The best news about Ganeshotsav comes in soft pouches filled with coconut and jaggery called modaks. I would never dream of buying them or having them made. I have my mother’s recipe which I follow to the letter to produce a sweet that falls only 20 per cent short of the perfection she used to produce with the same recipe. The secret’s not in the words. It’s in the eyes that must judge and the hands that must mould.
These days modak flour made of fragrant rice is available with every good grocer in a Marathi manoos dominated neighbourhood. Just say “modkachi pithi” and you’ve made a beginning. My mother began by buying the right kind of rice, washing it, spreading it out to dry and getting it milled to exactly the right fineness.
If you want to make 20 modaks, scrape two normal sized coconuts. Add to the scrapings three-quarters of their volume of jaggery, mix together and cook. Consider the filling done when it has lost its runniness and come together without becoming sticky. If it does get sticky, pretend you always meant to make toffee, not modaks. Before you take the stuffing off the fire, add about 10 powdered green cardamoms, give the mixture a good stir, let its warm fragrance fill your lungs and set aside to cool.
Now for the wrapping. Take half a kilo of pithi. Measure out an equal amount in volume of water. Put the water in a thick-bottomed vessel with three teaspoons full of ghee and a dash of salt and boil. Add the pithi bit by bit to the boiling water while stirring all the time. Read that again. See? It involves both hands. But you need a third to keep the pot steady on the burner while you’re stirring. If you have help, call for it now. If not, muddle along. You’ll manage.
Once all the pithi has been absorbed into the water and become a white mass, turn the gas down to as low as it’ll go, cover the pot and wait till a good steam rises when you open the lid. Along with the steam you are rewarded with the sensuous scent of basmati. Open your ecstatically closed eyes, put the higgledy-piggledy dough in a shallow basin and go at it. Of course it’s hot. Knead it with the flat bottom of a bowl or something to save your hands for the first few minutes if it’s unbearable. Then rub the palms with ghee and water and knead, knead, knead till the dough is smooth and lumpless.
There is a special vessel to steam modaks in, but a pressure cooker without the pressure does just as well. Smear ghee in the pressure cooker vessels. Now start moulding the modaks. Apllying ghee to your palms, take a ball of dough, press the middle with your thumb to make a deep hollow. Now turn it around in the hollow of your palm pressing the sides the while to create a vertical katori. It’s like the potter turning and moulding a small pot on his wheel. Never seen that? Oh dear.
Fill the katori three-quarters full with stuffing. Pinch the sides of the katori all around and bring the flutes together at the top and pinch into a fine tapered nose. That’s what the top is called. Naak.
Stand these beauties in the ghee smeared pressure cooker vessel and staem them for seven minutes. Take out, allow them a minute or so for willingness to be lifted out of the vessel, split at the top or don’t. Spoon pure home-made ghee over them and thank me for your ticket to heaven.
And while we are on modaks I cannot resist the temptation of translating a short poem by the late Vinda Karandikar from his collection titled “Virupika” (Distortions) In the sicties when this ten line poem was written, a storm broke out of moral high-horsing and wounded sentiments that consumed tons of newsprint. Karandikar didn’t know what had hit him but kept his cool and defended his little work in the tone of a patient teacher putting kindergarten kids through the basics of education.
Here’s the poem, with some of its alliterative punch lost, but most of its wickedness in place.
Gazing upon the curved-trunked, great bodied Ganapati,
A beautiful woman,
Given to reading pornography,
Was filled with lust.
Upon which, the curved-trunked, great bodied Ganapati,
Took her quickly by her modak breasts,
Whirled her around in the sky twenty-one times
And flung her into a howling hell