Sugar coats the streets in September. One after noon it was Ganesh Chatur-
thi, a Hindu cele bration of the birth of Lord Ganesha that takes on epic
celebrations in Mumbai. Later that same night, it was the cele bration by
Manuli’s Catholics of the birthday of the Virgin Mary. Sugar crystallized
as modak, sweet dumplings filled with coconut and jaggery, which are con-
sidered Ganesha’s favorite. Sugar also materialized a birthday cake six feet
long: “Happy Birthday Mother Mary!” it exclaimed. The coincident festi-
vals forced some creative logistics for spaces of cele bration on Manuli’s
main street. In the middle of the street, people hoisted a flag with a pic-
ture of the Virgin headlined with “Ave Maria.” It marked the beginning
of the novena. Around the flagpole, my Catholic neighbors gathered and
recited the Rosary, this one especially to keep rain away during the days of
the novena. The flagpole stood next to a shrine of the Virgin, which people
lined up to kiss before making their way to the food tables.
Manuli had a tradition of circulating a large statue of the Virgin among
house holds during this time. Mary, my research assistant, was in charge
of this complex operation. Her family had hosted the Virgin earlier that
day, with the shift from another home into hers heralded by the ringing
of the bells and a Rosary recitation. When the bells rang at dusk, Mary
had been explaining to me a way to cook chicken she saw on tele vision
(pressure- cook to two whistles, then panfry in a nonstick pan with only
one teaspoon of oil, “so it’s healthy”). She scribbled the recipe on a piece of
INTERLUDE
Birthday Cakes
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