Usha
All through my childhood and teens I wasted a lot of time and effort in pleasing people around me. Somehow it seemed important to keep everyone else happy even if it meant neglect of one’s own happiness. Part of this behaviour could be blamed on nature but lot of it was nurture. In the environment in which I grew up a girl was never allowed to forget that she would one day go into another house and it was very important to be accepted by everyone there by winning them over with one’s kindness, generosity, and willingness to sacrifice and put one’s needs after everyone else’s. And the training began in one’s own house from a very young age. Looking around one saw that it was the norm in the family – women who slogged away from pre-dawn to late hours in the night for the family, women who suffered in the hands of in-laws and husbands and never complained. Living in a family steeped in traditional ways, the injustices were not obvious. It seemed just the way of life and a very normal one at that. And the irony was that these very same women who were victims of traditions were also its chief guardians and keepers of culture. It was their duty to ensure that the traditions were preserved and passed on to successive generations!

True, these traditions were attributed a lot of significance , symbolism and mysticism in order to make them worthy of being preserved. It is all about packaging right? Like a jihadi suicide bomber feeling important about his mission and expecting reward in the life after, women carried on the yoke of tradition and even felt proud of it.

I do not know exactly when but somewhere in my 30s I began to question traditions and began to discard practices which did not seem relevant to my life. I had no problem removing the mangalsutra or not wearing a bindi or not observing fasts (vrats) to ensure my husband had a long life. As for brahminical practices such as madi, echil, pathu and theetu, I discarded them the moment I had my own kitchen.
For the uninitiated , these are Tamil words and I only know the Tamil words for these practices and this is what they roughly are.
Madi is when you ensure purity of the occasion with a head bath and wearing washed clothes that have been untouched by anyone who is not observing madi. In case of accidental contact with someone who is not in a madi state, they bathe again and wear fresh madi clothes or wet clothes to renew their Madi. This is a superior form of untouchability not to be confused with the untouchability practised among castes and was constitutionally abolished.

Echil ( literally meaning Saliva) is mixing food from one another’s plate or touching anything with the same hand while eating food. For example while eating, if you touch the vessel containing rice with the hand that is being used to eat , you have sullied all the rice in the vessel with your echil. Consequence: it becomes unfit for consumption by others and has to be entirely consumed by the person who has sullied it or thrown away. So every time you have touched echil you have to wash your hand before touching anything else with the same hand.

Pathu: Cooked items are usually not mixed with uncooked items like curd, milk, salt, water, oil etc. You cannot touch them with the same hand with which you have touched cooked items. You touch the vessel containing curd with the same hand which has touched the cooked rice and all the curd becomes Pathu and cannot go back into the storage but has to be consumed or thrown away. One is supposed to wash hands every time after touching pathu items and before touching non pathu items. Complicated? ya, if you entered a traditional brahmin kitchen it would be full of people obsessively washing their hands between handling items pathu and non-pathu.

Theetu: This is the opposite of madi. It is a state of impurity when you have not had your bath. it is also observed for a certain number of days when there has been a death or birth in the family. During this period the family does not celebrate festivals or do puja (prayer). A mensturating woman was also considered impure ( theetu) when she had her monthly periods and was isolated. There has been a lot of discussion among Indian women bloggers about this practice in the past month and I am not about to add to all the fuss about a natural biological function in a fertile woman's body.
As far as I know it was essentially a practice among brahmins who were also great observers of madi. I refused to be isolated even as a 15 year old and if that made their gods angry, I was willing to face the consequences. But my sister in law told me how she had to sleep in the bathroom on ‘those’ days because they lived in a small house and there was no extra room where she could be kept isolated. As a teenager she spent those days in fear of cockroaches and rats that had a free run of the bathroom. That made my blood boil. I am not sure if God was happy with her family for treating her like that on her most vulnerable days. Enough said about my thoughts on the practice of isloating mensturating women.

Anyway as I said, I have discarded all these practices many years ago. I keep a safe distance from all these traditions in my normal day to day life and it poses no problem to anyone around me. But when there are occasions when I am forced to be part of functions which involve people who are deluded to be keepers of tradition and culture, I have trouble. I have a choice to pretend and follow tradition and please them or be true to myself and be unpopular. Not just unpopular but I also end up hurting their sentiments. Recently we had a family reunion and a wedding in the family was being discussed. I was shocked at the meaningless ceremonies people wanted to have and the amount of money budgeted for the same. I can understand their insistence on the basic rituals but when they introduced new practices because ‘everyone is doing it these days’ and justify it as a ‘new tradition’ I opened my mouth and became instantly unpopular.
N.e.w T.r.a.d.i.t.i.o.n? do you see the irony, the oxymoron?
If you do not, here is a definition of the word tradition:
1 a: an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)
(thanks: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tradition)

It doesn’t matter that I or the other person can afford the additional expenditure. It does not matter that by silent acquiescence I can keep a lot of people happy. I do not want to be guilty of being a party to some custom which may become part of ‘tradition’ in the coming years adding to the financial burden of some middle-class tradition-fearing parent in the years to come. simple? sensible? Why is it so difficult to get it across to otherwise intelligent people?

Traditions can be a security blanket when you need something to give you a sense of comfort and belonging. This probably explains the enthusiasm with which the Indian diaspora religiously celebrate festivals in their new homes - celebrating Holi, when it is not heralding spring in their country of residence and Sankranti when it is not harvest time. Tradition can provide a framework for one's life, it can give guidelines but the minute it begins to oppress a certain section of people, it requires re-examination. There is something seriously lacking in your tradition if it needs fear and authority to keep it alive and if it falls flat on its face when faced with rational examination. Such traditions should be questioned and it is ok to discard them if they make no sense in the world we are actually living in. They were observed for a certain reason in earlier centuries and are obsolete in today's context and it is better to shed the excess baggage. That is the only hope for what is good in our tradition in the 21st century. Or else the baby will get thrown along with the bathwater. But I guess that would be ok in the cause of Madi ! ( just kidding hehehe)
Usha
The madmomma wrote a very thoughtful and useful post on avoiding food wastage and how we could each do our bit to fight the food crisis. Readers of her blog know how difficult it is to add something to her posts as she has this habit of considering issues from every angle conceivable; and yet, she asks me to add my two cents worth and let me try.

When we go out to eat as a gang, I see some friends order a dish , have a few spoonfuls and then leave it saying they are full. If you were not hungry to start with, why order a whole dish for yourself? It is always possible to share when one is in a gang. Order enough while making sure that nothing gets wasted.

I have heard it said by my friends who are conscious of their weight that "It is better to let food go to waste rather than to your waist." I'd rather not waste it and work it out.
There are several reasons why I feel strongly about wasting food:
While growing up, we were not allowed to waste food. There were a few years when we faced shortage of supply and food rationing by the government. This was probably during the Chinese war. I remember standing in queues in the ration shop to get sugar and wheat and kerosene. So there is a memory of a time when there was a possibility of having to go without certain items of food. You realise the value of a thing only when you face the possibility of being without it.
I come from a family where they believe that food is goddess Lakshmi and we were taught to be respectful of Annalakshmi. I respect it because I look around and see those who do not have enough of it and what a misery it can be. So I appreciate what I have and show my appreciation by not wasting it.

It is easier for me to avoid wastage in my house because there are no children with unpredictable appetites and cravings. I cook a full meal in the night and use the leftovers for lunch for me and the maid just cooking what is needed to supplement. This reduces time and energy spent in cooking too.
I shop several times during the week for vegetables and fruits as there are several shops within walking distance. I usually pick up stuff for not more than 2 days. This not only ensures freshness but also reduces the possibility of their going bad and getting wasted.
If there is leftover food from the previous meal, I try to work around them by making a vegetable that can go with it rather than plan a totally new menu for the next meal. And of course there are plenty of innovative and tasty combinations that you can try with left overs.
It is better to cook a little less of everything and supplement the meal with fruits,salads,lassi etc which is also healthier.
It is always a good idea to take a look at the shelves and the fridge for an inventory before going shopping.
"best before" is not the same as 'expiry date". In any case, it is a good idea to look at both before buying.If you are not sure that you can consume something before its expiry, do not buy it.
I have noticed that many of the supermarkets do not stock many of the items like pulses in smaller quantities. They come in 1kg and 2 kg packets claiming to offer a reduced price. But it is no point buying them unless you can use those quantities within a reasonable time. It might be better to pay the normal price and buy lesser quantities so that they get consumed rather than being wasted.

Wastage is not only a matter of affordability ; it is also an environmental issue. Cooked food that is thrown as garbage ends up emitting methane which is a green house gas. So if you cannot eat it, do not cook it.

And finally if you need any further incentive to avoid wastage please have this photograph implanted in your memory. This is a picture of a Somalian mother holding her baby who died of starvation. There are people, babies, dying without access to food. We have it ( at least for now), let us not waste it. It is a shame, it is a sin.
Usha
I frequent a departmental store which has one swinging door to enter and exit through – you know the type you push from either side to open? Around this store you have two five-star hospitals, three or four offices of MNCs, and one of the top management schools of the country. Why are these details important? So that you know the type of clients that visit this store.
You’d expect a minimum level of courtesy, manners and sensitivity from such people? Wrong.
Every time I go there people are walking in and out of the swinging doors never once holding it open ever so slightly for another person to enter or exit but letting that door swing back rapidly right on their face if they are not careful! If they have to exit, it does not matter who is on the other side – senior citizen, child, pregnant lady or a someone carrying a child – it is the same. Push the door and let it swing back without even looking back.

When I mentioned this to a young person he laughed and said “chivalry is dead and the feminists killed it.” Chivalry, who said anything about Chivalry? True there are fewer damsels in distress today needing knights in shining armours to protect them. They are quite capable of taking care of themselves, thank you. But what has that got to do with simple courtesies and good manners from either sex - why throw the baby out with the bath water? Holding doors open may have been part of chivalrous behaviour but it is as much simple manners and good behaviour. I expect that in women as well as men. Are those dead too? That would indeed be a sad day for humanity. If anything they are needed much more today than ever in human history.

One smartie even told me that it is a cultural thing . We don't do such things in this country. Men always walked in first and women came behind. Yes they did but it was in those days when danger lurked everywhere and men went first so their women and children were not exposed to it. How do you argue with someone who doesn't even know this? There may be hundred arguments in favour of bad behaviour but good behaviour needs no justification - it is just the right thing to do, period.

To be ‘considerate and caring’ – is it only for the girl scouts? Not for the rest of us? At school one of the first things we were taught was to let others pass and not rush. Older girls always ensured that the teachers and children got out before them and the younger ones picked up the habit soon. It seems to me that nobody teaches them these things today. In fact I have seen some parents telling their children to rush and push out of international flights in order to get to the immigration counters first – they show them how to do it by their own example. Getting up even before the flight has come to a complete halt, opening overhead storages, blocking walkways – name it. And it is n’t just the labourers coming back home who block the area around the luggage carousel making it impossible for others even to look if their boxes are there – many of them work in MNCs and have impressive degrees. After a long haul flight everyone is eager to go home but elbowing, pushing and blocking are not the best of solutions to expedite matters. Granted that the facilities and services at the airports are pathetic but we make it worse for ourselves with our behaviour. Put a seemingly gentle and soft spoken Indian in a situation like this and see his worst come out – ‘it is “me” against the rest and I am getting it whatever it takes’ seems to be the attitude.

This generation is highly competitive and they want to be ahead of every one everywhere. Try waiting at any pedestrian crossing without an automated signal or a policeman and see how many vehicles slow down to let you pass by – even if it is a school-going child or a senior citizen trying to cross the road - not just the buses and autos driven by the choicest boors but the plush ones driven by uniformed drivers and by smartly dressed yuppies of both gender. We are all in a hurry and there is no time for meaningless delays - meaningless as they are not going to help us get ahead in our career or finances. It is no excuse that others are like that and you'd be a fool or (the even more descriptive) "loser" to try to be different. I don't know. I'd rather be rated a 'loser' than lose my manners and be a winner.

While I can at least understand ( not accept) this behaviour in the above situation, I cannot understand it at a super market or a multiplex cinema hall. Here there is no hurry to get out but simple apathy and lack of manners. Funnily the doors of the auditoriums in this cinema hall in Bangalore has no stoppers. So invariably the door keeps swinging back and people push it and get out and let it swing back in your face. I always hold it for the next one to pass but the next one just walks through and then I am left holding it forever or until someone observant comes along . Young college girls and boys, yuppy men, older gentlemen, middle aged ladies – no distinction. No one thinks of the next person in line. It is I, me and myself only.

Today’s life is on the fast lane and we all seem to be hurrying from one thing to the next all the time. But it is sad if consideration, courtesy and good manners are the casualties in this race. Life may be short but not so short that there is no time for simple courteous behaviour towards one another. Meantime I will still stand holding doors while people nonchalantly walk past. After all , as the wise one said:
The test of good manners is to be patient with bad ones.
Usha
I am continuing this meme at the behest of Shefaly and really loved doing this one. Thank you Shefaly.

What’s your favourite table?
Actually it is not a table but the courtyard at my grandma’s place where about 15 of us sat down to eat together , laughing, bantering and sharing. It was not about the food at all which was mostly simple home - cooked stuff; but it was about the feeling of togetherness, belonging, love and security.
Otherwise it would have to be the one at the Taj resort Laguna Maldives – for the food, the wine, the service, the ambience. It was in part due to the Bangaldeshi waiter who would decorate my table with flowers that he gathered from around the island – made me feel like a queen.

What would you have for your last supper?
I eat every meal with such avidity and relish that you may suspect that it is my last supper. Hehe.
mmm...I think it would not be so much about ‘What” I’d have as it would be about “who” I’d like to have the last super with. I’d like the last meal to be with all my loved ones and all those I need to make peace with. (Of course I’d pay with my credit card so numbers should not matter!)
There’d certainly be wine, lots of it. There would be cheese. All types of salads and the most sinful desserts. I don’t care much for the Entrées or the piece de resistance – can be pasta or bisi bele baat (anyway I am not eating it!)
And there would certainly be a last cup of TEA!

What’s your poison?
Tea of course.

Name your three desert island ingredients.
Pepper to season the fresh berries I might find to eat. ( as well as to spray on attackers)
Tea ( to kick start my brain so I can think up ways to get out of the place)
Honey – to add to my tea ( oh we like to do it in style even on a desert island), to eat and to use as sunblock and medicine against insect bites.

What would you put in Room 101?
Sambar, I guess! ( doesn’t need elaboration if you have checked out my previous post)
And perhaps elephant yam ( such a pain to cut)

Which book gets you cooking?
Tarla Dalal’s recipe books especially the photos.

What’s your dream dinner party line-up?
Great conversationalists, not fussy about food and people with whom I can relax and enjoy.
If it was a group of bloggers, I’d like to invite The RationalFool , The Doc , Shefaly, Maami and Paul. People who’d satisfy all my criteria and how I’d love the brilliant arguments and discussions that would be guaranteed. Of course with the doc and maami around there would be enough of laughter too. And Paul,it would be on the porch of a house by the riverside. :)Please get your favourite drink along or name it.

What was your childhood teatime treat?
Might have been some kind of bourbon biscuit but my favorite was bun with butter and jam.

What was your most memorable meal?
A dinner party at Schloss Leopoldskron in 1990 during the Salzburg Seminar. Husband was a participant in the seminar and family was invited to this dinner. This was the house of the Von Trapp family in the film "sound of music'. The place defined the meaning of “awesome” to me, food was good and company was excellent, from all over the world.
Another was with a very dear friend at an Indian restaurant in Henley-on- Thames. It was one of my happiest meals.

What was your biggest food disaster?
Every time I try baking a cake, it is a huger flop show than the previous time.

What’s the worst meal you’ve ever had?
It must have been some of those early meals cooked by me when I was still learning. Although none so bad that I can remember the details.

Who’s your food hero/food villain?
There used to be an American television show called ‘Yan can cook’ – used to love the show and the way the host talked, chopped, stir fried and cooked. He made it all seem such fun.
Food villain – May be Mother in law? for having set such tough standards? ;)

Nigella or Delia?
Neither. Haven’t watched/ read either.

Vegetarians: genius or madness?
Neither. Purely chance and circumstance. And whether one feels the need to change it. May be it requires a bit of madness to do that.

Fast food or fresh food?
Fast food when hungry and desperate . Otherwise fresh food, any day.

Who would you most like to cook for?
Certainly not husband or siblings ( for reasons see the previous post). Perhaps for Manuel , the portuguese friend I referred to in this post who gave me an entirely new perspective on how to approach food – be it while cooking or while consuming it.

What would you cook to impress a date?
I better not cook if I want to impress anyone. :)

Make a wish.
I wish to have a meal prepared by Anatole in company of Bertie Wooster and Uncle Fred . Of course while Jeeves is still in Bertie’s service. There would be lot of trouble with Bertie, me and Uncle Fred. Without Jeeves, who is to get us out of all the mess?

I’d like to pass on this delicious meme to anyone who would take it up but specifically to
Doc – who I know is a foodie and will give a delicious twist to all the responses.
Jane Turley – who is not particularly fond of the kitchen, if I may put it mildly. So she is bound to come up with some preposterously humorous responses.
Nandita – who has such a mouthwatering food blog and hence an appropriate target.
Souvik - who loves to experiment with food.

Thanks souvik for taking up the tag so promptly and for a wonderful post.

Doc dissects it here.

Nandita's post here.
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Usha
When I was growing up, meals at home entirely consisted of Tambrahm home food. For lunch (eaten around 9 a.mon working days and around 10 a.m on holidays) we had rice, sambar, vegetable and buttermilk; Dosas, idlis, upmas and adais were for evening tiffin and dinner menu was sambar or rasam with rice and curd rice. Variation was only in the vegetable and the type of Sambar. The menu varied on festival days with special dishes to mark the respective occasions. Chapatis were still not accepted as a substitute for rice and bread was only eaten if you were ill. This was the 1960s and 70s. Chaat counters were available in a few restaurants which also served north Indian food that tasted suspiciously like South Indian sambar and kootu disguised under North Indian Spices.

After marriage I moved to Calcutta and as a new bride, I was invited to meals by many of husband's friends and colleagues where I was introduced to dishes with fancy names like Alu mattar, Channa masala, Bhaingan Bhurtha,Palak paneer etc and the food at the Chinese reataurants of Calcutta. My sambar-ravaged taste buds woke up to hitherto unknown pleasures while tasting spices other than chilli and pepper. I loved them and craved them and began to eagerly wait for dinner invitations! Once they started dwindling, I armed myself with a few Tarla Dalal recipe books and quickly learnt to make a few of my favourites and decided to surprise the husband and the father-in-law with a lunch menu comprising entirely of these divinely delicious dishes.
Come lunch time and I made a production of it. I waited till they were seated at the table to unveil the dishes expecting a few audible signs of excitement and delight. All I got was a puzzled expression as the duo inspected the spread. And then the husband blurted out: "Looks very nice. but where is the food?"
"What, What do these look like -clay models of food?"
"No, I mean our food, like sambar, rice and all that."
I could have killed them with just a bit of poison in the Sambar next time but I resisted and simply said:
"Sambar does not go with this menu and yes, there is rice in the pulao and some plain rice."
There was ominous silence and the normally hearty eaters pecked politely at the food and fell with passion on the rice and curd.
The barbarians, philistines, Food fascists, Culinary Chauvinists - I could have gone on a la Captain Haddock but I was a new bride remember and rather young, and it was two against one. So I endured it all with a smile.
Anyway I lived on left over food for the next two days while cooking (no prizes for guessing) Sambar , Rasam and vegetables for the rest of the family.

I decided that the family I married into are culinary cowards who refuse to eat anything that their mothers did not recognise as food. But over a period of time, I have come to realise that almost everyone of my relatives brought up in Tamilnadu prefers the sambar, rasam, vegetable menu day after day after day without ever tiring of it. They actually think that it is the best kind of food in its taste, variety and nutrition! Last year I went on a holiday to the U.S to a cousin's place hoping to finally get away from the tyranny of sambar and rasam as this cousin has lived in the U.S. for over 20 years. I was secretly hoping to try out American and Mexican and whatever-else kind of food but imagine my dismay when my cousin assured us that we would get "our food" every single day. Her kitchen looked like a replica of her mother's in Bengaluru, well stocked with all the ingredients and when we went out to eat, we went to places serving Dosas and Puris! When my son comes back from his trips abroad, relatives of my generation are usually concerned about what he did for "food". I am tempted to tell them about the existence of "food" other than sambar, rasam, kootu, curry but then I do not want to offend their sensibilities so I tell them about the availability of our "food" almost everywhere in the world these days.

I read other blogs and people talk about experimenting with cuisine from all over the world and wonder how they got so adventurous. In my family people go to five star hotels and order Dosa from the menu (and that is what we have at home for breakfast about 3 days in a week.) They can claim to have eaten Dosa in Dubai, London, New York and San Francisco! Ask them about the local cuisine- they never tried it but mostly lived on salads and yoghurt and by the time they come back they exhibit serious symptoms of sambar withdrawal!

I sometimes think that to my family, food is not just a thing to tickle our tastebuds, satisfy our hunger and provide nutrition. It is much more than that - it is a relationship that links them to their roots and more specifically to their mothers. It reminds them of their mothers and childhood and gives them a sense of comfort and belonging.That is why it is important for them to be able to see it, feel it and taste it in a certain form so they can finally feel that they have come home. When I was newly married I noticed that even though the dishes were similar between ours and my in-laws', there were minor variations to the recipe and I was urged to follow them strictly. Being a bit of a rebel I once made Morkozhambu the way my mother makes it and was politely but firmly told that it tasted good but they preferred it the way my mother in law and her mother in law made it.
In the west they have one day to celebrate their mothers but for generations, men of our family have celebrated and honoured their mothers at every mealtime by recognising as "food" only what their mothers fed them. Everything else is just decoration on the table.

Happy mother's day!