Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Recipe: Nonbu Adai

Among the various things that delayed my blogging as I said yesterday, was the continuing power shutdowns, we have been experiencing since last week. The power shout downs are anywhere between 1 hr to 8 hrs of duration many times a day. With the result, by the time, I settle down to blog, the power fails and by the time the power is restored I am busy with something else. Today we had a power shutdown from 10am to 6 pm and again from 6.30 pm to 7.30pm. They say, there is problem in the orissa grid.

Before we have another power shutdown, let me write about Nonbu neyvedyam.

Nonbu Neyvedyam

As Savitri was in the forest, the neyvedyam for the nonbu was made from very simple things immediately available at the forest. The raw materials are riceflour, jaggery , coconut and moongdal.  It is called Nonbu adai.We have invented a savoury form of adai also to go with it, as in the olden days, we fasted until the nonbu time and that was the first meal we were eating on that day.

Nonbu Adai.


Rice flour 1 cup
Moong dal 2 tbsps
Jaggery 1¼ cup
Coconut gratings ½ cup
Cardamom powder 1 tsp.

Plantain leaves to steam the adais.


Roast the rice flour to a golden colour. Roast the moong dal also to a golden red colour. Cook the moong dal with just enough water, until half done. Melt the jaggery in 2 cups of water. When the jaggery is melted add the half cooked moong dal, coconut gratings, cardamom powder and roasted rice flour and cook until all the water is absorbed. Allow to cool.

Make small pieces of plantain leaves. Make small balls of the cooked rice flour (the size of a small orange) and keep on the plantain leaf.  Flatten with the palm  and make a small hole in the centre. Keep the plantain leaves on a steamer and steam for 10 mnts. This is offered with a blob of butter.

Savoury adai.


Rice flour: 1 cup
Moong dal 2 tbsp.
Coconut gratings ½ cup
Green chillies 2 or 3 cut into small pieces
Mustard 1 tsp
Urad dal 1 tsp
Hing ½ tsp.
Curry leaves a few sprigs
Oil 1 tbsp.
Salt to taste

Plantain leaves to steam the adai.


Roast the rice flour and moong dal separately to a golden brown colour. Cook the moong dal in just enough water, until half done. Heat the oil in a pan and add the hing. Add the mustard. When mustard starts spluttering, add the urad dal, green chillies and curry leaves. Add 2 cups of water, salt to taste and the coconut gratings. When the water starts boiling add the half cooked moong dal and rice flour and cook until all the water is absorbed. Allow to cool.

Make balls of the cooked rice flour and flatten on plantain leaves and steam for 10 mnts.


Once again, I was forced into a long hibernation. I was busy going about making preparations for the Soundarya Lahari Pooja I had planned. I had to invite many of my friends for the function. This is a function thought about and performed by a small group of ladies who had practised reciting the 100 slokas of the great Sankaracharya. Our teacher here has given music to it and each sloka is sung in a different raga. The function is a simple one in which we assemble in the house of the one desirous of conducting it and sing the slokas. We perform a simple pooja to a specially decorated picture and or an idol of any deity preferably DEVI in whose praise the slokas have been rendered. At the end of the recitation Arathi is performed and a neivedyam is offered. Depending on the time of day we arrange lunch or light refreshments to all the invitees. The function at our house was spread over a little over three hours. I was also planning for a Goa trip immediately thereafter, which also needed some hectic reorganizing of my various projects scheduled for the last week of March. At the end, however, the Goa trip did not come through due to other reasons.

Soundarya Lahari Pooja, of course, was conducted in a highly satisfying manner with the Blessings of Annaporneswari. It was well attended and it went off as planned in every detail.

In between on 14th March, we celebrated "Karadayan Nonbu" or more simply Nonbu(in typical Kerala Iyer lingua). This is a very important festival in our calendar. This festival is celebrated at the time of Meena Sankramam (the time the sun enters the Pisces sign, according to the solar calendar) and hence the time of offering the pooja falls at different times of the day in different years. We offer Pooja any time during the 24 hours, from the wee hours to mid-afternoon to evening to midnight. Hence, this festival is very different from all the festivals, which are celebrated on a particular day of the year at a particular time.

This year the time for the pooja was at 8.15pm, which was a very convenient time to do the pooja. This pooja is especially done for the well being and long life of the husband and even little girls are made to perform this pooja so that they will get a good husband and a happy married life. The neyvedyam (offering) for the pooja is a very simple steamed sweet cake and butter. The ladies and girls also wear a "manjal charadu"(a thread dipped in turmeric paste), similar to one tied during the time of marriage. In the olden days, when we were children, it was a practise to keep this manjal charadu till the next nonbu or as long as it lasted. We never removed it on our own. These days most people remove it the next day after the pooja, for reasons best known to them.

This pooja is conducted in remembrance of the dedication and determination of the faithful mythological Savitri, in bringing back the life of her husband Satyavan from the God of death, Yama. The story goes as follows. Savitri was a princess of a rich kingdom in ancient India and was the only child of her parents. When she reached marriageable age, she told her father that she would herself search for a suitable husband for her. She went on a tour of the vast kingdom traversing the various landscapes and forests and mountains. At last in a forest, she met an old couple and their young and handsome son serving them, living in a simple hut. She found out that the couple were the king and queen of a nearby kingdom, banished from their kingdom by their enemies. Savitri was overcome by the devotion shown by the son to his old parents and decided that he was the suitable husband for her. The name of this young man was Satyavan. True to his name, Satyavan was very honest and dedicated to his parents. Savitri returned to her parents and announced that she would marry only Satyavan. The King and the queen were not very happy to marry their only child to the son of a banished king. But Savitri was steadfast on her decision and the parents had to yield to her. The palace astrologer, however warned her that according to his horoscope, Satyavan had only one more year's life left and he would die in a year. Savitri was not to be discouraged with this announcement either. The marriage of Satyavan and Savitri was performed and Savitri went to live with her husband and in-laws in the forest. Savitri took care of her husband and old in-laws with dedication and devotion and followed Satyavan whenever he went inside the forest in search of food and fuel. Days passed and the last day of Satyavn's life as per the prediction dawned. Savitri insisted on accompanying Satyvan to the forest. Satyavan made Savitri sit under a tree and went to fetch fruits and logs for fuel. After sometime, he returned feeling very tired. Savitri made him lie in a bed made of fresh green leaves keeping his head in her lap. As Satyavan started closing his eyes, there appeared in front of Savitri, a huge figure with a bison for his vahana. Savitri with her dedication and devotion could immediately recognize the figure as that of Yama, the God of death. She immediately saluted him and asked him the purpose of his visit. Yama replied that as destined Satyavan's life span was over and he had come to take his life to the other world. Saying this Yama started walking away with Satyavan's soul. Savitri left the body of the lifeless Satyavan under the tree and started following Yama. Yama forbade her from following him, saying she could not follow him to the other world, as Yamaloka was inaccessible to living beings. Only souls of dead beings are taken there. Savitri insisted on following her husband’s soul. Yama could not stop her from following him. At last, Yama agreed to grant her three wishes on condition that she would go back. She agreed. She asked as the first boon, that her in-laws get back their lost kingdom which Yama granted readily. For the second wish she asked that, as she was the only child of her parents, they get more children. This was also granted by Yama immediately. As the last wish, she asked that she be granted the wish of having many children which also was granted by Yama in his eagerness to get rid of her. Only after granting this wish, did Yama realise that he had been tricked into granting Satyavan life, as a pious and pathivratha (chaste) woman like Savitri cannot have children if Satyavan were to be dead. Yama had to accept his defeat and restore the life of Satyavan. Savitri came back to the tree where she had left the lifeless body of Satyavan. By the blessings of Yama Satyvan woke up as if from his sleep and Savitri narrated the happenings to him. To offer her gratitude to the Gods, Savitri immediately made a simple neyvedyam with available things on hand and tied the mangala sutra once again as her husband had got back his life. This neyvedyam is also offered on a leaf of a forest tree, as against the usual plantain leaf used for all poojas.(more about this special, but simple neyvedyam later)

To instil such dedication and devotion in married life, this story is repeated to the young girls and the pooja is performed every year at the time of meena sankramam.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Recipe: Paruppu Kanji

Paruppu Kanji always brings back memories of Sivarathri to me. Paruppu kanji was always associated with; in fact, it was the most important ingredient of Sivarathri. When we were children, the elders in the family observed a dawn to dusk fast on Sivarathri day. After the evening pooja, they ate some salt less food. That's how Paruppu Kanji got its place in Sivarathri celebrations. Paruppu kanji also went with, vella dosa and Obattu in our house.

After dinner, the whole village observed a Jagaran on Sivarathri night. There was no TV those days. We had to invent our own variety entertainment programmes. The men folk played cards. The women folk assembled in one place and spent the time reciting religious stories and singing devotional songs and comparing various issues connected with family. We children ran from group to group and showcased our talents in singing and dancing. It was a night for us to remember till the next Sivarathri. The jagaran did not end with the night. We had to keep awake the whole of next day and could sleep only in the night to get the full blessings for keeping awake. Now back to Paruppu Kanji.

This Parippu Kanji was made in enormous quantity on Sivarathri night. After we had our fill of it during dinner, we also had more of it at intervals, when we were keeping awake for Sivarathri.

Paruppu Kanji is made of moong dal and hence is a rich source of protein. It also contains jaggery which gives lots of glucose to the fasting body. That may be reason why it was included in the Sivarathri menu, in the first place. Let me today give the recipe for Paruppu Kanji.

Moong dal ¼ cup
Jaggery ¼ cup + 1 tbsp.
Milk 1 cup

Dry roast the moong dal to a light pink colour (this gives out a good aroma). Cook the moong dal with 3 cups of water, until very soft.(This can be done in a pressure cooker).Add the jaggery and boil for 5 minutes, until the raw smell of jaggery disappears. Add the milk and boil well. Paruppu Kanji is ready to drink.


Tips: In our family, the moong dal is always fried to a light pink colour before it is cooked. Be it for paruppu kanji or for any other curries. The grains do not form a sticky mess when cooked, if the dal is roasted.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Living with the kids.

This question has been troubling me for a long time. I have tried to get an answer from various people about their expectations from various relationships. I have never been able to get a satisfying answer.

During the recent past, once again I am being troubled with this question. I come across more and more incidents of people (especially older people) complaining that they do not know what to do when they go to spend time with their children living away from their home. Be it within India or outside. The constant complaint is that they find time hanging in their hands or they feel lonely. This is true even if both husband and wife are alive or only when one of them is alive. They just are not able to feel at home in their children's home.
Just, yesterday, one of my friends was telling me about her sister, who had come to spend a few days with her only living son and his family. From the second day of her arrival, she started missing her own home and wanted to get back. I asked her, what was her problem? The answer was that she did not know how to spend her time.

This set me thinking once again. How can a mother feel lonely with her own child? Have we faulted and if so where? Do we blame the mother or the grown up child? Whosoever is at fault, I could well imagine the scenes that would follow in this particular situation. Two more times the mother says, I am longing to get back to my own home, the son would ask her, when shall I book your return ticket and I am sure the mother would feel very hurt, not realising she put this question into her son's mouth. On the other hand, the son never felt like, sitting with the mother and asking her, how he could make her feel more at home in his place. As far as I can see, it is only a question of some give and take or adjustments in lifestyle on both sides. But nobody wants to spell it out.

Time was, when people had respect for each other and time and patience to listen to each others' doubts and troubles and if possible, suggest a way out. People also felt free to confide in others and accepted the others' suggestions with open mind. A mother could always tell her son what she felt or what was not acceptable to her and the son graciously accepted her views. Today's older generation, not wanting to complain like their parents or in-laws did, are trying to be nice but at the same time are not able to keep up with the fast pace of life the youngsters are leading. Or can we blame the changing values or the values the children miss in today's world of fast living and the unending quest for money and comforts? Or is this an indication to the elderly that they should accept the age old "VANAPRASTHASRAMAM"?
More on the subject later.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Recipe: Cauliflower Fried Rice

I prepared cauliflower fried rice, slightly different from the usual method I have been cooking all these years. And the result, it was much more tastier and easier to prepare.Before I forget, how I prepared it today, let me publish it here.


cauliflower 1 small
small onion 1 handful(about 100gm) (pearl onion) (sambar onion)
Rice 150gms(¼ cup)
ghee 1 tsp.
cinnamon ½" stick
cloves 2 nos.
big cardomom 1/8 of a pod
turmeric powder 1 tsp
salt to taste
oil 1 tbsp.
shahjeera ½ tsp.
coriander leaves to garnish

to grind:

coriander seeds 1 tbsp.
jeera 1 tsp.
poppy seeds(khus khus) 11/2 tsp
ginger 1 " piece
green chillies 3 nos.
kasoori methi 1 tsp.
pudina 1 sprig
black pepper 1/2 tsp
tomatoes 150gms


Grind all the spices except tomatoes to a fine paste. Add tomatoes and grind well. Keep it aside.

Wash and soak rice in double quantity of water for 15 minutes. Heat ghee in a pan and add cinnamon, cloves and cardomom. When they start spluttering add the drained rice(reserve the water in which the rice was soaked) and fry until rice starts spluttering. Remove and cook in the soaked water in a pressure cooker.

Cut the cauliflower into florets and wash in warm water in which 1/2 tsp of salt has been dissolved.clean and cut the pearl onions into two.Heat oil in a pan and add the shahjeera.

When it splutters add the pearl onions and fry till transparent. Add the ground mixture and fry till all the moisture evaporates and oil starts separating. Add the cauliflower florets and fry for 2 mnts. add trumeric powder and salt and cook closed, until cauliflower is cooked crisp.

Remove the cooked rice and add to cauliflower mixture and mix well. Serve, garnished with coriander leaves.

This rice can be served with raita or thayir pachadi or papad or chips.


Monday, March 06, 2006

What is in a Dress?

There was time, when we could identify people belonging to different parts of India from their dress, especially the ladies. In the case of men also, it was almost possible, though they all wore a white unstitched cloth (Veshti or Panje or Mundu or soman or Dhothi as it was differently called in different parts of India) in different styles unique to their regions.. During the Colonial rule the trousers coat and suit were introduced in our country. Gradually, all men working in corporate offices and Govt. Offices started wearing the uniform trousers and shirts (to this day, people wear Mundu and shirt to work in Kerala and dothi in West Bengal, UP etc.).Our Parliament showcases, its members wearing the traditional dress of India.The unstitched veshti continues to be the traditional dress for all religious occasions. In Kerala, men are not allowed inside the temples in any other dress than a Mundu. Even wearing a shirt inside the temple is not allowed. They can, however, cover their upper torso with another piece of cloth (melmundu), if they wish.

Now coming to more interesting dress habits of ladies, we can find a great evolution that has taken place. In the South, towards the end of 19th century and in early 20th century (when my grandma was growing up), the girls wore an unstitched colored cloth, by name, "chithadai" just wrapping it around their waist. Those days, girls were married when they were 7 or 8 years of age and sent to their in-laws' house once they attained their puberty. From then on, they wore a 9/8 yards long, colored cloth (pudavai) and covered their upper body with the end of this pudavai. There was no other type of dress known. By the 1920s ladies started wearing a stitched blouse to cover their upper body.

Even then, in Kerala, only ladies belonging to upper class were allowed wear blouses. The working class was not permitted to cover their upper body. I have seen women belonging to this era, who continued not to wear a blouse even as late as 1960s.

In Kerala itself, there was a distinct dressing pattern among the various communities in the early 20th century and it was very easy to identify people belonging to different communities by their dress code. The ladies belonging to the Iyer community (Tamil Brahmins or Palghat Brahmins or Iyers,) wore a 9 yards pudavai with a blouse, the Namboodiri Brahmin ladies wore a mundu at the waist level and tied another mundu at armpit level to cover their breasts and never went out without an umbrella covering their face and upperbody (umbrella made with palm leaves), even inside the temple. The other Hindus wore a Mundu(Onnarayum Mundum, it was called) and blouse with a smaller mundu (Neryadhu) to go over their upper body . The Christian women wore the mundu in a different style with the pleats hanging out at the back with a long white blouse (chattayum Mundum) and a Neryadhu over their upper body. They covered their head only while going to the church. They could also be identified by the thick earrings hanging from their upper earlobe. The Muslims of Malabar area wore colourful pudava as Mundu and colourful, long blouses with long sleeves. They also covered their upper body and head with a colourful "thattam." From around 1940, girls up to the age of their puberty started wearing stitched long skirts reaching up to their ankles and long blouse. Once they attained their puberty they followed their elders' dress pattern (by which time, most of them were married).

After the age of marriage for girls was raised to 18 by a law, the unmarried girls wore a half saree over their long skirts to cover their upper body (by this time, most of the girls were going to schools). By 1950s almost all the girls went to school at least up to 7th standard and a good number of them continued till 10th standard. A small percentage of well to do girls went to colleges. So all the girls, irrespective of their community wore long skirt and half sarees when they were in their teens. Around this time, people started migrating outside their villages and state and went to work in different parts of India and learnt new dress codes. Little girls got colourful frocks and girls started wearing short skirts (below their knees) and blouses until they were 10 or 11 and once in their teens continued with half sarees and long skirts. Around this time, married women of Iyer community started wearing 6 yards sarees on a day to day basis and wore their 9 yard sarees only on religious functions. Women of other communities also started coming out of their traditional dresses (mundus of various styles) and started wearing 6 yards sarees and blouses.(Many women in Kerala had started working as teachers, nurses and a good percentage of those in the metros as administrative assistants by then).

Women in other parts of India were also wearing sarees in different styles unique to their regions. In Tamil Nadu, Iyers wore their 9 yard saree in one style and Iyengars wore theirs differently. The Chettiar women wore their sarees in another style. In Karnataka and Andhra the 6yard saree was worn differently by different communities. In Maharastra there was an 8 yard saree worn something similar to the south Indian 9 yard saree apart from the modern 6 yards saree. Other parts of India had their own distinct styles. I remember, when I was in college, in Vizag, a girl coming from Assam, wearing something similar to south Indian long skirt and half saree(Dhavani or veni it was called), in a different style. Salwar and Kameez were worn only in the northern parts of India, especially in Punjab (it was more commonly known as Punjabi dress), Haryana and Kashmir. By the 1960s, with the popularisation of Hindi Cinema, in South India few girls (daughters of the so called society ladies and really big executives) in big cities started wearing Salwar and Kameez to colleges. We had girls wearing short skirts also in our college. Still Madras, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra retained their "pavadai dhavani" culture.

Even in the 1970s and 1980s South Indian women living in various parts of our country continued to wear their own traditional dresses (saree mostly) and the younger girls, though were wearing half skirts and blouses to schools as per the school uniform codes, were wearing long skirts and pavadai dhavani during religious and social get togethers, which were more often those days. People still had time for each other and enjoyed visiting friends and relatives even on week days (now a days, the men folk are mostly in their work places till late in the evening and non-working women are busy with their childrens' studies and TV serials).

By 1990s with more numbers of women taking up employment, there came a revolution in the dress code. A very good percentage of women started wearing salwar-kameez to work and by the late 1990s this became a more common dress than saree. Even women in rural Kerala started wearing salwar-kameez in place of long skirts. Around this time, it also became a common practice among women all over the country to be attired in their night gown while at home. In rural Kerala, this became their everyday dress, whether working in the fields or working as domestic helps or shopping. This brought a socialistic change in dress code, as both the mistress and the maid were dressed in night gowns.

By the 2000s, with the soft ware boom and many young girls visiting or migrating to western countries on work or for studies or after marriage, the under 30 women in India very naturally moved over to jeans and shorts and short tops and the like. They were of course, restricted by stringent dress codes at their work places. One of the big software companies had this in their appointment letter. "Ladies may wear only sarees and blouses or salwar kameez with dupatta or formal western dress. They will not be allowed to come to work in jeans and tops." I asked the girl, who had received this appointment letter, if she would obey this dress code, if this were ordered either by her mother-in-law or husband. Without batting an eyelid, she replied, "I would, if they would give me a fat salary as this company is offering." So, it all boils down to what one is getting in return.

But to this day, women want to look in their traditional best on their home visits or during religious functions or weddings. Yet, it is shocking to see some women in our country while imitating the West seem to have forgotten their (Western) culture of still maintaining a dress code for every occasion. Each country has its on special dress codes for weddings or social functions or funerals, especially. Even the NRIs living in these countries meticulously stick to the dress code. In India, on the other hand, we see people wearing jeans to temples, religious functions, funerals. There is a nonchalant attitude among them. When I see such inappropriately dressed women, especially women who are past their prime(who have grown up in traditional orthodox families), I am not able to understand, what makes them to forget their culture and make themselves laughing stock.