Author: besumana

Chhath Puja – the desi Thanksgiving! With inputs from Puja

Puja celebrating Chhath

To me, for a long time, Chhath was a religious festival largely celebrated in Bihar, they worshipped Sun, had something to do with river, as I would see a lot of people walking to Yamuna on those days. I didn’t know much about Chhath or didn’t bother to find out till Puja joined my team and came to office after the Diwali break with so many goodies – Thekua and sweets – prashad from Chhath Puja. Every year, since then, she would go home for Chhath and come back with delicious Thekua that her mother made at home for the Puja. Missing it this year as Puja has decided to extend her stay in Patna due to her impending wedding. Happy occasion indeed!   

Puja’s mom in a traditional attire performing Chhath Puja

Chhath Puja is a festival that falls in the fag-end of the Indian month of Kartik (late October/early November), after Durga Puja and Diwali.   Since it commences on the 4th day of Shukal Paksh and culminates on the 6th day of Shukal Paksh it is called Chhath Puja. Surya Dev or Sun God is worshipped for granting the gift of life to us on earth. Unlike Durga Puja and Diwali, this festival does not involve idolatry and is dedicated to the worship the Chhathi Maiya (Shashthi Mata) and sun God Surya along with his wives Usha and Pratyusha, the Vedic Goddess of Dawn and Dusk, respectively. It is believed that the main sources of Sun’s power are his consorts Usha and Pratyusha. Therefore, during Chhath, both his wives are worshipped along with Sun. In the morning, we worship the first ray of Sun, Usha, and in the evening the last ray of Sun, Pratyusha. This is the only festival where the sister of Sun, Chhathi Maiya, is worshipped and offered an Arghya or Prashad.

The festival is largely celebrated in Bihar, Jharkhand, UP and Madhesh region of Nepal, and of course now, owing to globalization, the residents of these states scattered all over the world celebrate Chhath. Celebrating the power of Sun, or oneness with nature, this is considered to be one of the most eco-friendly festivals. If we were to truly embrace the spirit of festivals like Chhath, most of our environmental woes would probably be addressed and the pollution wouldn’t be choking us every year.

The festival doesn’t distinguish between caste and class. Every devotee, rich or poor, offer the same Prashad to Sun God and follow the same rituals. A reminder that Nature or higher power doesn’t distinguish basis our birth or social status. Though a gender neutral festival it is largely celebrated by women and the rituals are to be strictly adhered to

The four-day festival, that comes six days after Diwali, starts with Nahaye Khaye (first day) when every member of the family along with the pavnitan (the one who performs this puja or devotees) have their food after taking bath.

Kharna (Second Day), is the second day of Chhath Puja. Kharna means fast the whole day, and on this day the devotees don’t drink even a single drop of water. In the evening, they can eat gur ki kheer (jaggery kheer), fruits and chapati loaded with ghee.

Sandhya Arghya (Third Day) falls on Kartik Shukla Shashthi and an Arghya is offered to Sun god on this day. Devotees stand in the river/ pond or a water body to offer Arghya to the setting Sun after fasting through the day.

Usha Arghya (Fourth Day) – On the last day of Chhath puja, in the morning, an Arghya is offered to the rising Sun. After the worship, devotees drink sharbat and raw milk, and eat a little prashad to break the fast, traditionally termed as Paran or Parana.

Thekua being fried on a traditional chulha at Puja’s place

Thekua and Kheer made of rice and jaggary are the main prashad of this festival. Delicious Thekua is made out of wheat flour, chasni (melted sugar) and ghee. Jaggery can sometimes be used as an alternative to sugar. Dough is prepared using these four main ingredients and cardamom can be added to enhance the flavour. The oval shaped dough is then deep fried in ghee or vegetable oil till it turns reddish brown. It is soft when hot but hardens after it cools. It is absolutely preservative free and lasts for days.

Chhath is a post-harvest festival and is celebrated after many agricultural produces like wheat, rice, sugarcane and so many fruits and vegetables, have been reaped. Devotees offer all these to Sun God, as according to them, without the benevolent rays of Sun cultivation and harvesting would not be possible. Hence, it is our very own thanksgiving festival, thanking the all mighty Sun God for bestowing and nurturing life!

‘There should be a culture and story behind the weaving and dyeing of sarees,” Seema Shah

Seema in a beautiful Jamdani

I have known Seema for years now. When I first met her, I noticed the beautiful Katha Silk Saree that she was wearing. “Wow, such unique work. Where wear did you pick this saree from?” Seema loves wearing traditional sarees and whenever I meet her, I admire the saree she’s wearing – the colour, the weave, the texture. Being a saree lover myself, I decided to talk to Seema about her saree collection and more.

Tell us about your love affair with saree?

I would say that it started with wearing sarees occasionally during my college days. Those were of course borrowed from mom. Got married soon after college and simultaneously started working for Fab India. This series of events and gradual transformation from wearing sarees occasionally to regularly at work started my love affair with sarees. As a manager with Fabindia, I would wear a different saree every day.  There was a time when customers and other people would visit Fabindia store just to check out the saree I was wearing. My colleagues and other people would do the same whenever I visited head office.

I worked with Ritukumar and Good Earth as well and the love for continued as all these brands support craft.  My journey to different brands brought more knowledge and the passion continues. 

I love traditional sarees with different weaves and different dyes. There should be a cultural story behind the weaving and dyeing of sarees. As these sarees are completely handwoven you may find the weave or the dye uneven at times. But that’s the beauty of these sarees. That’s what makes them unique!

What are the different types of traditional sarees you have?

In a Sharnachari

You name a saree, and I would not disappoint you. I have sarees from all regions and some of them were specially woven for me by weavers which came in the market later after weavers were satisfied that I loved those sarees. In fact, I also keep distributing sarees to my friends and loved ones. So, my collection keeps depleting and replenishing.

 Being a Bengali, I have a good collection of Jamdani and Katha sarees. In addition, I have banarasi, kalamkari, Maheshwari, Chanderi, Ajrakh, Bandini, Bhagalpuri, Tussar and others which I have picked from weavers. Also Banarsi is one weave I love,. 

Being connected to Gujarat through marriage I also have some sarees, Patola, which I inherited from my mother-in-law and they are very close to my heart. My mother has passed on her beautiful Baluchari to me. 

Tell us more about beautiful Ajrakh sarees

Ajrakh is a treasure. It is rich, it is old. Historians have associated it with Harappan civilization which means over 3000 years old treasure. The art of Ajrakh is till today practiced in the areas of Kutch and Sindh. It is double sided block printing. Ajrakh fabric or sarees are made in traditional ways using natural dyes. Artisans use natural dyes to obtain various colours like iron for black, pomegranate for red while making Ajrakh. Indigo is a primary and a conspicuous colour in Ajrakh sarees and fabric.

It takes days to make an Ajrakh saree. It is said that after one layer of printing is done the saree is kept aside for that day to dry – ‘aj rakh’ or keep it today. Next day a fresh set of blocks are printed on the dried blocks and this continues for 17 days. Polishing the saree and finishing it takes a few more days. When you think about the time and effort an artisan puts in making one saree you know they are priceless. Yet what annoys me is people complaining about the price of these beautiful sarees and opting for machine printed fabrics.

 Experiences that you have encountered while buying sarees

Once I went to a weaver in a village close to Jodhpur to buy block printed sarees. It was his workshop, and the blocks were lying around. I asked him if he had metal blocks. His eyes lit up in joy, “Madam aap ko pata hai,” he said smiling. He then took me to a room which was full of metal blocks of different shapes and sizes. ‘Nobody makes these blocks now’ he said, ‘most people don’t even know that originally metal blocks were used for block printing.’

The block prints that we see now are usually done using wooden blocks and they are not as fine and sharp as those printed with metal blocks.

What about chiffon and georgette saree? What do you think about cocktail sarees?

I am more a traditional saree person, though I feel great that women have started wearing sarees for cocktails and dinners. But why can’t we wear a chanderi instead of chiffon? Chanderi or organza sarees are light and transparent and come in lovely shades. Just team them up with a sexy blouse and wear a long earing.

What about maintaining sarees?

To increase the longevity of sarees you need to take them out of the wardrobe occasionally and leave them in the sun for a while. Change the folds of the saree and put them back in the wardrobe after they have cooled. Put neem leaves between the folds, that will keep the pests at bay.

Ladies in saree. Seema in a Kalamkari

Any last word for saree lovers

To all women, whenever you wear a saree, you become one of the most beautiful women in the world. That’s the magic of saree. Sarees can be worn on all occasions.  It is one of the most graceful attire that accentuates the beauty of Indian women. Try wearing sarees more often to work, believe me, it doesn’t take long to drape it. It is just a matter of getting used to wearing it. Once you get you used to wearing sarees you can be comfortable in them for the entire day. And remember, when you buy and wear traditional sarees you are supporting a poor weaver in some remote village. 

Light and Darkness

We celebrate the Festival of Light on a new moon autumn night that falls on the Hindu month of Kartik to drive the darkness away. Anything that is dark is somehow associated with evil in our culture. We light lamps or diyas on Deepavali to celebrate the victory of good over evil. According to Hindu mythology, Deepavali marks the day when Lord Rama returned home after vanquishing Ravana, the asura king. The golden Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped across North India to usher wealth and prosperity on that night. Homecoming of Lord Rama did mark the beginning to happy days for his subject in Ayodhya. In Bengal and east, however, we worship Goddess Kali on Deepavali night. Fearsome Kali with open hair, bloodshot eyes, garlanded with skulls is considered to be the vanquisher of evil – the dark Kali violently and uprooting the dark evil. 

The image of Kali has always evoked a mixed response in me. The bloodthirsty semi-naked dark blue Goddess adorned with a garland of skulls of the demons she has crushed, holding a severed head dripping blood, wearing a skirt of severed limbs, her bloody tongue jutting out as she steps on to her consort, Lord Shiva. Yes, Shiva needed to fall on her feet to calm her down. I have sometimes wondered how or why our patriarchal society conceived of female power so ferocious so, so untamed? On the night of Deepavali, Kali bhakts in Bengal stay up the whole night and worships Goddess Kali who used her darkness to annihilate darkness. Though, having grown up as a Bengali, with images and pictures of Kali all around, one can sometimes take this enigmatic Goddess for granted. I have always felt there is more to her than meets the eye. And the more I read about her, the more questions she evokes.

Kali’s blackness is associated with the eternal darkness that can destroy and create. As Shamsana Kali she presides over the crematorium, the land between the living and the dead. She is associated with death and dark magic or Tantra. Kali is central to Tantra Sadhna in Bengal, a spiritual practice that involves the dead. Though she is much revered, this dark blue Goddess is never worshipped at home. Her wildness and untamed spirit inspire awe, her raw feminine energy refuses to be domesticated. She effortlessly dwells in the realms of life and death. Kali has always reminded me of the darkness that lurks under the flickering flame, the opposites that embrace each other to create harmony. She lends deeper appeal to celebrations of light.

Not many of us are aware that this wild Goddess manifests herself in 10 different forms. In one such forms, Kamala Kali, she is a tantric form of the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi. This form of Goddess Kali is worshipped as ‘Gaja Lakshmi’, as she has two elephants by her side, the southern states.

 Interestingly, Kali Pujo is preceded by Bhoot Chaturdashi or Bengal’s own Halloween. On Bhoot Chaturdashi our 14 forefathers are called upon and warded off on the same day. Choddo Prodip or 14 candles are lit in 14 corners of the house, a practice that I follow even in Gurgaon. According to folklore, the spirits of ancestors come back to us on this night and these diyas help them find their homes. It is believed that our Choddo Purush or fourteen ancestors descend to bless us and ward off evil spirits and ghosts. But they are spirits too, so we need to ward them off after being blessed. What a strange practise that challenges the opposites and the barriers that we carefully construct.

Kali, also known as Adishakti or Kundalini Shakti, is the divine feminine energy or the light that makes the Universe live, but she can also burn it. Therefore, when we worship Kali, we celebrate these very opposites, revere her, fear her. The darkness that our society looks down upon is adulated. The dark blue Goddess who effortlessly embodies the contradictions is probably mocking at the futility of all boundaries – the good and the bad, the black and the white, of the different compartments that we have carefully built over the years. For, Kali’s darkness brings light and under the flames of every lamp plays the dark shadow!

This time last year by Titas Mazumdar

It now seems like ages with restricted movements within a circle, restricted friends and family visits, restricted festival celebration and just no vacation/travel since March 2020. Living with the hope that all will end soon but when will that time come, no one is certain about it. Everywhere there is a talk of second lock down, second wave which will be even more devastating. We all are scared, a sense of choking, a suffocation is slowly surrounding most of us. When will all this nightmare end?

Talking to my aging parents in Kolkata saddens me more. Regular health check-up, mandatory tests, urgent visit to clinic for regular wellness has become the biggest challenge. The only fear is that will I not be infected if I go to the regular place where I used to go to cure my infections? No right or wrong answer to it. Aging population needs health check-up and frequent medical monitoring which has become the scariest part in today’s time.  Depression is hitting all over the place, we are seeing it in aging population, couples, mood swings in kids – What next?

People like us whose major Oxygen was travelling round the year in search of unknown doesn’t know how to breathe now. Turning the Facebook albums and Instagram photos, reminiscing on old memories is what we are left with now.

Every year around Diwali we try to run away from NCR majorly due to bad air quality and smog which anyways forces the schools to keep shut and makes office travel miserable. Last year on Diwali night when the city was glittering like a newlywed wearing a white veil of smog we fled to far south to the beaches of Andaman. Unlike Goa, Andaman beaches are around tiny villages, with simple people, simple food, and clean water. Every house decorated with those terracotta oil diyas (mitti ke diye), no Chinese sparkling magic lights anywhere. It reminded me of my simple childhood Deepavali days. Those thatched roof mud houses resembled Gharonda (Doll houses) which we used to make with our tiny hands with shoe boxes plastered with mud. Far far away from the hustle and bustle of the cities these Islands are serene and pristine mostly inhabited by the families of our freedom fighters or those refuges who sought shelter after partition of Bengal. The beaches there fall asleep by sunset and wake up before the first ray of the sun to amaze tourists with their beautiful sunrise, coral mountains & water activities. The white beaches, mangroves, tropical rainforest and under water coral reefs created a mystic around me.

Southern Andaman has most tourist foot fall. Places like Port Blair, Neil Island, Havelock are the most crowded ones. Me and my husband are not much fond of touristy places but again can’t delete them from our list too being the major attraction on internet. So, we did a quick 1 day halt at each of these places and completed our to do list to head towards our main attraction- The Baratang Island – part of North and Middle Andaman. To get into the ferry to Baratang one has to cross the famous Jarawa Land. We booked a private car and crossed the Jarawa land in a convoy of cars with local police escorting us from front and rear. Guess what? Not to protect tourists but to ensure complete protection to Jarawas – the indigenous people of Andamans from us the civilized people. Yes, mostly they are harmless. They speak Hindi, English and Bangla. We were stopped thrice by them for Biscuit packets, chips, tobacco and bottled water. We were strictly instructed not to give them any processed food which we consume as processed food are poisonous for them. In the past for years coming in contact with people from outside world and eating their food had caused severe health issues and sometime leading to death in this community. Today we are left with just handful of people from this tribe who thrive mostly on fruits from the jungles and fishes caught from the seas. Photography was strictly prohibited just to protect them from the outer world. Crossing this area was thrilling no doubt and meeting them was exciting. We reached Nilambur jetty to board a local ferry along with the car which took us to Baratang Island. This Island offers Mangrove creeks, beaches, limestone cave and Mud Volcanoes.

       Trip tales are never ending…I can keep writing for pages, and especially during this time of the year when I am almost house arrested for 8 months now….But as I always say there is a good side of everything…learning to wait for some scientific miracle to happen soon which will take away all the  cuffs from our hands and legs and soon we will be on the roads driving or flying to our dream destinations to breathe in a different air again. This wait time is not bad either…

Festive fun with COVID twist!

Aoshtomi fun on Titas’s terrace garden

The festivities arrived with the cool autumn breeze, clear blue sky and Corona Virus still hanging in the air. The fact that there would be no pandal hopping this year did dampen my spirit initially. But surprisingly this Pujo turned out to be one of the best for me. As going out was not an option, we looked inwards and planned to organize small get-togethers at home, with close friends and neighbours in the safe zone of course. For when you are eating and drinking mask is not an option.

First the double whammy! As my birthday this year coincided with Saptomi I called everyone over to my place. Being the Birthday Girl, I decided to take it easy and gave my friend Sanjay charge of the party. Sanjay gladly agreed and delighted us with grilled chicken breast, paneer in mushroom sauce, prawns, garlic bread, spring rolls and more. I got a pink cake that I have been craving for since I was a girl and was showered with gifts, feeling like a young girl. Age is a number indeed!

Aoshtomi, so much fun making khichudi and labra on Titas’s terrace garden, reminded me of the long-forgotten picnics when we would go to someplace like riverbank or tea garden and cook. Years back, the whole extended family and friends would embark on a picnic or chorui bhati early morning in a bus loaded with all the utensils and ingredients. After reaching the picnic spot, men would dig a hole in the soft mud and make a chulha. Women would start cooking – daalchawal, veggies and mutton for a mouth-watering late afternoon lunch. We kids’ would just run around and have fun.

On Titas’s terrace garden kichudi  and labra were cooked on a gas stove, in huge utensils that belonged to Sanjay’s dad. Some people helped chopped veggies, some like me cheered and took photographs. Titas nervously stirred the labra as Roy Meshomoshai is not easy to please when it comes to authentic bong food. Men helped stir the huge pot and finally, we had the perfect labra. Arpan was in charge of khichudi that turned out to be delicious. The late afternoon meal with begun bhajachatni and of course kichudi and ladra was very satisfying. Titas’s special dessert, kheer from Manipur (Chak-Hao Amubi Kheer) made with black rice (that lent a blueberry colour to the desi kheer), brought the meal to a perfect end. We were so full that we had to cancel the drinks and snacks that we had planned for the evening.

Pujo was a three-day affair this time and day three was again a blast for me, first rushing to Sanjay’s parent’s place to sample the Vijaya Doshomi fish and mutton then heading to my colleague Lovina’s place for lunch. A bachelorette for our colleague Puja who’s soon to get married, Lovina made the juiciest pork chops and pork ribs and a whole lot of other things while I sipped white wine. I came back to Sanjay’s parent’s place again in the evening for my share of dessert. 

The celebrations came to a perfect end (for now) with Lokkhi Pujo at Sanjay’s parent’s place. We bowed before the golden goddess that Mashima worshipped in the puja room for peace, prosperity, and a vaccine for COVID and some magic remedy for the rising pollution. Prasad was elaborate, from fruits and shinni to Kochuri, Potoler torkari, Ghugni, chatni, payesh, mishti and more.

A good festive season indeed though rising pollution is proving to be damper, giving us itchy eyes and sore throats even though we are mostly indoors. So much has changed this year, and not everything about that change has been bad. We have made new friends, learnt to make do with what we have, connected with people around us and realized the value human touch in an increasingly virtual world. I had hoped that the air would be cleaner this winter, but it seems we have a lot more to learn! 

Sharing the quick Recipe of Chak-Hao Amubi Kheer, Manipuri Black Rice Pudding-

  1. Wash the Black rice multiple times till you get almost clean water.
  2. Soak the rice for 2 to 3 hrs
  3. Boil milk on slow heat in a stove, add bay leaves, cardamom.
  4. Add the soaked rice and let it boil, keep adding milk if it thickens.
  5. Once the rice is cooked, you will get a creamy purple kheer, add sugar as per your taste, add some dry fruits if you like.
  6. Serve with LOVE, the most important ingredient.

The October Feel

October always feels special. It’s not just the cool autumn breeze and the ushering festivities, October is much more than that to me. October is my birth month. I moved into my own house and started my blog in this very month. I didn’t plan for any these to happen in October, they just happened. Of course, our birth is something we don’t or can’t plan. I did plan to buy a house though and worked hard for it. I contemplated starting a blog and finally went live with The Retro Feeling. Though I didn’t consciously coincide building a physical home and the house of my memories and imagination with my birth month, it seems October’s kind to me, allowing some of my pieces to fall in the right place.

Ever since I can remember, birthdays have always been a big deal to me. I excitedly look forward to my birthday. I dream, I meticulously plan the year ahead (or I used to till a few years back), I hope that all the pieces will fall in place eventually. Some pieces do fall in place, some don’t, causing a lot of pain and heartache – a job interview that I was confident I cracked, a boy who I thought was the love of my life, destinations that lured me but shied away. There have been many sparkling pieces that teased me but refused to give in. They hurt me, frustrated me, angered me, and sometimes made me behave most embarrassingly, memories that I would like to erase if I could. The mis fallen pieces of the heart are the most painful ones always.

Celebrating with friends

Almost a decade back, when one such piece fell out of place, I decided I should at least buy a house, work on something that I could possibly control. By then I had changed many accommodations – from a PG to a one-room set to rented apartments. I still remember moving into the one-room set vacated by a friend, pulling the luggage up the stairs on my own as the cabbie refused to help, spending the next couple of days cleaning the apartment as the last occupant left it in such a mess. Moving from one rented apartment to another, facing annoying questions from prospective landlords about my supposed ‘boyfriends’ and marriage plans. Shifting houses is always a pain, involves a lot of hard work especially if you are doing it on your own. And for someone like me who likes the house spic and span it can be even tougher. Whenever I would move into a new place, I wouldn’t rest till everything was the way it was meant to be, much to the annoyance of my sister who lived with me for a few years. It would be tiring and backbreaking but immensely satisfying by the end of it.

Sanjay who organized my b’day bash

Sitting in one such rented apartment, thinking about all the hassle of moving to a new placed every couple of years I decided to buy a house. ‘Enough with all the shifting and the supposed landlords scrutinizing my life,’ I told myself. As luck would have it, I mentioned about my resolve to close friend of mine, Sanjay, who happened to know about a new residential development in Gurgaon that would fit my budget. I visited the place and decided to book an apartment. My dad supported me with the initial deposit. Then followed the home loans, chasing the developer and finally after 6 years (instead of 3) I became the happy owner of my apartment. It took me two more years to finally move into my own house. The uncertainties of moving to a newly developed locality, the fear of not being able to do it right held me back.

My friends came to my rescue again. Right from accompanying me several times (as I have a terrible sense of direction and it took a few trips for me to figure out the way to my own house) to shortlisting the carpenter for woodwork, Sanchita was a huge help. I probably couldn’t have done it without her. Again, my obsession with getting everything perfectly done made things harder. Coordinating with the carpenter, the online furniture stores, buying the right curtains and the cushion kept me on my toes.

And finally, I moved into my apartment on October 28th four years back, after a sleepless night of arguing and fighting with movers & packers who demanded the entire payment before putting the furniture in place. My sister caught hold of a Panditji for Griha Prabesh (as my mom insisted on it) while I kept chasing the movers & packers, the electrician and the plumber to ensure that the house was up and running. The kitchen was fixed, thanks to Poonam who came all the way from Noida to help me set the kitchen. Believe it or not, by evening my house was almost all set, the washing machine was running, Tata Sky was playing and sitting on my own bed was all the solace I needed after months of hard work.

Moving into my own house did give me a sense of security. Some pieces are still out of place, causing a lot of heartaches, but at least I am home. Maybe The Retro Feeling stems from these many pieces, ones that fell into place and the ones that didn’t.

As this post goes live on an October evening just the day after my birthday, it’s not just about looking ahead and planning meticulously anymore. It’s as much about pausing, looking back, savouring the memories, for somehow time takes the pain and the ugliness away. It’s also about tossing all the plans to air and letting life happen, for sometimes the best plans’ are ones that we don’t make!                      

It’s been 2 years…

I didn’t realize that The Retro Feeling has turned 2 till I got a congratulatory message from WordPress. It just feels like the other day when I posted the first piece, almost as a response to my friend’s challenge. “You have been talking about it forever. If your blog doesn’t go live in the next 10 days, I will assume it will never happen.” I was stung by the remark, my reputation was at stake, I had to start the blog no matter what.

When pieces fall in place 🙂

Thus, started this interesting journey. I didn’t have a clear plan, but I knew what I wanted to write about and once I started the pieces started falling into place. I was able to post one blog a week, no matter how demanding work was. More importantly I realized I enjoyed writing; it gave me a sense of release.

What started as a nostalgic trip, became much more than that. It’s not just about looking back, it’s also about moving on, taking the pieces of the past with us, stringing them together with the challenges of the present and the aspirations of the future. I am very glad to have found some eager readers who look forward to new posts from The Retro Feeling.

Titas with Katha

Why retro, why nostalgia? Was everything about our past just perfect? Not really, however with time flaws fade away. Though I yearn for my school days, exams were not something that I eagerly looked forward to. I remember how I would crave to be independent, get away from parental control. Those were the days when future seemed so rosy. Yes, those days had their flaws but there was something about their lingering laziness that draws us back. When we have rushed half-way through our lives, winning some battles, losing some fights, we tend to look back and ponder. We wonder if all the rush was worth it and that’s where nostalgia stems from I think, a gentle ache or a longing to relive the days gone by, to reclaim the things that we have left behind.

The Retro Feeling is not meant to be a soliloquy. It is meant to be a platform where people could share their views, write about things that matter to them. I feel honoured and humbled that my friends and acquaintances come forward enthusiastically to contribute to the blog. A special thanks to my friend and neighbour Titas Mazumdar. A banker and a mom Titas takes time out to contribute regularly to the blog. Her posts are heartfelt and have been greatly appreciated.

I need to mention my dear friend Chandana Dutta who contributes occasionally, inspires me with news ideas and puts me on to interesting people and subjects. My friends Sanchita, Poonam and Sanjay have been supportive all along. I can’t thank them enough for believing in me. And of course, my friend who prefers to be anonymous, who pushed me to start this blog.

On our second anniversary, The Retro Feeling is wearing a new look. Hope you like it.

So, what’s next? I only know that there will be more interesting reads, more people joining me in this journey, I sincerely hope. As we move on, we will keep presenting glimpses from the past and the present, for they are intertwined.

Keep reading, let us know what you think and feel free to contribute!    

My Tryst with Natural Remedies by Gargee Vidyarthi

I have always been keen on natural remedies as have sort of distrust in the modern medicine.  My faith in therapeutic ways of Nature was strengthened when I visited Novdanya Farms in Dehradun in the year 2013.  There I got first-hand experience about how nature has everything for us.  That set me thinking and then in the year 2016 I read an article in Times of India about these women who were using various Natural Products at home.  From then onwards there has been no turning back.  I started with Garbage Enzyme, a sort of Phenyl with multipurpose uses. It can be used as a bodywash or to remove stains etc. This enzyme’s use are many and this convinced me that I could make the shift from using chemicals to natural products

Thus, my journey to minimize chemicals started. I switched to soap nuts or reetha for washing clothes and its effectiveness in cleaning them and removing stains is amazing. The clothes did not lose their colour or fade away.  Now I use reetha water along with, washing soda, vinegar and baking soda for stubborn stains.

The shampoo that I make with reetha/amla and shikakai ensures that my hair remains soft and healthy. My daughter who is in college has perfected the art of making the shampoo even in hostel and she actually gave me the input that we should increase the quantity of shikakai as this results in softer hair.

We have two Labradors and this is the second year when they have not got ticks etc. the reason is that they bathe regularly with neem water and eucalyptus water. Their fur is softer and shinier.

Slow cooking in Mitti Handi

The success with these products prompted me to change the way I cook also. One day I chanced upon to see a video on Mitti Handi (Earthen Pots) and I decided to try and cook in them. Lo and behold the taste was better. I have changed my way of cooking completely now and indulge in slow cooking. No use of pressure cookers for me. I cook dals, non-veg, vegetables in handi’s only.  I use handis both on Gas or Chulha. Truly speaking, the food can be kept outside without refrigeration for a long time. 

I now dabble with creams also and make cream with aloe vera gel + coconut oil or sesame oil. This cream is wonderful and when made with sesame oil acts as a Sunscreen Lotion also.  I use kaajal as well as eye liner which is homemade and this kaajal keeps my eyes healthy.

My tryst with Natural Remedies has been beneficial in more ways than one. I am able to save a lot of money but the main benefit has been health. I try to minimize chemical use and be in touch with earth.  Life has actually become simpler and joyous.

The joy that one gets when making something with our hands is what keeps us grounded with life and nature. It is because we have lost our connection with mother earth as our homes are also far away from the earth due to skyscrapers that our mind and our bodies have also drifted away.

Shifting from chemical and preservative is lot easier than one thinks.  Yes, it does require patience and desire, yet the benefits are tremendous.  Hope that you all will also make the shift. happy Shifting.

 Sharing recipes of my products:

Reetha Shampoo

Reetha – 100 gm/         Amla –  100gm/   Shikakai – 200 gm/ Hibicus leaves – A Handful/  Aloe Vera (Fuesh Gel) – 100-150 gm/ Methi Dana – Handful/ Curry leave – Handful

Soak everything together in warm water overnight and then boil on very slow heat for nearly 1 hour. Let it cool and after the shampoo cools down strain it and use it.  It stays fine for nearly 20-25 days.  Use it like normal shampoo though it may not lather so much but it cleanes and conditions the hair beautifully.

Hair Oil

Coconut oil: 100 ml/    Sesame oil:  100 ml/     Bhringraj :       10 gms/     Brahmi  :       10 gms/      Methi dana :   10 gms/     Kalongi       :   10 gms/     Dry Amla    :    100 gms/     Curry leaves :  a few/    Mehendi leaves : a few/   Hibiscus leaves and flowers : a few

Mix everything together and boil till on slow fire till all the leaves are burnt. let it stand overnight and then strain and use it.

Arpan in Apron- with a BIG Smile and a Spatula by Titas Mazumdar

Gone are the days when work was defined as per gender and strict parameters were set. If I being a female can take the car keys, drive amidst traffic without being abusive, login to my work station, pay my house bills why can’t my better half change the diaper, cook a meal once a day, do the laundry?

Is it too much to ask for? I don’t think so. It’s just the right expectation which couples have to set from day 1 they start their journey together. Things just fall into place.

Arpan with spatula

Year 2002 –Arpan my Husband now and Boyfriend/Fiancée back then, moved to US for his PHD and I was pursuing my B-tech/Applied physics at Kolkata. Arpan was never exposed to cooking until then. Bong guy raised by Grand Ma /Mom and then moved to Hostel and then all of a sudden to a foreign land had to learn basis life skills to survive. Bongs in general I have seen are super foodies and no wonder hogs on  Non-veg. Staying with south Indian friends in his initial bachelor days was definitely not easy when you have to survive mostly on Curd rice and Podi. In this situation, you are not left with any options but just learn cooking.  And our Long distance romance- Kolkata to Florida was mostly on teaching him basic life skills which is cooking. It started with simple food like Daal Tadka, Begun bharta, Pulao, mixed vegetables, —but do you think this Bong girl who till that time never stepped out of her parent’s nest knew how to cook? The answer is “NO”.  My recipe book was my Grand Ma. All those recipes shared with Arpan back in those days over Yahoo Chats, ISD phone calls were my Dida’s recipes which made Arpan quite a big chef which I realized once I reached US 2.5 yrs later.

Yummy prawns

Year 2003 Dec – Arpan in Mumbai to meet her Lady Love. I just joined Mumbai TCS in Jul 2003, staying with my roommates and learning to cook to satisfy my taste buds. The role was reversed and by then Arpan was a renowned cook in his bachelor circle and often gave me lessons over our daily phone calls. Arpan stayed in Mumbai for a week and one evening we planned to cook together. And yes that was the first time ever we were cooking for each other. Arpan chose Fried rice and I chose Palak Paneer to impress the other one. Not sure it was love or something else but those half cooked Fried rice and runny Palak Paneer cooked out of the most important ingredient “LOVE” tasted heavenly. And we both were assured that after marriage food will never be an issue, both of us can please each other with this newly acquired art of ours.

Year 2005- March- I was in California for my 1st onsite assignment and Arpan used to visit me every month from Florida. We purposefully used to book those hotels with cooking facilities, so that we can cook for each other. I used to go for early morning shifts and Arpan used to surprise me at lunch with his new learnt recipes every single time- Shrimp Okra, baked Salmon, roasted chicken.

Year 2006- Feb- we tied the knot and I moved to Pennsylvania and rented a house. No more room mates, no more fighting for space. A house of my own, my first house along the rail lines of Secane Station in Philadelphia. Arpan was still perusing his PHD hence he used to stay 15days with me at Phili and another 15 days at Boca Raton, Florida for his research work. Those 15days of his stay used to be our Food holidays…Whatever Arpan learnt from his Canadian roommate, French senior or Iranian class mate used to be on our dinner table. Rarely did he cooked anything Bengali or Indian- it used to be variety every single day like  Fried Calamari, Oysters in white wine sauce, Grilled Lamb, Ghormeh Sabji,  Beef steak and the list goes on and on. After work cooking used be our stress busters. It was like both of us competing for master chef competition but slowly with baby steps we unknowingly became passionate cooks, trying various recipes at home. Then those weekend potluck or any friend coming for dinner it was like who will cook what, and trust me, we never repeated any recipe for the same set of guests.

Yes food and love for food made Arpan an expert in most of the foreign dishes- anything to do with grill, bake, steam, roast- he is always ready to take the lead. Only for bong food he looks forward to my cooking. The load got well distributed over the years and I can happily say we equally share our Kitchen. I did a good job of a taster and food critic I guess, 15 years of our marriage and yes every day dinner delicacies are from Arpan …. Mostly my logoff time is late, so dinner is Arpan’s job and he does it with love especially those Thai curries, cream of mushroom, tomato basil oat soups to name a few.

Once upon a time he used to cook to impress his lady love but now for his little love- Megh. Megh will go gaga for daddy’s white sauce pasta. I still remember first time when Arpan made Alfredo sauce from raw eggs- newly learnt recipe from his half Italian friend…he sacrificed few dozen of eggs but was still not able to get to the perfection. What the heck, we now use the easy recipe of white sauce by Sanjeev Kapoor.

Biryani has always been disloyal to Arpan, that’s his biggest sorrow. Every single time it’s a disaster. But I fall in love over and over again for his Grilled pork, Greek lamb, Mutton stew, Beef Kebabs. But one little thing I must share about his cooking, whenever he enter the kitchen for some special dish, I can bet on this, every single time I will get a surprise and every time those are not happy surprises.  I always tell him that he can never replicate his own dishes, every time its different one because he doesn’t believe in you tube recipes, or noting down his own recipes, he believes in his intuition which sometimes go haywire.

Arpan’s greatest cooking wish/dream is to open a roof top restaurant which will not have any menu card. Whatever he wishes to cook on that particular day, which will be of course some fusion dish , will be served to the customers who wants to risk their appetite for his dishes… keeping fingers crossed, I am waiting for that dream restaurant too.

The World is calling you… by Titas Mazumdar

Medicine check, Power bank check, Charger check, Toiletries Check. Travel pouch check-   ..Check Check….All set—– do you know what was that—- I am preparing for my next trip and that was my checklist….

Kailash range from Kalpa village

Today I thought of touching upon another passion of mine apart from Gardening and that is travelling. I can sometimes call it my obsession too. Wait- My passion list doesn’t end here though. I have a long list  to go….it will come up in all my forth coming writings. By the way writing is also one among my many hobbies which I love to nurture. Today let me talk about travelling and why I am so attracted to this calling.

Luckily me and my better half both of us share this passion….This is the best way we bond.

How many of you love travelling?  I guess all ….right? What are the benefits of travelling?

Travel ready

I truly believe that travelling is the best investment you can do on yourself. Like you go for higher education, professional trainings, certification, and personality development. These are all your investment on yourself right? Travelling to me stands number 1 investment. This investment has huge returns, the returns which are countless, the asset that no one can steal, the most valuable experience which you can pass on to your kids.

Off we go

Travel has given me the experience of life, travelling has broadened the world to me .Travelling has taught me crisis management, risk management, problem management, finance management, tolerance and acceptance. People who love travelling will definitely agree with me. Till date I have travelled 11 countries including India of course. And in India covered 15 states so far… My goal in life to complete entire India and at least half of the world… I know it’s too high a goal to achieve, specially at this time of the year with pandemic situation all around, but who can stop me from dreaming? This will also pass, and slowly the good time will come back. Let me keep all my hopes high.

Travelling to me is not travelling to my home-town or annual visit to friends or families. Travelling to me is not staying in a resort and floating in the swimming pool with a can of bear. Travelling is every time going to a new place. Exploring the world, knowing the unknowns. Blending with culture, knowing the people there, chatting with them, making them friends, eat the local food, stay among them, be a part of them. I prefer homestays over hotels as it always gives a local touch, a personal care.

Bhaktapur, Nepal

Every time I travel to a new place, I learn something new which I might have missed reading in books, seeing in movies. In 2017 I travelled to Nepal, we were walking down the narrow lanes of the heritage city Bhaktapur of Nepal. Just before sunset all the ladies came out to offer prayer as it was some religious day, I was not aware and to my surprises I saw on the plate they were offering to God they had boiled eggs and deep fried fishes. Yes, in their culture they do serve fish and egg to God. Isn’t it interesting?

Have you guys visited the cleanest village of Asia? It’s in our country Meghalaya. Mawlynnong – I happened to stay 2 days there is a home stay. It’s a magical paradise – a 100% literate village with full women empowerment. They just have 2 very small grocery stores and 2 restaurants for tourists. All the houses produce their own vegetables or get it from nearby jungles. One school in the village for all. No morning rush hour, no one is in hurry to reach anywhere or to achieve anything. Every single soul is contended and happy.

In one of our recent trips to Goa we came across an Italian middle aged lady who was staying in Goa for last couple of months and she has been driving in her own car all by herself all across Europe, staying in different countries, on her way to India. She entered India through Kazaksthan – Nepal route. We were amazed and thrilled to hear all her adventurous travel stories. When you are travelling you meet such crazy solo travelers who can be friend in just couple of seconds.

In trips you meet with bad experiences too and you have good amount of lesson learning from those bitter experiences. In 2010 we were in vacation in Bahamas, bright sunny morning, we headed for water scootie ride under the water to see the coral reef and fishes followed by some scuba diving… we were about to get the passes when my husband realized he has been  pick pocketed. He had driving license, different domestic debit and credit cards, metro card, loyalty cards which were of no use in a foreign land. Those cards were in his wallet and it never occurred to us to keep it at home while travelling overseas. We just wasted half a day calling back home to cancel all the cards. So, from next time onwards whenever we travel international we make sure just we have the right thing and not one extra, useless item in our wallets.

Another bad experience we had in Prague in 2009 where we were caught by the local cop in the bus. As usual we chose to stay in not so touristy place as these places come with amazing local touch, but the problem is when you don’t know the local language. The bus tickets are sold in tobacco shops. We asked for a round ticket to and fro Prague’s castle, the lady gave us the ticket but didn’t mention that the ticket is valid only till 2 hrs. So basically, you can purchase tickets based on hours, which we were completely unaware of until the cop got into the bus and directly came to us while were returning from the castle after almost 5 hrs. We were the only brown skins in the bus and it seems that it was kind of preplanned and the cop directly came to us and asked for the ticket and told it was a random check. We showed the ticket and he told the ticket is not valid, please get down from the bus and pay the fine. We realized they targeted tourists as tourist don’t know the local language and it is a very common mistake they make. By default, tickets have 2 hours validity, if you need more you have to ask for it… who knew this law of the land? From then onwards we became double /triple careful and did more research before taking any public transport in a foreign land.

On our way to Valley of Flowers

I have hundred such experiences to share related to my trips and travels… the bottom line is good or bad any travel to a new place always teaches you some life lesson which no book can teach you. It gives you knowledge of history, geography, social science, geology that no school alone teaches. No matter how many miles you travel, you travel to a place near to home or far, village or a city, outside the country or within the country, mountains or desert, it will always enlighten your little world and brighten your future, add to your experience , make you much more wealthier and happier from within. Travelling is a secret for happiness, key to valuing your own life, a secret to de stress yourself. So just pack your bags and head towards the unknown; world is calling you – there is so much to explore….But yes wait for the good time to come back and don’t forget your mask.