The Legend of Ilish

Ilish is the elixir of Bengali cuisine, it is the epitome of all fishes, a delicacy that is looked forward to by everyone. There are only a few rare fish haters among Bengalis spread worldwide who don’t revere Ilish – I know a few such people, can’t say I’m proud of them though. Much has been written about this enigmatic fish around the globe, and about an average Bengali’s obsessive compulsive disorder in buying the best Ilish for their family. Have you heard of people serving Ilish to goddess Saraswati to worship her on Basant Panchami? Multitudinous families in Bangladesh and West Bengal follow the tradition of serving the goddess with a pair of good stout Ilish on Saraswati Puja. Similar rituals are followed on Kojagari Laxmi Puja right after Dusshera. While rest of the country is content in worshipping Laxmi with laddoos and other sweetmeats, few Bengalis carry the legacy of serving the goddess a whole, consummate Ilish later to be cooked and consumed as bhog. A good harvest of Ilish looks somewhat like the image below, with red/purple streaks vertically along its spine and glittery silver scales.

Did you know? Ilish grows and thrives in the sea, but travels all the way to fresh water in the estuaries to lay eggs.

At Gariahat Market, Calcutta.

At Gariahat Market, Calcutta.

My earliest memories of Ilish obviously dates back to childhood when we lived in the Ministry of Defence staff quarters at Ishapore (about 25 km from Calcutta, in the suburbs) near the banks of Ganga. While my in-laws’ house is within 500 metres from the river, we lived a little away in the staff quarters. Those days, about 20 years ago, Ilish was still harvested from Ganga and it tasted better than its other river contemporaries. My father used to reach the river bank at dawn where fishermen would be ready with freshly harvested Ilish, gleaming in the rising sun. Due to global warming, water distribution issues between India-Bangladesh and heavy export, Ilish has become rare in Bengal now. They don’t flock to Ganga anymore, I believe, as the Farakka Barrage diverts the water. The availability of Ilish mostly depends on Kolaghat (Rupnarayan river) and Diamond Harbour (estuary at the Bay of Bengal). This year though, has seen quite a bit of supply from Bangladesh, probably illegally. My parents have bought some of it in Calcutta, where the seller informed them in hushed tones that his father in law sent a lot from Bangladesh though channels. We have seen an Ilish weighing 3 kg here in Pune, which looks like import from Bangladesh too, priced at Rs 1800 per kg.

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Arandhan – The Day No One Cooked

Image source: Kolkata Blog

Image source: Kolkata Blog

Tomorrow is Vishwakarma Puja in Bengal. While every other festival appears on different dates each year depending on its tithi, Vishwakarma Puja has rooted itself deeply on 17th September and never budges. It’s an enigma created many decades ago and Bengal has been following it religiously since. Vishwakarma has been considered as the divine architect, the God of Engineers and machines. If you are in Bengal on 17th September, you’ll easily spot this good looking deity being worshipped in every factory, press, manufacturing unit and even in rickshaw stands. While other idols sport some weapon or the other in their hand(s), Lord Vishwakarma is proudly flanked by a kite! His arrival brightens up the autumn sky with vibrant kites (that have a name each based on their designs) that look like confetti spread all over the canopy.

But this is not an article about Vishwakarma Puja. It’s about an age old custom associated with the festival – Arandhan (no cooking). It is celebrated in the month of Bhadra, on the auspicious day of Vishwakarma Puja. Typically, the custom involves no cooking on heat for the day. Every item was cooked the day before and stored in earthen utensils to protect them from rotting in the autumn heat. The culmination of the month of Bhadra implies the end of monsoon and onset of autumn in the next month of Ashwin. Arandhan serves the purpose of cleaning up the household after rains and offer a platter of the choicest foods from monsoon to Ma Manasa (goddess of snakes). I think this ritual originated in rural Bengal to protect people from the wrath of Manasa and her army of snakes. Until my generation came into being, our families used earthen stoves (unoon/chulha) before the advent of LPG. After cooking up a storm for Arandhan, the stoves and kitchen were cleaned to perfection. A platter was served on earthenware and offered to Ma Manasa, symbolised by a clay pot placed beside the stove.

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CalcuttaScape : Kulpreet Yadav

Image Courtesy: Google

Image Courtesy: Google

Kulpreet Yadav is a bestselling author, motivational speaker, and Founder-Editor of Open Road Review, one of Asia’s leading literary magazines. Shortlisted in various writing contests, his short stories and essays have appeared in over 30 publications. Kulpreet is represented by Red Ink Literary Agency, and his latest novel, The Girl who loved a Pirate, is India’s first thriller based on marine piracy and hijacking. Passionate about Creative Writing, Kulpreet also mentors aspiring writers at schools and colleges and has spoken at many literary festivals in India and abroad. He lives in New Delhi.

Connect with Kulpreet at Website | Blog | Magazine | Startup

Kolkata Sets You Free

Called the ‘City of Joy’, Kolkata’s charm has had a profound impression on me. In fact, I attribute my becoming a writer on the two-year stint that I did about a decade ago in a place called Haldia, about three hours from Kolkata.

But you might ask how can one experience joy in a place that is so overcrowded and almost always on the brink of violence motivated by volatile political parties? The answer to this can only be found if you visit Kolkata.

I began to write my first novel while I waited for my train at the Howrah railway station in 2006. Until that point, I had no idea that I wanted to become a writer. I had been a regular reader, someone who enjoyed reading books for leisure. But something snapped in my head that winter morning at the Howrah railway station. I had eaten machher-jhol as a late mid-morning meal I remember and was waiting for my train which was running several hours late due to fog. As time went by, I found myself scribbling furiously in a small diary that I was carrying with me. By the time the train arrived, I had written the initial chapters of what was later published as my first novel.

hilsa

Hilsa at Gariahat Market.

I think there is good reason why Kolkata is called the City of Joy. To my mind it’s because the city motivates you to be creative which in turn makes your life joyful. I’ve a few Bengali friends and I have found them to be friendly, kind and helpful. From meeting them and eating Hilsa at their homes in Kolkata, to shopping at the New market and the Gariahat market, and eating rosogullas and phuchkas, Kolkata has the kind of energy and vibration that always fires up my creative side.

If you want to do something imaginative like paint, write, or create music, you should consider heading for Kolkata. This city will set you free. Like it did to me.

Bhalo thakben

Kulpreet

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