If you know any Bengali, you know that we are too proud of our ‘kalchaar’ (read culture). We pay good attention to cultural education apart from the traditional ‘going to school and reading our books as a routine’ education. If you listen to too much Bollywood music as a kid, you stand the deadly risk of being branded ‘unkalchaarred’ (read uncultured).
Maybe Bengalis subconsciously compensate for their physical laziness by being very intellectually active (or at least attempting to)? I heard it many times when I introduced myself to a non-Bengali: “Oh, Bengali, from the land of Tagore, eh? Very cultural community.” Hence, by the virtue of being a Bengali, I became a part of a very cultural community.
When it comes to Bengali culture, no one messes with the Old Man. He is the be all and end all of our very own Bengali existence. He overshadows every nook and cranny of our culture. I really don’t know how we existed before he was born. In case you are curious to know who the Old Man is (Bongs might have guessed it already), I am referring Rabindranath Tagore. In one of the true ironies of our land, the greatest poet of the Bengali language usually signed his name using the Anglicized version of Thakur, the original family name. Anyhow, as a people, we eat sleep and breathe his literary and musical creations.
My Dad was raised almost as an orphan and my Maa in a refugee family, so, they did not have the luxury of being exposed to Tagore’s works at an early age. Naturally, they were unable to transfer any such interest to me. No Gitobitaan (anthology of lyrics to Tagore songs) adorned our bookshelf and the tape recorders didn’t play melodious Rabindra Sangeet (songs written and composed by Tagore himself). Having studied in a Catholic school, Jesus was more important than any Hindu gods and goddesses, forget about the mere mortals. They did not care much. Again, I did not get a lot of chance to be touched by him.
I learnt to appreciate his songs only much later into my adulthood. I still know only a very few songs of his but they are very dear to my heart. I appreciate his art, his knowledge and his immense quality of being very versatile. He is like an ocean of knowledge. He probably deserves the name and fame Bengalis swear by. Being a rare unkalchaarred Bengali, I am probably unable to appreciate him in his entirety, but here is a poem which touches my heart every time I read it:
“Bohu din dhore bohu kros dure
Bohu byay kori bohu desh ghure
Dekhite giyechi parbotmala
Dekhite giyechi sindhu.
Dekha hoy nai chokkhu meliya
Ghar hote sudhu dui paa feliya
Ekti dhaner shiser upore
Ekti shishir bindu.”
Across many a year and distant sands,
I squandered my wealth in exotic lands,
Viewing majestic mountain peaks and the vastness of the ocean.
Alas! Ere my travels were my eyes not keen?
For out my own doorstep, lay yet unseen
A dewdrop sparkling perched atop a golden paddy kernel.
(translated by Shurjo Kumar Sen)
Keemar doi bora is a very unusual recipe and belongs to the Thakurbari (Tagore family). I adapted this from a book written by Purnima Thakur, who married into the Tagore family and inherited a cookbook from one of the ladies of the Tagore household. The cookbook is like a treasure to me.
Mutton or chicken keema (minced mutton or chicken meat): 1 lbs.
Onion: one medium to large, finely chopped.
Green chilies/jalapenos: 3-4 or to taste
Yogurt: as much as you want
Black salt/any salt to taste
Cilantro: to garnish
Ginger: couple table spoon, very finely chopped
Sugar to taste
Oil to deep fry the meat balls
Potatoes: two medium or
One egg and two teaspoons of corn starch
Dry roast and grind to a fine powder:
Cumin: one teaspoon
Coriander: one teaspoon
Dry red chilies: 2-4 nos.
- Boil the meat along with a cup of water or even less. Do not add a lot of water in the beginning; you can always add it later. The meat will also release water. If you are using chicken keema, skip the boiling part.
- Boil the potatoes. Do not overcook them. Just boiled should be fine.
- Cool the keema if boiling and then mix with the boiled potatoes. With your hands or in a food processor, mas them very well. It should be lump free. If you are not using boiled potatoes, beat one egg and add it to the keema along with two teaspoons of cornstarch.
- Add chopped onions and the chopped green chilies. Mix them well with the keema. Add salt to taste.
- Oil your palms and form one inch balls.
- Heat up oil in a deep bottom kadai/wok/pot and once the oil is hot, turn it down a bit.
- Deep fry the balls turning them periodically to avoid burning and for even coloring. If the oil is too hot, they burn. They should have a deep brown color but not blackish brown. They will go a shade darker even after you take them out of the oil.
- Drain them on an absorbent paper. Let them come to room temperature.
- Beat up the yogurt with black salt (or regular salt) and sugar to taste. Add the finely chopped ginger. If you do not like to bite on raw ginger, skip it. The amount will vary according to your liking. Start with a small pinch and then add more if you like it.
- Add the bhaja moshla/roasted spice powder to taste and sprinkle some finely chopped cilantro.
- Drop the balls in the yogurt and serve.
PS: Avoid eating them while frying. If you want, you can add cumin coriander powder or any spice or your liking to the meat balls.