Mahalaya

By Heema Roy Choudhury

Mahalaya is widely celebrated as the day when Goddess Durga begins her descend to earth, to grace us with her presence for those five much awaited days of Durga Pujo. As a girl I would wake up in the wee hours of Mahalaya morning to listen to the recital of Birendra Krishna Bhadra. The whole family would gather around the radio to listen to him, invoking the Goddess in his sonorous voice.

There was so much excitement around Mahalaya. I would spend an almost sleepless night lest I missed the recitals, what if mom forgot to wake me up. The medium was audio, but the lyrics, the voice, the songs, and our imagination would bring Devi Durga alive. I could almost visualize her stepping out from her heavenly abode to begin her journey to earth.

Mahalaya also marks the end of Pitri Paksha and the beginning of Devi Paksha (though this year it will be delayed by about a month due to the Adhik Maas (leap month in the Hindu calendar). Like the soft glow of Devi, the golden sun soothes our eyes, the clear blue sky, the cottony white clouds, the cool breeze usher pleasant autumn. The sweet fragrance of Shiuli Phool (a kind of jasmine) and the sound of dhak would add to the magic once, reminding us that Durga Pujo’s round the corner. We could feel the morning dew, the harsh summer giving in to cooler climes. Somehow, though I still feel the season changing, the old excitement is gone. Maybe it’s me growing up, maybe it’s staying away from home so long, sometimes I forget to miss Shiuli flower that would be strewn under the tree in our courtyard. As girl I would string these sweet-smelling flowers into garlands or bracelets. My ears still strain for the sound of dhak, brings back memories, though my heart doesn’t flutter like it used to once.

Mahalaya would also mean rushing to the market to buy new clothes and shoes, badgering mom to finish stitching our dresses soon, planning our outfits for each day, waiting eagerly for four days of pandal hopping and festivities. As a child Durga Pujo also meant holidays and no studies. Now, it’s work as usual, though I make it a point to wear sari and go to the nearby Pujo pandal in the evening. The pandals in Gurgaon do a good job of presenting Devi Durga in all her glory, with dhak and dhunochi dance, yet something’s missing. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe the times have changed!

Twin Tales of Love – by Riti Chakraborty

The girl in a yellow kurti

I think I talked to you for the first time in an abandoned staircase I had begun calling my ‘home’. You had stumbled across from the other part of the building. And I knew because I would see you every day; wearing the same black jeans paired with either a white or yellow kurti, your brown eyes reminding me of how gold shone against the sun, scanning each nook of the society we lived in, maybe in hopes of finding someone as solemn and as meek as you. Maybe you didn’t. I didn’t think I would fall head over heels for a girl wearing bindis in a world full of hoop earrings. And I certainly didn’t think she would, for me, too.

I distinctly remember our first conversation. You had followed a pair of pigeons in hopes of finding their babies. I was smoking at the other end of the staircase. You had no idea. Your first question to me was if I knew I would die if I smoked too many cigarettes. I had smiled coyly. It wasn’t a cigarette. I could see your jaws tense and cheeks go pink. You had realized you didn’t know who I was, and maybe felt as if you came on too strong, giving such opinions on matters that you ought not meddle in. You almost turned away to go, but I stopped you. Weren’t you going to look at the babies you had come for? 

You looked at me, as if you were looking right through my soul. “Maybe the babies were an excuse. Maybe I knew you come here at 7:00 pm everyday after all the kids go home.” 

I don’t think I had ever found someone that appealing. Maybe I had taken you to be shy, but in that moment, we stared at each other as if everything else around us had stopped, and the only thing we felt were the watches on our wrist ticking and the heartbeat in our chests pounding. It lasted for a split 5 minutes before I realized you were gone. Vanished off into thin air. I never saw you after that. 

Love in times of corona virus

Have you ever wandered what it would be like having a relationship with a person who you’ve never met? Sounds absurd, doesn’t it?

How can you love someone, when you don’t even know what their touch feels like?

You keep wandering if they smell like damp Earth on a fresh rainy evening, or like Daffodils in full bloom on a warm Spring day.

And before you know it, you start imaging how it will be when you first meet; will you shy away and shake hands and say hello, like formal lovers, or straight away run and melt in their arms, arms of a person you’ve wanted to sleep in after a long time.

Arms, face, eyes, only reminding you of the same person you talked to till 5 in the morning, when you couldn’t stay awake no more, and yet there was something that just kept, happening; talking about things you would rather not with anyone else.

So how do you go and fall in love with a person, a person who you’ve never met, a person emotionally so familiar yet physically so strange? 

When you hear other people talking about the love of their lives, holding hands while they walk, you cannot help but think about it for a split moment before you blurt ‘but we’ve had so many virtual movie dates, does that count?’ 

And you’re well aware of how it sounds like, but while for others love simply means bear hugs, french kisses and food in bed after sex, for you it means having shared playlists, random movie dates, and sending gifts through E-Commerce platforms, constantly playing IDK you Yet, by Alexander 23 because believe it or not, it’s actually been months you haven’t met, but trust me when I say you already know your first date won’t be an end.

Letter to my Smartphone

My dearest Smartphone,

Hope this letter finds you in the pink of health!

Smarthphone & I

I have so much to thank you for that I don’t know where to begin. You are much more than mobile doorbhash that allows us to talk to people in far off places or even see them now through various video calling apps. Your sassy chats that graduated from simple SMSs to WhatsApp to Snap Chat to what not add spice to our lives. The abbreviations, the emojis and the GIFs (that I often don’t understand) say so much yet say nothing. You give me weather updates, you send me news alerts, you give me directions. I shop with you, I bank with you, I romance with you, I socialize with you, I read with you. Now I have even started keeping notes with you. You are my dictionary, you are my Pictionary, your browser throws up information on anything and everything. You have captured the whole universe in your slim and petite frame (or the universe that matters to you). Life is unimaginable without you!

I look at you as soon as I wake up, I check you out before going to bed. At night you are the closest thing to me, lying at an arm’s length on my bedside table. I pick you up if I hear you ping even at midnight, lest I miss out anything. I am glued to you, I am addicted to you, yet I wish I could go back to the days before you.

You have brought the world to my feet dear Smartphone, but not without a price. You have brushed aside anything that came in your way, everything that your smartness made irrelevant. The sonorous telephones that used to be the centrepieces of our drawing rooms are gone. We don’t need to bother about the neighbours who would drop by to make or receive a call. The letters, that we once wrote fondly to each other and so looked forward to, were your casualties too (and yet I choose to write a letter to you). Your older cousin Hotmail (though not so hot anymore) probably led them to their demise by taking them to the digital realm, and you with your sassy apps just swept them away like dry leaves. Who needs so many words and sentences and pages after pages when you can smartly say so much or so less with emojis and images and videos? Alas, my letters writing pads are gathering dust, my fountain pens long forgotten. Verbose me chockes with words, as I dabble with your chats.   

You kicked out the albums next and the prints of photographs – black & white and then coloured, that would get botchy with times yet smell of the moments gone by. The Sony Coolpix that I bought with my salary is lying in some drawer forgotten. Who needs a Coolpix when your camera is so much cooler? Thousands of photographs are stored on your cloud that I rarely revisit. We get clicked to get likes on social media it seems.

The torch under my pillow, the table clock with an alarm are gone too. For you have a torch, an alarm and you set all kinds of reminders for me. I video chat, I audio chat, I talk to my friends in different corners of the world for hours. That little radio, I don’t need it anymore for you are loaded with music apps. You are with me all the time. I am drawn to you like a moth to the flame. Oh, I so wish I could fly away before your flames devour me or be reborn like a Phoenix.

I have gained so much with you; I have lost so much for you. I have so much to tell that you that your chats will not suffice. I had to resort to the long-forgotten letter that you will probably open with a sneer.

You’re becoming smarter by the day no doubt and I admire you for that. We wait for your latest models to add to our smartness. But dear Smartphone you’ll never know the whiff of the old letters, the smell of the old photographs, the sonorous ring of the telephones. We marvel at your smartness but never get attached to you. You are nothing like old letters or greeting cards or journals that we cherished for years. You’re changed without a second thought the moment your smarter variant is launched.

No matter what Smartphone, I can’t think of a day without you. So, take care and write back, or send me some witty messages.

Sincerely yours,

———————

Stirring magic in the kitchen: Sanjay Roy in apron

Kitchen has traditionally been women’s domain. The responsibility of cooking at home was shouldered largely by the lady of the house. Men cooked but professionally – first as humble bawarchis and later as glamourous chefs. Could be because of the stereotypical patriarchal perception that women are meant to take care of home while men earn a living.

Thankfully, these stereotypes are changing, albeit slowly. Men are entering the kitchen at home and delighting us with their culinary skills. Sanjay Roy a hotelier by profession, a chef and a cook by passion is one such example. Though Sanjay headed operations of various chains like Hot Breads, Bisque and hotels, he has always stepped into the kitchen to develop innovative products. His customers in these bakery chains would look forward to cakes and pastries specially made by Sanjay. At home too he often enters the kitchen to pamper the taste buds of his family and friends. Be it his biriyani or mutton dishes, grilled fish or continental we look forward to his specialities during any gathering.

I am interviewing Sanjay Kumar Roy, a dear friend, who effortlessly dons the apron to pamper our taste buds with many delicacies.

How did you develop fondness for cooking?

I think it was there from the very childhood, may be because I have a very peculiar taste bud. I could, even as a child tell whether the food prepared was good or bad, the unique taste of different masalas and flavours they add. So, when I grew up and joined the hotel industry I always stepped into the kitchen. Wherever I worked, I wanted to first check out the kitchen because unless you know your products, you can’t sell them. And that is how the interest developed. I started sharing tips with chefs to improve their recipes and develop new products initially. But I got involved in food development when I joined bakery. I used to be in the kitchen a lot then, apart from supervising other operations.

But you are not a professional chef, you were more charge of operations. Why didn’t you opt to become a chef when you joined IHM Delhi?

A delectable spread

I think the realization came very late. Also, when I joined IHM 30 years back, becoming a chef wasn’t as glamourous as it is today. Now things have changed, and a chef’s coat commands lot of prestige. Also, there was nobody to guide me and I did feel later that I should have gone into full time production. Since I had the knack for it, I would get into designing kitchen, developing new recipes while overseeing operations. I liked to do something different with each outlet.

Since you are someone who has does both, how’s cooking at home different from cooking professionally?

Sheek kebab biriyani

The only major difference is when you do the professional cooking you have all the professional gadgets and equipment. When I cook at home, I miss those. Though my kitchen at home is quite well equipped I do miss the commercial tools. But I do enjoy cooking at home as it’s more out of love and passion.

Home kitchens are meant for a particular portion of cooking, for four people or five people at best, or if you are having a party once in a while, then you cook for a larger group. But then if you have to do commercial cooking from home every day, it becomes difficult.

Cooking for family is enjoyable. It’s a stress buster. And when my daughter or wife appreciates that’s even better.

What is it that you cook at home?

At home I cook what my family and friends demand. My daughter Prapti likes pastas so I make different kinds of pastas. She has a unique taste bud for a child, but she likes anything I make. My wife prefers continental or Chinese, things that are not regularly made at home. When I cook, I like to give them the feel of fine dining at home.

What, according to you is the most important ingredient when you are cooking?

Your passion is a very, very important when you are cooking. Sometimes you may not have all the ingredients, but you will still manage fine. If you have all the ingredients, then there is no problem. But sometimes at home, all the ingredients may not be available. You have to manage, you have to innovative, you have to be open to experiment.

And when you cook professionally, say like, when you developed cakes and pastries for Hot Breads and or now for your own brand Dessi Baker, what is it that you offer to your customers?

When you’re cooking commercially your ingredients have to be a top notch. You can’t just make your products with inferior quality of ingredients. We have to make sure that we are using the right kind of ingredient which helps in developing good products. When you cook professionally customer is the King, and we have to design our dishes as per their requirement and the liking.

What does Dessi Baker?

Dessi Baker offers a range of bakery items from specialty breads, cakes, pizzas, to muffins, cookies and doughnuts, and some frozen food items. We also cater to special requests from customers like glutton free bread, or special items for people who are lactose intolerant. That is how we came up with idea of Dessi Bakers, to offer people what they want.

During the lock down we took bread, cakes and other items to people’s doorsteps, and they were really grateful for that. We delivered specially baked cakes for their birthdays and anniversaries. And I think that has been appreciated. We wanted to bring smile on people’s faces during these difficult times.

Blood orange campari cocktail

Sometimes people are just focused on taste. But how important is art of presentation to you?

Cooking is an art. Anything that you do with passion is an art, whether it is a painting or even making a building. You do want people to appreciate you.

Also, I am perfectionist and I pay equal attention to cooking and presentation. I believe people eat through their eyes first and anything that’s not presented well will not appeal to them. So, it is very, very important that food is presented well and that’s an art, especially when you do confectionary. Not everybody can be a confectioner because you need have an artistic sense when you decorate a cake. Similarly, food presentation, plating is in very important when you’re banqueting. Also, table spreads and artfully done carvings add to the feel. The overall presentation has a lot to do with how people appreciate food.

What is it you like to cook the most, the things that you enjoy doing most as a cook at home, as a professional chef?

I prefer majorly doing Italian and continental. I find them much easier and neater things to do. I also enjoy making Pan-Asian – basically a combination of sauces and spices and other vegetables, which may be available at home. In Indian, I only do particular dishes like biriyani, mutton etc. at home. But bakery & confectionary is my first love.

Your favourite food

I like steak, I would love to have it anytime.

And what about home cooked food?

Simple daal chawal and aloo cooked by mom or my wife Sanchita. I love karela, I can have karela any time, in any style.

Thank you, Sanjay, enjoyed the gastronomical trip!

My Other Half: A Mesmerizing Trip Down the Memory Lane

A small parcel was delivered to me a few weeks back by the apartment guard. When I finally opened it after keeping it aside for 12 hours and sanitizing it (to ensure there was no virus) a book came out of the envelope that took me back to a different era – My Other Half: Krishna Paul in Conversation with Chandana Dutta.  Just one look at the cover and you get a whiff of the time gone by – an inland letter with the handwritten address of noted Urdu writer Joginder Paul and black & white photograph of Krishna Paul, his better half. The back cover carries a picture of Krishna Paul now, smiling at us affectionately. As I opened the book, the handwritten inside cover greeted me, reminding me of letters and journals that are now long forgotten. I smiled happily browsing through the pages, admiring the old back and white photographs of Joginder Paul and his family. Kindle can never give that feel!

Available on Amazon

I called up Chandana, a close friend who strung together this book, to thank her before putting it on my bedside table. That night as I started reading, I was immediately transported to pre-independence India when a young girl and her family came down from Kenya in search of a suitable groom. A beautiful love story made more intriguing by the quirks of Joginder Paul and the determination of Krishna Paul. Sixteen year old Krishna had cleared her Matric exam with six distinctions and was entitled to scholarships from several colleges in London. Her only condition was she would marry a man who would allow her to continue her studies, to which Joginder Paul agreed. He had no problem with her studying or doing something else with her life. To him these were trivialities before other questions of life, poverty and hunger, that he wanted to address. 

Joginder Paul kept his promise. Though Krishna couldn’t pursue higher studies in London, she completed her post-graduation in 1955-56 and joined SB College in Aurangabad as lecturer. She joined the department of English in Jamia as lecturer in 1976. Proficient in several languages like Hindi, Punjabi English, Urdu and Swahili Krishna has translated widely, primarily works of Joginder Paul from Urdu into Hindi and English.

Being married to a brilliant mind, being a match both emotionally and intellectually to a man like Joginder Paul, was a challenge that Krishna faced with grit, love, and affection. As the narration progressed, I was more intrigued by Krishna Paul, her intellect, her wit, her literary acumen, and the active role that she played in shaping the great writer’s masterpieces. “Maybe she could have been a brilliant storyteller herself,” I wondered.

Their first train ride as a couple, Paul leading Krishna to a vacant coach to chat with his new bride, reading one of his published stories to her for the first time, are unconventionally romantic. Krishna realized immediately that her husband was special and so started their journey together.

Chandana chose to narrate her interactions with Krishna Paul, rather than follow the interview format and that adds to the magic, brings to life this amazing woman who let her husband’s brilliance overshadow her. Life with Joginder Paul was not easy for Krishna who had grown up in the lap of luxury in Kenya. Not just material discomfort, Joginder Paul’s ideals, his whims, his refusal to settle down could make things difficult. Yet what surprises me the most is that Krishna Paul never complains, never glorifies her sacrifices. She doesn’t exalt her husband either, while she recognizes his brilliance, she’s also critical of his shortcomings as a man of this world. Her depiction of the creative process of Joginder Paul, her love for her husband, her sense of humour and the ease with which she narrates their life together gives the reader an insight into two brilliant minds – Joginder Paul and the woman behind his success.

What makes the book more endearing is the love and the warmth with which Chandana presents the journey of this incredible woman. From the ‘the writer’s wife’, who she started meeting frequently to understand Joginder Paul, Krishna Paul became her own person “as much in command of herself and her universe, as was Joginder Paul, in command of his words,” Chandana writes in her introduction. She realized that Krishna Paul was telling a captivating story and decided to pen it by keeping the essence of the story intact, as a narrative. For Chandana, it was a humbling experience “to meet two of the most fantastic storytellers of our times, one through the other.” Thus, we have a beautiful story of Krishna Paul, her insights that help us comprehend the man, Joginder Paul!  

My Story of beating the Pandemic by Titas Mazumdar

The world is, without question, being tested and so are its residents. I am a Mom- Manager- Maker (Home) being challenged every single day and is juggling between the priorities and making the best use of this never dreamt situation, I am in. I often ask this question to myself ‘Do I have a choice’? Probably not

If I am not positive, If I am not happy , If I am not myself then my family won’t be happy, my team won’t be productive and energetic and my house will be on fire and this is the wrong time to be on the negative side of anything with limited choices around.

So yes, I am making the best use of this time to stay positive and keep myself happy and enjoy every ounce of this new NORMAL. In my 17 years of career, I never got the flavour of WFH and somewhere in my heart I yearned for it.  I always had this longing desire for WFH and then all of a sudden someone with a Magic (Curse) wand just granted me one, that too without an expiry date.

The first two weeks of the lockdown – Dreadful is a lesser word to describe it. Country, state, society, office, house all going haywire to cope with this new setting. We were logged in to our office network literally for 16 hours to ensure zero downtime to production & business, ensuring the entire team was well equipped with all setup to work remotely, juggling between tens of excels, hundreds of stats and thousands of numbers, sending back and forth the same data again and again…wondering what’s happening all around. That was the time I felt I don’t have control on anything.

The websites flashing the corona numbers and us checking it like a cricket score, the Whatsapp University flooding with advices and threats, pressure cooker whistling amidst conference calls, kids spilling juice right next to the work station, spouse entering into meeting in the same time in the same room, and you don’t know where to run and hide. Yes, we all went through this and can relate easily.

 And when you are a mom at home, doesn’t matter how many people are there, you will be the one called first for any tiniest help required, how many time you might have asked your little one if she is hungry before your meeting starts, answer will always be “NO.” But the moment you enter into the call you will see the tiny soul coming with tears in the eyes out of hunger, and you don’t know where are you going wrong. You want to bang your laptop or phone, but patiently you go around with your laptop attending the call to search some munchies.

Now next nightmare these new online classes – Zoom, MS Team, hangout –teacher screaming, parents juggling between links, microphone turning on and off, video standing still – Super CRAZY morning for a Super MOM. Then comes your house, you cannot neglect either where you are arrested for 24×7, 30 days a month. Yes, it is equally demanding as your family and team, it needs washing, mopping, dusting.

Making time for creativity

But now after 4 months of working from home, happily I can say all these are HISTORY. Yes, we have won over our initial struggles to set our priorities correctly be it work, parenthood or housekeeping.  Slowly things settled down in course of time. We all started breathing in fresh air. Gurgaon surprised me with air quality of 40-50 AQI.  No travelling to office during rush hours, no traffic congestions, no unnecessary running to Shopping centers and movie halls during weekend. Someone far in the universe played the game of “STATUE’ with our planet earth….everything stopped with a jolt… and with this STOP, the earth started healing.

A paradise flycatcher – a rarely seen bird  visited my society one fine morning to say ‘hello’, dark nights gifted us with twinkling stars, I sit now hours with my daughter showing her the ‘milky way , the seven sisters, the Orion’ like my dad used to show during my childhood. I was able to see those tall buildings by the side of Dwarka expressway, Manesar and bit of Delhi from my 15th floor terrace which were until 2 months back covered with dark clouds and smog. My garden started blooming with rainbow colors by the touch of nurturing hands twice a day which was next to impossible in my pre-lockdown days. I sit at ease and have morning tea and breakfast with my family on a weekday – did I ever think of this before?

It’s amazing to see my child learning in front of me. I used to return home at 9pm dead tired after work and hardly had any time other than weekend for my daughter. Now we spend hours together before and after work talking and reading books. I am teaching her to read and write Bengali, our mother tongue. Yes the universe has given time to mankind to slow down and heal …..And as we heal, we are letting nature heal too. Good quality time with Family is not locked down, Creativity is not locked down, Reading is not locked down, Sunshine and hope is not locked down.

I am hopeful this time good or bad will pass slowly like a mixture of nightmare and sweet dreams. One day we will join again, cry for our losses, laugh on the moments which we spend together with family which was a rarity otherwise, we will talk about the new ways of life which we created post pandemic, we will once again sing and dance together holding hands but never to forget what this PANDEMIC taught us…The biggest lesson of our lives till date- To take a Pause and count our blessings ….if we wake up to the dawn of 2021!!

Food, memories & more…

Masoor dal and jhiri jhiri aloo bhaja (crispy potato fry) that Didun (maternal grandmother) used to make, yummy veg curry with sheem bichi, aloo, begun or kathal bichi bhaja that Dida (paternal grandmother) would cook so often. Mom does make these occasionally, but they just don’t taste the same. She’s a great cook otherwise but no matter how hard she tries she can’t replicate those recipes. Something is lost. The signature dishes that Didun and Dida would make don’t taste the same, as I remember them. Those were pre mobile days, I don’t even have pictures of those dishes .

For food is so much more than ingredients and spices. Our memories of a certain dish, the love and the affection that enveloped them add to the flavour.  That could be the reason why some recipes are lost with a generation or with a person.

With Dida when I was little

The image of Dida sitting before the cooking stove in a white sari in the vegetarian kitchen, chopping veggies and cooking. She would remember what each one of us liked. She usually garnished dal and vegetables with coriander leaves, a flavour that she loved. Since I didn’t like coriander leaves as a girl, a bowl without garnishing would be kept aside for me (much to my dad’s annoyance). We would sit outside the kitchen and watch her as she peeled kathal bichi (jackfruit seeds) or chopped saag. She would dip slices of pumpkin or yam in besan and make them into yummy fries, to be served with dal. If we happened to be around, we would get to sample these fries or daler bora fresh out of the kadai. Often, she would make a fine paste of certain veggies or seeds in the stone mortar (pata pota) – kachu bata, kathal bichi bata, kacha kolar khosha bata. Just kachu bata with hot steamed rice was such a treat. We could finish our meal with her lau moong or sheem bichi sabzi and yummy fries, but she would have none of that. As far as Dida was concerned a meal wasn’t complete without fish. Though I was’t fond of fish them, especially the regular macher jhol, she would sulk if I didn’t have fish.

Dida once loved fish; she couldn’t have a single meal without fish. She was windowed even before my parents got married and as was the practice in those days’ she never touched fish since. Though she would never enter the non-veg kitchen or the dining area she would often stand outside to see if her grandchildren were eating properly. Once while we were being served fish, I asked her how she could watch us eat and not touch something she once loved. “We get used to it didibhai,” she said with a sigh.   

Dadu & Didun

Sundays were meant for weekly visit to Dadur bari (my maternal grandparents place). On our request Didun would make masoor dal and crispy aloo fry. She would often make dhokar dalna or kachur saag. Aloor khosha bhaja and a simple cabbage curry were some of her other signature dishes.  Of course, she would make fish too for her damad that we would rarely eat. The meal would end with amshir chatni (dry mango chutney) that we so relished. Desserts were always homemade – payesh, patishapta or ras bara. When we were little, she even made fuchka (bong gol gappa) and chop for us at home. Her grandkids should not be given unhygienically prepared food from the shops, she would say. She would stuff containers with moorir moya, chirer moya and mishti & nonta nimki for us to snack in the evening.

These are all simple things made from easily available ingredients that somehow don’t taste the same anymore. What mom makes is quite close, but something’s missing, maybe it’s Dida and Didun or my memory of their signature dishes!!

Hope in the time of pandemic by Poonam Tibrewal

These are truly strange and unique times. The ongoing global pandemic is not just affecting one country, one continent or one society, it is affecting the whole world equally! COVID-19 has removed barriers of ‘we and they’, ‘here and there’, and has stirred up the value of belongingness among us. It has demonstrated that our globe is one single interdependent community. Though the crisis has brought the world to a halt today and sadly, the health and economic impact will be disastrous, I feel that from an emotional angle, the pros will outweigh the cons making us a global community with more empathy.

Despite the lingering uncertainty, COVID-19 silently offers us an opportunity to reflect on our spiritual side. In taking a moment to pause it helps us to be a little less reactive, to find some clarity that can help us be more responsible in the face of strong emotions. For instance, in many countries we saw societies pulling themselves together with the national anthem, or just singing together out of our balconies/windows, united to face this common threat.

Yes, these are scary, difficult times, and they are likely to get worse before they get better. But as we shake our heads at the reckless behavior featured on the news, or we throw up our hands in despair wondering how we can make a difference,we can introspect and look for ways to do something to make things a little better. I saw many such small acts of kindness around me. Whether it was friends who cooked meals over several days to be distributed to the migrant workers, my daughters who created beautiful things out of waste and generated funds to buy food for birds and street dogs, neighbors who helped senior citizens with essentials since they couldn’t step out. In every moment of darkness, it seems, there are countless moments of light — small gestures of compassion and connection that allow people to show who they are, how they want to live, and what matters to them.

For me personally, I’ve found myself reconnecting with family and friends on the other side of the world, and it eases my mind a little bit knowing we’re doing similar things. We find ourselves joined together across the world, waiting for Covid-19 to reveal our future. I’ve also found that this is a really good time to reflect on my routines. The constant protests about the lack of time…not enough with family, not enough to pursue my hobbies. Now with this sudden gift of time, did I do everything that mattered to me? Or has the very definition of what matters to me changed in the face of this adversity? Being constrained for months many of us wonder if there will ever be a real life outside our homes. Our tasks are now more about subsistence, not profit. We cook and we clean. We ask for help as help and don’t disguise it with marketing jargon like “collaboration” or “partnership”. In this new normal I find myself pondering, even looking forward to an imagined future…a future full of hope, dreams and a world which is worth saving!

This crisis has given us all a much-needed pause to reflect on the things that need to be protected and conserved. Maybe this is what will see us through over the next millennium and even after!

Communication consultant Poonam Tibrewal enjoys reading and writing in her free time. During the lockdown, she discovered her passion for cooking. Poonam is a mother of two adorable girls, Aliya and Amira. She engages with her daughters in various handicraft projects like painting bottles, making things out of waste to keep them meaningfully engaged while they are at home.

Shringara with a modern twist!

Shringara Rasa is supposedly the crown emotion associated with love and beauty. The other Rasas or emotions are Hasya (laughter/happiness)Karuna (compassion), Roudra (anger), Veera (valour), Bhayanaka (fear), Bibhatsa (disgust), Adbhuta (wonder)and Shantha (peace/tranquillity)Rasa, as per Indian aesthetics, means essence or emotions and these nine emotions or Navarasas are fundamental to Indian arts be it dance, music, painting literature or poetry. Coming back to the crown Rasa Shringara, it is the essence of Indian romantic literature. Be it Parvati wooing the hermit Shiva or the eager wait of Radha to surreptitiously meet Krishna, Shringara or the art of a woman dressing up by adorning herself with jewellery and flowers to entice her beloved, was considered to be an important ritual. There are numerous verses or images that show an angry Radha tossing of her jewellery, flowers, and embellishments when her lover boy Krishna fails to show up, for she had dressed up for his eyes only. 

Modern bride Dr. Sushmita Bhattacharya

Solah Shringar is the art of a woman adorning herself from head to toe with sixteen embellishments to look beautiful and desirable for her lover or her man. Hindu brides on their wedding day are supposed to perform Solah Shringar comprising bindi, necklaces, earrings, flowers in the hair, finger rings, bangles, armlets, waistbands, ankle-bells, kajal, toe-rings, henna, perfume, sandalwood paste, the upper garment and lower garment. A modern Indian bride though tweaks this ritual as per her taste and convenience. And how beautiful a bride looks. As a little girl, I wanted to be a bride just so I could dress up like that and wear all those ornaments. The groom was of no consequence.

Dressed for the evening

Surprisingly, while a woman takes so much trouble to adorn herself, there’s hardly any reference of men performing Shringara for their lady love. Though elaborate rituals of Krishna’s Shringara are performed in temples, we rarely come across any anecdote of this dark and mischievous God taking pains to dress up for Radha. Shiva or Mahadev is supposed to be dishevelled, he’s an ascetic after all. Even in modern times, there’s so much talk about bridal make-up, one hardly gets to hear about the groom. So, don’t men care about looks. The growing number of men frequenting beauty parlours would suggest otherwise. It’s just that we rarely come across any image or reference of a man dressing up to present himself to a woman. A man is supposed to win a woman with his valour and wisdom, while the damsel can lure him with her beauty and looks. An allusion that any woman today will find ridiculous and disturbing.

Editor & transalator Dr. Chandana Dutta loves wearing traditional outfits

And the funny thing is, most ‘modern’ men still seem to think that we women adorn ourselves for their sake, an assumption that can be both hilarious and annoying. This has become quite a nuisance for a friend mine, who’s separated but happens to share the same house with her husband, “The other day I felt like dressing up, so I wore a nice dress and put on some make-up. When I entered the kitchen, my husband followed me there and started looking at me curiously. I was shocked when he flirtatiously suggested that I dressed up for him.” One predicament of having to share a house with her separated husband is that my friend just can’t dress up without him boasting about it. “I keep telling him we are over, and it has nothing to him, but he refuses to get it. It’s annoying,” she says exasperated. “And now that we are locked in, I can dress up the way I please, I can experiment with my hairstyle and makeup without having to deal with people’s opinion,” she adds with a smile.

Feeling festive. Communication consultant Poonam Tibrewal

Yes, we women love to dress up, we enjoy indulging in Shringara immensely, because it pleases us. We occasionally dress up to indulge someone special when we are in the mood. We dress up for work, we dress up for meetings, we dress up for our evening outings. For dressing up is so much more than Solah Shringar, there’s power dressing, broad room dressing, leisure dressing and more, and we like to dress appropriately for every occasion, with the right makeup and jewellery. We may dress to impress, we may dress to make a statement, but most importantly we dress up because we love to look good, that feels so great!

Ready to take wings. Fashion designer Sanchita Singh Roy

If the skirt is too short, the dress is too tight, or the neckline too revealing that’s because we have the confidence to carry an outfit like that, we are comfortable with our body. We dress as per our mood, as per the weather, as per the occasion, as per our comfort and convenience. The colour of our lipstick reflects our personality. If it pleases men to see us so well dressed that’s a bonus. We appreciate gentlemanly compliments but do remember we took all the trouble to suit our whims and fancies. And if you decide to approach us you better be well groomed, for no matter what they say we don’t like shabby men.

My Bong Cooking: from Compulsion to Passion by Titas Mazumdar

As a girl in Dhanbad and later during my college days in Kolkata I rarely got entry to my Mom’s Kitchen. Mom is very possessive about her kitchen and few are the occasions when I got chance to try my hands in her kitchen. Hence my self-cooking actually started with my first job when I moved to Mumbai and started staying with roommates. We used to take turns cooking dinner and that is the time when I started cooking out of necessity and compulsion.

Traditional Bong meal on banana leaf

My cooking from compulsion slowly turned into passion over the years when I move to US and then got married to a food lover. Indian food in general and Bong food in particular is not widely available – as per our taste in western countries. My husband also enjoys cooking and rarely criticizes what I make which is a blessing and inspires me to experiment with variety of cuisines.

I was picky eater during my childhood days until I started cooking and appreciating various flavors which comes from different spices used in Bengali cooking. The flavour that comes from fried whole red chilies in pure ghee used for Daal is unique, the aroma of Panch Phoran (seeds of Mustard, Fennel, Nigella, Fenugreek, Radhuni) does wonders in most Bong dishes. Another unique spice is mustard paste and poppy seed paste used in typical Bengali dishes. Fishes cooked in Mustard oil and mustard paste and eaten with white rice tickles your taste buds with a pungent aromatic flavour. Vegetables cooked in white poppy seed paste puts you to a lazy, late afternoon nap. And not to forget the mouthwatering flavour of mustard and poppy seeds together used for Shrimp and Hilsa fish curries which will linger with you for several days.

We all love talking about our own regional dishes and most of the times get carried away by it. I think mostly it’s about the acquired taste over time. Food brings back lot of childhood memories too. Food which I hated during my growing years are the ones which I crave for now. I smile when I see my 8 year old pushing away the mouthwatering dishes as she is still in the process of acquiring the taste to appreciate them, so it’s very important to keep on pushing kids to try out tradition food cooked daily at home even though they dislike it. It’s just matter of time you will see how appreciative they become of these traditional meals.

Today I love the aroma of fried Neem leaves mixed with mashed potatoes and yes traditional bong lunch starts with something bitter, be it Neem or Bitter gourd fried/boiled or if it’s any special occasion then Bitter Gourd Sukto– the bitter and sweet white creamy mixed vegetable dish. My passion for Bong food started with those weekend potlucks when I was staying in Philadelphia. We had few Bengali families who used to meet without fail every Saturday for elaborate Bong Adda and potluck dinner. The main attraction of those potlucks were that no dish was repeated. Every single one of us came up with variety bong dishes and that’s how I got to try my hands in various Bong recipes. Sujata’s Kitchen was my favorite website in those days for trying out Bong food as You-tube was not that popular or was not flooded with so many cooking videos. Today trying out various traditional recipes has become simple. I try out different East and West Bengal recipes from You tube channels. It’s not only thrilling and exciting but also takes me back to my roots!

Bengalis are always known for their Fishes and Rosogollas but just to let everyone know we have a variety of vegetarian dishes too which surpass Indian veg dishes from other states in count. Our range of vegetable is very similar to those in Chinese and other South East Asian countries. During my stay in US Bengali vegetables which were never available in “Patel Brothers (the most popular Indian grocery chain there)” were found in those smelly Chinese market –  variety of vegetables like stem of banana tree and flower of banana, different leafy vegetables (Saag) and roots of plants (Yam). I am sure most Indians don’t know that we make excellent dishes with banana stem (Thor in Bengali) and banana flowers (Mocha). Do you know we eat peels (Khosa Bhaja) of most of the vegetables like bottle guard (Lauki), potatoes, pointed gourd (Parwal) and raw banana peel. I can see you raising your eye brows. Just get hold of a Bong friend and bribe her for these delicacies which you will rarely get in any Bong restaurants. These are only ‘made in home’ grandmother dishes.

Entire India eats unripen jackfruit curry, we too love jackfruit curry and also the ripe jackfruit and the big white seeds inside ripe jackfruit which is again a specialty in Bengal. We take the seeds from the jackfruit juicy pulp, sun dry it, remove the external skin and cut into pieces and use it as fries, put it in Daal and mixed vegetable curry. Needless to say it enhances the flavor.

Let me share a quick mouthwatering banana stem recipe with you all – Banana Stem Fried rice (Thor Pulao/ Chal Thor)

  1. Get hold of Banana stem (yes that’s a challenge based on your geographic location, I leave it up to you).
  2. Keep removing the external hard skin till you can’t remove anything. Once you have reached the soft white portion, slice it, remove the fibers with finger and then cut into small pieces. Soak it in salt turmeric water.
  3. Soak flavored rice for 30 mins, we prefer Govindo Bhog, you can use Basmati also preferable broken. Drain out rice water keep it aside to dry.
  4. Heat  pan/ kadai, put ghee( yes only ghee)- bay leaves, sahi Jira, and cinnamon stick and crushed Cardamom (Black), once the flavor comes put the drained rice and mixing it slowly.
  5. After 10 mins when the rice is completely dry and is coated with ghee, add the cut Thor pieces. Remember to hand press it and take away all the water.
  6. Keep frying for another 5 to 10 mins, when its dry add water in same proportion as rice quantity, cover it.
  7. Periodically keep a watch till the rice is cooked and add water if required, put soaked raisins (optional). Add salt and definitely sugar as Bengali Pulao has a Bengali sweetness in it too.
  8. Before removing from heat add chopped green chilies and Bong Garam Masala powder (it’s always homemade- powder of Cinnamon, Clove and Cardamom- NO Jira or pepper powder).
  9. Last but never the least- Serve it with LOVE.

I am sure you all will enjoy it……Unlimited Love is the best Spice to make your food tasty and flavorful.