Narel ji mithai is prepared by many Sindhis during Ganpati. Photo: Alka Keswani
I still remember the days when all the kids in our neighbourhood would save some money to ‘book’ a Ganesha idol for the Sarvajanik Ganesh Utsav. We would pester our parents to shell out few rupees so that we can buy things to decorate the humble pandal made from old bed sheets, and protected with tarpaulin sheets.
A table would be borrowed to place the idol. A night before Ganpati's arrival, the teenagers and kids would get busy decorating the area. The sheets of colourful kite papers would be cut in triangles, and small kids would apply glue to the broader end of each, while the elder ones would carefully stick it to a twine to make colourful strings that would be then tied across the street. Colourful decorative balls would be hung, and crepe paper ribbons would be glued inside and around the makhar.
The night would pass amidst the fights, giggles, arguments and discussions, and just before the crack of dawn, we would rush back home to catch a short nap. But, we'd soon wake up to the sound of dhol accompanying the Ganpati idols that would pass nearby. The young boys and girls would rush to pick the idol from the shop while those remaining behind would take charge of setting up the puja thali with dhoop,agarbatti (incense sticks), haldi kumkum et al. Some sweet halwa or mithai would be made by aunts in the neighbourhood.
And then our small Ganpati would arrive, filling our hearts with great enthusiasm. With the help of aunts, the necessary rituals would be performed. Everything else would be done by the kids, and with great pride we would religiously take care of our Ganpati. Right from cleaning the place to lighting the lamp, burning incense sticks, offering bhog and distributing sweets to everyone who came for darshan.
It was a pure religious affair with no politics or glamour involved neither a mammoth budget or colossal murtis or astounding decorations. All we had was just some pure love for the Elephant God and innocent emotions attached.
Sadly with every passing year, things got murkier and a beautiful tradition came to an end. Most of the families now prefer to bring Ganpati to their individual homes and the sarvajanik utsav is no longer celebrated there.
Although modak and motichoor ladoo are known to be Ganesha's favourite sweets, he also loves coconut, and hence coconut ladoo or barfi are made during this time. Narel ji mithai is one such popular Sindhi sweet that could be made in any season, and needs no specific occasion. It is traditionally made in two layers, white and green, but here I have not used any colour.
Recipe for Narel ji mithai (Makes 8)
2.5 cups desiccated shredded coconut
2 tsp milk powder
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
Few drops of white rose essence
1. In a thick bottom pan, add water and sugar and let it boil till the syrup reaches one string consistency.
2. Mix milk powder in the coconut powder.
3. Add this mix to the boiling syrup, stirring continuously.
4. Cook till the mixture forms a lump.
5. Put it off the flame and mix few drops of rose essence.
6. Pour the mix on greased plate and smoothen it using wet fingers or spatula.
7. Let it cool for few hours and then cut it into pieces of desired shape.