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     Volume 2 Issue 2 | January 20, 2007 |


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From Narayanganj
Selling Pitha:
A tradition and a livelihood

Nowshin Naher

With the periodic change of various seasons, our eating habits also change. One of the trademarks of the Bengali winter is the pitha. A pitha is a traditional variety of homemade cake made of rice flour, coconut, cream and molasses. It comes in all sorts of tastes and all sorts of colors. The making of pithas also has symbolic value- it represents the reaping of the big harvest. Pithas are unique to Bangladesh, and one of our most enduring cultural icons. The vibrant colors, subtle flavors and simple ingredients of a pitha communicates a lot about our rural culture. This aspect of our culture is particularly prominent in winter. There are so many different varieties of pitha, the prominent ones being chitoi, bhapa, puli, patishapta and pakon. There are pitha festivals these days in many parts of the country- both rural and urban- offering tantalizing samples of many different varieties. There is and usually has been, a somewhat festive or seasonal association with the consumption of pitha. Pitha, is an occasion.

In Bangladesh, for many, pitha is not just a seasonal celebration, but also a livelihood. This is particularly true in the case of women. Nazma Akhtar, of Fatullah, Narayangonj, is such a woman. She is around 40 years old and has been selling pitha for the last 10 years in Dharmagonj of Fatullah. Her husband is a rickshaw puller. At first, she was, essentially, a part-time worker for the Dhaka Vegetable Oil Industry. She gets work often, but after paying the rent and the educational expenses for their three children, Nazma and her husband Borkot don't have much left to run the family. Nazma and Borkot needed to do some extra work. Now Nazma sits regularly in Dharmagonj Bazaar and sells tea with biscuits and muri- puffed rice. In the evening, she sits in a corner of the street with her two sons Ashraful and Saiful. Since then, the financial condition of her family had improved. Later, she got the idea to sell pithas from her brother Hashim. Asked why she has chosen such a profession, she says that she gets a small amount of rice from her father's property and can smash it by herself . As a result, it costs her very little to produce pithas. Mainly she sells chitoi pitha which is 2 taka per piece and bhapa pitha is 4 taka per piece. Along with pitha, she sells various kinds of bhorta such as dried fish, red chilly, coriander, etc. which is free with chitoi pitha. If she gets 2 taka more then she puts more molasses and coconut in vapa pitha. Every evening, she spends around 150 taka and gets almost 80-100 taka profit. Her children help her prepare as well as serve the merchandise. Sometimes Borkot accompanies her when she is out selling. Now she is living a happier life. She says that even though the work is tough, seeing her children happy makes it all worth it. Like Nazma, there are also many women who are selling pithas in the streets of Narayangonj district. This is indeed a great livelihood for rural Bangladeshi women.




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