Food trails and many tales: Dishing wonders with waste

Zero Waste Cooking, the term is now in vogue. World has suddenly woken up to the fact that we waste a huge amount of food everyday and need to minimize it by changing our cooking style and eating habits. Average Americans waste 1 pound of food per person per day at the household level, according to USDA. I am sure we anglicized Indians with our penchant for western style fine dining are no better. But now suddenly the West has woken up to food waste and we Indians must toe the line and follow the trend! Therefore, we are bombarded with zero waste recipes, cooking styles and eating habits.

But, as a culture, didn’t we Indians always practice zero waste? Haven’t we laughed at our grandmothers and mothers for trying to squeeze the last bit from a toothpaste tube or pour the last drop of oil or ketchup from an almost empty bottle? And, when it comes to cooking with what many would toss out of the kitchen, we Bengali’s are the masters. We make yummy aloo ka chilka fry (aloor khosha bhaja), Chehki made with tender lauki chilka is a delicacy. We chop and put the stems of gobi in daal (khopir datar daal) that is both nutritious and delicious. The delicacies we make with the seed of ripe jackfruit and pumpkin seed are unparalleled. Kanchakolar khosha bata is a chutney that we make out of the chilka of green banana. There are so many more recipes where we use the so-called food waste and turn them into culinary delight!

Aloor Khosha Bhaja

Aloo is available in every Indian kitchen. Most of our dishes are incomplete without aloo. Use the potato peel or chilka for this quick recipe.

Image courtesy YouTube

Ingredients

1 cup potato peels, 1/2 tsp – poppy seeds, 1 tsp – vegetable oil, pinch of kalonji (nigella seeds), salt to taste

Method

  1. Wash the peels, bunch them together and roughly chop them.
  2. Heat oil in a wok and temper with nigella seeds. Add the chopped peel. Stir fry for 2 -3 mins on medium heat. Add salt and poppy seeds. Cook for another 2 mins, constantly stirring.
  3. Take it off fire and serve with steaming hot rice or with hot cup of tea.

Since a tiny virus has pushed the mighty human’s indoors, since we are forced to live with less and of many these ingredients may already be available in your kitchen, this is a good time to try out these recipes. Tea with aloor khosha bhaja should be quite a treat in the evening!

 Kanchakolar Khosha Bata 

Image Courtesy YouTube

Ingredients

  • 2 Raw Banana
  • 6 cloves Garlic
  • 1 Green Chilli
  • Salt to taste

Ingredients for seasoning:

  • 2 tablespoons Mustard oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kalonji (Onion Nigella Seeds)
  • 1 Dry Red Chillies

Steps

  1. Pressure cook the 2 raw bananas until soft. Once cooked, peel the skin. For this recipe we will be using the cooked and peeled skin and not the banana pulp (you can make a sabzi of your choice with raw banana).
  2. Blend the banana peel and the remaining ingredients into a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl and keep aside.
  3. In a small pan add the mustard oil. Once the oil is heated; add in the kalonji and the dry red chillies. Sauté on medium flame until the red chilies are roasted and browned then add in the peel paste and sauté on low heat for 2 to three minutes until the raw smell goes away.
  4. Serve the spicy and delicious Kanchakolar Khosha Bata with hot steamed rice or chapati.

Reclaiming Aadda – the lost art of a good conversation

The pleasures of growing up in a Bong joint family! Forever surrounded by Kaku, pishi, dida, cousins, so much pampering and conversations all around, storytelling, reading out to each other. I never lacked conversations growing up, till date nothing hooks me more than a good conversation. I miss those good old days, those conversations. Most of all I miss my kaku – a master story teller, a great conversationalist, in  whose room every evening would gather his friends and conversation would flow on art, literature, music, politics or football over cups of tea, moori makha, padad bajha or chop. There would be friendly banter, heated debates, enlightening dialogues with music playing in the background on the gramophone. My mom, and sometimes my pishi would heartily participate in the discussions. As a kid then I would sometimes peep in, take bite from my kaku’s plate. Though I couldn’t make sense of much of the conversation, I could feel charged atmosphere, the excitement around. Such was the magic of good conversation or Aadda!

Coffee Houser Aadda

The quintessential Bengali Aadda, that can be loosely translated as the art of conversation or discussion, probably emerged over a century ago when Bengali gentry (or bhodrolok) would congregate to discuss various issues ranging from art to politics to changing weather. Aadda, Coffee Houser Aadda, had a certain snob value about it. Prominent writers and thinkers would gather at a Coffee House talk about various existential and intellectual issues. Then there was Aadda in a drawing rooms or a living rooms, like the one in our family house.  Aadda, where boys of the neighbourhood gather on a staircase or parapet (rock), called Rockbaj Aadda, is considerably low brow. You wouldn’t want to be caught by your parents being part of Rockbaj Aadda.

Rockbaj Aadda

But no matter where the Aaddabaj (connoisseurs of Aadda) would gather, the spirit of Aadda, the free flow of conversation that was often intellectually stimulating, defies all definition. Usually a small group that could range from 3 to 10 people, Aadda could be dominated by one person or run into heated debates. It has been often said that these aimless Aaddas led to the downfall of Kolkata, once the intellectual capital of India. Maybe, or maybe Bengal fell from grace because Aadda lost its spirit somehow!

Aadda sessions in my kaku’s living room came to end with his untimely demise. I left home a few years after that. In college and university, we had our variants of Aadda, often literary discussion or idealistic talks about love and life ahead. Then real life happened, while struggling to fit into the real world, I did enjoy many animated conversations with my newfound friends over cups of coffee till wee hours. But people kept getting busier, drifting apart, conversations turned to long phone calls, online chats and somehow that spirit was lost. There was partying, there was pubbing and there was clubbing at the cost of a good conversation. Even families glued to their phone and social media forgot to talk.

Today, suddenly out of nowhere the world is inflicted by a novel virus that has pushed us indoors, shuts down pubs, clubs and malls. The term social distancing is suddenly in vogue. With nowhere to go we don’t have sassy pictures to post on social media, and the virus jokes and alerts are kind of getting on our nerves. While COVID is disrupting our lives, playing havoc with our schedule, maybe it’s giving us a chance to reconnect with our family and friends, revive the art of conversation. So why not use this family time as an opportunity to reclaim the magic of Aadda!

Khichdi – the delicious mish mash

Moong daler khichuri

Waking up to a rainy morning would always bring a smile to my face. Rainy day at school, playing in the rain, paper boats and Ma would make khichdi or khichuri as we Bongs’ call it, for lunch. Khichuri, served with maach bhaja (fish fry), jhiri jhiri aloo bhaja (crispy potato fry), begun bhaja (fried brinjal) or fried fish egg (Bengali version of caviar), topped with a spoonful of desi ghee, has been my favourite meal since. Khichuri and kosha mangsho (dry mutton curry) is a much awaited delicacy in Bengali households. But no matter what the accompaniments are, Khichuri has to be topped up with a spoonful of desi ghee, we Bongs prefer the flavourful cow ghee.

Khichuri or khichdi, a mish mash of rice, dal and sometimes veggies like aloo, matar and cauli flower, considered to be a humble meal in North India, is a feast for Bengalis. There are two popular variants of khichuri in Bengal – one with red masoor dal and the other made with roasted yellow moong dal. Masoor dal khichuri is usually made with onion, garlic, ginger and served hot on a rainy afternoon with all kinds of bhajas (fries).

Bhaja (roasted) moong dal khichuri is tempered with tej patta, jeera and other whole spices. We usually put aloo, matar, gobi and tamatar in moong dal khichuri. The same veggies along with beans or anything else that you fancy can be put in masoor dal khichuri as well. Moong dal khichuri is usually served as bhog during puja with a lavish accompaniment of labra (delicious and mild Bengali mixed veggie) or badhakopir torkari (cabbage curry), beguni (maida or corn flower coated brinjal fry), fried pumpkin and crispy aloo fry and chutney (made with tomato and dates). Relishing the cold moong dal khichuri with bhaja after pujo is an experience that I so look forward to.

Another variant of Khichuri is Neeler khichuri, cooked without haldi, that devotees of Lord Shiva in Bengal have every Monday of Sawan. I first had this khichuri at my masi’s place and enjoyed every bit of it. I also like the mildly flavoured North Indian khichdi, tempered with hing and jeera, served with dahi, achaar and papad. Though it is supposed to be a sick persons’ meal I can have it anytime. Be it healthy daliya ki khichdi that I often make or bland sabudana khichdi from Maharashtra, a staple when you are fasting in these parts, I love them all. Quite a khichdi fan I am!

Bisi bele bhaat

The South Indian variants of khichdi, Bisi bele bhaat in Karnataka and Pongal in Tamil Nadu, offer a different flavour. Though these are breakfast food in the South, Bisi bele bhaat and Pongal, served with dahi and papad make a tasty and nutritious meal anytime of the day. I am lucky to have a friend who often makes Bisi bele bhaat for me. It can be easily made with MTR’s Bisi bele bhaat masala. Though my friend usually gets the masala from Bangalore, you can check with the local MTR stores or you can try making your own masala.

Keema Khichdi is another awesome khichdi recipe that I plan to try some day. This aromatic Bohra delicacy is prepared with minced lamb, ginger-garlic paste, rice, moong dal and a melange of spices. Though its slightly time consuming this delectable khichdi is definitely worth a shot.

Time: Old & New, Flying & Pausing

Time gone by & what lies ahead

Old year departs gently, ushering in the New

So lured are we by the glamour & glitter of the New, that we forget the Old, its goodness, its warmth, as we fly with the time

New hopes, new dreams, new aspirations, desires & ambitions lead us on to fascinating avenues & lanes

A journey so challenging & exhilarating that leaves us with little time to pause & ponder

Then, one day, when we stop to catch a breath and absentmindedly look back, the spectacle of our yesteryear’s memoirs, diaries & recollections spring back at us

The lazy days when we would listen to a play on AIR, or the exciting days when TV invaded our drawing rooms with Asiad, to be later taken over by crazy online streaming

Taking eager steps to school in Bata shoes, weighed down by Duckback school bag heavy with books, dreams and ambitions

Travelling in 2nd class, a coach full of students, heart full of aspirations, to the realm that takes us a step closer to so many dreams that whisper in our ears

Some dreams are fulfilled, some forgotten, some broken, some carelessly tossed away, adorn our path as we move along

The pride and joy of owning the first Nokia mobile phone, making the first brief call, packing in as many words in as little time, for rates were high

The arriving in life moment with the first Blackberry, replacing it with little thought with iPhone, Samsung Note and what not, for choices are many

Switching happily from DTC buses, to auto, to the proud ride in first Maruti 800

Moving on from a generation that held on to dreams, clung on romantically to a few material possessions, to a generation that’s spoilt for choice, often confused, bemused or bewildered, easily disillusioned

As we look back, time pauses for a while, to string together our forgotten or lost dreams chipped and dulled with years, new wishes and resolutions glowing with hope and yearnings, into a glittering, uneven multi-coloured necklace.

Knitting a Warm Winter Story

There was a time when nip in the air would mean bringing out the knitting needles and wools. All our sweaters would be taken out and evaluated. The ones we would have outgrown would be opened and the wool wrapped into a ball again to be used for making new sweaters. Depending on the wool available at home, mom would buy more wool and start knitting new sweaters for us. Once upon a time, my mom knit sweaters for my dad and the entire extended family. She would refer to design books for newer designs. Even weekend supplements of newspapers carried novel designs for sweaters.

My colleague Arjun, in a sweater knit by his mom, when he was 5

Afternoons were devoted to knitting. Mom would sometimes knit alone, sometimes take us to our neighbourhood jethimoni’s (aunt’s) place to knit with her. Kor jethimoni was a knitting whiz. She didn’t even need a design book to refer to. She would come up with newer designs on her own and finish a sweater in no time. My mom and many aunts from the vicinity would gather at her courtyard to knit with her. She would very happily guide them and help them with new designs.

Knitting in those days was a creative recreational activity for women. They would get together with their knitting needles, chit chat, have a cup of tea and knit one sweater after another. It seemed quite effortless then. It was a common practice to gather around a boudi (bhabi) who was an expert and would help out the rest. For instance, even 15 years back, whenever I would visit Chandigarh in winters, I would find my Kakima (chachi) sitting on the porch with her landlady, both of them knitting away. Sweaters knit by Kumkum kakima were quite popular. I still have one lying in my wardrobe. “Your kakima doesn’t know anything. Bina (the landlady) guides her at every step,” my uncle would joke.

My colleague Riti donning a muffler that i knit in school

As a little girl, I was fascinated by the whole process of knitting. I would hover around my mother the moment she would take out her knitting needles. Once I was old enough, I was given plastic needles and a small ball of wool. With some effort I picked up knitting and even made a small blue sweater for my walkie talkie doll (with my mom’s help of course). I later knit many mufflers. I would ambitiously start knitting sweaters which my mother would finish. When we were in college, readymade sweaters started flooding the market and the charm of hand knit sweaters started to fade. “You can’t make sweaters like the ones in the market,” we would tell our mom. Tired of our constant nagging mom stopped knitting and started buying us sweaters instead. Knitting needles and balls of wool were forgotten, and hand knit sweaters lay neglected in one corner of the wardrobe.

A few winters back while I was cleaning my wardrobe, a muffler that I had knitted in college dropped from the top shelf. It looked and felt so much nicer than the readymade ones. I started missing the look and the designs of the hand knit sweaters. “Can you knit me a sweater ma?” I asked my mom. “Oh! I don’t even know where the needles are lying. I haven’t used them in years. And anyway, you thought my sweaters were not good enough,” retorted mom. “I wish I hadn’t changed loyalties to readymade sweaters so soon,” I sighed. Being out of practice for years I have completely forgotten to knit. What seemed ‘not fashionable’ once, suddenly seemed so desirable.

Sweaters by Srivastava Aunty

Imagine my delight when I saw my friend Chandana’s 5-year-old son Ray in a lovely blue hand knit sweater. “Have you started knitting?”, I asked her all excited. “May be, I can ask her to make me a sweater,” I thought. “My mom-in-law does,” she said. “Till date I haven’t bought a single sweater for Ray. Mummy is so fast and finishes a sweater in no time. She has knit me one too.” Excited I called up her mom-in-law, Srivastava Aunty. She was only too thrilled to talk about her knitting. “Now Ray is growing, so he asks me make sweaters in his favorite colors,” she laughed.

Hearing me talk about my love and longing of hand knit sweaters, my friend and colleague Lovina told me about her friend Tehmina M Yadav who reaches out to her friends and family to knit every winter. Those sweaters and mufflers are then distributed to homeless people. “She’s an amazing woman,” said Lovina. “She has her own merchandising house; she keeps the most beautiful gardens. And every winter she reaches out to people to knit for the homeless.”

So knitting is not dead. Lovina still knits and has agreed to knit me a scarf!!

The desi lingering sweetness of Gur

While appreciating everything and  everybody in his poem Bhalo Re Bhalo (loosely translated ‘All is Good’), Sukumar Ray, one of the greatest poets and humour writers of our time concludes: “Kintu shobar chaite bhalo, pauruti aar jhola gur” (But the best bet/ Is runny jaggery and bread).

Jhola Gur
Image courtesy Pinterest

The pleasure of dipping bread or roti in jhola gur (runny jaggery or jaggery syrup) and enjoying the sweet, sticky flavour on a winter morning. And once the bread gets over, dipping the finger in jhola gur and licking it, relishing it to the last dribble. As a child jhola gur was one of my most sought-after desserts or sweet sauce. As the days would get colder, we would wait for dad to get a tin (container) of jhola gur from one of the near by farms. We would sit on the dining table expectantly with a bowl waiting for mom to serve a spoonful of jhola gur. It would be followed by hours of licking the bowl clean, with eyes often shut and a satisfied chuckle. The happiness and satisfaction that simple jhola gur brought into our little lives!

Khejur gur or nolen gur

Then there is round kejhur gur or nolen gur and chunks of aakher gur. We would wait for Masi to visit from Kolkata with patali gur, very popular in West Bengal. In Agartala, dominated by East Bengalis, jhola gur and khejur gur were more popular. While jhola gur and khejur gur are from made date palm (khejur) sap, tal patali is made from palm (tal) sap and aakher gur comes from sugarcane (aakh) juice. As kids we would love to suck little cubes of tal patali and khejur gur. The heavenly taste and the heady flavour of this crude desi sweetener can’t be matched by candies that kids crave for nowadays.

Nolen gurer patishapta
Image courtesy YouTube

Khejur gur or nolen gurer payesh (kheer made with nalen gur), nolen gurer pathishapta, nariyel naru made of gur are the sweet delicacies mom makes every winter. I still wait in the kitchen to taste the sweet, warm patishapta as my mom takes it off the tawa. Unfortunately, not many people make patishapta at home anymore and those available in sweet shops just don’t taste the same. But I do love nolen gurer sandesh and roshogolla and other sweets made of nolen gur that sweet shops across Bengal are flooded with. In Delhi you can visit the Bengali sweet shops in CR Park for nolen gur delicacies.

Nolen gurer sandesh
Image courtersy A Homemaker’s Diary

When I visited my Uncle in Chandigarh as a child, my aunt gave me small piece of gur after lunch. Gur helps with digestion so Punjabis have gur after meal, I was told. Later I sampled delicious gur ke parantha. Not just in Bengal and Punjab, gur is popular across India. Maharashtra is the largest producer and consumer of gur, I recently read in Wiki. In Maharashtra, during Makar Sankranti, a dessert called tilgul (sesame seed candy) is prepared with gur. In Gujarat, gur is known as gôḷ and is used during Makar Sankranti for similar preparation called tal na ladu or tal sankli. In rural Maharashtra and Karnataka, water and a piece of gur are given to a person coming home after working under hot sun. Gujratis also make laddus with wheat flour and gur and famous Marathi Puran Poli uses gur. Of course, we are all familiar with gur ki patti, gur ke gajak, moya made with gur and other desi healthy and tasty sweet snacks.

And gur is not just tasty, it has many health benefits. It prevents constipation, boosts immunity, detoxes liver, purifies blood, helps in digestion to list a few. However, like most desi delicacies, gur is not glamourous enough to appeal to the younger lot. A kid today will probably not even look at gur, let alone relish it. We Indians somehow pick western dessert and dishes over traditional Indian cuisine. Perhaps, gur is waiting to be discovered by a western chef to make it a happening sweetener.

Of birthdays, growing up, adding years, feeling younger & more…

Birthday girl 2019

Birthdays are always so special to me. Many a ‘mature’ people have often told me, “What’s the big deal about birthday? It’s just another day.”  For me they are a BIG deal, I wait for my birthday every year, for the wishes to pour in, the cakes, the gifts, even the FB wishes and videos. I subtly (and sometimes shamelessly) remind people about my upcoming birthday, lest they forget to wish. Passing years haven’t taken the sheen off birthday celebrations, I feel as excited as I did as a little girl. It’s not so much about a huge party or expensive presents, it’s more about being remembered by people you love, celebrating the day I came to this world, surely there’s something special about that day!

When I was a little girl, birthdays were about mom making kheer in the morning. I would be greeted with a spoonful of sweet kheer, new dress and maybe a toy. I grew up in a joint family, dida (dadi), kaku (uncles), pishi (bua) and cousins, besides my parents and sisters, would lovingly wish me happy birthday. There were no 12 a.m. celebrations then, birthday celebrations started in the morning. While my parents would get me a dress for my birthdays’, Namentu (my dad’s younger brother who was very popular with the children of the family) would indulge me with toys and books. Ranga pishi (my favourite bua) would ensure I got all my favourite sweets. Unfortunately, both Namentu and Ranga Pishi left us early and birthday’s or any other celebration has not been the same since.

Birthday 2018 in Agartala when my college friends surprised me

The highpoint of the day was about wearing a new dress and happily heading to the school bus stop holding Ranga Pishi’s hand with a bag full of toffees (Parle G or Eclairs). Birthday girls or boys would get special treatment in the school and that would start from the bus stop. Kids would wish me, give me flowers, I would handout a toffee to each child. On reaching school the class teacher would announce my birthday and the whole class would sing for me. After that I would hand out a toffee to each kid, close friends would get more than one (the birthday girl’s discretion made her so important that day). To think just one toffee could be so sought after!

Celebrations at office. I share my birthday with my colleague Abhishek

There would be small party at home in the evening. Mom would bake a cake, cook my favourite food. My best friend, few of my close friends and the whole family would gather for the cake cutting and the dinner thereafter. It was a simple homely affair but there was so much love and affection. I got cute little gifts like pens and pencil boxes which I cherished. Throwing a birthday party in a hotel or a restaurant, spending money on expensive gifts didn’t even cross our minds in those days. We were so happy blowing balloons, decorating the drawing room with coloured papers, being hugged and kissed and wished by everyone around. Those were the perfect birthdays!

After leaving home, midnight birthday celebrations in the hostel had its own share of fun and excitement. Friends and hostel mates would organize a cake, admirers would cue up with lovey dovey cards and sometimes flowers. Made me feel so grown up, years ahead seemed so exciting.  When I started working, I started paying for my own birthday dinners and throwing birthday parties, that was a different feeling all together.

Of course, birthdays’ away from home haven’t always been easy.  There were moments when I pined for more attention from someone special, felt people didn’t care enough for me and my birthday. But those are far and few, buried in the happy memories and excitement that birthday brings along with it each year. I have been blessed with friends who always take time out to make my birthday special, buy me gifts that I cherish!

And the best part is, even after celebrating so many birthdays I don’t feel any older. I don’t attempt to light up the cake with 40 something candles though. The glow of my happiness, youth, maturity and wisdom (that I have accumulated over the years hopefully) is enough for that!!

Bidding adieu to little Miss Hankie: whiff of an era gone by

Once upon a time she was my constant companion. I wouldn’t leave home without her.   Whether going to school in the morning or visiting neighbours in the evening, she would be neatly folded and pinned to my dress or tugged in my skirt. We loved playing Rumal Choras kids. When I started carrying fancy bags to college, she found a special place in that bag. Life was unimaginable without her.

Sparking white, or in soothing pale shades of pink or blue, with pretty flowers or little birds embroidered, honeycombed edges, Miss Hankie and her friends were such a delight. I remember making my first little hankie when I was in 4th standard. SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work) was a compulsory subject in school then. With such excitement and love I hemmed the edges of a small square pale blue cloth and embroidered a pink lotus in one corner. After that I went on to make so many hankies, in different colours and embroideries, some with my name stylishly embroidered. I was so proud of carrying my own little hankies, sometimes perfumed, gently dabbing away sweat or dust from the face and neck.  

Miss Hankie was ever so romantic and enigmatic. Lovelorn youth would often find solace in the sweet-smelling handkerchief of their lady love. Boys would use hanky as ploy to strike a conversation with the person of their interest. “Excuse me Miss, I think you dropped your hanky,” was corniest pick up line ever. Miss Hankie found a special place in romantic Bollywood movies as well – Reshmi Rumal, Kaali Topi Lal Rumal, where handkerchief played such an important role. There are so many romantic movie scenes where the male protagonist is seen languishing over a delicate little hanky of his beloved.

For the male counterpart of Miss. Hankie, it was all about chivalry. We have so often seen the protagonist offer his handkerchief with aplomb to a damsel in distress. The ‘resham ki rumal’ has always added to the appeal of the swashbuckling Hindi film hero. Remember Shammi Kapoor in “Sar par topi lal, haath me reshmi rumal hai tera kya kehena

Sadly however, little Miss Hankie is now on the brink of extinction, nudged away by the convenient tissues. Like most people of my generation, I am guilty of making the switch to tissues. I have lost all my little hankies; I just carry a pack of face tissue in my purse. There are hand tissues and paper towels that have made hankies completely redundant. My mom, however, still sticks to her hankies, finding them more reliable than the array of tissues. Fortunately, male handkerchiefs have survived, they still find place in most men’s pocket, though the charisma once associated with them is lost.

Tissues may have brought in convenience, but unlike hankies there’s nothing romantic about them. There was something personal about hankies, reflecting so strongly the personality of their owner – the touch, the smell. Tissues on the other hand don’t have a distinct character, they are just use and throw. And the idea of picking up a used tissue is quite repulsive, no matter how beautiful or charming the user may be!  

 “Resham ka rumaal gale pe dalke”.

Ma Lokkhi: Worshipping the Golden Goddess on Sharad Purnima or Kojagari Purnima

Ma Lokkhi
Image courtesy http://www.kumartuli.com

Goddess Lakshmi, is she the milder manifestation of Durga or is she her daughter? There are various interpretations in Hinduism. Durga – also knowns as Parvati or Kali (in more awe-inspiring form) and, Lakshmi & Saraswathi are considered to be Tridevi in Shaktism. They are the consorts of the Trimurti – Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and Saraswathi the goddess of learning, are the milder manifestations of Adi Parashakti, Devi. We Bengali’s however consider Lakshmi and Saraswathi to be daughters of Durga. Daughters are manifestations of their mothers anyway, so I don’t see a problem with either interpretation.

In Bengal and other eastern states Lakshmi or Kojagari Lokkhi is worshiped on the full moon night that falls after Dashami or Dussehra. On Diwali, when Lakshmi and Ganesha are worshipped in North India, we worship the formidable Kali on Amavasya – the night of the new moon. Since this is the month of the Goddesses, Shakti or women power, I decided to pen a post on the apparently mild and quiet Goddess Lakshmi or Ma Lokkhi.

She is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, hence she is worshipped and sought after by all. Traditions may be different, rituals may vary, but Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped by Hindus, Buddhist and Jains across India. And don’t go by her benign smile and her quiet grace, she is one of the most whimsical goddesses’. Known as chanchala she doesn’t reside is one place for long. She needs to be constantly sought after, worshipped. She maybe seen sitting quietly at the feet of her consort Vishnu but don’t mistake her for an obedient wife. While Vishnu is all for Dharma, Lakshmi will grant her blessings on whoever she pleases. She doesn’t care if her devotee is an asura or a sinner. We all know that the demon king Ravana lived in a majestic palace made of solid gold.

Gachkouto

In Bengal, this whimsical Goddess is worshipped on the night of Sharad Purnima or Kojagari Purnima. Ma Lokkhi is worshipped in pandals that lie lonely after the departure of Ma Durga and in most Bengali households. Her presence brings back the festive cheer, fills the vacuum that we feel once the four-day Durgotsav comes to an end. Ma Lokkhi, we worship has two hands. Dressed in red, with a benevolent smile she comes riding an owl, holding a gachkouto (red coloured pot filled with sindoorand a silver coin) in one hand and blessing us with the other. The golden goddess is known for her beauty, her aura lights up the world.

Alpana
Image courtesy boldsky.com

Lokkhi Pujo was an important part of my growing up years. I remember going to the market with my uncle and cousins to pick up the most beautiful idol of the goddess. The house would be cleaned, we would put rangoli or alpana with rice powder paste all over the house. Feet of Ma Lokkhi would be drawn at each doorstep to ensure that the Goddess visits the household. The elaborate bhog would consist of nariyal naru, chirer moya, fruits, sweets, lucchi, khichdi, labra, chutney and kheer, and of course pan supuri (beetle leaves & nuts). Mom would decorate the vedi with flowers, a kalash with nariyal and amra pallab (nascent mango leaves) would be placed before the Goddess. The room would be decorated with alpana and flowers.

Mom and other aunts would wear fresh clothes, usually a red sari, comb their hair, put on sindoor, bindi and alta (red dye applied on the feet). Ma Lokkhi likes cleanliness, she likes well-dressed people, she likes peace and quiet. Fearing that the goddess may flee at the sight of anything untidy the whole house would be cleaned and decked up. As a little girl I would excitedly watch the preparations of the pujo, helping with the decorations and alpana. I would beg mom to put some alta on my feet and she would eventually oblige. Ladies of the house would observe fast on the day of the pujo that would be broken with Chipitak Bhakhan (coconut water and chire) after the pujo. Though the bhog laid out for the goddess is vegetarian, married women are supposed to eat fish after the pujo. According to Hindu mythology the goddess visits her devotes only very late at night, so we would wait up for her.

Though I have stayed away from home for a while, not been part of Lokkhi Pujo in years, I feel the same excitement on the day of the Pujo. I am not greedy for riches; I pray to Ma Lokkhi to bless me with enough wealth, wisdom and strength to take care of myself and those around me!