Gurulakshmi Iyer- Hait writes about her transition from being a South Indian idly-dosa lover to a full-on good Bangali Bou, cooking great maach bhaja and maacher jhol and celebrating Durga Pooja with all its fun and frolic. A Must read.
Over the years I have realised that when something has to be written, the best thing to share is one’s own experiences, and to share experiences of life no one needs to be a great orator or a poet.
Being born and brought up from a conservative middle class Iyer family, who are mostly contented with Thayir Saadam and Urookaai, I never from childhood times reflected those typical Iyeric qualities. Neither did I like Thayir Saadam nor was I content with it. Though being brought up in Mumbai, Amma and Appa always ensured that me and my sister have our cultural roots imbibed somewhere in us. My mom’s friends -all gossip Maamis- used to tell her “Your daughter has Saraswathi sitting in her tongue” in a typical Iyer dialect since I knew all the Mantra chants by the time I was 12.
My mom would be very happy and imagined that I would get her similar praise from a family I would get married to (yeah, she believed I would marry an Iyer). I was a rebel from the very beginning but still never had believed or imagined, even in my wildest dreams, that I would marry anyone else than a Tamil. See for yourself though what destiny can do. I am Mrs. Hait now from Ms.Iyer-Tamilian to a Bengali – youngest Bahu in a conservative Bengali family.
Once upon a time when smell of fish curry or fried fish used to be YUCK, not in my last thoughts I knew that it would be the staple food of my in-laws and I would myself fry maach to serve them. Now that’s the destiny you see.
I remember this instance when one of my dad’s friends got a shaankha for me from Calcutta (now Kolkata) when I was around 6 years of age. Only after wearing that did I came to know that it is to be worn by married Bengali women. I realized it after being teased by my Bengali classmates. Marriages are made in heaven and I realize this now when I have to wear shaakha and paula and that the incident that happened 20 years back was an indication. Incidentally, I have still treasured that small sized shaakha with me.
Difference in the customs and culture seemed tremendous when I tried to know Bangla culture before marriage. I still remember, the first time in my life, when I saw fish marinated for frying at my in-laws place. My mind, heart and body together said yuck but to not be an odd man out and be a good Bengali bou and to not be a thorn in some yes, I actually learnt making maach bhaja and maacher jhal.
Whenever I sit back and think, I wonder with astonishment how I switched from sambhar rice to a totally different cuisine. The Kanjivarams, Dhaakais and Balucharis have not made much of a difference though. Blowing of conch shells on all auspicious occasions was the strangest thing for me after marriage since it wasn’t considered auspicious for Tamilians.
I had heard prior to marriage Bengalis talk about the fun and frolic that Durga Pooja brings. My feelings were ‘big deal’ because Phadke Road during Diwali was great fun too. But all this remained till I attended my first Pooja after marriage. The change in thought has been such that I wait the whole year for the Durga Pooja to come.
The maangsho bhaat that my husband Debasish and many Bengalis relish is like a Balaji or a Karthik or a Sriram enjoying Thayir Saadam,Thokku and Inji Puli. The daak naams (nicknames) like Totun, Boomba or a Topu are as funny to me like a Pattabhiraman or a Venkatakrishnan to Deb. These small things meant both of us, Debashish and I, always had equal reasons to smile.
The good thing was my husband and I got accustomed to each other’s traditions very easily. Once that happened, the rest was cakewalk. We both now feel equally comfortable celebrating a Varalakshmi Nombu and Lokkhi Pooja and preparing Kozhukattai and Shirnni as Naivedyam. Love broadens the periphery of thinking and it was the love and respect that helped both of us sail together in a country where even today Inter caste marriages are looked upon as taboo.
Hence for me Journey continues from Ms.Iyer to Mrs.Hait…And, believe me, Pal Payasam and Rossogolla can rock together!!!
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