Indian Culture

Hindu Festivity: Durga the Demon Slayer
Invocation of the goddess with a community dance. Photo: Partha Banerjee.

Invocation of the goddess with a community dance.

This week, for four days, we have our wonderful, colorful, fun-filled, music-filled Hindu religious festivities. The religious part is called Durga Puja, or invocation of Goddess Durga. But truly, for many of us, it's as much cultural as it is religious. The essence of the religious part is that Goddess Durga, the divine force with ten hands symbolizing ten directions and powers, vanquishes Asura the demon. As with many other Hindu religious observances, the idols and their manifestations are all symbolic. As Swami Vivekananda the great monk from India said it in America many years ago, we do not worship the idols. We worship the powers they symbolize. Our gods and goddesses and pujas and rituals are high art, as they almost always carry symbols, and metaphors and inner nuances. Plus, the way the artisans build the clay idols are purely celestial art. I guess, we celebrate the artists and their creations too. Indian religious festivities are also never complete without sumptuous food. In places like Bengal where I come from, we have both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. On some days, we choose to go vegetarian. On some others, it's mixed with the sacrifice of a goat or lamb. But traditionally, we do not use onions or garlic to cook the sacrificial meat, on these days. And Hindus do not eat beef, nor they eat chicken or pork on religious days. But I am only talking about urban or middle-class Indians -- people and communities I am familiar with. A mixture of rice and lentils -- also known as khichri -- is an important part of the offering. All the food we take at the puja premises are food offered by the priest to the goddess first, before the worshipers and followers get to eat it. Because it is offered to the goddess first, we call it prasad (in Bengali or Hindi), or prasadam (in South Indian languages such as Tamil or Telugu). Durga Puja is also full of autumn fruits. And flowers too. This is the time when India is beautiful weather; fruits and flowers are beaming with beauty and prosperity. Monsoon has just passed, and Mother Earth is lush with bright sun, moderate temperatures, and clear skies. The famous mango and blackberry season has passed, and the cooler orange season has not begun yet. But fruits such as sugarcane, banana of many varieties, papaya, grapefruit, guava, apple, pear, pomegranate, coconut, ripe jackfruit, etc. etc. are abundant. Fruits and many different flowers would be laid out on freshly cut, dark green banana leaves, and that layout itself is a work of art.
Night-flowering Jasmine Nyctanthes arbor-tristes. Shiuli in Bengali. Abundant in autumn.

Night-flowering Jasmine Nyctanthes arbor-tristis. Shiuli in Bengali. Abundant in autumn.

When we were small, we did not know the significance of the religious aspects. We would chant the Sanskrit prayers sung by the priest in awe, without knowing the meaning. But we would be very much looking forward to the food and desserts that came after the offering was over. It was a mouth-watering experience. And talking about desserts -- no Indian festivities are complete without desserts. In the Southern parts of India, coconut is an integral part of much of the food and desserts too. In the Northern Indian states such as Bengal, Assam, Punjab, Bihar, Orissa or Uttar Pradesh, desserts are primarily made out of cow or buffalo milk. And it is true that sweets from Bengal are famous all across India. Our delicacies such as Rosgolla and Sandesh and sweet, homemade yogurt are items no Indians have the heart to refuse. And then, music. In places like Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi or Bangalore, all the biggest community pujas are followed by music festivals, where well-known or budding artists would come to sing, or play their sitar, sarod and tabla. Durga Puja is fun. Mother Durga destroys the evil forces in us, and renews our peaceful, pious beginning for a new year. She is the ultimate force who helps us to keep free of human vices. To the Mother, we pray for peace, resilience and strength. We say, "Jai Ma Durga."
Durga Puja in Albany, New York. Photo: Partha Banerjee.

Durga Puja in Albany, New York. Photo: Partha Banerjee.

Sights and Sounds in Calcutta
Photo by Partha Banerjee

Photo by Partha Banerjee

Of course, Calcutta is now officially renamed as Kolkata. This is the name we have always used in the first place.   Those who have never been to that side of the world would have no way to know how different it is from here in the U.S. It is so fascinating!   Some people might argue that it is too noisy. It is too noisy, yes. Mics and loudspeakers are almost a routine part of life. If there is a festival of any kind, organizers would play some Bengali, or more often Hindi, songs. For those who live there, it is normal. But for outsiders -- Indians from another town or village, let alone a foreigner, the noise could be difficult to deal with.   But it is only more prevalent during festive times, and that too with new regulations, present in certain areas at certain times. Otherwise, even in Kolkata, after-lunch and after-dinner hours could be very quiet, soothing, and settling. One can take a nap in his or her first or second-floor room, and quite enjoy a bicycle passing by with the rider ringing the old-fashioned bell. Or, perhaps a vegetable vendor or some other salesman occasionally oral-advertising his merchandise -- and that too, with a melodious, characteristic tune.   Some people might find it difficult to walk on the streets because it is very crowded. In a big city like Kolkata, it is way too crowded. But that is out on the main streets and arterial roads. As soon as you get off the bus, taxi or electric tram, and enter your own residential alley, it's a totally different solitude. You can walk down that seven-minute-long, winding alley from the bus stop to your home, and in some hours, you wouldn't even find a soul anywhere. You might even catch a game of chess on a sidewalk porch: you can pause a while, and enjoy the never-ending, silent game between two eerily silent players, before you decide to walk back to your place again. A street dog named Kalu may receive you in front of your house; he knows very soon, he will get a few pieces of tea biscuits you'are going to throw from your second-floor veranda.  
Photo by Partha Banerjee

Photo by Partha Banerjee

Every little corner of the city of Kolkata has its own character. Some neighborhoods are mostly Bengali neighborhoods. Some are predominantly Hindi-speaking. Some are Punjabi. Some are Oriya -- people who came to Kolkata from the neighboring state of Orissa. Oriya Brahmin cooks have always found jobs in a Bengali household, because of their dexterity in cooking. Especially when a mother is ill, or indisposed because of childbirth, Oriya cooks would be temporarily hired, and given responsibility of the entire kitchen. Sometimes, even when the mother comes back, the cook would be kept permanently, because by this time, he has proved to be indispensable for the family. And the man in the house finds his chicken curry unforgettable!   We had one such Oriya cook in our family when I was in high school. Sanatan-da (Brother Sanatan) worked in some store during the day, and came to cook for our large, joint household in the evening. We were at least ten or fifteen people at one point of time in our family: my parents, my father's elder brother with his wife and two sons, and my uncles, nephews and nieces, some of whom were refugees from then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). My father was always the one who would never turn anyone away; everybody knew they could find a place to live for a few months, or a few years depending on their ability to find a job in Kolkata, once they approached my father. He was the key man in our family.   My father was a kind man. But he was also a very strict man, when it came to our food habits. He was a stickler for healthy food. Kolkata is abundant and well known for its street foods -- food vendors, fruit vendors, chat sellers with their burning charcoal oven to deep-fried fritters would roam our streets every evening. But no, if my father is nearby, you wouldn't ever be able to buy anything from them. My cousins and I would sneak out once in a while to get a quick bite of the street chat: pakora, dahi bada, samosa, kulfi malai...and so much more!   We would sit down for our school work in the evening. No middle-class family would allow their children to do anything but study religiously for a few hours, before mother called them for dinner. Occasionally, we would hear a small girl practicing her Tagore songs on a harmonium two doors down.   Father would remind us that exams were coming up, and we should not get distracted by music, cinema, or such things. He would make sure we did not get sick eating junk food, especially before the annual exams.   So much fun were those days!     ###
Photo by Partha Banerjee

Photo by Partha Banerjee

An Indian Summer, in India
Courtesy: Times of India

Courtesy: Times of India

Summer is fascinating in India. Yes, it is hot. It could be very hot. In some places, like Rajasthan or Punjab, it is extremely hot. In Bengal or Tamil Nadu, it is more humid than hot. It could be very uncomfortable. And not too many people have air conditioner. The poorest of the poor don’t even have a fan in their home. That is all true. But at the same time, summer brings out nature’s best gifts for the people in India. It’s the fruits. It’s the vegetables. It's the flowers. It’s the treasure that Mother Nature has saved for the tropics. Those who have never lived in India in summer would not truly understand how much life an otherwise scorching sun can bring. Solar energy is abundant, very abundant in India. The men, women and children are saved and sustained by the light of the sun. Sun keeps them healthy. By the heat it sends out, and by the blessings it sends down on earth – to produce an incredible abundance of food. If I didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t believe that only in a place like West Bengal or Bangladesh, you can get at least one thousand different varieties of mango in summer. You can find mangoes in every state, every city, and every village across India -- Benaras or Bombay, Madras or Mysore, Agra or Assam. And they come in so many different shapes and sizes. Some are big, like the size of a football. Some are tiny – like the size of a litchi. Some are deep red, and people in North and East India call them “sindur aam,” meaning vermillion-colored mango. Some are peach colored. Apricot colored. Some are absolutely beautiful green, even when they are ripe and juicy. And then, of course, you can have green mangoes, when they are green. People in India, especially children, find great pleasure to eat raw mango, with a pinch of salt, or some with a dash of chili powder laced over the pieces.
Mango pickle in the making

Mango pickle in the making

Across India, people dry green mango pieces in the sun – mostly putting them out on the roof for a few days, and then they pickle them in glass jars, using incredibly flavorful and enticing spices. Most mango pickles are done in mustard oil. And then, many people make sweet relishes out of green mango – either cooking them very slowly in sugar syrup, mixed with whole mustard seeds, or preserving them in various types of sweet sauce. One of the sweet mango relishes is called chutney – a very popular end-of-the-meal delicacy across India. Because practically half of the one billion-plus Indian people are vegetarian, and also because Hindu widows are traditionally vegetarian, millions of Indians use mango, tamarind, cauliflower, papaya and berry pickles – both sour and sweet – to eat their rice or hand-made wheat breads, all year long. It is practically impossible to find an Indian household with no mango pickle jars on their kitchen cabinets. Summer in India also brings out thousands of varieties of flowers. Some of the most fragrant summer flowers are white, and bloom in the night. The famous Indian tuberose or“Rajanigandha” (meaning nightly fragrance), and Jasmine have featured Indian poetry and novels through ages. Our poet Rabindranath Tagore's birthday in summer is incomplete without a bunch of blooming, fragrant tuberose. Street foods are also special during summer. Peddlers bring out their yummy delicacies, mostly in the afternoon and evening; and in India, they never have any lack of customers. Children, of course, are their most dedicated audience.
Tagore and the Tuberose

Tagore and the Tuberose

I remember, during school days, we would have a long summer vacation when after doing our required one-hour math and handwriting practice session in early afternoon, we would eagerly wait for the street peddlers’ special selling calls. Here comes the blackberry man. Here comes the green mango man. Here comes the pakora-walla. Here comes the watermelon-walla. Those of us who were fortunate to have rooftop on our own houses, late in the evening, way after the sun went down, we would sprinkle water on the very hot rooftop to cool it down, and then lay out thin mats, where we and our elders would sit and chat for hours. We would have puffed rice laced with mustard oil-made mango pickles, and a generous serving of eggplant or onion fritters. The moon would jealously look down on us. Summer is very, very nostalgic. ###
Mango chutney with mustard seeds. Yum!

Mango chutney with mustard seeds. Yum!

A Very Happy Bengali-Indian New Year
Be ready. Our New Year’s Day is coming up. We say, Shubho Naba Barsho. Nababarsha 1 The First Day or Pahela of a Bengali New Year happens in the middle of April. Indian calendars are lunar calendar, and the first month is called Vaisakh. The Bengali New Year therefore is called Pahela Vaisakh. On the calendar, Vaisakh is the first month of a two-month summer. Scorching summer. In some places, it can reach up to forty degrees…maybe even forty five. Which is well above 100 F. Then appears the famous Bengali monsoon cloud with its famous, continuous rain, thunder and country floods. Frogs flourish. In remote villages, snakes flourish too. Monsoon also goes on for two months. Monsoon is followed by a beautiful, sunny autumn. And so on. Pahela Vaisakh, the New Year’s Day, is well known for its food and festivities. In other parts of India also, such as Punjab in the north or Assam in Far East, this day is celebrated with much fanfare. In southern state of Kerala too, this is an auspicious day. In Punjab, it’s called Vaisakhi. Bengalis love their food, and they love their festivities. The gods and goddesses have blessed Bengal – both the province of West Bengal where I came from, and also East Bengal that is now known as Bangladesh. My parents came from East Bengal, after the British partition. In the Hindu Bengali community, Pahela Vaisakh is celebrated with a religious offering or Puja to Ganesha, the god of success. Traders and merchants in particular have their observance, before they ceremoniously begin their yearly accounts book. In Bengal, they call it Haal Khata, or the new ledger. Small traders and shopkeepers, whether it’s a sweet shop, grocery store, neighborhood book publishing business or a tiny hairstyling saloon, the owners make sure the decorate their shop with the ceremonious banana plants adorned with the sacred vermillion or sindur. The puja ritual is done inside by a Brahmin priest, and then the trader would have abundant food and particularly sweets to give away to local children or guests whoever show up that day. Nababarsha 2 In a few places in India, people also fly kites on the New Year’s Day to celebrate the festivities. India is a very diverse country, where you can find different customs and cultures only a hundred miles apart. Some places fly kites. Some others places perhaps have a rowing competition. Food, of course, is an integral part of any religious or social festivities in India. Bengali or Punjabi or Assamese New Year’s Day is no exception to the rule. But on the two sides of Bengal, food has assumed a very rich role in these festivities. Many people in Bangladesh celebrate Pahela Vaisakh with an exotic combination of rice soaked overnight in water they call Pantaa Bhaat, and a special preparation of the famous Hilsa fish. There, they call it Ilish. The major rivers such as Ganges in West Bengal and Padma in Bangladesh are lush with this beautiful, shiny, silvery fish that is absolutely mouth-watering. No Bengali New Year’s Day celebration is complete with Pantaa-Ilish. It is a must. Add some hot green chili to the mix. That is, if you can take it. nababarsha-3 Ilish is cooked in many different styles in different parts of Bengal. Some bake it with special spices. Some put pieces of the fish coated with turmeric and salt in a soft banana leaf, and slowly cook it inside an earthen pot on a very low charcoal heat. The baked Hilsa is known as Bhapa Ilish. Some cook it with a generous amount of mustard seed paste, mixed with green chili. That curry is known as Sarisha Ilish. Then, some others would not wait much longer once the fish arrives either from the village river or from the city market. They would cut it delicately in large pieces, and deep fry in mustard oil. Nababarsha 4 Absolutely heavenly – all of the above. And of course, no lunch or dinner is complete in India and Bengal without its fabulous desserts. There are so many varieties of desserts and sweets there that one would simply keep counting them for the rest of their lives. And mangoes. A very big part of the Bengali celebration. Unending varieties of mangoes, too. That’s how life is like back there: full of food, full of fun, and full of family and friendship. Be a part of this wonderful celebration. Shubho Naba Barsho. Nababarsha 5
Childhood Memories: Our Winter Recess
Rajgir Hill Station - Muktiskitchen.com

Rajgir Hill Station

Memories come back during this festive season. I grew up in an extended family in Calcutta, with fifteen or twenty people sharing three rooms and a common kitchen. We didn’t complain. We were all very happy. That was our life: not affluent, but very happy. However, growing up together with cousins, aunts and uncles, my parents and I did not have a lot of quality time to the three of us. So my father, who was always big on eating healthy, made a yearly plan. He took us to a small, then-empty hill station called Rajgir, in the nearby state of Bihar. Rajgir, by the way, is the place where they have relics of the world's most ancient university called Nalanda. Rajgir was full of fresh air with plenty of oxygen, and tons of healthy food. My parents and I would be away from the city hustle and bustle for nearly two months, in the months of December and January. More...
Happy Breakfast on a Diwali Morning (and a special recipe)
Deepawali-festivalDiwali is here! Indian households will light up with clay lamps, candles and electric decorations. Fireworks will fill up the streets, and the sky.   And we will eat sumptuous Indian food to celebrate the Festival of Lights. Diwali, or Deepavali. _____ Indian households, particularly Bengali homes, practically spend their days and nights thinking about eating. At least, that’s how it used to be when we grew up.   The day begins planning for food: breakfast around 7 A.M., followed by lunch (around 10 A.M. on weekdays, and 1 P.M. on weekends), followed by afternoon snacks (around 4 P.M. when kids return from school), followed by evening snacks (around 7 P.M., when kids return from playground and the head of the household returns from work), followed by dinner (around 10 P.M.).   There are some Indian families where dinner is really late: around midnight. Believe it or not! Not good for health, though.   Of course, today, with more health consciousness and less available time, life has become “less exciting,” when it comes to having many meals and munches throughout the day.   Let’s talk about breakfast.   Breakfast used to be fun. Not like today’s routine cereal and milk, or toast and eggs -- in affluent, Westernized families; or no breakfast in a very busy, nuclear family where everybody would go out to work at 8 A.M. sharp. Laid-back were those days when we grew up. Father would work in government office, with a stable and peaceful lifelong job, and mother would stay at home. Father would plan with mother the night before what next morning’s breakfast would be.   Weekdays and weekends, just for the simple reason that one has more time than the other, would have different sorts of breakfast.   On a regular weekday, father would go out to work at 10 A.M. (and in my case, my mother would also go out to work more or less at the same time, unless she had morning duties at the post office where she worked all her life). Therefore, breakfast would be made between 7 and 7.30 A.M. Weekday breakfast would include leftover roti (handmade wheat bread) from last night; but in order to make it delicious, mother would fry it with ghee on a flat skillet. The roti would turn dark brown, but father would take special supervisory role to make sure mother would not over-fry it, so that it turned black. Once it turned even remotely blackish, it’s no fun to munch on it anymore. It’s bitter.   This ghee-fried, crispy and crunchy, golden brown roti would be savored with some cane sugar, sugarcane or date-palm jaggery, or for the less-sweet-toothed, Indian style mango relish or achaar, or even leftover curry, warmed up on the clay oven.   For the more Westernized but less affluent, French toast, but not with pricy eggs, but with a batter made out of chickpea flour of besan. Equally delicious and nutritious, but less harmful to heart. Eat a few pieces of besan French toast with a dash of salt and pepper.  
Luchi, or Puri.

Luchi, or Puri.

Weekend breakfast would be elaborate. Luchi (deep-fried white-flour, puffy bread), Paratha (triangular bread fried on a flat skillet with ghee or oil), served with very thinly sliced potato fries. Especially, in summer, fried Patol (a delicate vegetable of the cucumber family), or in winter, fried cauliflower. In families where they have health restrictions on use of oil or ghee, they would make a spicy curry with all of the above vegetables, with minimal oil (not mustard or coconut oil, both of which are high in cholesterol).
Fried Patol, or pointed gourd. Parval in Hindi.

Fried Patol, or pointed gourd. Parval in Hindi.

  No breakfast is complete without some sweets. In Bengal, Mohan Bhog (in Hindi, they call it Halva) would be a major treat for kids and adults alike. It is made out of semolina and ghee, with generous amount of cane sugar added to it. Once in a while, perhaps a few, mouth-watering Ras-Gollah, or Gulab Jamun.   Then, after breakfast, it’s time to ponder carefully about the lunch menu. Time for the family member who has time, to go to the local farmer’s market or bazaar, a very important, daily ritual for most Indian households, even today.   Here is a Mukti’s Kitchen recipe for you, a gift on Diwali.   Poha (Flattened Rice with cauliflower, cashews and raisins)   Poha is originally a Marathi-Gujarati dish (from the Western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat), a popular vegetarian breakfast, with a fragrant nutty flavor. I made this in my in-laws house with the supervision of my father-in law. He travelled across India, and he introduced me to many vegetarian dishes. I still remember my First Poha making and getting nervous whether it would come out nice. Especially in your new home where people are watching over your cooking skills. You have to make sure your flattened rice is not sticky. It must be fluffy, and that is the trick.  
Poha, a delicious breakfast.

Poha, a delicious breakfast.

Poha (a Bengali modification)   Prep time – 15 minutes Cook time – 20 minutes Total time – 35 minutes Yield – 4-6 people   Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter)
  • 1 medium red onion, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons of cauliflower (very small florets about 1”/1” cut)
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 2 tablespoons of roasted cashew
  • 2 tablespoons of golden raisins
  • 2 cups of soaked flattened rice
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • ½ tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of roasted cinnamon, cardamom and clove mixture (directions in procedure)
  • Chopped cilantro
  Procedure   How to soak the poha  
  1. Wash 2 cups of flattened rice in cold water and add 3 cups of warm water. Give it a good swirl. Soak in warm water for 3-5 minutes, then drain the extra water completely, and let it sit for 4-5 minutes. This part is tricky to make your poha fluffy.
 
Indian spice box

Indian spice box

How to roast spices  
  1. In a clean pan, add two inches of cinnamon, 5 green cardamoms, 7 cloves. Let them toast in a medium heat until you get a nice aroma (hold up the pot to look for the fumes coming from spices, it should only take 10-20 seconds, it is important not to burn your spices.)
 
  1. Transfer the whole spices, and grind them in a spice grinder until granular.
  Now, the actual cooking process  
  1. Heat the oil and ghee on a large skillet on medium flame, and add the finely diced onion.
  2. Add ½ teaspoon of salt and cauliflower, then fry together for 3-4 minutes.
  3.  Add the peas and stir well, and fry for 1 minute. Cook until the vegetables are soft; then add cashews and raisins.
  4. Add the flattened rice and softly fold it (gently, not to mash the cooked vegetables and rice).
  5. Add 1 teaspoon of cardamom, cinnamon and clove toasted powder and sugar; mix well, then salt to taste.
  6. Serve a on a flat plate garnished with ½ teaspoon of toasted powder (cinnamon, cardamom and cloves), ½ teaspoon of ghee and chopped cilantro.
  Serve hot.   Happy Diwali to All.   happy-diwali-greetings  
Authentic Diwali & Dusserah Festival Recipe
Durga Puja art 2October and November are two of the most festive months in the Hindu calendar. Dusserah is observed on the tenth day of the autumn lunar calendar when after a four-day celebration (or puja) of Goddess Durga, devotees bid her adieu. Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and success, appears on the full moon immediately after. In Bengal, where we came from, Lakshmi is also known as one of the two daughters of Durga, the other daughter being Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom. Along with two sons Ganesh and Kartik and these two daughters, Durga descends from the Himalayas where her husband Shiva lives, to pay an annual visit to her parents’ home on mortal earth. Religion and scripture have taken various easy-to- understand forms in various parts of India. In Bengal and eastern provinces, Hinduism has taken on a least rigid shape. It has a long history with other religions, and two centuries of British colonization. Then, in a fortnight, on the new moon, Diwali happens, which is also known as the Festival of Lights. All across India, and in households of Indian origin across the globe, regardless of their religion, Indians celebrate this secular festival, which also is known as Kali Puja, or the invocation of Goddess Kali. Fireworks – big and small – light up the sky, all night long. More...
Wonderful India, As I See It Now :-)
Delicious lunch in Rajpur, West Bengal.

Delicious lunch in Rajpur, West Bengal.

Dear Friends: I am in India now, and enjoying every minute of it. Next week, I'm returning to New York, with new cooking recipes, new ideas, and new energy. 🙂 It is hard to describe India in one or two short articles. India is a very beautiful, but complex country. The geography is complex. The food habits are very different from place to place. The cultures and lifestyles and languages are also very different. It's an enormously diverse country. You travel one hundred or two hundred miles in any direction, and you feel like you've come to a different country. That's how complex it is. Yet, in spite of all the diversity, there is an underlying theme of unity, whether you are in Calcutta on the east (where I am now), Delhi on the north, Bombay on the West, or Chennai on the south. Then, there are so many big cities and small towns and big villages and tiny villages across India: Bangalore, Agra, Jaipur, Amritsar, Puri, Darjeeling... In all these places, however, regardless of the language, religion or food habits, people show some strong, bonding features that tie the country together. Care for the elderly parents at home is one such feature. The presence of a real society is another such feature. Cooking food at home and eating together at least once a day is perhaps a third feature. There are more. Recently, my husband and I had an opportunity to visit one of his surviving maternal aunts in a village-like small town called Rajpur. He went back there after four decades, and I went for the first time. A sister in-law and an uncle in-law took us there. It was such a wonderful experience that I cannot describe in words! Before going to her place, we visited a famous nearby Hindu temple of Goddess Chandi. Even though I went there for the first time every in my life, and my husband went back after so long, never we had the feeling that we were away from them. They embraced us so warmly that it felt as if we never left India. The love and affection were so real!
Her own artwork :-)

Her own artwork 🙂

The aunt, a widow for many years now, lives with her two sons, their wives and children. She has her own little room on the upper floor where she makes her own artwork, and writes her own poetry. She took me to her room, and displayed all her sewing, fabric work, and kantha (cloth) stitches. Incredible! I am sharing a photo here. She opened her iron trunk which was tucked away underneath the bed, and showed me the annual diaries she wrote for many, many years. All with a tender, affectionate smile for this daughter in-law she had heard of, but never seen! And then, she divulged some of her cooking secrets. Now she is very old and can't cook herself, but teaches her daughter in-laws how to cook her phenomenal dishes. The pulao (scented fried rice with raisins and garam masala), the fish curry, the lamb curry, the lentils with coconut, and a number of vegetarian dishes (Hindu widows are strictly vegetarian). Absolutely delicious! If I had the time, I would definitely go back to her at least once more, to ask some follow-up questions. But this time, it was not possible. I hope next time though, I return to Rajpur to sit down for some time with this wonderful woman, and learn from her secrets of Bengali and Indian cooking. Feel blessed. I shall tell you more when I come back. Sincerely, Mukti Mukti's Kitchen
Rajpur, a small town near Calcutta.

Rajpur, a small town near Calcutta.

Celebrate Diwali Today :-)
Goddess Kali the Demon Slayer. Art melts with religion.

Goddess Kali the Demon Slayer. Art melts with religion.

Celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights. This year, it's on Thursday, October 23. Be festive, be merry. Decorate your home, school and work place with lights. Small lights. Big lights. Anything that can lighten up and illuminate. Anything that can make the day bright and full of smiles. And then, celebrate the happy occasion with Indian food. Happy and healthy Indian food. And if you like sweets, have Indian sweets. 🙂 More...
Food, Fun, Festivity and Hinduism
The Deities and the Devotees.

The Deities and the Devotees.

Written by Partha Banerjee of One Final Blog _________ October is the season for our Hindu religious and social festivity. Durga Puja and Lakshmi Puja, followed by Diwali, Brother's Day, and many more. Not too many people know here in America. But it is truly a fascinating, colorful time for us. Because all of the religious celebrations and pujas are linked with food and fun. Food fun. And fun food. 🙂 And to me, it’s more about food and fun than religion and rituals. Hindu religious festivals are absolutely, brightly colorful with mouth-watering food. And what’s more, because it’s directly linked with the sacred events, the food is actually even more healthy and pious than the often-extravagant and spicy Indian dishes. And you can’t complain about good, delicious Indian food with carefully preserved health qualities, can you? More...