Those women possibly did not have the luxury of whole day shopping sprees or kitty parties. They did not haunt restaurants at lunch time much to the annoyance of some fellow guests- mostly intolerant businessmen. They did not have access to telephones or Facebook to chat, exchange notes and recipes, their joys and sorrows, and all the goss! They only had their unofficial ‘over the fence’ or the afternoon ‘sit down’ chat sessions (seriously! I still remember neighbouring aunties inviting mother to come to their homes “to sit”). And they had their communal hang out ‘katta’ in their colonies or ‘wadas’ for a sundowner of sorts!
But their officially sanctioned “all women get-togethers” were the “barsa” or the christening or naming ceremony of a baby, the “dohaley jevan” or baby shower and the numerous “haldi-kunkum ” ceremonies dotted throughout the year.
Essentially social gatherings, these occasions were used to exchange Haldi or turmeric, a multifaceted spice of life and Kunkum – traditionally a vermillion powder/paste with which women mark themselves (and other women). The kunkum, strategically marked on the forehead- believed to be the holiest place in the human body and the site of the sixth energy chakra- was a symbol of their married status.
These occasions were celebrations of and thanks giving for their good fortune, where women implicitly wished each other a lifelong privilege of staying married.
It was typical to have haldi-kumkum functions to mark Sankranti, Chaitra Gauri and Shravan Shukravar. We would be invited to many homes on the same day. I used to love going with mother, as I got to dress up in a parkar-polka (traditional skirt and blouse) and to party hop- toting our little loot bags filled with a random collection of betel leaves and betel nuts, flowers, fruit, coconuts, bangles, flowers and coconuts. All these were inconsequential to us kids- what interested us the most were the little party favours like hair clips, boxes- done to death and in the spirit of ‘keeping up with the Joshis’ !
Another fascinating feature of these occasions were the displays of art and craft that women put up- in miniature tabluex, dioramas depicting the lives of the goddesses or kings and the exhibition of their culinary skills- the best cut gujias, the most meticulously formed chaklis, the most perfectly rounded laddus, the most thorny and spiky sugar halwa spun around sesame seeds!
But nothing would beat the tasty snacks! It was customary to offer season specific snacks or tidbits- candied seasme seeds, gajaks, bite size pieces of sugar cane, jujube fruit, hari boot (garbanzo) pods or fronds for the Sankranti Haldikumkum! Kairiche Panhe or aam panna, a raw mango drink and ambyachi daal were usually the fare at the Chaitra Gauri one which fell in the spring/summer months of March/April.
Mother participated in these traditional functions wholeheartedly, but hosted her own “do”s with a difference. She believed in using these occasions create an awareness of causes. I remember a Haldi Kunkum where women, who had come in expecting to take away some little useful, frivolous or symbolic gift, were given a certain amount of money, only to be requested to put it back into a little piggy bank mother had fashioned out of flower vase. This money, symbolically ‘blessed’ by these women, was sent as a contribution to my grandmother’s Marathwada Famine relief fund! Thrilled by this idea, all women contributed more money on their own as well- and left the function feeling good about giving- and not just taking!
Ambyachi daal or Raw Mango is a tangy, tasty and cooling chanadal salad/snack. An all time favourite, this is very simple to make- with no cooking involved, except for the tempering, which can be imminently missed, if you so desire!
1 cup chana dal, picked, washed, soaked for 4-5 hours or overnight and drained
½ cup chopped or grated raw mango (or more, depending on the sourness)
2 green chillies chopped (or more)
2 tbsp fresh grated coconut
½ tsp minced ginger (optional)
½ tsp cumin seeds
A pinch of sugar (or sweetener)
Salt to taste
1 tbsp chopped coriander for garnishing
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
5-6 curry leaves
1-2 dry red chillies (or more)
A generous pinch of hing
½ tsp turmeric
Put together all the raw ingredients, except the coriander, and pulse it in a mixer or pound in a sil batta (mortar/pestle) try not to add any water- I did add some, as I was in a hurry and my grinder won’t budge without some hydro-treatment! You should aim to get a rough/ textured mixture- the aim being getting all the ingredients into a homogenous mix. Adjust the taste to your liking.
Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds to crackle. Add the dry red chillies, curry leaves, hing and turmeric. Pour the tadka on the prepared daal mixture. Garnish with chopped coriander.
Serve as a snack, salad or chutney! Goes well with rice and rotis.