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Fasting, feasting

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As the festive season is on us and we are at a striking distance from Deepavali, crackers or no crackers, I am transported back to the 1950s, when the cost of a saer (old Indian weight and liquid measure, a little less than a litre) of milk was approximately what would now be in the range of 75-80 paise. Same was the price of a gallon (about four-and-a-half litres) of petrol. And, if I am not mistaken, even a packet of Capstan cigarette, my father’s favourite, cost the same. Those were also the days when my siblings and I were in great awe of our grandmother because of the control she exercised on our parents.

My grandmother, as I recollect, was svelte, short and a bit reclusive and kept herself busy by her own ritualistic routine. I remember that her food was cooked separately, because she ate only non-cereal items (phalahar). Actually, she went non-cereal on festival days since she was fasting; but as the saying went, there were nine festivals every seven days (sat vaar, nao tyohar). And what a treat those non-cereal delicacies provided, whenever we got a chance to partake of them! My love of those delicacies has made me a “fasting” addict.

Daily, she also used to drink tea or coffee or, occasionally, cocoa. The drink of the day was served to her early in the morning in a metal lota (equivalent to a mid-sized kettle). The time spent in consuming the contents was usefully utilised in planning the dishes of the day, in consultation with her widowed daughter, my eldest aunt.

All said and done, we were always in great awe of our grandmother because of her temper and tantrums. But she had a strange phobia, which made us believe that she was after all a human being. Whenever clouds started gathering in the sky, she would get into bed and cover herself from head to foot. In addition, she would place a pillow around her ears. It was my elder sister’s duty then to keep the pillow tightly pressed, lest the thunderclap penetrated her ears.

But then came the day when the child brigade, led by older sister and brother, won an unusual victory, the fruits of which all of us, including my younger brother and me, savoured.

One day, my grandmother overheard my elder sister and brother discussing the feathers of the peacock tail. She intervened to assert that it was the peahen which had the quill feathers. Her argument was that females of the species were more beautiful than the males. And since, the feathers, in bloom, looked so beautiful, it had to be peahen. There was a bet between them that she will give ten rupees for buying Deepavali crackers if she lost.

Of course she lost, when the textbook, buttressed by consultation with other adults, proved her wrong; there was no Google baba those days. The bet earned them a princely equivalent of today’s ₹5,000. The entire amount was spent on buying a huge basket of firecrackers, several times our annual ration.

vkagnihotri25@gmail.com


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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 6:48:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/fasting-feasting/article37136761.ece

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