After a century, the internet is filling the role that Marathi magazines once played on Diwali

Joanna Lobo

As a child, Saee Koranne-Khandekar loved to read as much as she liked to eat. Her family was the same. Their Diwali preparations included a trip to the bookstore – Popular, Strand or even the pavements at Flora Fountain. Her favourite gift was a bounty of books and magazines, all special Diwali editions or Diwali Ank.

“We had a separate budget kept aside for the Diwali Ank,” said the Mumbai-based author and food consultant. “It was an adventure going to bookstores, browsing through the [Diwali] editions and choosing what we liked, while watching people clamour for the latest Ank like it was going out of fashion.”

At the time, nearly every publication in Marathi curated a Diwali magazine issue rich with poetry, short stories, interviews and travelogues by famous writers. Antarnaad was one respected Diwali Ank. Hans was another. These publications still survive, but others are struggling to survive in the face of declining readership and revenues.

Shakti Salgaokar-Yezdani remembers that time too. For her family, which publishes the indispensable Marathi almanac Kalnirnay, the Diwali Ank was the most important part of the festive celebrations. “We would get every edition out there,” she said. “My family wanted to make sure that even if I studied in an English medium school, I would continue reading and appreciating Marathi. They would take out and mark stories that my sister and I would like and make us read those.”

This week, in a throwback to that century-old tradition, Saee and members of the secret Facebook group, Angat Pangat, created their own digital Diwali Ank. Called Diwali Pangat, the website has scores of contributions from members of the 19,000-strong group, and at their core is food. There are recipes of traditional Maharashtrian dishes, tales of cooking, videos of members reading from cookbooks – and, of course, stories of Diwali traditions.

Revisiting memories

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In one essay, Shruti Nargundkar reminisces about building a Diwali killa out of mud, cardboard and upturned clay pots, and peopling it with GI Joe figures, plastic animals and dolls. As a tradition, that castle signified the victories of Shivaji Maharaj, the 17th century Maratha warrior king. In another article, Amarendra Mulye shares information on that Diwali staple – pohe – and how preparations vary across regions.

Diwali in Salgaokar-Yezdani’s family isn’t complete without five types of poha and Haldi-KumKum coffee. The poha is made using potatoes, curd and ghee, dusted with sugar, coconut and jaggery, and finally given a dash of milk. “The Haldi-KumKum coffee is usually prepared for Sankrant, but we have it for Diwali,” said Shakti. “It is made with MR coffee powder, which is boiled with sugar, nutmeg, elaichi and milk. It’s like a kheer coffee that gets a wonderful body from the nutmeg and elaichi.”

In Diwali Pangat 2017, Salgaokar-Yezdani shares a besan laddoo recipe that belonged to her late grandmother. The article is laced with memories of her Manuaai and the life lessons she learned sitting in her kitchen, watching her cook. “She was a really good cook and her laddoos were famous. She always had them in the house and they were handed to anyone who visited us. I decided to write about it in the way she taught me. She would give me life lessons while cooking – about living in the moment, standing up for myself, and being financially independent.”

Vegan recipes

In some of the writings on Diwali Pangat, you can find insights into the evolution of Diwali food over the years.

Amruta Nargundkar, for instance, writes about her experiments with creating vegan Diwali sweets, from gulab jamun made of sweet potato and bread to waxy wadi made of macadamias. She also gives a recipe for making shrikhand using coconut yoghurt. Home cook Swapneel Prabhu, meanwhile, creates a degustation menu, Pravaas, representing regions in and around Maharashtra and pairing them with his childhood memories. He writes:

“As a little boy, I spent Diwali vacations with my maternal grandparents at their home in Belgaum. When I think of Jadiamma [my gradmother] in that house, the image that stands out is of her making bhakri. One particular meal that’s etched in my memory is this Vangyache Bharit she made, adding a handful of pavte [fresh green beans]. She served it with bhakri and bâtonnets of radish. There was some sweet curd, and sandgi mirchi.”  

He uses this childhood memory to create a PB & J (Pavta Bharit aani Jondhala) Cornettos. This has bhakri dough cones baked till crispy, piped with alternate layers of the bharit with pavte and a hung curd and radish raita. The cones are topped with toasted, nutty popped sorghum rolled in hung curd and a dust of crushed fried sandgi mirchi. Another course called Shahaala-Amsul Sorbet – tender coconut and kokum sorbet with a dink laddoo coral crisp – represents his memories of the plate of pharaal his Jadiamma would give to each of the grandchildren on Diwali morning, to take to the neighbours.

With these recipes and reminiscences, Diwali Pangat revives traditions that are inherent to Maharashtrian Diwali. Saee Koranne-Khandekar hopes that the website’s bilingual format will appeal to the younger generation and people from non-Marathi-speaking communities. “Every article you read, every photograph you admire, every video you enjoy, has been created by an Angat Pangat member because they wanted to celebrate Diwali with you,” she said.