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....