Life, People

People watching in Kolkata, 2: Own your presence Bengali!

Continuing from yesterday’s post on people watching, here’s another trip from last year.

“We spent seven beautiful days in Kolkata – beautiful days of Lakshmi Puja and Bhai Phonta. Though we both had to work a lot we got to spend some time with near and dear ones. And lots of near and dear food. Like chandrapuli, darbesh, narkel naru, malpua, chamcham, barfi, kochuri, jilipi and much more.”

I was reading Land of Seven Rivers by Sanjeev Sanyal on the journey and thinking about the pluralism and the melting pot that is India.

On this trip we “went to Seagull and bought lots of books, and finally sat down to draw at the airport.”

“Airport people are the best to draw. This restless Japanese tourist was not calm. Maybe his legs were aching. Maybe it was his heart.”

I was looking at the body language of the people around and thinking that “Bengalis always look so apologetic to be present. Like they don’t own the right to exist. They look too humble and sit as if they are trying to disappear into the background.

Be here, own your presence Bengali!”

Standard
sketchbook

People watching in Kolkata

A trip back to my childhood home in Kolkata is always a bit disorienting for me.

Home: A constant reorientation of the self. Peeling back all the skins from the past.

In between all the usual socializing, I try to carve out some time to sit and draw the Bengalis, and secretly make snide comments into my sketchbook.

Thinking, how some people are totally unprepared for such close inspection. Including me of course. Flury’s, one afternoon in June 2018.

Standard
Event, Life

The empty space

A couple of months ago we lost our beloved Dida, our mothers’ mother. When I lose someone from my life, I have a ritual of committing to paper all the memories before they grow dim in my mind. This is one of those ritual drawings.

For all the cousins: Rishi, Ribhu, Reshmi, Ruby, Nikon, Bimbo, Josh-da, Mishti-di, Babun-da, Pushan-da, Raja-da, Ruchi-di, Rinku-di, Badshah-da and Tupshi.

Dida

Bengali words

Hall-ghar: the big room, literally the hall
Adda: A gathering for gossip, among other things. Wikipedia definition
Taash: cards
Kodbel: A fruit
Putiram: a sweet shop
Eecha: A sweet made with coconut in the shape of prawns from East Bengal
Cheet: A gur candy probably invented by my Dida
Patla Dal with kaalo jeera: Watery dal made in the East Bengal way
Daler Bora, Daler Paturi: Dishes made with lentils, from East Bangal
Mourala Maachch: Tiny fish from the Bay of Bengal

Standard
Food, Life

Losing sweets

[TRANSCRIPT

Last week I went home to Calcutta for a brief visit. Those two days were filled with delicacies of all sorts, including the most esoteric dessert. Actually the presence of some seasonal delicacies brought to mind the absence of others – like the Bengalis’ pride and joy, the Himsagar mango. I did get to eat “taaler bora” and “taal kheer” cooked lovingly by my aunt – a skill that my mothers’ generation would take to their grave rather than teach me.

Mother: Huh. Your generation has neither the time nor patience to learn these complex dishes…
Me: But who will make these for me when I’m eighty?
Aunt: Be realistic! You don’t even own a karai, how will you deep-fry the boras?
Yes. Unfortunately I gave up deep-frying (so unhealthy!) and so forfeited my chance to learn the art of taaler bora.
Me: But at least, taal kheer?
Mother & Aunt: No!
Mother: You have no patience!

My chances of cooking taaler bora thwarted, I set out to buy some Bengali sweets to take back to Delhi with me. But horror or horrors, the shops were selling all Marwari and Punjabi sweets!
Where was kheer kadamb, with the powdery white shell and the juicy centre? Where was dorbesh, that beautiful jewel-like sphere?
Nor tilkoot – made from sesame seeds – or jibegoja – the sweet I most identify with!

I was reeling from the shock. Finally I had to go searching across town looking for some real Bengali sweetshops.

In the end with much difficulty I found some simple sandesh…but I am still in shock.]

Standard