Thursday, May 15, 2008

Pangats to Gilly Payasam

One thing one realizes having lived for close to six decades is how the "pace" pf living has changed, and how it pervades all aspects of our life, personal and public.

Take wedding meals.

Childhood memories take me back to wedding meals that may be defined by a single word : "pangat" , and it has no clear translation in the English language. Elaborate sit down meals, on wooden flats arranged in lines on the floor; each wooden flat faced up to a plantain leaf that greened the occasion, and glistened , as an entire army of food servers went by in almost military precision, serving stuff in a predefined order.

Every food item had a predefined place. Uncooked meal items like koshimbir(salad) , and mouthwatering green chutneys redolent with the aroma of raw mango graced the left. Various cooked vegetables with varying amounts of comfort gravies dignified the right. Typical vegetables were cooked regardless of status of the wedding party; "aluchi bhaji" (a sweet and soft , tantalizingly sour concoction of gravy made from colocassia leaves, tamarind and gram flour), "bharli wangi" (baby aubergines stuffed with a heavenly mixture of coconut, jaggery and spices, steeped in a spicy gravy), and the ever popular, universally applauded "batatyachi bhaji" (dry boiled potato bhaji).

While one may slurpingly overflow, while describing various items, what was significant was the serving method.

After the initial mandatory serving of all items, serving folks kind of went up and down each line of seated guests, bent just so at the waist, announcing the item as if singing a song chorus. ("Panchamrit. Panchamrit, Toop, Toop, Khamang kakdi......") If you wanted an item, you signalled, and the container was inclined appropriately, your item descended into your plate, and the procession continued. Simple items like fragrant rice and waran(dal) were embellished magically with a stream of golden ghee, a pinch of salt, and thoroughly enjoyed with freshly made mango pickle. Jilebi was the dessert of choice, and in all the "methods of serving food" , serving these was an exception. The newly married couple came by, with a huge plate of these, urging you to have just one more. A typical thing that happened was someone , on a dare, showed that he could eat a plateful, and he was indulged by the newly married couple, and watched avidly by the others. Folks who ate with single minded dedication, often slurped, and the louder the slurp, the more terrific the food item was. Elderly types often went up and down the "pangats" being sociable and observant about wastage at the same time. Some elderly lady, often overcome with the wedding emotions was cajoled into singing a Bhavgeet, and she did so, eyes downcast, fingers fiddling with a jilebi piece, as a hush descended , people quietly getting on with their meals, keeping their musical opinions to themselves.

Then came weddings where what you eat became more important than how you eat. Individual idiosyncrasies ruled. Folks liked to show their awareness of food not native to them, and the entire combination of quality and quantity of food did not fit into the pangat system. It became acceptable to fill your own plate, wander around eating, take random helpings, and then discard your plate (sometimes along with food). The milieu changed . The kitchen and dining area arrangement fizzled out, and we were presented with tables laid out , groaning under all kinds of food, kept warm, being roasted "online" sometimes, occasionally replenished by a guy, who suddenly darted out from behind a table with a refill . Rules were changed to suit the new social habits. Unlike what you normally see on Mumbai bus stops, people in their finery organized themselves into civilized queues. This often translated into people having to wait for long before getting a meal. And you couldn't tell who was the host, with so many people mingling around.

Weddings which earlier meandered over 3-4 days, were slotted precisely into four hours defined by economic compulsions related to availability of wedding halls, and working days and holidays for the attending guests.
With globalization, came the complete destruction of the "original wedding meal". People suddenly served "starters", unclear whether the food or the people were starting something. Then you had stuff from at least 3-4 different countries, so that your gut was overloaded with shrikhand neapolitono, undhiyo au gratin, and chowmein navratan supreme.

I shudder to think what comes next.

Since most people in India, eat,sleep and drink cricket, it is to be expected that this desperation will have its effect there too.

And so the sedate 4-5 day test matches, where players landed up daily in their impeccable whites, and played during office hours, cutting,swiping,defending,sweeping,glancing etc, nicely interspersed with a lunch break where you were polite to the opposition . Mornings and afternoons were interrupted by well defined drinks breaks, and tea breaks, folks applauded in a genteel fashion from the pavilion, and no one removed their shirt and waved it around.

(Actually, my son (then a very young school kid), who watched tests and the TV Ramayana/Mahabharata during that period, really believed that the Mahabharata war had warriors following some kind of "end-of-the-days-play" system, and going back to some place, to duly arrive back the next day with their chariots, and maces, to get on with the war once again. Maybe he looked for P. Karan, c Krishna b P. Arjun, or maybe K . Duryodhan c and b P. Bhim)

The one day internationals and the T20's are the so called modern improvements. Quick events. More noise. Less substance. Unnecessary expenses. Again, like us old timers who recall the earlier wedding meals, there are purist cricketers who try this new style , but are not really comfortable about it. T 20 has even introduced the foreign colleague system. And the less said about the cheer leaders , the better.

So its Masaledar Warne with Murlidharan au Gratin, with a side of Ponting Sandesh and Gilly Payasam .



  1. I have a six year old daughter. And someday, I hope to host a grand full scale wedding for her. With friends (who were boys when I was a boy) for company. Hopefully, we'll all appreciate the many intricacies and nuances of the occassion.

    Meanwhile though, we'll still attend ceremonies of vaiour hues to celebrate similar occassions of friends, families and acquaintances. Which too, we must.

    Such is life. And so I guess, is cricket.


  2. should be "various" hues ....


  3. sfx,

    wedding functions today are heavy on style and low on substance. There was a certain old world style earlier, which didnt depend on money.

    The same is happening in cricket. I agree that things change and we must be open to all; what is worrisome is the lopsided mix of the old(infinitesmal) and new (too much)....

    In the meanwhile, best wishes to a little six year old girl from a grandmother type....

  4. Thank you very much indeed. Best wishes and blessings from elders who have seen it all before (and a bit of hand holding) and hopefully she, (like cricket) will find and keep the right balance.

    Regards and all the best.

  5. :-D ...I relive the "Pangat" experience every weekend. Some advantages of marrying a south Indian.......I must have done something really good in my last life to be blessed wth a Mother-in-law who is a perfect cook and who loves to feed ( sometimes overfeed :-D ).....All my fooding experiences also invariably make me remember Kaku ...Though there used to be no pangat in her house ...Eating was as good as a ritual

  6. Remember a mhan in marathi - 'mhatari melyache dukkha nahi pun kaal sokavato'

    The problem is ki mhatari che maran taalta yenaar nahi.. aani kaal sokavanarach aahe.. how one faces it is the question

  7. Anonymous (Harshu): Lucky you. I hear the technical details of setting up a "formal" karnataka meal on a plantain leaf, was part of your southern orientation, kanada names and all. The graphic on the blog would be educational for learning the corresponding marathi names, for the other member in your house :-)

    Rahul: Yes, how one faces it IS a question. Earlier, simpler life and lesser options made the solution easier. Today, it is another story. Thanks for your comments....

  8. My, my, what a post. absolutely brilliant. From the photo I fail to understand how can single man eat so much food. ( I think I'm abnormal, all of 53 kgs).

    All said and done 'pangat's' in those days would have been an experience in itself.

    "shrikhand neapolitono, undhiyo au gratin, and chowmein navratan supreme. Masaledar Warne with Murlidharan au Gratin, with a side of Ponting Sandesh and Gilly Payasam" . was aboslutely brilliant

  9. Loved reading the description of all the food served in a pangat. Kerala weddings still serve traditional food, in a particular sequence and pretty much the way you have described. The reception, though, is a different story and that's where all the fancy-schmancy stuff is served.

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