It’s a rain-drenched July afternoon.
A knock on the door shakes me out of slumber.
Such an ideal weather isn’t it, Satapathy Aunty greets me with her smile as I open the door, to curl up under the blanket with a book and drift into blissful sleep.
I smile back.
Come inside Aunty, I request. The rains have now weakened to a nagging drizzle. Let me make a masala chai for you.
Another day, Aunty replies, I came to ask you to come over with me.
We walk, colourful umbrellas in tow, through the mellow rain.
The dustbowl that this was even a month ago, is now a canvass of lush vibrant green – a myriad shades of resplendent green that only the supreme maestro’s brush could ever have portrayed.
Aunty starts humming a tune.
My vacant expression gives it away.
Have you not heard Pandit Raghunath Panigrahis Geet Govindam renditions ?
I nod my head.
Time for ginger tea, Aunty declares once we are indoors. She hands me a towel before heading to the kitchen.
We sit in the welcoming shade of the balcony that overlooks the garden.
The ancient ceiling fan whirls far above.
The swarna champa tree has just started flowering.
The frangipani is in gorgeous bloom, her intoxicating perfume wafting to the corridor.
Two rain-soaked doves wait despondently for the rains to subside.
A melancholy cuckoo pines for his lover.
The tea arrives. Piping hot. Accompanied with a plate of goodies.
Tagore has a treasure trove of compositions, doesn’t he, celebrating the rains ? Aunty asks.
You are blessed, she continues, staring listlessly into the watercolour-smudged horizons, reading Tagore in Bengali must be such a sublime experience, translations are never quite the same.
And look at what I made this morning.
Teler Pitha, I respond, ecstatic to see the fried delicacies that Grandma would religiously make during Sankranti.
Well, they are near about the same, I believe, Aunty answers, we call them Arisa Pitha in Orissa.
One of Lord Jagannath’s favourites. A bhog to the Lord at my home would never be complete without the Arisa Pitha.
Arisa Pitha. A symphony of freshly ground rice flour and jaggery. Topped with toasted sesame seeds. Fried to a gorgeous golden. Earthy yet delectable. Another quintessential Odiya favourite !!
- 1 cup rice flour
- 1/2 cup jaggery cut into small pieces
- 3 tbsp white sesame seeds lightly toasted
- 3 tbsp ghee
- oil for frying
- Take 1.5 cups of water in a pan, add the jaggery, allow to simmer over a medium flame till the jaggery dissolves completely. Give it an occasional stir, what you want is a jaggery syrup of about a 1-thread consistency.
- Add the rice flour and 0.5 tbsp of ghee to the jaggery syrup, sprinkle 2 tbsp of toasted sesame seeds, give it a hearty mix, cook another 5 minutes or so.
- Now switch off the flame, cover the pan, allow to rest for 10 minutes or so. If it is too dry, feel free to add a splash of warm water.
- Mix well to form a soft dough.
- Take a small portion of the dough, grease with a little ghee, gently shape into a 2.5 inch disc. Top with sesame seeds. Repeat for rest of the dough.
- Heat the oil and 2 tbsp ghee in a pan over a low flame till just warm. (Take care to not over-heat the oil. If the oil is very hot, the outside of the pitha shall brown very quickly while the inside shall remain uncooked.)
- Fry the pitha over a low flame till it fluffs up and gradually rises to the surface. Continue frying patiently till the pitha is gorgeous golden on all sides. Serve at room temperature.