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Posts Tagged ‘traditions’

It would make sense that for my mum’s birthday, especially as this one is her 70th (!!!), this entry would be about her and how awesome she is, what a great role model she is, and how much I love her etc. etc. etc.

IMG_2381But I want to talk about my dad instead and a very sweet tradition he has started for her birthday. He cooks. Ever since he spent a year and a half working in Abu Dhabi where he lived on his own, having had a crash course in cooking from my mother, he regards himself as quite adept in the kitchen. But he saves his culinary skills for this one day.

IMG_2377Before I elaborate on the menu, let me give you a little context on him. My dad is quite the oddball in that he blends a mixture of some old-skool (Indian) views and formality, with new age man stuff. Combine the question he asked me when I showed him my tattoo, ‘how many of your MBA friends have a tattoo?’, (to which I answered I don’t know because I haven’t seen them naked), with him being a pioneering male user of facial moisturiser (he’s been using Oil of Olay since the 90s) and enjoying vacuuming and dusting, hopefully you get the sense that he’s not just a regular Indian dad. So of course he doesn’t just make spag bol or lasagne. Or a chicken curry. He goes ALL OUT. Haute cuisine. But his traditional notions of what haute cuisine means that for the past few years he he makes a starter with lobster because lobster is chef-fy and posh, and a main course of lamb because lamb is Bengali posh. Last year he made lobster bisque and Indian lamb curry. This year he steps it up even further: homemade lobster ravioli and a Mediterranean roast lamb.  Go Baba.

IMG_2384It is a whole day endeavour with planning akin to a military operation. Maa is the sous-chef, gently helping out, sometimes taking over, and generally making sure her kitchen stays intact. Baba waxes lyrical about his ‘technique’ while we giggle and tease. In the end, all’s well that ends well and dinner turns out delicious.   My dad can chalk up another successful foray into gastronomy and proudly slink back into just eating dinner for 364 days.

A family charm for a very special woman. Happy birthday Maa.

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So far the family events and stories I have written about in this occasional blog have been set in the past, relying on memories that are not as fresh as they once were. My big sister’s wedding day (13.03.13) deserves to be captured in the moment, the precious observations and thoughts immediately scooped up in Tupperware, ready for the memory fridge. Now each time we open a corner of the box to take a peek, the sight and smell will be as sweet and delicious as when the memories were made.

Partly due to the fact that this wedding started out as a simple registration which then morphed into something else, the short time frame in which to organise it so that Ankur can move to the UK sooner rather than later, and also due to Sohini and Ankur being independent drum marchers, this wedding defies a simple categorisation. It was Indian and thoroughly non-Indian at the same time. There were elements taken from a western wedding, a few token nods to Bengali customs, but also many touches which set it apart from both sides. It was fuss-free and devoid of pomp and ceremony. But like Jane Austen’s stoic characters or in Northern Exposure when Joel leaves for New York, Maggie says “everything I never said” http://bit.ly/WAwEaD, the emotions ran deep in this simple, small but heartfelt Indian wedding.

Being one of the most practical people I know, I wasn’t surprised that Sohini played to her strengths. So she got help with her hair but did her own make up.

 

One of the highlights was when after the registration was complete, my dad said a few words as the father of the bride. While it is becoming more common to incorporate this lovely and moving custom in Indian weddings in US and UK, it is not featured much in India. Now usually when my dad is about to embark on a monologue (most often about the failings of the Indian political system), I half close my eyes in preparation for the cringe moment. I had heard the story before about while he was in Europe for work, he received the telegram ‘mother and baby doing fine’ and how he had to wait three months to bond with Sohini. But I didn’t cringe this time. This time my eyes welled up with tears.  And yes I was the only softie in the room.

The food is a key criteria to ‘rate’ any wedding. It was indeed delicious but the more interesting and quirky element was the ‘Love Food. Hate Waste’ postcards set out on each table. Ankur’s pet peeve is food waste so we decided upon a little behavioural economics experiment by placing these postcards during the moment of eating, hence on the tables. Discrete but visible without being patronising. We are still awaiting the results.

The couple mingling with the guests is a common sight in western weddings but traditionally at Indian weddings the couple are made to sit on thrones while they ‘receive’ guests. Thankfully we dispensed with this silly custom here.  As a result the wedding had a relaxed and informal atmosphere.  Sohini and Ankur had the freedom to properly interact with the guests versus just exchanging 3-second pleasantries and posing for the requisite photo opp during the usual meet n greet conveyor belt.

Finally, a moment for Sohini and Ankur to a) eat something and b) just hang out. The ‘feed each other’ was our suggestion. Such cheese would usually give them indigestion.

No wedding, whether it’s Indian, Christian, Jewish, Italian etc. is complete without photos of the full family and the prom pose of the happy couple. Even independent drum marchers want a way to immortalise the creation of something new for both the couple and the families.

So regardless of the differences and comparisons, in the end it was what all weddings are: an occasion to share and celebrate with the people you care about.

Welcome to the Purkayasthas’ Ankur!

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Dima had the softest skin.  I used to love kissing her cushiony and marshmallow cheeks.  I don’t have many memories of her since she passed away when I was only nine.   But there are three or four really vivid images that I flick through like the slides in the vintage Viewmaster I played with when I was a little.  Her skin is one of them.  Another one is of her sitting with her paan paraphernalia on her lap and cutting up supori (betel nuts) with her special betel nut cutter like in the picture above.  I used to watch in rapt attention as she used this surgical-like instrument to chop up tiny squares of the nut with focus and precision.  I also remember watching her do puja in the thakur ghar after her daily bath and take note of the offerings she made to Krishna, Ganesh and Lakshminarayan.  I must have followed her around a lot.  But she was more than a Bengali widow who kept the household keys tied to a corner of her white cotton sari thrown over her shoulder.  The sound of the  jangling keys is akin to the modern personalised mobile ringtones.  You knew when it was she who was approaching.

Preetilata Chaudhuri was 17 when she married Dadu in an arranged marriage.  As well as becoming a wife at this young age, she had to adjust to living with his large family and being the eldest sister-in-law, a position in the household which brought with it lots of responsibilities, expectations and obligations.  Quite a daunting prospect as such a life  when viewed through today’s lens seems as not your own.  Part of her married life was quite solitary because Dadu used to be at the tea gardens for long stretches of time during which Dima eagerly waited for his letters.   It would be wonderful if some of them still existed.

Beyond the confines of the roles of wife, mother, daughter-in-law etc, Dima had artistic flair and a keen aesthetic eye.  She had no training so everything that she did just poured out of her naturally and through instinct.  During any auspicious event like pujas and weddings, Dima used to create ornately designed alpanaas ( the form of Rangoli practiced in Bengal but unlike Rangoli, Alpanaa is always done in white) on the floor of various rooms of the house with the help of a small piece of cloth drenched in a blend of water and grounded rice paste.  She used to start in one corner of the room and then painstakingly cover the whole floor.  All by freehand.  Her creative flair could be found in other mediums too.  My stomach is eternally grateful for Ma learning and absorbing Dima’s mastery and love of cooking.  She  made all of Ma’s clothes when she was a little girl and some of my sister’s and mine too.  When I was a baby, she embroidered my bed linen and knitted blankets to keep me snug.  If she was alive today, I would have encouraged her to make and sell her beautiful children’s clothes and linen on Etsy!

Ma definitely got her love of books and ideas from Dadu but Dima’s imprint is there on her talent for cooking and love of the arts, especially music.  It’s been doubly-rewarding to learn more about Dadu and Dima because as well as having the pleasure of getting to know who they were, I now understand Ma a little better too.

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