Saturday, November 19, 2005

A first post should have been more pretentious than this, but

It is a fact universally acknowledged (mainly because it is also a fact universally advertized, by me) that I shall be infesting The City (which one? duh) between the first and the twelfth of the coming month, or effectively between the second and the eleventh. Now I'd love to do something by way of performance poetry while I'm there- not in a public way, of course, but a small gig, (in the verdant lawns of JU, maybe? wink, wink), and so I'm looking for musicians, especially guitarists (preferably of the accoustic variety, but electric guitarists are also welcome), percussionists and violinists. If you happen to be any of these, or know people who are and might be interested in investing some of their time in this ungainful employment, do holler to me at arka(dot)o1(at)gmail(dot)com. I'm also looking for others who might be interested in reading (or, as I like to call it, 'performing' the poems).
To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, I've done something similar here in Bangalore, where I was the only one reading with a group of musicians- voice, guitar, violin and a twenty litre water jar in lieu of a mrudangam. We did Neruda (combined with this song called "aaj jaane ki zid naa karo"), Yeats with a stylized adapatation of the theme from "tu hi re", dylan thomas with nusrat, etc. However, that was more of a textual, conventional recitation blended with music. This time, I'm looking at something a little more experimental- to break, if necessary and possible, the ' literal' meaning of the texts and explore their purely aural nature- to play around with sounds and see what emerges. So, for instance, one could have keats done to death metal. For some of the pieces, I want the poem to set the mood for the music, the 'usual' way, but for the others, I want to take my cue from the music. Hope that's not too confusing.
The poets I have in mind for this time are:
Dylan Thomas
Ginsberg (especially 'howl')
More 'classical' stuff like Grecian Urn
Prufrock (although, if we mess this one up, it might incur the wrath of certain un-hirsuite bureaucrats)
ee cummings
Langston Hughes

These I can think of off-hand. Do feel free to come up with more. This would not require too much rehearsing, so if we set the discussion rolling now, through e-mail etc., and we get going from the second, perhaps we can do this on the ninth or tenth? And anyone know of any interesting performance spaces apart from the JU lawns? crossword, perhaps. And oh, I completely forgot about a rehearsal space- my own house is tiny and will not suffice. Time to show some large hearted calcuttan generosity.
Also, my phone numbers (here) are: 09243122682, and 08056995562. If you are rich, or have rich parents, do feel free to holler. Don't leave foul imprecations if you land on my voice mail (which will most likely be the case, especially on the mobile, because it's switched off most of the time)- just leave your name, number, and the best time to call you back, and I shall get in touch.
In Calcutta, I'll be accessible at 24368232 and 9831731422.
Do start firing in the mail, then.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

and thus the meet is set


At Park street Barista ( its almost directly in front of The Park hotel)

On 20th

3:30 PM

be there

Tuesday, November 15, 2005



The poet laureate of the Kannadigas is visiting the city of his birth sometime at the beginning of next month. In view of this development, I propose a postponement of the blogmeet to coincide with his vacation. Hopefully, proper planning and the presence of star expat will bring in the crowds.

I propose 4th December. Venue, time to remain as before.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

bhai phota conversations.

*ditiate diya phota....*)
" sit down on the bloody carpet!"
"ei! prodip phelbi na, bolchi!"
"MAAAAAAAA!!!!! dekho na amay ghi makhacche!!!!!"
sister holding brothers face tightly in one hand and taking carefull aim with the little fingle of another, tongue sticking out in concentration...
" ebar norbi na kintu..."
" MAAAAAAA!!! amay dekhona shara gay kajol makhacche....waaaaahhhhhh!"
sister holding out drop of kajol in lil finger for brothers approval....
" ei dekh, kissu nei, ebar laga, mere baap..."
*ditiyate diya phota.....*
" amar jonne ki chocolate enecho?"
Brother digging nose with the face washing paner bota...
outraged brother: " eki!!!! ami eto koshto kore ghi makhlam, ar tomra amay chocolate diccho na!!!!MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA, AMAY DIDIRA CHOCOLATE DICCHE NA!!!!"

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Bijoya Sweets -- Rimi's Secwet Family Recipes!

My grandaunt ( I call her Jhu) fell ill rather suddenly, so I was packed off to look after her. And if I may say so myself (I pretty much astonished myself, actually), I’m a champion by the sickbed, and have a killer bedside manner. And forget the inane jokes you’re coming up with. This is my grandaunt we’re talking about. Even I draw a line somewhere.

So, we spent quite some time on deep musings about life, the universe and me, and there was this especially invigorating conversation where she listed (bulleted, too) the top…seven, I think…reasons why I am a freak. But more on that later. I promise.

But, keeping JAP’s request in mind, I beavered most of the family’s Bijoya sweets’ recipe out of her. Which led to hours of mellow, sepia-tinted reminiscing, of days and people gone by, of jokes shared in the busy kitchen amid sharp sound of the soft kheer filled sweets hitting the hot oil and the heady smell of pure, melted ghee. Of children seen ‘stealing’ sweets made for the Bijoya guests, and smiled indulgently at.

Of where Bhutnather Dokan (Bhutnath’s shop) and why Gojen Mittir.

Of working under the starlight in the dew-softened garden in front of the house to get everything, from the blazing colours of handpicked flowers to the cool, soothing chandan bata ready at the crack of the pink and golden autumn dawn for the family puja.

Of people who you loved but who died before you could say how sorry you were and how much you loved and treasured them, and of those who trod on your heart with hobnail boots.

Of Didimoni, Khurima, Jhu, Chonu, Mashimoni and Shumani sharing one big bed in one large room because the new ‘house’ was a three bedroom flat and there were six more people in the family, and of the bitter, lonely, disconnected three-member skeleton this bustling, vibrant family has now been reduced to.

I shan’t tell you those.

But Bijoya is just passed, the last day of the Durga Puja, and Diwali and Kaali Pujo is just getting over here in Calcutta, and for those who celebrate it, it is Bhaiphonta/Bhaidooj tomorrow. The odd firworks are still waking us up, so hey, compliments of the season! And here are Jhu’s (and Didu’s. and Didimoni’s. and her Didimoni’s) recipes for homemade mishti. For whatever they’re worth.

Ledikini, pantua:

Ingredients: ½ kg chhana, drained completely (hung to drip-dry in a cotton or muslin wrap, you know the drill?), 100gms of flour, about 75 gms of sugar, baking powder, elach/ ilaichi/cardamom pods, small nokuldanas (er, sugarballs kind of thing), refined oil, preferably with a few dollops of ghee melting in it.

And this is how you go about it: make a nice, soft dough with the flour, a tiny little bit of baking powder, sugar (say, about 2 tablespoons?) and quite a bit of ghee. It’s not going to be a dry, tight roti dough— it should feel oily and smooth. Oh yeah, and the cardamom powder as well, but go easy on it (trust me, I’ve done this). Right, now you make little balls with the dough with the nokuldanas inside them, and fry them in batches of three or four (again, the voice of experience—one by one takes too long and is often over-fried. Too many, the whole lot breaks or sticks to the sides. Or both) Fry till they’re brown, but keep stirring and gently rolling them over in the oil, or, as I said, they stick to the bottom and the sides.

Then, when the whole lot is done, make a thick (and we’re talking icky thick here) sugar syrup (lots of sugar in boiling water) and drop them in. carefully.

*****Important note about frying!!!*****

This is the way to do it: heat the oil and ghee till you can smell the ghee. If the utensil’s non no-stick (he he) and turning red/brown, you’re wither careless or not very experienced in the kitchen. In which case I take no responsibility. Right, so if you’re the kind who can tell when the oil’s reallt hot by looking at it, take it off the flames at this point. Let it cool for about twenty seconds or so, then, slowly, carefully, drop the ledikinis (and ALL other sweets) into it. Keep rolling them over gently with those perforated hatas you get for fishing out fries and stuff from oil, and put the (*insert appropriate utensil name*) back on the flame, and turn it on high. You can’t be too careful with the flame. Too high, your sweets are a scorched, half-done mess. Too low, it’s a ball of flour and milk dripping with cold oil.

Chhanar jilipi:

The exact same list.

Make the dough the same way, divide it into little balls, lengthen each like you would a rough solid cylinder of plasticine, give them a jilipi shape (sort of imperfect overlapping supposedly-concentric circles), deep fry the same careful way, dip in rosh, serve. Or better, eat.

And now the more difficult ones: (not really, though…)

Kheerer chop: flour and sugar; 1 ½ -2 litres of milk; shuji/ sooji/ dunno what it’s called in English; a couple of pieces of bread, toasted stiff (but not brown) and powdered; a sliver of nutmeg, powdered; ghee and oil – the previous lethal combo.

Right, deep breath. You could mess this up royally, and you probably shall, but let’s think happy thoughts anyway, okay?

Put the milk on to boil, with about 2 tablespoons of sugar (or 1 ½. Depends on how sweet you like your kheer) and about a teaspoon of shuji/ sooji. Turn down the flame after a while, otherwise it’ll scorch. Now, when the whole affair thickens and occupies about half the volume it did before (and there are no scorches or spilt white stuff on the kitchen floor) you can pat yourself on the back, add about 2 tablespoons of shuji, mix it well, add powdered toast, fold well, let it try and tighten (but not scorch! …you can tell how my efforts went, can’t you?) slightly more, then sprinkle the powdered nutmeg, mix it in again, and take it off the flames.

You should be a pat hand at the dough and the sugar syrup by now. Only this time, the stuff shan’t float in the rosh, it’s only meant to cling to the chops and give them that extra sticky sweetness. So, right, you make the balls (look, stop smirking every time you read that, okay? We’re trying serious cooking here! *huff*), put a small amount of the kheer (the one you just made. Yay!) inside, seal it my stretching the dough over it firmly but gently, pat it into a rough oval shape with your palms, and fry till each one’s golden-brown. Then toss them in the clingy syrup and we’re done with this one.

Nimkis in rosh:

Here’s a breather. This is really, really easy. Buy a packet of lightly salted nimkis (the less salty, the better), make a thick, thick rosh, stir the nimkis into it, and keep stirring till they soak all the rosh. Do NOT let it cool. Have it straight off the flames. It’s fast, easy, and delicious.


The same dough (you should have some in the fridge wrapped in a moist cloth by now. Just in case). Roll the dough in a large…er, fellow bongs, what’s a good word for lechee? (and NO, it’s not what you think. I’m sorry to disappoint you, boys and girls, but we’re REALLY cooking here. I’m not Gytha Ogg)

Anyway, you know what I mean, just flatten the dough with your palm (and not a rolling pin), and make sure it’s between ½ an inch and an inch thick. Then cut it into rough squares, diamonds, rectangles – whatever’s your favourite shape of the week. Just not circles, okay? That’s a disaster. Then fry them, one by one, over a high flame, dip them in rosh, and let the syrup dry on and cling to the gojas. Some people sprinkle coconut shavings (narkel kora) on them while the rosh is still sticky. Some sprinkle more sugar.

Suit yourselves.


Right. Now I’m in trouble. I really don’t know what chira/chire is in English. I’m not entirely sure there’s a easily recognisable word for it, actually. So, if you figure out what it is, yay, you just got yourself into more cooking.

So, you soak the chira (that’s how I pronounce it, Bangal trait apparently) in just about enough lukewarm water. The chira, and this is important, should not be soggy. It’ll just soften a bit and maybe swell just that much. Now, preferably, you should make it into a paste on what we call a sheel-nora, which is a stone slab and a stone pestle respectively, used to grind spices and make pastes by rolling the pestle over the slab from top to bottom, and putting crushable and grindable stuff in between. Has been known to be used as a weapon of mass destruction, so perhaps it's better if we just stick to the food processor. Just, don't make it into a smooth paste, alright? Leave it at the slightly grainy stage.

Now, mix this grainy paste with dry kheer (you may do without the sooji/shuji and toast bit this time, though a fistful of shuji is always advisable), flour, a pinch of baking powder, ground large-cardamom seeds. Make rough ovals from this dough and fry ‘em. You should be the reigning champion of this by now.

The pranhoras stay in the rosh. You don’t pick them off after they’ve had a good soak.


If you’ve done the kheerer chop, this is like, child’s play. Absolutely.

So, hmm…you make the kheer the same way, you make the dough the same way, and then, you do the little trick. You *clears throat* make balls with it, roll each of them into a flat circle (they should be largish) and cut them into half.

Actually, wait, this gets a little complicated. Do it my way. Don’t cut it into half. Make a normal sized flattened thing, put some kheer in the middle, and wrap the sides over the filling to give the thing a triangular shape. The foldings should overlap and be securely glued together with water. But don’t drench!!! Just wet a fingertip (in water) and press the sides closely together. Then put a clove in the intersection (or roughly the middle) of the folded sides. Then fry the lotikas, and dip in the rosh.

Then serve, eat, feed it to your dog, pack and send home and give mum a heart attack. Upto you, love.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bhai phonta

Bhai er kopaale dilam phonta

Jom duarey porlo kaata…

Bhai phonta as I remember it always started out the same way. A crisp November morning when you wake up knowing that school would reopen the following day and the Final exams would be in less than a month and that the month long Pujo vacation was over. Bhai phonta marked the culmination of the seasonal festivities and celebrations.

Mamu-dadu would be the first one to arrive. He was my grandmother’s brother, elder to her by a few years. He was remarkably fit for his age and would take a longer than usual morning walk and travel the entire distance from his house in New Alipore to our place in Kalighat on foot. Didibhai (my grandmother) would be all ready for him, showered and dressed in a crisp white cotton saree with a bright red border. She would have the prodip lighted, the five essentials for phonta: ghee, doi, white chandan, red chandan and kajal, and a bunch of freshly plucked grass (durba) along with a few grains of rice (dhaan) for the ashirbad. Mamu-dadu would sit on an aashon that Didibhai had stitched herself and she would give him a phonta wishing him a long and healthy life. Then she would touch his feet and he would be given a plate full of sweets to enjoy.

By that time Mamu (my mother’s brother) would arrive. And it would be my Mom’s turn to give him phonta. And the whole routine was repeated. Mamu was always a little pressed for time because he would have to leave right away for work. So right after that there would be plates of luchi and alur dom and fish fry that would be served to the brothers which they ate before they left for their respective offices. By this time my Dad and uncle would have left for their phonta at my Pishi’s house. They would take the phonta, have breakfast and leave for work from there. The big feast for Bhai phonta would usually be a dinner at my Pishi’s place later that evening.

Meanwhile I would be getting ready for my share of phonta dewa. I always started with giving a phonta to Dadubhai (my grandfather). Next in line would be my Kaka’s son, P. P was six years younger than me and we’ve grown up together under the same roof very attached to each other. P would dress up for the occasion in one of his new Punjabi’s from Pujo and I remember how serious we would try to be and not burst out laughing while we sat there for a few minutes staring at each other’s face, with me reciting the lines praying for his health and long life while the rest of the family stood watching and blowing the conch shell when we were done. My Mashi would bring her two sons over, for the few years that they lived in India. So B and T were next in line, followed by two other cousins A and R. I happened to be the only sister available to give phonta which worked well for me because with every phonta came a little gift as a token of love, which for me more often than not turned out to be books, given that everyone knew that I was an avid reader. So every Bhai phonta would mean at least five or six new books that I would be craving to devour since I would not be allowed to read any once school reopened until the Final exams would be over.

Every Bhai phonta I would be introduced to a set of new books, a new series of unexplored delights. I went from strength to strength starting out with Enid Blytons, Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys to Agatha Christie and Alistair Maclean to John Grisham and Robin Cook. These would be interspersed with some bangla treats from Satyajit Ray: Feluda, Aro Baro, Professor Shanku. The hardest part was waiting the next month to start reading the books while studying for my finals.

And now years later I remember those days with nostalgia. Things are not the same. I live in a land far, far away. Dadubhai has passed away. Mamu-dadu is old and frail, just went home after spending the last month in the ICU and cannot leave his bed. P is in Indiana, B is in Michigan, T is in Australia, A is in Chennai, R is in Pune. It would be a real stroke of fate if we ever got together, all of us, for Bhai phonta. May be we won’t. But I will always cherish the memories that I carry from those days and will wish them the best of health and a long life, no matter where they are:

Bhai er kopaale dilaam phonta......

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

My bit

Guess this's turning out to be more of a Bong adda than Calcutta per se. Delightfully so too because Calcutta's getting so non-Bengali-ish - you've to see the queue in front of Blue Print on Lindsay while the Dey's Medical people swat flies these days. Yes, the Bengali Calcutta is more of a bygone era. But then there are also those small instances when my college buddies (non-Bongs) who had (small) stints on working there complain that the Rt. 240 actually reads dusho chollish which drives them nuts - and then that grin on my face just pops up so involuntarily :)

In fact my pals complain that Calcutta is too darned slow and shopkeepers actually draw their shutters down for their afternoon siestas - gosh, think of the lazy laidback wintry afternoons and the smog-filled sky and basking in the lukewarm sun on the terrace - now that my friend is Calcutta for you!

More later...

what am i doing here?
oh yes of course!

Happy Diwali All :)

Piscine ponderings

Morning. Not early morning, not the time when the body creeps reluctantly towards the day, not light-breaking crow-waking tree-shaping dawn. But the time when tea is brewed and road-side flower-vendors importune walkers, when conservancy trucks clear their throats hesitantly and judder forth, when the lights strung above the fish-market begin to pale in the sun.

Buying fish. The essence of the morning round for the good Bangali householder. If one image, one metaphor were to sum up
grihasti for the Bong, it is this. Little bag in hand - usually plastic yarn, distinctly mildewed and with an odour that leaves no doubt as to the usual contents – most likely dressed in flapping crumpled wide-legged pyjamas and a shirt, rubber “Hawaii” sandals flip-flopping, the man of the household shuffles between lines of vendors perched on the long platform, peering suspiciously at the beady-eyed glistening wares and occasionally asking the price in a tone of deepest disgust.

Stone chips crunch underfoot as I approach the market. There’s a new “mall” coming up here now, to replace the sprawling muddy chaotic bazaar that I grew up with. My grandfather’s house is on the next road up, and over the years the bazaar has spilt its banks every morning until it laps at our front door and little trickles now run even farther up-shore.

I remember the huge black Brahmi bull that used to stand in the vat at the corner of the road, blinking as flies buzzed around his nose, occasionally putting his head down to sample some exceptionally choice piece plantain leaf. After the bazaar had packed up for the day, he would lurch down our road through the mess of leaves and peel, snorting at anything that crossed his path and pausing only to scratch his hump against the occasional parked vehicle. Mr. Gupta across the road eventually stopped replacing the wing-mirrors on his Maruti.

Now, as I enter the little alleyway into the fish-market, there’s the thump-pause-swing-thump of a man breaking ice in a plastic tub. Little flakes of fishy ice fly onto the clothes of shoppers who remain either unaware or oblivious. I sidle past, determined to shower at the first opportunity.

A chorus of blandishments rises from the fishmongers, excited by the sight of the first lot of customers. Mostly wasted on me, because I can’t even identify most of the more common kinds of fish. I am relegated to third-class citizen status the moment I ask about the difference between
paarshey and bacha. I haven’t figured it out in 30-odd years, so I wonder why I even bother to try now.

Some of the vendors, of course, welcome my ignorance. The fatted calf, they must be thinking as I approach. My shorts and tee are not the attire of the serious fish-fiend. And I hesitate to actually touch the wares … eewww, to prod and part flesh that looks quite so mucoid round the gills. As a middle-aged man beside me leans over to prod the flanks of a vast scaly thing, I am reminded of W.C. Fields’ reason for refusing to drink water – “Fish fuck in it!”

I begin to think
he had a point there.