I want to say crisp autumn filled morning air inspired these Balushahi. Instead, it was the day mars went into retrograde, painting the sky red orange, soot falling over every thing. Many pointed out it truly looked like the red planet. My mom and I somehow came to the same conclusion of envisioning Mata Kali’s red tongue giving us a talking to….fires burning across lands Native communities have been warning we not build on. (Support Farm Labor rights during this time)
I remember rushing to my mom’s side; I couldn’t imagine her evacuating alone. The equinox falls and we celebrate birthdays days apart. It’s always been a mystical time for us to share and reground before winter, the weight of this year made for necessary healing. My love of mysticism had always attracted me to mythologies such as Demeter and Persephone, that bond between ma and daughter (betiya) is a cherished one. The Greek mythology explains the change of seasons as the result of As Hades (ruler of the underworld) tricking Persephone. Persephone only gets 6 months of the year with her mother Demeter when the world comes alive (spring and summer) before returning to the abyss (fall and winter)
REIMAGINING Balushahi DONUTS
Ever since I learned to make it as a teenager, Balushahi was my way of baking a cake. Coziest in fall. Balusah, Badhusha or Balushai is a ghee donut that is popular across West Indies, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. Flaky, sticky, and cardamom-y. Like any donut, we have similar components to think about – dough, sweetener, and sprinkles! I wanted to anchor in that feeling again. As we dusted off ashy persimmons..I wondered if jelly donuts could be yet another parallel.
Ma’s humble wish was to make a balushahi batch that she grew up within the mining colonies. A pit forms in my stomach. I wonder why my imagination within western borders also alienates what she finds familiar. I turn on the stove and begin the syrup with jaggery and a handful of peppercorn, cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. In what ways am I integrating her memories away? Watching it all change and caramelize, it smells amazing, like a fall candle. Yet, the original recipe is usually a simple syrup infused with cardamom rosiness.
The thing is, you seldom focus on the little ways that you change.That the amount of time you’re spending consuming is creating new palettes.You wonder if your roots will still recognize you. Could Demeter feel the changes every time Persephone was able to leave Hades? As the frequency I visit lessens, the syrup isn’t the only thing that changes. We’re also seeing different parts of the world that teeters into becoming versions of ourselves that need reintroduction. Yet, we’re both anemic and jaggery in the balushahi syrup helps alleviate our symptoms. This change isn’t a departure but a natural evolution of us. Loving gently in the details even when I change, she taught me that.
Donut small talk
bringing up a question I’ve learned to find affection in, “So, have you met anyone?”
She looks off to the distance, bringing up a question I’ve learned to find affection in, “So, have you met anyone?”
I hesitate to answer. Her concerns don’t have to do with whether she thinks I’m independent or not, but the fear I know she still carries. Much like Demeter, her identity revolves around protecting me. I was born in a time of feticide, and although Hinduism has themes of ‘feminism’, with ‘devis’ sprinkled about – historical periods like the 90’s were a powerful reminder that ideals are easier to paint in mythology and may only humanize some.
A decade later, these same communities will try to normalize trafficking due to ‘shortages’, compounding their violent misogyny. She doesn’t fear my queerness, she fears the world. In a world that reinforced that she wasn’t enough, heteronormativity seemed compulsory as a point of fugitivity. Seeing my namesake and the way casteism factors into violence, I lose words. Its heavy and its personal.
I start to fold in the persimmon, thinking about the orange hue and how it often represents our base chakras centering the energy exchange of relationships. On the other hand it’s as if she’s amused, ‘how did such a risk taker come from me?”. I smile, the stories she and my grandma gave me are the ways I dare to question with – to reimagine our place while watering our roots. Like Persephone, lost between worlds, these stories give me the endurance to wait. With one hand over hers, I try to assure her softly, “Creator (Thakur) has their way.”
Celebrating whose fall?
Demeter and Persephone’s tale also felt like a first introduction to a binary that compresses seasons into single notes of judgement: Winter, bad, death, sad. Spring, good, life, hope. Even if you’re not familiar with the tale, it seems as the nights get longer, we look to one another for warmth and reasons to celebrate. To replace the long summer days that will protect us from thinking about the underworld – from ‘monsters’.
While we make Balushahi for different reasons at home, it is popularly made during diwali and coinciding with the time many Desi Americans are also setting up thanksgiving tables. I get lost in the interpretations. Aajaa talks about diwali in Guyana, it’s a way to be in community. Perhaps the centuries away helped us Jahajees differentiate from the mythologies as we celebrate the fee ing of being connected when we were shipped so far due to our ‘jaath’.
In India, this ‘celebration of light’ is often phrased under the victory of good over bad and the manifestation of auspicious times. Many have forgotten the original expedition of burning Sri Lanka, and modern Diwali celebrates a victory over indigenous folx that were characterized as ‘asura’s’ (monsters). The erasure of and systematic violence against Adhivasi and Dalit folks persist even today.
It feels reminiscent of how thanksgiving is the time to be thankful, yet detached from its painful history over the centuries. It feels reminiscent of Thanksgiving rhetoric and reasons to be thankful, conversations detached from its painful history of pillage. With each new wave, people on this land have the chance to shape the stories we tell and too often, indigenous folks are left out.
This land’s storytellers
Perhaps Demeter needed to see the underworld as our own creation. Maybe we find comfort in binaries because it creates an easy decision tree. However, the longer we put off addressing history – it risks becoming mythology. We might forget that these characters are people. What if we go beyond representation and center these narratives to usher in traditions that have ties with the land we occupy and support the indigenous people who’ve always been its children? What if the issues we haven’t resolved at home as a diaspora are replicating the ways we contribute to erasure of Native narratives today?
It’s surely complicated, but the more we unfold into the discomfort of honesty, the closer we’ll become. Are we capable of mourning before we jump to reframing? Being with NAC within Paiute ceremonies, learning the stories of yesterday, integrating 21st century realities, while reimagining overnight sitting around fire until we met tomorrow. Collective catharsis was in joy as much as it was in grieving. Standing on Ohlone land, we are welcomed to rematriate these spaces led by the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust.
And we’ll gain new perspectives too. In winter, we often crave the richness of life juxtaposing it to death, maybe a metaphor for Demeter’s grief? Indigenous perspectives remind us that life always is, even in death and what we may mistake as inanimate. The message resounds as Einstein derived his understanding from Vedic writings inspired by Santhalis (what is now Bihar and Nepal), that we’re merely transforming energy that is alive and conscious. Even Demeter knows that Persephone will return.
Stories of Chhath Mai back ‘home’
As we turn to what indigenizing looks like, we are involved in a few worlds from where we stand and where our roots began. For example, as the Vedas are adopted across mainstream culture, tracing and decoupling how we celebrate from possible Indigenous/ roots. So we celebrate Chhath, an ode to the sun’s warmth. Started by Karna, who was Dalit. When we eat tekwa instead of balushahi.
These days people will flock to get the soops to float down the river. Soops are made from our hands because they think it is the most authentic way to access blessings. I promise you – our mysticism isn’t the only reward. The binaries we create will hurt us though. When we recognize the boundary creating the binary, we may find belonging. I’d also like to urge you all too read into the intrsections of the current Kisan organizing and consider donating to the following aids: Khalsa Aid, Dalit Welfare, and Saanjh.
Daadi’s Creation StorY
There’s something to be said of the ways mothers, grandmothers, great grand mothers and so on, love fiercely. This world seemed less other as I concentrated on mythologies like Demeter and Persephone’s bond. My thoughts of harvest and incoming winter preparation with Daadi, her hands for so many decades bearing the struggle of Kisans that are being amplified today.
The way she would recite the Karam Binti of how through the oceans and red earth we came to be, through many trials. That our spirits were once birds that had to fly for many years before taking the help of tortoises to raise a place to nest.‘I think therefore I am’ is often integral to Western philosophy, while it’s through the power of collective memory of each trial, we renew.
Cooking Stories BEYOND BALUSHAHI
So far from Daadi’s stories now, I found belonging as red earth is a creation point of many communities. For example in Tiwa Pueblos. In community – we are living. Through our dances, songs, and stories about how and who we are becoming. While in academia, Gayatri Spivak’s essay ‘Can the Subalterns Speak’ made waves around recognizing indigenous communities in south asian regions. As academics study us, they characterize our oral traditions as, “blends the material, spiritual and philosophical together into one historical entity”.
By the time we’re studied, that analysis is distant from what we’re becoming.
Things are complicated when it comes to cultures because we often inherit positionalities with a new chapter to imagine. By the time we’re studied, that analysis is distant from what we’re becoming. Being seen as ‘indigenous’ is the exotification of our practices, while being ‘Santhali’, ‘Adhivasi’, ‘Dalit’ etc remain categories of structural harm. This environment has raised us to be the bearer of these stories because we’re understand our fluid multiplicities.
I’m not sure if Persephone every bridged the many worlds she became a part of, but I hope to. That’s what orality does to you, it makes you the bearer and custodian of your traditions and cultures, a guardian of your traditional knowledge and allows you to express them in ways you know or want to. These recipes recreate those moments we filled our hearts and bellies with. With my mom, came new traditions with balushahi, its ok if we create new recipes too. What stories are you weaving in your kitchen?
- cast iron pan
- sauce pot
- oven tray
- 2 cups coconut oil for frying
- 1/2 cup ghee
- 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp almonds optional
- 1/2 cup brown sugar or jaggery
- 3 cardamom
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 3 cloves
- 5 peppercorn
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tbsp yogurt
- 1 pinch salt
- 3 medium sized persimmon
- 1. Start with your sauce pan and toast spices: cardamom (3), cinnamon(1 stick), cloves (3), and peppercorn (5)
- 2. Add 1/2 cup of sugar and a few tbsp of water (deppening on the consistency you want)
- 3. Bring it up to a boil and reheat when you drizzle it
- 1. Start by whisking the ghee, until it feels fluffy and a shine has developed
- 2. Add in some yogurt and whisk. We're in good shape if it clings to the whisk when you turn is upside down
- 3. Mix the baking soda, salt, and flour. Sift it into the bowl of your wet ingredients
- 4. Peel and puree our persimmon. Fold it into the dough while leaving 2-3 tbsps if you want to fill your donuts with them.
- 5. Make them into rounds, press to create a divot foor the persimmon jelly.
- 6. Bring the coconut oil to medium high heat in the cast iron pan, test it with some specks of flour. Fry your dough for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden
- 7. Preheat oven to 325 degrees, bake off the donuts for 15 minutes
- 8. Drizzle with syrup and sprinkle with your favorite slivered nuts!