This week's article is from Siddhartha Panda, a budding researcher in Chemical Engineering at University of Houston. People who attended the OSA Convention will probably remember him as the "Kalyug Lakshman".
In this article Siddhartha presents a very simple yet powerful picture of the "bhojees" which are so common in our homeland. As a child I remember how much I used to enjoy the feasts, eating with all the people, eating on the "Khalli patras", under a tent. The food somehow always tasted great!! I remember some humorous accounts of people in these feasts. Many would have experienced similar things. The most amusing was the one when you have this person sitting besides you and helping you with the food. He would be done eating his food and I would be struggling to finish my food and he would call the person serving the food: "Aare suuna, yeh babunkara saari gala, mansa aaniki diya. "Helloo! I do not want any more, I am already full; yet I will have a tough time convincing the guy who has come all the way to serve me that I don't want any. Yet he will give me a little. Then he will ask the gentleman besides me, "Baabu aapananku?" The respected gentleman, waving his hands all over his plate, "Nahin, nahin, mora sari gaala". After a slight hesitation, when he sees that the server is not keen to offer him any, "Aacha, eete doora aasichu taa tike dhalli deye, bhaala maansa, kalija khojiki deelu". Then he will spend 5 mins making the poor server give him his share of the curry, and good pieces of maansa!! Then before the server leaves: "Aacha, seye khiri bala koo tike pathayi delu, babunka paainye". Babunka paainye ki aapanaka paainye, I would ask myself? ;-)) Anyway, it was a good experience.
Apart from presenting a humorous account of these social events, the author also raises a very pertinent question: "Are these feasts and the functions which go along with these, really worth the money people spend on them?" People who can afford to spend the money do so with aplomb, yet people who are not as fortunate have to borrow money and snatch food from their other children so that they can marry their daughter and also perform a social custom of giving a marriage feast to the entire community. Isn't that an irony?
Enjoy the article and have a good weekend.
Sidhartha Mohanty September 20, 1996
Say, as an invitee you go to a typical such feast. A tent house has been put up. The contemporary popular songs are blaring, enough at times to drive the people staying in the vicinity crazy. I cannot really understand the stupid logic behind people torturing my ear-drums and mocking my sanity in the name of a festive occasion. I fail to understand how disturbed sleep and headaches of neighbors can have any beneficial effect on the health of a marriage. One possible advantage is that it serves as a beacon (as lighthouses served for ships in the olden days) to the guests. Once you are in a mile radius, you simply cannot miss the place of action (provided this is the only place of action in the vicinity).
You come with a present. Well, you are expected to go with one. It is implicitly your entry ticket for the dinner. Some member of the host family is there to receive you. If you know that person, then recognition is instantaneous. You exchange pleasantries. If you are not all that familiar with the host family, then it takes some looking around to find out whom to give the presents to. OK, you find him. With gleaming eyes and a big grin, he extends his hands towards you saying,"kAhinki a sabu ANu thiley....". By the time the sentence is over, the present is out of your hands.
Now you are shown to the guest area. If you know some people, you chat with them. If not you sit alone. The serving area is an adjacent tent space - with wooden tables in lines covered with brown and white paper. The announcement comes that the first batch is ready to be served. Oh, the invitation card stated that dinner was to start at 7 PM, and now it is 8:15!! There is a big rush. The youngsters are the first to get in. They have not yet developed the concept of being 'prestige' conscious. They truthfully follow their basic instincts. I did that too, during my younger days. One of my more aggressive friends use to barge his way through and reserve seats for us.
Some people decide to go in later, not to be caught in the rush. The people who tried to go in the first time, only to find that all seats were taken, return back to the guest area, with a stiff face - wishing away their embarrassment. Well, finally your turn comes, you go in and find a place. Sometimes the tables are still in the process of being cleaned up. Fresh paper rolls are used to cover the tables.
If the floor is concrete, things should be OK. If the floor is soil, it is possible that the unevenness of the ground could result in the long table having some 'stability problems'. If the ground is wet, a leg of the steel chair may sink it. You try several times to salvage the situation....
Now the 'khali patra's are placed on the table by someone. Following this man is another who sprinkles water on to it. Yuk!! Sprinkling water from the nails!! The desensitized people are lucky. The sensitive ones have to learn to ignore some things. Then comes a man who places a quarter of a lemon, a green chili and a spoonful of salt. A predictable customary way of starting things.
Ah, the food arrives. First, the 'kanika' followed by 'dali', carried in the typical hindalium 'balti's. Just two 'bela'fuls of 'kanika' is served in the first round, which gets over in three to four handfuls. Then of course, the different type of curry. If fish curry is an item, people always ask for a 'peti' piece.
Food from your plate is over. If you are polite, you wait till the next round is made by the servers. There are people who will roar across the dining space for the items they want. These are the straight forward guys. The third type of people, being the good Samaritans, will shout for their neighbors' needs (whether the need is real or not). When the server comes near, they will quietly ask for food to be heaped on to their own plate.
One needs to be desensitized to several things - people slurping away happily the gravy or the kheer; people enthusiastically chewing up the fish and then after several intakes, finally spitting out the thorn mass ball.
Finally the meal is over, ending with the sweets. On the way out, cigarettes and 'paan's are kept on trays. The kids are on a stealthy prowl, to grab some of these. Perhaps on your way out, you see the 'sarkari' vehicles - with the 'Government of Orissa' or 'Government of India' markers on them. With 'sarkar ka maal' having become 'baap ka maal', I wonder why people still do not understand why our state is still poor.
I also wonder how much people have to spend for these feast and more so for the entire functions. For the fortunate people who can afford it, probably spending on such a function is a pleasure. But social pressure forces the less fortunate people to do the same - forcing them to spend almost their lifetime's earnings or even going to debt over this. Why? Why? Why?
Who is more to blame for this unending cycle of oppression - the society for its expectations or the people at the receiving end who do not have the courage to stand up against the society whatever the consequences are?
Your comments are always welcome...
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