For the love of Shawls

Manaswi in a papermache Jamawar

I grew up watching my dida and mom gracefully adorn a shawl in winters. They would just throw the shawl, or shaal as we call it Bengali, around them and it would look so elegant. When I was little, I would sneak into dida’s room, pull out her shawl and try to wrap it around me. The piece of garment would engulf me in it’s warm loving scent of dida. Once I grew up, I was drawn to (considered to be) more fashionable and convenient western winter wears like sweaters & jackets. Though I liked shawls, I found its westernized cousin stole more utilitarian. After all we hardly wear ethnic clothes in winters. If, at all, we wear a sari or lehenga for a winter wedding, it is sure to be teamed with a backless choli or skimpy blouse, no matter how cold.    

My almost forgotten love for shawls was rekindled by my friend and colleague Lovina Gujral and her collection of shawls. Watching her walk into office every day with a beautiful shawl thrown around her is a delight. “Between the three of us – my mom, my sister and I, we have 17 exclusive shawls,” says Lovina. “We have collected these over the years, a few from the time of my mother’s wedding,” she adds.

When I told Lovina I wanted to write on her shawls, she generously lent her best shawls for the shoot and my colleagues Manaswi, Puja & Riti gladly modeled for me 🙂

Puja sashaying a Kaani shawl

Lovina and her family has picked up a lot of shawls from a Kashmiri weaver, Ashraf Buch, who comes to Gurgaon every winter. “He brings with him a huge collection of authentic Kashmiri shawls – pashmina, jamawar, kaani. Depending on the fabric and the embroidery some of these shawls are priced over a lakh.” The shawls that Lovina wears are all hand embroidered, some of them take months to make. “He even has the less expensive shawls that cost a few thousands, but we always go for the authentic stuff,” says Lovina.

Kashmir has always been the home of shawls. The origin of shawls can be traced back to over 700 years. Though the words “shawl” and “pashmina” come from Kashmir, they originated from Hamedan, Iran. When Sayeed Ali Hamadani, the 14th century Sufi poet and scholar from Hamedan came to Ladakh, homeland of pashmina goats he found that the Ladakhi Kashmiri goats produced soft wool. He took some goat wool, made them into socks, which he gifted to the then king of Kashmir, Sultan Qutabdin. Later, Hamadani suggested to the king that they start a shawl weaving industry in Kashmir using this wool, thus came into being pashmina shawls. As a government official, Lovina’s father was posted in Kashmir for a while and that’s when the family got acquainted with many Kashmiri weavers and their weaving techniques.

The most expensive shahtoosh shawls of Kashmir are made from the under-fleece of the Tibetan antelope or Chiru. These shawls are so fine that even a very tightly woven shawl can be easily pulled through a small finger ring. “However, since these antelopes are an endangered species, shahtoosh shawls have been banned by the government,” says Lovina.

Riti in a shawl from Kutch, Gujarat

There’s an interesting story on how these intricate embroideries came into being. A certain peasant, Ali Baba once noticed the imprint of a fowl’s feet left on a white sheet. He embroidered the outline with coloured thread to enhance the effect and that is how the embroidered shawls were introduced. Silk and cotton thread are used for embroidery. The workmanship is so intricate and time consuming that some embroidered shawls take 2 to 4 years to complete.

 “An authentic shawl is a family heirloom; it can be passed down for generations. You need to know how to keep your shawls,” says Lovina. “We keep each shawl wrapped in a separate piece of fine cotton with a lot of dried neem leaves and red chillies between the folds. Pashminas and pure fabrics are prone to silver fish and these keep the pests at bay.”

Pursuing priceless passion: In conversation with Saurabh Chawla of Storizen

My first post for 2020 is an interview with Saurabh Chawla, Editor and owner of Storizen Magazine, the only magazine dedicated to the Indian Authors.While Saurabh Chawla is a Business Consultant by profession, he has given shape to his passion  through his personal blog Saurabh’s Lounge and Storizen Magazine. He has always been inclined towards creativity. An avid reader, he loves reading novels specifically the suspense/thriller genre. He shares his creative explorations in his blog.

1. What prompted you to start Storizen?

Storizen started off as a media platform to help the writers in India to have a voice, to promote their opinions and help them reach the potential audience.

It was founded by one of the dearest friends, Mukesh Rijhwani who is passionate about literature and writing. As a team, we are passionate about giving a versatile platform so that the artist of today is not lost!

There were plenty of Magazines out there but none of them were able to cater to the needs of the author today and empower them. This prompted us to start off Storizen!

2.       Tell us a little bit about the magazine. How has the journey been so far?

Storizen is a Magazine aimed towards authors, writers, and the bloggers. We have a vision of empowering the authors so that they can post their voices, their opinions freely!

Storizen is a monthly magazine and every month, we try to bring in new voices, new opinions and upcoming news related to books and literature for our readers.

We re-launched the Magazine in March 2018 and 21 issues later, we are glad that we have been able to reach the 1.5 Million+ impressions and a whooping 50k+ reads digitally!

The journey has been great and is an immense pleasure to say that we have been on the TOP 10 English Magazines in the Celebrity Category and Top 30 English Magazines in the Entertainment category on Magzter!

We would like to thank our readers and Subscribers  to make this a possibility and we look forward to your love and support in growing the Storizen Family.

3.   We live in times when people are taking less and less interest in art/literature/reading. Your views on the same.

I agree with you here and yes, there is an issue dedicated to the fact that Readership is going down with time!

People nowadays have a plethora of options available that they are not giving any attention to a single thing. The distractions, over-demanding jobs, the social media era et al.

If you look closely, you are surrounded by a lot of distractions which can sweep off your attention in a fraction of a second.

The moment you become interested in one thing, a hundred other things are ready to distract you.

The best way, which I feel and do to curb this is to take the things one at a time. When I sit for reading, I focus on reading and keep other things at bay. It is slightly harder to start, but it will be fruitful for you in the long run!

You can read the Storizen Magazine issue highlighting the idea “Death Of A Reader” here – https://issuu.com/storizen/docs/storizen-magazine-may_2018

4.       How do you sustain this venture?

Storizen is a venture that is born out of passion and passion, according to me is priceless. It takes time to be in the market and to sustain the same.

Consistency plays a crucial role here and we thrive to be consistent with our passion. We constantly strive to work and improve with time. The dedication, consistency, and perseverance are the driving force in sustaining Storizen!   

5.       Our passion doesn’t always pay the bills. What would you like to say to people who would like to follow their passion?

The truth is often hard to digest. Being passionate about something is much needed. It gives you a purpose in life, you feel energized as you wake up in the morning and immense satisfaction when you lie your head down to sleep in the night.

Practically speaking, yes the passion can or cannot pay the bills. In the former case, you are lucky enough and keep following your passion.

For the latter, keep your passion alive but also make sure that you are living a life you have envisioned for yourself. For that, you need to work, you need to work a lot!

Go into the market and do your research. Get a job first so that you can sustain both, your passion and your bills too.

Once your passion becomes capable enough to sustain your living, go ahead and grow the same.

6.       Your future plans for Storizen.

Talking about the future, we have had an opportunity to tie up with some of the top brands in the market. We wish to strengthen the bonds and form new relationships.

As per the numbers are concerned, we are focused on increasing the numbers to three folds. We are constantly thriving to learn new things and implement them to grow the Storizen Family!

We are also currently exploring new avenues and will surely look forward to starting off with them soon.

Stay tuned!

7.       Anything else that you may want to add

I would like to add a message from my side in the New Year 2020 –

We all live only once and if you live it right, once is enough. This quote by Mae West has a deep message. We always run behind things which we may or may not like, are temporary obsessions or make infinite resolutions for the New Year and fail to fulfill them.

This year, please make a promise to yourself to keep up and achieve what you envision your life to be. Don’t rush on the things, commit to creating what you really care for in life!

Have a blessed year ahead.

Happy New Year!   

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.

My Christmas Cake 😊

It’s Christmas time! There’s a Christmas tree everywhere – in malls, offices, even in our living rooms. December chill is succumbing to the fervor of festivities, parties are being planned, excitement around Santa or secret Santa – there’s something magical about Christmas!

And Christmas is not complete without cakes. When I was girl in Agartala, we would pick Christmas cakes from local bakeries, Laxmi Bakery and Sudipto Bakery, the leading bakeries then. The Christmas cakes were pretty basic, with some candied fruits and peanuts and a(supposedly) red cherry on top. The so-called cherry was Karamcha or Bengal Current sweetened in sugar syrup. I would go for that cherry (to my mom’s great displeasure) moment the cake was unwrapped. Both the bakeries are still thriving and have introduced many innovations in their cakes & pastries since.

Once I started baking, I would bake rich fruit cakes for Christmas. But this year I decided to bake a proper boozy Christmas cake. As I don’t like rum, I decided to replace it with brandy. The liquor shop guy suggested that I use Morpheus. As the name sounded grand and bottle looked fancy, I decided to go for it. It tasted quite good with hot water, honey and few drops of lemon juice (I had to sample it first before using it in the cake 😊).

Brandy soaked fruits

Next step dry fruits. I ordered raisins, broken cashews, walnuts and cherries online. I had some fruit candies (tuty fruity) lying at home. I chopped the cherries, crushed the walnuts and cashews, put raisins, tuty fruity and all the other dried fruits in a flat bowl and soaked them in brandy, just enough to lightly soak the fruit. I also added a heaped spoon full of apricot jam to the mixture. When I opened the lid of the bowl next morning, I found the dizzy fruits nicely soaked in brandy. I added a little more brandy to the fruits that evening and let it rest. The dry fruits should be left in liquor ideally for a week, I could manage only five days. Each evening I would check the fruits eagerly as they were swelling up in warm brandy happiness.

Though I came across many recipes, where they just simmer the dry fruits with booze, butter and sugar, pre-soaking the fruits for 5 to 7 days or more gives a better flavor.

On D day, Sunday the 22nd I embarked upon the task of baking Christmas cakes. I was little nervous, but the end result was quite satisfying. Here’s how I baked my Christmas cake…

Oven ready batter
  • Steps
  • Chop all the dry fruits and soak them in brandy or rum. Mix a heaped spoon apricot jam to it. Leave it for a week or more. Add some more after a few days as the fruits will soak up the booze.
  • Preheat the oven to gas mark 2/150°C/130°C Fan/300°F). Line the sides and bottom of a deep round cake tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper (parchment paper) or foil paper. The greaseproof should be higher than the sides of the tin. It will keep the cake from becoming too dark around the sides and top. You can use deep cake moulds as well
  • Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and the spices. Sift the mixture
  • In a saucepan add softened butter and sugar (You may want to melt the butter & sugar and allow it to cool as it’s difficult to soften butter in winter). In a separate bowl beat 3 eggs. Now, add the beaten eggs to butter & sugar and beat till fluffy. Fold in soaked dry fruits and flour. Add lemon juice and honey.
  • Pour the fruit cake mixture very carefully into the prepared cake tin or cake moulds.
  • Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour 10 mins, by which time the top of the cake should be firm and dry and will have cracked a little. If you insert a cake tester into the middle of the cake it will still come out a little sticky.
  • Put the cake on a cooling rack Unmould it from the tin and wrap the cake well in a layer of greaseproof paper and then foil
  • You can store the cake for a couple of months well wrapped and in a cool dark place. If you want more boozy flavour you can feed the cake with 3 tablespoons more brandy/rum as soon as it gets out of the oven. Just pierce the top of the cake several times with a fine skewer, spoon over the rum and let it sink in.

The cake was quite a hit and there was complete Christmas spirit in the office. Abhishek baked red velvet muffins whole Manaswi surprised us with chocolate muffins.

Abhishek & Manaswi with red velvet & chocolate muffin

The Jacket Story

Me and my love for winters – the food, the soft sunlight, the fog, lazy afternoons munching on peanuts, snuggling in the blanket, I love everything about winters. And jackets and coats are a big part of my winter love story.

When we were young, we didn’t have too many sweaters and woollens like the kids of today. We were well provided for but there were no excesses. Mom would knit sweaters for us as and when required. When I was eight, my aunt gave me a Kashmiri embroidered blue coat that instantly became my most favourite winter wear. The moment I got back from school I would look for that coat. A few years later she gave me a red coat that I liked even better. Both the coats were hand me downs from my older cousins, but that didn’t matter. Once I outgrew the coats they were passed on to sisters. When we were kids, we would very happily wear clothes or woollens that our older siblings or cousins would outgrow.

Chtra Shharma in a brocade jacket by SAANCHI

After school, my years in Hyderabad made me forget coats. Hyderabad wasn’t that cold and light woollens would suffice. I had to relook at my winter wardrobe when I moved to Delhi, picking up warm and fashionable jackets and coats in a limited budget was quite a challenge. Big brands were off limits. Sarojini Nagar, Janpath and Dilli Haat were favourite haunts. I remember picking up a maroon Tibetan jacket from Dilli Haat. Made from Yak wool it kept me warm through the freezing foggy Delhi winter. The temperature would hover around 5 degrees then, with no sun in sight for days. I later bought a Rajasthani quilted jacket to add variety and colour to my winter wardrobe.

Many winters in Delhi have only strengthened my bond with coats and jackets. I have built quite a collection over the years. At times I find the western coats and jackets a bit limited in terms of colours and cuts. Blacks, navys and greys do get boring after a while. My perception of jackets changed after I came across handcrafted, Indo-western and traditional jackets that can make a dull winter day so vibrant, designed so thoughtfully by Sanchita from SAANCHI. In shades of blacks, blues, yellows, purples and reds she makes formal jackets that I wear to work, woollen jackets, quilted silk embroidered jackets that can be teamed so well with an evening dress or sari.

Embroidered silk jacket by SAANCHI

“Jackets are a perfect way to spice up your attire. Every jacket defines and shapes an individual’s character. The material, the colour, the shape and embroidery reflect the essence and personality of the wearer,” says Sanchita Singh Roy, founder of the design studio SAANCHI.

“Jacket is a versatile garment that can be made from many ingredients, to suit different occasion. There are leather jackets, silk jackets, summer jackets, denim jackets, woollen jackets, flight jackets, fashion jackets, brocade jacket and bomber jackets. I generally work with wool, silk, brocade and cotton. I use embroideries, traditional prints and fabrics to give an ethnic touch to my jacket,” adds Sanchita.

An important tip from Sanchita – while purchasing a jacket do determine very precisely what sort of jacket you need, the purpose and occasions where you would be donning the jacket.

Embracing yet another New Year!

Another year nears end! Suddenly there’s a rush for year-end stories, features welcoming the new year, pondering upon what have we lost or gained this year, what we can look forward to in 2020! We are in a self-evaluation mode (albeit for a short period), weighing and measuring our lives, suddenly aware of the fleeting time, making promises, setting goals. An annual exercise that we indulge in, not sure if we gain anything out of it though. “It’s just another day! Nothing’s going to change but the date,” many nod their head disdainfully and say. But we make a huge song and dance about New Year anyway.

There is lot of enthusiasm around New Year in every culture and tradition. In India, every region has its own New Year that falls generally around April 14th or 15thNoboborsho in Bengal, Bihu in Assam, Baisakhi in Punjab or Vishu in Kerala. India being largely an agrarian society, for most regions New Year marks the beginning of a new harvest season. Good food, new clothes, and cultural performances mark the celebrations. Festivities begin early morning as we traditionally believe a new day breaks with the dawn. The business community in Bengal opens a fresh ledger every New Year, marking the beginning of a new financial year. The old ledger is closed on the last day of the year before (Bahi Khata Visarjan). Businessmen go to the temple early morning with the new ledger to seek blessings of the divine before starting afresh.

With globalization, the English New Year has gained prominence and popularity.  New Years’ eve is perhaps one of the most celebrated occasions globally. From Times Square to night clubs to our own drawing rooms people party away to usher the New Year. And the whole pressure of being with someone you love, and the midnight’s kiss. Yes, the blasted 12o’clock kiss had kept me awake, crying and red eyed on many a New Years’ eves. I cried myself into a New Year, hoping to find my ‘true love’. After all, New Years are all about hope. No matter how down in the dregs you may be, you sincerely hope and believe New Year will be better than the year gone by.

After many a New Years, the midnight kiss stopped smarting me.  I can happily attend New Year dos on my own, or just watch TV or read a book into a New Year. My loved ones could be next to me or miles away, it doesn’t matter, as long as they are there for me. Personally, I prefer being at home on New Years’ eve. It’s just too much of an effort to make it to a party with so much madness around. Snuggling in the blanket and reading a book with a glass of wine is so much better!

Despite the excesses and madness, I feel pretty good about New Years. It brings along freshness, hope, a feeling that you can start over. If you look at it logically, nothing really changes. But isn’t life all about welcoming the new, embracing the change, keeping the faith and holding on to hope that tomorrow will be better!!

So, like the American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox, let’s bear the bittersweet burden of yet another year…

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!!

Chicken Malaikari for a flavourful meal

Nothing like good old chicken curry to bring warmth to your soul and add flavour to your table on a winter afternoon. Sharing the recipe of my very talented friend Heema Roy Choudhury. Though she sounds humble, she’s a great cook and a painter too. You can check out her paintings at Hearts Work on Facebook. And try this yummy chicken curry with coconut milk for Sunday lunch.

I’m not a foodie and I always want to spend very less time in kitchen but cook delicious meals at the same time using many tips to cook fast. I eat to live but my family lives to eat, let’s put it that way. Even though I can eat almost anything (avoiding few without complaints but if I’m a judge at a cooking contest it will be really difficult to pass my taste bud with a good score.

I love using coconut milk in my recipes and would love to share my favourite Chicken Malaikari.

Ingredients

1. Chicken: 1 kg

2. Onions:2 medium cut into small slices

3. Garlic and ginger paste: 2 tsp each

4. Green chilly paste: 2 nos, can be more or less according to tolerance level. You can also add 1tsp Kashmiri chilli powder for colour.

5. Garam masala (Green cardamom pods -2/3 crushed, cinnamon powder-1 tsp, cloves-2/3 nos, bay leaves -2)

6. Turmeric powder: 2tsp

7. Lemon juice:2 tsp

8. Mixture of mustard oil and refined oil: 4tbs

9. Coconut milk: 1 can (2 cups)

10.Coriander powder-2tsp

11.Cumin powder-2tsp

12.Salt according to taste

13.Sugar-2tsp

METHOD

1.Add turmeric, cumin, coriander, lemon juice, garlic & ginger paste and salt into chicken pieces and mix them well.

2.Now heat oil in a pan. Add garam masala in it and let the aroma come out of it.

3.Next add onions and sugar and fry in low flame for few minutes.

4. Add the chicken. Mix well . Cook for 10- 15 minutes. Then you can cover the pan with a lid and stir occasionally. Cook till checked pieces get softened.

5.After that open the lid and pour the coconut milk and mix well. If required water can be added. Salt is added to taste.

You can serve it with rice, roti, chapati or paratha.

The early winter nip and the choking pollution

There’s little nip in the air. Feel like hugging the blanket little longer in the morning, soaking in the sweet sunshine (whenever there’s sun that is)!

Early winters, I remember the dip in temperature and soft morning dew used to make me so happy once. There was something special about winters, especially the pleasant and gentle early winter. As a girl in Agartala, it was all about feeling the touch of morning dew on the leaves and green grass, clear blue sky, golden sunlight touching my face and melting the morning dew, sitting on the sunlit terrace after school, enjoying the winter veggies, hot milk and other delicacies. Mom would take the woolens out, repair the old sweaters, knit new ones. Dad would get jhola gur (runny jaggery) and fresh oranges from the nearby farms. Often after school we would sit on the terrace and have peanuts and oranges.

After Agartala, I spent two years in Hyderabad. Winters were just pleasant there. Nights would get cold, but days were warm, I somehow missed the chill. Moving to Delhi soon after Hyderabad in early 2000, exposed me to different kind of winter all together. I was completely engulfed in the Delhi fog. Since Hyderabad was not that cold, I didn’t have enough woolens. My cousin took to me shopping to Sarojini Nagar and Dilli Haat for warm clothes and shoes. That was the time when my fashion sense was at its peak though the budget was very limited. I had just started my first job with a meagre salary of Rs. 5000/- and I wanted to buy the whole world with it. I soon realized there were many other expenses besides fashionable clothes, shoes and purses, yet fashion could not be comprised. Hence, being fashionably turned out in winters took many hours of pushing through the crowd in Sarojini Nagar. Finally, I was very happy with the result. I would walk through the dense fog every mornings in my fashionable Sarojini Nagar jackets and boots and then take a DTC bus to work.

Smoggy Gurgaon sky, caputured by my colleague Arjun

I loved the Delhi fogs. There was something mysterious and romantic about them. The feeling on numbness, the low visibility, wondering what lay ahead. On weekends I would spend hours staring dreamily at the foggy landscape, watching the feeble lazy sun finally rise and melt the fog. I so loved hanging out in Dilli Haat and Sarojini Nagar, enjoying steaming momos and hot pakodas and chai. Then, before I knew it, the romantic fog suddenly turned into dirty and polluted smog. The cold air that we once enjoyed and breathed in freely started choking us. We started dreading the dull grey sky. And the saddest part is, we all know what’s causing the deadly pollution, technologies are available but there is absolutely no political will or bureaucratic will to act. We common plebeians’ crib and cry on social media and continue to suffer. There isn’t much we can do any way except voice our opinions, but unfortunately no one’s listening. A friend of mine has developed respiratory problems because of the pollution and has been advised by his doctor to leave the millennium city Gurgaon. “I can’t just leave for three months. My company’s not going to pay me,” he exclaims and continues to suffer.

And what worst tragedy or irony or SHAME is we kept our children locked up at home on Children’s Day. Talking about her 9 nine-year-old daughter’s reaction when she learnt school was shut on Children’s Day, a friend of mine said, “My daughter was all excited last evening. They go to school in colorful outfits of Children’s Day. She was so upset when I told her there will be no school today. ‘Why can’t you control AQI?’, she asked. I didn’t know what to tell her.” Air that you can’t breathe in, is that the gift we are giving our kids on Children’s Day? Is this the legacy we are leaving behind?

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.