The old Bakul tree next to our gate is missing The mildly fragrant Bakul flowers that would be strewn under the tree through the year are missing Missing are the garlands that I used to string out of those flowers as a little girl The bedroom of our beautiful concrete house sighs peacefully where once the old Bakul tree spread its fragrant breath My grandmother smiles peacefully from a picture in our living room, her loving warmth is missing Missing are her many stories, her gentle touch, the many delicacies that she would dish out for us I enter my old bedroom, the old box with many a colourful hair clips and pins are missing My old dolls and toys are missing, and the box with all my old letters and greeting cards The thatched tin roof of our old house is missing and the sound of the pitter patter rain Missing are the lazy rainy afternoons, the paper boats, the deluged courtyard The simple pleasures of kichudi and maaach bhaja - a rainy day meal The stories, the laughter’s and the indoor games. The happiness of a day wasted is missing Annual summer break to Dadur Bari in Lucknow is missing Missing are those long train journeys with mom and sisters The screeching, whistling steam engines are missing Missing are the hawkers, hot tea served in earthen pots, the rhythmic, dreamy slumber in a moving train Smiling Dadu waiting for us at the station is missing and the exited and chirpy tanga rides Didun and her many delicacies are missing, the home-made achars and aam papads, sandesh, moya, nadu and nimkees The sprawling bungalow in the Railway Colony with huge front yard and back yard is missing Missing are those khatiyas, those beautiful long nights under the stars The laughing, fun-filled afternoons with cousins are missing Missing are those trips to the zoo in a tanga with homemade puri, sabzi and achar The Eagle who swooped at my puri and snatched it from me is missing Missing and resurfacing is the little girl who cried and chased the Eagle away Who counted stars at night and hummed to the music of pitter patter rain, who dreamt for hours of sweet nothings The girl in me who’s too scared to walk down the lanes of her childhood, lest the sweet memories go missing!
Tanya got off the car and rushed towards the coffee shop. It was drizzling, winter rains, she was walking as fast as she could to avoid getting drenched. When she reached the covered porch she stopped, took a breath and tried to calm herself. “Maybe I should have cancelled this”, she thought. “It’ll take me ages to drive back in the rains, and all this for a Tinder date.” She ran her fingers through her hair and smoothed her jacket and started walking slowly towards the coffee shop.
Confident, happy and single Tanya logged on to Tinder sometime back, maybe out of curiosity, maybe out of loneliness, maybe it was a bit of both. She has been in love before, has broken her heart, she still believes in love and could be hopelessly romantic at times. Though her romantic quests didn’t go the way she had hoped, Tanya was a positive and a happy woman, doing well in her job, popular with her friends. She had pushed back all thoughts of love for a while and seemed to be doing a good job of it. Then, one Sunday afternoon, while flipping through TV channels to kill time, she was suddenly gripped by loneliness and boredom. Her friends, most of whom are married, were caught up with their family or in some other errand. “Maybe I should try Tinder,” she thought, “who knows maybe there are interesting men out there.”
She downloaded Tinder on a whim and started swiping right and left. To her surprise, she matched with every man she fancied, and all of whom seemed eager to meet her and take things forward. The initial response was overwhelming and exhilarating, ‘maybe I will meet someone nice here,’ she thought. She was not unattractive she knew, but the men out there made her feel like a beauty queen. Her optimism, however, was short lived, when most of her tinder matches seemed to be only interested in sex or one-night stands. Some of them were married as well, looking for ‘a true friend.’ “I was really naïve,” she thought “to think dating still meant coffee, good conversations and sweet romance. Holding hands and walking in the moonlit nights, like college times.”
As she was about to delete the Tinder app, the message notification blinked, “How about coffee on Monday?” asked an almost forgotten Tinder match, Abir. “Well one coffee shouldn’t hurt,” thought Tanya. “Fine, let’s meet at 7,” she wrote.
When Tanya stepped out of office that Monday evening it was drizzling, and she had a good mind to call off her Tinder date. “It’s too late for that now, it would be rude,” she thought, as she drove to meet Abir on a rainy December night.
As Tanya, walked towards the coffee shop, she found Abir waiting for her outside, he came forward and shook her hands warmly. By the time they sat down they were already talking, like they have known each other for a while. They talked endlessly for hours, till Tanya realized it was late and she had to get back home. Traffic was crazy on the way back, but she didn’t mind. There was something about Abir that was so different from the all the men who cross her path, on Tinder or otherwise. He was sweet, charming, polite, a little shy and seemed genuinely interested in knowing her.
So, they kept meeting and talking and before they knew they were dating. “Watch out,” her friends warned, “not so fast. You met him on Tinder, at best he’s looking for a casual fling.” Tanya took a step back only to realize that they were both drawn to each other hopelessly and there was no looking back. Neither Tanya nor Abir had thought that they would find something so beautiful on Tinder, so they plunged right into it – into a journey of love, friendship and companionship!
There was a time, not so long ago, when a girl named Mohini lived in the real world. There was no internet, e-mail, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or any other virtual online platforms in that world. People visited each other, talked face to face, wrote letters and sometimes talked on the phone. Mohini loved her little real world. She visited her friends and relatives regularly, wrote frequently to those who lived in other cities, occasionally spoke to them over the phone. Mohini loved writing – poetry, short stories, sometimes just her fleeting thoughts. In the journal next to her bedside table she would write every night before going to bed. Mohini’s family and friends encouraged her to write. She was often requested to read from her work in social gatherings, her poems were published in school magazines. Mohini hoped to publish her writings someday, reach a wider audience.
Image courtesy nyooz.com
Then one day the virtual world came into being. People talked to each other less and less, they chatted in WhatsApp groups or Facebook messenger or just Snapchatted. Letters, journals and family albums went out of vogue. People posted pictures, posts and messages in social media platforms. Orkut came and went. The generation moved from verbose Facebook, to picturesque Instagram, to funny & pictures only Snapchat. Of course, there’s professional LinkedIn and opinionated Twitter. The virtual media expanded our horizons, helped us connect with long lost friends. Soon we could connect and converse with people sitting in another end of the world in jiffy.
To Mohini, the virtual world presented the audience that she was aspiring for. She started posting her poems in Facebook and Instagram, created separate pages. The encouraging and sometimes the critical readers of the virtual world stimulated her. She connected with so many wonderful people, joined groups that helped her read and write better. She learnt about writing competitions and contests happening across the world. “These are wonderful platforms that are taking me closer to my dreams,” she thought happily. She felt safe in the virtual world; it gave her the space to create without being judged.
But Mohini’s illusion of a safe and unprejudiced virtual world soon came crashing! The virtual world inherited all the vices and the prejudices of the real world, the wider audience only made things worse. There was no privacy anymore, once you posted something in the virtual world it was out there for everyone to see and comment on. Soon, there were virtual stalkers who terrified Mohini. She felt so harassed that she went off social media platforms for a while. She came back wiser and blocked her stalkers from all her social media sites. “Thank god for technology that allows us to block such vile people,” she sighed in relief.
Though the stalkers were gone the incessant pinging, messenger calls, uncomfortable questions irritated Mohini. “Are you single?”, “How old are you?” “Would you care to date an older man?”, “Madam what’s your idea of love?”, “Can I have your number?” etc. etc. Though there are separate platforms for dating and match making, citizens of the virtual world just didn’t seem to realize the difference. The virtual world evolved and grew so fast that virtual citizens probably failed to realize that this world too is governed by etiquette, as much as the real world.
For Mohini the virtual world is exciting albeit its draw backs and irritants. She valued the friendships and associations she made in the virtual media platforms and decided to share her reflections with her virtual friends…
I am glad we connected virtually! We have shared so much and learnt from each other’s experiences. I read your wonderful poems and short stories, learnt about new things, visited places I never knew existed. Your fresh perspectives and views inspired me. You are my wise audience you who help me write better!
But sometimes we forget that the virtual world is like our drawing room. We showcase what we are comfortable sharing, so let’s not peek into each other’s bedrooms. Let’s respect privacy and boundaries and make this journey enjoyable and meaningful!
Once upon a time, thousands of years ago, a migratory bird dropped a seed in the heart of Africa, that germinated into thick green vines with white flowers that open only at night. From those white flowers was born Lau. Wait, Lau was known by different names then – Calabash, Bottle Gourd (owing to its bottle like shape), Long Melon and so many more. People didn’t even know how to eat this vegetable in those days but made utensils out of it once mature, owing of its round shape.
Many years later, after travelling many continents when Bottle Gourd finally landed in a Bengali kitchen, the Bong Fairy Godmother with hands on her hip, looked ponderingly at this long green vegetable and lovingly named it Lau. She then touched it with her magical khunti (spatula), poured a concoction of mild spices and turned humble Lau into a yummy sought-after prince. With her imagination and culinary magic, she gave so many avatars to this vegetable, each one more delightful than the other. Lau became the beloved vegetable of Bengal, folk artists started singing its glory:
Shadher laau banailo more boiragi
Laauer aaga khailam doga go khailam
Aaga khailam go….
Laauer aaga khailam doga go khailam
Laau dia banailam dugdugi
O Ami laau dia banailam dugdugi
Loosely translated the lyrics mean, beloved Lau has turned me into a wandering ascetic. Having eaten every bit of this delicious vegetable, right from its skin to the stem, I have even made a dumroo out of it. I dare say lot is lost in my attempt of translation. In fact, these lyrics are impossible to translate. Inserting an audio link of this folk song, made popular by Bangladeshi folk singer Runa Laila, for you to have a feel.
Lau is indeed one hell of a versatile vegetable for Bongs. Right from its flowers (lau phool), to skin, to stem (lau data) and leaves (lau shaag), we transform every bit of this vegetable into a delicacy. The many preparations of ‘humble’ Lau, a vegetable that often does not find place in fancy meals in North India unless made into kofta, will surprise those unfamiliar with traditional Bengali cuisine. Be it everyday meal or special occasions, Lau is almost always part of the menu in Bengali households in summers.
Lau skin (chilka) can be made into chechki. Lau in moong dal with few pieces of karela thrown in, is probably the simplest and the healthiest way to have this vegetable and trust me it’s delicious. We make different kinds of shukto with Lao that are part of everyday menu in summer. Lao moong is a specialty from East Bengal. Lau ghonto with dal bari, Lau chingri and Lau with fish head are considered delicacies. Lau data or the stem of Lau vine and Lau saag can also be prepared in different ways. We make Lau datar chorchori, Lau datar dal. Lau saager morich jhol is both tasty and healthy, we even make a delectable paste out of tender Lau leaves (Lau pata bata). You can make mouth-watering desserts with Lau (lauer payesh). There is so much more you can do with this amazing vegetable!
Since Lau is so easily available, often the vegetable we are stuck with in the summers, I will share below few of my favourite recipes that you can try this summer. These easy to make, nutritious and low-calorie recipes will add to your cool quotient in the hot months ahead!
Lau in kacha moong (unroasted) dal, my mom’s recipe that I make very often in summer, can be done in no time.
Directions:Cut the lau into square dice of 1inch size
- Cut the Karela into very thin round slices
- Boil moong dal in 1 & ½ cups of water, with lau, green chillies, salt, haldi and sugar. I boil in an open vessel since mong dal cooks easily, you can pressure cook as well
- In a kadai heat ghee, shallow fry karela & keep aside. Put bay leaf, mustard seeds and ginger paste in the same kadai (add more ghee if required)
- Pour the dal with lau once mustard seeds start sputtering, add shallow fried karela.
- Add more salt if required and bring it to boil
- Put a little ghee on the top and your healthy, aromatic kacha moong dal with lau is ready. Serve with hot rice or just a bowl of this delicious dal.
Lau Shukto, or shukta, is a mild, creamy, Bengali vegetable preparation served for lunch. Shukto can be made in different ways and usually has a bitter element. We add bitter vegetables like karela or bitter spices like methi or mustard for the slightly bitter flavour. But it is always mild and usually creamy, that comes from either milk, or posto (poppy seed) paste, or mustard paste. Sharing below the recipe for my favourite mild and creamy lau shukto.
- First make a wet paste of posto in the grinder
- Chop lau in thin long slices
- In a kadai heat a little ghee, shallow fry dal bari and keep aside.
- In the same kadai (add more ghee if required) put sauf & mustard seeds. Once the seeds start sputtering add chopped lau, salt and sugar.
- Cooked covered in low flame till lau becomes tender, stirring occasionally (lau usually cooks in its own water).
- Once the lau is tender, add the shallow fried bari, posto paste and milk. Mix the paste well. Add more salt and sugar if needed. This mild shukto has a slightly sweetish taste.
- Serve hot with rice
Made from Lau skin, this is something you can make every time you cook Lau
- Cut the Lau skin into very fine thin slices
- Heat mustard oil in a pan. Once hot put red chilli & kala jeera
- Add sliced lau skin, salt, haldi, green chilli. Cook covered in medium to low flame stirring frequently.
- Once lau skin in tender switch off the flame. This usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes for tender lau skin.
- Serve with hot rice