Category Archives: Bengal

Tagore, the Painter

Most of us knows about Tagore, the poet, the novelist, the song writer. But did you know that this Nobel Laureate was also a painter! Sampurna Majumder acquaints us with Tagore, the painter. 

tagore-s-painting-of-queer-animal-on-two-limbs

We all are aware of the great literary figure Rabindranath Tagore. Yes, he was the first Indian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and his composed verse ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was adopted as the country’s national anthem.

Though known to the world as renowned poet, versatility was his middle name. He was a poet, novelist, playwright, philosopher, social reformer, musician and also an artist. Egged by an insatiable urge for creativity, Tagore took up the brush when he was around 65. In his own words, “Now in the evening of my life, my mind is filled with forms and colours.” He often perceived this passion as an affair in the evening of his life.

Tagore delved into this passion in 1926 and such a prolific painter he turned out to be, that within four years he held nine painting exhibition across Europe, and also in Boston and New York.

tagore's paintingWhat sets him apart as a painter is the sheer forms within vast canvases of formlessness. His paintings transcend all known canons of art and some of his early compositions comprise doodles of thoughts. Some of these tend to resemble birds, faces and sometimes monsters.

In his subsequent compositions, human figures usually vertically positioned can be spotted. The main focus happened to be human faces upholding various facial expressions such as anger, disgust, laughter and so on. In his series titled ‘Heads’ female figures appear more often.

Pen-and-ink constituted many of his works. Some of best paintings are but doodles in pen-and-ink exhibiting his mastery over pen and ink.

Tagores-ArtTagore later shifted focus to landscape and colours became an important constituent of them. Silhouetted trees placed against the bright sky and absence of human figures became some of the major highlights of landscape paintings. Reddish, yellowish and brownish hues are prominent and the absence of human figures adds an element of mysteriousness to the paintings. He never made preparatory sketches; the images simply flowed through on canvas or paper.

The total oeuvre of 3000 paintings, composed between 1926 and 1940 trace the extraordinary talent of the genius Rabindranath Tagore.

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Jazz by the Way!

Sampurna Majumder delves into the history of jazz in Kolkata on International Jazz Day!

International Jazz Day

The UNESCO organizes the International Jazz Day on 30 April every year. So being a music aficionado (or at least trying to be), I thought of delving a little into the journey of this musical genre in a country that already has an excellent musical legacy.

Well, the search for the same, again took me to my hometown, the City of Joy. I was not quite surprised as the Kolkata is officially known as the Cultural Capital of the Country. By the 20th century, many Europeans had  adapted the city as their hometown and their way of life began to be reflected in the city life. Pubs and nightclubs began to come up in the city that started belting out some outstanding jazz tunes.

Carlton Kitto

By the late 1950s and 1960s, Kolkata was already home to a few nightclubs some of which still continue to run. And what tickles in my mind, is the jazz veteran Carlton Kitto who continues to lighten up the jazz scene of Kolkata.

Kitto began his musical journey in the 1970s at Moulin Rogue. Owned by a French Lady, Carlton along with his band Carlton Kitto Jazz Ensemble lit up the evenings at Moulin Rogue. The only Jazz Musician from the city, recently a documentary named Finding Carlton has been filmed on him that traces the history of Jazz in India. The movie has captured many moments that showcased how Jazz bridged cultures and provided a common language of communication.

Moulin Rouge KolkataToday, restaurants like Moulin Rogue, Mocambo and the age-old Trincas are places where one can expect to listen to some amazing jazz music on a Saturday evening In Kolkata.

Once frequented by the likes of Amitabh Bachhan and Shashi Kapoor, Trinca’s Tavern continues to run the tradition belting out Jazz musical for over 6 decades now. Someplace Else is another hang out where you can soothe your ears with similar tunes.

Therefore if you have a soft corner and an ear for somewhat improvised music, Jazz is definitely for you – and now you know where to visit for some good Jazz musicals.

Chinese Breakfast @ China Town!

Continuing her series on China Town, Sampurna Majumder writes about the uniqueness of the locality.

Tiretta Bazaar

The variedness of Kolkata never seems to satiate me. From lip-smacking delicacies to some of the best known cultural events – Kolkata has loads to offer.

In my last article I focussed on the existing China Town of Kolkata. This time, I decided to take a step ahead and find out something unique about the locality.

It is a Saturday early morning around 5.30 am. The Tiretta Bazaar in Old China Town is already bustling with life. You can choose from some of the best Chinese delicacies that are served here. From yummy chicken soups to pork suimai – you name it and its there. On weekends, the breakfast platters are over by 8 am. Call centre employees and night-club hoppers comprise the main crowd.

Coconut Curry Chicken Soup

If you want to try something new and adventurous you can always end up at the shops selling Chinese sauces and other ingredients that are required for cooking. There’s one shop named Sing Cheung Sauce Factory that sells all kinds of Chinese sauces.

The spicy pork sausages taste like slimy scrambled eggs. You can also try having the spicier broths with a dash of Sichuan chillies and pickled garlic. The fish-ball soup that is found at every nook and corner of Tiretta Bazaar is a must have. The best part about the breakfast is you will not find the regular Chinese stuff – like noodles or rice, but an assortment of other delicacies with broths and soups taking away the credits.

Shrimp Sui Mai

Tiretta Bazaar is one of the remaining cosmopolitan food hubs in the city that has already started becoming somewhat conservative in nature. Whatever, be it, if you are in Kolkata do miss the chance of a sumptuous Chinese Breakfast in the heart of the city.

Dilli ki Hawa – 1

How does a quintessential Bengali feel when s/he comes to Dilli for the first time? Sampurna Majumder narrates her experience.

Kolkata-street-foods-fish

It is said that you can always take a Bengali away from Calcutta but never the other way round. Well, so being the quintessential Bengali there was no reason behind my not missing the City of Joy. Though I loved gorging on the Dal Makhni, Tandoori Chicken and other north Indian delicacies, I did yearn for the delicious Chingri Maachher Malaikari and Sona Muger Dal occasionally. dsc_01011

Thanks to the south Delhi locale of Chitto Park, my gastronomic longings always found an way out to ease themselves.

It was the month of February. The biting Delhi winters had already begun to subside. The warmth in the atmosphere came as a relief. There was certain feel of festivity in the air; it had to be and why not, after all it was Basant Panchami or Saraswati Puja as it is known as in the eastern part of the country. I called up D a friend of mine who also belonged to Calcutta; asked her what was her plan for the day. ‘Nothing as such.’ ‘Shall we go to Chitto Park and savour our taste buds?’ I asked. ‘Sure thing’ pat came the reply.

chittaranjan-park-kali-mandir-crpark-5_400_300We met at the Central Secretariat metro station, hopped on an auto and headed towards Chitto Park. Just as we entered the by lanes of the locale sign boards and hoardings written in Bengali welcomed us. We went towards the famous Kalibari. The first thought that came to our mind was the khichudi bhog of the puja. D suggested we should try our hand at this ‘royal cuisine.’ I agreed. We went up to the backyard of the temple where it was too crowded. We bumped into  a lady clad in a dirty sari, looking haggard. We asked her which way the bhog is being served. She replied ‘Khaachuri furai gichhe!’

With a sullen face both of us boarded an auto and headed towards Connaught Place and stepped into KFC.

That Bong Connection…

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Gurulakshmi Iyer-Hait in this special one talks about the plight of those in her and her Husband’s family while the two of them were happy getting united in an inter-caste, inter-language marriage. She fondly calls it the Bong Connection. Read on and enjoy.

As I listen to the tunes of Biren Krishna  Bhadra, I realise the Bong connection in me despite being a southie by birth. And when I ponder and introspect, I have a hearty laugh on how much difficulties both the families faced to connect me to that connection!

When I found my Mr.Right, I was in cloud nine unaware of the situations that might arise when we break the news of getting married to our families. While the role played by both our families in our marriage is really appreciable, few incidents are worth recollecting. Oh and did I mention it was a pure inter-culture, inter-language marriage(all sorts of inter applicable here). Yes a Southie Iyer bride and a Bong groom.

They say marriages aren’t union between two individuals but between two families. People preferring love marriages know how expensive such belief can be for them. Every inter community marriage has its share of dissimilarities in terms of eating habits, culture and communication. In my case the realization of the differences dawned on the families on the very first visit. While Bongs prefer different varieties of fish, my parent’s preferences were simple and vegetarian.

I remember this instance, when my parents, during their first visit to my in-laws place, were offered Mishti Doi in the end. They thought that curd was being given to finish the meal with curd rice only to find that the curd rice tasted sweet. Embarrassed to ask about the sweetened curd, they just assumed that Bongs prefer sweetened curd rice. It made sense to them that Mishti Doi(sweetened curd) is a  dessert for the Bongs only after our explanation.

The common medium of communication for both the families is Hindi, one could guess the dialect and accent. If a Hindi scholar comes around while its being spoken by the families, he will commit suicide I assure you.

Differences were many. To start from, debates began with the Benarasi and Kanjivaram. There was definitely stubbornness from both the families. Finally a decision was taken and I ended up wearing Kanjivaram and husband dear was in traditional Bengali kurta. And the discomfort about what the bride would wear, a  Mangal sutra- the Thaali-or a Shaakha Paula after her marriage, both of these symbolizing marital status. Finally I ended up wearing both.

Very few couple opting for love marriage have the privilege and pleasure of getting married with a mix of two different cultures and rituals acceptable to both the sides. As a tradition, my parents would not give up on getting the invite cards printed in Tamil. So it was really funny to see our names flashing in both the languages on the cards.

My parents almost fainted when they were told  by some distant relative about the bringing of live fish as a ritual. However luck favoured us as both the families compromised on some customs that weren’t favourable to each other.

Bong marriage without sumptuous non vegetarian food is a crime. Ask any Bong, and within a wink, pops out the answer. Marriage and food are synonymous, go hand in hand, no compromise on food in marriage. Finally the menu consisted of Southie main course with Bong deserts and offcourse 100% vegetarian food. I just imagine the plight of all the Bengalis who attended my marriage and had no qualms whatsoever.

Trivial issues can create so many problems in marriages. Not to forget such issues are usually raised by some distant relatives. One thing that worked to our advantage was language barriers. There were so many trivial tribulations which could not be redressed due to linguistic barriers from both families. The grievances still remained unaddressed.

After all the overwhelm and anxiety, a connection was knit. And I name it a Bong connection…a hybrid Bong connection for my generations to come!!

Inter caste marriage

Posto: A Rare Vegan Diet for a Quintessential Bengali

Sampurna Majumder shares her stint with a rare vegetarian dish – posto (khus khus or poppy seeds)

posto 3

Bhaat e Macch e Bangali (Rice and Fish make a true Bengali), so goes an adage. True. Food has always been a weakness for Bengalis. The quintessential Bangali Babu’s meal would be incomplete without these ingredients – bhaat, machher jhol and a bhaja (any vegetable fried, brinjal or bitter gourd/uchhe bhaja). However, Bengali cuisine offers a whole range of vegan delicacies as well.

Posto (poppy seeds or khus khus) is an integral part of Bengali cuisine. The use of posto in Bengali cuisine dates back to almost two centuries. Posto finds its place in Bengali literature as well. Bankim Chnadra Chattopadhyaya’s Kamalanter Daptar (From the Desk of Kamalakanta) is one such example. Written on the lines of De Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Bankim’s protagonist remains inebriated most of the time as an aftereffect of consuming too much opium (drug obtained from poppy seeds). Opium dens are known to exist in Kolkata’s China Town as during the 1940s.

posto

The sole purpose of penning this note is nothing but nostalgia buffs. Few days back, the quintessential Bengali in me was craving for some kaancha posto (raw khus khus). I remember way back in the 90s when I was barely a decade old, my granny would pretty often make kaancha posto. She would grind them mixed with water and some salt; then add some chopped onions, green chilies and a zing of strong-smelling mustard oil.

kancha posto

As a kid, my share of the yummy kaancha posto would be devoid of the green chilies. However, as I grew up green chilies made their way to my kaancha posto and thus began my never-ending love affair with this sumptuous vegan Bengali dish. Pretty often I have eaten all my rice with kaancha posto! Yes and it gives me a high till date whenever which is followed by the afternoon siesta which comes as a booty along with it.

Rosogolla Revisited!

Bengal and rosogolla are synonymous to each other! Being a true blue Bengali, Sampurna Majumder offers a delicious peep into the sweet’s history.

Rasgulla 3

It was during the British colonial days that the rosogolla suddenly made its appearance on Bengal’s platter. To trace its origins one has to travel way back in time, nineteenth century Bagbazaar, a famous north Calcutta locality. It is where, Nobin Chandra Das, the man who invented the rosogolla resided. He was poor and fatherless and his only source of income came from the sweets that he sold from a ramshackle sweet shop in the by lanes of Bagbazaar. Little did he know that one day he would become a legend.

Nobin Chandra’s rosogolla was born in an age when Bengali sweets meant the ubiquitous sandesh made from sugar and cottage cheese. As was the trend, Nobin Chandra also made sandesh but he itched to do something new, create a sweet that would be juicy and succulent. He decided to experiment the same cottage cheese by boiling it in sugar syrup. Many of his attempts ended in a failure, as once put in the sugar syrup the cheese crumbled. He found that the sugar syrup had to be kept in even temperature so that the casein stays intact. So on one fine day in 1868 the rosogolla was born. However the rosogolla had humble beginnings.

rosogolla4Nobin Chandra waited patiently for the recognition of this wonderful creation. It did not happen until Bhagwandas Bagla, a wealthy non-Bengali merchant made his appearance at Nobin Chandra’s sweet shop along with his family. One of his children was thirsty, and stopped in front of the sweet shop in search of water. Nobin Chandra met their demand. The child was given a glass of water and a rosogolla. He was delighted at the taste of this unique delicacy and asked his father to share it as well. No doubt the father was equally impressed. He bought huge quantities of rosogolla for his friends and family. Though a rudimentary publicity, it proved to be immensely helpful. The rosogolla became a hit and over the years acquired the status of Bengal’s most famous sweet.