Fasting is such a part of our religious traditions. Shewanta, a person of whom I am especially fond, is a wonderful, feisty, god fearing woman. She once worked as labour on building sites constructing concrete slabs, in order to earn enough to feed and educate her three children, and she fasts at least four times a week. For one reason or another.
I am sure that faith plays a part but I am equally sure that tobacco plays an even bigger role. The main reason being that she likes her tobacco a great deal more than her food. She would hide out on the balcony and stuff a large wad into the side of her jaw and if caught out would giggle shamefacedly into her pallav. Despite my sincere advice she refused to give up either her fasting or her tobacco.Unlike an old grand aunt, who always managed to put away substantial quantities of 'fasting food', Shewanta takes her fasts very seriously.
Yes there are so many fasting foods. Things which are 'allowed'. Tea, milk, yogurt, sugar, fruit , potatoes, sago, peanuts, chillies..... I mean, you can actually feast during a fast.
In the south of India horse gram cakes are a popular fasting food.
In the north of India, Karva Chauth is a festival when women fast the whole day for their husbands. Rather like Rosalind to Pheobe in Shakespeare's 'As you Like It' , these women are exhorted by their mothers in law, to go
"Down on your knees,
And thank heaven, fasting, for a good man's love."
Here it is taken all very solemnly. They drink no water , have no tea and are pretty ill by the time the moon comes out. After looking at the moon through a sieve they are allowed to eat.
I have seen friends retching, fainting, snapping at the whole family, being wretched to their husbands, bearing the worst migraines, all in the name of lurve. But they glowed, yes, you could almost see a halo, when they spoke of their sacrifice next day.
I'm afraid I was never attracted by the idea of Karva Chauth. I see this as just another effort at controlling a bit more of the universe than we rightfully can.And as Benjamin Franklin said:
He that lives upon hope will die fasting.
Just one thing though. I love Sabudana Khichadi , which, as everyone knows, is traditional fasting fare in Maharashtra. I would go on a fast for it. Anytime.
1 cup sago/ sabudana washed, drained and left to stand for 1 hour.
2 tbsp oil
1 medium sized potato, cut into small cubes
1/2 tsp jeera/ cumin
2 green chillies chopped fine
1 tbsp green coriander
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
3/4 cup peanuts, roasted, peeled and broken into bits of different sizes, some of it powdered. A few brief zaps in a coffee grinder will do.
Check the sago by pressing one grain between the thumb and forefinger. It should flatten with a bit of pressure neither becoming buttery nor remaining hard at the core. If the centre is still tough, sprinkle a bit of water on top and let it stand for a bit longer.
Heat the oil and fry the potatoes till brown and done. Remove from the oil. Now fry the cumin, chillies and add all the sago. Fry for about 7 minutes stirring constantly. Add the sugar and salt and continue to stir till sugar dissolves. Now add the cooked potatoes as well as the peanuts and stir for 3 minutes more till the sago is slightly brown.
Sprinkle the coriander on top and serve hot.