Month: December 2020

Farewell 2020, Adios Lipstick

Lipstick, dear lipstick, you who added so many vibrant shades to our smiles have been swept away by 2020, veiled and shoved in some corner amidst COVID concerns. Once a ‘must-have’ in every girl’s purse, lipstick has been replaced by hand sanitisers and masks. It may not be farewell forever my dear, but we have been compelled to take a break from you for sure, for how long we don’t know.

Bright hues of Lipstick adding to the look. With my cousin Sumi at her Sangeet

Once our look was not complete without you. You brought a sparkle to our face and an appeal to our pout. Your lively hues added to our confidence and our sprightly gait. But now alas, we put on a mask to hide behind a tiny virus, a virus so small yet so fatal. We may have survived, but 2020 has for sure trampled over so many things that we held dear. We lock ourselves in, hide behind masks, cringe if someone extends their hand for a shake and run away from the warmth of a loving hug. What we have we don’t need, what we can’t have our heart craves, the human touch we sorely miss. Our wardrobes, full of clothes, shoes, jewellery and so many knick-knacks, mock us. Frequent travels are a thing of past and we plan endlessly to go out for a cup of coffee. Even after we enter a coffee shop, we can’t rest till we have thoroughly sanitized our surroundings. Sitting with apprehension, maintaining a safe distance, we gingerly remove our mask to sip our coffee. Dear 2020, you have added a flavour of caution to the hot and once carefree cup of coffee.

Like scarves and belts of times erstwhile, masks have become an accessory we can’t step without. From surgical mask, we have graduated to colourful masks in different textures to match our mood and attire. We have simple cotton masks in black & white, coloured masks, printed masks, fun masks and glittering masks. Now there are designer lines of masks even. With our lips and half our face hidden behind the masks, lipsticks have become a thing of past. 2020 is definitely a year lipstick makers’ will forever dread.

Masked normal

We look at a world so changed, wide-eyed, from above our masks. We have learnt to gesture with our eyes and smile with our eyes. Very soon we will pout with our eyes. And dear lipstick, what you have lost eyeliner, eye shadow and mascara have gained. We have started dressing our eyes, experimenting with eye make-up, wearing coloured eye shadows and contact lenses to add more allure to the language of eyes. With our lips covered and limited hand contact (lest we catch the virus), we rely heavily on our eyes.

Fear not, oh lipstick, this is just a temporary setback. We can never bid you adieu, we are taking a break at best. No matter how gloomy the year may have been, our spirit is indomitable and soon we will make transparent masks to show off your vibrant shades. Dear lipstick, you will shine bright even under our masks.

Winter afternoons and China (Cheena) Badam…AKA Peanuts

Winter and peanuts share a strong bond, or at least they used to once upon a time. As a girl I remember sitting on our terrace in Agartala with my sisters or in the courtyard at my grandparents’ place in Lucknow with my cousins, the winter sun on our back, shelling peanuts over idle chit chats. The warmth of the winter and freshly roasted peanuts, what an intoxicating combination it was!

Cheers to Peanuts

Peanuts, commonly known as china badam in Bengali, is a popular winter snack. In the winter we would find vendors in every corner roasting whole peanuts in a huge iron kadai placed on the warm sand. Wrapped in old newspapers in small conical packs we would buy those peanuts for a few pennies, shelling them and popping the nuts in our mouth of lazy winter afternoons. Though I can’t figure why peanuts are china badam, there seems to be no connection with China and peanuts in Bengal.    

Also known as the groundnut, goober (US), pindar (US) or monkey nut (UK), peanuts are one of the world’s oldest crops. The only nut that grows underground, peanuts were first cultivated in Brazil-Bolivia-Peru region about 5000 years ago. In the 15th century, Spanish and Portuguese explorers shipped peanuts from South America to Asia, Europe and Africa. An American named George Washington Carver is considered to be the ‘Father of peanut industry’ as he researched and developed more than 300 other uses for peanuts and improved peanut cultivation. It is believed that Jesuit Fathers introduced peanuts to India in the first half of the 16th century. Portuguese got peanuts to Goa around the same time, their colony then. From Goa peanut travelled to China. Peanut cultivation is big in China and India today.  

Freshly roasted peanuts

A popular on the go snack, especially in winters, roasted peanuts are enjoyed in parks, in a stadium during a cricket match or any other sporting event or during any outdoor activity. Called ‘time pass’ in Mumbai people munch peanuts or moongphalis in local trains. We Bongs also enjoy fried peanuts with our muri makha or chire bhajaChirer pulau (bong poha) is made with peanuts and boiled potatoes. Our delicious samosas have peanuts in them with aloo. In small restaurants or food joints, they put peanuts in biriyani as well. And of course, badam bhaja or fried peanuts with a cup of tea and beer!

Peanuts are very popular in Gujarati and Marathi cuisines as well. Guajarati’s use peanut in roadside snack Dabeli to Gujarati Dal. In Maharashtra, it goes hand-in-hand with another favourite sabudana. We also enjoy peanut chutney or salad tossed with roasted and crushed peanuts. And nothing can beat the sweetness of badam patti or chikki after a winter meal. I am a big fan of American peanut butter and Thai cuisines in peanut sauce as well.

We grew up munching peanuts, celebrated with them, gossiped other hot freshly roasted peanuts or china badam. These nuts bring so much to table, add to the flavour and the mood. And to forget the immense health benefits of peanuts. I sometimes wonder why Peanuts are considered humble at all!

Choruibhati – pure Bong Picnic

Picnic or Choruibhati is something that we Bongs indulge in, especially in the month of December. Many of us usher the New Year by heading out for a Picnic, Boro diner (New Year’s) Picnic as it’s popularly called. When we were growing up, Choruibhati or Picnic meant a big group of friends and family heading out in a minibus to the outskirts of the city early morning, to a riverbank or forest land, making a makeshift clay-oven, gathering woods and then cooking and eating a meal out in the open. We carried the ingredients and the utensils with us. Of course, there would be a lot of fun and games, singing, dancing etc. in between cooking and the meals. Late afternoon lunch would usually be hot dalbhaja, mutton and rice served on disposable plates. There was something special about those freshly prepared Choruibhati meals that we would sit on the grass and eat!

When we go the wild for Bonbhojon

Since we went for Picnics to idyllic locations away from the city, Bonbhojon (feast in the forest) is another apt Bong term for Picnic. Bengali zamindars or aristocracy added flavours of hunting and boat riding as well to Bonbhojon. Often, they would shoot a duck or a bird to be cooked in the open and stroll the river in their boats. But for a long time, I couldn’t fathom why we Bongs loved to call Picnic Choruibhati, that literally translates to Sparrows Feast. What does a cute little sparrow have to do with Picnic? Only recently I learnt that Chorui also means open space while bhati means feast, and Choruibhati thus translates to a grand feast in the open.

Interestingly, in its early days, Picnic was an indoor affair that originated from France. It is speculated that French Pique-Nique may have been derived from verb piquer (‘to peck’ or ‘to pick’) and the noun nique (‘a small amount’ or ‘nothing whatsoever’ in the mid-18th century. By late 18th century Picnic or Pique-Nique was a fashionable affair – a dinner to which each guest would contribute, very similar to potluck lunches. It was a favourite pastime of genteel, sometimes involved singing and dancing but was always indoors. 

Picnic travelled to England after the French Revolution, where many from French aristocracy fled fearing for their lives. It soon gained popularity amongst the English upper class. A Pic Nic society was founded in 1801 by a group of 200 wealthy young Francophiles.

Image courtesy The Gurdian

Sometime in 20th-century Picnic travelled outdoor. It was supposed to be an outdoor meal in idyllic locations, an innocent pleasure that aristocracy indulged in.  Picnic basket for packing in cold lunch came into being. Soon wine found place in the Picnic basket. Eventually, it also became more mass, with the working class enjoying their own Picnics. 

From England, Picnic travelled to America. I assume Britishers’ brought Picnic to India and genteel Bongs embraced it. Kolkata being the British capital then, Bongs did enjoy certain proximity with the British Colonial rulers. Though we adopted the concept, we packed more punch to it. Rather than carrying packed food, we decided to cook out in the open. Bong food tastes best when freshly cooked.

We modern Bongs sometimes become lazy though and, we just drive to a Picnic spot that serves cooked meals. Though it is fun, it can’t match Choruibhati – the excitement of gathering woods and a cooking meal in the open!