For the past about one year everyone in the house was nagging me for not doing a simple task i.e. sharpening of our kitchen “Boti”. Well, now what is a boti ? Simply speaking.. it is a kitchen knife… but not so simple to operate….. and more difficult is to get it sharpened ! Each Bengali household will have at least two of them.. one is called “aash boti” for peeling off the scales of fishes,and, cutting fish . The other one is “sabji boti” for cutting vegetables. It is a sharp iron blade, about one and half inch broad and around 12 inch long. The blade is “s” shaped and one side is fixed on a wooden plank. Unlike the chopper running through the vegetable or meat, a boti is a stationary thing…. the vegetables or the meat pieces would be pushed on the sharp blade with the thumb while the wooden plank would be held tightly in one feet … a very dangerous act… not many know the art these days. When an onion is cut in the this Boti you would only see the fingers moving very fast on a jet speed, and before you say cheese, you would find super-finely chopped onion, like silk thread, pouring on the plate below !
It was usually noon time when the loud calling could be heard “shaan walla, shaan walla” and Deep would be asked by his parents to get the man. Deep would run all around the locality and following the sound locate the man. This man would carry a very unusual tool…. sharpening equipment. It looked like an “X” made with heavy wooden plank… on one top end there would be the sharpening wheel, tied with it with a string would be the pedal. The man would sit on the other top end of the “X” and pedal hard holding the “boti” …..then lot of particles of fire would be flown around on all sides… a visual delight ! Deep’s great interest was to see the fire-works ! Once the sharpening job is over the man would lift the heavy equipment on his shoulder…. and again start walking with usual calling “shaan walla”.Deep always felt un-easy for the man who carried such an heavy thing on shoulder.
I was going to the market and suddenly saw this young man on the road outside our house. He was on cycle…. on his cycle there were a lot of knives and botis on display… there was this sharpening wheel fixed on his cycle. Eureka….. I came rushing back home and said hand me over the two botis, I think I got a man.
He explained .. he is Miraj. He owns this improvised sharpening equipment…. It was made by re-modelling an old bi-cycle. Going is tough these days…each sharpening job fetches about Rs. 15/-… therefore he also sells botis and hand made knives… that way he manages to eke out his living.
Just to respond to my curiosity he informed that the man who used to carry the old fashioned sharpening equipment was Sorab, his father. He further informed that this sharpening business is no more a workable profession.
I am sure, soon this friend-in-need will no longer be visible in the locality. In any case using Boti is fast becoming an old fashioned way of cooking ….. there are now multi-coloured chopping board… and of course wafer-thin choppers flooding the market, they do not need to be sharpened in any case.