আমি মৃত্যু বিলাসী মানুষ। প্রায়ই ভাবি, আমি মারা গেলে কেমন হবে? কে কাঁদবে আর কে কাঁদবে না। মৃত্যুপুরীর দৃশ্যপট ভাবি। এক ধরনের জানা-অজানার খেলা। সব আন্দাজ করতে পারি, কিন্তু ঘটনা ঘটলে কি হবে তা আমি কি করে জানি। শুধু প্রিয় মানুষগুলো অনেক কষ্ট পাবে, তাই মনে হয়েই আমার নিজের কান্না পায়। আবার, এক কাঠি সরেস হয়ে কখনো কখনো, মা-বাবা মারা যাবার দৃশ্য কল্পনা করি। আমার এই মৃত্যু বিলাসিতা অনেকের বিরক্তির কারণ। আসলে, মৃত্যুর মধ্যে এক ধরনের সত্য থাকে। একজন মানুষকে হারানোর কষ্ট থাকে, কখনো না দেখার, না ছোঁয়ার কষ্ট বয়ে বেড়ায় যারা বেঁচে থাকে। যারা ভালবাসে আর বেঁচে থাকে তাদের শোঁকের মধ্যে এক ধরনের রোমান্টিকতাও থাকে। গান, কবিতা বা ছবি ইত্যাদি আগলে ধরে অনুভব করতে চায়। এই রোমান্টিকতাই আমার কাল।

আজ সাদমানের মৃত্যুর একমাস পূর্ন হল। আজ পর্যন্ত আমার জীবনের সবচেয়ে কঠিন রাত ছিল ঊনিশে অগাস্ট দুই হাজার চৌদ্দ। অবিশ্বাস, বিস্ময় আর শোকের রাত। ছোট ভাইয়ের নিথর মৃত দেহ দেখে, গত একমাস প্রায় বেশির ভাগ রাত নির্ঘুম পার করেছি। একা একা কেঁদে জীবনানন্দ পড়েছি। সাধারণত, জীবনানন্দ পড়ি না, পড়লেই এই মৃত্য চিন্তা জেঁকে বসে মাথায়। কিন্তু গত একমাস মৃত্যু ছাড়া গান কবিতা শুনিনি, পড়িনি। সাদমানের কথা ভাবতেই আমার সবচেয়ে ভাল লাগে। কাউকে পেলেই ওর গল্প বলি, যত ওর কথা বলি ততই মনে হয় ও কাছে আছে। মাঝে মাঝে সিটি অভ এঞ্জেলস বা ঘোস্ট ছবির মত ওর অস্তিত্ব অনুভবের চেষ্টা করি।

আমার তখন সাড়ে সাত, বাড়িতে লাল টুকটুক ভাই আসল। চাচা মামনির চৌদ্দ বছরের প্রার্থনার ফল সাদমান। সাত রাজার ধন মানিক ছিল চাচার। ওর কোন আবদার চাচা অপূর্ণ রাখেনি। এতদিন মনে হত এত আদরে ছেলেপুলে ঠিক মানুষ হয় না। আজকে মনে হয়, ভাগ্যিস চাচা ওর কোন সাধ অপূর্ণ রাখেনি। সাতাশ বছরে পাওয়া না পাওয়ার হিসেব করলে দেখা যাবে ওইগুলোই ছিল ওর সবচেয়ে বড় পাওয়া। মামনির ওপেন হার্ট অপারেশনের রাতে ওকে বাসায় নিয়ে এসেছিলাম। দুই ভাই বোন রাতভর গল্প করেছি। পলা আপু মিশিয়ে কিভাবে যেন পলাপু ডাকত। দাঁত চেপে কথা বলত। কখনো চকলেট, কখনো পোষ্টার, কখনো টেবিল ল্যাম্প আজগবি সব বায়না তার। কোনটা পূরণ করেছি কোনটা করতে পারিনি। প্রত্যেক পূরণ করতে না পারা বায়না আজ বুকের মধ্যে হুল ফোঁটায়। এবার ইচ্ছে ছিল ওর জন্মদিনে কেক বানাব, কিভাবে যেন হল না। আর হবেও না। ও জানবেও না, তবে এই না হওয়ার কষ্ট আমি আজীবন বয়ে বেড়াব। মাঝে মাঝে কিভাবে যেন বিভিন্ন কারনে ওর সাথে দেখা হত। তাও খুব মাঝে মাঝে এমন না, তিন চার মাসে এক আধ দিন। সেই দিন গুলো এই রাতে আমার কাছে দুর্লভ সোনার খনি। প্রত্যেকটি আলোচনা মনে করার চেষ্টা করি। একদিন মিরপুরে এক পাড়ার হোটেলে দুপুরে খিচুরি খাবার সময়, কোনও এক সন্ধ্যা বেলা ওকে ডাক্তার দেখানোর সময়, গভীর রাতে গাড়িতে, বা ছোট বেলায় আমার জন্মদিনে আমার জন্য উপহার হাতে সাদমানের কথা ভেবে আমি অশান্ত হই আর ভাবি, আমার চাচী যার জীবনের একমাত্র রুপকথা সাদমান, ও কিভাবে বাঁচবে?

মৃত্যু ভয়ংকর। আর আকস্মিক মৃত্যুতে যখন সাতাশে পা দেয়া তরতাজা যুবক মারা যায় তখন ভয়ংকর তার সংজ্ঞা হারায়। তার একা বসে থাকা বিধবা মা, ছেলের ফোন দিয়ে নিজেকে ফোন দেয় আর ছেলেকে অনুভব করে। সেই পরিস্থিতি কত কঠিন, কত ভয়ের তা দেখে মৃত্যু বিলাসিতা বাস্তবতার জানালা দিয়ে দৌড়ে পালায়।  মৃত্যুকে আর রোমান্টিক মনে হয় না। হয়তো আগামী কয়েক বছরে আমরা ওকে ছাড়া বাঁচতে শিখে যাব, নিয়ম করে ওর জন্মদিন আর মৃত্যুদিন পালন করব। বেঁচে থাকার আনন্দে ঠিক যখন বিভোর, প্রকৃতির নিয়মে তখন হারাবো আরেক প্রিয় কাউকে। আজ যতই শপথ করি, বেঁচে থাকা প্রত্যেক ভালবাসার মানুষের খোঁজ নিব, আদতে হবে না। আবার শোক হবে, আবার রোমান্টিকতা হবে, আবার জীবন হবে, আবার শোক।

তুমি ভাল থেকো, ভালবাসা নিয়ো।

আমার খুব শখ আমি এমন বাড়িতে থাকি যেখানে, গোলা ভরা ধান, গোয়াল ভরা গরু আর পুকুর ভরা মাছ থাকবে। জন্ম সূত্রে আমরা এমন শহুরে যে, আমার বাবা মা কখনও গ্রামে থাকেনি, গ্রাম দেখেনি, ফলে আমারতো কোন আশাই নাই। পুরানো ঢাকার পুরানো বাসায় বড় হবার সুবাদে, তবু কিছু গাছ-পালা দেখেছি। পেয়ারা গাছে উঠেছি, মেহেদি পেড়ে বেঁটে হাতে লাগিয়েছি, ফুল লাগিয়েছি, বাগান করেছি। কিন্তু বর্তমানে পুরানা পল্টনের সেই দোতলা বিশাল বাড়িটা নাই, আমার পেয়ারা গাছও নাই আর সাধের বাগানও নাই।

ঢাকার ফ্ল্যাট বাড়ির কোনায় পড়ে থাকা বারান্দাই আমার শেষ ভরসা। তাই সেখানে টবে টবে গাছ লাগিয়েছি। পাশের বিশাল বিল্ডিং ভেদ করে সকালে কিছু রোদ পাই, কিন্তু তা দিয়ে ফুল ফোটানো, ছেলেদের পেটে বাচ্চা হবার মতই অসম্ভব। তারপরও আমার মালির ভিটামিন আর ওষুধের জন্য কখনও শখনও দুই একটা ফুল ফোটে বৈকি।  কখনও টগর, বেলি, জবা, কামিনী, গন্ধরাজ, বাগানবিলাস, লিলি ইত্যাদি। আবার মাঝে মাঝে তুলসি, লেবু আর দুই একটা ঔষধি গাছের পাতা ছিড়ে ভণ্ড কবিরাজি করি। আর আছে এক টবে ঘাস। জবা কামিনির মতই আমার প্রিয়, সবুজ চিকন পাতার ঘাস। ঘাসের টবে হাত বুলাই আর মনে মনে ভাবি, এই বুঝি আমার সাধের বাগান, আমি হাঁটছি, নরম ঘাসে পা রাখছি, মনের লন আমার। একটা ছোট টবে এক টুকরা ঘাসের প্রতি আমার আহ্লাদ দেখলে আমার বর হাসে। আমি যখন বেড়াতে যাই আগেই শর্ত থাকে, যেন কোন ইকো রিসোর্টে না যাই। গ্রামে বড় হওয়া বরের ইকোকে এডভেঞ্চার মনে হয় না, যন্ত্রণা মনে হয়। ও বুঝে না, ছোট বেলায় গ্রাম না দেখার লোভ আমার আজও যায়নি। ও বুঝে না, সত্যি আমি চাই গ্রামে থাকতে। তবে আজকের জামানায় গ্রামে থাকতে সাহস লাগে। ছেলে সানবিমস-এ না পড়লে যেহেতু পাড়ায় আমার মান থাকে না, তাই অগত্যা কোনার বারান্দার এক টুকরা ঘাসই সই। 

ভাগ্যক্রমে গ্রামের ছেলের সাথে বিয়ে হওয়াতে আমি, আমার বাপ-মা সবাই অন্তত গ্রাম দেখলাম। যে বাড়িতে আমার বিয়ে হয়েছে, সে বাড়িতে ধান আসে, বতর আসে, গরুর দুধ হয়, মুরগি ডিম পাড়ে, নিজের গাছেই হয় মধু, পুকুরে আছে মাছ, ক্ষেতে আছে সাক-পাতা সব্জি। আমার শাশুরি আদর করে পেঁপেটা লাউটা, দেশি মুরগির ডিম, ফরমালিন ছাড়া পুকুরের মাছ, ক্ষেতের পেয়াজ পাঠায়। আমি মহা-সমারহে মা-কে দেই, নিজেও খাই। বলি মা, দেখো, দেশের থেকে আসলো, একদম ফ্রেশ। 

আমার বড় শখ, আরশান বড় হয়ে গেলে আমি বাঁশগ্রামে চলে যাব। আমার ক্ষেতের শাক-পাতা, পেয়াজ, ধান-চাল নিয়ে থাকব। আমার বারান্দায় রোদ আসবে এত যে আমি বলব, এত রোদে কি কাজ করা যায়, বৃষ্টির দিনে পা টিপে টিপে হাঁটব আর বলব কোন ভুতের প্রভাবে যে গ্রামে আসছিলাম, কিন্তু মনে মনে আমি জানব যে আমি স্বর্গে আছি। টবের ঘাসে হাত না বুলিয়ে বাইরের মাঠে হাঁটব খালি পায়ে শুধু এখন আরশান বড় হওয়া পর্যন্ত ফরমালিন, কার্বাইট আর কীটনাশক খেয়ে সুস্থ থাকতে পারলেই হয়। 

First Published: http://archive.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/a-home-made-christmas/
Date: Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I love celebrations – of any kind, on any occasion. There should just be enough colours, food and laughter. And I love December too. For obvious reasons December is the month of festivities and celebrations. And I celebrate December especially for Christmas. To add to my love list, I love to cook and bake. I could all day, if I was given the chance. Thus I bake whenever I can. This year I think I have improved my baking skills; hence Christmas has got to be more fun.

By Aziza Ahmed

I intend to invite my friends over for a Christmas Eve celebration and a sleep over movie night. I want to keep it very traditional. So, the conventional Christmas fruit cake is on my must list. Along with that, of course sugar cookies with red and green royal icing and whipped cream with fruits.
For savoury items I will opt for easy things, like a beef steak and spinach mushroom quiche. And for the kid-friendly drink I will make some cranberry-orange punch. The Christmas fruit cake will be covered in whipped cream snow and decorated with topping that I saved from last year’s store brought ginger bread. I couldn’t thank myself enough for the non-edible toppings I smartly saved for a year.
There is nothing more fun than having a home-made celebration. Everything you do has your special touch and most of all the final sprinkle of love you add to it. All these recipes have been adapted from original sources and modified to my own preference and availability of ingredients.

The Christmas fruit cake
Ingredients:
200g butter, softened to room temperature, (I used homemade)
200g sugar (mix dark brown sugar and hard molasses, or “akher gur”; half and half)
200g plain flour
4 eggs, beaten
50g ground almonds
50ml vanilla essence (I didn’t have sherry so I substituted it with vanilla essence and apple cider, 20ml apple cider with 30ml vanilla essence is my version of home made sherry)
85g fresh orange peel (don’t bother if you don’t have it, your cake will still taste good)
85g cherries, roughly chopped
250g raisins
250g currants/sultanas
100g nuts, broken into big pieces (I used almonds — half broken and walnuts)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1½ tsp mixed spice (cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg)
½ tsp baking powder
Method:
Heat oven to 160C/fan. Line the base and sides of an 8 inch round cake pan, spring form is the best.
Beat the butter and sugar until absolutely creamy and pale. Stir in 1/3 of the flour, and then stir in 1/3 of the beaten egg and the rest of the flour and the eggs alternately, until well combined. Stir in the ground almonds.
Mix in the vanilla and apple cider (don’t worry if you don’t have apple cider, just use the vanilla or if you are lucky to have the sherry use 100ml of it), then add the orange peel, cherries, raisins, currants, nuts, lemon zest and spice. Beat well to mix and then stir in the baking powder. Here I candidly added a little bit of almond essence (1/2 tea spoon) but you can comfortably skip that.
Spoon mixture into the tin and smooth the top, it will be very dense and heavy. Bake for 30-40 minutes, then lower temperature to 150 degree C and bake a further 1-2 hrs, until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Don’t forget to check frequently, while baking cake, always make sure the bottom heat is on only, don’t heat it from the top. Leave to cool in the tin. I like to keep it in fridge overnight. Next morning when completely cold, decorate. I used simple whipped cream and some toppings.

Sugar cookies
Ingredients: For roughly 30 cookies
140g icing sugar, sieved
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
250g butter, cut into small cubes
375g plain flour, sieved
Royal Icing –
1 egg white
200g sifted icing sugar
Food colour
Painting brush (thin ones)
Method:
Put the icing sugar, vanilla extract, egg yolk and butter into a mixing bowl, then stir together until well combined, get messy and use your hands feel the texture as it changes or use an electric beater.
Add the flour and mix to one firm dough. Roll the dough between cling film and put in the fridge for half an hour or so. Meanwhile heat oven to 200C/fan and line a baking tray with baking paper. Heat from both sides top and bottom. Bring out the dough, get it out from the cling film wrap and roll it on a lightly floured surface to a big circle about the thickness of two 5 taka coins. Cut out Christmassy shapes (use a cutter as I did and save energy) and place on the baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden. Lift the biscuits onto a wire rack to cool.
Meanwhile, beat 1 egg white until forms semi stiff peaks (stiffer than soft peaks and before stiff speaks) mix 200g icing sugar slowly (250g sugar for the borders) and add red and green food colour. I suggest after making the icing separate some for borders and thicken it with more sugar to your preference. And for flooding separate it to half in two bowls and add in the colours. I use the Foster Clarks liquid colouring and painting brush to spread and icing pipe for the borders. Spread it over the cooled biscuits; decorate with edible balls and sprinklers and toppings. I used sugar balls, stars, snow flakes and sugar crystals.

Whipped cream in fresh fruits:
Ingredients: For 1 person
80g whipped cream
2 tbsp pomegranate
2 tbsp cherries
4 tsp strawberry syrup
A wine glass to serve
Method:
For each person take a wine glass, put pomegranate seeds and chopped cherries, top with 40g of whipped cream and two tea spoon of strawberry syrup and repeat. Serve chilled.
Use any fruit, specially the ones that belong to the tangy, citrus family like orange, grapefruit or just grapes, kiwi, passion fruit, mango. Change the syrup according to the fruit. Use maple syrup or honey if you are using mango, kiwi or oranges.

Rosemary beef steak
Ingredients: For 1 person
250–300g of beef chunk about ½ inch thick and 5-6 inch long and 2-3 inch broad.
Salt and sugar 1 tsp each
1 tsp dry rosemary
1 tsp molasses
1 tea spoon Dijon mustard or freshly grounded white mustard.
Butter
Aluminum foil paper
Method:
Don’t wash the beef, take a hard fork and pierce the beef very well so that the spices can get into it. Rub the salt, sugar and rosemary and fridge it overnight. Again do the piercing, and bring it to room temperature in the morning. Or you can brine it with rosemary infused water. People say beef don’t get brined well, but I beg to disagree with them. If you do the piercing well and let it brine for 24 hours, the salt and sugar gets deep inside the meat, leaving it tender and juicy.
To brine, boil 1 litre of water with 3 table spoon of sugar, 1 tea spoon of salt and 1 tea spoon of dry rosemary and shrink it down to 750ml. Allow to cool and bring it to room temperature and drown the meat so that it gets under water. You fridge it overnight. In the morning just throw the water and pat dry the meat with kitchen tissue.
Rub the molasses and mustard and marinade for 15 – 20 minutes. Then fry the meat until it turns deep brown on both sides with little butter in a non-stick pan on low heat for 40 minutes.
In the meanwhile pre-heat oven to 150C for 20 minutes and put the meat in the baking tray and very loosely cover with aluminum foil and roast for 90 minutes for well done beef steak. Serve hot with boiled vegetables. The molasses and mustard will turn into thick sauce, cut horizontally and devour.

Mushroom spinach mini quiche
Ingredients: Makes 6 cup cakes
10 big button mushrooms
300g of fresh baby spinach
3 egg yolks
1 cup grated cheese (cheddar or mozzarella)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
A pinch of ground nutmeg to cut down the egg smell
Method:
Cut the mushroom length wise, slice each into 4 pieces. Wash and pat dry the spinach and beat the eggs.
Pre-heat the oven in 180C. In a non-stick pan fry the mushrooms until golden in olive oil. Boil water in shallow pan and wilt the spinaches for 2/3 minutes and get them out of water using a tong and roughly dry them by putting them on a sieve.
Take a big bowl and mix all the ingredients but don’t over mix. Take your muffin tin, grease or put baking paper and divide into 6 equal parts, bake for 10-15 minutes or until done. I served it with béchamel sauce widely known as white sauce.
Serve it warm with salad, béchamel, thousand island sauces, Dijon mustard paste or just as it is. However for heaven’s sake don’t have it with tomato sauce.

Cranberry orange punch
Ingredients: Makes 6 glasses
2½ glasses of Cranberry juice
2½ glasses of Orange / grapefruit juice
4 tsp lemon juice
1 glass of soda water (if you are using)
Ice
Method:
Put all the ingredients into a shakers or blender shake well and serve immediately with ice.

First Published: http://blogs.dw.de/womentalkonline/2013/12/04/the-legal-framework-of-bangladeshs-rape-law/
Date: 04.12.2013 | 14:17

In Bangladesh the existing legal frame work that supports a rape victim is very limited and outdated. The definition of rape itself dates back to the national penal code formulated in 1860. Now, more than 150 years later, what are the problems a victim faces and where can she seek help? Aziza Ahmed finds out.

Under this law, a man is said to have committed “rape” who has sexual intercourse with a woman under circumstances falling under any of the five following descriptions: First, against her will; second, without her consent; third, with her consent, when her consent has been obtained by threatening to kill or hurt her; fourth, with her consent, when the man knows that he is not her husband and she gives her consent thinking that he is the man to whom she believes she is lawfully married. Finally, having sexual intercourse with a girl under 14 years of age is also considered rape.

I talked with Barrister Sara Hossain who practices in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, mainly in the areas of constitutional, public interest and family law. Sara is associated with several legal aid and human rights groups nationally and internationally. She is currently serving as Honorary Director of the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Service Trust (BLAST), and here in my article I am writing on the basis of my discussion with her.

The definition of rape needs modification. For instance, still in our country, rape within marriages is not recognized. No married woman can seek legal assistance if she is raped by her husband. This law discriminates between married and unmarried women. A married woman is obliged to have sex, even if she is not willing, with her husband.

The countries in the Indian subcontinent follow the penal code of 1860 which came into force during the British colonial rule. During the government of President Zia ul Haq in Pakistan, some amendments were made to the penal code, but these turned out to be for the worse since the Sharia law was included. According to the Sharia law, four witnesses are required to prove that a rape has occurred. Otherwise the victim will be accused of having an illicit relationship with the man who was originally her rapist. After the rape of a young woman in New Delhi last December, rape laws in India have undergone several changes. Women’s rights lobbyists have helped change the definition of rape to include sexual assault other than penetration.

However, the definition of rape in Bangladesh is still 150 years old and this is not sufficient to give proper legal support to women who have been victims of such incidents. In Bangladesh there have been Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, 2000 (amended in 2003) but still the legal frame work is not sufficient to support women in such cases.

In Bangladesh if a girl is raped, she gets stamped as a “dhorshita” meaning the woman who was raped. The social pressure on the victim is so intense and serious that recently a study by Ruchira Tabassum Naved, scientist at the ICDDR research organization in Bangladesh, revealed that less than two percent of women in Bangladesh report rape or any other sexual assault.

Apparently, victims feel it is better to be silent and get on with life keeping a very low profile. The main reason for this is, there are no proper shelter homes or no rehabilitation schemes for such victims. It is difficult to prove rape in court. The victims know that despite all their efforts, justice will elude them. Many woman right activists say that women are unaware of their rights and are therefore victimized. However, it is important to understand that, it is not always lack of knowledge that keeps them away to seek legal aid but the lack of remedies which holds them back.

A rape victim in Bangladesh has the right to be examined by the doctor as soon as she lodges a complaint that she has been raped. The doctor needs to examine her within the next 24 hours. The doctors should also give the victim a copy of the report. Under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, 2000 (amended in 2003), a rape case will move on despite lack of evidences.The immediate forensic examination will be good enough proof of her allegation. In Bangladesh, the law enforcers are not aware of their duties and lack of coordination further creates problems for the victim.

Along with the definition of rape the procedures of the legal frame work require modifications too. In the nineties, there was a very sensational case of rape under police custody. Yasmin, a young girl from Rangpur, was raped by a police officer. Following the case the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act says that the accused is responsible for proving himself not guilty. The victim is not responsible for producing proof in front of the court.

Unfortunately sex workers suffer a great deal in case of reporting rape. Even the present rape act says that sexual intercourse without the woman’s consent constitutes rape. However in Bangladesh it is almost impossible for a sex worker to file a rape complaint. Police and society, neither would believe her.

It is also important to make sure during a rape case hearing that there shouldn’t be any other people in the room apart from the relevant people and the responsible officers, since the charge sheet against the accused contains exhaustive and explicit information about all that has happened to the victim.

The Evidence Act of 1872 in section 155 says, in case of rape the victims can be interrogated about her character and lifestyle. Therefore, when a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, one could try and prove that the victim was of an “immoral” character. For instance, if a girl is engaged in any flirting or other kind of relationship with another man, the court might rule out her accusation as she is capable of getting into a sexual relationship with another man. This law needs to be changed in Bangladesh. India has changed this law in favor of the victim.

Sexual crimes over the internet have also increased. For example, a couple may have taken intimate pictures of each other when they were together in a relationship, but distributing these pictures online without the consent of the woman is abuse and a breach of trust. These should also be included within the definition of rape and sexual assault.

In Bangladesh, rape victims can go to Ain O Shalish Kendra, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Service Trust (BLAST) and Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA) for legal support. However, victims in Bangladesh do not have access to shelter legally, so they have to look out for themselves.

First Published: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/is-it-winter-yet/
Date: Published: Sunday, November 17, 2013

It is 6 am and I wake up to a rooster crowing. Somewhere. Looking out through the window I see the world is covered under thick fog, nothing visible. I suddenly feel a shiver a cold wave through my veins and take a deep breathe. Ahh, winter is here. Just when I was about to go back inside the warm comforter I heard loud noises from the kitchen and remembered we are scheduled for our annual pitha breakfast. Without delay, I rush out of the room and see my mother-in-law already up and running. She is in her outdoor kitchen preparing for the grand pitha breakfast. Bhapa pitha, chitoi pitha, shaak ghonto, khejurer rosh and hot malai cha. Slowly one by one each one of us wake up and line up around her, sit near the fire, and wait for our share of the heavenly bliss. Everyone is wrapped in warm clothes, some even sporting monkey caps. The kids are running around and taking occasional bites from us. We, the adults, share jokes while the matriarch gives her creations final touch and serve.
My mother-in-law with her trusted supporting team will sit in the middle-right, right next to the lakrir chula and make pitha relentlessly, as long as we demand for encore. From the pan straight to our plates. Orders come rushing: some want more gur, some less, some hate coconut shavings and some want loads of it. Pitha tastes heavenly; in case I haven’t said it already. The gur has been readied a week back from fresh date juice. Rice flour has been made from the finest rice harvested recently. Coconuts picked from the trees around the house. The overwhelming freshness creates an intangible wall around you. It takes you to a dreamland with the first bite. The tenderness and balance of sweet and savory is just perfect. After an hour or so I realise I must get out of the kitchen before I overeat and can’t move. Then one of us moves to the other side to boil fresh milk to make malai cha, someone adds molasses to that tea. Nothing compares to this kind of a morning.
And then I come back to my senses as my son calls me to help him fix his toys. I look around and I see I am in my bedroom, in our apartment in Dhaka. No makeshift pitha kitchen; no pitha at all. I get some chitoi from a street vendor and boil 1 litre of Dano full cream milk and add some molasses which has been sitting in the fridge for a year. A perfect pitha morning in a village has colours and character that the urban dining table pitha fest has nothing on. One who has seen and experienced both knows what I’m talking about. While my mother-in-law gears up for her annual pitha affair, I daydream about it, make a poor version of it, and wait for our winter vacation to arrive. I have a spare seat in my car this year, anyone interested?

Bohemian Soul is a working mother of a 6-year-old. She would much rather bake and write poetry all day but knows how to keep it real.

First Published: http://www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/once-upon-a-time/
Date: Sunday, November 3, 2013

There was a time when I lived in a house with 34 members of my family. There were sibling fights, sad days and deaths but those were the golden days. They were packed with playfulness and sheer joy. The head of the house, my grandmother, was like the sun — centre of our universe. Everything used to evolve around her and her wishes; the menu of the day, responsibilities, chores etc.
It was a big house with many rooms and never-ending stream of guests. There was a garden full of roses, dahlias, chrysanthemums, magnolias and believe it or not, sunflowers. There were guava, mango, coconut, jackfruit trees and henna, beli, shuili plants as well. There was an aata gachh, (custard apple tree) too. It was an old building with a long veranda that was accessible from all the rooms. Usually after coming back from school, when everyone used to nap around 3pm, it was only me who toured around the house and embark on little adventures. Thus I earned the nickname “manager of to-to company”. My favorite thing to do was to keep an eye on the aata gachh and see if there was any parrot sitting on its branches, or whether the guavas were ripe enough to eat. There were monsoon days when I stayed out in the rain to my heart’s content. I had 10 cousins living with me who were of various ages and we were brought up as siblings.
Hardly a day passed when we didn’t have guests and I didn’t want to go back to my desk. In the afternoon we used to sit together, almost all 35 people, for tea and puri or badam at the courtyard. The courtyard was the venue for all our family events — starting from ga-e holud, birthdays, death anniversary milaad, and in some cases, weddings too.
A part of the garage was rented out to a chips maker-vendor. We used to run to “Molla” for chips and asked him to take the money from the elders. Life was perfect. We had indoor badminton tournaments, football matches and the typical borof paani games in the courtyard. It was a big fat family you can only see in the movies now.

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