Sundal: Of kolus, paavadas and sea-gorillas

“Thengaaa… maangaaa… pataneee… sundaaal…”
Nothing brings Madras and Marina beach to mind as this cry! I once heard an Anerican who was asked about what his experience of India was like and his response was that no matter where one went, even if it was on the most deserted stretch of road and you went behind a tree to do your business (this was in the days before the mushrooming of toll plazas and loos!), you could be sure of an urchin or two popping up with a grin as you finished – unnerving!!
Sitting on the beach in Madras is rather like that – you could be a courting couple, a suicidal soul, an elderly thaatha-paati or even a stray dog – all of you are fair game for the serenade of the “Sundal” seller! With an old aluminium tin can (remember those cans in which oil used to be sold at the corner ‘kirana’ store?), much-patched shorts and a shirt hanging out at the tails, the ‘sundal’ guy is recognisable everywhere and welcomed sometimes – obviously not by the courting couple!
Also, it’s Navaratri time – can sundal be far behind? “Bommala koluvus”, the excitement of setting up the shelves and dusting the toys, the creation of a beach or a village or a temple scene with paper and toys and sand and blue washing powder for the sea ringed with white rangoli powder for the waves – and the overarching joy of ten whole days of holidays!! The pleasure of going from household to household, being asked to sing a song (being completely tuneless, I escaped this ordeal most of the time, except when an unwary new family moved into the colony!!), passing judgment on the quality of sundal in each household – most were good, the odd one was dissed but in general, we were an accepting lot.
This being one of my favourite festivals, i was determined that my children should enjoy it too and had a koluvu for many years. Kanch, my younger daughter and her friend Tara were always excited about this and Kanch used to insist on placing her pet gorilla toy in the middle of the Bay of Bengal – which is where she thought he came from! The two of them also firmly believed that they were part of the exhibit and as soon as guests had seated themselves, used to get up and twirl their paavadais round and round till they got giddy and sat down and the paavadai went “busssss…”! Talk about song-and-dance sequences!
Soaked and boiled chana – 2 cups
Fresh coconut – grated – 2 tbsp
Raw mango – 2 tbsp – chopped
Green chili – 1
Red chili – 1
Curry leaves -2 sprigs
Oil – 1 tsp
Mustard seeds – 1/4 tsp
Urad dal – 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida – 1 pinch
Heat oil in a pan. Add the mustard seeds and let them crackle. Add urad dal and asafoetida. Add the curry leaves. Add chana.
Pulse together in the mixer the coconut, mango and the chilies. Add this to the pan along with the salt and mix together for a minute.Switch off.
You are now qualified to sell sundal on Marina beach. Practise your sales pitch: “Thengaaa… maaangaaa… pataaanee… sundaaal”