Saraswati Pujo- not so long ago.

So today is Saraswati Pujo. and like every bongo nari worth her salt, I also have a few memories here and there. But the memories that one associates with Saraswati pujo primarily in the bengali diaspora (read bangalir valentines day and a few more) are somewhat absent in my case. The reasons are varied. One of them is the fact that since the time I have entered college, I haven’t been able to attend one single Saraswati pujo. That’s quite a ‘long’ five years. Isn’t it?
While I was pondering on the issue about missing out on Sarswati pujo for five years straight during one of the class lectures (International Humanitarian law- was it) today morning that I realised that five years is indeed a long time. Time flies. But leaves a mark here and there. I could never have that perfect Saraswati pujo morning, ‘yellow taant sari’, jhari mara at para and then a very innocent love affair may be (mishti mishti prem)- the beginning of it, on Sarswati pujo. And I don’t think I will ever have one in this life. The age is long gone.

Don’t get me wrong. I love being twenty three and am really looking forward to turning thirty (and I have very different aspirations from gul panag on that count)…but I am equally at ease to acknowledge that every age and every passing by year brings with it it’s own charm. Think about it. I will not trade being twenty three with being eighteen. and vice versa. Because twenty three has given me the confidence to take on the world (and now that my friend Runjhun has convinced the laziest side of me, I am seriously giving that book a thought). In short, it’s like this I am more aware of myself and know that I have something to bank on. and regardless of how much we crib about life, we have all emerged victorious. And Eighteen was all about that lush green innocence with dash of pinks and blue. I still have blues, green and pink on my mind- all over it. But I have to acknowledge it- that starry eyed me at eighteen is widely different from me now at twenty three. And it’s true for most of us. Pinks, blue and green stay on…just the quota of innocence (and rose tinted glasses) remain on the statistical flow chart 🙂 You love that chocolate sundae right? And you love it more when you can buy that for yourself and your beloved ones-dad, mom, sister. Twenty three is about that. But that Rupees five candy ice cream(which my mom always told me was made of “nordomar jol”- water out of sewer pits) always tasted sweeter.

And this was about Saraswati pujo, right??? Oh! yes.

I never attended Saraswati Pujo in my school, Nava Nalanda since our founding fathers and mothers belonged to the Brahmo sect (ones among Hindus who do not believe in idol worship). never had the opportunity to attend Saraswati Pujo during my two years in Higher Secondary section in South Point, so don’t know about that experience also. But then again people in Nava Nalanda had carefully planned out a completely different Valentines Day for itself. Trust the Nalandites to do that- some of the best brains in the city flocked in there. And any guesses what that day was. Well!! Pochishey Bosihakh, the day we celebrated the birth anniversary of the man who influenced me and continues to do so for generations that will be beyond my comprehension. Yes! Rabindrajayanti (or Nava Nalanda’r Rabindrasmaran was our very own homespun Valentines day (along with a dash of Reunion spirit) with laal paar sada shari, jui phooler mala and hint of first crush. Many of my friends invited their dates to come to the boulevard on that day and though I never had one, I loved discussing every bit of my crush on that young and dapper maths teacher of mine who never really thought anything me about me other than the very chubby para kid. Sigh!

But, I miss one thing about Saraswati pujo…actually two. Wearing Saris. That’s the first one. For someone who loves wearing the garment on every other occasion, the day is a dream. My mom would never fuss about tying my sari, because she thought it was one day when I should wear it properly (I still can’t neatly drape a sari and my mom always complain that why don’t I learn it properly). And the second one is obvious, and you must have guessed it by now in case you even have an iota of hint about the bong foodie inside me. Yes! the Saraswati pujo menu. And there lies a huge twist also.

Most of the bong households (and that cuts through the Bangal-ghoti divide) traditionally prefer having Khichuri and other delicious vegetarian stuff on the day of Saraswati pujo. But people originally from Dhaka, Bikrampur or for that matter my ancestral village Bharakar, have this tradition of eating ‘jora ilish’ (twin hilsa fish) on the day Saraswati pujo.I am not sure whether it’s  family custom or more of a ‘lokachar’ (custom of the people across a particular region), but that’s what I remember. I remember my amma cutting the ilish into pieces after what I described as a ‘pujo’ with Holud (turmeric) and other memorabilia considered holy in the Bengali household. They were neatly put across in a tray which much to my amusement looked like the tottwo tray (gifts tray) used in Bengali marriages.
My father always had a tough time locating the jora ilish during this time of the year. Later, he switched to bringing two identical Hilsa fishes and then go ahead with the custom. The preparation was simple. The normal ilish beguner jhol (hilsa curry with eggplants), the way its is supposed to be on that day.My mom cooked the perfect variety with a splatter of  kalo jeerey (cumin seends) thrown in.  For me that was simply heaven. Rice and Ilish mach- Perfect bliss for me.
But all that was many eons ago, and that makes me realise- time flies. albeit with brakes in between. It will be five years this Christmas since Amma has left for her heavenly abode. We no longer have jora ilish during Sarswati pujo. It was not possible to get hold of one such jora ilish or for that matter two identical ones and once it was stopped, it was suggested we do not carry it forward any more. (It’s almost a general belief in case a ritual or custom is involuntarily stopped somehow, one should not carry it forward or do so with some more customs thrown in- we of course switched sides with Khichuri which is a favourite with my sister and mom.) I haven’t been home for any Sarswati pujo in between for the past five years. I haven’t attended one single Saraswati pujo in my father’s newly done up library downstairs. I have stopped missing the banter every time anybody would come to my house door to collect subscription money for their nondescript club and my father asking each one of then the correct spelling of ‘Saraswati’ in Bengali and in English.

But I still remain a sucker for that ilish beguner jhol. Everytime, I go back home, my mom makes sure I have enough helpings of my favourite ilish mach with that perfect dash of kalo jeerey. It’s that ‘one’ dish that makes me proclaim that my mom is the best cook in the world. (I have actually three best cooks- My didun, ma and my pishimoni- don’t be jealous :P). I still don’t get to eat more than one or two Narkel er Kul (not translatable) even after Sarswati pujo. Earlier it was the fear of impending exams. Here it is simply not available- that’s why. And I think I will almost end up enjoying the triumphant faces of those children on my doorstep spelling out – dontye shwo, ro, dontye shwoy bwoy, to ey dweerghoyi kar- and my father cheering them “very good” and giving them that coveted twenty rupees note. The inflation might have made the stakes higher and twenty might now spell fifty or hundred- but that is primarily an economist’s debate. For me, somethings never change 🙂 🙂

Biddhye dao, Buddhi dao 🙂
Sri Sri Saraswati Debyoi Nomoh!

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Life is a strong antioxidant. Well, now if I ask any of my friends to read this post they will obviously discard this as one of those strong pro Calcuttan theorization of being happy. But this is not all Calcutta. This is about life in general. Life in general that derives anti ageing formula in the city of joy, love and laughter. This Calcutta trip will be memorable in many a ways, more than one.
The topography of Shankhari Para in Bhowanipore has changed. It houses a big apartment block nowadays. The geographical parameters might have affected the relationship between cousin sisters/boudi also. I visited them after quite a long time. One of my cousin didi is a proud mother now and I was amazed to see how motherhood completes one completely. A couple of years back I would have been snooty enough to comment on how her entire life revolved around her new born son. Not anymore. The child will be later taken to many a magic shows and he will believe in some and then grow oblivious to the fact. But it was sheer magic on the face of my didi when she toyed with her young son, pretended to cry to scare him and then make him laugh. If that’s not a priceless mastercard moment in life then what is?
The purest form of love often finds expression in silence. Motherhood is the only exception. Others and the more predominant definition of love- the man and woman variety finds solace in silence. Subarnalata proved it for me. So did Chuti. The golden words of silence truly legitimizes the unwritten words on blank paper or the nostalgically old and forever fresh song by the gangar ghat- “Jodi ba ghotey onortho. tobuo tomaake chaayi…”  

That, apart from the internship scares, gossip and truckloads of work sums up my Calcutta trip this time. Have I been writing about Calcutta for too long? Silence should be the preferred way from now on. Only if it decides to turn a radiant silver now and then, it will just add on to the detoxification.

The community pujo.

I was having a random conversation with my cousin brother on gtalk and it was just the usual types -“how was your day?” “so did you finally get a girlfriend types”- until he told me about the pujo pandal coming up in a certain neighbourhood nestled in one corner of South Calcutta. No the conversation didn’t turn into a radical one, but it did overwhelm me with some emotions, predominantly nostalgic. memories, loads of them actually. 🙂

Kalyan Sangha- yes, that’s what my ‘para’ (neighbourhood/mohalla) is called. The pujo turns 39/40 this year (need to confirm this from baba). 40 years since the time when it was a peace loving predominantly bengali locality in an up and coming area of the city. 40 years down the lane (truly! only a lane…..it is often called the ‘snob’ neighbourhood which sleectively chose only 22 houses/many more households since the multistoried invasion, to call itself a close knit communiy) it has metamorphosed in to one of those very cosmopolitan parts of the city, posh and upmarket. Only the peaceloving bit has been taken to the hilt to the point that we often get to talk to our neighbours on Ashtami morning (and the following bhog ceremony) with the very formal- “kemon achho?” needless to say the rest of the connversation most of the time flows in anglicized bengali. (well, atleast we communicate once atleast!)
I have heard numerous stories from pishimoni about the para love affairs or the drama they used to stage every year for bijoya sommiloni. I have never witnessed anything of that sort in my 21 years of existance. There were sporadic Bijoya sommiloni and I particularly remember one where I was made to dance on stage with Miss Jojo singing (*shrink*), but then theye were very very formal occasions. and bout the love affairs, the least said the better. I guess we had moved into a generation of being very conscious bongs.
But then again I love them, my neighbours I mean…I love them being around, or is it just a habit that we have just grown used to.
My father is actively involved with all the para pujo activities (be it in any capacity), so I have seen my drawingroom turn into a virtual control room before pujo, or the editorial office just before the commemorative issue of that year’s pujo comes up. yeah! we dont even have a proper club-ghor, lol…we have a registered address though. In fact all the utensils needed for pujo are those which my family use for all other religious purposes. similarly the sondhi pujo lamps are given by another friendly neighbour or the Baikali bhog prepared by an always smiling jethi or the jethu-jethi couple I quite like who supervise the entire pujo. Our para pujo is not a big affair. Contributions, even the amount sounds big, do not add up for the entire expenses. So a favourite family of mine sponsor the Durga idol, a kaku sponsoring the Ashtami bhog or people like my baba and others using their official contacts for advertisements. That helps, since our para is very strategically located and the hoardings can be placed at the right places to grab attention. I guess this is the armth that keeps the pujo going in between the continous rants every year in the pujo meeting that its increasingly becoming an exercise of the elderly, with hardly any participation of the younger generation. and with so many new faces in the para these days, very few actually understand the sentiment. But then again, there are a few amongst them who really want to mingle and interact….new blood or not, Kalyan Sangha stays on.
We had won the competitions for best pujo in the area in our 25th and 26th year of celebrations, but the pomp seems to be waning by the day…what remains though is fond memories and warmth. ah! yes, the warmth..even after talking about lack of communication through most of my post. Why so?? may be because this is the place most of us still call home, yes, the proper home….not the multistoried ones……well the giant has nice old sprawling houses falling prey to it every now and then, but may be because of our relative snob status ( :P), am proud to say that my neighbourhood has preserved many a memory of a by gone era. 🙂
Also, for most of us this is the place where we understood what the atmosphere of pujo truly is (pujor hawa). I remember how much i used to bawl ove rthe issue that I have to visit my mamabari to be a part of a pujo where everybody is back home by 9. No, that didnt work out for me. For me my pujo is still being at my para mondop 10’0 clock sharp on nabami night where Baba will do his famous dhunuchi naach. one of my parar dada who stays in hyderabad but makes it a point to return to Calcutta every pujo once told me that it was impossible to think of Kalyan Sangha’s pujo without Baba’s dhunuchi naach on Nabami 🙂 That also paves the way for the younger generation to take over with their forms of the traditional dance form and trust me I also witnessed a certain somebody doing what we termed as the “jog dance”. Just that the young need to come up and shoulder some responsibilities too. will happen…am an optimist you see.
Also, this is the place where you can expect to catch up with your childhood buddies with whom you rarely get to meet these days. Many like me and Masume, my childhood friend, are away from home (both of us dont get to attend the pujo this year. sigh!). Many have migrated to different parts of the city. But whenever you meet them you feel good and happy. May be its all because of the fake pistol firing competitions that we had or the guys v/s girls big fight (seriously we made a vow not to talk to each others groups after that and it does bring a chuckle to think about it right now) or the fight over the microphone about who will make the next announcement. It has all been a part of our growing up. just like those horrible nicknames (i love them though) by which we know each other.
It was not only us. My mom told me about her meeting with a very pretty aunty who was once our neighbour in the metro. She was still very nostalgic about the neighbourhood she had stayed in for 22 years…and it has been some 8 years since she left it.
May be this is the place I first fell in love. May be I did (completely head over heels type :P)
Kalyan Sangher torof theke agoto dorshonarthider janayi sharodiyar preeti of shubhechaa. 🙂

Delicacies from Purbo Bongo

I have been following quite a few food blogs off late. and am quite amazed at the kind of publicity that bengali cuisine gets on the world wide web with a very decent fan following (and that includes a tam iyer friend of mine who is just ga ga over chingri :P). But I do have an objection about the fact that whatever is being publicised as authentic “Bengali” cuisine (and i agree its one yummy effort) more or less consist of what we bangals (people traditionally from east bengal) prefer to call as ghoti (traditional west bengal) culinary delights. Needless to say am completely ga ga over that bit of aloo-poshto.

But the Bangal maiya (Dhaka-Bikrampur) in me cannot take that lying down. I quite enjoy the fact that we are tagged as the people who have earned it (jeebonsongram as they say). This post of mine is an effort to enlist out a few of my favourite dishes which belong exclusively to the Bangal kitchen. Bangal cooking in general is dominated by its prefernce for everything spicy and hot. I guess that’s were we have our outspoken origin and if a fellow rajasthani (mind it! they are known for their preference of the Laal mirch) called me a Teekhi Mirach for my now well known big mouth, I couldn’t agree more.
So here I go and I begin with the mouth watering- Shutki Maach. I guess many of the Bangals also cannot fathom this foul smelling fish while its being cooked in the neighbourhood. But once done, you can gorge on to this piece of culinary magic.
One remarkable thing is that while Ilish remains the favourite of Bengalis across the ghoti-bangal divide, the fish traditionally is ours i-e, we bangals. We associate it with our favourite football club and not too long ago when a certain sourav ganguly had not changed the statistics and demography of the Kolkata maidan and the sporting scene in general, east bengal supporters used to celebrate their victory (and that includes the famous 5 goals) by sending properly cooked ilish to the houses of their friends supporting mohunbagan. (its very true! my father has done it often. needless to say it was reciprocated with chingri when mohunbagan won against their traditional rivals). Football, food and matrimony still keeps the old ghoti-bangal rivalry alive. Ask me! am a true blue calcutta girl, but when it comes to food or football, i owe my allegiance to my bangal genes. about the other I have no prefernce, only that I won’t prefer eating sugar laden ghoti delicacies day in and day out. I want my share of spice 😉
But coming back to Ilish, the bhapa variety is well known and quite savoured among my non bengali friends but there is one style of cooking the ilish known only to us. and for those diet conscious people out there who want to have it the low calorie way can definitely try it out. the kalojeerey phoron-kancha lonka recipe which my mom turns into a delicacy that every time i go back home, I want more of it. By now, you must have understood I am a big foodie. In fact, I have lately realised food is the only thing that keeps me going!
Chitol macher muithha is another Bangal favourite, though I must admit ghotis also have taken a fascination for this dish in recent years. and I trust my didun to cook it absolutely amazingly. That’s one recipe I want to learn from her, because my mom also can’t make it that good.
Lotey mach (Loitya or Lotiya as you prefer to call it) has immense medical value. My father alwys emphasised that its necessary for a healthy eyesight…but I fondly think about the fish because of its Jhuri and chochchori varieties which only we are aware of. I sometime so pity those friends of mine who had only the luck to taste the jhol (the syrupy variety), tyaltyaley at that. Trust a true Bangal like me to suggest that itsno match for the other two varieties and add a bit of Lonka bata (mashed red chillies, if i can put it that way), voila! you are in culinary heaven!
And then coming to the eternal Bangal favourite kochu. yeah! the kochu which ghotis (all of them included, and most of them are not snobs) twitch their nose at. My vegetarian friends often complain that bengali cuisine doesn’t offer them the variety to choose from for their platter. I sincerely disagree with them. This year’s bong food festival was an eye openeer for some of them. But you can trust Bangals to make a thousand mouth watering vegetarian delicacies out of this lesser vegetable (evidently as ghotis still consider it to be some zombie from outer space-their loss!! missing out on something). From the coconut laden warmth of the kochu bata to the spicy tiltilation of the kohur koura, its heaven on earth…those who have tasted it, knows. and Kochur shaak is yummyy in both its vegetarian (when cooked with coconut and nuts) and non vegetarian (ilish macher matha diye) forms.
And about the Bata(mashed) variety of anything and everything possible on earth, trust Bangals to rustle up a storm. It might be the seemingly innocent cauliflower leave (kopipata), dhoney pata or the potatao peels (aloor khosha)…..trust any bangal to turn them into one spicy hot bongshell of a dish! 😛
and here i conclude the post, not because i ran out of fuel but because i am sincerely missing home cooked food now(pishimoni’s cooking!!!). but dont worry, i might just be back with a part 2 because picture abhi baaki hain mere dost. the world needs to know about the sweets!
p.s. whoever visits the blog, in case you are a bong, ghoti bangal nirbisheshey, atleast leave a comment on this piece, i sincerely want your opinion on this and a ghoti bangaler juddho on my blog won’t be a that bad idea after all. 😛
Also, if anyone wants to add to the list, you are most welcome to do so.

Address

It is not only about something I pine for. It is also about something I love, I cherish. Something I perennially want to be a part of my existance. It’s also not only about the people who make it special.

The smell, the corner, the solace, the book shelf dumped with my old gk today and competition success issues……all these are a part of my growing up….just like my permanent address, and I miss that South Calcutta neighbourhood where that house number is nestled in.

What do I miss most about you? I guess its Baba, his library. Ma and her new found obsession for the microwave oven and Tups! I guess she is the one I miss the most. Paku tups, puchu tups, sweetu tups :P. (Though she is going to admonish me after reading this and provide tips as to how not to address my gadhipuchi by embarrassing names in public incase i write about her something the next time around. :-))
Also, Amma. Her death mde me realise for the first time in life as to how it is to live with the feeling that the one you loved is gone……never to come back again. and trust me its eerie! miss you amma, miss having those quarrels with you.