets depends on this single string or soft ball. As they came together, she would keep feeding the concoction with hot ghee every few minutes with one hand, while stirring the mixture with the other. The fudge would now emit angry bubbles and she would continue to feed it more ghee, still stirring. The stirring and feeding routine would continue for almost twenty-five minutes (It is not a wonder how someone like my grandmother didn’t need to go to a gym to get sculpted arms). Finally, when the desired consistency was achieved (she just knew it instinctively), she would pour the hot mass onto a greased plate and cut it into squares while still warm. The resultant product was a slightly hard, porous, golden-ochre-ish slice of heaven, like honeycomb if you will, only a million times tastier. This is the only Mysore Pak I know and love.
I would be woken up at wee hours in the morning, the only thing I disliked about this festival. My grand mom would ask me to sit on a wooden plank and pour hot oil on the centre of my head, as all auspicious days began with abhyangasnan or oil bath. After the oil bath ritual, I would wear my brand new silk dress and pay a visit to God. I prayed because I was asked to but in the midst of my dialoguing with God, I would start to think of all the delectable fare that was kept in front of him. And then, my grandmother would feed me a sweet, my favourite Mysore Pak of course. The next few hours were spent bursting crackers with flat-mates and I would come home parched and hungry. Steaming hot idlis and coconut chutney would readily be waiting on the dining table. The rest of the day would be whiled away watching blockbuster films on TV and eating delicious food, because food was a constant as it is even today. The simplicity and innocence of childhood Deepavalis imbued happiness in a way taash parties or alcohol never can. My only grouse if it all is the fact that I was only ever a spectator, never a participant in my grandmother’s culinary rituals and I think she preferred it that way. It was indeed her territory. Though someday, when I become a mother, I think I would want to involve my child in whatever little way I can, in my kitchen endeavours. What are we without memories suffused with a little bit of mess and playfulness?
This 7-cup cake is not quite Mysore Pak, but just as tasty. It is incredibly easy to make, especially with kids around. It’s fun and definitely, finger-licking good!
1 cup besan
1 cup milk
1 cup clarified butter (ghee)
1 cup grated coconut
3 cup caster sugar
- Grease a baking tray with ghee/unsalted butter.
- Gently roast besan tell the raw smell leaves.
- Dissolve sugar in the milk and add it to the besan, while stirring to ensure there are no lumps.
- Add grated coconut and half the ghee. Keep stirring. When the mixture bubbles up, add the remaining ghee and continue to stir.
- Once the mixture starts to leave the sides, switch off the flame.
- Pour the fudge onto the greased pan. While slightly warm, cut into equal-sized squares.
Vijetha Rangabashyam is a 9-5 Jewellery Editor and a 24/7 Food Lover. She recently found theguiltfreepantry, a label that sells low-carb desserts and other treats for people with a big sweet tooth like her, so that they can have the cake and eat it too!