The anonymity of Twitter sometimes brings out the worst in us. Opening up to share details of your life also seems to be an open invitation for haters and bullies to comment with aggression, acrimony and rancour. It happens to me, most often, when I talk about non-vegetarian food or post pictures of a meaty meal. And if it happens to be the holy month of Shravan, god help me. I get trolled seconds after hitting the ‘tweet’ button.
I get hammered if I mention ham, forked if I talk about fish, stewed if I mention a steak, and mauled if I talk about mutton biryani.
I am contemptuously reminded about my Hindu provenance and cautioned about July and August being the months of Shravan. Yes, a lot of Hindus fast during Shravan, which means that even if they are usually non-vegetarians, most Hindus turn vegetarian during the fifth month of the Hindu year. I am a disgrace because I cannot, in the name of the almighty, remember to fast, especially if I see good food in front of me.
Though, growing up all those years ago, living in a joint family in my grandparents’ home near Marine Drive, we did celebrate Shravan with great gusto. It was, like any other festival, a lot of fun, because the rest of the family came over and the kitchen was buzzing with activity. My grandmother loved her kitchen and would organise the lunch, with the cook and the rest of the staff working under her, with watchful eyes.
But getting back to our purely vegetarian Shravan meals. Thalis and cutlery would be dispensed with, and banana leaves procured. We’d sit in a long row, with the banana leaves spread in front of us. The air would be filled with the fragrance of flowers, incense and food. The older ladies would serve, and the kids would be the first to eat.
Faraal or upvaas food immediately brings to mind commonly known Maharashtrian favourites like sabudana wada, sabudana khichdi, Thalipeeth, or the less-commonly known Shengdanyachi Usal (coconut curry with peanuts) with varyache bhaat, also called bhagar (samo rice). However, my small community of Pathare Prabhus did their own thing.
The menu in our home would start with a pinch of salt, a slice of lemon, green chutney and khamang kakdi (a mildly flavoured salad of finely chopped cucumber, garnished with peanuts, green chillies and coconut). Then came the main vegetable. It was either shirale vataane bhaaji (ridge gourd with peas, cooked with green chillies and turmeric) or sukha vatana bhaaji (dry black peas with ladies finger).
Since no vegetarian meal in our home could ever be complete without potatoes, the next course would be batatachya goda (potatoes cooked in sambhar masala) or batatyacha bhujane (potatoes cooked in garlic, onion and masala, garnished with chopped coriander). To wipe all the masala and gravy up, and to create an unusually deadly combination of sweet and spicy, we always had the epitome of all rotis, the kajuchi poli (puran poli made of maida stuffed with cashews instead of besan) and guroli (sweet semolina puri).
‘When in doubt, deep fry’ was my grandmom’s motto. So we had deep-fried pathwad also known as alu-wadi (a roll of colocasia leaves smeared with besan, first steamed and then fried) or umbar (bhajiyas of banana and rice flour). The meal always ended with either varan-bhat (yellow daal and rice) dripping in toop (ghee), rice with kaakadiche sambare (cucumber coconut curry), methi alucha sambare (fenugreek and colocasia curry with coconut), or shevlacha sambare (coconut curry made from a tuber commonly known as Zaminkand or Dragon Stalk Yam).
It is one of those rare vegetarian meals that I still fondly reminisce about. The tragedy, however, is that, unless you get invited to a Pathare Prabhu home for Shravan, there is little chance of you getting to try this. However, the usual Shravan delicacies are available at Prakash Upahaar Kendra and Madhura Upahar (Dadar), Aaswad (Shivaji Park), Soam Restaurant (Babulnath), and Vinay Health Home and Sujata Upahar Gruha (Thakurdwar).
(Author and TV show host Kunal Vijayakar is “always hungry”. Follow him on Twitter @kunalvijayakar )