Tuesday, October 11, 2011

B is for BICYCLE

In Kolkata, bicycles are used in a huge variety of ways, not just to move individuals from Point A to Point B.

As I look around the roads, I notice more clearly the extent to which cycles are used for delivery and transport. In fact, due to the fact that it is the cheapest way to move around, a huge number of deliveries are done on the bicycle: bread, water, milk canisters, gas cylinders, heavy brick loads, municipal waste, empty water bottles, furniture and other gargantuan loads and materials.

Many vegetable sellers bring their vegetables from rural areas into local city markets on their cycles and often the cycle is fashioned into a cart from which the vendor can then sell off of. Many tea shops are cycle-based so that the chai wallah can easily come and set up in their favorite location each day. There are many cases where the cycle carries a shop at the back or front and the rider sets up in different areas to sell right off of the cycle. The ice cream seller who pedals an ice chest and awning in front is one such example. The cycle rickshaw is also a very common sight on the roads here, a pedal-powered cart is used to carry school children or to carry people/goods short distances around neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, the promotion and acknowledgment of cycles as an eco-friendly alternative is not really promoted here. It is still due to economic reasons that people choose to transport people and goods by cycle. A campaign that promotes cycles and rewards those pedal-powering them would be a positive way to raise awareness that cycles are a green choice.

Next time you ride, be sure to thank the cycle rickshaw wallah for going green!

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Originally uploaded by dalbhat
A Bengali kitchen wouldn't be complete without this instrument. What do you think it is used for?

Although I have mastered the use of this implement, on days when it goes amok and I find myself swabbing hot liquids from the kitchen floor I feel that it is the nemesis of life in Calcutta. Whose brilliant idea was this little contraption anyway????!!!

On better days, I love this thing because it means the contents of all these pots without handles can be placed into the fridge straightaway. Whose brilliant idea was this little contraption anyway! It should be distributed worldwide....

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Originally uploaded by dalbhat
I have been fascinated by these little fuel disks since the moment I set foot on Indian soil. The efficiency with which they are collected excites the recycler in me. The huge range of uses makes me curious: besides being used as a fuel and fertilizer, they are also used to plaster rural home walls and as insect repellents.

My husband told me that when we was small, they would brush their teeth with the ash left over in the stove after buring cow dung. Put some on their finger and brush. It has an abrasive quality and is said to also be antiseptic.

The beautiful patterns...a collage of hand pat prints on each round cake as rows and neat little rows are smacked up onto walls, fences, trees – any place where the sun will shine and dry them out ...evokes a feeling comparable to what I get when I look at Warhol's soup cans.

Recently, I've even heard that one group is "fortifying" the cakes, packaging them and selling them as safer fuel that isn't harmful to the environment.

Friday, January 11, 2008

G is for GUR

winter jaggery
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
It is gur season, melt in your mouth gur.

Gur is a coarse, unrefined sugar made from the sap of certain palm trees known as khejur, and popular as an alternative to white sugars throughout the winter season.

In the mishti dokhan (sweet meat shops) everyone raves about the 'notun gur' treats that come in around this time of year. At the fruit sellers you can buy it in a syrup form or a sugar lump.

A slit is made in the khejur tree at night and a container is hung under this for collection. Early in the morning, you can enjoy khejur er rash, the sweet juice from this. To make gur from this juice it is boiled completely til all the yeast and bacteria are gone. A syrup or crystallized form can be made depending on the length of this process. As the day goes by, the rash will ferment and turn into what is called taari, an alcoholic drink.

Something I have done with the crystallized gur is to make sesame candies by roasting the sesame in a hot pan first and then melting the gur lump into that. Then, you spread the whole mixture into a pan and cut it up like fudge candy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

P is for PAYESH

sweet payesh
Originally uploaded by dalbhat
Nowadays birthday cakes have joined the ranks of Bengali birthday fare but not so long ago when a little girl or little boy’s birthday came around in Kolkata, you would be more likely to see mothers or grandmothers lovingly preparing a richly sweet rice pudding dish known as payesh than buying a store bought cake. Actually you will usually get both in these times!

The rice that is often used for payesh is a tiny-grained rice known as Govindabog, "the only sustenance worthy of being offered to Prince Govinda.” This grain is similar to a baby basmati as it has a nice aroma and is said to have been revered by the Moghuls who built the Taj Mahal, reserved for honored guests.

Even though it's small, it's really considered a long-grain rice because its length-to-width ratio is 3:1. It's size makes it quick to cook, so perfect for payesh where it needs to be cooked up in the milk.

Though the recipe will vary from household to household, you can follow something like this to get the feeling (and hopefully taste):

Bengali-style Payesh

3/4 cup short grain rice (Govindabog)
4-1/4 cups milk
bay leaf
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp cardamon
12 cashew nuts
10-15 Raisins

Soak the rice in water for 15 minutes. Heat the milk on medium flame. Slowly add sugar to the milk and keep stirring. When the milk starts to boil, add the rice slowly to it. Remember to keep stirring the milk continuously. After about 20-25 minutes, when the milk has thickened and the rice grains have become soft, add the cardamon – stir gently. Remove the container from flame and add almonds sliced into half and raisins on top. Cool the payesh and keep it in refrigerator for a couple of hours. Serve chilled.

Happy Birthday to you!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Originally uploaded by dalbhat
These heavily laden knuckles are not just a fashion statement...although for a long time that's what I thought. It is hard not to notice that just about everyone has these rings on! I started asking some questions. Major life transitions will often lead a person to sport a new rock or metal on their hand or around their arm. For example, students may suddenly have them on their fingers in order to concentrate and do well on exams, newlyweds have them to learn how to manage their temper and get in sync with their new partner, a graduate may wear one to bring in prosperity. And if you ask, you nearly always get the reply that someone else (Ma?) insisted that they see an astrologer, who treated them with a specific remedial gem.

Here, according to Vedic astrology, gems ward off the evil effects of planets and enhance the benefits of certain beneficial planets, while also adding to someone's beauty and character. Gems are thought to have curative powers, and are able to "change the stars" in someone's direction. If you need help in keeping the mind calm, increasing income or greatly reducing wasteful expenditures, there should be a gem remedy for you.

I agree that they do indeed add to the wearer's character and personality.

Monday, August 13, 2007

S is for SHIL-NORA

Originally uploaded by dalbhat
This is the grinding stone used in most Bengali kitchens, to make masalas like posto (poppy) paste and mustard sauce for fish dishes!

It weighs a ton though I have imagined carrying it abroad with me more than once.

On Sundays, our complex opens its doors to the many vendors who come around singing out their various ads. One of them is the stone grinder, who chisels designs like fish motifs into the pointy end of the stone so that it can once again give optimum performance.

Indrani Sen wrote a paragraph in the Guardian Observer (11/19/06) that best seems to capture how the shil-nora makes its presence in the kitchen:

Kneeling beside Rani-di as the morning sun warmed the patio, I learned how to use the shil nora to grind the essential pastes of Bengali cooking - onion, ginger, dried red chilli, garlic, cumin and coriander. She showed me how to roll the mortar back and forth on the pocked stone slab, pausing to reposition the paste with wet fingertips.