Friday, November 26, 2010

Priceless memories - made and some lost

I’m a nostalgic person and so the latest advertisement of LIVE.LOVE.REWIND of Sony camcorder reminded of my days as an young mom 14 years back. Just like the advt, I used to capture those priceless moments - the laughs, gurgles, smiles and cries of my children.

Their first roll on, their first crawl, their first stand up, their first step, first hold on the feeding bottle, their first mottai (tonsure) their prayer time, rhyme time and all the natural camaraderie the two little ones shared, their special moments like birthday, ayush homam, vidyarambham, their bonding with their grandparents, their nursery days, their outings, early school events and beyond( they are still in school) were silently captured by my camcorder and some of them on my still cameras (analog one). Their milestones are also recorded in a scrap book.

The still photos developed into many albums and every event was marked. The videos captured were all copied on an anti-fungal Panasonic VHS-casette ( CD’s were not popular 14 years back) and safely kept (or so I thought) to be cherished later. The photos taken during their pre-school days in my digital camera were all stored on my computer.

Days roll by fast and before I realize my children have grown. Now, These memories link our present with the past. I want them to remember those old times and reminiscence on their infancy and early childhood (they are now at 14 and 11.8).

During holidays, it is our favorite past time to watch all those photo albums. We huddle together and enjoy all their infanthood moments which are carefully captured and preserved in photo albums. I recall to them all the warm memories of their baby hood times which they treasure and enjoy listening. They enjoy this wonderful trip back in time and always ask me gleefully,

“amma, naan chinna kuzhandai ya irukkum bodu enna sonnen?’’ ( Amma, what did I talk when I was a baby?)

All the while, I was aware that my children’s beautiful times of childhood are safe in a VHS casette. Our VCP is not in working condition and is stored in the attic and since they have become obsolete, we never bothered to watch the videos.

I recently decided to burn the VHS cassette into a DVD so that we could sit and watch their childhood videos, but was greatly disappointed when the DVD shop owner told me that the cassette was corrupted and he could not read the cassette. All those priceless moments which were made with love are now lost.

Luckily my daughter’s appearance in the kannada movie ‘ amma ninna tholinalli’ for a song sequence with her little friends when she was 5 years old, her first dance show from her dance academy at town hall,Bangalore (again at the age of 5) which was relayed on TV were all recorded in a separate VHS. These could be burnt, albeit not perfectly.

The photos of my children captured on the digital camera which were stored on my old computer were also lost when my computer crashed.

All the memories which were such an incredible part of our life have been lost. Time does not stand still, my children are growing fast, what will they have to look back on their times spent together and growing days?.

I want them to reminiscence about their past when they grow up.

Except those photo albums and a few scrap books and yes, I hope this blog survives and in later days this serves to make their hearts smile.

“Life-long blessing for children is to fill them with warm memories of times together. Happy memories become treasures in the heart to pull out on the tough days of adulthood”
Charlotte Davis Kasl

Sunday, November 21, 2010

An ancient festival - Karthigai

Agal vilakkus (terracotta diyas) lit in rows in the backyard, frontyard, on window sills, on the compound walls, staircases, inside alcoves, on the threshold, in the kitchens, in the puja room add that special glow and festivity to the house. All silver lamps like ‘kuthi vilakku’ which have been received as a part of the heirloom and wedding gifts are removed from the lockers, cleaned and lighted in the evening inside the house. Diyas are also placed on the Kolams( rangoli) drawn with rice flour.

Pori urundai(made from jaggery and puffed rice), appam( a fried sweet dish made from jaggery and wheat flour) are the special karthigai sweets and is offered to god as neivedyam (bhog) in the evening along with fruits and betel leaf.

This is the festival of lights for tamils called ‘Karthikai deepam’, one of my favorite festival celebrated on the full moon day of tamil month Karthigai(Karthik Purnima).

Many legends are associated with this ancient tamil festival dating back to 200 B.C which is older than deepavali and navarathri. Some famous legend associated with Karthigai month are-

The Birth of Lord Muruga/Karthikeya: Lord Muruga was born from 6 sparks shot forth from shiva’s head. These sparks turned into 6 babies who were cared by the 6 celestial nymphs called krittikas . The 6 babies were later merged into a single baby by goddess parvati and hence he is also called ‘ Arumugan’in tamil meaning 6 faced . His birth star is kritika.

The second legend is that Murugan is supposed to have taught the meaning of Pranava mantra ‘OM” to Lord Shiva. Thus the lamps lit on this day are in remembrance of sharing the ultimate knowledge of OM symbolically representing knowledge. Hence Lord muruga is also known as Kumara guru.

Another legend has that Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma had a ego quarrel of who was the most powerful of the two. While they were fighting Lord shiva appeared before them in the form of a huge pillar of fire. Shiva told them both to find the ends of the pillar, accordingly Brahma assumed the form of Swan and flew upwards and Vishnu took the form of a boar and dug deep into the earth. Years of search did not yield the ends but Brahma came and lied to Lord shiva that he found the end and he used the ‘Thazham poo’ as a witness. Lord shiva was angry about the lie and pronounced that Brahma would never have temples in his honour and hence there are few temples for Lord Brahma and ‘ thazham poo’ would not be used for worshipping Shiva.

Soon afterwards Lord shiva turned into Arunachala Hill at Tiruvannamalai in Tamilnadu also called agni sthalam(one of the 5 elements). The Bharani deepam lit here atop the hill draws thousands of devotees here from all over and the tiny agal vilakkus lit during the festival at homes is supposed to be symbolic of the fire linga( shiva). Nearly 3000 kgs of Cow ghee and 1000 metres of cloth as wick is used atop the hill to light the Bharani deepam in a huge brass cauldron. This light glows for nearly 10 days at Tiruvanna malai. Another interesting fact about this temple is that this temple spread over 25 acres has 6 praharams and 9 gopurams. Archaelogists have found an inscription on the compound wall of the 5th praharam that there was an earthquake nearly 400 years back at Tiruvannamalai and this quake absolutely had no effect on Tiruvannamalai.

The scientific reason behind this festival was today narrated by a scientific astrologer Dr. Pazhaninathan on TV. I missed it by a few minutes.

Whatever be the reason and significance , festive days give us a break from our routine and the sights of the oil filled diyas de-stresses the mind and adds certain warmth to the misty evening atmosphere. Electric serial lights are also used these days by many households but the beauty of this pales in comparison to the traditional agal vilakkus.

Karthigai deepam is a festival to light up your mind, soul and uplift your spirit.

Happy karthigai to all.

Karthigai info courtesy: a tamil magazine.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Delectable dosa redefined

The simple and humble dosa has fused and adapted itself with world cuisines that this is now the star of most food carnivals and desi fast food joints and almost every other month there is a dosa carnival or dosa fest featuring dosas with bizarre prefixes like chocolate fondue dosa, risotto dosa etc.,

What is so unique about this dosa?

The signature food of most south Indians are Idli and dosa. You walk into any tamilian household unannounced and open the refridgerator, you will find the idli/dosa batter.

There cannot be many variations in idli though it is made with the same batter. But the variety of dosa’s you can make depends simply on the way you would love it. It can be plain/stuffed with filling, It can be small as a medal or as big as your table. It can be crisp like a wafer or thick like an American pizza. Most often it is the size of a regular pizza(8”) but it can be in any shape as you desire. Sometimes rolled like a newspaper some times shaped like a cone/triangle.

The Indian dosa, whose origin predates to the sangam age of Tamil literature has its cousins in American pancake and French crepes. They are made from a batter of parboiled rice and full urad dal (round one not the split urad dal) in the ratio of 4:3/4. One can also add 1 table spoon of ground fenugreek seeds to make it softer. When tasted by itself it is very simple and boring, but it turns delicious when it is eaten with an accompaniment like Sambar( thick lentil soup),ground chutney( ground coconut sauce/onion sauce with chillies or milaga podi( spiced powder). It can also be rolled with fillings of your choice.

You can get very creative with dosa. Few years back, people were just enjoying plain/masala dosa. But now every road screams of a dosa corner and they surprise you with the unexpected fillings. The adaptable dosa is now slowly emerging as desi fast food.

Having grown in South Bangalore, which was famous for thindi beedhi’s (eat streets) like Sajjan Rao circle, Gandhi bazaar, Mavalli tiffin room( MTR), Hotel Kamat etc., The purist dosa lover in me refuses to accept the fusion taste, although i love the various fillings.

My tryst with the variety dosas started at Dosa corner at Jayanagar IV block in Bangalore.(perhaps they were the pioneers of the variations and fillings - not too sure about this)

15 years back when we were staying at JP nagar in Bangalore, We used to frequently make many trips to this joint. It was a part of Ganesh darshini but because of the oil and smoke the griddle of dosa emits the dosa making area was towards the corner of the shop.

We had to buy tokens and stand in a serpentine queque till your turn came. You could watch the dosa’s being flipped on a big black griddle. The griddle was seasoned with oil and wiped clean and then a scoop of batter would be taken and drawn into a circular shape and oil would be drizzled around . When it would turn brown below, it would be smeared with red chutney made of onion and chilli and then customized with filling of the customer’s choice. At one go they make 8-10 dosa’s. It was a feast for the eyes and nose while they flipped making those crispy brown dosas. It is definitely an art to make so many dosa’s of the same shape and size and so quickly.

They have a variety of fillings here. All dosa’s irrespective of the filling is served with sambar and chutney.

Set dosa: a set of medium sized dosa’s( 3 no) served with sambar and coconut chutney. This is also very famous at Dwaraka hotel near bull temple road.

Masala dosa: Dosa with potato curry filling along with sambar and chutney. This is extremely tasty at the Janta hotel at Vijayanagar(near my parents house), At MTR and also at vidyarthi bhavan ( Gandhi bazaar). Here the chutney is served with mint flavor, though of late I find the standard of taste at vidyarthi bhavan has detiorated.

Benarsi masala dosa: Few Bread croutons spread along with the red chutney, filled with potato curry and served with sambar and chutney.( a must try at dosa corner, ganesh darshini)

Butter masala dosa: Masala dosa made with butter and topped with a spoonful of butter.

Cucumber dosa: Along with the batter cucumber is also ground and then made into dosas.

Ragi( millet dosa). Ragi is mixed with the regular batter to make dosa

Gobi masala dosa: Dosa with cauliflower curry.

Peas masala: Dosa with peas curry filling

Vegetable dosa: Dosa layered with mixed vegetable curry made with carrot,cabbage etc.,

Upma dosa: dosa with upma as filling.

Cocktail dosa: mix of all the curries and upma as stuffing.( famous at sindhi colony,sec'bad)

Tiranga dosa : Dosa having tricolor chutney, Ginger and tomato(red), green chutney (made with mint and coriander), and white chutney made with coconut.

Paneer dosa: dosa with paneer curry.

Rava dosa: made with riceflour, maida/wheat flour and rava in the ratio 1:1:1/2 and to this batter are added pepper corns,curry leaf, coriander leaves and finely chopped onions and chillies. This should not be ladled on the griddle like a regular dosa. You have to simple go around dropping on the hot griddle here and there with, you will find lots of spaces in between , you should’’nt fill them. This is best eaten hot and crispy.(this tastes excellent at Arusuvai, Mayajaal, Chennai)

Steamed dosa aka Chiranjeevi dosa --- famous at chutney’s, Hyderabad. This dosa was named as Chiranjeevi dosa since the recipe came from the Telugu actor. He tried to recreate the set dosa he ate at mysore.

Medal sized dosa: This is famous at Saravana Bhavan, T.nagar- 7 small medal sized dosas topped with different chutney and milaga podi.

MLA dosa – I hav’nt tasted this, saw it on Chutney’s(Hyderabad) menu card. This is supposed to be bigger and have a rich filling(like a MLA).

Spring roll dosa, Manchurian dosa ,sczhewan dosa --- our neighbor china’s gift to our desi dosa and not to forget all those western influence like peanut butter dosa, pizza dosa, chocolate dosa, Mexican dosa, Salsa dosa etc.,.. Each passing day the humble dosa is redefined.

Many more like uttappams, pesaruttu, adai etc., just unleash your imaginative skills and fill it with any edible curry and you have a dosa. I know, I am leaving this list incomplete.

Having said all the above, nothing to beat the home made dosa to the accompaniment of milagi podi and nallennai( sesame oil) made on a seasoned iron tava. ( a seasoned iron tava needs little oil and is better than a non-stick).

Dosa in its original form is the ultimate - an anytime dish in our home.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Deepavali- a Global festival

Deepavali- a delightful festival celebrated with lighting diyas has many interesting legends associated with it across different parts of India.

For Tamils, it is associated with the killing of Narakasura by Lord Krishna. The story goes that Narakasura- an asura ruled the kingdom of Pradyoshapuram (modern day Guwahati). He was the son of Bhudevi and acquired immense power from a blessing given by Lord Brahma. The people of his kingdom were tortured and suffered a lot of hardships. Women were kidnapped and imprisoned.

Unable to bear the cruelty of the asura, the Devas pleaded with Lord Krishna to save them from this asura. Narakasura had a boon that he would face death only at the hands of his mother, Bhudevi. Krishna accompanied by Satyabhama(re-incarnation of bhudevi) as his charioteer battles with Naraka.

During the battle when Krishna falls unconscious after being hit by an arrow of Naraka, Sathyabhama takes the bow and shoots at Naraka killing him instantly.

The death of Narakasura- The triumph of good over evil is Deepavali in Tamilnadu also called Naraka Chaturdashi since it happened on the 14th day of the Tamil month Aipasi.

Ritually, it is followed by people cleaning the vessel in which water is heated for having bath on the eve of chaturdashi. The vessel called ‘Anda’(now geyser) is cleaned and decorated with kolam of a sun and moon drawn on it. All the new clothes, sweets and savories along with a herbal concoction called ‘ Deepavali legiyam’ are placed in front of the God along with gingelly oil( Godess Lakshmi is believed to reside in gingelly oil) and shikakai.

In the wee hours (before sunrise) of chaturdashi, The senior most female member of the family makes all the younger members sit in a row and applies oil on the head . Then they go out and light a cracker symbolizing the killing of Narakasura.

Now the killing of narakasura is celebrated with a head bath and all the members of the family have their bath before the sunrise. It is believed that a bath before sunrise when the stars are still visible in the sky is equivalent to taking a bath in River Ganga and hence tamilians greet each other with ‘ Ganga Snanam accha?’ meaning ‘Did you have a bath in Ganga?’ After the bath, the family elder gives them their new dress. They wear the new dress and seek blessings of elder family members and partake the ‘Deepavali legiyam’ which acts as an antidote to all the sweets and savories taken later.
In the evening, relatives and friends visit and greet each other. A Tamilian Diwali lasts for a couple of hours before sunrise with no elaborate pujas.

Traditionally, Tamils do not light diyas during Deepavali but a fortnight later in the Tamil month of ‘ Karthigai’ diyas are lit.

In Northern India, deepavali is celebrated as the return of Lord Ram after his exile and killing of Ravana . To rejoice over his return, the people of Ayodhya bursted crackers and illuminated the kingdom by lighting diyas.

For Gujarathis, Marwaris and other business community, Diwali marks the worship of godess Lakshmi and the beginning of new financial year.

For Bengalis, it is the worship of Godess Kali.

Different legends, different rituals across different regions but the essence is the same – rejoicing over the triumph of Good over evil.

Thanks to globalization, the festival is now being celebrated all over the globe and it has even become an official festival at the white house.

Rejoice, Indulge and celebrate a safe and Happy Deepavali.