Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Navrathri kolu and Betel leaves

It is Navrathri Kolu week, and my wife is calling her friends home for "vethalai paakku" (vethalai = Betel leaves), as well she is visiting her friends' homes to receive the same. It's all fine and good fun, except that the betel leaves are expensive and difficult to find in the Indian grocery stores. A similar hunt for coconut happens during "Varalakshmi Pooja" - I think even Lucky or Safeway stores now track those dates when coconut demand goes through the roof!

A couple of months back, I was talking to my aunt in India who is now in her late seventies. She was describing her life as a child, living in the villages, families clustered among a group of homes with plenty of back yard trees and other fauna. During festivals, they would pick these betel leaves from their backyard, or coconut from the trees, and give them away as gifts. Likewise, much of the food habits involving rice, vegetables, spices also were due to what grew in the backyard - including banana leaves used as plates. There wasn't much need for money, and people didn't have much of it anyway, so buying things for gifts was out of question.

So, the right equivalent to do now is to go to the backyard and pick some edible leaves and fruit and give to people! Instead, we religiously want to absolutely buy betel leaves, even if they are ridiculously priced!

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