Puran poli tales
Every time I eat puran poli, I remember Shalan Chavan, then principal of the Victoria Memorial School for the Blind at Tardeo, where I was a volunteer for years
August is a month of feasting. Last week's Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations meant a redolent, traditional Konkani feast for lunch, that included madgane, patolyo, peas ambat, muggya-bibbe sukke, batatya song, padwal phodyo and ambemohar rice, mostly sent by my sister Sarayu Kamat. Before that, on Independence Day, Madhura Vayal had sent puran poli, a Maharashtrian sweet, stuffed chapati, in her healthy dabba. It seems a very Maharashtrian thing to do.
Every time I eat puran poli, I remember Shalan Chavan, then principal of the Victoria Memorial School for the Blind at Tardeo, where I was a volunteer for years. Every Independence Day, she would personally roll out and roast about 200 puran polis for the 100 blind students. They had cooks, of course, but she always made these herself. I doubt the management knows or cares about her devotion beyond the call of duty. The VMSB is a free, residential school for mostly underprivileged blind students till the 8th standard. Many are from rural areas; some are orphans: when parents bring their children for admission, they often abandon them and are never seen again. So, the fact that it has a residential hostel, in a way turns even children with parents into orphans. Horrific. Shalan was aware of this. That if they were home, may be some mothers would have made puran polis for their children, if they could afford it. That is why she always considered all the children her own, and made the puran polis herself, rolling each one with love, affectionately encouraging the children to eat more, and generously adding fragrant toop (ghee) on top. I salute the warrior of love that is Shalan Chavan. How many school principals do you know who would do this for their students? There are hundreds of unsung heroes in India, who give lovingly of themselves.
My friend Vishakha Patil tells me many Maharashtrians make puran poli on Independence Day, as this auspicious occasion must be celebrated with a sweet. Traditionally, though, she says they make puran poli on Holika Dahan, a day before Holi, and on Gudi Padva. Our amma, Indu Shedde, also reminds me of bail pola, the bull festival, when farmers worship and thank their bulls, who help them farm and feed their families all year, by painting their horns, putting ghungroos on their horns and feet, tilak and bashing (an ornament) on their foreheads, marigold haar—all topped off by offering them a feast of puran poli! Only Indians will be sweet enough to offer their bulls puran poli.
There's also a poignant puran poli scene in the marvellous Marathi film Gabhricha Paus (The Damned Rain, 2009), in which Girish Kulkarni and Sonali Kulkarni play a cotton farmer Kisna and his wife Alka. Written and directed by Satish Manwar, the film is about farmers' suicides in drought-ridden Vidarbha. When their debt-ridden neighbour commits suicide, his widow regrets not partaking of life's small pleasures, or giving her husband nice things to eat, before he died. The panic-stricken Alka quickly makes puran poli for Kisna, to kind of pre-empt him from considering suicide as well. But, as they barely manage a living, Kisna explodes—people are dying here and you're making puran poli? It is incredibly hard to create scenes that makes the audience laugh, even as you break their hearts. Thanks to puran poli, we are reminded what a gifted writer-director Satish Manwar is. Bring him back, I say!
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at email@example.com
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