There is a lesson that the age old Bangla cuisine teaches us – prudence. One might not easily believe it, given the history and evolution of the elaborate Daab Chingri and the uber rich Sorshe Ilish. But it is not every day that you sacrifice puddles of oil to cook Golda Chingri or grind mounds of mustard seeds on your sheel nora (oh, forget that already, there’s the ubiquitous pungent branded mustard powder). It is the daily fare – the humble Rui and Katla that we so lovingly call Kata Pona, omnipresent in the Bangali kitchen in its various avatars. Shove aside the runny machher jhol with potol or a subtle garlic tomato machher torkari that finds its way in the morning platter of rice before heading for school/college or offices. If you live outside Bengal and crave for something fishy and spicy apart from the jhol or jhaal, you’re in for a treat with just three pieces of fish. If you have a kid at home, or an overgrown one like my better half, this will bring lakes of smile on their faces.
Since my father lived away from home and Bengal for a considerable period, the cooking bug in him became fairly active. I’ve heard stories of him quizzing the cook in his college hostel kitchen for quaint Bangla vegetarian recipes. He reproduced them later, and more importantly, taught my mother most of it after marriage. Stationed in Kanpur for twenty years, baba would crave for the crispy hot aromatic Fish Chop (croquette) among other telebhaja that rule our province. Fish or mutton chops weren’t frequent in every telebhaja shop in Calcutta as the non-vegetarianism in them would make the harmless Aloo or Mochar Chop untouchable to a lot of people.
Do you remember the candies that you shared with cousins during a summer vacation, the ice lollies called golas on the streets with your college beau, or a plate of crispy pakoras on a rainy evening with the entire family? If you can share these and create memories, why not share a bucket of laundry with members of opposite sex in your family.
Sunkissed washing machine on a summer morning
Not getting into the nitty gritties of laundry duties in India (like I did in a previous article on #ShareTheLoad ) – I’d suggest, and may be coax you with my stories to jump into the bandwagon. The very basic and important household chore of laundry is often seen lonesome waiting upon women of the house. It was pretty common among my peers to heap trunkload of unwashed clothes all through their semester and carry them back home to be washed. A humongous task of washing was gifted to the mothers, sisters and domestic helps during the college kid’s semester break. Times are a’changing now, with washing machines costing cheaper than decades ago and invading the middle class household. High school kids and freshmen are just a button and few clicks away from washing their soiled jerseys and fancy jeans. What about the other chores though – drying, folding and stacking the clothes? The most arduous part of laundry.
Generically, an atomic family of a couple like us need to perform laundry twice a week with mini washes (without the machine) in between. Since Pune is facing a drought this summer, we’ve decided to keep the laundry minimal and accumulate them to maximum twice a week. Hence the #LaundryGoesOddEven becomes easier to implement with the better half (M) going gung ho on Sunday – first day of the week, and me choosing the fourth day (Wednesday). This has actually been working since the advent of summer this year as water became scarce and came in batches of hours each day. We chose Sunday and Wednesday mornings for laundry as they suit our leisures perfectly well. M jumps about as a hyperactive school kid in glee of just operating the gadget, laundry seems an excuse for him to play with the washing machine. Since he leaves early morning on working days, Wednesday works fine for me to wrap up the midweek laundry. We have been able to fine tune the chore to almost mechanical precision, and try not to miss our preferred days of the work. It’s a seamless process, each doing their own on time and saving rest of the day for important work like writing and blogging!
To elucidate the aroma of mutton curry wafting from the kitchen, especially on a Sunday afternoon is nearly impossible. It’s easier to cook the mutton than even give a try to illustrate the labyrinth of emotions it evokes in me, and most people of my race. It’s a phenomenon evolved over a hundred years and a tradition well worth preserving. Before drifting (and delving) into the history of Sunday mutton curry, let me add a cheeky disclaimer that ‘mutton’ refers to goat meat for every instance I write about it. Being raised in Bengal, I had no notion that red meat in general (lamb, goat, pork, beef) is referred to as ‘mutton’. For me, goat cannot be replaced with any other animal for ‘mutton.’
Image Courtesy: Neha Banerjee
From lores narrated in both of my families over years and reading old Bangla stories, I’ve formed a hypothesis on the origin of Sunday mutton. In the early 20th century, educated folk from rural Bengal migrated to Calcutta (the only city then) in search of clerical occupation. They stayed mostly in rental accommodations, hostels and as paying guests for five working days. Come Friday afternoon and they’d venture for the ancestral home in different districts of Bengal. When they’d arrive home, mostly late at night, their jholas would carry fruits, candies, sweets for the children, an occasional piece of jewellery or saree for the wife and daughter, and – on frequent weekends – mutton for the entire family. Children would rejoice; I have a sneaking suspicion that they’d root more for the meat than frugal candies, like me. The wife would blush and begin preparations for the mutton curry the night itself or the next afternoon. Of course in monsoons, the mutton is replaced with Ilish, but that doesn’t take away its glory in the other seasons.
That’s a fairly easy rhetoric with complicated reasons as answers. There’s been a lot written in recent years about Manto and his writings, which would make you feel pseudo-erudite and jump into the bandwagon of discussions. Manto’s writing is a revelation, yes. He’s been working on such gems of stories while my father was still a kid, and I was just initiated into the realm of his existence about a decade ago! Now I will confess that most of my puny knowledge bank is stuffed with inputs from Bangla Literature, including Manto. I read about him in some Bangla short story, as being referred to what a great writer he was, and was interested in finding out about his writings. It is this lack of awareness I’m not happy about. If an average Indian like me takes two decades to find out about Manto, when will we read and discern his work?
Manto is not just a writer, he’s a phenomenon. The way he did unclad our ‘modern’ subcontinent society of its taboos and prejudices is not only rare, but revolutionary. If we could, even after 5-6 decades, accept a chunk of what he wanted to convey, life wouldn’t have been so difficult. Most importantly, he lived in our favourite Bollywood and thrived there for some time in its initial prime. His views on the then stars of Hindi film industry expose a lot and yet again the hypocrisies that they couldn’t conceal beneath snow, Pometom and kohl. It’s astonishing that he is described as Pakistani in the Wiki page – you can’t contain Manto within the thin air boundaries of greater India. He has been able to shred and imbibe pieces of him through Toba Tek Singh into the hearts of all. He is indeed, the Toba Tek Singh that neither countries can digest even after decades. Banned, discerned, condescended, abused – he went on writing to his heart’s content. I think that’s what any writer dreams of, not in these bloody days of slaughter though.
I’ve read more about him than actually his stories as they’re in Urdu. The English translation by Aatish Taseer was brilliant and yet lacked the little something that makes Urdu resplendent. Since I believe in reading as many books in their original languages as I can to grasp their flavours, especially the lyrical Urdu, I will read Manto’s books in Hindi now. And may be someday in Urdu too. I’ve learned Hindi (actually Hindustani as a language) in school and college for 14 years and the beautiful Urdu words mixed in Premchand or Nirala’s stories made me fall in love with the discourse.
I’m not an expert coaching you about why read Manto. Just read, get a sneak a peek of our society some odd sixty years ago, which still hasn’t changed much.
One of my friends is due to deliver a healthy baby next month and I was searching gifts for both baby and mother. Maternity shopping has only recently been popular in India with various websites and stores. Even few years ago, it would all be about buying oversized clothes for the mother and stuffed toys for the baby from regular departmental stores. I bumped into thelittleshopper.com and the website managed to enthrall me a lot. It’s a one stop shop not only for maternity shopping but a lot more that comes later with the package of having a baby.
The first step for a successful website is its look and I think The Little Shopper has nailed it perfectly. The interface is very soothing and clutter-free. There are separate tabs for all stages of maternity and all kinds of shopping needs, from footwear to diapers. What’s amazing is the range of categories to choose from – baby sleeping bags to bottle warmers, you name it and you’ll find it on The Little Shopper. It’s hard to find such consolidation in regular online stores, especially for babies and parents.
The content is superbly curated to suit everyone; the fathers will find it easy to pick a gift for babies and their mothers. The onesies for little ones and lovely maternity dresses are to die for! Talk about brand building and The Little Shopper has roped in a lot of international and Indian maternity brands like House of Napius, Toffyhouse, Zeezeezoo, Little West, Como Tomo and Kidology. It’s easier than ever to shop from these brands with a few clicks.
There’s something else that I loved a lot – The Little Shopper blog or magazine as they call it. There are a plethora of wonderful and useful articles for the newbie or would be parents. I particularly liked the ‘5 Gluten free recipes’ article as I have quite a few friends with Gluten allergy. If you know a new mother with such an allergy, you’ll surely need more recipes to add to her nutrition. Tutorials and important counseling videos from renowned doctors will help you solve a problem or two without striving for a visit to the doc this summer. Tips and tricks, a little advice on how to deal with pregnancy, infertility or new babies, and expert articles have added much value and sparkle to the website.
Overall, it’s a great place to shop for your bundle of joy and yourselves. Oh, and are you looking for great offers on Mother’s Day? Anyone who signs up now will get Rs 3000 worth coupons that they can use to buy lovely stuff from The Little Shopper. So get on with your Mother’s Day shopping!