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Looking back, looking ahead
Some snippets from work and life + reading recommendations for the month
When I switched the frequency of this newsletter from biweekly to monthly, I naively thought that more time would give rise to better ideas, improved writing, and a flexible schedule I can adhere to, but of course life had other plans. Not to get too sentimental on main, but the start of this month was plagued by a personal emergency, which meant that I couldn’t devote all my time to writing and so I decided that I’d take a break from this newsletter this month. But being a person who gets too attached to things in general meant that I’ve constantly been in two minds about what to do.
It’s times like this that I realise I have look back, reach out to the archives (of this newsletter and generally, life and memories), and revive pieces that have been in a state of unconsciousness, just so shelf offering’s September offerings aren’t marked by silence. Talking about looking back for comfort, reminds of this piece I’d written for this newsletter (in a previous avatar) in the midst of the pandemic in 2020 about comfort, and what we seek from it in times of chaos. This piece was a turning point for me personally — I think it [this piece] was what set the standard for future pieces, not to mention it found a small endorsement in the San Francisco Chronicle in a review by Soleil Ho for a midwestern restaurant and which included my words on looking around for comfort instead of looking ahead. More often than not, community is a buzzword, but caring for the community is also a way to care for oneself, eventually reducing precarity to an exception and vulnerability as the rule.
See you in October with hopefully something more coherent.
For those who celebrate, today is Vinayagar/Ganesh Chaturthi, which marks the birth of the Hindu god Ganesha (the elephant headed one). Last year, I wrote a piece on the kozhukkattai, a dumpling that can be both sweet and savoury, and is usually made on Chaturthi as an offering to both god and mortals (I really think mortals enjoy it more). Below is an excerpt from that piece:
If one is to go by myths, then the kozhukattai has been present in the south for a longer time. Lord Ganesha is supposed to have gorged on kozhukattais (or modaks, as the folklore goes and as they are known in western India), which is why they are offered to him on Vinayagar Chaturthi (a ten-day festival observed to honour Ganesha’s birthday).
As kozhukatta, it is a regular fixture during the Kozhukatta Perunnal or Palm Sunday, observed by the Syrian Christians of Kerala. Commemorating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the kozhukatta is supposed to represent the stones that were thrown on Jesus during his crucifixion, while the sweet stuffing of coconut and jaggery is said to represent love. In parts of Sri Lanka, a pallu (Tamil for tooth) kozhukattai ceremony is held when the child’s first tooth appears. A kozhukattai stuffed with a coin is dropped over the child’s head, which is used as the first teether.
There’s also the dateless bedtime story (different families have different versions, like the kozhukattai itself) about a silly man who comes across kozhukattai for the first time at a wedding feast, becomes obsessed, and in an effort to remember its name, constantly repeats “kozhukattai” to himself. While going back home, he sees a man jumping across a stream yelling “Athiribacha!” The silly man does the same and repeats “Athiribacha” while jumping across, but sustains an injury to his head, which swells up. Kozhukattai is now out of his memory and he repeats “athiribacha” till he reaches home, and asks his wife to make him some athiribacha. Confused as to what the dish is, he tries to recall it but in vain. They fight till she notices his head and asks angrily: “What is the swelling on your head like a kozhukattai?” A Eureka moment later, the silly man jumps up and exclaims, “That’s it, the kozhukattai.”
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No energy to write long prose/narrative pieces, but I’ve surprisingly found energy to write and read poems. Yesterday was the birthday of William Carlos Williams who has arguably produced the most memeable piece of poetry about plums, in ‘This Is Just To Say’. Perfect, no notes.
Cathy Park Hong’s Spring And All is beautiful and haunting, especially the lines “and this grief/that has no release—/grows inward/rooting into/my spine, and/from my head sprouts a flower/of gossamer blood/threads”
A lot of Jane Hirshfield and this from Lisel Mueller.
Catching up on a lot of reading. Kevin Vaughn, who edits Matambre, wrote about a trip to Famailla in Argentina for Vittles, on what makes an empanada, and who was surprised with a ceremony held in his honour. Really excellent!
Gaby Del Valle’s deep dive into tradwives and their lifestyle, and why it appeals to a large number of women plus extreme sinister undertones.
Maggie Smith interview with The Guardian on going viral which exposed her marriage like a split wound. Can’t wait to get my hands on You Could Make This Place Beautiful!!!
Congratulations toon the launch of her book No Meat Required. Another book I cannot wait to sink into!
Really love Alex Micu’s new substack, just pages of gorgeous photos.
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