A Step by Step Food Guide To Bengalis’ Durga Pujo

Durga pujo is such an event in a Bengali’s life, including mine, that makes us keep gushing and never wishing to pause. It’s that time of the year when the autumn skies are bluest, fluffy white clouds are cotton candiest and most Bengalis are happiest. Every neighbourhood is lit up like it’s Diwali, people wear bright new clothes like it’s Christmas and gorge on great food like it’s Eid. The best of all festivals in India, eh? Setting aside folie de grandeur, let us concentrate on my favourite part – the food. Aided by recent controversies in India, it has probably reached even the unaware that Bengalis live to eat. Even during festivals. Some preached that we should fast. Oh, but then you don’t coach people on what they shoudn’t eat while they’re waiting to cook up a storm in their kitchens during pujo. Bengalis (pardon the generalisation), have an entire menu chalked down from Shoshthi to Dashami and then some post-pujo gluttony too. It is irrelevant digging for the origin of these urban traditions from the past century; we have already embraced them since they induce a happy food-coma and give us a reason to eat well. While you’re gearing up for the next pujo, keep these in consideration and have a balanced yet decadent menu each day.

Shoshthi 

The day pujo officially begins. It is a custom for mothers in West Bengal to observe Shoshthi for the betterment of their children. While some women fast and take only two meals a day excluding rice, others treat themselves to vegetarian delicacies like Luchi-Parota-Chholar Daal-Aloor Dom-Phulkopir Dalna-Payesh-Mishti. I used to wait for Shoshthi as my mother would make piping hot phulko Luchi along with Kumro’r Chhokka and Chholar Daal. The advent of store-bought Paneer in the late ’90s had marred the charm of Shoshthi though. As Paneer began slicing its way through the tedious Chhanar Dalna, I moved towards just the Luchi and let mother enjoy the farce called Paneer torkari.

Luchi – Begun bhaja is all we had this year on Shoshthi

Shoshthi is prevalent mostly in West Bengal and the other Bengalis from the East have their own delectable spread on this occasion. I miss Kumro’r Chhokka as it had been quite frequent while I grew up; have been trying to replicate the one mother used to make but it still lacks something. You can give it a try though.

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A Tribute to Raja Jatindra Mohan Roy

Today is Mahalaya, culmination of Pitripaksha and beginning of Devipaksha. It is customary to pay tribute to one’s forefathers by churning some mantras and offering food at the bank of a river. After I’ve been hearing stories all my life about a certain gentleman, it’s about time I pay a little tribute to him in my own way, letting the world know who he was and what he did.

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My great grandfather Raja Jatindra Mohan Roy was born in 1877 in Katunia, located in the Satkhira subdivision of Khulna District in Bangladesh. It was a Saturday night, dark and calm with no moon to shine on the newborn. The ominous darkness of the night and his birth on an Amavasya had impelled the zamindar family to believe that he might turn up to be a bandit. Such a disaster didn’t happen though. Jatindra Mohan is the eleventh generation of Raja Basanta Roy, whose nephew Raja Pratapaditya was in the Baro Bhnuiya (Twelve Kings) group that fought against the Mughal invasion in Bangladesh.

Image from family archives

Jatindra Mohan grew up and graduated from Scottish Church College, Calcutta not only once, but twice – in English and History. He wrote a book on the history of Raja Pratapaditya and his legacy in three parts. He was mighty influenced by the Indian independence movement, particularly the work and ideals of Bipin Chandra Pal, a famous freedom fighter. He went back to Khulna to look after his zamindari and participated actively in the Swadeshi movement as an assistant to Bipin Pal, managing the Sunderban area. Jatindra Mohan was a staunch believer of Swadeshi and dreamed that the British would be ousted. He married and fathered two sons, the younger of them was my grandfather, Nepal Chandra Roy. When grandfather grew up to be a teenager, Jatindra Mohan began training him on horse riding, sword fighting and Lathi Khela – a traditional stick fighting. A few years later, he transferred reigns of the zamindari to my grandfather Nepal Chandra and concentrated further on Swadeshi movement.

Image Courtesy: Abhyuday Roy

Japan had already begun working on various kinds of nuclear bombs in the initial decades of the 20th century and the news had spread till India. Bipin Pal had planned to acquire the formulae from his Japanese allies and try making a few to counter the British. He sent Jatindra Mohan to Japan on a journey via the sea, who copied the formulae on his body, hid himself and headed back. (This is a lore that my father had heard from grandfather, the incident is not documented in any text though). Jatindra Mohan arranged for boats and small ships to carry arms and weapons for the freedom fighters through the waters of Sunderbans. But somehow the British officials were aware of this plan and sabotaged it.

Jatindra Mohan had an untimely and ill fated death in 1939 when his boat was caught in a whirlpool and he drowned. My father has never seen his grandfather but he heard all about this gentleman zamindar who cared more about his people and country than his wealth and possessions. The books he had written have been lost in the black hole of India-Bangladesh partition and couldn’t be recovered by our family.

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All information source: Prabir Kumar Roy (my father)

Ziddi – by Ismat Chughtai

I have been coveting to read Ismat Chughtai’s books since long, in Hindi, preferably. I started with Manto, however, picking up a translated copy (by Atish Taseer) from a friend and realised that I didn’t savour the translation. Taseer might have done a good job in trying to extrapolate Manto’s writing to those who cannot read Hindi/Urdu but I wasn’t one of them. The anguish and dilemma in Toba Tek Singh must be read in the original flavour, I thought. Thus, I procured Manto in Hindi, read, tried to fathom and moved on to read Chughtai too. Ziddi was my first choice as I had already watched the film (1948) starring Dev Anand and wanted to read the original, rich text that Chughtai is so famous for.

Ziddi is the story of Pooran and Asha. No, it is not an easy love story as it may sound. The book starts with a very old woman on deathbed who wishes to glance at young Pooran one last time before she dies. She’s the nanny who looked after him all childhood and leaves behind her only grand-daughter, Asha. After naani passes away, Asha takes refuge in Pooran’s palatial house. An unequal love blossoms, though the rest of the family treats Asha as the nanny’s kin-turned-gracious-househelp. Due to this socio-economic imbalance in their statuses, they are stricken apart every time they come close. Years pass, but the unavowed love lingers as embers in a dying fire. Ah yes, fire plays an important role in the climax of the story. But that is for the readers to find out.

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Torka-Ruti and Loads of Nostalgia

I am still unpacking since we moved in to the rental apartment just a week ago, and in the process, discovering stuff that I had packed in Pune and forgotten. Each instance I open a bag, something or the other tumbles out like a hidden treasure. There I was yesterday, holding an old bottle of Calcium Sandoz and wondering what had I packed inside it so carefully. It wasn’t the calcium for sure as the bottle wasn’t mine and had already travelled once from home to Pune. As I gingerly opened it, little green pearls of whole green moong rustled inside. The only way I have eaten this ‘gota’ daal is in the form of a warm bowl of Torka and I have been calling it ‘Torka’r Daal’ since forever. Some use this green moong in ‘gotaseddho’ as I might have written earlier, or consume it simply at the restaurants as ‘mah ki daal’ or daal makhani. I haven’t. Torka invokes enough emotions within me to sustain a lifetime than trying those heavily spiced and creamed versions.

I believe it’s serendipity that I’ve been stumbling onto posts and pictures of the Bengali style Punjabi Daal Tadka all around the internet today, leading to this little post of mine. Since we’re dealing with nostalgia, here’s my two pence on Torka. This whole green gram (moong) is one of the richest lentils in iron, it contains about 1.4 mg iron per 100 g and is quite useful to people suffering from iron deficiency.

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Break Away to Brussels

Breaking away literally implies running farther, far away from something that bothers you. When we were asked to relocate from Pune to Brussels, it seemed like a blessing in disguise, as we were flabbergasted in our stint there. Life was taking its toll and we appeared to be stuck in a hole, an obscure corner of the cobweb that none can see. Brussels came as a welcome break, to break away from the monotony that Pune imposed upon us. Of course, the primary attraction was Europe, a land that both M and I had dreamt of living at some point of our lives. Off we went packing, though the visa debacle took almost two months of our anticipatory survival. Thus I’d say, March to June has been a blur this year from departure to arrival and acclimatisation in a strange land.

Why strange? The cobbled sidewalks that haven’t yet been converted to smooth concrete ‘footpaths’ we have back home, the entirety and incredibility of living in a house built in 1900 AD, the joy and sheer awe of standing before altars built centuries ago but still sitting pretty beside modern superstores, eye-soothing greenery and little rose bushes that peek at you from unkempt gardens, holding a bowlful of the famous Belgian fries and loving them as well…there are so many stranger things that I’d write about in the days to come.

There have been glitches – slow paperwork by the government and banks, a peephole to live in the initial days, good weather playing truant and torturing us with the summer’s wrath – but these are a few and ought to be ignored comparing the bliss of living amidst such architecture. Yes, both of us are lovers of some good Gothic pillars, baroques, nouveau art, ancient cathedrals and old houses that smell of varnished wooden stairs.

I’d say Brussels has welcomed us with open arms, along with thousands of other immigrants and hasn’t been shy of our Oriental origin. I haven’t spotted any sneering glances or condescending remarks yet. In a sea of expats, we are just two more cogs in the wheels that run Brussels.

 

I’ll be back with more, much and soon.

Jukebox is here

Sometimes, it’s the journey which becomes more important than the destination. You begin at a point, pause for breath, lose your directions and embark on a different path altogether. Modified directions and better co-travellers make the new roadmap more interesting than your original itinerary.

I hadn’t imagined that a phone call in leisure with Priyanka Purkayastha, founder of Writersmelon, would result in me hopping on to the bandwagon and push more steam into the already running engine. 

That’s an excerpt from my Editor’s Note in Jukebox, presented by Writersmelon – a stellar collection of short stories by budding writers in India. Now available on Amazon.

Working as a pre-jury for our annual writing marathon Melonade for the past few years has been one of the best experiences I’ve gathered so far. There’s seldom a greater pleasure for me than to be lauded by young, creative minds for editing and polishing their already stellar stories. With hundreds of entries, Melonade has often drowned me with so much work that I’d forget I exist!

‘A short story creates an entire world in a few pages’ – Tejaswini Apte-Rahm

How often do we come across stories that have the ability to change our lives? Each story in Jukebox presents a choice – a choice from chaos to order, one that has life altering properties. Every track in this medley strikes a different chord at your heart with characters that speak up and stand alone for themselves and their choices. We, at Writersmelon, have handpicked, cut and polished each story till it emanates a beautiful message and stays forever with the reader.

As Preeti Shenoy said rightly in her foreword – ‘The stories had me enthralled, mesmerised and spellbound,’ – Jukebox is here to make an impact and linger in your mind for long. Published by Readomania, Jukebox is a venture by Writersmelon.com – a collection of selected short stories from the 5th edition of Melonade (a nationwide writing competition by Writersmelon).

The long wait is finally over, our path to publishing has been bumpy and came with lot of pleasant & difficult surprises. And now we are gearing up for the launch of this book in Bangalore. Yes, you heard it right. All those wonderful people decided to participate in Melonade – A nationwide writing competition, gave us their best short stories, highly acclaimed authors picked the ones they loved the most & we sprinkled some more magic along with our publisher Readomania.

If you are a book lover & live in Bangalore, don’t miss our first book launch celebration. Meet and chat with the best selling author Preeti Shenoy, the super talented authors of Jukebox and our some of our fabulous bloggers.

We’d love to see you in Bangalore on 8th July, 5-7 pm at Atta Galatta, Koramangala.

Tata Motors launches brand new cars in Sri Lanka

Tata Motors is one of the leading vehicle manufacturers in Sri Lanka offering brand new cars and commercial vehicles. That’s a pretty well known fact but I wasn’t aware that Tata Motors has created a great reputation in the market of passenger vehicles. Primary among these is the Tata Indigo eCS in petrol and diesel variants at great prices. Those of us in India already familiar with the Indigo know very well that this compact and economical sedan car gives a comfortable ride even on bad roads (that are not too difficult to find in the Indian subcontinent)! The Tata Indigo is launched with a host of features like best in-class space, larger than most sedans, and duo float suspension for better comfort in rides.

Since Tata Motors claims ‘Best things in life are automatik,’ – it goes so well with the new Tata GenX Nano automatic cars. These are designed completely for the next generation with amazingly new design philosophy and it is a revolution in the category of hatchbacks with a new ‘sporty’ look. The GenX Nano is totally advanced with great technology and a mileage to die for. It is easily the best small car with automatic features in its segment.

Tata Motors in Sri Lanka also offers other models like Tata Bolt and Tata Zest apart from Tata Indigo eCS & Tata GenX Nano. Basically, you have a lot to choose from based on your requirements and comfort of driving. Welcome to Tata Motors in Sri Lanka!