Fifty-three years passed by before I shopped for Gujarati pickles – the Saurashtra variety.
Studies at first, then kids, work, more ‘important’ tasks… the excuses were many. I had the resourceful mom, masi, masi-sasu and friend; there were ATHANA (Gujarati word for pickles)-enthusiasts at home and my mother-in-law loved to make them — so I simply enjoyed them. My mother-in-law never even half-jokingly alluded to that fact that I had not learned how to make them myself. Add to that the notion that it was better to eat fresh vegetables and fruit. In short, yours truly was a big zero when it came to the ability to make Athana.
Yet, on some days when Khichadi was made, I’d longingly remember the kind of Gundaa (glueberries) my mom’s grandmother used to make. Passing from her hands, they had come to my mom’s mother, and to my mother. Sometimes the thought of Dala-Garmar (the roots of Coleus Forskholli are “Garmar” and “Dala” are their stems) would flash through my mind like the sparks of memory flashing amid amnesia. But that was about it – nothing more.
This vacation, my work involves the reading of Vedic literature. Energized by reading those amazing texts in the morning, I feel ready to greet my household to pull out of it one of those several tasks that remained neglected, avoided, and buried deep at the bottom of my list of priorities – just like one of those divers who pull out the water chestnuts from some lake. What could be a better way to structure that part of the day than to liberate one entry from the to-do list?
It was in that connection that I went to buy fresh vegetables. It is not my usual job. As soon as I entered the shop, I saw the fresh, green gundaa and got hooked to them. So, I bought raw mangoes to go with them. Next to those were Garmar. The bunch of them looked like a grieving widower without Dala, so I rescued them as well. On way back, I also swooped some mustard oil, and dry chilis – a combination of Kashmiri and Reshampatto, to balance color and taste.
My MIL looked aghast with shock when I got back home. I had to reassure her that there was nothing to worry about. But MIL was her name! She also braced up and strode into the kitchen. I had already had the recipe from mom (although it was one AM her time, she outputted the whole thing without so much of a pause), and plugged some FAQs with the help of Masi and my Dilojaan friend.
Swiftly applying PERT-CPM, I initiated the project on two- or three parallel paths and began to clean Garmar, when my husband came for his tea.
“Ohh, the kind that Punjabis make?”
“The kind that Nagars make.”
It was just the mention of the word Nagar – my community, but much in a way that a mere scratch on a ragtag wall draws the whole lot of rubble, the word brought forth with force, the memories of my childhood, days and nights of summer vacation, grandparents, great-grandparents, mother, and much more – the way a sprout bursts out of the loose coupling of a tap with the pipe. Tears welled up in my eyes. Husband knew that sound of heavy breathing meant to pull the snot up. He pressed a silent punch on my sleeve in his bro-spirit.
I prefer to keep myself to myself. Within a moment the world outside got muted, and I began to match pace with my inner self. Preparation for pickles turned into some ancient meditation and connected me to my loved ones. Tears dried up and the smell of memories of cherished ones and cherished times began to fill my soul up.
Cutting the raw mangoes with care, arranging each piece in a matrix on a spread of cloth, making sure that no piece had the residue of the hard case of mango seed … such tiny details tuned me up with the women of my family and the qualities they had: attention to detail, finesse, and diligence began to get sprinkled over me. That I think, was the Samskara. Piercing the ears, shaving the head off, taking steps around the sacred fire are mere rituals. Things that we don’t do naturally, things that someone has to teach us, and teach us in a way that we begin to perform them without boredom and do them well – that, is Samskara, I felt. My elders must have sawn some into me, and a few of those began to sprout. In my childhood, my mother would have asked me to do many things, and I would have simply run away without ever doing them. Today, those tasks that I never learned began to pay some of the debt. The heritage of making Athana stirred from slumber.
I told my MIL, “You are not going to do anything. Just sit here, tell me ‘Do this / Don’t do this’, and supervise.” She also agreed. And we had some idle debates on which jaggery was superior and such. She said she had got the chili powder for pickles, and I said I was going to grind my own. I can be stubborn at times, so everyone ran for cover and came back to the kitchen with gingerly steps only when convinced that there was no chili discharge in the air. I also showed my appreciation by filling up the jars just as told.
Thus I was initiated today as I wet my feet in one of those many many streams of way of living in which the women of my family have become buffed to a spotless shine.