Kitchen of my Amma and her Rituals…

Angithee and the Agni Dev

During my childhood, in early sixties, in Shimla, for my Amma, a routine job like, cooking food was not less than religious ritual. Amma would  cook food on a Angithee which would have coal in it. Old iron buckets would be used to make this Anghithee.  The ironsmith would cut a hole on one side of the bucket and would fit an iron grill at the center of the bucket. Mixture of fine clay and shredded drass would be used to line the inside of the Angithee and the top would have three round projections to hold the cooking vessels and also to let the air and fire flames pass from below!

The last kitchen chore that my Amma would do was to give this Angeethi a fresh coating of clay. Even this was a ritual worth explaining. The used coals, still hot and buring, would be put out from the Angithee and the Angithee would be prepared for the morning use. Amma would give a fresh coat of clay to the Angithee. The liquid clay would at once dry as the angithee would be so hot even when there were no burning coals in it. The vapours would fill our small kitchenette with a smell which no perfume today can compensate for.

And why did Amma do all these rituals! For my Amma, and most of the women of her generation, Angithee was the abode of Agni Dev. Amma would purify her Angithee every time after cooking food. When she would cook food, the first offering of the food would be made to Agni Dev! Such was her belief that Agni has to be fed the first thing before serving food to anyone else. The food had to be pure! Nothing could or should defile food while being cooked.

During my recent visit to my Amma, I saw an old Angithee lying in the storehouse. No one ever uses it. It lies discarded lamenting, perhaps, her golden times.  I thought of all the ritualistic performance that this Angithee had seen and paid my obeisance to it for having been instrumental in feeding us.

I wanted to peep through relics and memories of my childhood—some old paraphernalia, books, papers and yellowed black & white photographs! I thought of annual issues of Purana, published by Gitapress Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh. I craved to find them.

“Amma, where are the old Puranas?” I shouted while searching for the old heap of books and paraphernalia that seemed so out of place in the marbled new construction that is my Amma’s proud home now. I had asked her as I was not able to locate the old books that during my childhood had made a small abode in Shimla, our home! I was searching for a part of my childhood that still was alive in the yellowed papers of the old books.

All those Puranas lay peacefully in a steel trunk lying in a corner of a room that had all the old unusable paraphernalia spread in it. I opened the trunk and scrambled through so many old papers, each of which had something or the other to remind me of. And then I came across Agni Purana. Now this was a Purana that I remembered only glancing at during my childhood as it didn’t have any stories in it! I loved reading anything and everything that had a story  but AgniPurana had description of many of the tricky religious practices. So this is the Agni Dev that my Amma fed everyday during her daily ritual.

But now when I had reached an age where such religious practices and methods interested me a lot, I picked up this Purana and went through some of its pages to have a look at it. The Purana had Agni Dev as the recite of various Akhyanas of the Purana and I found tits and bits of the Purana very interesting. The Purana was in a very bad shape. Its pages had yellowed, the paper cover had come off but luckily the inside was intact and in good shape. I wanted to carry it back with me to Hamirpur to read it and to find why my Amma religiously fed the god of the Angithee, the Agni Dev. And what I found in the Purana was nothing less than a miracle to me.

To be continued…..

My middle class sentiments: sensibilities or shakles???

Ah! Today when in the morning, I looked at what my Little one had to announce to the world, I was in for a big surprise! She had announced, uninhibitedly, her love for Simone de Beauvoir and her classic masterpiece “The Second Sex“. And i was suddenly reminded of my first reading of the book “The Second Sex” and identifying with much of the said and unsaid in the book. I realized after reading the book that women all over the world, of any nationality or creed, think in a similar manner. My second acquaintance with the book was when  I was in Hyderabad and my daughter had bought this book and flaunted it proudly to me and her Papa. KS was a bit uncomfortable looking at the title of the book but as he had had me as his wife of a considerably long time so these kind of books no longer surprised him much! Later we read together some of the portions of the book and had discussions about it. But all this happened inside the four walls of our home! I remember discussing about more explicit emotions and feelings during some very debatable seminars but then these seminars were also held inside four walls where like-minded persons discussed such topics. But when my daughter shouted at the top of her voice on Facebook how she loved the book, my middle class sentiments came rushing to me. The dilemma, whether these sentiments were sensibilities inbuilt in my persona during my growing up years or they were the shackles that stopped me from openly endorsing certain things that I would endorse in privacy of select few, be they my family or friends, faced me! Whether I was a hypocrite or only had my real self under wraps and covers which I would reveal to select few, made me uncomfortable. What was this middle class sentiments that had raised their ugly head when I was past middle age, made me think and think hard.

I had to peep, once again, inside the dark alleys of my childhood that took me back to early sixties when I grew up in narrow alleys of Lower Bazaar Simla. Why Simla, and why not Shimla? Because this past that i refer to relates to Simla and not in Shimla. Growing up in Lower Bazaar where we lived in a small house, the first house in a narrow alley, facing stairs. Stairs in Simla have always stood for me as vehicles to reach out–sometimes to reach down and sometimes to reach up. reaching up, metaphorically and symbolically always heralded positive feelings as it meant reaching the Mall from the Lower Bazaar and for any dweller of Lower Bazaar the Mall was the ultimate in everything–even in dreams!

The Mall signified freedom, anonymity and unbridled access to a life of dreams whereas the Lower Baaar meant shackles, familiarity and the harsh realities of real life! Where boys were either brothers or cousins and boy-friends were a creed of romantics that had to be talked about in hush-hush tones. Well, today some forty year later, when I am fifty-four, I can laugh at all those things which were so dreadful to me at that point of time. In our days, only “bad’ girls had boyfriends! If a boy from some other school would know your name you would have thousands of questions to answer HOW?? If your name was mentioned on a wooden desk of a class room, be sure that you were doomed for life as the name would be etched with a blade and nothing could undo the damage to the wooden desk or to the repute of the poor girl! If some boy called aloud your name, be sure to be censured by all the so called “good” girls! The boys in love were seen only in a movies and no doubt that “Bobby” became a hit during my college days! The most romantic of the boys would follow a girl till some distance on the road leading to her home, maintaining respectable distance. And still everybody else would know what was being cooked between the two! The examples are numerous and today might seem funny belonging to a world that has long been forgotten, even by those who lived in that world.

The Mall was the only place where a boy, and that too if he was a part of a big group of boys, could follow a girl,  in a group of girls, maintaining a steady distance! The only boys you talked to were your cousins or at the best your friend’s cousins! Life was interesting, very interesting! It was fun as no one would go to Facebook, the first thing in the morning, to declare his or her liking or love for a person, place or a thing!

That was surely “Love in Shimla” in the real way!

Sweet memories make a Home a Sweet Home…

When my little one tagged me on a picture on her Facebook account, I was surprised to see a one of the pictures of our home that was taken in the year 2006! One look at the picture and so many sweet memories c ame flooding down my memory lane. All sweet memories of the happy moments having spent together, the quality time that we shared together. Today all my kids are busy in their own life but these happy memories keep us bonded together despite the distance in time and places!

I remember having seen a pillow cover with these figures at one of my colleagues home. I was so attracted towards them that I wanted to copy them anywhere on anything. So the first time I painted these little figures was on one of my Dupattas. The suit is long back discarded but I have kept the Dupatta tagged securely as one of  my precious assortments. The Dupatta was done beautifully and I remember my kids weaving stories about the characters on the painted dupatta!

I remember clearly that it was during Diwali of 2005 when all Indian homes get a new look. We had a new distemper on the walls. I saw to it that we had it in earthy pale colour as the kids were planning to paint the wall this time. We had kept it secret from the maser of the house. It had to be a big surprise! So one day we bought the dry paint in rusty brown colour, a pack of favicol and some brushes. A ssoon as KS went to his office, we started with our plan. First thing was to draw a straight line so that the wall painting had some symmetry! What a tough job it was. Everytime we would draw the line and then see it from some distance, one or the other would say that the line was not straight! But later we had a consensus and a line was marked. Another one was also marked so that we had inner area marked for painting. We started drawing the figures with white chalk which was in abundant with me being a teacher!

We just modified the design the way it pleased us. I remember always adding three small figures and saying these are you three. I was so immersed in the painting that it came to represent my life surrounded by my own three kids. I would draw a mother figure and three kids around her. The little one had her own designs and she would at times tell me that I was not being very neat in painting!

We started on a very excited note but by afternoon, we were very tired. My elder daughter was constantly supplying us with hot cups of tea to keep us going. She would be asked at times to lend a little of help in painting some figures. My son, too, would help but mainly it was the little one and I who constantly went on to the end! By evening the painting seemed to come to life and it was a beauty to look at. It seemed as it whole of the room had acquired a life of its own with figures on wall.

we kept on filling whatever space on the painting  area seemed blank. The pastoral life of prehistoric time came to life in the painting. i remember painting a human figure climbing a tree that my little one said looked like a monkey. The thing was that nothing could be erased once drawn, so we had to be very careful. it was creativity along with ingenuity that had its play at our home that day!

And after some eight hours of hard work, the painting was finally completed. And the master of the home had a full laugh watching the surprised transformation of a plain wall!  With a horrible backache and arms ache because of continuous upward stretching of arms for long eight hours, we felt like dead horses! But the sense of having accomplished something worthwhile,working together, was heavenly. We had this wall painting till two years when the next whitewsh cleaned our wall of the precious moments of our life. Pictures of our home, with this painting on the wall, are the only memories that we have today but the memory of the happy time spent together, even today, fills our hearts with a beautiful sensation.

And we spent many a happy moments under the benevolent gaze of the figures in this painting! I am happy that my kids would carry the fragrance of the happy time having spent together. An investment that we had very wisely and lovingly made during their formative years!

Amma:The Real Source of my Strength…

Sunday, 5 December, 2010

Talking to Amma in the morning and listening to her, full of life, banal details made me suddenly realize that here is the real source of my strength. She always has stood for me and is there when I need her. Her benign presence around me has always filled me up with a new courage. Whether it was when Nidhu, my eldest daughter, was blessed with a baby and I was all alone at Hamirpur to look after her, Amma came all the way travelling a distance of over 100 kilometers on a motorbik eas she could not wait a second when she knew that I needed her. Or whether at the time when I had to go to Shimla to consult a lawyer but could not leave behind Nidhu with a young infant, Amma was there so that I could be free to go to Shimla. Amma has always provided me with strength and courage whenever I seemed to dwindle and weakened!

I know where I have got this strength from. My courage, the stamina and indomitable spirit comes from my Amma! Though I was always closer to Bauji and was always his favourite but looking back I can see clearly that it was Amma who was the force behind even my Bauji.

Like all small girls I, sometimes, would hate Amma as she was so strict with us. She still is a perfectionist and does the things in a manner that puts to shame all the youngsters. Recently I have been able to see another aspect of her courage that makes her the most revered person in my life and I can say loud and clear that the genes that made me so strong, come from her!

Amma, I simply adore you!