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The Big-Bong Wedding Larder

Bengali Wedding Food

*Picture from The Hindu

With my housemates gearing up for the wedding in February, there’s ceaseless discussion on food. The talks gather steam after I am back from work. Though delicious in themselves, the talks render bland whatever it is that I am snacking on. You see, how can I be expected to cherish a sandwich when people are deliberating upon chicken kosha, mutter-paneer and daal tadka? I sit drooling and chewing, wishing the day were upon us already. It is another story – quite sad really – that I will not be able to enjoy any of the delicious food that is being planned. The bride and groom will sit atop the stage, smiling beatifically for the shutterbugs, as the guests lick off their plates.

“How many times of fish will we have?” a friend of mine asked cheerfully. “I am expecting at least three. After all, it is a Bengali wedding. Will there be hilsa?” “I suppose so.” I tried to casually remember how hilsa looked but I am afraid I wasn’t discreet enough. “Oh, I had forgotten. You are only a pseudo-Bengali. The no-fish-eating type.” Ha, so much for wearing Mom’s best sarees on Durga Puja and memorizing Bengali hymns as a child of five. My abstinence from fish renders me a pseudo-Bengali among most people I associate with.

On the other hand, a lot of people R knows assume I am a “Bong from Kolkata”. “So R,” they declare loudly, “you will now be off to Kolkata for fuchka and chingree maach every now and then!” (Read panipuri/golgappa and prawns, respectively) “Actually, she is a Delhi-ite.” R ventures. “Oh, all Bongs are Kolkata-ish in their hearts.” I wonder what that implies. Do all Gujaratis live in Ahmedabad or all Punjabis in Punjab? Last I heard, this wasn’t the case. What is worse is that since I have spent very little time in Kolkata, I am not always up to conversation pertaining to localities, landmarks and eating joints. I don’t fancy the chicken-and-egg dishes and prefer coffee to tea. All this again renders me a pseudo-Bengali. Sheesh, this is almost an identity crisis.

Meanwhile, the family keeps the larder stocked “in case friends and relatives hop over”. There’s tonnes of goodies to ensure I need to substantially up my resolve for diet management. Brilliant method to teach a bride-to-be self- control.

“Will you continue to like aloo-luchi next year or will litthi-chokha be your new favourite?” The friend who calls me a pseudo-Bengali pretended to be perturbed.

I too am slightly perturbed. I sincerely hope that the cameramen, the wedding finery and the shehnaayi will succeed in keeping R and my minds off the aroma of food.

*I am willing to discuss in-depth any of the food items mentioned in the post. :D

Thoughts of Winter

It’s official. Winter has arrived in Delhi. I declare winter to have set in when Granny brings out her warm clothes. And she has. Over the weekend, we also brought out the quilts and put them out for a sun bath in the terrace. Our youngest cat – he will experience his first winter this year – couldn’t for the life of him figure out what the warm, fuzzy things were doing sprawled all over his playground.

I love the onset of winter. The nights now come early – indeed it’s totally dark by the time I leave office. The mornings are chilly and there’s nothing as rejuvenating as a steaming hot shower and hot chocolate afterwards. On weekends, all I want to do is sit in the sunshine, nibble at oranges and watch the pigeons which are always in abundance in the house across the street from ours. The sun feels delightfully full of memories and dreams. Or that could be because it also makes me drowsy at times.

Grandpa detests winter. He says it makes him lethargic and poignant, especially when evening sets in. I tell him to focus on how it also implies less electricity – no fans, no A/C, no refrigerated beverages. That makes him feel better. 

When in Pune, R and I indulge in pakoras and hot coffee and talk about winter in Northern India. “You’ll never agree that it does get cold in Pune.” R usually complains. “You could at least wear a stole.” I promise him I will; I rarely do. Pune ain’t cold. Sometimes though, a stray gust of wind brings along a long-forgotten memory of winter back in Delhi – feasting on groundnuts with Mom, warming water for a hot-bag, putting up Christmas decorations all over the house. Then, I usually hold onto R and entrust the warmth of his words with helping me ward off the cold.

The year will soon come to a close. The world will glitter another time with lights and festivities. Mom will put on her white, woolen cap and ask me to open the gifts Santa left for me under the tree. A part of me will forever be Mom’s wide-eyed, happy daughter who got a fluffy dog and a set of books for Christmas. Though rooted in a time I can never return to, that is the only part of me that feels alive.

Kabootar Chowk

Warsaw pigeon

*Picture from

“It’s all very good to suggest doing a business. Have you given thought to what we can sell?” Ratul grimaced at Manohar, his friend and partner in several unsuccessful ventures till date.

“Am I the only smart one? Can’t you come up with a product idea, for a change?”

“Smart indeed! The last time we went by your suggestion and started selling balloons, that kid got hurt and his Mom ravaged our store.”

“How was I to know the balloon would deflate with such an explosion?”

Ratul shook his head and flicked dust off his trousers. He had only a single pair and the streets of Delhi weren’t conducive to cleanliness. It was several months ago that the two of them had moved to the capital from a tiny village in Haryana. Everything they had tried since went bust. Around them was the cheerful chatter of pigeons who had gathered to peck at stray grains. Nonetheless, it was a sad sun that shone down on them this morning in November.

Manohar broke into Ratul’s thoughts. “You know what I think. Those pigeons have it better than us. For one, they have wings and what better entertainment could there be than to fly? For another, they always find generous souls who offer them grains. What wouldn’t I give for a plateful of fine food?”

He was right, Ratul agreed. The pavement they were sitting on was fondly called “Kabootar Chowk” owing to the large number of pigeons who congregated there each morning. The pavement would always be littered with grains of various types. Lately, aside from pigeons, a number of crows and cows had also started to gather for food.

Occasionally, there would be bystanders. “Ah, a glimpse of nature in the dust of Delhi!” There would also be photographers, clicking away on their fancy gadgets. A kid or two would always stop to watch, their parents with them. “Let us also feed them, Mamma!” “They don’t like Tiger biscuits, dear!”

“Look at them.” Manohar frowned. “How about giving biscuits to two starved human beings, for a change!”

But Ratul wasn’t listening. He was lost in thought.

The next morning dawned bright and beautiful. A new family of pigeons had arrived the previous night and now sat picnicking at Kabootar Chowk. A group of people stood watching them eat and nod their pretty heads. Two men were stationed on the pavement, handing out grains at Rs 2/- a paper packet. Trade was brisk. After all, people in Delhi are fond of fauna.

November Bliss

It seems the other day when I wrote this downright crazy poem for R and this absurd code of conduct for myself. In this world, however, several years have passed. It was in November 2009 when I first met R. It is November again and a very special one at that. For my best friend over the years is now also my fiancé. R and I got engaged on the third of November, to be wedded on February 23. Yeah, in less than four months from now. Is the world real?

I have been bombarded with questions from friends and family. Half of them can’t believe I am having a “love” marriage. They can’t picture the *allow me some vanity here* class topper, spectacled, pig-tailed girl marrying someone who isn’t a Bengali and is apparently someone she chose herself. This half overlaps with the other half that is smitten by R’s apparent patience, intelligence and poise. Okay, I am only kidding.

I am overwhelmed at the direction life has taken. It seems surreal that I am going to soon marry my best friend over the years – the one who has been my most trusted confidant and my most effective support system. While R and I have never shied away from talking to each other about anything under the sun, I am certain that most of our engagement pictures will see us staring at the ground, cheeks red as crimson.

So yes, ladies and gentlemen, yours truly is engaged to be wedded. How about you start planning the wedding gifts right away?

Together on Diwali

Mum and I had first seen the Rangoli design on television. It was a Diwali special of one of those Ekta Kapoor shows still in its prime – the sort you don’t get embarrassed from admitting being a viewer of. Since neither of us had any experience whatsoever with those powder colours we had seen women deftly working with, we made another plan. Armed with water-proof poster paint and mighty paintbrushes, we made the courtyard our canvas. In a couple of hours, the floor was vibrant with a lovely rangoli. More permanent than the rest of the rather alarmed family had accounted for maybe.

That evening from several years ago, we placed the largest deep we had right at the centre of the rangoli. As the sky glimmered with fireworks and the winds grew resplendent with kaju-barfi, our rangoli shone peacefully into the winter night.

“How do I renovate it on my own?” Mum almost cried over the phone. “Don’t suggest ignoring it for I certainly will not.”

Mom and her pressure tactics. The dear was completely capable of err, renovating our rangoli with fresh poster paint, but wanted to leave no stone unturned to bring me home. This was when I was in Pune and they were selling flight tickets at the price of gold. I nibbled at a chocolate bar and switched on the fairy lights in my room, attempting to come to terms with the miserable quiet. I failed. The next day, Mum, Dad and I were away for a morning full of shopping at Lajpat Nagar – a yearly tradition – and stuffing our bags with lamps, cushion covers, dry fruits and umpteen festoons. As for the rangoli, we got her new clothes.

Last Diwali, we had quite a task keeping the cats away from our freshly painted masterpiece. I had tried to stop Mom from having a go with the paintbrush. “You really should rest, Mom. What about your backpain?” “What about it? It disappeared seeing you at the airport.” she said, generously dabbing a brush in green paint. We had later sat together for Lakshmi Pooja, and also ventured out to the Kali Pooja pandals in our essentially Bengali neighbourhood. Delhi shone like a new bride.

Mom put away the deep the next morning. “Next year, we will do up the rangoli afresh. I have thought of a terrific design.”

“Sure. I will get us some new colours too.”

“We will also book tickets well in advance. Or you will again go on about the monstrosities of price rise.” Mom mock sighed, throwing a cushion at me.

I didn’t need to book tickets this year. I am home and its Diwali next week. The city has started sparkling each evening and parcels of sweets and dry fruits are delivered every minute. Lajpat Nagar is probably jam-packed with shoppers. The lanes of yesteryears are brimming with memories of Diwali spent with Mom. I am sure that my enthusiastic best friend and fellow Rangoli artist is preparing her paint-box somewhere. We will stand at the balcony and nibble away at kaju-barfi. As lights come on across the city, we will consider with wonder the glorious world we have together. The world untouched by dust, time and pain.

*Written as a part of PepsiCo’s GharWaliDiwali


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