It’s Holi. So, how do we prepare that elusive perfect concoction for thandai?
As February sets in across the Gangetic plains and as the sun moves northwards gathering warmth, the winds sweeping down from the Himalayan ranges in the begin to gather strength even as they start to lose the chill. It is that period where a few minutes of exertion in the sun might prompt one to shed the various layers of warm clothing, but the very next minute one would be shivering due to the strong wind racing through the thickest of fabrics. It is as if nature were playing truant. That is the definitive sign that silly season has arrived. Yes, that would be the start of Basant, whose culmination would be marked by the silliest and riotous of all festivals, Holi.
But nature’s celebrations do not make a festival. It is the expression of human joy, which elevates an ordinary moment. Thankfully, silly season inspires the residents of Gangetic plains to express their joy variously, endlessly & immensely.
Phaag, the folk song for the season reverberates from Mathura in the west to Ayodhya in the east. Whereas in Mathura they would be singing the exploits of a playful Krishna in Brij dialect, Ayodhya’s Avadhi celebrates the colorful exertions of Rama and his brothers. Interestingly, the cognoscenti would be often encountering the mellowed riotousness of Phaag in Raga Kaafi.
But nothing symbolizes the season more than thandai. It is as though the aesthetic intellect of generations gone by was distilled as a concoction. Even as one would lift the glass the mild aroma of fresh rose (imparted by rosewater) along with the strong hit of cardamom & almonds would instigate the senses to break into a jig. The ensuing sip would provide the chill instilled in the name thandai and explain the nature of green tit bits sticking to the rim. The flavor buds would unanimously confirm pistachio. There would also be a mellow call out by fennel seeds, eager to register their presence but succeeding in only getting a side glance. Yet the very next moment, as the mild milk concoction makes it’s way down, the throat would be surprised by the warmth of white pepper as it left a glowing trail. Truly a blend that embodies the silly season.
Just as mild yellow is the official color of Basant, so is a well made thandai mixture the color of an Awadh dawn in spring. The rim of the vessel should be sprinkled with a suggestive green just as the vegetation marks the rim at horizon. But the main body should be mild yellow and not ochre colored, as are some of the thandai concoctions available off the shelf.
But even thandai is not spared the curse of silly season. Not just others but even most residents of Gangetic plains believe that thandai is an intoxicating drink. The closest analogy would be that water sipped in a wine glass would be intoxicating. A wine glass is just a medium, so to say. It has no intoxicating quality in itself.
Similarly thandai is just the medium for the intoxicant bhaang (hemp/cannabis). Without bhaang it is as potent as betel nut. With bhaang it is as venomous as betel nut with tobacco.
Yet what exactly is thandai? Ah! The ideal mixture is known to Annapurna herself. But, she readily shares it with Shiv devotees for they are but her children.
Thandai is lots of almonds, lesser amount of cashew, even lesser pistachio, cardamom and a dash of white pepper & fine fennel seeds.
-Soak them overnight
-Then grind the mixture lovingly and gently after peeling the almonds.
-Again soak the mixture for a few hours with a benign touch of rosewater
-Mix the mixture with milk in appropriate measure and add sugar to taste, preferably a few grains extra.
Reach out for bhaang only if you have a strong enough constitution. But whatever is the stand on bhaang, never miss out to invite friends. Then get silly. The season demands it. Society licenses it. Everyone loves it.