My Dearest Komal, Anjli and Amar,
With the commencement of autumn I always look forward to the dancing season. For the gujarati in me, it is the navratri festival that excites me and these days ‘Strictly Come Dancing‘ also makes me want to start dancing lessons. I really have no excuse for not learning ballroom dancing as there are plenty of dance schools in Zürich to join. Dad and I did accompany our friends Lily and Rumi to some tango classes but decided eventually that we should start with an easier dance form first. Tango is so precise. Also perhaps go with friends who are our level and not such brilliant dancers as Lily and Rumi! For the moment I will keep to my garba and dandiya that I have grown up with.
As such there are five navratri festivals in India but the one that we gujaratis celebrate most is the Maha or Sharad navratri (navratri-nine nights, નવરાત્રી) which also denotes the beginning of winter. As the Hindu dates are based on the lunar calendar, navratri dates can fall anytime between September and November. This year the festival was during 1st to 9th of October. The 10th day is Dasera. During the 9 days many Gujaratis fast and many dance garbas and dandiyas wearing highly colourful costumes and jewelry. The festival is dedicated to the goddess Ambamata and as is the norm in Hinduism, Ambamata has many titles such as Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Shakti or Parvati. This is a celebration of the victory of good over evil and the advancement of positivity over negativity.
In Jinja the largest garba celebrations happened at the main temple (motu mandir મોટુ મંદિર) and my kaka, Motakaka was the main organiser and the compere.
Motakaka’s proper name was Bhagubhai, and in the gujarati language the eldest is always referred to as ‘mota’ or ‘moti’ (મોટા or મોટી) depending on respect and gender. There was one year when the navratri was held in Ripon Garden, right opposite our house.
You all know how important navratri is to me, I have already mentioned garbas numerous times in my last few letters. A high percentage of the community and therefore my school companions were gujaratis in Jinja. The prevalent culture therefore was gujarati and hence the importance of navratri.
End of year school celebrations included garba and dandiya competitions and I always took part. Moving to the UK did not stop me as I got involved in performing indian dances for the school AND the university year-end festivities.
I have attended navratri in Norwood, Battersea, Mitcham, Hammersmith, Streatham, and Harrow, to name just a few.
Do you all remember how I used to drag you to garbas during navratri? That young boy in the black and white photo above could quite easily be you Amar! It used to be super fun when us four teamed together to play dandiya in North Harrow.
When Komal came over to Pune for navratri, we flew over to Ahmedabad (Amdavad, અમદાવાદ) to get the true flavour of garbas. What a great unbelievable experience. We were able to stay with a very hospitable family acquaintance, who not only housed and fed us but also took us to three different garba events. One of them was in the open grounds of the Law University, dancing on a huge sandy arena with live musicians playing traditional instruments. There must have been at least 500 people dancing. The cherry on the cake was when our host sisters took us to eat the traditional gujarati thali at the famous outdoor restaurant ‘Vishalla‘. Besides the tasty food, going to Vishalla is an experience of the village life of Gujarat. Do you remember Komal the fun we had going there? Riding piggy-back with Rajeshwari and Rupal on their ‘two wheeler’. Instead of using hard helmets , we had our heads wrapped up bandit-like with a long scarf to protect us from the horrible dust of Amdavad!
For me , the bike ride itself was a first. The rugged roads, the undisciplined heavy traffic and the head gear, all felt like we were on a movie set! I guess it came naturally to you Komal!
I know you all use the excuse of being too busy to go to navrati these days, so I am glad that the tradition of garba has now been incorporated into the wedding celebrations. At least you get to practise your movements some time! Unfortunately for Komal, when Atishmama and Preetimami had their wedding garba, you earned yourself (and so did I) some negative points. The whole evening got delayed as I spent ages chasing Komal who did not want to put on the customary chanya choli (ચણ્યા ચોળી). Thankfully Komal, you are not so averse to wearing Indian outfits these days!
I have compiled a playlist of some Bollywood garbas and some clips of navratri from all over the world including a couple from Zürich. Revive your memories of garbas and hopefully ignite the desire to participate.
Also in preparation for Amar cooking for himself for a couple of weeks in the near future, I have inserted a recipe for ‘Variety of Vegetable Currys‘ with this letter. Do please ‘bother’ to cook, you will be your sole critique! Komal and Anjli, if you do use that recipe, let me know how you get on. I hope you have discovered that the recipes can be printed off the blog and also the ingredient amounts will proportionally change when you change the number of the portions. I know maths comes easy to you but this is easier on the brain for doing the shopping.
Keep a look out for a page on the variety of flours used in gujarati cooking.
My primary object of this blog was to get you three cooking? How far am I (or are you?) from my objective?
Until the next time, with all my love, hugs and kisses,