Yesterday, all over the world Bengalis celebrated ‘Lokkhi Pujo’. Lokkhi is regarded as the goddess of wealth. Since the time I was a small child I have been a witness to my home ‘Lokkhi Pujo’ the chief architect of which until five years ago, was my late grandmother. She would, with great vigour and enthusiasm, make all the preparations from a day before the pujo and then with a deep sense of piety see to the fact that the entire ceremony was conducted without a hiccup. Now the mantle has been more than ably taken over by her equally devoted son, my father.
As far as I am concerned, be it ‘Lokkhi Pujo’ or Christmas or Ramadan, it is always about the food. On the day of the pujo the entire household consumes vegetarian. For lunch there is ‘khichuri’ which is nothing but a porridge of rice and pulses cooked together with a bit of turmeric and maybe whole roasted cumin seeds accompanied by vegetables like potatoes and aubergines fried in a chickpea batter. And for dinner there is the classic Bengali combination of ‘luchi’ and ‘chholar daal’ (a thick daal made of Bengal gram garnished with bits of crispy coconut). The dough for the ‘luchi’ is usually kneaded with refined flour or maida. For the last few years I have been giving the vegetarian meals a skip primarily because I am not a ‘vegetarian’ person at all and also due to my fitness oriented lifestyle. This year however, I did have the ‘luchi’ and ‘chholar dal’ as a meal itself for a change and I have no qualms about admitting that I ended up enjoying myself. Since I do not consume refined carbs the dough for my ‘luchis’ was kneaded with multiple high fibre grains.
However, it is not the ‘khichuri’ or ‘luchi’ and ‘chholar daal’ that excites me. The offerings or ‘noibedyo‘ that are arranged and placed in front of the goddess’s idol are the things that have a very special place in my heart. Normally the edible noibedyo comprise of various sweets and fresh cut fruits and having a notoriously sweet-tooth it is the sweets that especially attract me. The sights and smells of these foods tend to give rise to a deep sense of nostalgia and memories within me.
As a kid when I could sense that the ceremony was nearing its end I would start pestering my grandmother for these treats. She was an extremely patient person but when it came to me and my brother her patience increased manifolds. Somehow she would hold us off till the end of the ceremony and the first people to get a plateful of the blessed offerings, known as ‘proshad’, were the two of us. She would of course ensure that there would be way more ‘proshad’ than needed so that the two of us could continue to devour those wickedly sweet treats for days on end even after the pujo was long over. The must haves for me were ‘batasha’, ‘kodma’ and ‘mot’. My father doesn’t get the latter two because I don’t eat them anymore but the ‘batashas’ are ubiquitous. All of these are Bengali style hard boiled confectionery. The ‘batasha’ is shaped somewhat like a big tablet and the ‘mot’ came in bizarre fluorescent colours shaped like a temple or a swan or peacock. The ‘kodma’ was usually like a flattened sphere and was undoubtedly the hardest of these to bite into.
Next up on my list were ‘gnoojiya’ and ‘moondi sandesh’. The former has a distinct shape somewhat resembling a drop with a hollow middle, is made with reduced milk and a truckload of sugar. Although not as sweet as the ‘batashas’ these are still sweet enough to make an average person feel giddy. Lowest on the sweetness index is probably the ‘moondi sandesh’. It is nothing but a hard spherical sandesh. Sandesh as we all know is made with cottage cheese, reduced milk and sugar but the proportion of the cottage cheese in this one is probably lower than usual. Another hot favourite of mine was the ‘chandropooli’. Shaped like a half-moon (chandro means moon in Bengali) it is made with reduced milk, shaved coconut and sugar.
There were a lot of other sweet things like dates, ‘aam shotto’ (mango pulp leather) and something called ‘moa’. The ‘moa’ is a roughly made sphere with derivatives of rice and jaggery. It came in three varieties, one made with ‘chire’ or flattened rice, one with ‘khoi’ or popped rice and one with ‘muri’ or puffed rice. Since all these items featured low on my pecking order now my father has almost cut these out of the noibedyo.
I don’t eat too many sweets now and my loving grandmother is not physically around anymore but emotions have a way of making themselves felt and last evening I devoured a ‘chandropooli’, ‘gnoojiya’ and ‘moondi sandesh’ each, barely managing to resist the ‘batashas’ for I knew the sense of guilt that I would feel after would be much deeper than the sense of nostaligia within me. Today morning while sipping my coffee I realized that last evening was probably a case of my sweet-tooth acting up more than anything else but thanks to my grandmother, whom I called ‘Amma’, I have a wealth of memories to live with.