Sansar Padwe che parbe Jovan OR The typical festive lunch on Gudi Padwa/yugadi.

In those days, when questioning traditions was the norm for me, I questioned the wisdom of cooking innumerable dishes in the name of the parab (Festival). What was the point, I thought? These days, all the way in the US of A, with the freedom to cook what I want, when I want and nobody to even fault me or object for not going through the trouble of cooking the traditional feast (Well, they would object, but you know, rules of “what they don’t know won’t hurt them”, ignorance is bliss”, etc. apply), I am standing outside of my tiny kitchen, bleary-eyed, wondering why the heck am I up, at an ungodly hour, to cook up traditional parbe jovan (Festival Meal) ? I mean, seriously, why? Even in my half asleep, feet dragging mode, I can smell the beginnings of a post a mile away. What I wouldn’t give for the smell of fresh coffee to go with it…

Ah, but see, nothing is that simple in tradition-land. It never is. You see, on parab-day, you are not even supposed to step into the kitchen without having a bath –well, a shower– but it’s hair wash day, too. Yes, I said outside the kitchen earlier. After,you have purified yourself, you go ahead and give the kitchen the same treatment. What is it I hear you say? Cooking ?? Oh no, you don’t start cooking until you have cleaned the kitchen and then after you have done cooking, you clean it again. Oh yeah!

Ok, the rules are not that strident in every household. Growing up with my Bapama (read the about page, people), they were that strident in my house. She was a stickler for tradition and made sure we followed it strictly. Everything had to be done just the way it is supposed to be done, every rule followed to the T and every ritual performed. I remember times, when we visited mangalore (the heartland of everything Konkani). Our cousins, aunts and uncles would express surprise at how much us bombay-bred-teenage-brats knew about all-things konkani and I would see my Bapama beeming with pride at having brought us up right. And I remember us feeling very warm and fuzzy at having made her proud. That didn’t stop us from complaining about all her strict rules and stickler-ness (is that a word?) for traditions when not in front of everyone else, of course. See, we grew up in a multi-cultural city and the multi-cultural cuisine was what we preferred to the daily dose of Daalitoy/Saar,the Koddels and the Ghashi-s and the upkari-s etc. Nope, we wanted what the neighbors were eating and what was dished out at the restaurants and all of the so-called (in-our-view) cool food. A holiday was the only day Mom would make them for us. Now, if that holiday turned to be a parab, we were in for a Aamchi that transcended all levels of aamchi-ness((Short for Aamchigele, which is what Konkani’s call themselves, loosely means ‘our people’). And then, the no onion-garlic rule. No wonder, my brother would call it Martial Law. He still does. We still do.

So, why am I doing it? Why am I up, this early in the morning and not stepping into the kitchen to get my coffee, but taking a bath and cleaning the kitchen before I get the caffeine dose that would finally wake me up? I don’t know. I.dont.know.

And yet, I go through the steps and make the age old meal that we have had on every Sansar Padwa/Gudi Padwa/Ugadi. Conciously and subconciously, I follow the steps I have seen my mom and bapama take year after year. Steam the idlis and make the chatni for breakfast. Chop the vegetables, apply masala to the veggies for phodis (a cousin of Bhajjiyas), then make the ghashi (legumes in coconut gravy), the madgane (Roasted Chana Daal in Coconut Milk sweetened with jaggery), the upkari (a vegetable stir-fry) , then Daalitoy (the mother daal, no parab meal is complete without this),and then I deep fry the phodis as I make rice on the other burner. In that order. As I think about it, it all makes sense. The things that are to be served hot are made last, so that they remain hot as the food is being served. Even the kitchen-cleaning business makes sense, Why wouldn’t starting in a clean kitchen make sense? There is a method to the madness.

As familiar aromas waft through the suddenly active house, I see the look on my husband’s face. The same look that is echoed on mine. It is the look of comfort, of being home in a strange land, of the childhood gone by and the reluctant adult-hood that has been thrust upon us. Suddenly, I know.

It is not to uphold traditions and to keep our culture alive which was the driving force for my bapama, I think. It is not even visions of her floating down from the heavens to give me an earful for not walking on the footsteps, she went to so much trouble to make sure were there for us. Though, believe me, that is reason enough. Uffff…
I do it, to re-create and re-live those smells and memories of days gone by. I do it to create new memories for Aayush and Anoushka. Creating New ‘Old’ memories. I look at my toddlers wrinkling their nose at the food and I whisper, ‘You will know’…