Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holi Greetings, and some chit chat...

I tried explaining Holi to my colleagues at work today- and all that came to mind was it is a Spring festival. But trust people to come up with interesting "observations"! I pulled up some pictures on the net, and a student asked- why is everyone wearing white? And why do you put on colors? The explanation I concocted on the spur of the moment- because white is the color of winter, and we're covering it with colors of Spring- sounded so right, even to my ears.....that I let them assume that this was age-old wisdom, rather than a fabric of my imagination :-)

This year, I've been pretty lazy. Haven't done anything to mark the day. But then, I was never a Holi person. It takes a special kind to love all the rowdiness and noise that accompanies Holi celebrations in India :-) The images that do crop to mind are ancient....

(1) my mom stringing makhane, popcorn, candy and some money into a necklace the day before.  We wore those necklaces and grazed on candy the whole day- it was a big treat. And then used that money to buy balloons from the neighborhood "Holi Mela".

(2) soaking the early spring flowers in water- mostly Harshringar and Palaash- then using that colored water to drench the passersby in. My dad, always the stickler for raising "well-behaved kids on the block" instructed us to "ask permission before throwing color" on the huge swarm of uncles and auntys that went door to door with the quintessential dhol-wala playing loud, vibrant  music - the group expanding at every doorstep.

And finally ...

(3) my mom getting ready with all the food, that was very specific to Holi in our home- Zarda for the PujaMathriGujhiyaKanji and Thandai to greet the guests on the day of Gulal play.

The old-fashioned sil-batta, similar to what my mom had.
I've dabbled with trying to make almost everything listed up here, except Thandai.  My dad loved my mom's version of it but we kids refused to taste it. So now, I have no idea what hers tasted like.  But since I hung out so much with her, I know exactly what went in there- almonds, black peppercorns, khuskhus (poppy seeds) and Char magaz - which literally translated means 4 seeds, and is a mixture of pumpkin, cantaloupe, musk melon and watermelon seeds. She soaked all of these together the night before, and then used the old-fashioned sil-batta to grind them slowly, and painfully. The resulting thin watery paste, she scooped up into a bowl very skillfully.  Once done, she would strain through the finest muslin cloth she had on hand. After straining, she mixed the liquid with cardamom powder, fennel powder, milk and water with sugar to taste. My role in all that, to stir in crushed dried rose petals, and saffron right before she served it!

That was her- me, I have just started to make Thandai out of those ready-made mixes that my MIL has  brought for me over  her past trips to us.  All you do is mix up 1-2 Tbsp of the paste in milk, and drink it. My MIL says that it is the best-tasting Thandai available in the market.  I have no idea if my Thandai tastes like my mom's, but I know that every time I have it, I see my mom hunched over on her grinding stone, making it the old-fashioned way. And every Holi, I regret that I didn't have the appreciation of it way back then.... perhaps some day, I'll gather up enough courage to try and make it her way.

In the meantime, it's time to have my quick version of Thandai, and soak in the sun on this beautiful day today, here in Philadelphia. Happy Holi's time to let it all hang loose and post some of your ugliest, most ridiculous pictures on FaceBook :-)