5.17.2005

A wholesome brahmin meal!

Declared as the most hygienic meal in the world, this is a spread to be seen, tasted and enjoyed. Authentically speaking, the dishes are served in a banana leaf, which is cut and washed and laid out in a line, narrow side to the left of the person. All the family members sit on the floor and get served. Big leaves for the male adults, small leaves for the children, women eat later - standard practise! (interestingly the men dont even bother to ask if the women had a filling meal.)

A typical practise is to start serving with the payasam(or sweet) at the bottom right of the leaf. Next to follow is the main course. No body starts the meal before the side dishes are served first. This would include two curries, typically beans in coconut, and dry potato if you got lucky, typically rationed...all good things are rationed. Along with it is "pollangai kuutu" which has turned yellow showing the turmeric presense in it. A pickle is a must and so is the apalam/ papadam(the greatest invention of man, something that is jealously guarded and unfortunately rationed - i never understood that though). These kuutus and curries are assigned places on the banana leaf. The occupy the upper section of the leaf beyond the midriff away from you. The dal, of course is at the bottom right next to the payasam. By now the payasam would be meandering to the center of the leaf or probably out, so your fight to keep the food within the boundaries of the leaf has begun. Ha! wait till the rasam comes!!!

Once these are served, the big guys show up, hot steaming rice served from a plate and not from a vessel, and the ghee and the sambar! A few faces would fall if what fell out with the sambar were healthy drumsticks laughing at you on the descent to the leaf when you hoped to see small onions (man nothing like onion sambar with potato and apalam). The ritual begins, the older respected men folk pick up their steel tumblers and perform a small ritual, i would assume was offering the food to the Gods, who by now would have wondered whether the menu was all that great! ;)

This ritual (if i remember seeing it right) entails the person to put some water into his right palm, circle it around the banana leaf thrice, guiding the right hand with the left, the ring finger of which touches the elbow of the right hand along the way, dropping water into the kuutu, mumbling something(which i cant remember) and finally consuming what ever is left of it and sprinkling the remaining over their heads. there is a way of holding the palm... well what ever.. we discriminated women never got to learn it...will ask dad and come back.

Well by now, the meal begins, the payasam goes in first, then the dal gets mixed with the rice which now is soaked in sambar and all you can see is a bunch of drumsticks partying above it. They are promptly picked and left to the top right corner of the leaf, to be dealt with later. Why not consume it right away? well there is a reason!! if you consume any thing you dont like, you get served again and the pain of consuming it the second time is a pain you just dont want to go through. The avaraikaays and the drumsticks belong to the category of perennial vegetables in the leaf that just dont go down your throat till the end of the meal - hence the party!

The apalams and the potatoes invariably get over and a second helping is doubtful, increasing your psychological state that your hunger has just not died. This is a problem in brahmin households where we kids are always hungry because the good food is never enough while the brinjals and the less interesting vegetables always seem to come in for even a third helping. Post sambar rice, is rasam! A watery soup delicious to taste but hard to handle on a banana leaf if you are not accustomed to it. Its not a simple meandering stream in your leaf, its a flood!

Its an art to lift off watery soups with rice vigorously off your plate and not have it dripping along the way. Of course you would not want to see a few adults almost lick up to the end of the palms to stop the rasam from flowing down to their elbows. Its a sight!!! When you think the war with liquids is over in comes the second round of payasam which is served after the first two courses just before the grand finale - curd rice. The entry of curd rice into your leaf indicates you are at the end of your meal. Curd is an amazing creation and with rice its just simply out of the world. Its one of the coolest, simplest most healthy foods. Curd declares closure of the meal, by now all those drumsticks and kuutus have to get cleared if not done already. Every thing gets cleared leaving the leaf empty for the cows.

Meanwhile, handling boring veggies and fat drumsticks is an art. Either you have them to the end, to avoid being served again, which is the case when a painful uncle decides to chew your happiness and says in loud heehaws "hey serve her some more drumstick..." or the ever so generous women of the house decide to feed you well with the wrong things. So how do you hide these guys when you really dont want to eat them?

There are a few prerequisites for this. To start with you need to be served in steel plates, so that you can guide the drumsticks to the dust bin and not have a health concious aunt say " hey why did you leave it, dont you like it" very emotionally that makes you squirm on the way, worse mom hears it and makes you eat it, standing where ever you are, while the other cousins laugh triumphantly on the way declaring they have completed their meal, showing fairly clean plates.

But well if you DO manage to get to the sink, you simply take the less fortunate drumsticks and tuck them into a plate which was ideally used by another cousin so that he gets caught and you dont. Dont put in adult plates, they normally chew the drumstick so bad that you feel sad... "party is over guys", for what remains of the drumstick is a sad fibrous mass, from which every shred of life has been sucked out by extremely powerful set of teeth. They leave nothing to doubt. The drumsticks are now truly dead. If you dont get another plate to tuck the drumstick into, then put it in the dustbin, but be careful, hide it under something, for example, mango skin cleaned out, or an aavin/heritage milk packet, or coconut fibre which is on the top layer of the dustbin so that the wastage is not clearly visible. If it is there is a cry from the kitchen, "who wasted the drumstick" and all the kids end up pointing to each other. Its judgement time and all of us chose to avoid the confrontation.

Finishing a less interesting meal, is a task, where you psychologically read the mind of the elderly lady serving so that you dont call attention to yourself and hence dont have more drumsticks falling into your banana leaf. It used to be a lot of brain work to get those veggies into a very rebellious throat which would simply not approve of it.

And now when i look back after hostel and eating all over the place... i cant wait to just sink my teeth into drumstick and chew the last bit of life out of it!!!

I miss a truly amazing brahmin meal when i dont get one!

17 comments:

JC Joshi said...

Hi Kavitha,
It was an interesting reading!

I could visualize the fun, to some extent, as I had seen also some ‘South Indian’ boys in our mess while I was in the engineering college. Although, sambhar/ rasam were not served - if he happened to be seated on the same table that accommodated twelve boys at one time - one was astonished, when one saw a particular boy for the first time, at the speed with which he used to consume rice balls made with dal or curry. One ball after another - quickly mashed within the fist to save the jaws the effort - entered his mouth. Perhaps he was in a hurry to consume his larger quota of rice within the time the others took their meal of chapati and curry etc. For it was a custom that all would leave the table at the same time when the meal was over, and therefore, no one liked to keep others waiting for one to finish.

Later, during the educational tour, we had more experience, mainly of watching people in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu eating on plantain leaves. For us it used to be an exercise to locate some place where we could get chapatis/ Puris with potato curry or even fried ones. Those days, railway stations in the south didn’t have restaurants, for everyone carried his own meal! We had to order the railway officials in advance so that dosa and dal vada packets were provided to us at some designated station… It is rightly said, “Travelling is education.”

It was in the year ’61, when I was a ‘student trainee’ at the Rourkela Steel Plant in Orissa, that I frequented the South Indian canteen the first time, instead of the North Indian one that was on the first floor where I went only the first day and experienced the poor or slow service. Initially it was mainly on account of the quick service available in the SI canteen. I was happy to see that the bearer would put two glasses of water immediately after one was seated at one of the tables. It suited me most as I used to consume water in between my normal meal. The standard meal, in a plate with compartments, would then be served soon thereafter. I liked the food also, and therefore continued it for the remaining part of my 90-day training… The first day, I heard someone shouting to the bearer, “More”. I thought he wanted more rice. To my surprise, however, I saw the bearer serving him buttermilk instead! It was a part of my education. I too demanded ‘more’ confidently at the end of my meal!

The snacks - idli, dosa and vada with sambhar - have become very popular in the North, as these are cheaper and healthy too. Of course, their popularity has resulted in A/C restaurants/ roadside open-air-restaurants, to come up - like mushrooms after rains. And, also the prices have relatively shot up considerably. I bring home vada very frequently as my daughter also likes to have it after she returns home from work.

kavitha said...

Of course I forgot to add, when my sister used to get those drumsticks with my uncles heehawing in the background, she would yell out to grandma - "enna pati, ambadu murunkai, ithunundu sambar!!!" - translates to "what pati, 50 drumsticks and so less sambar"

we still hava a good laugh over that one

JC Joshi said...

I too remembered to add that in the house allotted to my father, we had two trees already existing in the courtyard before we had moved in there. One used to bear drumsticks and the other the Parijat or Harshringar flowers - that are offered to Lord Shiva. We were therefore used to eating drumsticks and had also developed taste for it. And, we, the children used to help our mom in counting the flowers early morning, during the concerned season everyday, so that she could offer one lakh flowers to the deity.

Another remarkable feature was the manner in which our beloved and the most gentle spaniel dog, who was ailing for some time, was found dead one day - lying prostrated on the floor, with the front paws extended towards the Harshringar tree as if it was Lord Shiva Himself personified! Food wasn't cooked that day in our house:(

JC Joshi said...

In a layman’s attempt to reaching the communication, I would just give certain observations, to avoid ‘spoon feeding’, the typical Mother & Child function, and leave the interpretation to the reader.

Payasam or Kshir (opposite of Nir or water, one of the Panchbhoots that is colourless and therefore mixes with all liquids easily. And, as against cream rising to the top of milk, it is the scum that rises to its top) is prepared from white rice, white coloured milk, and white sugar. And, with Hindu belief in mind, it could represent the physical form of Vishnu the Creator, or Brahma the Sun, the source of white light. (One has come to learn that the sun or a star is a fire ball that mainly contains the number one element, Hydrogen, while the inert end product of fusion, Helium - like human beings cover their body with a cloth/ shawl - envelops the Hydrogen in the core.)

The source of milk, i.e., cow - as per the mythology - evolved as one of the products that resulted from 'Sagar Manthan'. The churning itself was made possible by Vishnu the Destroyer, or Shiva, consuming the poison or Halahal, the first product that would otherwise have made it impossible to continue churning to the fourth stage, or reaching the ‘Truth’ or the formless Vishnu… Like Payasam, Curd rice also has white rice, white milk in an evolved form that turns sour with time, and white salt that replaces the sweet sugar and is sour in taste. With ‘Truth is bitter’ in mind, one could perhaps guess why it is taken as the last item… I was offered at the end of the meal a leaf from the neem tree, and salt for cleaning the hands in a meal to which I was invited in Manipur, one of ‘seven sister states' in the Northeast.

Anonymous said...

Hey Kavitha,
Anonymous of the Vimana here. Do you IM on Yahoo

kavitha said...

ok... so there are two "anonymous" people here. this is to the anonymous of vimana. unfortunately i do not chat on yahoo. it has been disabled.

maybe you have a name i can call you with.. this anonymous trip is just not doing me any good anymore.

Muralikrishnan said...

Good one Kavitha !
Enjoyed this posting ... much as I enjoy the typical Brahmin meal :-)

JC Joshi said...

Hi Kavitha!

I couldn’t believe Ms Mala when she revealed herself to be the anonymous person. Now my suspicion is proved true by the emergence of yet another ‘Anonymous’ or Mr Anon.

As I said elsewhere also, such characters - although also an image of the one and only Creator - act as obstacles in the path of a ‘true seeker’ by diverting one’s attention. That happens to be the ‘role’ assigned to such characters, fortunately or unfortunately for the seeker...

In the specific case, as I happened to come across the blog and decided to help her as a ‘Guru’ having more experience, I found Ms Kavitha trying ‘to enter the mind’ of the ancient Hindus who attempted to communicate the ‘Truth’ about the Creator - as they had realized it at a certain cross section of time and place - through their creations. I had clarified to her how ‘Vimana’ was a multi-purpose instrument to retain the concerned Pharaoh’s ‘soul’ to hover near his body, preserve the body of the Pharaoh for long, and energise the soul to an ‘elevated level’ so as to enable it to find a suitable body at a later date for the common good… A similar experiment was also reportedly carried out by the Theosophical Society of India. They selected Jaddu Krishnamurthy to act as a medium to receive the soul of the Buddha to find solution to World Peace in the present day context. The said experiment didn’t succeed as JK reportedly failed at the last moment… The elevation of the individual’s soul, naturally, was also demonstrated by experience of ancient Yogis who went and lived in Himalayan caves and reached a state of ‘eternal bliss’ just by their detached lives… It is known that the Himalayas trend West-East and houses temples, called ‘Shakti-Peetha’ or the ‘centres of energy’, and the Pyramidal shapes, even in Egypt etc. were also oriented with sides facing the cardinal directions… Vivekananda, however, stated that detachment or minimum thought state could be reached even while one remained a householder, i.e., it was just an exercise in achieving a change of mental attitude…

Eventually, example is cited of ‘Elephants (Ganesha) not caring for barking dogs when it walks down the road’, perhaps as one of the innumerable communications in Nature, thanks to the Creator who is a Muni, or the one who chooses to remains silent, while being in a super conscious state Himself…

One hopes that Mr Anon would prove to be a source of happiness for all by making useful contributions in reaching the ‘Truth’ or Satchitanand the ‘eternal bliss’, and not ‘discussions’ for the sake of pastime only... My French teacher used to say that there are numerous other hobbies, which one could adopt, if one isn’t interested in following a particular one…

Best wishes to all.

Vimanonymous said...

For a person who proclaims to be of a "Guru" like disposition of the mind, Mr Joshi some trends in your post really baffle me...Let me try to answer a couple of them...
"blah blah blah...act as obstacles in the path of a ‘true seeker’ by blah blah blah"
>>>>>Act as Obstacles?...what is a True Seeker? and instead of focusing on the substance you seem to be disturbed by the lack of identity?? what happened to the fabled acceptance of things the way they are rather than requestioning again and again??
"One hopes that Mr Anon blah blah blah....BIG BLAH"
Does a true seeker have a predefined notion of what is a useful contribution or what is not? unless it falls within his tunnel vision?
" had clarified to her how ‘Vimana’ was a multi-purpose instrument blah blah blah"
Mr Joshi,
You are brilliant! Whatever i wrote on the Vimana subject was just a small fraction of your understanding...please dont feel threatened by a nameless identity...please continue with your sagacious inputs...seek the truth...the one that is deep inside you...Atamaveva Paramatmaha..

JC Joshi said...

I had only said that truth cannot be expressed in words, however, words become necessary when you wanr to communicate to the masses. One needs more words, more examples, and 'blah blahs', when one addresses a group, particulrly when background of each individual forming the group is not known. One can thus visualise the difficulty a teacher has when he takes the class of beginners... I had agreed that each of us exists under a pseudonym, therefore a name, like the 'label on a bottle', doesn't necessarily communicate the maturity of the contents and is therefore immaterial, except to act as a number given to a prisoner...

We, Indians, are compared to frogs that can be transported in bottles without their lids on, for each frog would pull the legs of any one who would attempt to escape out of the bondage inside the bottle...

As far as I am personally concerned, I have learnt a lot about the Creator and His design thanks to the apparent 'hurdles'.
I have learnt to respect my environment, from the 'lowly' dust to the grand earth thanks to the ancient 'Hindu' belief that 'He' resides in each and every atom. It was a 'foreigner' from whom I learnt that when a 'Hindu' says 'Namaste' to another individual, in fact, he prays to the God who resides within that individual!

I hope the above would help at least in reaching a corner of my 'mind' to some extent, and help in reaching the mind of the 'ancients'.
Thanks!

JC Joshi said...

Hi Kavitha!

The web site even seems to have got confused. It shows nine comments when there are ten! Thus the eleventh one to see if it helps in correcting it:)

vimanonymous said...

God help you mr joshi! ...lemme explain...please read and understand before the ramble of your vast experience....
You suggested that "people who are anonymous act as obstacles..." PRAY WHY? Because they havent named themselves so that you can put a face to the name?
You said that "useful contributions and not ‘discussions’ for the sake of pastime only..." how do u know what is useful and what is not? how can u even think of judging someone who has made a contriubtion as a contributing for pastime?
incidentally..its the indian crab syndrome you are trying to disguise as a frog syndrome...i wonder is that why you think someones posting is not useful and only for passing time?;)

JC Joshi said...

Thank you Mr Anon for praying for me! I also do the same for all, because unlike the majority, eventually based on experience I have accepted the ancient belief that each one of us is 'His image', reflecting some cross section of time and place in the past. I therefore can enjoy seeing my once-upon-a-time reflection in your behaviour too... I see my old reflections in children who play cricket/ fly kite in the park in the 'present', and so on...

With a changed mental attitude, if one tried one also could see, like the 'wise' ancients, one's own reflection in dust/ ashes that everyone would one day turn into in 'future'...

However, one might or might not learn - or learn when time is either ripe or when it is too late - from one's environment, and one's personal experiences when seen in retrospect. If all men had similar inclinations, wars wouldn't have continued to happen, and become even bloodier with advanced technology, after the UNO had come into existence... Maybe it's God will that matters...

I had in the very beginning said that 'war of words' could go on for ever. So let us bless each other's soul, or in other words wish all the best to the poor God in achieving His purpose, whatever it might be...

Amen!

kavitha said...

hi vimanonym,

go easy on Mr.Joshi. i just feel he has found people who would listen to what he has to say about life with all his rich experience.

i am not saying he might always be right, sometimes i wish he went easy on language...
but he might just have a point. he is also still "searching" ... like the rest of us! :)

abhilash warrier said...

Hey people,

Co-existence. Ever heard that word?

Continue the comments. With or without identity.

Meanwhile, you keep writing, Kavi!

vimanonym said...

ha ha ha abilash! u seem to be very wise! it just irritated me that a long drawn post was put on commenting about the lack of a name, obstacle in teh path of the true(Sic) seeker, etc

Rangakrishnan Srinivasan said...

hmmm.. so the concept of boring veggies is universal; more too the generous helpings of the brinjals and the likes.

well, a vivid description of the banana leaf and the meal itself. all that i can do nowadays is to derive vicarious pleasure by thinking about these things (which I sadly used to take for granted) or by reading about them.

even mess food seems to be divine nowadays. :)

overall, a wonderful post. thank you!