Every year around this time – when in the October sky float wispy autumn clouds and the air bears that slight nip – I look for the grass flowers growing around our neighbourhood pond. The swampy grass flowers are not white, nor are they billowy like the kash that grows in Bengal, but they suffice for my imagination. They are my make-believe kash flowers that herald the season for Durga Pujo. Until I see them I am not quite ready for Durga Pujo. Watching them sway with the wind makes my heart lonely for my family in India. For a moment I dissolve my gumption, loathe my present, and disregard my future. I want to fade away – only to reappear where I grew up, where my parents are, where my brother, his wife, their two beautiful children and my Dida is. And that moment of helplessness passes as quickly as it comes with the sound of my child’s voice.
I tell Saira that Durga Pujo is here. I tell her how Durga Pujo is just like Christmas. In whatever she understands she knows it is an exciting time. She may not know of the festivities her mother misses during this time but she sees her father make an effort in fostering a tradition foreign to him, just so her mother is less homesick. She is young enough to bypass the undercurrent of sadness her mother feels.
In my sobriety I have pondered this particular feeling of rawness that takes over during Durga Pujo. This feeling of loss comes forefront, putting the true meaning of the festival in the background. The family and traditions I miss are not likely to appear from thin air to soothe my soul. To keep oneself happy, one needs to make an effort. And with that realization, for the very first time in over a decade, I take the responsibility to form a sustainable tradition of my own.
Like the wheat-coloured lanky grass flowers growing in the swamps that I imagine to be the plumose white kash, I let my make-believe world take charge. Pujo needs to stay alive in its truest form into my next generation – through Saira, through me and her father. And through this make-believe world some seven thousand miles away, Durga Pujo shall stay alive.
Like the Autumn clouds, like the flowering grass, this transient phase is the new beginning.
Hope your Pujo is filled with the truest form of happiness. “Shubho Durga Pujo”.
A traditional vegetarian curry that is served along with luchi, on the 8th day of Durga Pujo is a delicate curry of pumpkins, pointed gourd, potatoes and brown chickpeas. For this recipe I make believe an acorn squash as pumpkin and zucchini as pointed gourd. This curry has always been my absolute favourite and this make believe version didn’t need much convincing.
My Make Believe Veggie Curry
- Potato: 2 medium cubed
- Acorn Squash: I small (peeled, cleaned and cubed)
- Zucchini: 1 small, slightly pealed and chopped in 1 inch discs.
- Tomato: 1 medium (cubed)
- Bay leaf: 2 small
- Dried red chill: 1 whole
- Fenugreek seeds: 1/4 tsp
- Nigella seeds: 1 pinch
- Cumin seeds: 1/4 tsp
- Mustard seeds: 1/4 tsp
- Turmeric powder: 1 and 1/2 tsp (or more of you prefer a bright yellow curry)
- Cumin powder: 1/4 tsp
- Coriander powder: 1/2 tsp
- Red gram: 3 tbsp (soaked overnight in room temperature water)
- Olive oil: 1/4 cup
- Sugar: 1 tbsp
- Salt: to taste
- Heat oil on medium heat, add bay leaf, dried red chilli, fenugreek , nigella, mustard and cumin seed. Let the seeds roast in the oil until the aroma is released.
- Add the potatoes and fry for a few minutes (about 3 min), then add the squash and zucchini frying again for another few minutes
- Add the diced tomatoes and the turmeric, cumin and coriander powder.
- Toss the veggies together in the pan and fry for a minute or two over low heat.
- Season with salt and the sugar. Add the soaked chickpeas and half a cup of water. Mix till the tomatoes have melted and the turmeric is evenly distributed.
- Cover pan and let simmer over medium heat until the veggies are cooked through.
- Serve hot with luchi or any kind of bread.