Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fast food tales

Fast food means different things to different people. While today's generation may sink under the onslaught of french fries under the Golden Arches of McD, to most of us, it means something totally diametrically opposite, philosophically speaking, that is.

Fasting, or "keeping fasts", is an integral part of our epicurean life, in my state (Mahrashtra). There are rules on what you can and cannot eat on "fast days". There are people who fast on certain days of the week, because of that days association with a certain deity . Then there are some who fast on certain days, like the fourth day of the Indian calendar(moon based) and eat dinner only after moon-rise. There are some folks who fast on certain special festival days, and prior to conducting certain religious rituals.

And then, there are certain fasts , that unmarried women and girls do, every year, on designated days, to acquire excellent husbands. Though customs vary throughout the country, the custom of girls fasting to ensure a good husband is practiced countrywide.
I have always thought that single chaps undertaking similar simultaneous fasts would enhance the quality of a marriage overall (besides giving the mothers a break from cooking), but have met with pitiful looks , from, surprisingly, older women.

Actually, the food that is consumed during fasts in Maharashtra is delicious. It is not unknown for families to cook both fasting and non fasting food , and have the non-fasting types make a grand meal of both. Sabudana Khichadi ( made from soaked tapioca globules, crushed coriander, coconut, groundnuts, chillies, potato pieces, etc), is an eternal favourite. Potato cooked in a particular style with lots of cumin is another. Grated Yam is also used in another dish. Certain grains and veggies are taboo. Milk, fruits, yogurt , buttermilk, are preferred.

The whole idea of fasting was to restrain your mind from giving in to worldly enticements, and develop discipline , besides giving your stomach a rest. It was not unknown for people to follow a lifelong pattern of fasting on certain days, because of some promise made to a deity, or the fulfillment of a wish.

As long as anyone could remember, she always fasted on Mondays. Monday was associated with Lord Shiva. No one ever remembered "fasting food" being cooked in the house on these days. She always believed that folks today parodied the original idea of fasting, and the original idea was more about control than eating. Although household help always existed, her fasting day saw her personally sweep and mop the entire room, in one corner of which was her House of Gods; she would personally make the flower garlands from the jasmines, and when she emerged after her worship ritual , the room would have the sort of aura and smell you associate with inner sanctums of temples.

She would sit with her family at lunch, and partake of a cup of milk and a banana and sometimes a couple of pieces of dates. When her children were younger, they often wished she would make Sabudana Khichadi. But she frowned upon it as a fasting food, although it was often made as an evening or breakfast item for her family otherwise. Dinner would be a proper normal meal, with the rest of the family.

There were several associations one had with Lord Shiva, whose typical depiction always involved a snake around his neck.

On a trip in the mountains when her children were little, the family was enjoying a particular waterfall, resting on the flowing slopes, while the older son was busy with his friends in the naturally formed water pool, diving in and pulling things from the ground. He had just got in hand a strange weed he pulled, and was holding it out and calling to his folks, when she shouted at him and asked him not to move and stand still, for heaven's sake .

She had been resting , amidst the cascading water, with her eyes closed, and simply woke up to see a water snake coiled around her son's ankle, after he yanked out the weed. (Obedient fellow, that he was, he stood still, and the snake quietly uncoiled and slithered away in the muddy waters. ). She always thought that there was something Shiva inspired about awakening at that time to safeguard her child.

As she grew older, it became more and more difficult to wait for dinner with the family which was often late. And so , her daughter would cook an early dinner for her, and urge her to eat early .

The other option was to give up a lifetime of fasting on Mondays.

Well into her eighties, beset with a few old age problems, her children actually convinced her about giving up these fasts. She reluctantly agreed, more out of consideration for the trouble she would cause the family if she fell sick, than out of belief in the move. The first Monday she tried this, she had an uncomfortable stomach ache. She took this as a signal that the move was wrong, and she continued the usual Monday fasts after that.

Sometimes even God agrees.

She had just returned from visiting her sons in the US for 6 months, and was staying for a few days with her daughter, when one Sunday evening , after a hectic day with the grand kids, she started feeling uneasy, collapsed and was rushed to the ICCU. The trauma of the tubes ensued, and she lay, science aiding her every physical function, dedicated doctors watching every sign. She miraculously regained consciousness 2 hours later, but the tubes remained for another twenty four hours and more , so that she could gradually start relying on her own systems.

In the meanwhile her children and other relatives rushed to her. Tuesday morning , saw her lying down , tubeless, but tired, but in complete control of all her systems, physical and mental. When her doctor niece came to ask what she could get her, she clamoured for a decent cup of tea, and then asked what day it was.

That was Tuesday morning. Her last.

But here she was, smiling, holding out and clutching her daughter's hand, saying, "Oh, Good ! I was even able to do my fast this Monday !"

Sometimes, guess even the Gods fall in line....


  1. Beautiful narration. I have often seen that fasting becomes more about special food than self control.....

  2. Touching story- wonderfully told! I'm glad she was able to keep her last fast...

  3. My mother has regular schedules for her fast. Like on Saturday nights, she will have only fruits and nothing else. There are several other days like Ekadasis which come in different orms and keep recurring, and again on such days she would rather have porridge and fruits. Rightly said such fasts give rest to one's internal systems and prove beneficial. Lovely story and very touching.

  4. Artful narration. And a lovely deep story. I have often wondered as to how 'fasts' originated. And quite often have been pointed to a 'discipline' !

    And then i see people at the end of the fasts, these days, go about in reckless abandon, that make the fasts themselves pale !

    On another note, the Sabudhana stuff is something that i have had in the office canteen for some time now. And its personally becoming a huge favourite.

    But every time i pick it up, there is always a raised eyebrow and a quick 'are you fasting' ? !

  5. If for no other reason, I love your posts because I have a chance to learn something fascinating, different, wonderful about your country and your culture! You've experienced our culture here in the US, but not many of us get the opportunity to visit yours.

    This is such a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing all that you do with us in the blogging world!

    Have a beautiful evening!


  6. I know different cultures fast as part of their religious observances. Mine does not, but it would undoubtedly be good for me to do so at least twice a month.

    It was very touching that she was able to do her Monday fast.

  7. Most wonderful narration !! seriously !!

    I have always thought Hindu fasts were more logical...

    Jain and Muslim fasts are quite strict and I dont think good for health.. !! this is my personal opinion.. though.. which maybe wrong..

  8. Tradition and what matters to her spirit ~ she was able to keep true to it, even in the end. Beautiful story.

    My brother wanted to try fasting, but he said he wasn't willful enough...

  9. Wonderful :))
    I fast fortnightly on ekadasi. And I did the Kalyani vrata for marriage, and it worked :) I also prayed to Siva. That worked too. :))

  10. Great and touching story. Ability to look at situation very differently [and positively] distinguishes the extra ordinary from the also ran. Saying I was able to keep my fast this Monday is an example.


  11. wonderful narration the way only you can.Was this lady a close relative of yours?Though I don't fast or feast for that matter I am in awe of those who do.

  12. Its really difficult to make elders leave what they have been following for a long time...but the sole dedication that they show for it makes you to stop advicing them about myths or superstitions etc...

    I am happy that she was at peace on tuesday!

  13. What an amazing story. They say fasting is very good for your health and we all should be doing it. Living on fewer calories. What will power. Wehn I think about it though in my religion it used to be common and less so now. Times change I guess. Sorry I havent visited you for a while, you know how it gets. I need to catch up. Des said THANK YOU very much for the poem. HE READ IT!!

  14. Suchismita Thank you.

    Manju Thank you. I keep thinking of this very often....

    nsiyer Thank you. The older generation often has so many things they do, that we need to learn. So many of our original customs are today parodied. ....

    kavi A few more years of tucking in Sabhudana Khichadi, and you will see why my mother didnt think too highly of it as an Upwaas item....but enjoy it while you can .

    Sylvia Thank you. Just wanted to tell you that on my recent trip to the US, I saw this Sabhudana Khichadi fasting item being made from Quinoa. It tasted wonderful, and was nutritionally superior. Nothing to do with fasting of course, but just wanted to indicate how recipes evolve !

    darlene, hitchwriter,Aleta Thank you.

    Braja Congratulations. I am totally impressed.... by the fasting and the rewards. May they continue to be showered on you....

    Vivek You know, i often feel, generation to generation, there were more extraordinary folks in our parents generation, than in hours. We are the also rans....

    HHG I too dont fast, and am in complete awe of those who do...

    Radhika , Dipali Thank you.

    LillyThank you. And I am so thrilled that Des was able to actually read the poem....

  15. Very beautiful story. I am glad this lady was able to fast even in hospital. I was also fascinated by the calendar illustrating your post.

    My 10 year old daughter has recently decided to go vegetarian on mondays, since she found out my hindu friend does this by respect for Shiva. She eats lunch at school. So her headmistress has asked for written parental authorization. I am not sure how to explain this to her. Fasting in Christian countries nowadays merely means eating fish or egg on Fridays. Being vegetarian seems weird to many here, and hindu traditions are not very well known. I think this situation might be amusing :o)

  16. Hi,

    Great story. btw Where you got the Circle Calendar from? Do you have clear version of it or a weblink?

  17. VG Pl see