*** I have been inspired by PreeOccupied, a blogger/culinary artist par-excellence. When she asked me to be part of Beyond Fives Days of Durga Puja, my excitement knew no bounds. I hope this measures up to her high standards of blogging. That being said – Let the fun begin ! ***
Mahalaya lights up a million hearts. It marks the beginning of the festive season in. It is a significant day to many believers across the world, based on individual or collective perspective. To name a few :
- On this auspicious day সন্তর্পণ or তর্পণ (Brahmin Santarpana or massive feeding) is performed on behalf of dead ancestors to provide them peace in their world. Hindus believe that Shraddh ritual performed on this Amavasya makes their dead ancestors free from all the sins they have committed when they were alive and provides them salvation.
- Mahalaya, signifies the termination of পিতৃ পক্ষ (Pitri Pokkho – ‘Fortnight of the forefathers’) and the beginning of দেবী পক্ষ (Debi Pokkho –' Fortnight of the Goddess’), thus ushering in the season দুর্গোৎসব, ‘Festival of Durga’. It is said that মা দূর্গা (Maa Durga) begins her journey with her children, from her husband's abode in কৈলাশ পর্বত (Kailash Parvat) to her paternal home on this day.
- Some of us would recall the pre-dawn wake-up calls from our parents and grand-parents on this day to tune into the enchanting voice of the Late Birendra Krisna Bhadra. I still remember even during the teenage years(when typically one has the least religious inclination) – the rich baritone of Birendra Krisna and his inimitable style for invoking Maa Durga would resonate.
- Besides, it just kick starts the last round of preparations for a week long carnival. People from all religions, race, caste and creed participate with equal fervor. The City of Joy truly becomes a city of joy for nearly a week. The sheer vibrancy and the pulse of Kolkata can be felt during this time of the year.
That being said, cut to present age of deadline, job commitments, and the boss’s whip – I was working till early morning of 3 am of Mahalaya. All my well meaning intentions and best laid plans to get up at 5 am, and heading to the ‘Ghats’ were put to rest.
Got up to a cloudy, wet and rainy Mahalaya morning shortly after 7 am. Kolkata is being stung by the tail of the monsoon, thankfully that has dragged the Celsius scale down. Too late to tune into LIVE ‘Mohishashur Mordini’ on All India Radio or Doordarshan. I stepped out into a rain-lashed verandah of our house.
There was a nip in the morning air, thanks to the late surge of rains here in Kolkata. And for some reason I felt like this song.
Done with a recollection of one of my favorite songs, I was to remember the promise of the feast I made to the readers of this blog and my wife. I was to get down to the business of running errands. The first stop was to be Parimal’s – my fish vendor of last five years. Parimal runs a tight ship, in the near by CK Market. You can see Parimal the man himself in action and all his glory !
Parimal is the biggest FISH in the CK Fish Market. He has a huge fan following and his customers don’t go no where but to him. I tell you folks, he needs a fan page on Facebook ! He charges a premium for his product, but then it is the best money can buy. Don’t let the modest look get you – Parimal talks a good game and he walks the talk too. He flaunts his own business cards for first time customers and promises home delivery and special orders. You just need to tell him what ‘cut’ you want. Be it Chilly Fish Cuts, Boneless Fish Steaks, Fish Fry Cuts, Tandoori Fish Cuts, Fish পাতুরি (Paturi) cuts, you name it ! Even though Parimal and I go back a few years, each trip culminates with unique negotiating skills that only me and him are capable of. Such is the faith-based system, that I can get get whatever from him without any cash down and pay him at my own convenience. No records, no transaction slips, no book keeping, nothing ! Welcome to the PAPERLESS world of 0% fish financing !
Below is a sampling of Parimal’s products.
You can see Parimal and his partner’s business card below as evidence and NO he does not ACCEPT credit cards, at least not yet. And why do I need one when I have PFCU – Parimal’s Faith Credit Union :) Now all you NRI’s, can you boast of such a trade system in Disneyland America or Canada or Australia or where ever you are ? :) I know you can go on and on and on and on about that awesome Korean or Vietnamese store in your neighborhood, that sells Tilapia on steroids ! No my friend, let me tell you - it ain’t the same. Finally - ‘Home is where the Fish are !’
Enough rubbing salt into the wound err.. fish. Moving on. I bought about 2 kg of de-skinned, and de-boned আর মাছ. After delivering the ‘Catch of the day’ at home – I figured it was time to get to the ‘Ghats’ to capture the Mahalaya mood on the riverfront. I braved through 45 minutes of a deadly cocktail of persistent showers and pre-Pujo Kolkata traffic, to reach the ‘Ahiritola Ghat’.
The river front wore a foggy look due to continious showers, however the crowd of devotees offering food and prayers to their ancestors was on the vane. I clicked some pictures among stares and snares.
It was getting past lunch time, and all the rain and the good weather was getting me hungrier. I strode out of the ‘Ghat’ and into my car and sped away. Not forgetting to pick up some desserts for my sweet cravings, at the legendary Girish Chandra Dey and Nalin Chandra Das sweet meat shop !
গোলাপ পাতি মনোহরা সন্দেশ (Fresh Rose Petals Sandesh)
A Sandesh named সৌরভ (Sourav)
The rumbling of my stomach made me drive faster than usual and I pulled into our house, around 2:30 pm. Took a quick shower to cleanse myself of the vicarious sin of watching other people wash their sins away on the ‘Ganga Ghat’.
Lunch was ready to be served, thanks to my wife and আমাদের মাশী শিখা (loosely translated into – Our Cooking Maid – Shikha). Shikha has now been with the family for almost 3 years. She knows us inside out and bottom up and every which way. She also knows who eats what like - দাদা কী ঝাল খায়ে, বৌদি কী চাল খায়ে (loosely translated as – How spicy do I like my curry, or what rice does my wife like to eat !). খাঁটি বাংলায়ে বলতে গেলে আমরা শিখা মাশী কে ছাড়া অচল (We cannot go a day without Shikha). মাশী (Aunt) is a common mnemonic for maids in Kolkata or Bengal, even if they are younger to you. Truth be told Shikha cooks better food than any Aunt I have ever had :)
Here is presenting Shikha and her মহাভোজ. Don’t be fooled by her slender frame. She is a work horse like none other you may have known. She not only cooks for us, she pretty much runs the household and is the lifeline of this time starved, working couple and their son !
The pictures are self explanatory, but for the record the menu was the following :
- গরম ভাত (Steamed Rice)
- পাঁচ মেশালী ডাল (Five Pulses)
- গন্ধরাজ লেবু (Aromatic Lime)
- ঝুরঝুরে কুরমুরে আলু ভাজা (Crinkle cut not French, but Bengali fries)
- লাবরা (Spicy Vegetable Medley)
- আর মাছের পাতুরি (Fish Fillets steam cooked with mustard paste, wrapped in banana leaves)
- গোলাপ পাতি সন্দেশ (Rose Petal Sandesh)
- মিষ্টি পান (Sweetened Betel Leaves)
- শীতল জল (Cool Water)
- ভাত ঘুম (Last but the most essential : a 2 hour post-lunch nap)
In an effort to go green and stay green the theme of the mega luncheon was কলা পাতা (Banana Leaves) Now with food like this, you absolutely need to top it off with a 2 hour nap. Mahalaya not being a holiday, Stateside, I had to work :( and could ill-afford a 2 hour slumber. Had to make do with just under an hour !