Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 38, Tuesday September 30, 2008



I remember…

Streets are getting blocked by huge bamboo structures. Shops are teeming with spending public who are literally splitting hair over the weave and waft of saris of all colour and fabric. Footpaths are taken over by hoards of hawkers selling everything, from glasses to dresses. It is still raining. People are planning their annual leave. Trains are getting overbooked. Hotels have raised tariff. Restaurants are gearing up for a very profitable duration.

Yes, folks. Puja is around the corner.

Think of the huge idols; the mother goddess with her ten hands slaying the evil demon, her four children with their carriers and the not too visible Shiva who is conspicuous in his absence.

The simple story goes like this. Durga, the mother goddess is married to Shiva and lives in her heavenly abode with her husband and four children, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Kartik and Ganesh. Every year, during autumn, she, with her children comes down to her father's place for an annual visit. All the bamboo structures become symbolic of the father's home. All the worshippers consider her a part of the extended family for the four days of festivity. Everyone shed unabashed tears when she embarks on her journey back to her husband, symbolized by immersion in a water body. I get goosebumps just writing about this.

That is enough of culture and folklore. Let's get to business. Food is an integral part of Puja. What to eat and where to eat takes up a huge chunk of discussion at most households in the days leading to Puja. Will it be authentic Bengali cuisine? Or is it the new Chinese restaurant this time? Maybe the youngsters would like to go to an Italian place? What about the community lunch at the apartment complex? Endless choices. Endless discussion.

Life was not this complex when I was growing up. Puja revolved around my maternal uncle's place. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, other guests; everything put together gave a true feeling of festivity The humble house standing on Hazra Road, in the heart of south Calcutta, became my nerve centre of activities. Led by my grandmother, the ladies of the house would strive to ensure that the men were well fed with a wide variety.

I can go on and on with the variety that was created. The ubiquitous ghugni, goja, nimki, the naru, mangsho bhat, chingri malaikari, homemade fish fry, the list goes on and on.

But there is this one simple dish that caught this plump little boy's attention. Jalpai chuney with aam ada. It is a sweet chutney that would accompany the super heavy lunch for puja days. Aam ada is a kind of ginger, which actually smells of unripe mango. As the chef and restaurateur Kylie Kwong so fondly says, it's an “aromatic”.

Aam ada has a very short season. By some divine intervention, it is found in the market during the puja season. Even in this day and age of cold storage and forward planning, you will be hard pressed to get aam ada at any other time of the year.

They resemble young ginger. Whitish in colour, it is as gaunt and knobbly as the ginger. The thin skin has to be peeled to reveal a pale fleshy part, which when sliced or grated, gives off an ethereal smell. Mostly used in chutney, it also adds a whole new dimension to your everyday moog dal. Unlike its more popular cousin, the ginger, it is not pungent at all. In fact, there is a hint of sweetness in the aroma which easily permeates in the dish that it is put in.

You may find this funny that of all the good things of Puja - the idol, the holidays, the lunches, the family gatherings, the crowd I tend to remember and relate to a smell more than anything else. But then again, you know, taste is mostly smell. Only a small part of that sensation is tongue induced. And take my word for it. You will have to smell this wonderful little stem (or is it a root?) to understand how magical it is and how much festivity it adds to an otherwise mundane dish like jalpai chutney. In fact, come weekend, I will head out to the market looking for aam ada. Need to experiment and see what else can I create with the aroma. But that story is for another day.

Photo: Zahedul I Khan

Puja Spotlight

Puja festivities at Gulshan

“Baro maashe tero parbon” is what our beloved Bangali culture is known for. Abundant in colour, rituals and traditional celebrations, these parbons have been a part of our lives since time immemorial. They have given our culture a remarkable individuality. The celebrations of the year reach a crescendo when the azure skies of autumn announce the arrival of the Hindu goddess Durga.

Sharodiyo Durga Puja is one of the most celebrated festivals and is relived every year with customary fanfare and merriment that transcends the boundaries of race and religion. Our cities are adorned with festive 'mandaps' while the heart-thumping sounds of the 'dhak' breathe life into every inch and corner of the country. Everything else takes a backseat while everyone eagerly comes forward to be a part of the vivacious fiesta, no less than a carnival.

This year, for the very first time, a mandap will be set up in Gulshan for the residents of the greater locality of Gulshan-Banani-Niketan-Baridhara-DOHS-Uttara to celebrate “Sharbojonin Durga Puja” with great pomp and glitz. The initiative has been taken by some eminent residents of the same locality who have come under the umbrella of Gulshan Sharbojonin Puja Udjapon Parishad (GPUSP) to bring the festivities of this year's Durga Puja into their very own domain. Dhakeshwari temple's celebration of Durga Puja has always been lauded as the biggest and the most festive Puja observation till now. This year GPUSP promises to create the same flavour and scale at their mandap in Gulshan.”

GPUSP plans to celebrate the grand event like a social festival, rather than a purely religious occasion. A carnival flavour will be added to the traditional rituals and customs of the Puja to make the occasion more enjoyable and attractive to people of all ages, regardless of religion, faith and community. The 5-day long grand festival will commence on the day of Shashthi, 5 October, at Youth Club Field in Gulshan 2 with the Shahsthyadi Kalparambha which will be followed by the inauguration of the Puja mandap. A 152 page literary collection called Bodhan will be brought out on the same day, featuring write-ups from prominent writers the likes of Muntasir Mamun, Selina Hossain and Zillur Rahman Siddiqui. Young upcoming writers like Iffat Nawaz and Naeem Mohaiemen will be featured alongside in the literary souvenir.

The event will continue from 5 October to 9, during which each day will be packed to the brim with exciting activities. Contemporary singers like Arnab and Andrew, Subir Nandi, Shubhro Deb and Mita Huq are in the tentative list of artistes set to enthrall the audience with popular numbers, while evergreen Nazrul and Tagore songs will also be rendered to bring the captivating touch to the festive atmosphere.

Folk songs, keertan, shyama-sangeet and paala-gaan have all been scheduled to add touches of magic to the ostentatious event. There will also be fire-spinning, choir singing and Monipuri dance performances. The fiesta will come to an end on the 9th of October with the Darpan Bishorjon and the Bijoya Shobhajatra which will be brought out to bid adieu to Durga.

All in all, the Gulshan Puja mandap promises to deliver a full 5 days packed with fun, excitement and mirth along with the authentic essence of the Sharbojonin Durga Puja that invites everyone, to join in the celebration of devotion, peace, harmony and happiness. Let the 'shakti' take you over and sway to the beats of the 'dhak' at Gulshan's Youth Club field this October. It's an opportunity not to be missed!

For more information, check out the website www.gulshanpuja.com

By Wasia Mehnaz



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