Her 70-year-old voice came crackling over the phone line, "Oh, how we celebrated the festival of Hartalika, when I was a young girl!" my grandmother laughed, as she thought back to the days when she was just a knee-high little thing of seven or eight in her coastal village of Malgund, Ratnagiri.
Even as we sat in our respective living rooms, oceans and miles apart, I could sense her memories, tangibly in our midst. I felt as if I was lounging right by her side on the divan, next to my grandfather's favorite side-table, placed below laminated childhood photographs of all their grandchildren. As she reminisced, I pictured her sitting cross-legged as she spoke, a familiar sparkle in her eyes -- the one she always gets, whenever she talks about her faraway maaher or maternal home.
"On the day that the goddess Gauri came home, my mother's married sisters, and friends. Unmarried cousins, my sisters and our other unwed friends, Usha, Shama, Lata, and Vasanti, from the neighboring houses, down the lane -- all of us women and girls -- would get together for a whole day of fasting and praying," she chuckled. Digressing quite suddenly, as she often does, about how the two statues of jyeshta and kanishta Gauri were made out of Konkan's famed red earth.
"Valucha Shivalinga, aani maathichi Gauri," she told me. It was such a profoundly poetic statement -- the god of sand, and a goddess from the humble earth. During those days, my grandmother further narrated, Haritalika was simple. Beautifully organic. Just as it must have been, she said, all those centuries ago when Sati made the Shivalinga from sand. Fasting and praying to it for 12 long years, with her sakhi in a forest, far away from her father's house. Surviving merely on the green foliage, she found all around herself. All for the perfect man.
Then, as the day wore on, she said, "the evening came alive." Women, old, young, and small would sing and dance the luminescent, lunar, Bhadrapad night away. With folk songs they'd heard, over and over again. All their lives. From mothers, grandmothers, unmarried young women, before them. The suvashinis or married women in beautiful nine-yard sarees and green glass bangles -- the verdant hue of their bracelets, symbols around their wrists of happy, long marriages. Teenagers and younger ones in silky long skirts and blouses, their plaits oiled and tied up high in bright colored ribbons, by elder sisters, mothers or grandmothers. All dancing, playing jhimma-fugadi, that ancient Marathi game where pairs of women, clasp each others hands, and swing around in circles -- shrieking as they go. As fast as their hearts can beat and the feet can dare.
"It was so much fun, all that long sleepless night of play, song and dance with family, siblings, and friends -- old and new," she said wistfully. "Before we knew it, morning would be upon us and it would be time to bid goodbye to both the Gauri's in the village river. Then, we would take a quick dip, and head home, where mother would serve us warm pithi with steamed rice, and tuck us into bed," she giggled.
At last, I asked her, what I had been meaning to all along. Had it all paid off for her? The fasting and the praying? "Of course," she replied simply. "Your grandfather was my perfect man."
♣ Sabudana Vada's for Me
I started observing Haritalika when I was barely 12 years old. It was one of the only fasts my mother reluctantly allowed me, at the behest of my maternal grandmother. Although, it is usually observed a day before Ganesh Chaturthi, at times, Hartalika is observed on the same day as Chaturthi. Whenever that happened, I would be quite sad to forgo the grand naivedya of steaming modak's, vaalachi usal, masale bhaat. Seeing this, my grandmother would always make a treat of sabudana vada's, especially for me.
After all these years, I have finally come to realize, that my will-power had nothing to do with the fact that I didn't miss a single fast.
If it hadn't been for my grandmother's sabudana vadas, perhaps, I wouldn't have found me my perfect man either.
1 cup Sago or sabudana,
1-2 medium potatoes, boiled
2 tbsp, roasted peanuts, powdered coarsely
A handful of cilantro, chopped
1 tsp chili powder
About 1-2 tsp of salt
1 tsp sugar
2 green chillies
¼ tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp of lemon juice
Peanut oil for frying
Begin by rinsing sago or sabudana two to three times, pour water to just cover the sabudana and soak for three to four hours, at least. The sabudana is perfect, when it swells up beautifully soft, and when pressed between forefinger and thumb, turns slightly mushy.
Once the sabudana is ready, blend together the green chilies, sugar and cumin seeds coarsely. Then, take a handful of peanuts and dry roast over medium-heat until they are lightly toasted and give off a wonderful nutty fragrance.
While you roast the peanuts, set the potatoes for boiling. After they are done, peel and grate them over the drained sabudana. Once the peanuts are roasted, gently rub off their roasted, papery skins, between your palms and toss the nuts into a grinder to blend to a coarse powder.
Using your hands, mix in all the ingredients -- the blended green-chili-sugar-cumin paste, powdered peanuts, boiled potatoes, chili powder, salt, lemon juice and chopped cilantro -- into the sabudana. Taste for seasoning, and mold into small to medium-sized spheres. While you mold the spheres, heat peanut oil for frying in a wok.
Deep-fry the spheres or vadas until they turn up flush and golden-brown. If there are any left by the time you finish frying, serve with a mixture of two to three tablespoons of coarsely ground peanuts, a green chilli blended with half-a-teaspoon of sugar and cumin seeds, each, a quarter teaspoon of salt in three to four tablespoons of whipped home-made curd.
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