All households have their set traditions – either flowing through generations of forefathers or created because of modern family demands. And like most of them, we also have set traditions in our house for different festivals and most of them revolve around the food.
One of the very basic and most frequently exhibited tradition is of making halwa for everyone’s birthdays. I never asked my Grandmother how and why this started but since this tradition is not just for Punjabis or UPites but followed by and large in North India, my guess is that it has to do with the ease of making and distributing it – it’s rich – made with ghee and a combination of suji, atta or besan depending on preferences, adding dry fruits as per choice and you can make either small or large quantities without too much effort. And every household has a different taste of halwa and all of them taste yummy.
In my Grandmother’s time, this was a grand ritual – the veranda where it was made had to be properly cleaned and wiped in the morning post which no one was allowed to come from any place of the house to this part wearing slippers. Earlier, she used to cook it in mitti ki bhatti which had to be purified a day before every time and the coal for cooking arranged. The cooking utensil – lohe ki karhai was cleaned by coal raakh. Then the red thread mauli was tied before the cooking started. I remember it being a very tedious process and it used to take ages for the halwa to be ready. This ritual was simplified when the bhatti made way to gas chulha for the sake of convenience.
After my nani passed away, or may be before that since the time she could not see, the mantle was passed to my masi. And there the process got customised a bit – my mother and sister preferred a little less dry halwa with equal quantities of sugar and suji, while my preference was for less sugar and more dry version. And as per the birthdays, the demand would be fulfilled.
But when she too passed away, it was the turn of my mother to carry the tradition. By this time, I was staying away from home for a long time and missed this small but important ritual so I also started following this ritual independently at my place for celebrating the birthdays. Over the years, it has become easier to make it frequently and not get hassled, the only difference being I make it in non-stick utensil but still add lots of ghee.
Nowadays, we all take turns to make sure that the tradition, legacy continues and while cakes have made an appearance in the birthday menu, this modest homely delicacy is not forgotten.