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An ode to Gheeyar

This Sindhi-style of jalebi that only makes an appearance on Holi is my way of celebrating the festival.
Gheeyar, a Sindhi special Holi sweet

It’s Holi, and like every year, I am going to be dragged by cousins on my building’s terrace. Growing up, every festival was fun. For Diwali, we would get-together for dinner and light firecrackers. For New Year’s Eve, there would always be a party for which we would ensure we had decorated the terrace complete with lights et al and would light up the barbecue.

But as I have grown older, every celebration is forced out of me. Holi makes me feel uncomfortable and as a woman I see this as a common story across the country. Despite playing the festival only at home, I have never warmed up to the idea of throwing colour. After the first five minutes, I am usually done painting everyone’s face. What next?

The songs never change either. For decades, Bollywood has produced similar sounding Holi tracks and I am tired of listening to every remixed version of Rang Barse and Holi Hai playing on loop. Yes, we get it, it’s Holi. Can we move on now? The monotonous actions of Holi, which I have played out for three decades now, are tired. I think it’s time they retire.

But this doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy rituals and celebrating the culture. My favourite parts about Holi are the rituals my mother follows a day before. As Sindhis, we make flatbreads and tie a thread on it. The flatbread is then cooked on wood-fire while the story of Holika and Holi is recited. I’m not religious at all, but the recitation of the story of Holi and the subsequent celebration of spring is my version of celebrating Holi.

We have other customs at home too. Traditions that we have set in place just for fun. The night before i.e. on Chhoti Holi, my mother always fries samosas and sanna pakoras. It’s accompanied with kairi (raw mango) chutney, indicating that the season of mangoes has begun. This light dinner is what we eat for sustenance the next morning too, before we head up to the terrace to play.

And, as soon as my family and neighbours are busy dancing to Rang Barse. I find my way to the back of the party. The snack table has a designated spot every year. On the table are mattar ghujiya, kachori, chips, and Sindhi Holi special sweets like chandra kala, paraghari, and my favourite, Gheeyar. You could call it a Sindhi Jalebi, Gheeyar only appears on the Holi snack table.

Gheeyar, a Sindhi style of Jalebi made only for HoliAs a kid, I loved Gheeyar because it was as big as the moon. Crispy, soaked in syrup, dotted with dry rose petals and pistachios, Gheeyar offers me respite and an excuse to celebrate the festival more. When others are busy re-applying colour to every face in the room. I am spared, but only because you will find me with a plate of Gheeyar in hand. The flavour is not unlike a jalebi, sure, it has a hint of sour to it that’s masked by the syrup. But if I was asked to choose between a regular jalebi or Gheeyar, I would always choose the latter.

The numerous squiggly lines that come together to create the Gheeyar are also what make it more fun to it. You see, when you eat a jalebi, you eat it full. It’s tiny. But a Gheeyar is big enough to keep coming back to it. A small bite here, a bigger piece later, or the tiny crispy squiggly lines can be eaten bit by bit if you want to go on for long. My facination, rather, my love for Gheeyar is endless. So much so that for decades, it has been my way to introduce non-Sindhi friends to my culture.

To me, there’s obviously no Holi without Gheeyar.

An Ode To’ is a monthly feature…no, love letter, to a cuisine, dish, drink, ingredient or maker that impacted the writer in big ways and small.