Monday, May 04, 2009

Agninakshatram

- by Janaki Krishnan
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Today is Agninakshatram. From now on, for a month, the Sun is at his best, and it is the season for making papads, pickles and masalas for the year.
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The terraces of Bombay's apartments are filled with papads drying in the sun. Housewives gather in the afternoons, and exchange recipes. They proudly declare how they got the best varieties of small green mangoes for pickling, at the cheapest price. I too enjoy the papad and picking season - especially after my retirement, when I feel the day has 48 hours.
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This year after finishing my mango purchase (not proud, as I could get only second-grade ones!), I turned to vegetables for inspiration - beans, okra, lotus stem, and bitter gourd. When salted and dried, these make excellent fried snacks. They don't involve much labour, and they're tastier than the rice vadams and karuvadams. I made a batch of salted fritters, and sent them to my daughters.
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Besides pickles and salted fritters, this is also the month when I buy my year's supply of tamarind. Tamarind is a must for all South Indians who cannot have a proper lunch without rasam or sambar. We buy the entire year's stock during summer when the prices are low and it is available in plenty. The tamarind is then de-seeded, dried, and stored in tight containers, along with salt.
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This year, as I sat deseeding the tamarind, my mind wandered to a scene 60 years ago...and I had a flashback, like we see in the movies. My sister, my brothers and I are sitting around a big pile of tamarind, removing the seeds. My brother sneaks a piece of tamarind into his mouth...and the rest of us are quick to shout...."Amma!!" Of course, my brother too gets his chance to shout when someone else eats a piece. When it turns into a fight, my mother steps in. "Don't eat too much", she says, "Or it will weaken your bones".
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These days, things have changed. With greater awareness about health, the consumption of pickles, fried items and tamarind comes with a warning. Cholestorol, blood pressure and diabetes have become familiar terms, frightening everyone. Besides, working women, whose tribe has increased since my childhood, hardly have time for such tasks. In their homes, readymade bottled pickles - Priya, Bedekar, and others - rule the roost. As bottled tamarind paste is available, nobody wants the headache of soaking, crushing and extracting tamarind essence for sambar. Women who balance career and home, and have to multi-task all the time, do need these conveniences.
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But oh! The joys of retirement! With unlimited time at my disposal, I find a new interesting task every day. Buying the vegetable, cutting it, cooking it, and drying it, takes the better part of the day. Then comes the pleasure of frying and tasting the first batch...and the satisfaction of distributing it to family and friends. Their words of appreciation bring a warm glow to my heart. The next day, its is another vegetable's turn, and the process goes on all through summer! Silly, you may think...but perhaps when you retire, you will understand these slow pleasures. Until then, enjoy the readymade stuff!
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(Posted by Deepa on behalf of Janaki)

15 comments:

Anu said...

Yummy post! Your family is lucky.

Anonymous said...

The vegetables are washed and cut, salt is sprinkled on them and then they are dried in the sun. Is that it? Correct me if I am wrong.

Blogeswari said...

Fantastic!! Are you guys selling these? Would love to buy 'em ! Missing my madras vaadams :(

Deepa Krishnan said...

ha ha no i'm afraid it's not for sale but you are welcome to come home for lunch, blogeswari!

Shaji.k said...

hi deepa, ur mom's description shows how organic and blended with nature, life should be. my mom at the moment is is busy with pickles and tamarind. i often shout at her as she's got bp and dr has advised her to avoid pickles. pappads etc. no way, she's going to listen to the doc.. what to do!

Ravi said...

Don't you see the sign of optimism and positiveness in the script. There is not a hint of complaints line " these days of speed", "crowd", "no space to dry things" etc. On the contrary there is positiveness in saying things like "They don't involve much labour, and they're tastier ","the Sun is at his best,""The joys of retirement! With unlimited time at my disposal" etc.

Deepa- Lucky you.

Blogeswari said...

Thank you Deepa. I just might drop in now that I have shifted out of the Western suburbs to the Central line!

Will try and get my mamiyar's vadams from South whenever she gets 'em. We could do a barter

radha said...

Cheers! What a positive attitude! Admire your outlook and despite leading a 'retired life' , you seem to be young at heart.

Ravi Ramakantan said...

Hmmm. Childhood memories Ma'm . Esp. the "Puli" part. My sisters, brother and I would sit, preening the seeds off and "process" them, so we could play all sorts of games with them in the summer vacation. Such activities did a lot to evolve our temporal lobes as opposed to modern kids.. who have it all on a platter.
"Thamari thandu vattal" is one of my favourites; one, I would fry myself (needless to say.. make a mess of the kitchen and burn a few). But, these days with high salt content.. I have to be a little careful.

All the same great fun with these childhood memories.. but all these traditions .. like so many others .. have vanished from at least all our families.. how sad!!

Deepa Krishnan said...

Hah, that reminds me of one of our favourite pastimes as kids - Take a tamarind seed, rub it hard against some surface...it gets hot easily with friction....find an unsuspecting boy....and press the seed on the inside of his arm. OW OW OW .....he he he

Ravi Ramakantan said...

>>Take a tamarind seed, rub it hard against some surface...it gets hot

As a teacher, I cannot let a "mistake" go uncorrected, Deepa.. I hope you will not mind :-)

Actually, whatyou mean is "soodu kottai" .. we used to get it around school and a lot of "masti" with that.

Here is a reference on this plant. Most of the stuff here is news to me though..
http://www.hindu.com/mp/2005/07/26/stories/2005072600210600.htm

Anonymous said...

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writerzblock said...

Came over from Facebook, and thoroughly enjoyed reading this (brought back childhood memories, though I never used to help my mum make her tamarind paste ;-), as well as Deepa's posts on Delhi. Will be back to read more!
Regards,
pal

blogtrotter said...

the dried chilly is also yummy in the south. the pics on your blogs are so refreshing. i have u on my blogroll.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading/following your page.Please keep it coming. Cheers!