Friday, July 18, 2008

The Last Tea

The early morning dew had not evaporated yet. The sun was shining brightly in the cloudless blue sky. We had merely finished our morning tea with Marie biscuits and were already getting on with the meal, in fact, the tea that could easily be called a meal. The time: 6am, Sunday morning. Place Shillong. Year 1973

The special guest at our home is Swami Premarupananda of the Ramakrishna Mission in Shillong. This is the first time a Sadhu is coming home to have “tea” with us. He is expected to arrive at 4pm.

One by one, we have all had to bathe and wear clean clothes. The kitchen has been washed clean, the gas stoves scrubbed. All the pots and pans which will be used for the preparation, have been doubly washed. My mother has a responsibility – she is going to cut the veggies into precisely same size pieces and she is going to make what she is best at – pithe, the Bengali version of homemade sweetmeat and the payesh.

I am a little girl, visiting home from boarding school. I am overwhelmed with the goings-on but excited too. Perhaps more because of the luchis (puris made from maida), the bringal fry, the payesh, my mother will make. I can’t wait. But I have loads of work too allotted to me as well. And until everything is ready and put away in the specially cleaned mid-safe in the pooja room, we will not be having our lunch, which is being cooked by the women in the house, in between the other chores they have on hand.
On the gas a large black iron kadai is looking rather white, simmering from the bottom with the milk boiling over and over, coming up like a pregnant woman with a bursting belly and then belching forth with the aroma of thickening milk. My mother stirs it now and then and goes back to continue with the other preparations. Until it is half thick and little thin when the rice is let into the milk to cook, just a wee bit, along with bay leaves. Then she stirs till the milk thickens. She takes it off the fire and adds the patali gur. The thickened milk blushes, as it turns brownish, as if it has suddenly developed a pale hue of coffee. The aroma spreads inside the head, hauntingly sweet.

It’s done! And the kadai with the payesh is now poured out into a bowl.

The cooking can now begin. Sweet chhana daal with bits of coconut, rounded brinjals cut to size and left to marinate in turmeric and salt, cauliflower and potato dry masala fry….the air is thick with the smell of a Bengali cuisine… On the far end, you can see the spread of coconut sondesh and the home-made sweetmeat, made of paneer, khoya and maida….dozens of them, brown, white and succulent. But, we must all wait…for the hour of the Goddess and then the Maharaj to first savor this delight….

Normally, he is not allowed to visit homes of devotees. He has pledged sannyas. But, Premarupananda, loves good food and my family will feel blessed that he had come to grace our home. That has been the devotion with which all the women in the house have been engaged since morning to usher in the Swami….

Yellow ocher is the colour of renunciation. When it starts to come down a flight of stairs to reach your home, it is a sight most beautiful, even a glimpse can make your heart overflow with what is best termed as shraddha. The flowing yellow ocher, slowly descending and passing by the magnolia plant and the beds of flowers which lay smiling in the afternoon sun, to reach the open doors with lace curtains of a drawing room. Swami Premarupananda sits on the cane furniture, a man of much serene joy.

A plateful of luchis, white and fluffy nudge shoulders with golden brown brinjal fry and a bowlful of chhana daal. The cauliflower potato fry sit themselves on the table, not far from the payesh and sweetmeat my mother has made for the Sadhu.

A little bit of everything he tastes and blesses! A delicious meal, he says. We wait until he finishes and then, when we are ready to have our share, we find we are not hungry any more.

It was the first lesson learnt about the last “tea” with Swami Premarupananda.

When you apply yourself to the service of a Loved One, the service itself fills your hunger.

Likewise, with God.


Kanchana said...

what a delicious article!! women cooking, aroma of payash with patali guud, beguun baaja with chana dal, soft luchis, and the mahatma from Sri Ramakrishna math, how lovely and lucky! reminds me of Christ's visit to Mary and martha's house in the holy Bible or our beloved Sri Ramakrishna's visit to the poor widow's house where the two sisters cook and wait for the arrival of the master the whole day, and when the master arrives they are drowned by their own tears and love for him, keep it up my friend!

Julia Dutta said...

Dear Kanchana,
Thank you for your very lovely comment....reminding me of Christ and Sri Sri Thakur at the same time. It was an early lesson, when I knew not either so closely....
Personally, I think it is the humility in these Mahatmas or Son Of God, that they visit our homes. We are blessed by their presence. In my album in Calcutta I still have the picture we clicked with him, in a garden full of dahlias. When I am in Kolkata next time, I will scan and put it in this post...He was like a child....and all the women doted on him like mothers!!

Amrita said...

Lovley delicious post JUlia. I love Bengali food.The photos are irresistable too.

Good occasion to enjoy all the good food

Peter said...

First, thanks for your visit to my blog and for your kind words!

I came here to see your blog and I find that there is very much to read! I have a feeling that there is much to learn! I'm always interested to read about other countries, other habits... (and I have never been to India)! I'm off for a few days and I believe that I need a lot of time to really read your posts. I will be back here in a couple of days.

Julia Dutta said...

Daer Amrita,
If you love Bengali food, you should invite yourself to a meal with me!! Thanks for visiting,

Julia Dutta said...

Dear Peter,
It was truly a pleasure to visit your blog. Welcome to mine as well. Yes, India is a lovely country and I hope you do visit at some time. Its colours and fragrance, the air full of spirituality, is certainly a joy to behold. Do come!

Ash said...

Beautiful and poignant post. The food looks scrumptious :-)

Julia Dutta said...

Thanks Ash! Oh you must taste a luchi begun (brinjal) bhaja sometime in your life....its my favourite!

Manjul Bajaj said...

Hi Julia,

Read many of your posts. The one about the finer nuances of communicating in the blogging world was interesting..... This one is my favourite - such beautiful, evocative writing and lovely pictures too.


Julia Dutta said...

Dear Manjul,

Wonderful to see you here! Hahaaha! You know the first one, don't you. Thank God for poetry and Lord Buddha, its all patched up now...Yet, would it ever, if there was no repentance and if there was no forgiving from the other side as well! All coming under the gamut of communication too...

Thanks for visiting,