I remember my mother wiping her sweaty face with the ends of her sari, her gold and colorful glass bangles clinking against each other as she ran to and fro from that tiny kitchen to serve every one with divine love during the holy month of Kartik.
Virtually the entire population of Odisha becomes vegetarian during this period, when the pious and peaceful Odia people celebrate the destruction of evil by Lord Shiva, and as we grew up in our beautiful maternal home, for my family and our neighbors it was also a month long celebration of my mother’s kitchen which turned out the tastiest and most flavorful vegetarian Odia foods.
It was usually late afternoon when everyone was back from school or work before she started the day’s puja (prayer) and first offered the foods to the Gods. We sat down expectantly on little hand-woven mats before the puja room while she laid out large banana leaves before us. On the extreme right corner of the leaf would definitely go a tiny heap of course salt, a quarter slice of green lime and two glistening green chiles. Next, at the very center, would land a big heap of piping hot arua, basmati rice, that would make the leaf grow deeper green around the edges. We were cued to quickly make a moat of the rice mound to contain the watery moong daal, yellow lentil, garnished with finely scraped coconuts.
The heavenly aroma caused of the ghee and tulsi leaves, a kind of basil, which garnished the traditional Odia food habisanna, literally ghee flavored rice, filled the room. Around the mound of rice, she spooned servings of daal koshala saag, lentils with green vegetables, sprinkled with badi chura, small balls of crushed dried and fried lentils; green banana fries; ghanta tarkari, mixed vegetable curry without onions, garlic and the ubiquitous turmeric; all topped off with ou khatta, sweet and salty elephant apple or Dillenia indica chutney. When it all lay before us, like a necklace studded with diamonds, we dug into it with our fingers.