Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The sublime and the subliminal

Appi Payasa or Poori ki Kheer (पुर्यांची खीर) 

दसरा कशावर बसला ? (What sweet/mithai did you make for Dasara?) was the opening gambit for many a conversation of women chatting to their neighbours over fences and walls or balconies and windows.

These festivals had their ritual favourites – Holi was partial to puran poli, Ganesh Chaturthi mandated modaks, Narali Paurnima was nothing without a narali bhaat and Makar Sankranti synced with Tilgul and Gulpoli.

Diwali, the king of feasts, was in its own league and delighted in a wide variety of sweets and snacks.

That left Dasara and Gudi Padva a bit of latitude with a choice of shrikhand/basundi/ sudha ras/aamras/with the usual palaver of pooris in tow. 

For the less enthusiastic women/householders, there was recourse in a “sluggish sheera” or a “cursory kheer” and kanavla.  For a very curious but equitable reason, just as a batch of karanjis or gujiyas never went without a chaperone modak brother, the feminine kheer was always accompanied by a little ear-shaped boy calzone known as kanavala – after its shape.  

Taking a step back, cleaning preceded cooking. Days before every festival, women would vie with each other in cleaning their homes. One neighbour would set the tone and others followed turning the street into a veritable dhobi ghat, with sheets washed and rugs beaten bare. 

Ridding their homes of webs and dust, the women set about stocking their stores after getting their walls whitewashed or their thresholds decorated. The bright yellow turmeric smeared doorsills dotted with vermillion and white lent symmetry to the mango - marigold torans, while giddy sugarcanes propped precariously against the jambs. 

Rangolis -riotous or regimental - claimed their rightful role in the foreground.

This Dasara, “What to make” lost the duel to “What to clean”. A grueling work schedule had seen me out of the house for most of my waking hours preceding the festival.

But, while this was a very agrarian thanksgiving festival, we couldn’t venerate the gods and goddesses out of a sty, could we!

If dirt is matter out of place, there was no dearth of dirt in our midst.

The first half of the day was spent in cleaning the house, and our minds of sloth and filth in no particular order.

Cooking could only start after the house and I, as the head chef, stepped out of a state of pollution and profanity and entered शुचिर्भूत sacredness. 

And I wasn’t even thinking of सोवळ /ओवळ - the traditional notions of purity and pollution. 

So it was, that even as we arranged the “पाटी -पूजा/ आयुध पूजा ”, or worship of books, tools and implements in thanksgiving, we were undecided about what “sweet” our Dasara was going to “sit on”.  The pantry hadn’t been stocked - what a piteous state of affairs, when the atta flour bin was empty.

Flitting between the kitchen and the altar, giving instructions to an already ravenous family  - knead the maida, grate two carrots, pluck some flowers and wash the niranjans with silver polish…where’s that piece of sugarcane?

Everyone brought whatever he or she revered to place in the pooja – books – pens – the poet/dreamer in the family brought her book of poems– the drummer, her sticks - while I set a litre of milk to boil, thinking I should at least make the quick-fix-kheer and a couple of kanavalas for the “sake of shastra” …   

We forgot the tools! Get some of your fancy shmancy tools, I said to the husband.  “This has got it all,” he said, handing me a shiny red grip.

His latest fad purchase from Bunnings Warehouse is a multi-tool – scissors, three types of knives, cutting pliers, wrench – and what not - all in one.

Whatever -  I have no time - I must go back to the stove to mind the milk that’s reducing very patiently in the midst of the flurry. Now to make the kheer and fry some pooris and the naivedya thali will be ready.

I am really tired now. Happy tired, but tired nevertheless. And still undecided about the sweet dish.

My mother-in-law used to come up with something unique for naivedya all the time, in times of plenty and periods of paucity, for umpteen religious occasions right through Shravan maas to dhanurmaas and Sankranti. 

As I stood staring at the dough in front of me and shushing the milk threatening to spill over, I thought of Atya, as I call my mother-in-law. 

Always smiling, always resourceful, she is the epitome of patience and peace - and piety.

That was a light-bulb moment– when her unique two-in-one kheer called Appi Payasa that I had tasted once, came to mind - and settled the matter.

Our Dasara sat on Appi payasa or a kheer made with miniature pooris.

The multi-tool is subliminal, too? Wow!

Appi Payasa (Poori ki Kheer)


For pooris

1 cup atta or plain flour
1 tbsp semolina
1 tsp sugar
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp oil/ghee for shortening
Oil for deep-frying

For payasam

6 cups full cream milk
100 gms khoya, grated (you can use some cream to thicken the milk
3-4 green cardamoms, crushed
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
A pinch of saffron
Splenda/any brand of sweetener/ Sugar/ to taste
Slivered almonds, pistachio nuts


Mix the plain flour, semolina, salt, sugar and shortening with a little water into a stiff but pliable dough. Rest for about 20 minutes. Then knead the dough for a few minutes. Divide the dough into five or six portions and roll out each ball into a large chapati. Cut out small pooris using a round cookie cutter.

Deep fry a batch at a time till golden and drain on absorbent paper.

Boil the milk in a thick-bottomed saucepan stirring it occasionally. Add the grated khova and let it dissolve. Then add the cardamom, nutmeg and saffron. Remove from heat and add the sugar/sweetener.

Slide the little pooris into the thickened and sweetened milk and rest for 10 minutes until the pooris get soaked. Garnish with slivered almonds and pistachios.

Serve warm.

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