Category: Nostalgia

Festive fun with COVID twist!

Aoshtomi fun on Titas’s terrace garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The October Feel

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

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

Celebrating with friends

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

Sanjay who organized my b’day bash

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been 2 years…

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

When pieces fall in place 🙂

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

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

Titas with Katha

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Tryst with Natural Remedies by Gargee Vidyarthi

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

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

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

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

Slow cooking in Mitti Handi

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

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

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

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

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

 Sharing recipes of my products:

Reetha Shampoo

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

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

Hair Oil

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

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

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

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

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

Arpan with spatula

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

Yummy prawns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World is calling you… by Titas Mazumdar

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

Kailash range from Kalpa village

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

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

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

Travel ready

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

Off we go

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

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

Bhaktapur, Nepal

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

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

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

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

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

On our way to Valley of Flowers

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

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!