Thursday, October 6, 2011

Halva, Poori and Embarrassment

You know how there are certain things about our families that we think are queer. Certain routine behaviors, traditions, customs and beliefs. Things that we as kids perceive to be weird, but grow into following on our own one day. I’m not from a very superstitious family. A very general level of Indian superstition is what my parents, grandparents and other elders believe in. Things like, I was told not to go over any of my little cousins lying on the bed. Apparently, doing this would hamper their growth and they won’t grow any taller. I grew up with such little lessons on conduct just like all my other friends. It used to be fun to discuss such beliefs and family teachings with each other during classroom chats in school. But there were certain things, which even though not that queer, people chose to stay mum about. “Kanjak” was one such thing.

The last day of the navratras, I think, is called the Ashtmi Puja day. I always knew it by the name “Kanjak”. I would get up early in the morning to the aroma of pooris, halva and channe being cooked in the kitchen. Getting ready for the day when a new stock of colorful lunch boxes and stationery pouches would hit my shelf never seemed like a chore. I knew I had to dress up in a white kurta-pyjama and part my hair from the side. Those were days when my mum hated it if I tried to look like Shah Rukh Khan from Kuchh Kuchh Hota Hai and tried to puff my hair up by parting it a little from the centre.

My mum and chachi were no different from the other “colony ki aunties” when it came to buying gifts for the little lehnga clad girls who’d visit our home the following morning. Lunch boxes, pens, pencil boxes, crayons and chocolates were the usual favorites, and would sell in the market on the previous night just like Kurkure and Tropicana boxes do around Diwali time.

Mumma, Dexter wala lunch-box laana.” I would tell my mum an evening before, and she would always keep my glint-eyed request in mind while she shopped. Dadi would keep a bowl of milk ready to wash the little girls’ feet. It was one puja that I waited for every year (or six months, if that’s the frequency) eagerly. I was five, and my feet used to be washed too. Knowing that there was no threat to my receiving kanjak gifts, I asked my dadi why my feet were also washed despite me being a boy, and therefore definitely not a "kanjak". “Kanjakon ke saath ek boy bhi hona chahiye. Woh hanumanji ka roop hota hai. It’s his responsibility to take care of all the other girls and ensure that no harm comes to them”, was her valid reply and it left me beaming. I would happily go to the “neighbor aunty’s” house on my dadi’s orders and ask her to send the kanjaks to our place once she was done with the puja.

The puja used to end with me sitting on the dining table in the afternoon, looking at the food that came from all the houses in the neighborhood for my sister, who could eat nothing but Cerelac at that time. I would open a box and compare the texture of the pooris, the look of the channe and the stickiness of the halva with those from other containers. People who gifted identical lunch boxes as we would, and whose parshad items would taste like the food that my mum, chachi or dadi cooked used to win a special place in my heart. I would picture them having a lifestyle just like ours, and the next time that I would see the aunty from that house in the colony, my “Namaste aunty” would be accompanied by a wider smile.

But we all grow up from being kids into becoming bigger kids once we cross the 7 years’ age mark. I used to think why some festivals like Baisakhi called for a special assembly in school, but not the colloquial “Kanjak”. It must not be a festival then. It’s just a custom that people in my colony follow, but is otherwise unheard of by the masses, which included all the boys in my cool gang of friends. The best way to avoid being ridiculed was to stay shut about it in school. The much awaited Kanjak-day started falling on week days, and that meant I would get to play my game of food comparison only after getting back home from school.

I waited for my school bus at the bus stop, and rubbed off the “tika” from my forehead as soon as my dad drove back home after dropping me there. Hoping that there was not even a hint of redness on my forehead, I boarded the bus to the sight of a couple of red marked foreheads playing Pokemon cards. They were mostly children from the area around my place, so it wasn’t hard to accept that they were from families which belonged to the same cult that celebrated Kanjak in my colony twice every year. The red marks were nowhere to be seen in school. It was evident that I was moving among the non-cult children now, in front of whom it’d be shameful to even talk about what my family was doing back at home while they discussed last evening’s episode of Duck Tales. The break was the time when everyone opened their lunch-boxes. Halva, poori and channe in a friend’s box caught my attention. He had got exactly what my lunch box concealed. He noticed the contents of my new lunch box too, and then there was an unsaid understanding that resulted in a pact that required us not to discuss the customs of our families when among the other friends.

Another apparently popular guy in class had a “tika” though. It brought a smile on my face, and I asked him as I headed towards the school bus that afternoon, “So, you wore a tika today? Haha. Why?”
Yaar, there was a puja at my place.”
“What puja?”
“I don’t know. It was some Ashtmi Puja.

I asked my bua that evening about what Ashtmi Puja meant, and figured out that it was the same as what my family conveniently called “Kanjak”. There was an epiphany that hit me then, a sudden realization of what even the families of the cool guys did on the last day of the navratras while their kids boasted about their new G-Shock watches in school. And surprisingly, no one would mention it in school. I had managed to understand a little secret that prevailed in my all boys’ school. A feeling of embarrassment from accepting that Ashtmi Puja was a known and religiously practiced exercise in one’s family.

I grew older. Ashtmi Puja slowly turned into even more of an embarrassment. Embarrassment not for the family, but for every family member individually. My mum doesn’t go shopping for lunch boxes anymore. Chocolates and cookies have replaced the durable, unbreakable, colorful plastic containers, which earlier sold like audio cassettes for everyone’s hip walkman. I wake up on the Puja day, hoping that I do not get to see the sight of food from different kitchens that would make me play my old game. My sister’s 16 now, and has not stepped out on the Puja morning for the last 6 years. She takes a bath at her usual time, not caring for mumma’s constant, “Go take a bath. It’s Kanjak day.” No longer do we have kids in our neighborhood visiting each other’s homes. My mum tells the maid to fetch some kids from the neighbor’s house, while another lady staying two houses away, shouts out loud to her best friend staying across the street. “Sunita! Bachon ko mere ghar bhej dena!

Our maid gets a couple of children from a construction site two blocks away. Little girls dressed in Indian suits enter the house with polythene bags full of pooris and quickly fetched out ten rupee notes. My mum gives them each a fruit, chocolates and cookies along with the usual halva-poori combination and bids them farewell, feeling content about the puja having gone well. Her questions, which preceded their departure, related to which school or class the kids studied in remained unanswered by eyes which just longed for more food to fill in their polythene bags and head back to the construction site that they called home.

“Sarthak, I have to send Ashvi and Shreya’s parshad to them. Please go and deliver it to their homes”, my mum orders me. I try to act like I didn’t listen and the words are repeated again. Nicely laid plates full of halva, channe, poori, chocolates and some money are handed over to me for delivery to our neighbors.
“Are you going to go like this?” is what comes next.
“What’s wrong with whatever is –this-?”
“You’re not going in your shorts is what I mean.”
“What’s wrong with my shorts?”
“Shut up. Just go wear your jeans or something. You’re getting out of the house. Look decent atleast!”

To save my parents from the embarrassment of a son with unwaxed legs, I go and put on “decent” clothes. The two minute trip to the adjoining house seems like an hour long. Well, it turns into one literally.

Namaste, aunty. Mumma ne Ashvi ke liye parshad bheja hai.
Arrey aao beta. Come, sit down.”
“No thanks, aunty. It’s ok.”
Aise kaise ok? Aao baitho.
This follows a sight of another household with the same visitors who gave us darshan at our house a few minutes back. The lady rushes to get me a glass of coke and then asks me to wait while she packs some parshad for my sister. I awkwardly look at the glass, whose contents I wish to gulp down in an instant and run back home. But my parents would be embarrassed if they got to know that I did that. So I sit there, sipping on the liquid like it’s red wine. The parshad for my sister arrives, and I know my chore is not over. There’s probably a glass of awkward Frooti waiting for me two houses away.

Ashtmi Puja doesn’t feel like the good old Kanjak-day anymore. I don’t expect my sister’s friends to post “Happy Kanjak” on her facebook wall like they post “Happy Teddy Day” or “Happy Rose Day”, but in this age when on a person’s death, his facebook profile fills up with RIP messages from friends, I wouldn’t mind some “Happy Kanjak” to pop up on social networking sites so that the little puja ceremony doesn’t fall any more a victim to a feeling called embarrassment.

P.S. Who’s in the picture?
That’s me dressed for a little morning assembly on Raksha Bandhan in 2nd grade. Now talk of embarrassment :P


  1. "Kanjak" , this day has a special place in my heart too...though we do have that halwa,puri,channe and even that aalo ki subzi but i don't know some how they taste even more delicious on that particular day.
    I would like to add that according to me why this day is not celebrated with the same zeal and vigour is because now everyone considers it as a big fight to call young girls from neighbourhood and serve them food or prashad.
    But i personally believe that instead of giving food to any random 9 girls twice a year on a special occasion just for the sake of pleasing dieties , it is better to feed the hungry people who are out there living a poverty stricken life. Why wait for a special day when this can be done if some one feels like, i guess that would be attaining the prime epiphany. I know its easier to say and yes i personally don't do it, but yeah in future i would love to celebrate "Kanjak" for those people out there.

    A nice warm article by you yet again...keep it coming, feels great reading them.

  2. Amazing! Hilarious as usual. It's incredible how you've fitted so much meaning into an article which isn't at all monotonous or boring.

    PS: i love how one of your labels for this article is 'girls' :D

  3. It's a nice post. :)
    But you see, I have a similar but different interpretation of this day ever since I gathered some sense.
    I used to go to such pujas too, get my feet washed, the tika applied and then eagerly await the halwa, puri and chole. And I stopped going too ever since I outgrew it.
    But another reason that put me off from this day is the "why" of this day. That is, why exactly is Kanchak celebrated? And I find that extremely troublesome. Kanchak is a ritual which is meant for worshiping the divine virgin. It's a celebration of a young girl's virginity and I find that excessively irksome. Especially in North India, where sex ratio is so skewed.
    I hate to politicize the post but it's a necessity?

  4. So cute! I like the 2nd grade waala you! :D
    And your stories are so interesting yaaaaaaar. Book hi likh do tum toh :D

  5. Payal: Food and girls. I totally love :D

    Greeshma: Whoa! True that. Man, if I'd have discussed this topic with you before writing on it, this post would definitely have had more weight :)

    Disha: Haha. Thanks yo! I like the second grade wala me too. And 3rd grade wala, and more. Oh wait, I'll just whatsapp you some really crazy pictures and you'll know :D
    Plus, I really wish I could gather the patience to work on another book. Partly working on the Auditing one made me lose my shit. But, let's see. Hopefully :D

  6. how true sarthak! and happy kanjak :D :P

    1. Happy Kanjak to you, too. It's the day when it isn't considered offensive to ask a girl "kitne paise kamaaye?"

  7. Man, you're hilarious.
    Have you ever considered writing a book?
    I have a feeling you would have made a better Cyrus Broacha than Cyrus Broacha.

    1. Thank you, Ishan :D
      It takes a lot of effort to convince myself to sit down and write two posts a month. Writing a book is a scary thought. I wish I could be that awesome. Parantu agar aapka aashirwad raha, maybe some day I'll try to make you proud :D
      Also, Cyrus Sahukar was a Columban. So, I think it kind of rubs off in some way :D

  8. I'm still not sure if the accompanying picture is you in your childhood or not, but I guffawed very super loudly in the office this morning. Well done my buoy.


    1. Of course, it's me. I was a pretty kid :P
      I'm glad. When YOU like it, I get super happy :D

  9. Such a heart-warming cute post! I loved this! I can understand where this is coming from, we do miss the old times when people met people, like for real. I have ALWAYS loved Kanjak, and it's not a puja that is done in my home. I was among those little girls being called into other people's homes and my best neighbourhood friend's mom knew I loved the puri, chole and halwa, especially since it wasn't made in MY home. She always kept a special extra ;)

    I suppose it's different in a boy's school, you being guys. I made it pretty evident I love it and so my school friends got some extra for me during those days. Of course I stopped going too, after a while. Neighbourhoods changed, but I had friends again, who knew I love it. They shifted to some other place and the first year after the shift, the said friend especially came in with the prashad for me. :D Now it's just one neighbourhood girl of 11 who knows I like them and she never fails to 'deliver' the prashad at home. I had that for breakfast this morning! :P

    Loved reading this post. Emotional and true. Brought back memories!!
    PS- Your pic! :D Cute!

    1. Ah! If you were anywhere close to my place, I'd have sent some across too. I had it both for breakfast and lunch :D

      P.S. I was the prettiest boy in school is what I like to believe. Weird that I'm saying this at the age of 23.

  10. Really awesome post !!! this is the first time i have read your blog and this is truely awesome (y). Truely hilarious and situations were so akin :D loved it (Y)

  11. This is just awesome. "The shame of having a son with unwaxed legs"...

  12. I found your blog while searching for something. As a mom of two boys I know what you're talking about. It brought back memories. :D I have been grinning from ear to ear reading this. What a wonderful post. I think I will bookmark and read some more of your posts. Cheers and happy ashtami.


If you had 5 Jalebis, how many would you give me for writing this post?

None = You don't deserve any >:O
@ = Soggy and stale! :(
@@ = Stale! :|
@@@ = I'll need a samosa to digest this with! :P
@@@@ = Sweet and Crisp! :)
@@@@@ = I'm opening you a Halwai Shop! :D