BAKRID IN CALCUTTA : 50 YEARS AGO

BAKRID IN CALCUTTA : 50 YEARS AGO

There is an overall aura of happiness in the house…Deep’s elder sister and mother both are engrossed in making the ginger and garlic paste, using the heavy crushing stone. Deep has already made two visits outside, at the main-road junction. No, the black Landmaster car is yet to be seen. Ah, soon the car surely will arrive, with the meat of qurbani from Hashim Sahib’s home. Today is the Bakrid Day !

goat meat 2

pix courtesy : Google

Deep’s father always says ‘we are poor, but that is our pride’. Going was tough for the family, with four children, and with a meager salary that his father was earning as an LDC. Deep knows the full form of LDC- Lower Division Clerk ! It is not that they do not get to eat meat. Every Sunday his father buys goat meat from local shop of Abdul. One Poa (quarter of a seer – about 200 gram) for the whole family of 6. The mutton curry will have a lot of potatoes and lot of light gravy. Deep gets 3 small pieces, nothing to complain. Mother takes only one piece and a few potato pieces – it seems she does not like meat! (It is years later Deep realized that mother did like meat, but never had much choice than just to accept one piece !). But on a Bakrid Day it is different. Every year mother will serve large serving spoon full of meat, and every time Deep finishes the plate, mother will insist he takes a bit more rice and some more meat ! Oh, great day !

Deep is third time lucky ! The black car finally arrives, and Deep goes near the car enthusiastically and asks the driver “ house number 34, Doctor Memsaab” ? “Yes, come on in, show me the house”. Deep takes the short ride and the car stops near Doctor Memsaab’s house, located next to Deep’s house. Inside the car were large brass trays, on which large chunk of meat were placed. The trays were covered by nicely embroidered white cloth coverings. There were several such trays, taken to the house one by one. Deep could not wait any longer and ran home “Mom, it has arrived, several trays.. a lot of meat.”

The next thing would be a loud call from the next door. It  would be the voice of Boro Masi (Eldest Aunt) . “Deep, come on, bring some large vessels”.

Boro Masi was the eldest sister of Deep’s mother.  Doctor Memsaab (we fondly called her Granny) was Boro Masi’s mother in law. And then, like every year, the rest of the routine will follow. Mom will cut the meat into large pieces … lot of them,  in a large pot and cook in coal-fired oven for long time. The entire home will be filled in with the nice aroma of spices.

Goat-meat

pix courtesy : Google

During lunch time everyone will be on a joyous mood, and, every year all will agree in unison that Hashim Saahib always gives the very best qurbani meat.

Hashim Saahib was a businessman, owner of several cinema halls in the central part of Calcutta. Doctor Memsaab was the family doctor. She was very able senior retired nurse, and in those days such person in all practical purpose was entrusted with all health matter of the entire family. Most of child delivery was administered by Doctor Memsaab, at home itself. She made a daily visit to the family, check every one -starting from checking the blood pressure of the elders to the treating common cold of the children in Hashim Saahib’s family. She was respected and revered very much in the family, and, the idea of sending so much meat to her was that this kind lady will keep a little for the family, and, the rest will be shared among the neighbours. One of the important aspect of Bakrid was sharing of  Qurbani meat with poor neighbours.

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This annual festivity for us continued many years, even after the death of our dear Granny. The children of Hashim family, continued the tradition for many more years.We still do get qurbani meat. Our old house-keeping aunty, Jameela Bibi who still feels I am his ‘little son`, collects meat from a couple houses around her slum,  and comes in the evening and hands me over the meat. HAPPY BAKRID !

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Pre-Christmas in Kolkata : Then & Now !

dsc_0022In our teen age days the pre-Christmas outing was a visit to the New Market. We are located at an extreme end locality in South Calcutta and this visit to the central Calcutta was some thing great for us. I always eagerly awaited for the day. My grandpa would come around noon, a few days before Christmas, and we will set out for this journey to the wonder-land ! I always narrated about this dream outing to my grand children – they are 3 in number. The elder one Rijul, who is at his final class of schooling, always had many interesting queries about  this… my olden days New Market trip !

This Christmas I promised Rijul to take him on a similar pre-Christmas trip to New dsc_0016Market. More than him, I was the one who was keen on re-living history !

dsc_0014When we reached near the main entrance the area was too crowded and there was a near stampede situation. Ah.. that was the Light House Cinema…. this is the spot where there were some head-loaders… they will come running with a large bamboo basket…. go along nmwith you to collect whatever you buy from the New Market… carry the load on their head and at the end of your shopping, come to the taxi stand and put all the packets inside the taxi neatly…. and finally be happy with whatever bakhsis (tips) you offer… after all its the festive time ! I was feeling sorry that none of them were found here, they must have found much lucrative alternative vocations !

At the New Market entrance, in olden days, we used to make short stop over at the greetings-card shops…. there were about 10 such shops. dsc_0012Only one we found still surviving, but with no takers. In the internet era none is interested in those greetings cards. Once inside the market, the scenario did not change much. Many of the old charming clothing shops were still there, though they did not have much buyers. Most of the families go for online shopping for their readymade clothes, and, even the sarees are procured by the same method.

The mistletoes and other decorative selling shops are still there. They are doing some what better business than others. The cake shops are doing brisk business. I was indeed upset as dsc_0009I did not find the same old charming New Market hopping experience. But for Rijul, he was enjoying the visit… I was showing him some of the old shops still in the business. I bought him a heart-cake and a hot patties ! I tasted a bit. Ummm…. some what nearer the olden-day –taste, except less buttery ! Well… at least some good things still survived the test of the time.

Those days our return trip was by a tram ride. Then the trams had less riders and it was a pleasant smooth journey. I did not propose the repeat mode for our return journey. It was a very difficult time to get hold of the taxi to take us.

Finally we managed to get one taxi after putting half and hour effort, and, reached home. It was indeed an enjoyable trip…. a good start for Christmas 2016 !

A Bengal Christmas @ Christian Para Kolkata

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24th December, 2016 the day before Christmas Day started early for the young ones. They got themselves engrossed in making a Manger and placing images of the Nativity. Some of them were running around with a huge wooden ladder and climbing to tie out the colourful paper strips in the locality. Soon the area, our small Christian Para (Christian Dwelling) wore a real festive look ! Their hectic work schedule were often punctuated by the shoutings from grandpas and grandmas “time for lunch… please come home….” But their routine answers were “just  ten minutes more, and we would be through !” My daughter- in- law made a huge Snow Man which was placed next to a Santa outside our home. It was very nicely made . By the time we could gather for the lunch it was already well paste noon !

 

dsc_0151After the Lunch, it was the continuation of the same routine for the boys, and, this time the girls took the charge of decora-ting the church… with lots of mistletoes and flowers of varied colours.

25th December, 2016

We woke up with the boom of the sound box playing “jingle bells”. Around 7.30 in the morning we all gathered at our church of the locality. Ours is a small

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Church being decorated with flowers and leaves

church with a sitting capacity of about 40 . On occasion like this we arrange for close-circuit-television transmission on the first floor room of the church so that those who could not make it inside the church can still go upstairs and join the worship. It was an hour-long service. Less of sermon and more of carols ! Along with traditional English tune carols, we also sing a few Bengali Christian songs set on old folk tunes. After the service we gathered outside the church for cake and coffee. There after we had Christmas Tree and all at the congregation got some useful prizes by picking up lucky numbers. The  prizes were house hold items like comb, tea-stainer, mug, soap case, small kitchen cans and so on ! There after we gathered to pose for a family

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Tea after the church service

photograph…… a very old tradition very religiously followed every year…. of course the photographer changes with changing times. In olden days it was one of my uncles who was a passionate photographer who did the job. Thereafter my elder brother-in-law, followed by me for some years. Presently my son is doing the photography for the past several Christmas !

Thereafter, there was the gathering of friends and  relatives inside and outside our house…. with hot coffee,  home made cakes and my daughter made a lot of chocolates to share for this occasion.

dsc_0064dsc_0068Around noon relatives from far flung places started arriving for the Christmas Lunch. This is a participatory event where every one shares the expenses for the food. I have some long tables which  are taken out of our store-room for this occasion ! The lunch menu was very much a Bengali fare… Rice, Dal, mixed vegetable curry, chicken curry, sweet chutney, papad and sandesh (milk sweets). There were about 50 persons joining the meal.dsc_0009

In the evening I was sitting on a chair in front of the decorated Manger… playing Santa, by presenting each visiting child a small Santa replica and a toffee ! Till late evening there
were a good number of children who visited this festive arena. dsc_0025Around  9.45  in the night we had our night meal …. the loud speaker outside still playing  “Man will live for ever more because of Christmas Day”!

Christmas at Christianpara@Flash Back 50 years

It is time to recall … how was the Christmas celebrated in the olden days Calcutta !

EARTH: SOME CALL IT HOME

Christmas at Christian Para @ Flash Back 50 years

December 20,

It was a cold winter morning and Deep got up quite early. Deep was reflecting …yesterday was a mixed fare – Annual Exam Results were out and he got promoted to Class V alright, but as usual, did very badly in Maths. There was a loud knock at the wooden front door, and Deep jumped towards the door. Yes, like every year, Grandpa was there . Grandpa announced “This afternoon we are going to the New Market ! Oh, yes congrats, I heard that that you are promoted to the new Class“. Then he whispered, “And dont’ bother about the Maths number”. This was comforting enough for Deep. Deep’s mother came running and grumbled “Dad, you will spoil him with sheer pampering He did not prepare well for the exam and I am not surprised about his Maths score.”…

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Harvest Sunday @A Small Church in Kolkata

Our locality is in south-end of Calcutta city. You may call it an elevated suburb. Here we live as a small Christian community. Today is the Harvest Sunday. Everyone in our family is busy making last minute’s final details. Our house is next to the church. So there is no distance the family members have to cover, but, the harvest items from each family have to be placed at the altar before the first church bell rings, that is at 7.20 a.m. My grand children stay a few blocks away from our home, but they stayed on last night, so that they would not be late for the church service.

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Deep was then around 10 years of age. Those days Harvest Sunday was an elaborate event. Deep’s Grandpa would turn up early in the morning on the previous day, knock at the door with a loud harvest day song “We Shall Come Rejoicing ”. Deep would come running to the door. Grandpa would invariably ask him to find out the axe from the junk-room and Deep would oblige.

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Arum plant has giant leaves

The axe was a bit blunt, but alright for the next act. Grandpa always insisted that for the Harvest Festival one must offer at least one of the own home grown vegetables or fruits ! There was of course a small vegetable garden in front of Deep’s house, but it only had two guava trees, and, the guavas growing on them were not at all tasty and hence not appropriate for offering in the  church altar. Ah… then there was this wild variety of Maan Kochu (Arum) with giant leaves. Grandpa would very carefully dig out at least 10 such giant Arum plants, complete with leaves, stem and the                                                                                  roots – the tuber (that’s the portion one

kochu

Arum Root, the eatable portion

can eat).  Carrying them to the church a bit far away was a difficult task. First of all it was heavy for Deep who had to make several trips, because he can at best carry a couple of them at a time. Secondly carrying these obviously meant inviting itches all over the body— this wild variety of Arum’s raw juice was often very allergic.

The Church those days was made of mud-walls and it had a tiled roof. Those up-rooted  Arum plants placed inside the church would serve as decorations. Along with these, from each member

kula

Kula for Winnoing

family, some vegetables procured from outside market were offered on a Kula each. Now, what is a Kula? It is a flat Bamboo plate woven of bamboo strips. (This is used for a different purpose all along the year. On this Kula older women in the family would put rice, about 100 grams, and while holding on both sides with thumb and index finger,  tap hard beneath the Kula with other fingers. This would create vibration and the paddy husks and other broken rice pieces would surface. They would then throw out these unwanted elements! This process of winnowing would be repeated till the entire sacks of grain are de-husked. No doubt a very labourious process ! ) At the end of the church service, Grandma would cut the tubers, make small pieces and ask Deep and his friends to share them among the neighbours. The non-Christian neighbours would receive these with joy and respect.

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“Grandpa, Grandpa”.

I woke up from the nostalgic journey, and, said “Sorry dear… I was lost in another age”.

advent #christmas_countdown_beginsMy wife informed “ I have already cleaned the Kulas, but the trouble is there are some holes in it…. after all they are not in use any more for rice cleaning”.  She added “I have placed some papers to cover-up the holes”. Then the grand-children got busy placing the vegetables brought from the market on these kulas. We normally place fresh harvested winter-vegetables. The tradition is that we start eating those variety of vegetables only after the Harvest Sundays.

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We now have a new two storied church, with gothic style walls and marble floorings. And the Pastor uses a microphone to share his sermon.

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But personally speaking, I miss the mud walls and the decoration with the wild arum plants. I miss those strangely, allergic itches along my skin as I carried those huge wild plants- with my grandpa singing loudly- praising the good Lord for the bountiful He offers us each year!

Journey Recharged !

The seat looked dusty. I looked around myself. There were hardly any co-passengers around. The train had arrived at the platform an hour earlier than scheduled and I guess people were yet to find their respective coaches. There was only a young girl in the opposite seat – a young woman rather. With jeans and a loose T-shirt and a silver colored nose-ring she looked weird. Her eyes were glued to her mobile phone.

Huh! Another of those gadget geeks!

I put my hands in my pocket searching for a piece of paper or even my handkerchief. No way would I sit on the dusty train seat.

“Tissues?”

The voice startled me. I looked up. A smiling face looked at me in return. Her left hand held out a muddled bundle of fresh tissues. That same weird girl!

How on earth did she know that I was actually looking for a piece of paper?

“Take some. I cleaned mine with these”, she laughed. As she laughed I noticed the twinkle in her eyes.

scf1224Normally I refuse help from strangers – that too such a strange looking stranger – but right then I had no option.

But before I could even give her a formal thanks, she got up from her seat with a spring and began cleaning my dusty seat.

“Aha..ha…why….”

“Ha, it’s all right uncle. I would have done the same for my Dad”, she smiled the same way, having cleaned the seat in a jiffy.

“Tadaaa…here you are”, she pointed to my nearly clean seat.

“Thanks”, I thanked her softly.

A few of the co-passengers had begun arriving. Porters, noisy children, worried mothers, see-off relatives….

I looked outside. There was no one for me. Geeta had to pick up her son from school, Sekhar had his office to attend. It was more than enough that they had bothered to drop me at the station atleast.

“Sorry Appa. Please….I have to pick up Rohan in another hour, the school is pretty far away from here, if I don’t leave now I would never reach and you know how Rohan is….he would just keep crying!”, she had sounded apologetic.

“No problem.  Anyway, I just have to carry a single bag. It’s no big deal”, I had tried to comfort her in my own way. Afterall  she was my daughter. And it wasn’t wrong either. How much would the bag of a sixty five year old weigh anyway? The heart weighed heavier!

I adjusted my sole bag near my feet. The other passengers had mostly arrived.

Someone somewhere had perhaps opened a tiffin can of freshly fried Vade. The smell of crisply fried fritters wafted through the air. If Sudha had been around she would have certainly packed in a dozen….idlis…puliyothare….she always ensured she carried meals during her journey….she hated meals from pantry.

I closed my eyes, trying not to think about the past or even food for that matter. Without Sudha, life had become a burden. Staying with married daughter is not an easy option but with a son in the IT sector in Kolkata, with an erratic work schedule, staying with him wasn’t an option either. Thought of Ravi gave me a sudden jerk – a jolt rather. That conversation two weeks back had knocked off my sleep. Geeta hasn’t stopped crying since then.

It was just a three line monologue from Ravi.

“Ummm….Appa, I have found a girl for myself….Bengali, Christian…RebecaaBiswas. I know you will never agree to the match. But please, please, please come and meet her. She would be coming from Bangalore after her training in another two weeks.”

No way would I agree to the match! A vegetarian, Tamil boy from a Brahmin family marrying a non-vegetarian, Bengali, Christian girl!  I would go and try to reason with him. If he doesn’t agree I will sever all my ties with him –forever! I shook my head unknowingly! I opened my eyes.

The train had begun with a jerk. Loud good-byes,sobs , laughter filled the coach! A few of them began to call their relatives informing them of the train’s departure.

I too took out my mobile phone from my pocket. I know it wouldn’t really matter but as a courtesy I wanted to call Geeta.  Just as I began to press the numbers I suddenly realised there wasn’t a single rupee balance left in my mobile. I had been asking Geeta, requesting Sekhar but they had either forgotten or not bothered. I had even gone out to recharge the phone myself but the nearest shop was closed for over a week.

I stared helplessly at the screen.

“Here, use mine!”, a hand with pink nail colour held out a mobile phone.

That weird girl again! Her face was still smiley with that strange twinkle.

“I…I..no..thanks”

“It’s alright. Use mine.”

“Okay then…no need to call. Just send an sms to my daughter: Train started-Appa”, I felt weird and ashamed at the same time.

img913With deft fingers she typed out the message and the number as I dictated.

Beep!

“Here, it’s done!”, she smiled.

“I..I..actually I forgot to recharge my phone…and I can’t blame my daughter either…she has her hands full”, I sounded apologetic yet again.

“ It happens….with most of us. Why don’t you try one of  those re-charge systems ? They are quite useful.  It is actually  easy and user-friendly.”

“Ha ha ha….those are for young people like you! Not for oldies like us!”, for a change I tried to sound informal.

“But online dealings are never safe. Frankly, I don’t trust these online facilities. Every other day you hear of an online scam. But in any case it sounds interesting….actually I keep forgetting about these things like recharge and bill payment. And when I remember it is either too late or too difficult. And by then I am already into trouble…like I was, just a few minutes ago.”, I laughed.

I was really impressed with this girl. Not like the usual ones, and what I liked about her is that she was very sincere in her approach. Who on earth would waste time on explaining all those things.

“Would you care for some Vade?”

I saw the girl holding out a tiffin box of freshly Vade and Chutney.

This time I didn’t mind. I helped myself to one. I suddenly felt recharged.

“Did you make these?”

“Oh no! Not exactly ! One of my neighbours made all the preparations, I only fried them ……. of course upon strict instructions from that neighbourhood aunty !  I am originally travelling from Bangalore. I didn’t get a direct ticket to Kolkata. So I had to take a stop-over at Chennai.”

She bowed her head a little – perhaps in a short prayer- before she touched her piece. That is when I noticed the little golden cross adorning her neck! Sudha would do just the same. She would close her eyes and mutter “Sarveswara”, before she would touch her food.

Before I could ask further she spoke again – this time with her mouthful, “Mmm…but you know I can almost make these as tasty but that little hole in the middle just wouldn’t come. I have to practice some more. I need to impress my father-in-law …to be that is!”, she giggled.

I loved the innocence in her. Irrespective of what she was, how she was, her dress, her mannerisms and even her religion, I loved her. How I wish I had someone like her as my daughter in law.

“What is your name  Maa ?”, I asked her.

“Rebecca Biswas.  And what’s yours, uncle?”

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Viswakarma Puja @ Kolkata : Now and Then

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Photo: Subhadip Mukherji (Thanks, hope you can fly these fresh ones tomorrow !)

September 16, 1966

When Deep and his friend Laltu reached the shop named Habib Ahmed Jarrah, it was already around  five thirty in the evening. The shop was already quite crowded with urchins of varied sizes and ages. Deep some how managed to push his head through the crowd and shouted “ Hey Azizbahi, what about our stuff, are they ready ?” Azizbhai shot a long smile and assured “Just give me some minutes, I would bring out your items, they are ready and I have packed them nicely. “

photo2457For the past one month Deep and Laltu were waiting for this day…. the delivery day for their items… kites, a reel of thread and a really good manja (glass dust pasted coloured thread). It was Laltu’s idea, to deposit their pocket money to Azizbhai every alternative day, otherwise they cannot gather so much money at the last moment…. a kind of forced savings. They were keeping a kind of rough record of their saved amount… and in any case, today they have brought a bit money..in case there is a short fall.
When Azizbhai handed over the two packets, they opened them and re-checked whether all the items are right there…. yes….yes.. here they are, two dozens of kites – 25 paise each; two reels of white cotton thread for 5 rupees, and,  500 yards of manja for 11 rupees. That is 22 rupees, meaning a shortfall of 2 rupees.“I would give the 2 rupees, you may pay me later” said Laltu.  Azizbhai said “So, you got all your items I suppose, bye, and, enjoy the Biswakarma puja.”

For Deep and many of his age,  Biswakarma (that is how Viswakarma is pronounced in this part of the country) is synonymous with “kite flying”, for early in the morning till evening.

September 17, 1966

The next morning Deep and Laltu were flying the kites from the roof-top of Laltu’s house. Deep’s house do not have a fenced roof top. Laltu belonged to gold-smith family and their family house is four-story high, and, flying kite from that height is indeed a real fun.

photo2425By  evening, once the kite flying is over they would be joined by 3 to 4 children of similar age and go around to visit the Biswakarma pujas arranged in different places.

Biswakarma is the God for machinery and tools. He rides on an elephant. In his one hand would be a chisel and in another would be a hammer.  In another hand a lotus and the last hand would hold a konch shell. Some over enthusiastic devotees would at times put a kite in one of the hands. Deep’s locality has several large factories, and, during this evening the main gate would remain open for all to visit the puja held inside. There would be a supervisor of the factory who would take these children on a round and explain to them the various machineries and show them the production line. Deep always enjoyed this part of the visit, and cherished a dream that, one day he would become a great engineer and invent many machines !!

At some factories they would offer Prasad, which normally would be various fruit pieces and sweets. By the time Deep returned home it would be  late evening, and, he would skip dinner and straight away go the sleep.

September 17, 2016

Today is the Biswakarma puja. I always remember the date. It is the only puja celebrated as per English calender. I always wondered why it is so. Pujas are held as per calculating the auspicious moment…. the thithi ….., but Biswakarma puja is always held on 17 of September every year.

Our locality do not have so many factories any more, they either closed down the shutters or the factory premises have been replaced by multi-storied buildings. The pujas are now held by people of different professions. We have many taxis in the locality. The taxi owners and drivers celebrate the puja, by cleaning the vehicles thoroughly and decorating them photo2428with flowers, little banana plants, and balloons ! The other emerging group which celebrate the puja is the workers of multi-storied houses …. the lift mechanics, water pump operators, in house electricians…. on the main entrance gate they place tender coconut balanced on a ghot (a special mud pot) filled with holy Ganges water. The bus owners and drivers also celebrate the puja. They organise feast for near and dear ones …. normally, these days, mutton is a common item for such occasion. (In our childhood days vegetable Khichri  – rice and dal cooked together with vegetable pieces – was the tradition).

At our organisation, an NGO,  we normally clean the vehicle, computers, printers …. after all they are machine too. Our puja is offered by an all women team ! Prasad .. sweet is distributed to all present during the time.

In the afternoon I found my son, taking grand-son on the pillion, going out some where. A little later they came back with a packet of Kites ! He never misses the day  when he buys the kites, though kites cannot be flown these days. For two reasons. One, for the past several years the day is lost due to heavy rain. Two, since there are tall buildings around one cannot fly a kite due to lack of steady flow of wind. But  my son keeps aloft the kite-flying tradition… Long Live Biswakarma…. long live Kite-flying celebration.