Entertainment, Nostalgia

The fall of Top Gear : End of Clarkson era

When I was a kid, I often had a fever, and whilst I was unwell, my dad would get me a toy of my choice, and a bag of Cadbury’s Gems, an equivalent of m&m’s. Most of the time, I used to pick up a car for a toy. A bit later, in the pre-satellite TV India, my most favourite programme was Street Hawk, where a masked protagonist fought crimes in his futuristic bike. Since the late eighties until now, cars have been an integral part of my media experiences and like most of the youngsters, I was fascinated by cars. Just like guns, cars probably represented the most widely rendered boys’ toys and I was no exception, marvelling at the Audi R8 Spyder ad, or the Batmobile in Batman Forever.

My tryst with Top Gear is only limited. After settling in the UK, following my MBA, I moved to a flat where my flatmate was a bike enthusiast — always participating in rallies circuits and road trips. I found myself shell-shocked, when I came to know about Jeff’s accident in Germany, that claimed his life, whilst he was enjoying what he liked most — riding his bike on a road trip. It was after moving to the flat with Jeff, that I started to watch a few episodes of Top Gear, sitting down after a long day’s work. After Jeff moved out of the flat, I can count how many times I watched Top Gear since. Then there were the recent controversies and the exit of the original trio that marked the end of an era. It was during the Christmas of 2015, watching an anthology of Top Gear episodes that I reminisced the programmes in 2010, and the lounge overlooking the Thames outside the balcony in the setting sun. And the nostalgia feels even stronger knowing Jeff is not here any more.

Poster from the Top Gear
Source: The Guardian

The recipe for Top Gear seemed very simple, just as a low-budget Hollywood high octane thriller. Lots of cars, three presenters doing crazy things but most importantly exuding a sense of camaraderie, the burning smell of rubber on the Tarmac — that’s all the show had to offer, but packed with various stunts and laps by celebrities, review of new cars and other snippets. The introduction of Stig, the masked speedster reminded me of the double life of the Street Hawk protagonist, demonstrating extreme motoring skills in disguise. Top Gear struck a chord with the British adult men in their thirties and above. The universal likeness to cars and the interest about maintenance to discounts to spare parts, Top Gear became a holy grail for the ones following an active lifestyle, participating in motor rallies and cross countries, as well as the ones who were settled down in their life, yet the willingness to have a spin with mates was either not materialised or never happen in the frequency as hoped due to other familial and occupational commitments. Perhaps Top Gear, with all its revving the engines and spinning/ skidding round the bends, complete disrespect of the speed limits — the appeal attracted most of its viewer base. To say the show only appealed to adult males would perhaps be incorrect as I know many women preferred watching a real-life entertainment programme rather than the prime-time soppy soaps. What struck out as the most significant contributor to the popularity of the programme was the bond between Clarkson-Hammond-May. It seemed as if three amigos got together testing some fast cars in a multitude of road surfaces with exciting backgrounds, having a laugh in a slightly touché undertone, but above all, they represented an eternal boyhood, the “lad” on the wheels and far away from the drudgery of the daily life. The followers basked into an hour of that virtual reality.

Then there were the controversies. Controversies that avid fans would like to laugh off as mild banter and political correctness has gone crazy. Clarkson had been a tongue-in-cheek personality all along, but perhaps he became too big-headed towards the end. After repeated allegations of racism, prejudiced stereotyping and uncouth behaviours, it reached an all-time low, while shooting the 2015 episodes, when he broke into a fight and punched the producer over a steak. BBC had to discontinue the contract as Clarkson became too arrogant and defiant to the BBC senior management. There were accusations against Clarkson of using racist terms, but he got away with a slap on the wrist. Top Gear was often alleged to have used inappropriate and abusive language, and at times being sexist, as well as promoting reckless driving, road rage, disrespect of the environmental laws. Amongst the mainstream viewers, the criticism came as the show was regarded as the big-boys-playing-with-machines. Also, public opinion was that the show perhaps had run its course, the presenter was a shadow of the past as most of the stunts and challenges have been attempted — leading to the programme either repeating the similar acts or plan newer stunts that are more daring and dangerous. Similar to many Hollywood sequels like Matrix and Jurassic Park, the series hit a stage, where the captive viewership may not drop drastically, but the purpose of the programme was finished. Although the camaraderie amongst Clarkson, May and Hammond was still there, the show already started to give a déjà vu feeling towards the end. So, when the allegations were raised against Jeremy Clarkson, it was a golden opportunity for the BBC to cease the programme and let it end as the most widely viewed factual television programme.

On the contrary, driven by zeal, BBC continued to record new series featuring Chris Evans. With a completely new cast, BBC wants to pretend, quite childishly so, that the past 13 years of Clarkson-era never happened. The expectations are high from viewers, who want to see how the show in its new avatar turned up, whilst most of the Clarkson sympathisers have already defected to other shows. Unless the production team came up with a completely new format, the show is likely to fail. It will fail not because Chris Evans is not Jeremy Clarkson, on the contrary, he is a fabulous presenter, but because the new Top Gear team will not have the same dynamics that the trio had developed over a decade. Rather than a flamboyant farewell, BBC has chosen to give the show a slow disappearance into oblivion.

I believe in absolutism, and for all the wrong reasons – all the casual racism, sexism, insensitive profanities and other allegations, Top Gear should have been withdrawn or moderated by BBC long before the fracas of 2015. However, for the ground-breaking success of the show, the Beeb carried on turning a blind eye, and therefore, passively encouraging Clarkson and the crew to be more audacious, more insensitive. That perhaps kept the TRP high for the show, as the viewers — especially the target audience — preferred it a bit rough, the big-boys-giving-a-toss-at-nothing attitude. Top Gear was the ultimate show for the thrill-seekers, the car-wankers and the placid domesticated men who still in their imaginary world, dreamt of living a lad’s life. The show had been a grand success, with some fabulous illustration of driving, no-nonsense car reviews and some hair-raising stunts. It represented the journey of the three presenters picking up the baton for a popular show in its new persona, and developing it into one of the biggest money-spinners for the BBC. They represented the small-screen version of the Fast and Furious, the ultimate high-octane entertainment. But the Clarkson-May-Hammond trio looked a shadow of their past, their presentation iterative, jokes repetitive and stunts sillier by the day. It became a representation of three haggard-looking men trying to clutch to their wondrous past and failing. It became a dinosaur of our time, a show for pledging unabashed masculinity, a virtue suited for the 18th Century cowboys. In the 21st century world that is more multicultural, interconnected to all corners of the world, more diverse and less discriminatory, Top Gear was too passé, too out of the league.

I’m not a Top Gear enthusiast, and on any day I’d choose a Nat Geo documentary over TG. And this is not a tearful adieu to the Top Gear swansong of the Clarkson-era. Instead, whilst watching the Top Gear: From A to Z during Christmas, I just remembered watching TG in that South-East London flat, when viewing the programme was an experience, and I didn’t pay much attention to the content. The Christmas homage to the past 13 years of the programme showed the highlights of the show, a summarised version sans the controversies. This is an obituary to the programme, which was a massive hit showcasing three men playing with machines, and now its demise perhaps should send out a wake-up call to the wannabe boys to come out of their reverie and brace the world outside…

The logo for the programme
Source: Forums.finalgear.com
Politics, Russia

Alexander Litvivnenko murder inquiry and Putin’s rogue state

A man looks at a portrait of ex-spy Andrei Litvinenko by Russian artists Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeyeva in the Marat Guelman Gallery in Moscow May 22, 2007. Moscow cannot extradite former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoy to Britain on charges of murdering fellow ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko because of a constitutional ban, the Russian Prosecutor-General’s office said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin (RUSSIA) – RTR1PYPQ

Russia never failed to amaze me, from the Soviet Union during my childhood years, whilst reading the fables and folklore from the snow-laden land, to now, knowing more about the state after the Iron Curtain was lifted, through various media coverages and current affairs, and all such information merge into a collage with stark contrasts. With its contradictions, Russia is in many ways similar to India, yet in many ways is miles apart. During my childhood, whilst marvelling at the utopia that all people lived as equals there and that Lenin and Stalin were demigods, protecting the interests of the proletariat without a shadow of blemish on their persona, Russia was painted as the El Dorado, by our local communist press. Even when my beloved Tintin uncovered the oppression of the Bolshevik state, I was greatly miffed at Hergé and wondered whether he took sides with the capitalists. Then came the teenage years, with Rocky and Rambo dominating the silver screens, including many other films and books featuring the Cold War and showing that the Soviets were the actual bad guys there. I didn’t believe it and treated most of it as they were represented — a work of fiction. Around the same time, however, the end of Communism and falling of Berlin Wall marked a new chapter in Russian history, which not only split the Soviet Union, but it also left all communist parties across the world in utter disbelief. The ripple of that seismic change in the global political equation also reached the east Indian state of West Bengal — one of the few states remaining as the last bastion of Indian communist movement. The fall of the Soviet Union left indelible marks in the future of the party command, as there were no ideals to follow, no role models left. During my early adulthood, the keenness to learn more about communism kindled the fondness towards Russia, yet the search for more information was in vain without the access of computers and the Internet. The next decade reaching up to my thirties, Russia remained a state that I adored before and still did, place of economic hardship and political oblivion, a state that is more humane than Capitalist America and Britain ever was, and I always remained a supporter of Russia in games, sports, contests over the capitalist countries.

Until then, the images of Russia invoked a feeling like the land of Communism, and Siberia and Santa Claus. Of lake Baikal, of the Ural Mountains, of Steppe and Tartars, of Volga and Vodka. Of leaders with undoubted integrity like Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev. In my thirties, I had access to more information through my researches and media — information that would starkly refute my rose-tinted vision of Russia, Soviet leaderships and the Bolshevik Revolution itself. The secrecy weaved by Lenin had turned the country into the Iron Curtain by Stalin, adding to it the atrocities during the WWII or the Katyn massacre, the Marxist dream probably was already slipping away. From WWII until the fall of Soviet Union, the state was mired with atrocities, espionage, distrust and suspicion.

With the wake of the CIS, and subsequently the Russian Federation, following the dissolution of the other member states, the communist idealist views were dead, but the ghosts of the practices from the Soviet era remained unchanged and with time, the power of the state was devolved into a number of powerful business leaders and the ex-secret service officials, the epitome of which is the charismatic president Mr Putin. Despite the highly censored media, there were instances of gross human rights violations, provocative actions at the international territories, secret assassinations, intimidations and at worst, annexing part of a foreign territory of Crimea through a dubious referendum. The presence of Russian Mafia in many of the European countries dealing arms to extortion made the threats to the rest of the Europe palpable. With the corrupt officials at the helm, the presence of state sponsorship to such dealings is irrefutable. The assassination of Alexander Litvinenko exemplifies one such tale of secret assassination, state protection of the Mafia, and throttling the voices against the government. An incredible read, this report can only highlight the audacity of the events that unfurled on that fated 1st November 2006, and Russia’s complete disregard to the diplomatic relations.

Alexander Litvinenko: the man who solved his own murder

On 21st January, the high court in the UK released the verdict on Alexander Litvinenko assassination, that it was the Russian state who “possibly” murdered a UK citizen and an MI6 informer. However, the proofs and alibis scream loudly of the involvement of the prime suspects Lugovoi and Kovtum (Lugovoi has recently been awarded the state honour by Putin. And the source of the Po-210 isotope, which is a highly controlled substance and could only be sourced from the state-run labs or reactors, corroborating the allegations. The case is open and shut, that the murder was definitely been carried out by the Russian state, with direct orders from Vladimir Putin. What changed the outcome of the report is unknown, possibly the lack of circumstantial evidence or the reluctance of the UK government to be on the wrong foot with Russia whilst dealing with ISIL or Iran’s sanction uplifting.

Russia was an enigma, and still is, and it has given the world great scientists, artists and thinkers. However, the present government has now been reduced to a bunch of corrupt officials from the communist era, pimps and the thugs, who jettisoned their communist ethos of improving the lives of the others, and instead exploit the lives of its citizens and plunder the national wealth. At the same time, the methods of spying, interrogation, intimidation adopted in the Communist era to thwart the capitalist threat has now become the mechanism of the rogue state to continue its reign of torture, secret assassinations, extortion and trafficking whilst continuously flouting at the UN regulations.

People around the world still worship Putin, still rejoice how he shuts down the leaders of the capitalist countries, how he is a man of character and how a leader should be. Some people still like Hitler. That doesn’t make them right, nor do their fuzzy feelings justify the lives claimed by these “angels of death”. To conclude, here is the parting shot from Alexander Litvinenko on his deathbed to his assassinator:

“You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed.

You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilised value.

You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilised men and women.

You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.

May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people.”

And the outcome of the inquiry may not be significant in terms of how much it would affect Putin, and Russia will claim the report was politically motivated; but almost 10 years after his assassination, Alexander Litvinenko proved to the world the true colour of the Russian president…

Bengali culture, Cuisine, Nostalgia

পৌষ পার্বন পুলি পিঠে আর বিশ্বায়ন

জ মকর সংক্রান্তি। জানতাম না, মনে থাকার কথাও নয় তবু সকাল বেলা ফেসবুকে দেখি পাড়ার পুরনো বন্ধু মেরিন বেজায় চটে লিখেছে মকর কেমন দেখতে হয় জানা আছে? যুক্তিটা ফেলার নয় আর এই সোশাল আদিখ্যেতা দেখে আমারো একই রকম পিত্তি জ্বলে গেল। হয়ত আর কিছুদিন পর অমাবস্যা পূর্ণিমা অম্বুবাচী ঘেঁটুপুজো কোনো কিছুই বাকী থাকবেনা। আমাদের পূর্বজ বাম লিডাররা যেকোনো পরিবর্তনকে সাম্রাজ্যবাদী ষড়যন্ত্র বলে চালানোর চেষ্টা করতো, তবে একটু খতিয়ে দেখলে মনে হতেই পারে যে এই সব লোকাচার কেমন ভাবে বিশ্বায়নের গ্রাসে চলে যাচ্ছে। একদিকে সময় আর সামাজিক যোগাযোগের কমতিতে এসব মকর সংক্রান্তি-টান্তি শিকেয় উঠেছে, আবার সেরকমই বাজার অর্থনীতির হাত ধরে এসব হারিয়ে যাওয়া আচারবিচার থেকে মুনাফা তুলতে হাজির পুরনো আচার আচরনের ধুয়ো তোলা সংস্থারা। যেমন ঘরোয়া খাবার নিয়ে উপস্থিত ভজহরি মান্না, তেরো পার্বন, ৬ বালিগঞ্জ প্লেস। প্রথমে বিশ্বায়ন মাছের মাথা দিয়ে মুগের ডালের বদলে কেএফসি ডোমিনোস ইত্যাদি খাওয়া শিখিয়ে তারপর নস্টালজিয়ার খোঁচা মেরে সেই মাছের মাথার ডাল ঘরে ২৫/- টাকার বদলে ২০০/- টাকা দিয়ে কেনাচ্ছে। সেভাবেই হয়ত অদুর ভবিষ্যতে আমরা পেয়ে যাবো পৌষ পার্বনে পুলি পিঠের হোম ডেলিভারি। তারপর মুখে গোটাকয় পিঠে ঠেসে সেলফি— ব্যাস ষোল আনা বাঙালিয়ানা ফলানো হয়ে গেল।

সব প্রজন্মই মনে হয় ভাবে যে তাদের জীবনকালটাই সবচেয়ে সেরা, নতুন পুরনো দুইয়ের নিপুন সম্মিলন। আমারো সেরকমই মনে হল আজ যে অন্তত আমাদের আশির দশকে বড় হওয়া প্রজন্ম এসব প্রচলিত প্রথাগুলোর সাথে বহুল পরিচিত ছিল। সেই ভাবনা থেকেই ইচ্ছে হল বিশ্বায়নকে তুলোধোনা বা ফেসবুকে মাকড় সংক্রান্তি জাহির না করে খানিক পৌষ পার্বনের আসল উৎকর্ষ নিয়েই খতিয়ে দেখা যাক। হ্যাঁ পিঠে পায়েস এইসব।

মকর সংক্রান্তি খালি নামেই ছিল, আমরা চিরকাল জেনে এসেছি যে এটা পৌষ পার্বন, পিঠে খাওয়ার দিন। ধর্মীয় আচার-টাচার হয়তো কিছু আছে কিন্তু সেসব নিয়ে কখনো মাথা ঘামাইনি চোখের সামনে রসে টইটম্বুর পিঠের ছবি ভেসে ওঠায়। আর আগে খাওয়া মানে যে শুধু নিজের মাইক্রো পরিবার তা তো ছিলনা, আশেপাশের পাড়া প্রতিবেশী এমনকী কিছু দুরে থাকা আত্মীয়স্বজন সবাইকেই দিয়েথুয়ে তারপর যা পড়ে থাকতো তা দিয়েই পরের তিন দিন টানা পিঠে খাওয়া চলত। বাবার অফিস, আমার স্কুল সবেতেই টিফিন পিঠে তারপর খেলতে যাবার আগে গোটাকয় আর সন্ধ্যাবেলা টিফিনে আবার সেই পিঠে। এখানে সেই পিঠেরই একটা পাঁচালি লেখার চেষ্টা করলাম। যদি কেউ আর কিছু মনে করতে পারেন লিখে পাঠালে বাধিত রইব।

পিঠের লিস্টি

১) পাটিসাপটা : পৌষ পার্বনের ন্যুনতম লেভেল। আর কিছু না হলেও খানকতক পাটিসাপটা ঠিকই হত বাড়ি বাড়ি। আর বানানোর কিছু কিছু ট্রিক মনে আছে। চালগোলা চাটুতে দিয়ে তারপর আস্ত তেজপাতা দিয়ে মিশ্রনটাকে ছড়িয়ে দিতে হত। পরে বিদেশে প্যানকেক বা ক্রেপ বানানোর পদ্ধতি দেখে সেই পাটিসাপটাই মনে পড়ে যেত। আর পুর বানানোরও বিশাল সরঞ্জাম আগের রাত থেকে নিরামিষ বঁটির মাথায় নারকেল কোরার যন্ত্র। তারপর গুড় দিয়ে কড়াইতে মেশানো। জল মরে গিয়ে গুড় আর নারকেল মিশে গেলে পুর তৈরী হয়ে গেল। কেউ কেউ গুড়ের জায়গায় চিনি দিয়েও বানাতো পুর। খোয়ার পুর এলো বেশ কিছুদিন পর।

২) মালপোয়া : ভানুর সেই মাসিমা মালপো খামুর মালপোয়া ছিল দ্বিতীয় কমন পিঠে। মালপোয়ায় পুরও লাগেনা তাই বানানো সবচেয়ে সোজা। নিতান্ত আনাড়ি রাঁধুনি যে আর কোন পিঠে পারেনা, সে অবধি মালপোয়া বানাতে পারদর্শী। পিটুলি গোলা বা ময়দার গোলা তৈরি করে গরম তেলে ভেজে তারপর চিনির শিরায় ডুবিয়ে নিলেই মালপোয়া রেডি। মালপোয়ার গোলায় খানিক মৌরি মিশিয়ে দিলে বেশ স্বাদ হয়। কতখানি পিটুলিগোলা কিভাবে কড়ায় দেয়া হল মালপোয়ার আকার আর স্বাদ তার ওপর নির্ভর করে। অল্প জায়গা জুড়ে বানালে ভেতরটা বেশ নরম থাকে। আর বেশী জায়গা জুড়ে ছড়িয়ে দিলে মালপোয়া হয় বেশ মুচমুচে। বানানো এত সোজা বলে পৌষ পার্বন ছাড়াও অন্যান্য সময় পাড়ার মিষ্টির দোকানে বা লুচি কচুরির দোকানেও মালপোয়া বিক্রি শুরু হয়ে যায় দস্তুরমত।

৩) গোকুল পিঠে : গোকুল পিঠে বানানো তেমন কঠিন না হলেও খুব যে চল ছিল তেমন নয়। যতদুর মনে পড়ে, পাটিসাপটার যে পুর সেটা দিয়েই গোকুল পিঠের পুর বানানো যেত। নারকেল কোরা আর গুড়ের পুর চেপ্টে অনেকটা আলুর চপের পুরের আকারে বানিয়ে পিটুলি গোলায় ডুবিয়ে ছাঁকা তেলে ভেজে নিলে বড়া তৈরী। তারপর বড়াগুলো চিনির শিরায় ডুবিয়ে নরম হয়ে এলে গোকুল পিঠে রেডি।

৪) রস বড়া : পিঠেদের মধ্যে এটা বানানো বেশ কঠিন। বিউলির ডাল আগের রাতে ভিজিয়ে ডাল মিহি করে বেটে ছোট ছোট গোল্লা বানিয়ে ডুবো তেলে প্রথমে ভাজা হতো। বড়াগুলো বেশ লালচে হয়ে এলে নামিয়ে চিনির শিরায় ডুবিয়ে রেখে দিয়ে গোল্লাগুলো নরম হয়ে গেলে রস বড়া তৈরী। তবে, কঠিন পার্টটা হলো ডালবাটা কতটা ঘন হবে সেটা। খুব ঘন হলে বড়ার ভেতরটা রান্না হবেনা, ডাল কাঁচা কাঁচা রয়ে যাবে। আর অন্যদিকে ডালবাটা বেশি পাতলা হলে তেলে ছাড়ামাত্র ডালগুলো আলাদা হয়ে যাবে। বড়া কতখানি ভাজা হবে সেটাও জরুরি। কম ভাজা হলে ডাল ভেতরে কাঁচা থেকে যাবে, যা খেতে অখাদ্য। আর ভাজা বেশি হলে বাইরেটা কড়া হয়ে যাবে, রসে ডোবালে বড়াগুলো তেমন রস শুষতে পারবেনা। প্রত্যেক বছর পৌষ পার্বনে বাবা খুব উৎসাহ নিয়ে রসবড়া বানানোর চেষ্টা করলেও কোনো না কোনো দুর্যোগে পারফেক্ট রসবড়া কখনো খাওয়া হয়নি।

৫) দুধ পুলি : দুধ পুলি ছিল পৌষ পার্বনের ম্যাগনাম ওপাস। খেতে অসাধারণ কিন্ত ঠিকঠাক বানানো প্রায় দুঃসাধ্য। পুলিগুলো বানানো হত ময়দার লেচি বেলে খোল বানিয়ে তার মধ্যে নারকোল কোরা আর গুড়ের পুর ভরে অনেকটা মাকুর আকার দিয়ে। তারপর দুধ চিনি আর এলাচ দিয়ে ফুটিয়ে তাতে পুলিগুলো দিয়ে আরো বেশ কিছুক্ষণ ফুটিয়ে দুধ বেশ খানিকটা মরে এলে দুধ পুলি তৈরী। শুনে মনে হয় এ আর এমন কী? পুলি কেমন দাঁড়াবে সেটা সবটাই নির্ভর করছে খোলের ওপর। ময়দার খোল বেশি মোটা হলে পুলিগুলো শক্ত শক্তই রয়ে যাবে, পুলি খেয়ে মনে হত যেন ময়দার তাল। আর খোল বেশি সরু হলে দুধ পুরো ঘন হবার আগেই পুলির খোল ভেঙ্গে পুরগুলো দুধে মিশে যাবে। দুধ পুলি করার অনেক চেষ্টা দেখেছি আমাদের বাড়ি বা আত্মীয়দের মধ্যে কিন্তু খুব কমই খেয়েছি যা খেয়ে মনে হয়েছে বাঃ দারুন। বেশির ভাগ সময়েই সেটা দাঁড়াত শক্ত ময়দার গোলা দাঁত ফোটানো যাচ্ছেনা অথবা চামচ ঠেকানোর আগেই পুলি ভেঙ্গে গুঁড়ো হয়ে যাচ্ছে — এজাতীয় বিপর্যয়ে।

৬) চুষির পায়েস :  ছোটবেলা থেকেই দেখতাম বাড়িতে চুষি বানানোর চল। আমারও সেই দেখাদেখি চুষি বানানোর বায়নাক্কা দেখে বাবা মা আমার হাতে একটা ময়দার গোলা ধরিয়ে দিত।  খুব উৎসাহ নিয়ে শুরু করলেও যখন দেখতাম বাবা মার বানানো সমান আর সরু সরু চুষির পাশে আমার এবড়োখেবড়ো মোটা মোটা চুষিগুলো, সে দৃশ্য দেখে বেশ নিরুৎসাহীই হয়ে যেতাম। পৌষ পার্বনে চুষি করার জন্যে তোড়জোড় শুরু হত অনেক আগে থেকে। ময়দার লেচি পাকিয়ে তার একটা দিক টেনে সুতোর মত লম্বা করে সেটা হাতের চেটোতে ঘষে ঘষে চুষি বানানো হত। মনে হয় অন্যান্য সময়েও অনেক জায়গায় চুষির পায়েসের চল ছিল কারণ পায়েসের গোবিন্দভোগ চালের দাম চিরকাল খুব চড়া। চুষি তাই কমদামী বিকল্প। হয়ত এখন চেষ্টা করলে বানাতে পারব চুষি, কিন্তু সেই সব সমান সাইজের আর সরু সরু চুষি অসম্ভব। তো সেই বানানো চুষি তারপর রোদে দিয়ে শুকিয়ে নিলে আসল হুজ্জুতি শেষ। বাকিটা যেরকম পায়েস রান্নার পদ্ধতি তাই। ঠিক মনে পড়ছেনা শেষ কবে চুষির পায়েস খেয়েছি অন্তত পঁচিশ বছর তো হবেই, তাই ঠিক মনে পড়ছেনা চালের পায়েসের সাথে স্বাদের কি তফাত ছিল।

৭) সরা পিঠে : যতদুর মনে পড়ছে এটার চাটগাঁর নাম ছিল আস্কে পিঠে। অনেকে ভারা পিঠেও বলে। সরা পিঠে বানানোর উপকরন খুব বেশি না হলেও বানানোর ঝক্কি অনেক। তবে কারো যদি বাড়িতে ইডলি তৈরির ডিস থাকে তাহলে সরা পিঠের জন্যে সেটা যথেষ্ট। এমনকি সরা পিঠে খেতেও অনেকটা ইডলিরই মত। চাল গুঁড়ো করে তাতে নারকোল কোরা মিশিয়ে খুব সম্ভব অল্প জল দিয়ে মিশ্রণটাকে সামান্য ভেজাভেজা করা হত যাতে ঝুরঝুরে হয়ে পিঠে ভেঙ্গে না যায়। তারপর তালু ভর্তি সেই চালগুঁড়ো নিয়ে ইডলির আকারে বানিয়ে হয় ইডলি ডিসে বা হাঁড়িতে জল ফুটিয়ে তার ওপরে দিয়ে জল ফোটার বাস্প দিয়ে পিঠে তৈরী হত। তারপর সেই গরম গরম পিঠে পরিবেশন করা হত খেজুরের গুড়ের হাঁড়ির ওপরে জমে থাকা স্বচ্ছ গুড় দিয়ে, যাতে নিচের দিকের দানাদানা গুড় না থাকে। আস্কে পিঠে একবারই খেয়েছিলাম ঠাকুমা বানিয়ে খাইয়েছিল যখন প্রথম দেখা করতে যাই, নিজেদের জমির ধান আর গুড় দিয়ে তৈরী, তা ছাড়া বার কয়েক সরা পিঠে খেয়েছি কিন্তু সেগুলো লোকে এলেম কুড়োনোর জন্যে বানিয়েছিল খেতে অখাদ্য না হলেও সেরকম সুস্বাদু ছিলনা।

৮) তিল পিঠে : এটাও খুব রেয়ার বাঙালি বাড়িতে, যদিও আসামে তিল পিঠের চল প্রচুর।  আমার বার দুয়েক খাবার সৌভাগ্য হয়েছে। রেসিপি পাটিসাপটার মতই খালি পুরের জন্য নারকেল কোরা না দিয়ে সাদা কালো মেশানো তিল আর গুড় ব্যবহার করা হয়।

পিঠের পুরের জন্য যেমন লিখেছি আখের গুড় ব্যবহার করা হত সেটা সব সময় ঠিক না। খেজুরের গুড়ই প্রধানত ব্যবহার করার কথা কিন্তু অনেক সময়ই বাজারে খেজুর গুড় আসত অনেক পর, তাই সেটা না পাওয়া গেলে পাটালি না হয় আখের গুড়ই ভরসা ছিল। ইদানীং কালে খোয়া ক্ষীর দিয়ে বানানোর বেশ চল, খেতে যে খারাপ তা নয় তবে খোয়া চালু হবার মুল কারন হয়ত শর্টকাটে কাজ সারা, নারকেল কোরানো, গুড় দিয়ে জ্বাল দেয়া সেসব ঝুটঝামেলা থেকে নিস্কৃতি। আর চাল যে কি ধরনের নেয়া হত সেটা মনে আসছেনা। নবান্ন উৎসব যখন মনে হয় নতুন চাল মানে আমন ধানের চালই ব্যবহার করা হত। এখন দেখি ঢেঁকিতে গুঁড়ো করা চাল আলাদা পাওয়া যায় কিন্তু আমার মনে আছে দেখতাম পৌষ পার্বনের আগের দিন বাড়িতে চালের স্তুপ শিল নোড়া দিয়ে বাটার কাজ চলছে।

এসব বহুপ্রচলিত পিঠের বাইরেও যে কত রকমের পিঠে আছে তার ইয়ত্তা নেই। মকর সংক্রান্তি মনে হয় গোটা ভারতবর্ষ জুড়ে পালন করা হয় বিভিন্ন ভাবে, কিন্তু পিঠে যতদুর জানি মূলত পূর্ব ভারতেই সীমাবদ্ধ —উড়িষ্যা, বিহার, এপার ওপার বাংলা অসম ত্রিপুরা অনেকটা জুড়েই। বিভিন্ন জেলা গ্রাম ভিত্তিতে পিঠেরও তাই প্রচুর প্রকারভেদ।

পিঠের বিষয়ে পিঠের বাইরে গিয়ে এক ঝলক দেখে নিলে উপলব্ধি করা যাবে যে আমাদের জীবন এই ত্রিশ পঁয়ত্রিশ বছরে কতখানি বদলেছে। গড়িয়াহাটের রাস্তার ষ্টলে বসা ঘুগনি আর আলুর দম উঠে গেছে সেই অপারেশন সানশাইন থেকে, এখনো ইচ্ছে করে খাই সেই জিবে লেগে থাকা ঘুগনি আর পোড়া পোড়া আলুর দম সাথে খানিক তেঁতুলের জল কিন্তু সানশাইনের সেই ঝকঝকে কলকাতায় তা এখন দুস্প্রাপ্য। তবে আধুনিকতা জীবনের অঙ্গ। তাকে অস্বীকার করে উত্তরের থেকে পিঠ করে যদি নস্টালজিয়ায় ভুগে অতীতের দিকে তাকিয়ে বসে থাকি তাহলে আমাদের ভবিষ্যত ঝরঝরে। পুরনোকে যক্ষের ধনের মত আগলে না রেখে নতুনকে জায়গা করে দেয়া আমাদের কর্তব্য, সেটা না থাকলে আমাদের অগ্রগতি বন্ধ। খাবার দাবারের চল দেখলেও সেটাই প্রকট। বাজার আমাদের শেখায় প্রতি মুহুর্তে নতুন কিছু করতে, গতানুগতিকের একঘেয়েমির থেকে বাইরে বেরোতে। আমাদের দায়িত্ব হলো নতুন পুরনো দুইকেই সমান সুযোগ দেয়া। ভাল মাল চলবে আর ওঁচা মাল লোপাট হবে, বাজার অর্থনীতির সেটাই মূল মন্ত্র। যেটা নেই সেটা হলো নিয়ন্ত্রণ, যার অভাবে যার টাকা আছে সে বিভিন্ন মাধ্যম ব্যবহার করে আমাদের মাথায় ঢুকিয়ে দেয়ার চেষ্টা করে যে তার পন্যই সেরা। সেই জন্য ফান্টা টিকে গেছে গোল্ড স্পট উধাও, যদিও বিন্দুমাত্র পক্ষপাতী না হয়ে বলছি গোল্ড স্পট ফান্টার চেয়ে স্বাদে অনেক গুন ভালো ছিল। আগের সেই জোর যার মুলুক তার এখন এসে দাঁড়িয়েছে পয়সা যার মুলুক তার। আর আমরাও ছুটছি সেই পয়সার পেছনে ইঁদুর দৌড়ে, তাই আজ আমাদের জীবনেও আর অঢেল সময় নেই এসব পিঠে পুলি বানানোর বা ঘুড়ির সুতোয় মাঞ্জা দেয়ার। নতুন পুরনো, দেশী বিদেশী, স্বধর্মী বিধর্মী এসব বাছবিচার থেকে বাইরে বেরিয়ে যদি সবকিছুকে চল আর অচলের নিরিখে বিবেচনা করি তাহলে দুইয়েরই ভালোটা আমরা রাখতে পারব আর খারাপটা ছুঁড়ে ফেলতে। সম্পূর্ণ নির্মোহ পক্ষপাতমুক্ত হয়ে যদি সেটা করতে পারি তবেই নতুন পুরনো প্রকৃত মেলবন্ধন সম্ভব। সেটা যতদিন না হবে ততদিন পাড়ায় ফেরিওয়ালার থেকে টাকায় চারটে ডালপুরির জায়গায় রেস্তোরাঁয় গিয়ে ৫০/- টাকা দিয়ে দুখানা ডালপুরি খেয়েই সন্তুষ্ট থাকতে হবে।

শেষ করছি পিঠে নিয়ে লেখা সেই অতিপরিচিত লাইন দুটো দিয়ে:

পেটে খেলে পিঠে সয়।

পিঠে খেলে পেটে সয়না॥

পরিশেষ: নিচে গোটাকয় লিংক রইলো আরো অন্যান্য পিঠে নিয়ে জানার জন্যে

– উইকি: পিঠের আঞ্চলিক বিভাগ
– বাংলাদেশের আরো কিছু পিঠে
– পশ্চিম বাংলার পিঠে

Comics, Nostalgia

Where have you gone, Mike Nomad?

I grew up in a period reading the amazing tales of the comic strips. Unlike Phantom, Mandrake, Flash Gordon etc, Mike Nomad always portrayed a haggard look, almost detached and aloof…a common man solving mysteries and in most cases getting into trouble and redeem himself. With the frenzy of republishing Gold age comics, perhaps Mike should get a chance to relive as well.


I was a newspaper fan from childhood, years before I would have guessed my writings would appear in print on a nearly daily basis. Decades before the Interwebs made it possible to connect with the big, wide world on an instantaneous basis, TV, radio and newspapers were my connection, my contact, to everything out there that was bigger than me.

Just as Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” was the avenue for a kid from Central Indiana to learn about the finer points of Jewish comedians and great jazz, so newspapers were a way for a Cowan elementary-schooler to begin to form a rudimentary grasp of current events.

And newspaper comic strips were the icing on that cake of information.

I read virtually all the comic strips, from the beautifully drawn but kind of impenetrable, plot-wise, “Prince Valiant” Sunday strips to the bread-and-butter comedy of “Hagar.” I read the comics page from…

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India, Terrorism

#PathankotAttack: An appeal to the logical Indian

On the night of the 1st January when the country finished celebrating the New Year’s Day and looking forward to a long weekend, an yet unknown number of terrorists suspected from the group Jaish-e-Muhammad abducted a senior Superintendent of Police car and entered the strategic Air Force base at Pathankot and opened fire with a view to destroy the strategic military assets maintained in the base. Seven Indian lives were lost until now, whilst six terrorists were suspected to be neutralised. The operation is now declared complete, although it is not clear how many terrorists attacked the base and whether any escaped.

When I started my day on 2nd January, thousands of miles away from those picturesque yet dangerous terrains that abut Indo-Pak borders, I was completely taken aback! Not that terrorist attacks are unheard of in India — in fact, before 9/11, India had been subjected to numerous attempts since independence that the rest of the world dismissed as internal issues. Yet, in recent times, peace seemed to have returned to the Kashmir valleys and the attack sent a completely contradictory message, whilst the Indian PM recently paid an unexpected visit to Pakistan.

The fingers for obvious reasons point towards Pakistan, where regardless of all peace talks and all different political parties in power, on the issue of Kashmir, it is a bureaucratic and diplomatic dead end. Pakistan would never stop claiming for Kashmir fearing a political annihilation otherwise, and India would never give it away for the same reason, as well as Kashmir providing a natural deterrent to invasions without which, the border would be too close to Delhi.

Following the attacks, on the social media which, in addition to the news on the Internet, is my window to what’s happening in India, there seems to be another controversy brewing up. On one side, some pacifists are proclaiming #TerrorHasNoReligion and #NonStateActor etc, the bigger and louder voice is for imparting capital punishments to terrorists, strengthening the army and in some extreme cases criticising the government brazenness on waging war on Pakistan. For this majority, the suspicion, quite obviously turns to the Indian Muslim population, in where their loyalty lies. Political parties weighed in quite expectedly, all blaming the attacks to appear patriotic, yet criticise various fronts to the incumbent BJP government.

The anger in the Indian public is understandable. For various reasons, India has been involved in numerous conflicts with Pakistan and although the relation thawed in recent times, the terrorist attacks in India have never ceased and in ALL cases, the links were found going back to Pakistan. All Political parties in power in New Delhi have said harsh words, then it no measure was taken, neither offensive nor collaborative. The public is frustrated with the government inaction and the continuous disruption to normal life and the huge human loss incurred in the attacks. To the common public, such an attack should have been avenged, to make the perpetrators afraid of planning further invasions.

Such expectations, no matter how patriotic they sound, are only emotional, passionate and impossible. Declaring war without any evidence is a direct breach of UN legislation and however frustrating it is, the government can’t but accept that outfits like JeM are non-state actors, they are terrorist outfits with no established connection to Pakistan government or army until proven. Is Pakistan not aware of these outfits training in its soil and then crossing the heavily guarded Indo-Pak border? Of course, they are aware, we can’t be so naive to assume that they don’t. It appears that in Pakistan there is the elected government, then the army and finally the ISI — Pakistan’s secret service agency, and each of these three leaderships has their own agenda. So, as far as terrorists are concerned, the government view was perhaps to turn a blind eye on attacks on India, rather than have the attacks turn internal. Also, for a large number of Pakistanis and perhaps some Kashmiris, who believe that Kashmir should a part of Pakistan, these attacks are not terrorist activities, the terrorists perhaps were seen as freedom fighters instead. Considering the whereabouts of these outfits are known to the government, what the Pakistan government has done would define whether there were heavy involvement and possibly the supply of weapons etc. to these terrorists, or whether they were aware of the plans and did not take proactive measures to thwart them crossing the borders. One of the conspiracy theories floating around suggests ISI and Pakistan army tend to keep the Kashmir melting pot simmering but not boil over, in the wake of the goodwill missions between the Indo-Pak governments to defrost the relations. This also highlights the lack of control by the government over the Army involvements in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, what should India do? There is not much more to do than what’s being done in this or the last terrorist attacks. The first target was to secure the base and the key assets, as well as ensure the safety of the civilians in the nearby area. The Punjab Police and the NSG have completed that task although clumsily. The other important task was to neutralise the perpetrators or capturing them alive. Although it’s been a long battle and the statement from the SP was perhaps confusing in ascertaining the number of terrorists, most of the terrorists are now neutralised and the operation is declared complete. An enquiry by NIA is already underway to probe the attacks. The investigation is essential and the outcome will lead the way how India government would respond to the situation. During the attacks, it emerged that the right forces were not deployed or the right equipment was not available, which will need to be addressed for future crisis situations. All the unanswered questions that have been raised following the attack will need to find an answer such as where the other terrorists came from or how did they infiltrate the border security forces of India and Pakistan. Questions need to be answered why after the SP was abducted, there wasn’t a high alert? Another approach by the Indian government is really commendable during the Pathankot attacks was not to point finger at Pakistan straight away without any inquiry. Considering the ruling party is Hindu supremacist, not being carried away with a passion for an Islamist attack showed the sign of its political astuteness. At the same time, the Pak media seemed to have asked the pertinent questions on how the borders that are heavily guarded were breached, and the investigation committee should pass information back to Pakistan if the involvement was found. On the other hand, despite cries from opposition Congress to sever all diplomatic ties with Pakistan, that would make the discussions and negotiations that have just started freeze again, as before. The trend showed that whenever Indo-Pak peace talks started, the separatists replied with an attack. The peace process or at least the discussions should not stop as that would appear as victory to the terrorists. Last but not the least, the soldiers who died in the confrontation should be remembered and it should be made sure that the state looks after their next of kin, as well as of the taxi driver who was killed.

One of the greatest achievements of post-independence India was that it’s the world’s biggest democracy and the government is run by a well-defined constitution. At times critics may have quite rightly pointed out that they could be sluggish and overly bureaucratic, calling for revisions to cater for recent times. However, in situations like this, the integrity of the Indian constitution can be fully appreciated that allowed the government to function in a logical manner, keeping the interest of the entire population in mind. India’s Gandhian peace efforts in diplomatic missions have earned the country many allies, as did the recent economic boom. An adolescent response by a declaration of war would not only destabilise the political and social balance in the subcontinent, but it would also undermine India’s position as one of the biggest emerging economies. Considering the biggest opposition to India is China — economically as well as politically, such a move would definitely lose India a few supporters. Also, in the politically volatile situation in Pakistan, the last thing expected is to push Pakistan in a state where the extremists take over the government and cause a nuclear Armageddon, leaving probably entire Pakistan and a large part of India wiped out for generations. The international community will keep the safe distance, and although based on their economic interest perhaps most of them take India’s side, none of them would be involved in the conflict.

Apart from the win-loss angle, a war situation should at all cost be avoided from a humanitarian point of view. That each human life is precious and the war would only mean loss of hundreds and thousands of the human capital, the true building blocks of India — this should be the first point of argument. People are outraged about the situations and causing storms in the social media, but all such petty activism is light-years away from the harsh terrains of Himalayas, where the military outposts are guarding the territory in the most unforgiving climate and landscape. Despite being strongly opposed to the idea of an army, in the volatile borders such as Indo-Pak or Sino-Indian frontiers, unless the governments reach a permanent equilibrium, armed forces and border protection is necessary, not just for preventing illegal land acquisition, but also for minimising terrorist infiltrations. We don’t want to see any loss of life as seen in this attack, but a retaliatory response to flexing the muscles, is something that may appear heroic in the ultra-nationalist perspective, but going to an armed conflict wiping out cities and villages is not a sensible option at all. So, before one raises another battle cry to show raging patriotism, please ask yourself who would suffer the biggest loss? Even if there is a war and India flattens Pakistan, what will happen then? Would that not pave the way for more ferocious terrorist elements like Al-Qaeda or ISIS? Picture the sights of devastation seen in the war-torn middle-east, of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan — despite being threatened many times, such destruction hasn’t touched India or Pakistan yet, and let’s all hope that the governments to be prudent enough to avoid such meltdown.

There are possibilities that a lot of insider information is passed over to ISI by Indians, unknowingly or being bribed. Such possibilities cannot be ignored, and rather than the lapse in technology, the insiders passing on information are bigger threats, helping the terrorists with details to make their master plans. A lot of information coming out of the investigation still doesn’t add up. Also, the focus should be on the people of J&K as well, because the terrorists may have received local help, without which, how did they manage to their reconnaissance of the army base? There is a lot of grievance against the Indian government and abuses by the army. If such issues are not addressed effectively and the residents felt that their voices are not heard, it makes way for sympathising, if not directly supporting, with the partisan elements – terrorist or otherwise. I remember watching a recent documentary on Channel 4 called Walking the Himalayas, where citizens in Srinagar were asked about the political tensions and the presenter summarised that people don’t feel to be a part of India. Such statement is conflagrant because a major UK channel is endorsing the view that the population don’t feel to be a part of India based on the ten people he spoke to. But the more worrying fact is that whether that statement is true, that the population is felt betrayed by the Indian government and feel detached? Will there ever be a referendum on Kashmir? The present referendum in Crimea showed how easily the votes can be rigged and a region is annexed. So what chance have we got of a fair vote and the accept the results and work towards a solution? This brings more fundamental questions of what is a state and its necessity in our lives. Why do we live in a fragmented world, building artificial boundaries and then keep spending more protecting these frontiers? There are endless questions and the answers are not available or implementable as yet.

To conclude, however, let’s spare a moment for all the lives lost, and think again before crying out for blood. And remember, that the biggest harbingers of peace are also the biggest warmongers and the more the other countries, communities, people get into conflict with each other, the more we spend on war machinery, the more money goes to the coffers of these vendors of war. Our emotions will only feed the interests of those leeches. So think carefully, and do the right thing, which is to look at the situation from a different dimension and see who the biggest sufferers will be for our wrong decisions. It’s always us.


Canonisation for Mother Teresa and Vatican’s Saint factory

I remember the autumn of 1997 when Princess Diana and Mother Teresa passed away within a span of five days. The world poured over condolences for the royal princess and obituaries were boundless. Princess Diana was still on the headlines when on the 5th of September, Mother Teresa took her last breath. Needless to say that her demise made worldwide news as well, but the loss of the octogenarian was not as widely mourned as was the people’s princess, who rebelled against the Royal family, her face with the famine-stricken African children melted the heart of millions and made her an ambassador for humanity. I too was one of the admirers saddened by her untimely departure, but looking back in time, I just think what a petty soppy crush it was, that loss of a Royal heiress — on her all paid philanthropy missions when she wasn’t too busy spending taxpayer money shopping — overshadowed a life sacrificed to helping the lives of millions of sufferers in a far-flung land, not by photoshoots but by living amongst the people she wanted to help. Princess Diana was a cover page celebrity, whilst Mother Teresa was an epitome of sacrifice, care and humanity. However, last month, when Pope Francis declared that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta will become a saint, I could not but smirk at the hypocrisy and connivance of Vatican even on the 21st Century over the recognition of miracles and conferring sainthood.

Mother Teresa by Photographer Marie Constantin
Source: TheInd.com

As I grew up in Calcutta, Mother Teresa was an inseparable part of the city’s identity. Mother House on AJC Bose road, which is the headquarters for her Missionaries of Charity institution, stood tall in a part of Calcutta known for its multicultural spirit. When she won the Nobel peace prize, it added another jewel on Calcutta’s claim to the Nobel connections. The Missionaries of Charity nurses in their white outfits with blue borders would become a regular feature in the slums and other backward areas. With time, Mother Teresa started to appear gaunter and her face looked to have developed more creases than before, yet she continued spreading the worlds of love and peace in Calcutta and to the outside world.

It is amazing how young Anjeze in present-day Macedonia came to know about the miseries of the people in Bengal and decided to move to Calcutta to care for the sufferers — and during that time, there weren’t many of them helping the poor. Palliative care was almost non-existent and leprosy was a social stigma, and the sufferers were ostracised, and therefore died of maltreatment of a condition that perhaps could have been cured. From the early 1950s, when she started MoC with only a handful of volunteers, until her death when it had become a large organisation operating in countries outside India — the transformation Mother Teresa brought about to millions of lives can only be termed as a miracle.

Miracle is an interesting word. On one hand, it represents an act out of the ordinary, but taking the meaning further, it could also be connoted as phenomena beyond human capabilities. For years Mother Teresa had become an influential figure, not just in Calcutta and India through her humanitarian work, but also amongst the vast number of Catholics spread across the globe. To them, she was an icon, a shining beacon of sacrifice and care. She spread the message of peace and love, and due to her popularity in the catholic world, Mother Teresa had developed a strong tie with the Vatican and the Pope. In the 20th century, where people were denouncing religion, Mother Teresa was the ideal ambassador for the Catholic Church to help believers retain their faith in the church.

And thus began a process to canonise Mother Teresa following her demise. According to the current rules, the Vatican had to confirm two miracles before one can be anointed with sainthood. The first miracle acknowledged was a woman from West Bengal, who was cured after wearing a talisman. However, there was no proof that the tumour was cancerous after all, and it was the medicine that cured her. Yet, against all objections, Mother Teresa was beatified for this miracle under the papacy of Pope John Paul II. This year the Vatican has confirmed that they recognised another miracle as a Brazilian man was cured of multiple brain tumour when his priest asked the intervention of Mother Teresa with God. Following this recognition, Mother Teresa will become the Saint of the gutters later in 2016.

I won’t waste many words for the sheer ridiculousness of the tales of miracles and the Vatican’s equally ridiculous assessment process. Her first miracle subject saw a light beaming from the picture of Mother Teresa and cured her cancerous tumour, which the doctors and the hospital that treated her claimed was not cancerous at all. One of the biggest critics of Mother Teresa was Christopher Hitchens regarding the malpractices at MoC and he presented all pieces of evidence how Mrs Besra was treated medically. Despite all such evidence, Pope John Paul II approved her beatification in 2003. The subject of the second miracle is yet unknown as the Vatican will not disclose his details before Mother Teresa was canonised as Saint.

This debate is more about whether Mother Teresa should have been nominated for sainthood by the Vatican. The answer to this question has nothing to do with spirituality or religion, but with money and power. With the growing influence of the Protestant church, Catholic Churches have been losing their relevance due to failure in embracing the changing tides of time. In this time, grappling to cope with the dwindling affiliations and funds, the Vatican needed strong role models. The role model needed to be someone who people could identify themselves with, not someone like Pope Benedict XVI. With the majority of Catholic supporters from the developing countries, Mother Teresa, who dedicated all her life treating the poor and diseased in dire living conditions characteristic of an undeveloped part of the world, in a faraway land from her own country, was the epitome of Catholic sacrifice and spirituality. This was needed to bolster the faltering image of the Catholic Church around the world and thereby secure the fast disappearing donations. Needless to say, Vatican succeeded in projecting Mother Teresa as an iconic ambassador, yet they wanted to do more so that the faith instilled in people by Mother Teresa continues to thrive and the funds keep coming. A recent graph showed the rate of Sainthood in the Catholic Churches since the Middle Ages. The trend showed that the number of sainthood recognitions has been increasing at a surprising frequency, which I’m sure is directly correlated to the discoveries in science. Pope John Paul II signed off decrees to reduce the number of miracles to be canonised from three to two. During his tenure, he alone carried out nearly 500 beatifications, higher than all other numbers of saints combined. Pope John Paul II purportedly made Vatican a saint factory. The pomp of the Vatican required the Catholic Churches to carry on their collection and deposit their share to the Vatican’s coffers. Also, how Pope John Paul II fast-tracked the beatification of Mother Teresa, questions may be asked on the church’s desperation to confer the beatification within one year of Mother Teresa’s death. It was rather expected that with medical sciences making phenomenal progress, lesser number of occurrences would be there that could be attributable as miracles, due to the present extent of human knowledge failing to explain such occurrences. On the contrary, the attempt of the Vatican to acknowledge more acts of miracle and number of saints is not only ludicrous but also tantamount rendering the Catholicism as blind and backward as other religions they deem inferior.

Apart from the laughable instances deemed as miracles, there are other allegations raised against Mother Teresa as well. First, that rather than helping and curing the suffering people, she was a missionary evangelist, with a motive to convert as many people to Catholicism as possible. It was instructed to the MoC sisters to baptise the dying secretly. Also, the number of branches in MoC outside India was found to be having no entity at all, apart from working as baptising centres. Sadly enough, this argument is hijacked in India by the right-wing Hindu fundamentalists, who criticised Mother Teresa of converting backward class Hindus to Christianity and after her death, the state’s decision to arrange a state funeral to her. Secondly, there were numerous allegations regarding the mismanagement of the funds received by MoC and their source. The financial reporting of the MoC’s funds were poor and at times non-existent, and it was alleged that the funds raised for caring the suffering people were grossly mismanaged. Also, Mother Teresa was known for her political clout in India as well as receiving money from right-wing leaders across the globe, yet praising them at the same time despite knowing that at least for some, the money came from unethical sources. The apologists say that it didn’t matter how she raised the funds if the money was spent on charities, but that “end justifies the means” is not a plausible argument by any means. Thirdly, Missionaries of Charity was severely criticised by the poor living conditions of their homes and mistreatments of the inmates. It was claimed that the patients were not offered enough painkillers and the hygiene was non-existent. Finally, Mother Teresa was a staunch Catholic missionary, her views were seen being far from liberal and representative of the present times, especially on abortion, contraception, poverty etc. In the latest controversy MoC shut down their adoption centre in Calcutta after the government of India changed the adoption laws enabling unmarried, divorced or single persons be eligible for adopting a child. Also, rather than eliminating poverty and sufferings of the humankind, Mother almost condoned the poverty and sufferings as if that was gods decree. We do not know how many of these allegations were true and to what extent, but this definitely provides another perspective to the life of Mother Teresa, the saint of the gutters — saviour of Catholicism in the world.

So, do these allegations make Mother Teresa a vamp — a racist evangelist who laundered embezzled money and supported dictators and mistreated the people she was supposed to be caring for? No, that is not the objective of this writing and that is not the unilateral truth, as isn’t the unblemished saintly image projected by the Vatican. Mother Teresa came to Calcutta a long time ago and devoted the city her care, her life’s work, her heart and soul. Many strains of Calcutta’s character as we now see it, is attributable to Mother Teresa’s unrelenting work. She had done a lot more for Calcutta than any other individual has ever done, clouded with their notion of caste, religion, hygiene. She has firmly put Calcutta in the world map for the common people across the world. They don’t know Ray or Tagore but definitely, Mother Teresa of Calcutta made a place for Calcutta in their hearts. I was often asked about Mother Teresa by many South American friends and colleagues immediately knowing Where I come from. And my response to them was always the same — she was one of the greatest treasures Calcutta was lucky to have, but her supposed miracles were untrue and debatable, the true miracle is her service for nearly half a century to the lepers, the destitute, the orphans, who no one else cared for. She was awarded most of the highest civilian awards from India and abroad, culminating in her Nobel peace prize. The entire world — believers and non-believers, Christians and non-Christians alike, revered for what she had done for humanity, albeit in the name of God. It was a miracle how she set up and ran MoC — her greatness did not need to be ratified by phoney miracle cures. Also, contradicting the allegations on living conditions at the hostels, the majority of the claims were made by ex-sisters or journalists from the developed nations. For them, it was easy to establish that the western standard of care and treatment is not extended to the patients whilst the money is sourced from the west — or the bulk of it. However, such reports require to be accepted with some pragmatism, as the practices there was followed everywhere else in contemporary Bengal, and perhaps the level of care was still better than the state-run hospitals. So instances such as food being processed on the floor, only reflected the ignorance of the media/ care workers in judging MoC practices without putting it into perspective the local culture and custom. When Mother Teresa set up MoC, the stigma around leprosy, lower-class people and poor, was commonplace and it took the nurses working relentlessly with these communities to reintegrate them into the society. This effort in itself is worth declaring a miracle.

These arguments and counterarguments above only look at the life of Mother Teresa from different perspectives, and none alone is adequate to highlight her achievements. The criticisms and allegations perhaps taint her image to some extent; however, they only add new dimensions to the contradictory nature of her life without diminishing her lifelong sacrifice for the poor and distraught amid abject unfavourable living conditions and distrust. The debate here is not to question her greatness but to criticise the decision of the Vatican to fabricate stories to demonstrate it, through fabled miracles. The decision is unequivocally ridiculous, including the entire process of canonisation and the concept of miracle. So from that respect, to be brutally loyal to my thoughts and ideas, Mother Teresa should never be given Sainthood based on the claims of miracles, it should have been as an acknowledgement of her lifetime of work for the church and the world. However, looking at from another perspective, repeating words of Karl Marx “Religion…it is the opium of mankind…”. The vast majority of the Catholic followers are still from developing and undeveloped poverty-stricken countries in Africa, Latin America and the Far East. Perhaps in their despairing life, religion is the only solace and recognition of Mother Teresa as Saint would rekindle hope in their minds that miracles do happen and luminaries like Mother Teresa can transform their banal existence into an enlightening experience and beyond life, a paradise will await them on the other side. To them, Mother Teresa would be God’s own Angel. Here the intent of religion and realism becomes blurred by what people believe, and whether to shatter the idea of a spiritual placebo that religion is. The millions of lives Mother Teresa helped dream, transform and will continue to, or the hundreds of thousands of lives she directly influenced through her Missionaries of Charity — thinking of them, however absurd the process might have been, the declaration of sainthood for Mother Teresa perhaps would be a fitting tribute for her lifelong dedication to serve the suffering. To me, she will always be Mother Teresa, not Blessed or Saint, but as one of the greatest icons of Calcutta whose life will remain a shining example of sacrifice, humility and empathy. I am proud that I lived in Calcutta at the time of Mother Teresa, and for the miracles she carried out for over 50 years, Vatican’s seal of approval was not necessary to vouch for that.

Mother House in AJC Bose Road, Calcutta
Bengali, Cuisine

চিংড়ি শুঁটকি গুঁড়ো দিয়ে মুসুর ডাল

বার একটা রান্নার ব্লগ। আর আগের মত এটাও বলতে গেলে বাঙাল রান্না। রান্নার ব্লগে দেখি আসল পদ্ধতি লেখার আগে সবাই বিশাল বড় বড় গৌরচন্দ্রিকা লেখে। এই রান্নাটা এতই সরল যে খানিকটা বিস্তারে না লিখলে গোটা ব্যাপারটা চার লাইনে সারা হয়ে যাবে। । আর বিদেশে থেকে রান্নার উপকরণ যোগাড় করার অসুবিধার জন্যে খানিকটা খুলে বলতে বাধ্য হলাম।

ছোটবেলায় মা রান্না করত চিংড়ি শুঁটকি দিয়ে মুসুর ডাল। মার দিকের বাড়ি খুলনায়, তাই শুঁটকি মাছের চল তেমন ছিলনা মামার বাড়িতে। রেঁধে দিলে কেউ সবাই খেতো কিন্তু বাজার থেকে শুঁটকি মাছ কিনে রান্না করার গরজ দেখাতনা। বাবার আদি বাড়ি চাটগাঁ, এর চেয়ে বড় কাঠ বাঙাল আর হয়না। সেই সুত্রে মা শুঁটকি মাছ রান্না শুরু করলো বাবার জন্যেই। কৃষ্ণনগরে থাকা কালীন হাটে বসত শুঁটকির বাজার, আর কলকাতা আসার পর কসবা বাজার। সেই রান্নায় মুসুর ডালে গোটা গোটা কুচো চিংড়ি শুঁটকি দেয়া হত। আর মনে আছে শুঁটকির জন্যে রসুন আর শুকনো লঙ্কা ফোড়ন। আমার তখন চিংড়িতে অ্যালার্জি তাই আমি খেতাম শুধু ডাল, তার স্বাদই মুখে লেগে থাকত চিংড়ি ছাড়াই।

ইংল্যান্ডে আসার পর এই সব উপকরণ আর তেমন সহজলভ্য রইলোনা, আর তাই আমার ফিউসন রান্না নিয়ে বেশ আগ্রহ জন্মালো। যেমন পোলিশ পিয়েরোগী খানিক সেদ্ধ করে তারপর প্যানে ভাজলে সেটা ফ্রাইড মোমোর চেয়ে খুব একটা আলাদা নয়। যা হোক, ফিউসন রান্নার আগ্রহ নিয়েই একদিন এক চিনে দোকানে পেলাম Dried Shrimp বা চিংড়ি শুঁটকি। সন্ধান এর আগেও পেয়েছি বিভিন্ন ভারতীয় Cash & Carry দোকানে শুঁটকি মাছের সম্ভারে। ভাবলাম এই চিনে শুঁটকিও একই রকম হবে। বাড়ি এনে ডিবেটা খুলতেই বদখত গন্ধে সারা রান্নাঘর ভরে গেল আর ভেতরের বস্তুটা গুঁড়ো নয় বরং কালো রঙের পেস্ট। স্বাদ ভালই কিন্তু গন্ধ এমন জোরালো যে এক চা চামচের সিকি ভাগে এক থালা ভাত সাবাড় হয়ে যায়। সেদিন রাত্রি বেলা কি ডিনার করা যায় ভেবে ঠিক করলাম শুঁটকি দিয়ে ডাল রান্নার চেষ্টা করা যাক। নিজের বড়াই না করেই বলছি খানিক নুন বেশি ছাড়া সেই রান্না ছোটবেলার খাওয়া ডালের চেয়ে কোন অংশে কম নয়। তবে রান্নার সময় গন্ধের ঠ্যালায় বউ মেয়ে বাড়ি থেকে পালানোর হাল হয়েছিল।

চিনে চিংড়ি শুঁটকি পেস্ট
চিনে চিংড়ি শুঁটকি পেস্ট

আগের রান্নার মতই রতি গ্রাম ছটাক ইত্যাদির বর্ণনায় গেলাম না আর আমি নিক্তিতে মেপে মেপে রান্না করিনা তেমন, খাই কেবল আমি আর দেড় বছরের মেয়ে তার তেমন বাছবিচার নেই তাই খানিক মশলা এদিক ওদিক হলে মহাভারত অশুদ্ধ হয়ে যায়না। তবু কোনদিন তেমন বেমালুম গলতি হয়নি এখনো পর্যন্ত।


এই ডালটা বেশ ঘন হওয়া দরকার চড়া স্বাদের জন্যে তাই ডাল একটু বেশিই নিতে হবে। আমি বড় কফি কাপের আধ কাপ মুসুর ডাল নিয়েছিলাম তাতে আমার মত পেটুকের দু দিন চলেছে। সসপ্যানে ধোয়া মুসুর ডাল আদ্ধেকটা কুচোনো পেঁয়াজ নুন হলুদ দিয়ে সেদ্ধ করতে হবে। হলুদ একটু বেশি দিলে ক্ষতি নেই, রংটা গাঢ় হলেই ভাল। ডাল সেদ্ধ হয়ে এলে হাতা/ঘোঁটা দিয়ে খানিকটা ঘেঁটে নিলে ডাল ছাড়াছাড়া থাকবেনা। কড়ায় সর্ষের তেল গরম করে ২-৩ কোয়া কুচোনো রসুন আর শুকনো লঙ্কার গুঁড়ো অল্প ভেজে তাতে চিংড়ি শুঁটকি দিয়ে দিতে হবে। যদি গুঁড়ো মাছ ব্যবহার করা হয় ভারতীয় Cash & Carry দোকানের তাহলে ২-৩ চা চামচ আর চিনে Dried Shrimp হলে ১-১.৫ চামচ পেস্ট। শুঁটকির পরিমান নিজের নিজের স্বাদমত তবে কম দিয়ে শুরু করাই শ্রেয়। তেমন শুঁটকির স্বাদ না পাওয়া গেলে আবার খানিকটা শুঁটকি ফোড়ন দিয়ে নিলেই হবে। শুঁটকি রসুন আর শুকনো লঙ্কা ভাজা হয়ে এলে সেদ্ধ ডাল ঢেলে দিতে হবে কড়াইতে।  ৫ মিনিট ফুটিয়ে নামিয়ে নিলেই তৈরী শুঁটকি মাছের গুঁড়ো দিয়ে মুসুর ডাল। ডাল কতটা ঘন চাই তার ওপর নির্ভর করছে কি আঁচে কতক্ষণ ফোটাতে হবে। ব্যাস গরম ভাতে ডাল আর সাথে আলু/মাছ ভাজা পরিবেশন করুন খাবার পর থালায় মুখ দেখা যাবে!

চিংড়ি শুঁটকি দিয়ে মুসুর ডাল
চিংড়ি শুঁটকি দিয়ে মুসুর ডাল