Documenting Traditions

Anju Poddar could have well remained a traditional Marwari housewife and mother. But she chose to use her love for art and her innate curiosity to write books that are treasure troves of Hindu rituals, festivals, traditions, menu planning and more.


Anju Poddar may have started writing books only after she turned 50 but they have been her constant companions since she was a child. “I loved reading ever since I can remember and some bookshops even let me borrow books and return them after reading. I am very careful with books as I don’t bend corners or twist the covers while I read.” This love for reading inevitably meant a great deal of knowledge about a lot of things. Add to that Anju’s multiple roles as wife, daughter, sister, mother, grandmother and good friend. All of these have something to do with her writing the seven books she has.

With M F Husain being a frequent guest to her home when she was younger, she got the opportunity to learn about art from the master himself. This also inculcated in her the love for arts, crafts, textiles and today her home is a collector’s delight with artworks by some of India’s best artists adorning her walls and tables. Between her reading and her love for art, Anju developed the habit of taking notes. “I always make notes during my travels and with any subject that interests me. I also have a habit of giving myself a gift on my birthday. On my 50th birthday I decided to go to Kaliash Mansarovar with some friends. I made a lot of notes about getting there, the journey etc. Then I was telling my daughters and grandchildren about it and friends who wanted to go there would ask me for details. That is when my daughter suggested I compile my notes into a book and the first one, A journey to the heavens was written.” Later she made an illustrated one on the same topic for her grandsons titled Yash & Aman’s journey to Mansarovar and Mt Kailash.

Each of the books has a story that is similar and her friends like Sangeeta Biyani, the wife of Kishore Biyani, Ram Prasad, the owner of Walden Book Store in Hyderabad, P Narendra of Pragati Printers, Sudha Jalan, Bharti Surya Rao, Usha Kumar and others have helped her along the way with some of the books. Her continued patronage of artists helped her get people like Husain, Laxma Goud, Vaikuntam and others on board who created artworks to go with the content of her books.

The books are full of very practical, easy to follow tips and suggestions. Anju believes in doing research and goes about it by asking people she considers are authorities on the subject. Citing an example she says, “My friend Sangeeta Biyani is a very good menu planner. Every time we eat at her place, I would notice that she would have everything organised down to the last detail. So when I decided to do a book titled Meals, Menus & More, I took her help for it. I have documented every detail from how to stock a fridge to ma seven day menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are even suggestions and recipes for high tea, brunch, food you can carry while travelling, dishes to be made during shraadh, or while having a katha at home or during fasting. There is even a section on measurements, menus for new mothers and the hindi name for all ingredients. I substantiated it with quotes from people like Shobhana Bhartia and Rajshri Birla.

About her books being informative she says, “If you have knowledge about something, you must share it so that everyone gets to know. Plus, the younger generation is not as familiar with our rituals and traditions so by documenting it I am trying to pass on the customs we have followed to the next generation. Her book titled Our Festivals Our Traditions has enormous details on all the pujas we do, the festivals, and the different foods made for each. They help people living abroad as well – especially those who want their kids to learn about Indian rituals.” Another book titled A Wedding in the house is a similar document about wedding rituals.

Coming to her latest book, 108 Shades of Divinity, she reveals that it is a collaborative effort along with the late Mukul Singhal  and Sethu Vaidyanathan. She says, “Again, I must say I have not visited all the holy places written about in the book. But I spoke to people who had been to these places and we also talked to people from different religions about their places of worship. What brought us three authors together was our passion for visiting places of worship. And we decided we had to include all religions so there are shrines that are sacred to Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists, Christians and Jews. This book took the longest time to put together as it took us a while to source the right kind of images from photo agencies.”  She also included articles on religion and how it has a common goal by well known writers, businessmen and other celebrities.

Once Anju decides on a project, she spends her afternoons gathering information about the subject by talking to people. Then with the help of someone who is well versed with the computer she dictates her notes and gets it all typed out. Then she goes about publishing it. Most of her books are self published.

So while the idea for the next book is being formulated, Anju continues her journey as a patron of arts and textiles and her next venture too is likely to be an informative document on an aspect of Indian culture.