PC: My friend Amit Sengupta and his sister :)
(If you would rather read the English version, scroll to the bottom of this post.)
Ek gorosh holeo, shokale school e jaoar aage, modhdhobitto Bangalir barite, bachchader etai khawano hoto. Ekhon hoyto sheta paltey sandwich ba cereal hoeche. Kintu amader chotobela, Ma der moner shanti = bachcha ektu ghee bhaat kheye geche.
Bangali bachchader nadush nudush hoar #1 karon.
Bajarey onek din jaoa hoy ni, fridge e sherom kichu nei….emon dineo etai shombol.
Shordi, kashi, jor jor, mukhey oruchi….tateo eri ek baati.
Hostel life, single life, paying guest, barir jonno mon kharap….ba je kono karoney mon kharap, Bangalir priyo “comfort food”.
Chotobela, amar “baby fat” ta jetey ektu deri korechilo (jodio sheta boro bela abar firey esheche jor kodomey). Class 2 ba 3 e jokhon pori, ekta chotto bhuri niye ghurtam. Onek bhalobasha shotteo, amar Jethu amar Ma ke na boley parey ni “Mitra, Tulir bhuri ta kintu berei choleche”. Je kono Bangali Ma der moto, Ma o nijer meyer bhuri konodino dekhte pay ni. Jethur kotha kaney ba money na tuley bolechilo, “Bachchader orom ektu adhtu thakey. Oromi bhalo."
Tobe Jethur kotha ta ami oto shohojey bhultey pari ni. Aynay barbar dekhtam nijer bhuri. Eri modhdhay ekdin parar ek didir barite “Putul Biyer” nemontonno. Shekhaney amar bhalobashar onek rokom khabar. Kintu bhuri niye shoddo biporjostho boley, ami khubi shotorko. Oder bari pouchei ami jor golay announce korlam “Ami khub mota hoye jachchi, tai aj kichchu khabo na. Amay khali ektu ghee bhaat dao.”
Ei kotha ta aguner moto choriye gelo paray. “Tuli roga hotey chay boley ektu ghee bhaat khetey cheyeche”. Ajo parar karor shaathe dekha holey, onek kothar modhdhay, ei golpo ta bola hoy amake.
Roga hoya amar hoy ni. Hobeo na. Chotto bhuri aj brihot hoeche. Kintu ghee bhaat, alu shedhdho, kacha lonka ajo amar shob cheye priyo khabar (Biriyani-sthanio, almost). Tai jokhon amar meye onno kichu na khete cheye boley “Mummy, give me only butter and rice”, mone hoy, bhuri ta o amar theke pay ni thiki…kintu genes ta thiki peyeche.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
When I was growing up, kids from most middle-class Bengali households were made to eat ghee-bhaat (rice, ghee and boiled potato, mashed together to pulpy balls), before they left for school in the morning. Occasionally, a boiled egg was thrown in as well (except on “exam” days, where eggs were thought to be ominous i.e. the kid would score eggs, that is, 0). Today, cereal and sandwiches may have become more popular choices for breakfast. But back then, a Bengali mother’s peace of mind = the child has eaten ghee-bhaat before school.
It’s the #1 reason behind making Bengali kids chubby.
It’s the #1 choice of food on those days when there’s not much left in the fridge or pantry.
It’s also the #1 comfort food for homesick students living away from home (in hostels or as paying guests etc.), or for anyone feeling low in general.
Anyone who has lost their appetite after a bout of sickness, would also turn to ghee-bhaat.
In short, ghee-bhaat should go down in the history of Bengal, not just as food but as a complex socio-economic and even medical phenomenon!
My so called “baby fat” stayed with me, way past my babyhood. When I was in year 2 or 3, my Jethu (my father’s elder brother) couldn’t help telling me Ma “Mitra, Tuli’s paunch seems to be growing every day”. Like most Bengali mums, my Ma was blind to any sort of paunch or chubbiness, when it came to her daughter. She didn’t take it to heart, but said “That’s just a bit of baby fat. No big deal. In fact, that’s how it should be”.
But I wasn’t able to dismiss my Jethu’s words so easily. I looked at the mirror several times during the day, trying to determine if I really had a paunch. Incidentally, that very week, there was a Putuler Biye (doll’s wedding) invitation that I had to attend at a neighbourhood friend’s place. Many of my favourite dishes were on offer. But my new-found self-consciousness had made me quite alert. Just as I got there, I announced loud and clear “I am putting on a bit of weight. I’m not going to eat any of this. Just give me some ghee-bhaat, please.”
News spread like fire in the neighbourhood. “Tuli is trying to lose weight by following a strict ghee-bhaat diet”. Now that you know what ghee-bhaat is, am sure you get the joke. Even today, when I visit India and happen to meet someone from my neighbourhood, this story inevitably comes up.