We Mallus from God’s Own Country (You others, wherever it is that you live, please don’t be offended, your countries are also God’s own if that’s how you wish it to be. I use it because this is the nickname by which my state is known)… so yeah, we Mallus, from God’s Own Country, are sold big on a vegetable dry dish called thoran.
Thoran is the easiest thing to make and can be made using any one of the following veggies: all types of beans, carrot, snake gourd, cabbage, green/red leaves, drumstick leaves, banana stem and flower, raw banana, yam, drumsticks and more. And fish and chicken too, by the way! The internet is teeming with recipes for thoran, still let me quickly take you through the steps.
Finely cut the vegetable of your choice. Heat oil in a kadai and throw in some mustard seeds and pieces of dried red chilly. Watch them jump around going, “Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!” When they are done spluttering in annoyance at your callousness in putting them in hot oil, dump the cut vegetables and salt with them, stir well. Let them all get to know each other really well. Meanwhile take some fresh grated coconut, a pod of garlic and a pinch of cumin seed, take them all to task, mildly. Introduce Messrs Turmeric and Red Chill Powders to them, the former a pinch and the latter to taste. Add them to the by now mellow veggies and tell them to party while the heat is still on. When they are done, give them a sprig of curry leaf as prize.
That’s it. Thoran is ready. Easy-peasy, right?
Thoran used to be a regular feature in my home too, beans thoran, cabbage thoran, green banana thoran… you name it. But when it came to snake gourd or okra, mother gave them a different treatment. None of the garlic, cumin, Messrs Powdered Turmeric and Red Chilly routine which is what makes a thoran a thoran. When she cooked these vegetables she only added plain handfuls of freshly grated coconut to them. For years and years and years and years… well you get the drift, for a pretty long long time, I thought that was how okra and snake gourd HAD to be made.
The very first time I came across the snake gourd thoran, which was somewhere in my late 20s, my reaction had been one of incredulity. ‘But you don’t make snake gourd with cumin and garlic added!‘ The person to whom I said this gave me a curious glance but didn’t reply. Next I came face to face with the okra thoran. This was even more of a surprise than the first. “Okra thoran?!!!!!! No bleddy way!” I told a neighbor about the okra thoran someone else said she had made that day, and asked her, wasn’t it funny? Okra thoran, indeed! Hahaha! But the neighbor told me it wasn’t funny, she made okra thoran too. Besides, she had never heard of plain grated coconut being added to okra and she found THAT funny.
This was just not right. They were ALL making a mistake. This was not how mother made it. I mean, hers was THE way to make it, right? Why were these others making it differently? But ummm, their way of making it tasted ummm… better than what mother used to make. Could it possibly be made that way too? Hmmm… Soon, I started making it the new way (which was in reality old, but new to me) and really liking it. And then one day it hit me. Of course, mother had been taking a shortcut (she is not too fond of cooking), and I like a fool had assumed it to be THE correct and only way.
The same way we assume everything our parents ever taught us, or have heard from them growing up, to be the only truth.
The ideas, opinions and thoughts on a number of things including religion, politics, gender, system of medicine etc from parents are swallowed whole and never really questioned. Every prejudice of theirs finds fertile ground in us, takes root and grows to a powerful and strong tree, difficult to uproot. And the way we are exhorted from birth to put parents on a pedestal (as also the guilt-tripping done by parents at the least sign of individual thinking) does not help us in any way to break away and evaluate impartially, what has been fed us.
To those who think, these things are pretty clear. While growing up we imbibed from parents what they understood of the world as they knew it. But we now live in different times and need new skills, new ways to see us through life. Parents taught us what they THOUGHT was right. It need not always be the right way or the best solution/answer for us. In fact it is NOT. Sometimes it is absolute nonsense. The past is for learning from, not for following implicitly without questioning. Yup, consider that a shailism. We HAVE to question, deviate, reevaluate the old, discard the useless, cut new paths and travel them.
Think of it this way, if we were meant to lead exactly the same life our parents lived and they their parents and so on backwards… shouldn’t we still be sitting on treetops? Or maybe we wouldn’t even have gotten there, only been single celled organisms still, faithfully reproducing according to instructions.
©Shail Mohan 2016