My grandmother was a remarkable woman. She accomplished so much in her life and probably could have done more, had she been from this era, that I sometimes feel dwarfed in front of her achievements and her strength. In fact, right now, I know for sure that I would not be able to justice by writing about her because no amount of writing would completely express what or how she was. Let me keep her feats for another time. This time, I want to talk about my memories of Dida (She is my paternal grandmother but I chose to call her Dida) and patishapta. She passed away in 2015 and I miss her dearly, especially during Makar Sankranti, when the air smells of pithe and puli everywhere.
During my growing up years, I was in Port Blair. Our lives at Port Blair was completely different from rest of the country. We were on an island, much dependent on the mainland (that’s what we would call the rest of India), for most of the food produce. Even potatoes would come by ship and those days, the frequency of flights and ships was much less. We would even get our newspapers thrice a week from Kolkata, which would come by Indian airlines. So for us, two months of summer vacation at Kolkata, where most of the time was spent at Canning was cherished. Dida and Dadni (Dadni is my grandfather) used to live in Canning in a beautiful house surrounded by gardens and two ponds. The ponds were lined with coconut trees and a path way in between leading to Batik bari (a factory where Dida used to employ women of the area and produce batik sarees and other garments). It was my Dida’s batik bari, her work place and my favorite place to play and disturb the peace. In those two months, Dida did everything possible to make up for all the festivities that we would miss out for staying in Port Blair. She would simply do an Aam pujo and Satyanarayan pujo because I would want to eat Shinni (a porridge made with whole wheat and milk with bananas and coconuts and other fruits). She would make all kinds of pithe and puli because we had missed Makar shankranti. We would get to eat mutton every Sunday because we did not get to eat mutton in Pork Blair. I could go on and on.
No one can make patishapta like Dida and she would make them on a small clay oven in our kitchen. Coconuts were in abundance at home. In her busy schedule, I have seen her making more than 50- 60 patishaptas, all by herself in the afternoon. Normally our summer holidays would also have rest of our cousins and a lot of extended family at home. All of us got to enjoy patishapta in the evening. Till date, I am yet to taste a patishapta which would replicate that taste. My chhotokakima (one of my aunts) makes beautiful patishapta too and she has learnt from her. That’s the closest to what Dida would make. Now that I think of it, Pishimoni (my father’s sister) also makes almost a similar one. I now deeply regret that I had not picked up the nuances of pithe puli making from Dida. I remember thinking whether my mother would make as many pithe puli as her. I had doubt about my capability of making pithe puli at all and would wonder if eventually, the art of making pithe puli at home would die out. It probably will. Nowadays, the sweet shops are making quite a lot of pithe pulis and people rather buy from the sweet shops than make at home.
With motherhood, I was sure that I wanted to feed the best to my children. And I learnt to make patishapta and other pithes and pulis. I wanted to carry on the tradition of making pithe at home during makar shankranti. I actually feel proud that I am continuing the tradition and that Dida would have been very proud of me. I know that the patishapta I make is not as good as the one that Dida would make but it’s close. And I am sure, with time and experience, one day I would make 50 patishaptas at one go and they would be just like the ones that Dida would make.
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