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 – daal, chawal, 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 bhaja, chatni 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-
- Wash the Black rice multiple times till you get almost clean water.
- Soak the rice for 2 to 3 hrs
- Boil milk on slow heat in a stove, add bay leaves, cardamom.
- Add the soaked rice and let it boil, keep adding milk if it thickens.
- 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.
- Serve with LOVE, the most important ingredient.