RINGING IN THE NEW YEAR(S)
It is a March morning in Bengaluru, India. Summer is just starting to set in, making its warm presence felt. As a light breeze gusts along, mango trees rustle weaving a mellifluous tune that gently arouses the sleeping.
“Ugadi Habbada Subhashayagalu,” I hear my mother whisper.
Amma’s gentle voice has greeted my brother and me every morning of our childhood but this day is extra special. It is Ugadi – the start of the new year.
Lush green and waxy, plucked from a tree nearby the previous evening, mango leaves are stapled onto a thread to make a Torana that, now, adorns our main door. The aroma of South Indian cooking percolates every inch of the house. My brother and I salivate at the thought of Bale Yele Oota, akin to turkey dinner, that consists of Saaru, Majjige Huli, two palyas, two kosambaris and of course, Obbattu served on a bright, green, and pristinely clean banana leaf. We try to sneak into the kitchen to steal a few goodies but Amma is too quick.
“Not today,” she says a little exasperatedly, tired of our oft-repeated shenanigans. “Today, we eat Bevu Bella before any other food.”
She holds the Bevu Bella (Neem flowers and Jaggery) out in a bowl for each of us to pick. Trying to avoid the bitter Bevu, we furtively reach out only towards the saccharine Bella. But Amma is two steps ahead of us. Her eyes, as sharp as a hawk, catch us evading the bitter and only reaching for the sweet.
Giving us (both) Bevu and Bella in equal parts, she says “You will appreciate sweetness only if you’ve tasted the bitter,” reinforcing in us the need to accept everything life has in store for us.
It is a March morning in St John’s, Canada. Winter is in full swing with the wrath of Sheila’s Brush unleashed across the vast Atlantic Ocean. The cold winter wind whistles away as snow (horizontally) flutters past the windows.
Leaves – mango or otherwise – are hard to find this time of the year. Sadly, when the past cannot subsist, melancholy threatens to find a place in the head and heart. But not one to be a Debbie Downer, I improvise with pine and fir leaves (which the man of the house – bless his soul – forages for us). As our Canadian Torana is hung outside the main door, a fervent prayer is said to the wind Gods, hoping that the Torana isn’t whisked away by the gusty gale.
The smell of South Indian food drifts through our Newfoundland home, motivating the man of the house to spoil himself and the little one with a treat.
“Not today! It is Ugadi,” I say, simultaneously realizing how much I sound like my mother.
It is time for Bevu Bella. Only neem and jaggery are a rarity in St John’s. Instead, using fresh lemon juice and brown sugar I devise ‘Bevu Bella’ (or more so its cousin). Pushing nostalgia right to the bay, I divide the bitter-sweet offering amongst us.
We chuckle as we watch our little one’s expression change from a curious nibble to a grimace to a lip-smacking approval. As she, so innocently, accepts the bitter with the sweet, I whisper to her, “Ugadi Habbada Subhashayagalu,” with the hopes of passing down my past to her future.
DECEMBER/JANUARY: NEW YEAR’S
The man of the house is pacing around the kitchen. He has now opened and closed the fridge four times.
He looks at me as though I, much like Mrs Weasley, could whip up something from almost nothing.
“No. No,” I begin, nodding my head vigorously. “The deal was I did Christmas Eve and Day. New Year’s Eve and Day are all yours!”
It is nearly 4:30pm on the last day of the Gregorian calendar. After a day’s work neither of us want to brave a visit to the grocery store where people, shopping like there is no tomorrow, somehow equate the end of the year to the end of the world. Sighing and making those puppy-eyed expressions (that I fell for in the first place), he tries to melt my heart. I already know where he is going with this. I chide myself for losing my resolve.
“Fine,” I mumble testily. “Where do you want to order from?”
“I’ll make up for this. I promise,” he tells me, batting his guiltless eyes.
Another January 1st has arrived, but this one is special. We’ve transitioned from girlfriend and boyfriend to husband and wife. My sluggish eyes open slowly to take in the sight of a snow-covered street. I turn around to greet the man of the house Happy New Year but don’t find him there.
Curious about his activities, I climb a flight of stairs. A delicious smell greets me that makes my tummy rumble.
“Hungry?” the man of the house asks.
As I nod, he fills up my plate and my belly with a mouth-watering breakfast complete with chocolate chip pancakes, hash, fresh fruit, and of course, freshly brewed coffee.
Our tradition of pancake breakfast every January 1st continues to date (with the little one’s seal of approval) affirming my faith that I’d married the right man. He knows that the way to his woman’s heart is through her stomach!
JANUARY: GALETTE DES ROIS
On a snowy afternoon, we gather in the heart of M and B’s home in Central St John’s. Red, white, and green have meandered into their kitchen, adding to the festivity and merriment. This is our family’s first Galette Des Rois and, coincidentally, theirs too – in Canada. The man of the house, the little one, and I feel an air of anticipation filling the room. Their kids try to contain their excitement (perhaps due to our presence) but their enthusiasm infectiously spreads around, eagerly awaiting the arrival of Galette the Rois ,or The King’s Cake.
B explains that in Nantes, France – where they come from – this day allowed Plebeians an opportunity to taste the life of a Patrician. Severely distracted by the nutty smell of almond wafting over to us, we find ourselves politely nodding as he explains how the finder of the feve or bean would be anointed the King (and now Queen) of the Day.
The children’s eyes track their mother, lustfully looking at the golden brown, flaky pastry that she holds in her hands. Placing this gorgeous looking dessert in front of us she takes her seat, turning her attention to her youngest.
“Vas-tu t’asseoir sous la table s’il te plaît?” M says as the youngest obediently ducks under the table and finds a spot to sit.
“Le premier morceau pour…?” says M.
“Toi,” replies the child.
Once the dessert had been split six ways, silence fell upon the table as each of us mutely gobbled up the delectable almond-filled pastry, relishing every bite. Not a word had been uttered until I found a morsel particularly hard to chew on.
Getting the words out through a mouthful, I manage to mumble, “What’s that?”, subsequently pulling out a small figurine.
Hoorays and exclamations burst out from our hosts as they come over to coronate me. Albeit only a paper crown, positive reinforcement works wonders and hence, with the hopes that I remain Queen, Galette Des Rois now finds a home in our New Year’s traditions.