Mahalaya, The Grand Beginning of Durga Pujo

Shiuli/Parijaat/Nyctanthes

How does nostalgia treat you? Is it like a spouse, lingering around, making space into your psyche, or like a distant lover, appearing only in turns? Mine is mostly like the latter, fleeting sporadically with a whiff of fragrance like the Shiuli flowers.

Mahalaya for Bengalis is a huge chunk of nostalgia that hovers before the onset of autumn. Marking the termination of Pitripaksha (fortnight of the forefathers), this day has its own significance within different communities. For us, it marks the beginning of Debipaksha (fortnight of the goddess) and eventually Durga Pujo, for others, the start of Navratri. Apart from these religious and spiritual habits, Mahalaya is solely important to a lot of Bengalis for a radio programme called Mahishasurmardini. This incredible show was curated and performed first in 1932 and is enthralling millions since then. It was recorded for the first time in 1946 so that pre-independence riots do not hamper the performance at dawn (source from Twitter). The Aagomoni songs for welcome of Durga into her parents’ abode take a backstage to the brilliant chanting of stotras by the legend called Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The resonance in his voice is something one can’t miss during Mahalaya each year. It gives me goosebumps for sure.

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Life Is One Stitch At A Time

There are some things in life that come back at a later stage, like a memory or a habit and tend to give your life a new lease. It might be a hobby or a lifestyle quirk or a forgotten custom. After I’ve spent more than half of my lifespan, one of my hobbies made a huge resurgence – embroidery.

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Pattern from Indian cross-stitch book.

I think for most of us growing up in India, embroidery has been equivalent to mandatory craft classes in school that were invariably boring. I felt so, too. My mother and paternal aunts are amateur seamstresses and I used to resort to them for sewing assignments in school. I tried a few but they weren’t too satisfactory. As long as the school assignments were being made by mother/aunt, I was happy. After my high school board exams, there was a lull of three months waiting for admission into college. Something struck me, probably boredom, and I picked up a plain cotton saree, drew some motifs and began stitching. If you have any idea about sarees from Bengal, there is a novel craft called Kantha stitch and the products are amazing. It began seamlessly, although an oxymoron for a stitching habit. Once I got the hang of it, with a little tutorial from mother, I did another saree in entirety. Then came table cloths and cross stitch. I guess I fell in love for the first time in my life with cross stitch and the saga still continues.

Pattern from Indian cross stitch book

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Book Review : Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Blurb: 

* Shortlisted for the National Book Award *
* One of the New York Times‘s 10 Best Books of 2017 *
* Selected for Emma Watson’s Our Shared Shelf book club *

Yeongdo, Korea 1911. In a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man marries a fifteen-year-old girl. The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza, the family face ruin. But then Isak, a Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.

Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country in which she has no friends, no home, and whose language she cannot speak, Sunja’s salvation is just the beginning of her story.

Through eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival.

Review:

That last sentence in the blurb became one of the reasons I picked up Pachinko. That, and the other reason being – I wanted to read more about Korean immigrants in Japan after I had read Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro. The subjects are similar but the premises of these two books are vastly apart. Pachinko, literally, is a machine game like pinball which is associated ethnically with Koreans, though the game is hugely popular in Japan. In the initial years, most Japanese blamed the Korean immigrants (called Zainichi in a derogatory way) for introducing this gambling game to Japan. This book is about Pachinko, but it is more about a family and its endless struggles.

In a nutshell, the story begins in a small fishy island in Korea called Yeongdo, a little far from Busan. Hoonie, the man with a cleft lip and a limp and Yangjin give birth to Sunja, a not-so-beautiful but hardworking and stout girl. Sunja helps Yangjin run a boardinghouse after Hoonie’s death and things get rough when she gets pregnant with a married man. A pastor from the boardinghouse marries her and they move to Osaka. Sunja gives birth to Noa and later to Mozasu, living with her brother-in-law and his wife. The events and years that follow are long and tedious. After her husband’s death, Sunja takes up peddling Kimchi, working in a restaurant, surviving the second World War and facing her old lover Koh Hansu, who turns out to be a Yakuza. Does the odd father-son duo come to terms with each other? You will definitely have to read the book to know the entire story.

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Book Review : About The Night

Blurb: 

On a hot summer day in 1947, on a grandstand overlooking Jerusalem, Elias and Lila fall deeply, irrevocably in love.

Tragically, they come from two different worlds. Elias is a Christian Arab living on the eastern side of the newly divided city, and Lila is a Jew living on the western side. A growing conflict between their cultures casts a heavy shadow over the region and their burgeoning relationship. Between them lie not only a wall of stone and barbed wire but also the bitter enmity of two nations at war.

Told in the voice of Elias as he looks back upon the long years of his life, About the Night is a timely story of how hope can nourish us, loss can devastate us, and love can carry us beyond the boundaries that hold human beings apart.

Review: 

Firstly, I had never imagined that I would ever read a book that was originally written in Hebrew! There’s a joke in Bangla that implies Hebrew is the most difficult language in the world. Nonetheless, this is a translation into English and doesn’t retain the complexities of Hebrew. I am pleasantly surprised that I discovered this beautiful book late, but all thanks to Amazon Prime Reads for promoting translation literature. There are some out of the world great books to be read in this series.

1947. The year that we Indians associate with our freedom and the struggle before and renaissance after. I, for one, had the least idea that much turmoil was happening in Jerusalem as well. Apart from a city amidst the Israel-Palestine conflict, Jerusalem was the city of birth of Jesus Christ to me. The tussle between Jews and Arabs which reached its pinnacle after the World War affected Jerusalem the most. About the Night begins with the conflict and the whirlwind that it creates for two lovers who meet by chance.

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Chicken Keema Three Ways in a Budget

Doesn’t chicken become boring after a while? Or even after years of consumption, when most of us wonder how to make innovative dishes with it? For me, it surely becomes stifling to cook and eat chicken in the form of curries, stew and roast/kebabs for weeks on stretch. If you are a student or on a budget, buy half kilo chicken mince (keema) and make three interesting recipes for lunch, snack and dinner for two people.

How to prep the keema: 

Heat oil in a wok. I use mustard oil at almost all times and it tastes fine. Add a pinch of cumin seeds and garam masala powder to the oil. Add finely chopped onions and keep frying. Add 1 tbsp of ginger-garlic paste and mix well. Throw in the keema and keep stirring until the extra water dries off. Now add the powdered spices – 1 tsp each of turmeric/red chillies/cumin/coriander/garam masala and 1 tbsp salt. Mix well, cover and let cook. Make sure the mix is cooked and there’s no extra water. Add boiled and mashed potatoes (2 large) to the keema and mix. Garnish with a little garam masala powder and let cool.

Once this mix is ready, you can try three different recipes with it, one each for lunch, snack and dinner.

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What Are You Eating This Summer?

L-R : Topshe Fry, Brain Kebab, Mete Chochhori, Dim Thuke Jhaal, Machher Dimer Borar Jhaal, Kanchkolar Kofta

Having cruised and bruised through a lot of Durga Pujos in my lifetime, there’s always this tinge of excitement, that flutter in the stomach, that vibe in the air which signifies autumn and Pujo. While there are many, especially in Calcutta, who like to eat out during the Pujo week, my family has mostly concentrated on cooking good food at home and munching on a few snacks while pandal hopping. Come Kali pujo and it’s time to binge on all the non-vegetarian stuff that we can get our hands on. Summer, on the other hand, is a mellow affair. There was rarely eating out as the ’90s didn’t have the option of ordering food at home. Restaurants were expensive and risky during the season. To keep the appetite inflated, various ‘mukhorochok’ (loosely translated to tasty/delicious) food were cured up at home.

Here are a few recipes that you could use this season.

Mete Chochhori

Mete (Goat Liver) is something that is almost a delicacy now, but it was pretty regular a few decades. Regular and inexpensive. Mete tastes best in this chochhori, I think, especially for me as I’m not really a fan of its earthy, iron odour and sandy texture. This chochhori renders a delectable version of the mete that I can at least devour. It is uber spicy, hot and ideal for winters.

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Book Review : Go By Kazuki Kaneshiro

Blurb:

A Freeman Award Winner for Young Adult Literature

For two teens, falling in love is going to make a world of difference in this beautifully translated, bold, and endearing novel about love, loss, and the pain of racial discrimination.

As a Korean student in a Japanese high school, Sugihara has had to defend himself against all kinds of bullies. But nothing could have prepared him for the heartache he feels when he falls hopelessly in love with a Japanese girl named Sakurai. Immersed in their shared love for classical music and foreign movies, the two gradually grow closer and closer….

Review: 

I am not Korean or Japanese. I am a rootless vagabond.

The entire essence of the story is summarised in this mini monologue by Sugihara, the protagonist of Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro. I had a presumption that Go might be about the famous board game in Japan and Korea. But, this little word implied a vastness that engulfs all immigrants in the world. I would probably qualify into one of them as I’m quite far away from my ancestors’ original roots. At times, I feel like the topmost tendril of a climbing vine, distanced and alienated from its roots afar.

Go is about Sugihara, who is caught between the complexities of citizenships in both Koreas and eventually Japan. He is an ethnic Korean born and brought up in Japan. I didn’t know that this kind of people are called Zainichi Chosenjin in Japan. The Zainichi bear an interesting as well as tragic history. The Koreans were brought to Japan for forced labour during their invasion and occupation of the country that ended during the World War II. At present, about 80,000 ethnic Koreans are said to inhabit Japan and the term Zainichi is widely used as derogatory and discriminating.

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