A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Puris for Puris

My dear friend Priya Puri is a fabulous cook, and usually honors her guests with food she's prepared herself. Yesterday's round of events, however, which started about seven-thirty in the morning for me and ended at eleven at night (and I'm not even family), involved so much preparation that she decided to bring in a caterer for her evening party. Her daughter-in-law, a young physician with two small children, a large house, and little training in the preparation of Indian food (since she's from Poland!), likewise had her midday party catered.

Although Priya is a vegetarian, she provided some meat dishes for her guests at her evening dinner. Beata's luncheon, however, was meatless in deference to the religious ceremony that had preceded it. Which suited me just fine, as I'm a vegetarian myself. It's nice to go out on occasion and be able to eat anything and everything in sight.

When I say "catered," I don't mean food brought in by a caterer. I mean caterer brought in, to cook food onsite, and serve it hot and fresh. With that, plus some upscale adjustments to the usual offerings of Priya's restauranteur of choice, the result was better than anything to be found in any Indian restaurant around here, although not as good as Priya's own cooking, or the food I had in India.

The hit of the luncheon was probably the puris, fried dough which puffs up to a tasty pillow the minute it hits the hot fat. You haven't had puris till you've had them straight out of the pan, still burning your tongue a little. I can make them, but I don't, as frying seems unhealthy to me.

Not eating fried food, but preparing it. I believe the fumes to be carcinogenic, and I can't stand the lingering smell all over the house, including in the upstairs bedspreads and curtains. Cooking in the yard (and not just the occasional steaks and burgers on the grill) is an ancient idea whose time has come again, imho. I must remember, when my ship comes in and I dig up and redo my whole backyard, to plan for that.


Today was a big day for my dear friend Priya Puri. Her youngest grandson was having his chanukarma, or haircutting ceremony, traditional for Brahmin male children, coupled with a thread ceremony, which is a sort of initiation into his caste. Rohan's dad, Priya's son, had never had the ceremonies performed on himself as a child, so he decided to make it a father-son affair. Priya took advantage of relatives and friends coming from all over the country--and India--to throw her own party in the evening, making for pretty much a day-long celebration.

In the chanukarma, a lock of hair is cut from four places on the child's head, symbolizing health, fame, power (shiva), and long life. Then the whole head is shaved, and finally the child is bathed to cleanse him.

The thread ceremony used to involve an elaborate tying of a red thread around the body and wrist. This occasion was an opportunity for the priest to educate the boy about proper male hygiene, the thread serving as a reminder. Today, however, the thread was simply tied around the wrist in a symbolic gesture. Various rituals involving flowers, fruit, incense, prayers, etc., etc., completed the ceremony.

Little Rohan, fifteen months old, was quite blasé about the sequence of events, seeming not to realize or care that he was the center of attention. He mainly wanted to sit on the lap of his Polish grandmother. A former hairdresser, Maria was given the honor of shaving the boy's head, which she did neatly and quickly, without a peep from her grandson, who was just happy to be back in her lap.

What I specially love about Hinduism is its total acceptance of everything. An air of gaiety as well as solemnity pervaded the gathering. Rohan helped himself to one of the bananas intended as a ritual offering, and noone, including the priest, hissed or frowned. Priya's very non-Indian blonde daughter-in-law, wearing a stunning lengha choli from Priya's collection, gamely submitted to a vermilion bindi on her forehead, various sprinklings, and prayers uttered over her and her child. Parshant good-humoredly parroted the priest's words (including "wat siti" several times, until he realized the priest was asking him, "What city?" so he could insert the location of the ceremony into his incantation).

And of course, after the ceremony was over and many group photographs had been taken to mark the happy occasion, a spendiferous feast was provided. Even the weather cooperated, the oppressive heat and humidity having been replaced by a gloriously and auspiciously sunny 80-something day, complete with a mild breeze. Rohan's a lucky boy, though he's yet too unrelentingly happy and comfortable to realize it.