I am 10-years old and sitting in my petticoat on a wooden paat laid in the small triangular space outside our bathroom. My paternal grandmother whom we call Aaji is doing ‘malish’ using scented utna (a mix of aromatics said to be good for the skin) and commenting how my legs are nice and long, just like my Aatya’s.
Flash and change of scene.
I am pressing hard holding the chakali patra in my small hands, trying to get my chakali to be at least 3 spirals before the dough breaks off.
Next, I am being very responsible carefully storing away karanjis in huge metal dabbas with air-tight lids.
The ViewMaster in my head flashes scenes…in quick succession…memories that have taken on a sepia tinted hue. Years have passed, Diwalis have come and gone, the shape of my legs and waist have grown in girth and from being a scrawny kid, I am now a mom of a scrawny kid. What has remained constant is the annual faral-making frenzy which my Aaji embarks with a zeal that belies her age of 91 years.
A wiry strong woman who was a star athlete in her school days, she is living proof that exercise and diet will ensure health. She is proud that she has all her own teeth, can daily climb down 3 floors to go for a walk in Shivaji Park, do yoga asanas (including Sarvangasan, yeah look it up on Google) for 90 mins and also has less greys in her hair than me.
Every year, without fail she starts faral-making 15 days before Diwali. No store-bought stuff enters her house. Despite multiple suggestions from all of us to not make so much, she insists on making the full range of items and what comes out of hours of strenuous effort spent toiling over hot oils in this October heat are dabbas bursting with goodies.
The concept of ‘faral’ is uniquely Maharashtrian. I may be wrong, but I haven’t encountered it outside our state. This entire process of making and sharing faral with family and friends is such a warm ritual…one that thankfully hasn’t changed with time.
So every year, on Narkachaturdashi, the entire family- me, husband, daughter, my sister with her husband and daughter, my Aatya with Kaka, and her son, daughter-in-law and daughter assemble at our house for Diwalicha faral.
The scene we are presented with has remained unchanged for years. A variety of 5 ladoos- kajoo, besan, churma, rava, and kurmura are laid out jostling for space next to platefuls of shev, two types of poha and kurmura chivdas, chakali, and two types of karanjis– one with sugar in the filling and other with jaggery.
All of us, dressed in our finest, sit down and stuff ourselves for the next hour or so. For some strange reason, Aaji insists that we need more food so garam garam Pohe and matki usal are also made by my Aai.
The items are laid out in beautiful pista-green plates which my grandmother treasures. Being the wicked grand-kids that we are, we scare her into thinking we are about to drop one of her precious plates and pull her leg mercilessly, but she takes it in her stride.
The heirloom green plates. Photo by: Nupura Samant
Just a bit about these ancient plates.
All these years, I believed that Aaji got them as a present some time after her wedding, a time when she didn’t have much and lived in a small make-shift home made in my great-grandfather’s medical clinic. Imagine my surprise when I recently I found out that she bought them from a ‘boharin’ in exchange for some old sarees!
We all get-together, laugh eat and soak in the warmth that we call family.
While for the last several years has been Aaji making the faral on her own with my Aai as an occasional helper, in the past, her sous-chef was my grandfather. Dajiba, as we called him at home, was a man of precision. Everything he did was very methodical and measured. This included cutting and chopping vegetables like a trained chef. When it came to faral-making, his help was crucial for Aaji.
He started by helping her pound the dough which as all ace faralistas know is the key step in getting the gluten in the flour to work resulting in a smooth elastic and malleable dough ball.
Today, we watch MasterChef participants set up their work stations before starting a recipe, as a 6-7-year old, I watched Dajiba doing this. Out came a 2-feet long metal ruler, a cloth, newspapers, a small vati or katori of water, multiple plates and a brass katna that made beautiful wavy designs on the edges karanjis and shankapale. Everything was set in a particular order on the kitchen table, his workspace.
Then, he sat down using the metal ruler to draw a grid of diagonal lines across a massive dough poli rolled out by Aaji. The distance between parallel lines was exactly 1.5 inches, resulting in shankarpalis that looked as if they had been machine-cut.
Same was his method with karanjis. Aaji made the filling and the dough but she never molded any. That was his job. He lined up a row of small puris of dough to start the filling and molding process. It was almost like a conveyer belt where he was the sole worker.
Taking a clean rag (those were the days before anyone had heard of pastry brushes), he dipped it in a vati of milk. He ran this rag over the edges of the puris. Next, he measured an exact quantity of saran on each circle, placing it slight off-centre. He then proceeded to fold all the karanjis and trimmed their edges with surgical precision. A few strips of the cut-off dough were given to me to play around with.
Watching the plump crescents waiting for the hot oil, I needed to distract myself from hunger pangs in my stomach. So, I proceeded to roll out my own karanjis with dough which thanks to my over-handling used to take on a slightly greyish hue.
Today, Dajiba is no more and Aaji does all this mostly alone, giving up her afternoon siesta as well as favourite Marathi serials on TV to keep the tradition going.
I use my job as an excuse and buy faral and not make any, at the same time, I can appreciate the effort that goes into making a dozen different faral items from scratch using the best of ingredients and toiling away over the gas in a kitchen where you can’t switch on the fan lest the flame gets extinguished. Just the thought of it makes me sweat.
Therefore, this year I am waiting eagerly for November 6th, which will be the eve of her 92nd birthday. When I plonk myself on the floor around the feast laid out for our yearly faral session, I promise to crack less of the off-repeated jokes, to try and look away from the stack of ‘Diwali’ gift envelopes waiting in the corner, and focus more on the taste and texture of Aaji’s hand-made delicacies. Chakalis beware…here I come.
Prajakta Samant is a member of the Angat Pangat Facebook Group.