Today is Janmashtmi. Birthday of Lord Krishna. A significant day in Hindu mythology. My mother (Ma) called me up last evening to say that it would be nice if I could fast today. ‘For old times’s sake’- that’s what she said. I quite fell for the palpable emotion in her voice. She used the same pitch & intonation that always works on me like magic and it becomes very difficult to say no to her. So I said a reluctant ok and she quickly hung up without giving me a chance to change my mind.
At my end of the phone, I was left wondering if just the fasting bit would really justify the old times. Images- random, staccato, one after the other surfaced from different corners of my head. Our house in Gaya where I grew up, large balcony, huge terrace, hills at a distance, trees all around, smiling faces, loud voices, those musical noises from my grandmom’s (dadi) kitchen and that aroma from her festive concoctions…I was transported back in time within seconds.
A bit about my grandmother. She was a unique woman with a very strong personality given the era she lived in. She was extremely independent and full of life. Cooking, gardening and reading were her favourite passtimes. Thanks to her, we had an all year supply of garden fresh vegetables and fruits. Her clarity & determination about things was a virtue I secretly envied. I can not recollect a single instance where I have seen her conflicted. She made the most trickiest of decisions with elan. She was a little hard of hearing for a long time but never lamented about it. Not once. Infact, I feel that it somehow contributed a great deal in the calmness she exuded. We did get her a hearing aid at some point which she tried and rejected in a matter of days. Now in retrospect, I think that she was happier in that noiseless, clutter-free world of her’s where she could choose to listen rather than forced to hear. The most significant part of her personality was that she was a ‘God-loving’ person. I don’t want to call her ‘God- fearing’ because I can not associate fear with her persona. Fear in any form was not her. She was fearless of everything. Her belief in God’s existence and his ways was very deep-rooted. She was heavily into rituals and did not miss her morning prayers for a single day in her life. Even in her last days when she was bed-ridden, she chanted her prayers every morning. She was truly madly deeply in love with the creator of her world.
So now you can begin to understand the magnitude of significance that all religious occasions held in her life. Especially birthdays! So Janmashtmi for her, was a lavish affair. I woke up to the noises from her kitchen and knew that I was fasting today! 🙂 Well planned and organised- she would churn out delectable vegetarian (phalahar) dishes, one after the other for everyone who was fasting. Mostly it was mom and me along with her. Rest of the family members (read men) still managed to taste her cooking because of the puppy dog expressions that they had mastered over the years. Dadi could turn any regular dish into an exquisite delicacy with just the swoosh of a hand, literally! I often wonder if she had a magic wand for a spatula. Sabudana kheer, ararot puris, aaloo bhujiya, fried makhana and peanuts, banana shake (made with a wooden-churner) are some of her patent dishes that I have not yet managed to replicate in my kitchen. Then there was this special khichdi made with broken rice and lentils which we used to have at midnight after wishing Happy Birthday to lord Krishna and offering prayers. It was the tastiest khichdi that she made in the entire year. Even she could not replicate it for the next 364 days. Or maybe it was the setting that added to its unique flavour. Each year, we sat on the floor at midnight around the nicely lit diyas and ate with our fingers in silence. Then we headed for the most peaceful sleep after a feastful day of fasting.
After smiling to myself for a long while, I called up Ma and without giving her a chance to rustle up the same tone in her voice, I refused. I told her that it was difficult for me to fast all by myself and I had meetings to attend and other logistical rationale that daughters usually give to mothers. I know I’m not ready for this, probably I will be when my little daughter is a bit older and we can together try and recreate the setting that I carry in my mind and some magic in my kitchen. And that for me, truly would be for old time’s sake!