Part 3 – Tamil Nadu
Ingredients for the nonbu kanji. Scraped coconut. Pounded ginger and garlic. Onions, chillies, fenugreek, coriander, and mint. I am not sure what role chillies play in a kanji, but all this was prepared by the women of the book, and sent along with the rice and firewood to the mosque to be cooked.
Nonbu kanji is rice gruel that is eaten to break the Ramadan fast. Often this is prepared in households, by turns, and sent to the mosque, to be then distributed all around the village during the holy month.
There is an impressive feast prepared for a proposed bridegroom, one of the days. Vadai (lentil fritters), bhajji (vegetable fritters), sundal (a tempered salad with any sort of lentils), payasam (porridge like sweet). Nonbu kanji, since it was also a fasting day. Dates, fruits. Idiappam (homemade rice noodles!), chicken kurma (curry with coconut), fried chicken. Idli, dosa, meat soup. A man has to be a dimwit to refuse matrimony after being fed in this manner.
Mutta surka. My mother-in-law’s recipe. Rice flour, eggs, curry leaves, shallots, coconut, salt.
There is an old Hindi song, chaudhvi ka chaand ho, ya aaftab ho.. I had no clue of the full meaning of the words except that the woman was being compared to the moon and the sun. Reading a page in the book made me realise that the woman is actually being called as bright-faced as the fourteenth day moon! Ha… Well it is also implies being fair-skinned and beautiful, but we will set aside that discussion for later.
Child bearing and rearing is seen as solely a woman’s problem. The women go off quietly to have abortions while the men do not even have to think about contraceptives. Or marrying again when their first wife is termed barren.
The story raises some important questions on how faith is being interpreted in communities. One instance is where dowry is now commonplace amongst South Indian Muslims, but it was never prescribed by the religion. It is implied that local religious bodies remain complicit and quiet about this issue.
There is a kindly grandfather in the book, a gentle father, an inscrutable husband who turns a blind eye to his wife’s extra-marital relationship, other husbands who sometimes stand up for their wives. The men are not all painted black in this story. But they are without fail, complicit in maintaining existing social order. And show no willingness to bring about change in the regressive customs.