Poila Boishakh---A new Beginning to an End.


A trip down memory lane began at the aisles of the Indian grocery store this weekend. I was doing my usual rounds at the grocery store when a glance by chance at the tender jackfruits sparked all memories of childhood. The spikes on the jackfruits pricked my emotions and carried me to another day; another time. This being the week of the Bengali New Year, was the time when our house at a Kolkata suburb, used to spill with food galore. There would be fish, meat, vegetables, fruits, sweets and every spice of the season in abundance lest there is a shortage of these on the auspicious day of "Poila Boisakh", the very first day of the Bengali calendar. I remembered the grand luncheons that my grandfather hosted, when his entire clan would be invited to a lunch at our house. There was an elaborate preparation to this regale. My grandmother would seek help from the extended family members, her sister-in-laws, to dish out the family special delicacies. Grandpa used to hold a big meeting with all the family members gathered in our big verandah, asking each one about their preferences for the special day trying to accommodate everyone's request on the menu. He would then pre-order the choices of fish, the special cut of the goat meat, days in advance, to avoid any kind of set backs.  As expected from any quintessential "Bangal" host, the Fish would always dominate the menu, compulsorily serving three to four varieties and for ever ruling the archetypal Bengali palate. Even the vegetable dishes were accentuated with fish. There comes forth the shukto , shaak bhaja, macher matha diye daal, topshey fry,  Rui macher kalia, chitol macher muitha, muri ghonto, mochar ghonto, echor-chingri and aamer chatni, followed by desserts of shondesh, roshogolla and mishit doi. The whole house would be throbbing in excitement. Relatives would start streaming in, the evening before, to help out with sumptuous spread of New Year's Day. The day began with the ritual of a Ganesh Pujo performed by my grandfather himself followed by "prashad" distribution in the form of delicious shondesh. Thereafter the party sets rolling with the hustle and bustle at every corner of the big house now being occupied by each and every age group. The living rooms were thronged by my grand father and his brothers and cousins, another room reserved by the generation next, of my uncles. All men were attired in spotless white crisp dhotis and Punjabis on this day and all drop dead gorgeous aunts draped in crisp cotton tangail and tant sarees of vibrant colors and jewelry.  There was the usual round of Rabindra Sangeet being sung or poetry being read as appetizers came by in the way fish fries served with the uniquely Bengali "kashundi". There were the usual round of family gossips too in hushed voices in the otherwise noisy rooms. The kitchen was all alive with grandma and her sister-in-laws, hollering at each other or joking, and rolling in laughter among themselves, as they churned  out one delicacy after another so effortlessly. The maids too chattered among themselves as they cleaned and did the dishes, they too were allowed to extend invitation to their friends and family to participate in this yearly feast at my grandfather's house. As a child I remember prancing around in new colorful frocks in the long corridors of the big house. I had the "special task" of serving the salt, the green chillis, and  slices of lemon at every guest's plate and fill and refill the glasses of water from a big jug.  Guests would line up and be seated on "shotoronchi" layed out on the floor against the walls. Food was served on gleaming wares of bell metal,"kaashar thala"," baati" and "glash". The aunts marched around handing out serving bowls one after another, like passing the baton in a relay race. My Grandfather stood in the midst of it all beaming as the master of this ceremony, dictating  every serving to the guests, lest anybody shied away from a second helping. He had the last word on anybody's choice of food on this particular day. Nobody would dare defy his dictum. However, the guests always enjoyed this overindulgence and would wait on this day every year to eat to one's fill. As always the food would be cooked to perfection, in color, flavor and aroma. The hearty notes were resonated on the gratifying, slurping, finger-licking expression of every guest. An archetype of a true Bengali host, my Grandfather's pleasure was in treating his near and dear ones with great food. It was always a labor of love for his loved ones and all he needed was a hearty eater to fill his heart. He did not mind the endless trips to the market place, handpicking every fish and vegetable for its quality and freshness. He instructed the butcher on the cut and size of the meat and the spices were grinded at home to ensure the authentic taste of a dish. This was and always will be "Poila Boisakh " for me. It is a day to celebrate my Grandfather's legacy, my roots, my ties with my loved ones, with my kith and kin, with family and friends all together happy to share a meal under one roof. It is a day to eulogize and uphold my Grandfather's ideals and way of life. I reminisce in a delectable past of  emotional entanglement as I lovingly caress the "echor", "mocha", "thor" and the "kaacha aam" bringing me back to the zesty taste of yesteryears.

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