Saturday, July 21, 2012

Pot Luck: Multicuisine/ Notes on Faith, Religion, Customs, Rituals, Mythology, etc.. (Part - I)

This is the month of Ramzan (also: Ramazan) and I being a bhojon roshik (epicurean) Bengali look forward to all the delicious biriyanis, kababs, phirnis and of course the haleem – that are sure to come my way. The latter (haleem) is a very tasty dish that materializes when the working class humble wheat is forced to mix with the bourgeois mutton. This is one red-blooded Communism that even Didi will never be able to dismantle. Though off late her actions seem to suggest that she is determined to ensure that the ebhil sickle rids itself of its sickle-cell anaemia - and becomes even more healthy, wealthy and otherwise than before.

Getting back to the haleem, for non-mutton-eaters this version of the haleem posed a severe gastronomic depression (as in despair or gloom) - which the lachrymal glands failed to resolve. Then Chlormint came to the rescue and so we now have this to-die-for dish finally upgraded to its yummy chicken version. Thank Shri Ram (or Shri Rama, whichever is applicable) - for small mercies!

And I am not even sure whether the bleating mutton - before it becomes delicious, and the clucking chicken - before it un-clucks itself in a giant copper or aluminium pot, are creatures of the desert.

Though (probably) millions of sheep every year board massive cargo ships bound for those distant desert lands or thereabouts, but then those are merely the green card holders - naturalized citizensheep.

Methinks: Aboriginal sheep was perhaps that anonymous sheep that quietly penned the Alif Laila (better known as: the Tales of the Arabian Nights) - since the kids (lambs) created a lot of ruckus and refused to be tucked in bed before mid-night.

... But don't even ask me about the wheat. I am almost certain that they cannot grow on tall date palm trees - that are trying their best to speak to the listening heaven.

However, coming back to the sheep ... it's best not to speculate, since folks from the land of that great scientist with several 'original' inventions to his name, Guglielmo Marconi, have informed us that it was not Cruci-fiction but Cruci-fact.

But then, if it were not for that cruci-whatever or more precisely for that red-suited great big man with a snow-white beard, whose sleigh was driven by Rudolf - the red-nosed reindeer, we wouldn't have been able to gorge on all those goodies, yummy rum cakes with red cherries on top included. We can take the whole bakery but let's leave the baker behind and not share any cake with Robinson Crusoe's Man Friday. As for the baker, he can go and find a new job - that of mixing cement and concrete, so as to create poetry-inducing 'masterpieces' out of brick and mortar, also known as the concrete jungle. These seem to sprout everywhere these days, especially on agricultural lands and pristine lakes.

However, continuing with the gastronomic delights, I also intend to explore various noodle dishes and Manchurian cuisine too. So, do stay tuned ... armed with a spoon, a fork or a pair of chopsticks.

You see, I have been to Buddhist temples and deeply appreciate the calm and serene environment that seems to prevail there. No elbow-wrestling happening, nor are people seen severely testing the strength of their shoulders and fists. The latter is usually seen open (as in palm instead of the closed fist) and joined together - in reverence, while the eyes - the mirror to the soul - are closed, perhaps in deep meditation.

The reciting of the mantras or the sacred hymns coupled with the fragrance of the incense fills the air ... and the surroundings resonate with a positive energy that mere mortal words fail to express.

Meditation and prayer or puja are some of the instruments - that aid us in our efforts to unite with the Supreme Being - the divine, or shall I say, the forces of the universe. At the end of it - the puja or the meditation, that is - we feel enriched, energized and a strange calmness envelops us within it's fold.

[Note: The gesture used when bowing in Namaste is the bringing of both hands together, palms touching, in front of the person - usually at the chest, or a higher level such as below the chin, below the nose, or above the head.

This gesture is a mudra; a well-recognized symbolic hand position in the ancient Vedic faith (Sanaatan Dharm), that has shrunk over a period of time. One hand represents the higher, spiritual nature, while the other represents the worldly self. By combining the two, the person making the gesture is attempting to rise above their differences with others, and connect themselves to the person they bow to. The bow is a symbolic bow of love and respect. [Sanaatan = timeless, Dharm = path or way of life.]

Particularly in what has now come to be known as Hinduism, when one worships or bows in reverence, the symbolism of the two palms touching is of great significance. It is the joining together of two extremities - the feet of the Divine, with the head of the devotee. The right palm denotes the feet of the Divine and the left palm denotes the head of the devotee. The Divine feet constitute the ultimate solace for all sorrows. This is a time-honoured thought that runs through the entire ethos - of this faith.]

However, mere instruments (like meditation, puja, incense, camphor, earthen lamps or diyas, etc) are not enough. The most important aspect (in one's communion with the divine) is one's mind or more precisely one's thoughts. If the mind is preoccupied with such 'important' matters that range from how much donation will ensure that one's name is engraved on the temple walls or get published in the newspapers; to figuring out such mind-boggling questions of deep philosophical significance, viz., how best to 'catch a glimpse of god', rather get a ringside view, and so on and so forth, then I'm not so sure about the response of the divine, or even the divine per se.

Yet, the following (6 out of many more) has been the manner in which a significant portion of the self-proclaimed 'most evolved of all species' goes about the business of god. And have been at it ... for many decades now, or perhaps centuries.

  1. Indulging in the proverbial rat race, so as to 'catch a glimpse of god' - who, as OUR ancients have told us, is omnipresent - is every where;
  1. Offering 'chai-paani' in the garb of donation - to the divine no less, so as to receive some or the other benefit - in return;
  1. Playing loud music with astonishing lyrics (e.g., professing to teach someone to make lowe in twelve different ways, one each for every month of the year, that is); and even breaking into a worshipful break-dance (that somehow also resembles a high voltage electric shock) - all the while offering prayers with unflinching devotion;
  1. Delivering frenzied sermons that would put the sound-barrier breaking concord jet to shame and make it question it's very existence and purpose. All - in the name of calling the faithful to prayer or delivering one or the other discourse. Now why the 'devout' faithful need to be 'called to prayer' in this manner every day - in this age of wrist watches, alarm clocks, mobile phones, SMS divorces, et al - is something that Newton or Einstein or perhaps Socrates should ponder over;
  1. Badmouthing gods of 'other' faiths, since one or the other specific faith is THE bestest or THE truest, while also repeatedly stating that THE book explicitly says that God is one and the same. This, despite OUR ancients, enriched as they were with Vedic wisdom, never having known or mentioned the word 'religion'. 
  1. Places of worship and 'prayers' that revolve around sustained efforts to 'convert' people of other faiths, even the ones that predate the supposedly 'real' and 'true' ones - as if faith (now known as 'religion') can be swallowed - willingly or forcibly - like a pill!

Does anything (religion included) come from vacuum? Is there nothing that influences or precedes it? Even a child - human, animal, bird, fish, worms, reptiles, plants, et al - are not born out of vacuum. And how does one change the mark of one's ancestors or forefathers? How does one change the DNA - the mark of one's forefathers - firmly embedded within one's marrows? How indeed??

A mere 'change' of name, attire, the manner of 'offering prayers' and a 'change' of the respective 'place of worship' is all that is required - to connect with the divine and with one's inner self - the soul (aatman). Shifting one's residence or changing one's job is far more cumbersome and time-consuming, I tell you. But then this is the age of instant coffee, instant noodles, instant everything. Filter kaapi is passé.

However, if a jam bottle were to be relabeled as a bottle of pickle, it's contents would still refuse to change. But what do jam bottles know? Or for that matter pickles know? Useless inanimate things masquerading as food!

And these rats I tell you, they have jumped the queue and cozied up to Shri Ganesh no less, and have been happily feasting on the tasty modaks - meant for Shri Ganesh, but which actually finds their way into various human stomachs ... without so much as a by your leave. This is clearly not Ivy League. Hmmmph! We must therefore make an all-out effort to send these uncultured rats to Harvard Law Ishcool - for appropriate ethical makeover.

Umm, but just in case you want to know what I mean by Vedic wisdom, do read Chief Si'ahl's Letter: [Link] - that warns us of the need to hold nature dear in our hearts.

"But how can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?"

... Profound thoughts expressed through beautiful words, isn't it? We must remember to take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints.

The pattern of life based on Vedic wisdom transcended colour of hair, pupil, skin, height, other physical characteristics, food habits, language, etc., and encompassed vast lands - in the ancient world and even during the early medieval era. There was no 'race', but values - which declined over a period of time, since people gradually learnt to take much more than memories, and forgot to leave their footprints too. Sadly.

For OUR forefathers, the stress was not on 'religion' but on dharm, that elusive word, which lays down what is right, rather indicates one's righteous duty - no matter what the obstacles in it's path. Dharm - was a "way of life" (and had not yet come to mean coalition dharma.)

But then what can one do; this is the age of 'austere' lifestyle that brings about the resurrection of a Breguet timepiece. This is THE Gift of the Maggi no doubt. [Note: It is not a typo. I did not mean the Magi, I meant Maggi only - the 2-minute instant noodles.]  

It - meaning, the holy godly business - is lucratively spy-ritual too, quite IS-CON like, though all that does not glitter is worth more than gold. Also, hardly any investment is required; just a vest would suffice - since interests need to be properly vested, or else they catch a cold and that may even result in pneumonia, and that you see is against 'our ancient culture and traditions.' But one thing is certain, returns hii returns is confirmed, chappar phad ke. Compound interests, fixed deposits, etc - are all child's play (with primitive toys) and pales in front of this super-duper-bumper-lottery. It even ensures persistent astronomical TRPs - the Holy Grail, for the business of news, views and recycled refuse.

So, you see ... or you still no see?

Parting shot: I am very curious to know as to how and why Shri Ram (or Shri Rama for that matter) has been making a guest err ... ghust (as in ghus jao) appearance in Ramzan or Ramazan ... and for how long? Food for thought along with that delectable haleem, what say?! :)

(More later…)

Picture: Found while trawling the net. Don't remember the link :(


  1. I have had a few Muslim friends and have had some of the best meals during Ramzaan

  2. @ BK Chowla: Ditto.

    But my post is multi-layered and deals with many things/issues besides delicious meals. Would be keen to know your thoughts :)