Of Ghee and Purity


By Bangormayum Namiba

The time for khichdi has come. I love my khichdi. My mother makes good khichdi. I remember her telling me that the khichdi in Puri was not to her liking. “Too much ghee”, she complained. She went there to ask for my health, to promise to the deity, as she tied the thread around the banyan tree that she would come back to untie those knots, once my health is restored. Her prayers worked.

“My wife makes good curd”, I told one of my recently acquainted friends. He replied by saying that his wife makes the best muffins.  He was visibly, immensely, happy to have got the context to say that. Though I could not get the connection between milk and muffins then, the remark of my friend set me thinking about what a philosopher said about the importance of ambiguities – the very thing that gives rise to misunderstandings. The systemic ambiguity of words, the in-principle disconnect, gap between ideas and language that clothes them is essential to the possibility of communication. Simply put, ideas are private; language is essentially public. Therefore, language always falls short, or perhaps long if you please, of what you want to convey. Language works through transference, deference. Even the most literal is metaphorical. This framework made me appreciate the disconnect in the conversation above. I wanted to communicate something, but what was communicated had its own mind, its own life. Our words even in their most direct instances reverberate with infinite possibilities of meaning. .

But that’s beside the point, what I want to say is that my wife makes good curd. The trick she says is to make use of a casserole. It gives the right temperature for the curd making bacteria to work at its best. I may add that she can make ghee too. There is a puzzle regarding ghee. When we buy ghee, the container says “pure ghee”. When we buy curd, we don’t expect to find “pure curd” written on it. Why is this so, I have been thinking without any answer. Is this word “pure” arbitrary? I hope not, for many have died for that idea and many are ready to do so. If it were arbitrary then many lives would have been wasted. God forbid that the question is answered in the affirmative. Yet, ‘pure’ ghee, offered to the gods, causes obstruction of the arteries and veins, the doctors say. If purity means exclusion, if purity means the blocking of life, if it means stagnancy, then perhaps it is against life. The measure of life is change. Life needs change as much as stability.

A learned friend once told me about a queer hypothesis. It ran something like this – language makes the world. He explained further that language captures what we can think, feel and do. There are different languages in the world. If you speak a language, you have access to a world. Depending on the conceptual background and resource that the language provides, you feel, think and act accordingly. Different languages mean different worlds. These worlds interact and overlap. This overlapping means that we have access to many different worlds. But it could, and has, lead to anxieties as well. The anxiety that my world could be swamped by another world is a real anxiety. This is a valid anxiety. It is our responsibility that no world goes out of existence. Though this anxiety may be valid the other side of the coin is that, anxiety if disproportionate to the threat is a symptom of pathological condition. If the response is incommensurate to the challenge then it is unhealthy.

To keep babies healthy, they have to be given regular bath. This my wife says. One may not agree with her but many will agree that watching babies being given a bath is quite a pleasure. When my son takes a bath, my entire family members converge to watch the scene. Their faces speak of pride and joy – this amidst his caterwauling. I have also noticed that the mother lifts the baby out of the tub before the dirty, ‘impure’ water is thrown away. It would be quite horrific and morbid if the baby is thrown away with the bath-water in the anxiety to get rid of the impurity.

We are in the danger of throwing away many babies from our world. We can throw away “ghee”, “khichdi” and such other babies which we have adopted. We have adopted these words and given them growth. The baby that has grown is no longer the one that we adopted. “Khichdi” in our language does not refer to the thing that my mother saw and tasted in Puri. It stands for the one that we have in our kitchens. They may share the same colour and perhaps the same religious function but it would be absurd to say that they are the same. If words refer to different things they are different words. But how do we excise the “khichdi” we adopted and retain the “khichdi” which is our own now?  How do I say to my mother that I want some khichdi after the erasure of the word “khichdi”? With the erasure of the word “hing” we would mutilate our world by excising the idiom which roughly translates as “He is a hing” to mean, with lots of colour, that someone is stingy. This idiom is our own. How do we say “Don’t pour ghee on the ashes”? This expression is our own. And if words get their meaning from the sentential context then they are our words since the expressions our own. They belong to our world now.

These are vexed thoughts. Thinking them makes one hungry. I want some of those yellow coloured rice made with pulses, sautéed and cooked in ‘Maroi mara’. Yes mother, I would love some of those.



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