Monday, October 26, 2009

Robab Tenga : A Big Citrus Fruit

Robab-Tenga is a very delicious and popular citrus fruit from Assam.It is very similar to a Pomelo and Grapefruit .It tastes sweet and sour and is a favorite amongst my family members specially the kids and me.It weighs around 1-1.5 kg at times,has a greenish yellow pitted outer covering.It is considered very auspicious to offer this fruit to God in many rituals and at the time of some specific festivals.I have tasted this fruit in some other parts of India too like Arunachal and once in Karnataka but the one we get here in Assam is the best in taste .It is highly recommended to handle this fruit very carefully because if treated roughly it gets bitter in taste,i had two very over enthusiastic volunteers to hold the fruit while i was about to click the picture( my kids),but the weight of the fruit was little heavier for them to balance,the result was shaky pictures.Finally i settled for this picture where i stuck Robab Tenga between two large spaced bars of grill.
We peel this fruit only minutes before we want to consume it because it gets bitter once you store it after pilling off.As you can see it has about an inch thick spongy cushion like inner covering......God's perfect packaging to save its taste getting bitter from minor falls and bumps.The inside fruit varies in color from a light pink to a dark pink .I divide the fruit into two parts and slit the back of the fruit one after another you open up the fruits ,large seeds are discarded and the pulp(????or the fruit) is removed very carefully from the thin you can see in the picture.To this we add a little salt,chopped green chillies(after removing kid's portion) and a teaspoon of mustard oil which gives it the final more pictures after this stage we don't want to get this treat bitter .
This year the price of this fruit is doubled,i don;t know why? Last season we paid 5 bucks for one while this year it was 10 bucks.We have many trees of this in our village house so we do get our more than fair share from time to time during the season.Have you seen or tasted this fruit before?If yes,share your experience if not you are welcome to Assam ,but be sure of this time of the year(SEP---NOV).

Monday, October 19, 2009

To The brothers with love...'Bhai Phota'

"Bhaier kapale dilam phonta,
Jamer Duare porlo kanta,
Jamuna Dae Jomke phonta,
Ami di amar bhaike phonta,
Bhai jeno hoy mota shota."

An east Indian rhyme, translated this would mean

"As I put the tilak on my brother's forehead
I wish him all the success and good health in life"

Living in a land that is distant not only in terms of miles but also in terms of traditions, from that of my forefathers, I try in my own way to preserve whatever little I can of the festivals and rituals I had grown up with. Today through this page, I share such a ritual with you all.
A bond that is much celebrated all over India is that of a brother and a sister. The fierce bond that survives childhood competition, rivalry, tattling and gently flows through the precocious teens of separate rooms and wardrobes, of secrets kept from each other, to finally mature into an oasis of security. We all have gone through these stages, we have fought and cried, we have hugged and laughed, we have cursed and sworn, we have mimicked and pulled each other's legs. We have also, each year, two days after Diwali, celebrated with love and joy, 'Bhai Phota'
In Bengal this event is called 'Bhai Phota'. Two days after Kali puja or Diwali, on dvitiya (second day), 'Bhai Phota' is celebrated. On this day, sisters keep a fast and invite their brothers to be felicitated. This event is ceremoniously performed by the loving sister who religiously fasts the whole morning until she applies a 'Phota' (tilak) of 'chandan' (sandal wood) paste, 'kaajol'(kohl) and 'doi' (yogurt) on her brother's forehead, wishing him a long life and offering him sweets and gifts. The sisters make their brothers sit on an Asana (a small cotton mattress) and draws the 'Phota' on the forehead of the brother. If the sister is elder then she blesses her brother with rice grains and 'Durba' (blades of grass) when the brother touches her feet. The brother also eagerly waits for his sister to apply the 'Phota' and in turn lavishes her with love and gifts. After this the brothers are served sweets and then the whole family engages into singing songs, playing games and anything that is enjoyed by all. On this day relatives are invited to the house for lunch or dinner and thus a huge gathering of young children, teenagers and adults make the ambience more festive and cheerful. The sisters, dressed in their best, make the arrangement for the 'Phota'.Well this is how it happens traditionally, but in reality, as kids the brothers and sisters are coerced into this tradition by the parents. With grumpy faces they oblige to sit on the asana and take the phota, the sister at times, emphasises that if her brother doesn't mend his ways, this is the last year she will be taking part in this festival, after the obligatory smiles to the camera, the fights that were left midway are taken up and life continues. The years follow and the parents across all the towns of India instill the values of love and bonding among their kids through this tradition, and slowly yet surely the little minds change. the sister grows up and her prayers turn genuine, the brother most of the times, leaves the home to study at a distant shore, and on this particular day the feeling of nostalgia, of bygone bhai photas, of the gifts shared and the warmth of togetherness is missed whole heartedly. Maybe it is this that strengthens the bonds, maybe it is the Phota(tilak). who is to say? All we know is, that the tradition of the phota instils faith in us that our brothers will remain hail and hearty wherever they are.Pictures are of my two kids taken in two different years, at different houses... today also we will celebrate this ritual of a love that stands the test of all times.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Matheran - the forest on the top

This time Mahatma Gandhi's birthday on October 2, ( a national holiday in India) fell on a Friday.

Tired of the concrete jungle that Mumbai is, we decided to take off with the kids to a short 2 day holiday to Matheran to rejuvenate ourselves.

At 800 metres above the sea level and only 108 kms from Mumbai, Matheran is the smallest hill station in India. It's proximity to Mumbai makes it a very popular weekend retreat.

Mumbai to Matheran takes about two and a half hours by road. Alternatively, one can also take a train from Mumbai to Neral, ( a tiny town at the foothills of Matheran) and then take a taxi up. But after 8 kms or so of a winding, narrow road, you have to park the car and go the rest of the way up on foot.There are horses and rickshaws available for those who do not want to trek. We walked to our hotel but arranged for a rickshaw for my mother in law. There is also a toy train that chugs and meanders to the top but the tracks were closed for repairs.

Matheran in local dialect means 'the forest on top.' This small hill station, almost fell prey to unscrupulous builders who wanted to convert this region and build amusement parks, discotheques and concrete roads. The pristine forests would have disappeared forever had the Ministry of Environment and Forest not stepped in. It declared Matheran to be an eco-sensitive region and it is one of the few places in the world where vehicles are not allowed.

There are 38 designated look out points in Matheran that provide excellent views of the surrounding hills and valleys. There are no metalled roads and the walking paths are made of red laterite earth. The day we reached Matheran, it rained heavily. The forest was misty. The heavy fog did not permit us to see the spectacular view of the valley below from any of the points. But the unpolluted and crisp air, the red winding paths through the thick forest, the old styled Parsi bunglows, made the place pretty as a picture.

This region has a large variety of medicinal plants and herbs. People have occasionally sighted panthers in the hills. Deer, rabbits, squirrels, monkeys and wild cats are often seen. This place is also home to a large number of birds and beautiful butterflies.

The original inhabitants of Matheran, the Dhangars, the Thakurs and the Katkaris still retain some of their old practices. The Dhangars supply milk to the visitors. The Thakurs are mainly farmers. They also gather honey and fruits from the jungle. The Katkaris are mainly hunters. Now- a- days, a lot of these people have opened up shops in the market areas and sell shoes, leather goods, home made chocolates, fudge, variety of fruit flavoured drinks and chikki (peanut brittle).

 The locals are extremely friendly and love to talk to the scores of tourists that throng Matheran every day.

My city bred kids had a lovely time exploring the forests and spotting the snakes and rare butterflies.

My children christened this tree as the 'Mushroom tree'.

However much we progress in technology and science, there still is no teacher better than Mother Nature.

Photographs courtesy Sourendu Gupta.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dashami - saying goodbye to ma durga with a promise to meet again the net year

Dashami is the final day of this festival,after many rituals Ma Durga( Idol ) is prepared for her departure...with the sound of beating drums,chants and the devotees aiming flowers and rice grains at Ma's idol it is a very emotional will see many moist eyes when the idol is finally lifted with a roaring sound of DURGA MAI KI JAI(meaning Victory To Thee Ma Durga).Here is the picture from our naam ghar at Laban.

Here comes out Ma for her departure from the Earth only to return back the next year.At this moment here in Assam specific Naam(prayers/songs) are sung by women devotees......the procession leads towards the Bhasoni a place mostly a river where the idol is finally immersed for Bisorjan .All this takes place between very tight security .Many devotees accompany the vehicle carrying the Idol in their own cars or by foot but i always stop at this point and with tearful eyes see her go by.
Ladies singing Durga-naam.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Laban Naam Ghar......Kumari-Puja during Durga Puja

This picture is of evening Aarti performed by the head-priest.....they wear red during that time.As i was told that this year Goddess came to Earth(aagman) by DOLA(a special carriage lifted by hands) which is believed to bring misfortunes on her arrival and will go back (gaman) by an Elephant which says that brings extreme luck for the country after her departure .
During this five day long celebration a special ritual KUMARI-PUJA is performed where young girls are worshipped as Goddess......these two girls are dressed up as Goddess and puja-rituals are being performed.I am not sure if these kids understand anything that is going on but they do seem to enjoy and behave extremely well throughout...
Once the puja ends Anjali and blessings are given when all the devotees present get up and offer their prayers.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Laban Naam Ghar Shillong( estd.1935).

  DURGAPUJA is celebrated in a big but simple way in Shillong at our LABAN NAAM GHAR...a NAAM-GHAR is a community prayer hall .This naam ghar was established in 1935,my family tells me that as long as they remember Durga-Puja is always observed here by the Assamese community .Shillong is a Christian dominant area with a population comprising of people from different states and religion......people from all other community too participate in this festival with equal enthusiasm.This is a view of Laban naam ghar ....this place holds a very special place in my heart as this is the place where i learnt a lot about Assamese culture and its people.....i was accepted,loved,blessed in a very special way right here.

Attached to it there is a newly built Shiva and Ganesha Temple.....built by the naam ghar committee after raising public donation combined with naam ghar fund..
This is the prayer hall where women sing naam(prayers),it is divided into two sides left and right.During Puja starting from the sixth day(SASTHI) we gather here two times a day once in the morning another in the evening for aarti.This photo was taken very early when the crowd was minimal....the reason we go early is so that we can lite sakis(diyas or lamps)before the rush hour and at the same time help in making BOLOY(a holy wrist band made with yellow cloth and rice grains,mustard seeds,aparajeeta leaves,durva)which is distributed amongst all the devotees on Dashami(tenth day).....the lady looking down is my favorite" plum aunty"or Sharma aunty as lovingly i call her because when the first time i met her she gave me a bag full of plums from her garden,sitting behind are our aunt,ma and my sister-in -law.As you must have noticed we wear either white or off white preferably during morning hours.
Its too early and all the priest are too gearing up for the different rituals.....we have a permanent sthapana or the stage for MA DURGA'S idol.Every year a devotee family sponsors the cost of idol and to get this honor there is a long waiting list,we booked for it three years back,our turn will come on 2012.The naam ghar is a busy place now with growing crowd,chants,sound of taal and dhool.This group comes here every year ...they play taal and dhool for five days long celebrations.In my next post i will share few more of my experiences with you friends...till than take care.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Guwahati to Shillong (Scotland Of East )

Every year we celebrate Durga-Puja or Dusherra at our house in Shillong....Shillong is a very beautiful hill station and is the Capital of our sister state husband's family has been living there since it was a part of undivided Assam,its only in 1972 Meghalaya achieved statehood.It is approximatly 105 kms.away from Guwahati(my city).Shillong is also known as Scotland of East.The journey between Guwahati to Shillong is always a wonderful experience for us....the fresh hill air,beautiful spots,little stall like road side shops .If you decide to travel leisurely it takes approxm. three to three and half hours to reach Shillong from Guwahati.This week i will write on Durga puja celebrations by Assamese community in Shillong
These pictures are of Barrapani a breathtakingly beautiful spot on the way.
As i mentioned earlier these local road side stall like shops offer varieties of local fruits and vegetables...we bought Khasi -kol(bananas),Madhuri-aam(Guava),Joha Kumura(a variety of aromatic squash)....this lady(called" Kong "in Khasi language) was very friendly and helpful,she offered her knife to cut the Guavas into pieces for my kids.You can see home made pickles in bottles....i have never tried these.
This Kongs was selling fresh Bamboo-Shoots a favorite delicacy of this region.....i would like to write about bamboo-shoots someday.