If you were alarmed at reading that headline, don’t be. It’s not directly about anyone shaking off the mortal coils, it’s just about how their families choose to perpetuate their memories after they do.
Of course, this piece will also take into account how people ensure you remember the auspicious occasions too. The method is largely similar – give away steel/silver items engraved with the name of the dead or the stars of the occasion. I’m not sure if this custom exists elsewhere, but it certainly does in the South, especially in my home State of Andhra Pradesh, and quite a few utensils in many homes are courtesy such fortunate/unfortunate events. Party favours, if you can call them that, only, the party needn’t have been for anything very joyful!
I’ve tried to find out how and why the custom started but all I can gauge is that as ceremonies of all sorts got grander, the turmeric and kumkum and coconut and betel leaf doled out at poojas and weddings began to be accompanied by more permanent keepsakes. Depending on your finances, competitive spirit or a conventional or need-to-reciprocate mindset, you choose between a steel tumbler, plate or vessel or the same in silver and maybe even gold. (Actually, I don’t think silver or gold objects are given away at death ceremonies; I have also seen copies of the Gita being distributed.) Nowadays, some of us choose to give out china or porcelain, and I am glad for the variety – they look good in the glass cabinet, and I can use them for the blog!
My Dad tells of how his father, his attention diverted at lunch by one such tumbler duly engraved with the name of the dead and the date of the passing, roared at no one in particular that all “these dirty, wretched, morbid, depressing dishes” should be thrown out of the house. When Grandad left this world six years ago, he had no say in the matter, and we had a merry discussion on the memento we should choose to hand out to the attendees at the final death ceremony. “A steel tumbler,” said one. “Come on, tumblers are passé, let’s think of something different,” said another. “How about a dabba (container)?” “No, too common, what about a tray?” “Ah, but not everyone (read domestic help) will use trays,” pointed out another. Ultimately, however, we settled on trays, procured several hundreds of them and issued them to all those who attended.
I was in charge, with an aunt, of collaring these people as they left the venue, making sure they didn’t leave trayless, but in the bargain, found myself facing one or two who came back for seconds. “Er … but didn’t you just take one?” I asked a guy who had demanded one just 10 minutes ago, claiming he was the postman. “Yes, but I need one more,” he said. At this point, my aunt said, “No, only one per person,” and that was the end of that.
Of course, you have to make sure that you give out one favour per couple, and ensure, amidst all the chaos, that everybody has got one. “Hey, did my mother-in-law get one? She came specially for this occasion,” says a harried daughter-in-law, while someone else says, “Listen, make sure you give so-and-so a couple – last time, they let us know they didn’t get one.” Then there are those families which, once they get the load from their daughter-in-law’s parents, decide it’s too good to share with all and sundry, and end up keeping quite a bit for themselves. (It’s a widespread tradition for the bride’s parents to supply the groom’s family with boxes full of sweets, which the latter distributes when the daughter-in-law arrives at their home.)
Death and marriage are not the only occasions. There’s the housewarming, birthday parties, Satyanarayana Vratams and the pre-puberty and puberty functions. (Now, why can’t we have a nice, euphemistic term like ‘coming of age’ to describe these - whenever I enter a hotel and see these events announced so bluntly, my delicate sensibilities are offended.)
In many homes, every time we get containers of something special from family and friends, we read the inscription on the dish to make sure it’s theirs before we send it back. “In memory of K. Subba Rao, 9.9.1998” has to be the dabba of a cousin whose husband’s maternal uncle bore that name, while a similar dish inscribed with another Subba Rao of a different initial (or Appa Rao or Krishna Rao or Venkata Rao) would be our neighbour’s. Some have their names inscribed just to ensure they don't get mixed up.
I’ve got a motley collection of such stuff which keeps going in and out of my house, some which others insist isn’t theirs but mine alright, but for the life of me, I don’t know who Swetha is, and why her “flower-adornment ceremony” (???) dabba is in my kitchen!
Note: All names and dates are entirely fictional and any match with any persons, other creatures and objects dead or alive is purely coincidental.
Paneer – 200 gm, cubed
Tomato puree – 3 tbsp
Ginger – 1-inch piece
Bay leaves – 3
Cumin seed – ½ tsp
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Coriander powder – 1-1/2 tsp
Red chilli powder – 1 tsp
Salt – to taste
Cashew nuts – 2 tbsp
Almonds, blanched – 2 tbsp
Oil – 3 tsp
Water – ¾ cup + ½ cup
Kasoori methi/dried fenugreek leaves – 1 tbsp
Grind the cashew, almonds, cumin and ginger to a paste with a little water.
Heat the oil in a wok. Add the bay leaf. Lower flame and add the paste. Stir.
Stir-fry for 10 minutes till the paste leaves the sides of the wok.
Add the red chilli powder, coriander powder and turmeric. Cook for half a minute.
Add the tomato puree. Cook for 3-4 minutes.
Add ¾ cup water. Boil.
Add the salt and the kasoori methi.
Lower flame and add the ½ cup of water, cook for a few minutes till it reaches the consistency you want. Or you could skip this step if the consistency is good enough for you.
Add paneer to the gravy, cook for about 5-7 minutes till heated well through. Serve.
Please keep those entries coming for AFAM-Pomegranate.
Paneer Party favours/favors Steel dabba Cashew Almonds Tomato puree Wedding favours Ceremonies Death Ceremonies Humour Social commentary