Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 48, Tuesday December 23, 2008



Season's Delight

Pitha: The taste of winter

CITY winters are quite dull. You wait and you wait but the thrill of feeling the chill down the spine, walking on dew-laden grass dotted with white sheuli, seeing your breath freeze in mid air; are rare sights in any urban setting. However chilly or not, the city mornings are roofed with a foggy veneer of mist, which at times are pierced with cosy rays of the sun. And one thing urbanites never miss during these moments is sipping the morning tea with a bite of piping hot bhapa pitha.

Come winter, makeshift pitha joints pop up around the corners of city streets; Dhaka University campus, New Market, Shahbagh and Karwan Bazar are dottted with rickshaw-vans geared with appliances, offering freshly prepared winter delights.

For many in the city, the day starts with a bite of bhapa, puli or chitoi. “It is a ritual for me to sit at TSC in the evenings and have a taste of bhapa pitha while engaging in a chitchat with my friends,” said Tanvi, a student of Journalism at Dhaka University.

Although for city people making the pithas are a chore they would rather do without, but that does not extend to savouring the delights of the season. Making these delicacies are indeed time consuming but there are some for whom making pitha is a part of life.

“I found myself engaged to making pithas after I was married, as my husband is very fond of them,” said Shaheena Sultana, working as the Head Assistant at the BSMMU.

“Even though making rice cakes was time-Consuming, the trouble seemed sweet when he used to say that the pithas were delectable. I felt like making more pithas for him,”said Shaheena with a smile.

“I started with pudding and phool pitha. And 'graduated' to making bhapa, puli, chitoi, dudh chitoi, bhaja pitha, chhit ruti, patishapta and kusholi pitha.

“I used to make pithas more often than I do now. These days, I only make them on special occasions, like when my son comes home from Cadet College and when my brother comes from abroad,” said Shaheena.

Selina Sultana shares her love for the pithas.

“I was nurtured into the art by my mother who had a passion for cooking. She was so good in the art of pithas making, I am no match for her,” said Selina.

She also added that in the past there were different varieties of fragrant rice, which are now difficult to obtain.

“I saw my mother make pithas with moishkali, maalbhog, aush and many other different kinds of aromatic rice. But these varieties of indigenous rice seem to be lost,” said Selina.

Pithas in the village have a different taste than pithas in the city, say people who are still in touch with their village homes and hometowns outside the cities.

“In my home, my mother and sister make pithas on shankaranti or on the last day of Poush which is also called Poush Shankranti. At that time alpana (white paint with liquid rice paste) is made in the courtyard. When I was a little boy on the day of shankaranti, I used to bring blooms of radish and mustard from the field in the morning for my grandmother who used to worship the idols with the flowers and pithas. Dudh pitha, krishna puli pitha, dudh kusholi were made for worship,” said Bibekananda Das.

“In my home the preparation of making pitha is a part of the entire treat which is missing in urban life. It feels like a festival because the place is flocked by the neighbours giving a hand in the preparation,” he said.

To many the taste of pitha in the village is closer to nature.

“The taste of pitha in the village cannot be compared with the taste of pitha in the city,” said Saymon Zakaria, manuscript editor, Folklore Department, Bangla Academy. “In the village pitha has a touch of nature. It is prepared using clay pots, covered with a clay lid and cast in a clay mould. It is made with elements from nature. But in the city pitha is made on kerosene stoves using aluminium utensils. I would rather say that pitha in the city is 'metallic' pitha,” said Saymon.

In the villages Nobanno (the festival of new harvest) is as celebratory and significant as Eid. During Nobanno making pitha is like a ritual in every village of Bangladesh.

While talking about different varieties of aromatic rice that were available in the past Saymon said that there are still some villages in the country that cultivate those near-extinct varieties.

“There are still some backward villages in the country where electricity is yet to reach. Farmers of these villages still cultivate different varieties of aromatic rice like Sonamukhi instead of the high-yield hybrid paddies.

“I went to one such village in Faridpur, a few days ago, to attend a soiree of Kobigaan (folksong) where farmers still cultivate aromatic paddies. There I had rice and pitha made of Laxmidigha paddy which is almost extinct now,” said Saymon.

“Many farmers still cultivate aromatic native rice in the gap between the harvest and sowing the seeds of hybrid rice,” he said.

One regrettable fact is that the elders in the family usually make pithas and newer generations are hardly interested in learning the tricks of the trade of pitha making.

“With life becoming more urbanised we may soon lose an important trait of our culture,” said Saymon.

“The mention of pitha is found in the literature of middle age, in the folklores like Mymensingho Geetika and in the folksongs of Islamuddin Bayati while depicting the scenes of paying a visit to the in-laws where the mothers-in-laws treat their sons-in-laws with different kinds of pithas or when treating an honourable guest,” said Saymon.

By Durdana Ghias
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed



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