Bhang Thandai/spiced milk and nut drink
I have never attended any carnival in any city except Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I must say, that’s a crazy carnival. The experience is quite crazy. But, I think the craziness during Durga Puja in Calcutta is incomparable to any festival anywhere in the world. It lasts for several weeks and then the hangover lasts long after the festival is over. New clothes, street food, lights, noise, music, art, all in overwhelming amounts. Far beyond what anybody actually needs. Not that I am complaining though. The over-saturating experience is what we crave for the entire year.
It was the tenth day of the festival. Everybody was ready to say goodbye to the Goddess. The bhashan/ procession started from her friend’s place and they were headed to the river to immerse the earthen idol, the customary way of sending the goddess back to her husband Shiva. On the way was a stall selling delicious “bhang thandai” (cannabis-laced spiced milk drink). In a scene which is repeated every year without fail, members of the procession stealthily slipped into the stall and bought a few bottles. Fresh Cannabis sativa leaves are made into a paste, mixed with chilled thickened milk, nuts and spices into a deliciously heady concoction (pun intended). I guess it helps to numb the sadness of Devi Durga’s departure. In that procession was a girl, pretty naïve and really lacking any idea of how bhang can mess with your head very quickly.
Just after she finished a small bottle, even before she could realize, she was transported into an altered state of consciousness. She had the feeling that someone was physically throwing her off the truck. She felt helpless, although this helplessness was nothing compared to what she was about to feel for the next 24 hours. Soon, the majority of her motor nerves were totally nonfunctional. She could hear everything going on around her but was unable to respond. Lying helplessly immobile but painfully conscious for the next 12 hours, thinking this might be the last night of her life. She couldn’t sleep, it was miserable. She was awake but couldn’t open her eyes. Couldn’t say a single word. Helplessness grabbed her with tight arms and was unwilling to let her go. Finally, next morning, after several cups of black coffee fed to her one sip at a time by her caring boyfriend (only slightly less intoxicated himself), she could open her eyes and after much effort say a few words. It was a day of rebirth for her.
Very early the next morning, the morning she never thought of seeing, she made a promise. A promise to never drink bhang again in her life. And she kept the promise. But remembering how delicious it was, she didn’t want to miss something that good just because of one nasty experience. So, when her friend asked her about a drink which might be equivalent to the bhang thandai in Calcutta, her brain lit up. After a quick Google search, she found something very very similar to that drink, but without that one nasty ingredient. It’s rich, creamy, nutty and unbelievably tasty. The original recipe calls for alcohol but I didn’t add any. If you are a high-functioning alcoholic like my husband, feel free to add some. You can also add the dry spice according to your own choice. You can skip it altogether if you do not like it spiced. I couldn’t find melon seed in my pantry, so skipped that too and increased the nut a little bit.