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Nostalgia on a Plate: Reviving the Essence of Pithe Puli

Nostalgia on a Plate: Reviving the Essence of Pithe Puli

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Explore the author’s childhood memories of Makar Sankranti and Pithe Puli Utsav, highlighting the shift in culinary traditions and societal values, prompting reflection on the impact of modernity on our connection with tradition, nature, and community.

Being an epicure since childhood, the month of January has always held a special place in my heart. For me, it’s the time when we celebrate Pithe Puli Utsav or Makar Sankranti. Though I realize Makar Sankranti is not just about food, and encompasses various aspects, my fondest memories revolve around the delectable spread of traditional Bengali sweets and savory delights that adorned our table during this festive season.

Growing up in Shillong, I vividly recall the culinary preparations that would commence the night before Makar Sankranti. Ma, and my grandmothers, would engage in a culinary marathon crafting Gokul Pitha, Puli Pithe, Misti Alur Pithe, Mug Daler Pithe, Pati Shapta, Choshir Payesh, and the ever-popular homemade Fulkopir Singara (Cauliflower Samosa). As a mischievous child, I couldn’t resist the temptation of “churi kore” (stealing) a Pitha or a Singara when none of them were watching.

Doodh puli pithe
Doodh puli pithe

The following morning was a celebration in itself. Rising during the wee hours, we would bathe and commence the day with a bonfire fueled by wood collected from the nearby hills, accompanied by the laughter and chatter of cousins. Shillong’s verdant hills made this ritual even more enchanting. The day unfolded with a hearty breakfast featuring an array of Pithas and Shingaras, followed by a lavish lunch comprising Boal Mach, Arr Mach, and Kosha Mangsho.

Patishapta
Patishapta

Reflecting on those days, I can’t help but notice the shift in our approach to food. Ghee was procured from a Nepali shepherd, mustard oil was freshly ground at a local shop, and the meat and fish came from the bustling Bara Bazar in Shillong. The simplicity and purity of these ingredients contributed not only to the taste but also we were healthier those days, a stark contrast to the health concerns associated with the present era.

Today, we are bombarded with conflicting information, and traditional ingredients like Ghee are deemed unhealthy. Mustard oil is considered pure only if it comes from a branded source, and the convenience of ordering meat and fish through apps or supermarkets has replaced the intimate connection we once had with our local markets. Perhaps this is what is called the ‘Slavery of Consumerism’.

This shift in our approach to food mirrors a broader societal change. The warmth of family gatherings has been replaced by forwarded messages on WhatsApp, and occasional phone calls have taken the place of face-to-face conversations. Even the preparation of homemade Peethas has succumbed to the convenience of online orders. The morning bonfire, once a symbol of togetherness, has become a relic of the past.

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Today I share these thoughts as we celebrate Makar Sankranti today. It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the changes in our culinary and social traditions. The nostalgia for the simplicity and authenticity of the past is a reminder that sometimes, in our pursuit of modernity, we may lose the essence of what once made festivals like Sankranti truly special – the connection with tradition, nature, and community.

 

Pithe prepared by Madhumita Paul

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