October and November are two of the most festive months in the Hindu calendar. Dusserah is observed on the tenth day of the autumn lunar calendar when after a four-day celebration (or puja) of Goddess Durga, devotees bid her adieu. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and success, appears on the full moon immediately after.
In Bengal, where we came from, Lakshmi is also known as one of the two daughters of Durga, the other daughter being Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom. Along with two sons Ganesh and Kartik and these two daughters, Durga descends from the Himalayas where her husband Shiva lives, to pay an annual visit to her parents’ home on mortal earth. Religion and scripture have taken various easy-to- understand forms in various parts of India. In Bengal and eastern provinces, Hinduism has taken on a least rigid shape.
It has a long history with other religions, and two centuries of British colonization. Then, in a fortnight, on the new moon, Diwali happens, which is also known as the Festival of Lights. All across India, and in households of Indian origin across the globe, regardless of their religion, Indians celebrate this secular festival, which also is known as Kali Puja, or the invocation of Goddess Kali. Fireworks – big and small – light up the sky, all night long.
Mother's day is this Sunday May 10th. I wanted to share a little about my mother and what she meant to me and my family.
My mother and my daughter
My mother seemed like a normal Indian mother, but if you knew her heart you would know she was beyond compare.
Her name was Renuka, or Renu to those closest to her. She grew up in East Bengal, which is now known as Bangladesh. Before the British partition of India in 1947, East Bengal and West Bengal were two parts of an undivided province of Bengal. The two sides of Bengal shared a common history as well as their rich cultural and social heritage for at least one thousand years. A very important part of this heritage was the cuisine.
My mother and her family lived in Dhaka, which the capital city of Bangladesh. Today, it is the tenth largest city in the world, with a population of more than 18 million people. My father and his family also lived in Dhaka, but after the 1947 partition they were forced to cross the border into Calcutta as refugees. Then, as it is now with refugees flooding into Europe and other countries, one can imagine how extremely difficult a time it was. This life-changing experience allowed my mother to be a champion of others who had even less than what she did.
From the time I was young and able to understand my mother she was a key person, both in her own family as well as her marital family. She was the one everyone could count on for help. “Let’s ask Renu,” they would say, whenever they were in need. Both my parents worked for the government. My mom worked in the post office, which did not pay much (some things never change), but gave her some much-needed economic stability. My mother used that peace-of-mind and stability she gained to help out others in all possible and seemingly impossible ways.
One of those ways included, of all things, match-making! It was almost uncanny the way she saw connections between possible brides and grooms within her circle of family members and friends. A middle-class, distant relative’s son and a long-unseen, poor friend’s daughter would suddenly be brought together. This match would ultimately end in a nice little wedding ceremony – my mother being the all-important “cupid” who organized it. Or, a needy cousin and his family members who were suffering so much that they were almost starving. When my mother learned of their plight she showed up at their dilapidated home on a Sunday morning, with cooked food in a large tiffin carrier and money for the starving family. She helped people realize their hopes and dreams as well as helped them to reclaim those same hopes and dreams.
No matter your status in life, she would be there. She even provided support for the people who worked as servants or maids in our home. We were not rich, but were blessed enough to have people who worked for us. That also meant that the people who worked for us were extremely poor. Despite that, they always knew that my mother would be there to save them from hunger and hopelessness.
In 1992, my parents came to the United States to visit us for the first and only time. At the time we lived in Southern Illinois where my husband was doing his Ph.D. at Southern Illinois University, and I was also working in a biology lab at the university. She met my daughter for the first time; she was only five at that time. Mother said it was the best time of her life, those three or four months she stayed with us here in America. According to her, it was "God’s blessing". After returning to India, she spoke and joked about it with friends and family.
Before her passing she often said that when the time comes for her to meet God, she would say, “God, I am very happy and satisfied with my life on earth. I have no regrets. I have even traveled to America, and stayed with my daughter and granddaughter". That always makes me feel special. Even though she was so young, my daughter fondly remembers those days. And I still remember my mother sitting in a swing with my daughter in the small and quiet park of our graduate student housing on Evergreen Terrace.
I miss my mom very much, but for me I still honor her by doing for other people by using my life's experiences to help out any way I can. It's why I love to cook and teach others the benefits of eating the right foods and staying healthy. I would love to hear stories from you about your mother. Leave a few words in the comments about how you remember your mom. What did she like to do? How did she inspire you? How do you honor her today whether she has passed on or is still here today?
Happy Mother's Day,
There's nothing like the beginning of Spring. After this past Winter the warmer air and sunshine is as welcomed as a childhood friend visiting after many years apart. While most of us enjoy the nicer weather there are some who dread what else it brings, seasonal allergies. Stuffy/runny noses, sneezing, itchy, water eyes...its enough to make you go insane!
There are lots of over-the-counter medicines to help relieve the symptoms of seasonal allergies, but I like to rely on the healing power of food to develop the bodies defenses against allergens.
There are many spices that I use in my cooking that have allergy-fighting properties and I want to share 3 common and readily available spices with you.
Curcuma longa - Turmeric
Found in curry powder this wonderful spice has anti-inflammatory properties, and since allergies are really just inflammation of the mucus membranes this miracle spice can really bring some relief.
Allium sativum - Garlic
Garlic is not only good for allergies, but is a natural antibiotic. Add it to your morning smoothie every day and it will naturally boost your immune system. Don't like the smell of garlic? You can opt for supplements, but these just don't work as well.
Capsicum annum - Cayenne Pepper
Cayenne pepper contains a compound called capsaisin, its what gives spicy foods that hot, peppery taste. When you eat foods with lots of pepper your nose begins to run. This helps to clear your nasal passages of allergens like dust and pollen.
I hope these simple tips bring you some relief. If you have tried any of these or have some tips of your own please include them in the comments below.
Fall is here and nothing says good healthy food like this very popular vegetarian Indian dish. This is a simple and delicious Indian recipe and a great way to put that Autumn squash you got from your local farmers' market or CSA. Squash is very tasty and is loaded with Omega-3s and beta-carotene which are great for the immune system.