Saturday, December 5, 2020

 Known Epic, Unknown Story! A Sudaama in Ramayana! 


I cannot vouch for the authenticity of this story but it seems to be inspired by this couplet in Thulasidas's Ramacharitmanas

भए कुमार जबहिं सब भ्राता। दीन्ह जनेऊ गुरु पितु माता॥
गुरगृहँ गए पढ़न रघुराई। अलप काल बिद्या सब आई॥2॥

As soon as all the brothers reached the appropriate age,  they were blessed by Guru and Parents. Shri Raghunathji (including brothers) went to the Guru's house to study, and within a short time, all his teachings came to him.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Lord Krishnaa’s childhood friend Sudaama (known as Kuchelaa in South India) whose poverty was erased by Lord Krishnaa’s Grace. What is less known is that Sudaama was present during the earlier Raamavaatar too? Is it not amazing?

The Sudaama of Ramayana was called Ananth (infinite).  As per practise of those days, Sri Raam stayed at Sage Vasishta’s Gurukul along with Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan to learn the various life skills as well as other skills essential to develop intelligence and critical thinking.  During this time, one of their contemporaries in the ashram was a poor boy called Ananth, who served Sage Vasisht. Ananth had a very special affection for Sri Raam and derived great pleasure in helping the Raam-Laxman brothers. Sri Raam also had immense affection for him. Ananth was very happy to assist Sri Raam by doing little chores for him like cleaning His weapons, sharpening His quills, serving food and so on. Ananth would feel bereft and gloomy if he could not see Sri Raam even for a single day. They were as close as Krishnaa and Sudaama in Sage Sandeepani’s Aashram. Since they were inseparable and the residents of the Aashram referred to them as Anantharaam (Infinitely charming or pleasing).

It was Ananth’s special duty to collect the sacred Darbha or Kusha Grass for the Aashram from deep inside the forest and this necessitated his stay in the forest for a few days every month. Once while Ananth was in the forest, Sri Raam’s education at the Gurukul was completed. He had to leave for Ayodhya without getting a chance to bid farewell. When Ananth returned from the forest, he was very sad and distressed. He wanted to meet Sri Raam one more time and so left the Aashram for Ayodhya searching for Sri Raam.

When he reached Ayodhya, he was shocked to hear that Sage Viswamitra had taken away Raam and Lakshman to guard his yagna in the forest. His heart filled with sorrow and eyes brimmed with tears when he thought of the innocent Sri Raam being away in the dangerous forest and he silently upbraided Dasarth Maharaj for having agreed to send young Sri Raam to the forest. He also mentally raged at Sage Viswamitra and worried incessantly, “Poor Sri Raam what will he do in the forest? Who will serve him? Who will collect darbhaa grass and sacrificial fuel sticks for his daily rituals?” Ananth decided to find Sri Raam so that he could serve Him.

Without even getting permission from his guru Sage Vasisht, Ananth went straight to the Tataka forest. In the wild and thick forest, Ananth kept searching for Sri Raam calling out his name “Raama” again and again; he lost his way and being unable to see Sri Raam, he was in despair. He did not want to return to the Gurukul without seeing Sri Raam so he just sat down, chanting Raam’s name. He was covered by anthill but his chanting did not stop.   

As the wheels of time rolled on inexorably, the various events of Ramayana transpired – after completing Sage Viswamitra’s yagna Sri Raam had married Sita; gone to the jungle in obedience to his father’s words; been separated from Sita and had rescued her with Hanuman’s help after vanquishing Raavan and  had finally returned to Ayodhya after fourteen years. Arrangements were on for Sri Raam’s coronation but Ananth was still inside the anthill chanting Raama’s name, naively unaware of the relentless passage of time.

 To attend Sri Raam’s coronation, all - sages, kings and common men and women- were proceeding towards Ayodhya. One such group of sages while passing the anthill tripped over it and disturbed Ananth’s got up and started wailing for Sri Raam. He was so immersed in the thought of his friend that he neither realized that he was dishevelled with matted hair and neither tattered clothes nor that had he grown older. He continued to call out piteously to Raam.  After understanding what had happened, one of the kind sages pacified and consoled him. The kindly sage told him about Sri Raam’s coronation in Ayodhya. Ananth was shocked to hear of Sri Raam’s sorrows and tears flowed anew from his eyes but he was happy to hear of the coronation and joined the sages to reach Ayodhya.

Ayodhya was decked up for the Coronation.  The city resonated with the chanting of sacred Vedas and auspicious music. Gurus Vasisht and Viswamitra were busy supervising the preparations for the Coronation. After an early morning bath and greeting His mother and praying at the temple of Sun God,  when the resplendently dressed Sri Raam was regally proceeding towards the audience chamber, the august gathering was shocked to hear a loud voice say, ”Arey Raama! Where were you all these days? Do you know how long I have been searching for you?”

Ananth came running towards Sri Raam and embraced him. Everyone was shocked to see a man with matted hair and in rags calling Raam in the singular without the honorific salutation. The guards thinking him to be a mad man rushed forward to drag him away.  

Sri Raam embraced him back and wiping his tears and said in an affectionate voice, “Forgive me, Ananth!”

All were stunned to hear Sri Raam say, “I knew how sad you would feel if I left the Gurukul without bidding you farewell and yet I did, forgive my mistake!”

A tearful Hanuman was overjoyed that there was another devotee, who loved Sri Raam like himself. Seeing that Sage Vasisht was puzzled, Sri  Raam said, “Don’t you recognize him - my classmate Ananth, who served in your Gurukul? In this big assemblage while everyone was addressing me as ‘My Lord’ my heart was missing my father’s affectionate call of ‘Arey Raam’. Ananth has become equal to my father by appeasing that longing”.  Sage Vasisht also embraced Ananth.

Sri Raam then said, “All these days Ananth has been chanting my name and waiting for me; he has at found me last, I want to honour him before the assembly for his devotion.” He turned to Hanuman and said. “How should I honour him, who loves me as much as you love me?”

“My Lord! You have said that he is like your father so before you ascend the throne you should seat him on that throne. That homage and honour to him will be apt and appropriate not only for you but for all of us,” said Hanuman and everyone agreed to his suggestion

Ananth cringed saying that he was not fit for such an honour but others disagreed and ignoring his nays, they seated him on the throne, Sri Raam paid obeisance at his feet and after that only ascended to the throne.



It appears that Ananth was so captivated by the love of the Lord that he reappeared as Sudaama in His next incarnation as Krishna.

Sri Raam! Jai Sri Raam! Jai jai Raam!

Original: Vijayaraghavan on FB

 

Friday, November 27, 2020

 Rings – A Fashion statement or…?

“Rings on her finger, bells on her toes, she shall have music wherever she goes” so goes the nursery rhyme that we learnt as children.


Rings to adorn fingers have fascinated human beings from times anon. Historically, the earliest reports about rings were from the excavations of the Indus Valley Civilization dating to the 3rd Millennium BC. 

A circular band generally made of metal (copper, bronze, silver, gold or platinum or a combination of them) is usually denoted as a ring when it adorns a finger and fit snugly. Rings may be embellished with engravings or etched or embedded with semiprecious or precious stones or even glass or synthetic materials.  Circular bands adorning other parts of the body have other specific names like bangles for wrists, toe-rings for toes, nose ring for the nose and so on. There are more than 50 styles of rings ranging from the signet ring to the finger armour ring.

Rings have been omnipresent in the universal consciousness of humans as shown by their reference in mythology, literature, songs and movies. Mythology from all over the world, whether Norse, Welsh, Christian or Hindu and others refer to the ring. In Hindu mythology, it is a ring that is supposed to have enabled Hanuman to fly over the ocean to locate Sita in Lanka and it is the same ring that is shown to her as a proof of being the emissary of Ram. In the Bible, there are 11 verses about rings (most of them being references to signet ring) indicating authority and honour. The rings in mythology, legends and literature were often said to possess divine or mystical powers which were magical.  The Lord of the Rings is a novel all about such a ring and its magical powers. In the 2013 Bollywood movie, Akshaya Kumar sports rings on his finger to flaunt his power by wearing rings that spell it out.


Though most people wear rings for decoration or for ostentatious flaunting of their prosperity and affluence, rings do have a deeper significance with reference to marriage (both the engagement as well as the final ceremony), position in society (Ecclesiastical ring), membership in an organization(Masonic ring worn by Freemasons),  attainment of an academic degree (Doctoral ring)and so on. Signet rings with emblems were used to endorse letters and ratify contracts. It is common knowledge that many historical characters used to conceal poison in their rings to commit suicide if caught by enemies.

The first reference to wedding rings is with reference to the ancient Egyptians, who used plants growing on the sides of the river Nile to weave the circlet to solemnize the wedding. A circle has no beginning or end so it was used to symbolize infinity or endless love. This practice was later included in Christian and Jewish wedding ceremonies but initially, only the bride received the ring but it was only since World War II that men also began to wear the wedding ring. The wedding ring is worn on the ring finger of the left hand because of a myth that there's a vein running directly from the fourth finger to one’s heart. Modern science has proven that such a thing doesn't exist but it continues to be the finger of choice due to tradition. In many countries, notably Northern and Eastern European countries, including Denmark, Norway, Russia, Poland, and Bulgaria as also Sri Lanka and India, the wedding ring is worn on the right hand and in other fingers too in some cases.

Most people wear rings without being conscious of why they wear them (except for the wedding ring which is always worn on the ring finger of the left hand) and this is considered as a negative trait by Palmists. If you want the ring to affect your life or personality, Fig 1 provides some guidance.


Fig1: Symbolism of positive and negative aspects of character and inner strength denoted by the rings worn on different fingers. 

Ref: https://godgivenglyphs.com/chirology-articles/rings-on-your-fingers/


 Whether your fingers are long and slender, short and stubby or just of the average dimension, the ring will definitely enhance it and make it stand out.  Remember, however, that rings should be like spice, they should complement what’s already there.

  

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Udutha Sahaayam (The Squirrel's help)

 

The first Telugu adaptation of Ramayana was by the famous poet Ranganatha - also known as Gona Budda Reddybetween 1300 and 1310 AD; Ranganatha Ramayana,  is famous for introducing the fabled squirrel incident. In Andhra Pradesh, even today people use the phrase “Udutha sahaayam”(Squirrel’s assistance) and  Udutha Bhakti”(Squirrel’s devotion) to denote a small effort,  which makes a difference because it has been done with sincerity and so helps in achieving a big cause.

 

Sri Ram needed the help of Lakshmana, Hanuman, Sugriva and the entire Vanara Sena (the monkey army) to rescue Sita from Raavana. To reach Lanka; they had to cross eighty miles of sea in The Indian Ocean.  On the command of their leader Sugriva, Vanara Sena began to build a bridge across the ocean.Thousands of Vanaras or monkeys worked very hard to complete the bridge. The monkeys dug out huge rocks and heavy stones from the mountains, carried them to the sea and dropped them in the ocean with great difficulty and with great diligence went about the task of building Rama Sethu or Rama’s bridge from Dhanushakodi to the North-Western coast of Sri Lanka. 

One day, Ram noticed a small brown squirrel, which was picking up pebbles in his mouth on the seashore and dropping them between the rocks that the vanaras were dropping in the sea. The squirrel would then go back to the beach and roll in the sand so that it stuck to his wet body, come back on to the bridge and shake out the sand on the stones that were being put in place by the monkeys. He did this again and again.

While doing this, the squirrel came in the way of a great monkey, who was carrying a large heavy stone on his back and caused the vanara to stumble.

The monkey jumped back. “Hey, you little creature!” shouted the monkey in a voice like thunder, “You’re in my way, I nearly fell!  I stepped back so you’re alive now. What are you doing here?”

“Brother Monkey, I apologize for coming in your way but Brother, you should also take care to look where you are going.  I am only trying to help Lord Rama build his bridge, I feel very sad for him,” said the Squirrel in a soft voice.

“You, what?” shouted the monkey and laughed aloud. “Did you hear that!” he said to the other monkeys. “This squirrel is building a bridge with his pebbles. Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I’ve never heard anything funnier in my life.” The other monkeys laughed too.

The squirrel was not amused and said, “Look, my heart cries out for Ram and I am doing what I can for Him. I can’t carry mountains or rocks because God gave me only little strength. I can only carry pebbles and sand but I want to help.”

The monkeys said, “Don’t be foolish! Do you think you can help Ram? Do you think you can build a bridge with pebbles? He has a big army to help him. Go home and don’t get in our way!”

“But I too want to do what little I can,” said the squirrel and refused to go. He carried the pebbles again and again from the shore to the sea. The monkeys were angry and one of them picked up the squirrel by his tail and flung him high into the air. 

The squirrel, crying out the name of Ram, fell into Ram’s hands. Ram held the squirrel tenderly in the palms of his hands and said to the monkeys, “It is wrong to tease the weak and the small! One’s actions and one’s prowess are not as significant as one’s love. This little squirrel has a magnanimous heart filled with love and compassion.”


“O Vanaras, you are valiant and physically powerful! You are indeed completing a brilliant task carrying all these huge boulders and stones from far and dropping them in the ocean. But can you not see that it is the tiny pebbles and stones brought by this small squirrel which are filling the small gaps between the huge stones? Do you not realize that sand brought by this squirrel is binding the whole bridge and making it strong? How can you scold this small creature and fling him in anger!”

Hearing this, the Vanaras were ashamed, and bowed down their heads while Lord Ram continued, “Always remember, however small, every task is equally important. Any huge task can never be completed by the most important people alone. Support of all, large and small is needed for any job! So all effort, no matter how small or how negligible, should always be appreciated!”

Ram then turned to the squirrel and said softly, “My dear squirrel, I am sorry my army teased you and hurt you.  Your help is very useful so please continue your work cheerfully.” He gently stroked the back of the squirrel with his fingers and when Lord Ram put the squirrel down there were three white stripes on his back. These were the caress marks of Lord Ram’s fingers. Even today you see these stripes on the backs of the squirrels in India and neighbouring countries.



 

 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Whatsapp - Wrecker of Relationships ??

 


WhatsApp completed 10 years last year. WhatsApp has grown exponentially since its inception when it first seduced its users by changing the way they communicate – instantaneous exchange of news while being able to talk to each other – and all this at no cost. By 2011 the toddler WhatsApp had a record of 1 billion messages per day propelled by the group chat feature. Today group chat is the most widely used feature on WhatsApp and every user has at least two to three groups on his or her phone today. The irresistible App had its ups and downs but there can be no doubt that this one-to-one chat app service developed by two former employees of Yahoo - Brian Acton and Jan Koum has become everyone’s must-have accessory. 

The Parable of the Mustard Seed is a well-known Buddhist folk tale. Kisa Gotami’s, only son died suddenly. She carried his young body from place to place pleading with people to help her bring him back to life. Their advice was to get an audience with the wise Buddha, who was capable of many miracles. Kisa visited Buddha and begged him to bring her dead son back to life.   

  

                                                    

Buddha understood her grief and suggested that Kisa should collect some mustard seeds from those in her neighbourhood in whose house/family there had never been a death. With those mustard seeds, he assured her that he would be able to concoct a medicine to revive her son back to life. She went back to her village and began asking her neighbours for mustard seeds. Though all were ready to help her by giving the mustard, they expressed their regret since all of them had encountered death and they told her “the living are few but the dead are many”.

 

If Buddha had been alive today, He would have found it easier to say “Find me a family that does not have WhatsApp access and get me mustard seeds from that family”!



Jokes apart, it is a fact of life that almost everyone, from the beggar on the street to the billionaire in the Mansion, has Whatsapp on their phone. “WhatsApp was downloaded 96 million times in February 2020. WhatsApp is available in more than 180 countries and 60 different languages. With 340million users, India is the leader of  the WhatsApp's market”, according to Statistics.

 

Its popularity is because everyone is aware of its advantages and the World literally revolves around it. Many people are aware of its disadvantages – privacy issues, the onslaught of unavoidable messages especially during festivals and special days, misinformation and its addictiveness - there is, however, one major danger that it causes of which very few are really aware of. While it can help to revive and maintain relationships, it can also ruin relationships irrevocably.

 

In the days of snail mail, my father would say that we should be very careful while writing letters because the mood in which you are writing the letter may be the opposite of the mood in which the receiver would be when he is reading it and this may lead to a lot of heartburn and problems. The same principle applies to WhatsApp also. In those days people could delay their reaction and respond when they got out of their foul mood. With WhatsApp, however, the messages are instantaneous and people’s reactions are quicker too.

   

                       

                    

       Senders                                                                                                                Receiver

Imagine a scenario where a subordinate asks for a salary raise or a girl is having doubts about her relationship. He/she may have spent a lot of time in framing the message and after much hesitation, he/she may send it with trepidation (may even have a change of mind and want to cancel it but it is literally out of hand). Now the boss or fiancé who receives it may be in a jovial, sad, angry or despondent mood or may even be busy. It requires a lot of maturity for the receiver of the message, to respond with “Let’s talk about this in person tomorrow”, no matter what the mood. According to his/her mood, he/she may send back a joke, talk about his sorrow, fire back a terse negative reply or not respond at all. This may escalate out of control leading to the souring of a valuable relationship.




                      


    

So it is always advisable to avoid the WhatsApp for professional communication especially of personal nature. Whenever you want to start a serious discussion with anyone, remember that non-verbal cues have a significant role to play in achieving what you want. WhatsApp does not give you that opportunity so avoid it if you want to succeed! 

 

As far as WhatsApp is concerned, it is better to err on the side of caution because the words you send/message, become the house you have to live in!

 

 



 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Gentle Grandmas versus Grumpy Grandpas

“When you are old and grey and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once and of their shadows deep”

 
“You know how calm and tranquil Raghu was and you have said so many times that he is the incarnation of patience and tranquillity. All this changed after he crossed his 70th birthday, the change was very gradual, a bit of impatience, a little more irritation and after the 75th birthday, I noticed a great change in his personality. He has become the “Angry old man” (similar to Amitabh Bacchan in “Kabhi Khushi Khabi Gum” or “Gulabo Sitabo”). His behaviour has changed so much and he is becoming difficult to live with”, sobbed my friend Aparna over the phone. I tried my best to console her because I knew them both and could not believe her. I was quite surprised since the Raghu, I knew seldom lost his temper with either the wife or the children.  I was speaking to another common friend about this and she burst out with her long tale of woe regarding her husband.

I became curious and spoke to several of my friends and realized that “The Angry/Dictatorial/Grumpy/Prejudiced Old Man” was not a singular event but a regular happening in many households. Complaints about older women were also shared but their number was less. The older women in Literature and media are either smiling sweetly with perpetual knitting or crochet in their hands (Mrs Wilson in Dennis the Menace) or crusty crones cackling like witches (Grandma in George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl). This is quite different from the grouchy old men portrayed in many Hollywood movies like “Up”, in cartoons (who does not remember Mr Wilson in “Dennis the Menace”), King Lear in Shakespeare’s play and in the novel A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and so many others. It is now well known that grumpiness during old age is not just a stereotype but a way of life.

A recent survey conducted among 1000 Britons indicated that women and men have equal chances for the top position as a curmudgeon.  I was intrigued about this whole phenomenon of personality change related to old age.  “Irritable male syndrome”, is the term used to describe a rise in the crotchetiness of older men and the term was coined by Carol Wyer, a British author of the interesting book “How not to murder your Grumpy”.


Actually speaking, there is less likelihood of older people being more irritable or unpleasant compared to anyone else. Research indicates that on the whole, their natural inclination is towards contentment and patience due to a factor called the Positivity Effect, which causes older people to forget the bad. Having retired they do not have to contend with dictatorial bosses or run around doing errands for demanding offspring.  Evidence shows that men are better able to manage angst and pressures until the 65th birthday and are usually excited at the start of their superannuation. They have fewer worries to speak of but they tended to feel less euphoric five years later due to their health, memory and loss in their lives. The results of a research project that followed 1,300 men over a period of 15-years showed that on an average when men turn 70, their happiness diminished and they became cross and cranky.  What is behind this grumpiness or grouchiness? There are two major reasons for the crabbiness of older people – physiological and psycho-social changes.

Among the physiological changes, hormonal drop plays a major role in affecting the mood of older people. Testosterone levels decline as men age and this has a deleterious effect on emotional vitality causing anger, depression, irritability, anxiety and feelings of insecurity. In women levels of estrogen as also, prolactin tend to decline and this leads to change in the production of endorphins or the “feel-good” chemicals affecting their emotional well being. There are very many changes in almost all systems of the body from top to toe and very often older persons suffer from a lot of pain. Even simple tasks like dining out; visiting friends or shopping become a chore and a burden to the old people. It becomes irksome because they suddenly have to depend on younger persons, who may with all good intentions still trigger feelings of insecurity.


Psycho socially a feeling sets in that they are no longer useful; this is a serious factor especially for men 
since women continue to work at their domestic chores till the end of their lives. They feel neglected and certain natural changes that occur as people grow older, like impulse control, can cause one to be more caustic and censuring than one’s younger self. This combination of factor alienates the older men from the youngsters with whom they come in contact.


Women have more triggers to make them crabby,  compared to men but they are used to adjusting right from childhood especially in patriarchal societies so they cope better than men in being even level-headed and stable. They are also conditioned to hide their joys and sorrows from family and society so they do not cause as many ripples as do older men. 



How do you manage a parent or an old friend who is cantankerous? Communicate with them and if you cannot speak to them directly, try using a tactful intermediary. Make an effort identify the reasons (solvable versus unsolvable problems) and speak in the right way (the mode of talking to elders is ingrained in children from childhood in most societies) and try to establish what works in particular situations. Avoid belittling them or confronting them and use humour to defuse a situation where and when possible. If nothing works, don’t take it personally and do not it let it affect you or your behaviour.

To conclude, I would like to quote from Bob’s blog - We have always heard the later years in life referred to as the Golden Years let’s make that a reality. If you are a younger person reading this, please help a parent, older relative or friend start to enjoy their lives more fully.

 

Ref: https://www.knoxseniors.org/its-time-to-defeat-grumpy-old-person-syndrome/





Wednesday, September 16, 2020

புரட்டாசி சனிக்கிழமை ( Saturdays of Purattasi Month)

            

On this day the 16th of September 2020, my mother Loganayaki Kannan (universally known as Loga Kannan) would have turned 93 if God had not taken her away from us in 2006.

Tomorrow is the first day of Puratasi month (September-October) according to the Tamil calendar and this was one of Loga Kanna’s favourite months as was also the month of Marghazi(December-January).  Purattasi was special because it was the month that had the maximum of festivals and she could indulge her passion for cooking and home decorations. Marghazhi was liked because it was dedicated to Lord Krishna, her ishta devata and both the months gave her chances to display her aesthetic creativity through the elaborate kolams that are drawn in front of the houses.

During Puratasi month, the autumnal equinox occurs and in the Northern hemisphere, where India is situated, the sun crosses the celestial equator to move southwards. According to Tamil cultural belief, Puratasi is the month in which Lord Vishnu appeared on the earth as Lord Venkateswara. Therefore it is considered to be the ideal time to thank Lord Vishnu for preserving the Universe at the end of Kali Yuga. It is believed that Shani Bhagwan’s malefic powers wane during this period so Puratasi Saturdays are considered to be especially beneficial for fasting and worshipping Lord Vishnu.

Every Saturday during this month, from the time I could remember, my mother would get up early in the morning, have a head bath, wear a silk sari and bustle about the house decorating the floors with kolams and festooning the doorways with mango leaf garlands. She would prepare an array of Variety rice – Puliyodurai, Ellu saadam, lime rice, daddojanam and chakra pongalchanna sundal, medu vada, sago-semia payasam and kesari in addition to vegetable curries, chutneys and raitas. Three banana leaves would be spread before the altar and all the prepared food would be served ceremonially as food for the Gods, our ancestors and the members of the household. 

         
She would apply naamam on our foreheads and as the puja was being performed, we had to chant Govinda! Govinda! as loudly as we could. The puja room as also our whole house would be filled with the fragrant smoke from the dhoop, agarbathis and burning camphor. She never missed a Saturday even when she crossed her sixties.

During this month was also Dassera festival /Navaratri. As a child in her maternal house, she had arranged the traditional golu and participated in the Navaratri celebrations with full zeal. However, in her marital family, golu was not a part of the Dusshera celebrations so she tried to go back to her mother’s house during this month, whenever she could but these visits tapered as the children grew older and finances became tighter. She took great pleasure in coming up with innovative ideas to help her friends arrange the Golu.

Puratasi  will always revive her memories for me. Though I had neither her enthusiasm nor zeal to celebrate it as she did, every year I look out for that month and try to mark it in my own way though not as flamboyantly as her. 


Sunday, August 30, 2020

Eat to Nourish the Body, not for the Taste!

 When I first came to Delhi in 2016, I asked my daughter’s North Indian cook to make chapatis for dinner. What she served me was thick like leather and was not the chapathi I had visualized. It was thick and was what we call rotis in the South. Later I realized that in the North ‘rotis’ mean ‘phulkas’ and the chapatis I had wanted is actually called parathas in Delhi. A simple recipe consumed all over India, with just a few ingredients - wheat flour, salt, oil and water- assumes different avatars and different names in various parts of India. Just as the Indian pizza is very different from the Italian pizza or the Chinese chowmein is quite a stranger to the chowmein served in Indian restaurants so also every food item in the World incarnates in unusual ways in different parts of the World.

The Indian cuisine is as varied as the World cuisine due to its diversity (from Kashmir to Kanyakumari or Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat) of geography (soil, climate and crop availability of grains, millets, fruits, vegetables as also the spices and herbs), culture (ethnic groups & occupation) and religion. Within each region, there is again a mind-boggling variety dictated by caste, customs and traditions, e.g. in Tamilnadu, the Chettinad cuisine is quite different from the Brahmin cuisine. In the past when communication and transport were restricted, you could not even dream of eating food from any area other than your immediate neighbourhood. Within the region, every family standardizes the recipes in different ways to suit the requirements of the various members of the family. Very often the cuisine is a blend of the methods followed by the mother and the mother-in-law of the homemaker. Often men mistakenly think it’s a compliment when they tell their wives “Your sambhar/chole is exactly the same as my mother’s”,  little realizing that the statement for some women may be like a red rag waved in front of a bull.   The cooking process also changes from one generation to the other for various reasons. 

An individual’s acceptance depends on the enjoyment he/she derives from the food being eaten. That level of satisfaction will depend upon the ambience of the environment, his/her physiological status (i.e., hunger, thirst, and presence/absence of illness), related factors like a method of serving and others but the most important factor is the prior experience, which will determine his anticipation. If you had eaten jasmine soft idlis when you were younger, then chances are you will want similar idlis later in life.   

The prior experience will depend on personal, cultural, social, religious, economic, environmental, and even political factors, which determines the cuisine that he/she is accustomed to. The Keralites, for example, were not amused when beef was ostracized by the ruling party recently since they have consumed it without taboo from times unknown. The cuisine varies according to various cultures, geographic availability of foods and the customs, traditions, which dictate the ingredients, used as also the methods of cooking. The cuisine is not static but evolves over time assuming different forms at different times and places.

My mother, as well as my mother-in-law, lived with us during the end of their life. Both the ladies were not happy with my cooking though my children and husband had no complaints. My mother-in-law’s complaints I could understand since my cooking (South Indian style but with inputs from Andhra and North Indian cuisine) was quite different from her ways of cooking (typical Chennai non-Brahmin cooking). I could not understand why my mother complained since she had taught me cooking when I was young and it was South Indian cuisine with inputs from North India and some Andhra cuisine. My mother-in-law was not as vociferous as my mother since, by the time she came to my home, she was not mobile. My mother, on the other hand, was quite active and wanted to cook but after one or two instances of her forgetting to switch off the stove, I refused to allow her that freedom so she grumbled endlessly about my cooking till her last day. Now I have reached their stage of life and stay with my daughter. I have the same complaints about cooking in my daughter’s house that those two ladies had with me in my house. I am usually very adaptable (even if I say so) having lived in various hostels during the course of my studies so as a Nutritionist, I wanted to know why?

Several studies do point to the fact that Physiological, Psychological and sociological changes due to ageing, affect food acceptance and habits of elderly people. The physiological factors include a change in dentition, hearing, smell and taste apart from general health and changes in gastrointestinal system. Quite apart from this, Edfors and Albert Westergren (2012) reported the following feedback from the geriatric subjects they studied – food for us, elderly people is probably supposed to be cooked with care, but it happens that some food is not properly cooked; Now that I have reached this age, I should be allowed to… have things I like, and not… food that makes me think: ‘Ugh, what is that, that’s no good’.” 

Most old people describe a longing for appetizing meals and often they long for the traditional foods that they were accustomed to during their younger days. Another factor that needs to be considered is that in most cases the older ladies have always been gatekeepers of what the family eats and enjoyed the role. However, as they age and cannot cook, they feel the control slipping away. They are unable to do the little tricks they used to make the food more attractive and appetizing – my mother always added a dollop of ghee to the upma she made, to make it smell fragrant and non-sticky. Others may not be able to control the dollop size the way she could. As was said earlier, every individual adds his/her own spell to the recipe which makes it unique. There are certain recipes which they ate when they were younger but the recipe is not known to the younger generation or cannot be prepared. My mother-in-law wanted to have “Dried fish curry” but living in a Brahmin neighbourhood, I could not oblige her until a colleague very kindly got it made by her mother at her house. And in the modern world, where many career women depend upon paid help or take away food from restaurants, it is not easy to satisfy the taste buds of older people. Men especially can become very vociferous because they have always been pampered by their wives, who tried their best to imply, "your every word is my command”.

There is no easy solution to this problem. It will do a world of good to remember that the human tongue is only 3-3.5 inches. Once the food crosses the tongue and enters the oesophagus, all food is the same – a blend of nutrients to keep the body healthy. Eat to nourish the body and not for the taste!