Kolis are one of the original inhabitants of Mumbai. Photo: Anjali Koli
"Gauri Ganpati che sanala, go Baihini, baygin sange chal maherala."
Come Ganpati-Gauri festival and this iconic song is played everywhere in the Koliwadas. Most Koli women married within the community and many in the same village in the olden days, unlike me who married a Parsi.
It was the festivals that gave reason for women to visit their parental homes but rarely unless the protocol was followed. It was the brother or his wife who would come to invite the married woman for Ganpati and Gauri celebrations.
What is lesser known is that during Ganpati falls a pooja performed by only women called Hrushi Panchami or Rajaswala dosh pooja. Totally irrelevant in the present day, but I grew up among women who celebrated it.
For us as kids it was a time of just the women bonding and fun things like bathing in the sea and playing pranks. The women returned home for more pooja and feasting. The food was a simple stew of mixed green leafy vegetables and rice.
The uniqueness also lies in eating grains and greens cultivated by a male! On the day, women would not accept food if a bull or buffalo was used during cultivation. These pure foods are called 'painu' in Koli.
In many homes, the sumukh is sent off along with Gauri visarjan. The Gauri aagaman or arrival, pooja and visarjan is yet again an all-women celebration among the community. This is the time when a newly-wed like me would be pampered. Gauri is offered the symbols of fertility a cane winnower filled with fruits and vegetables, beetle leaves and nut, haldi kumkum, green bangles et al.
I don't have my Mom to do this for me so I will be doing a single offering at home all by myself. There will be no dancing in circles with the group of women on the seashore to the beat of the dhol and no tearful goodbyes to the Ganaraj and Gauri.
What I am going to miss the most is the meal after the Ganpati-Gauri visarjan. It is special as women are invited to their maternal home for it. After all the sweets and Satvik food during Ganpati's stay in our home, it is time for indulgence in a non-veg meal, always and always mutton or chicken curry with rice and rice flour roti.
Recipe for Koli chicken curry
Ingredients for the masala
1 red Byadgi chili rehydrated
1/2 cup shredded dry coconut
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tesp Koli masala
15-20 pepper corns
2 black cardamoms/ Badi elaichi
5 green cardamoms
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp of ginger & garlic
1-2 green chilies
1 bay leaf
2 inch piece of cinnamon
1 handful of cilantro
Lightly toast the spices and shredded coconut till the kitchen smells of the essential oils emanating from them. Then transfer to the chutney grinder and grind to a fine paste along with cilantro. Add little water for easy grinding. Keep aside.
1 tbsp oil
750 kg mutton or chicken
2 potatoes made into 4 pieces
1. Heat oil in a handi or a saucepan. Let in the chicken or mutton pieces and large chunky potatoes into the handi. Stir to coat with oil. Now pour about a glass of water. Cover and cook till potatoes look like they are about to crumble. Yes, keep the skins on the potatoes you will know why when you taste it.
2. Once the potatoes are done, add the ground masala paste. Mix with the chicken or mutton and top up with another glass of water. Add the eggs. Kolis love to add eggs to their chicken and mutton curries. Cover and cook. The curry turns a blackish green colour due to the cilantro in it. The oil starts floating on the top a bit and you see a ring on the edges of the curry in the handi as it simmers.
3. Remove it from the heat and serve with rice and rice flour roti. I love it with a generous squeeze of lime.
I tell you chicken or mutton curry is superlative when the juices permeate into the chunky potatoes.