It’s yet another lazy do-nothing Sunday morning.
I lie on my couch, watching the truant winter sun project a kaleidoscope of images on the whitewashed bedroom wall, lost in the poetry of Jibanananda Das.
And the mellow sun this morning finds me entranced in Das’ magnum opus Banalata Sen. I read the verse as I have read it many many times, then read it again, and again and again.
But this morning I am eager to share the alluring magic of Banalata Sen with readers who have possibly not read Das’ original. It can never be the same, I remain staunch in my conviction, but this translation by Chidananda Dasgupta best captures the enthralling romantic lyricism of Das’ ode to the Banalata Sen of Natore.
For aeons have I roamed the roads of the earth.
From the seas of Ceylon to the straits of Malaya
I have journeyed, alone, in the enduring night,
And down the dark corridor of time I have walked
Through mist of Bimbisara, Asoka, darker Vidarbha.
Round my weary soul the angry waves still roar;
My only peace I knew with Banalata Sen of Natore.
Her hair was dark as night in Vidisha;
Her face the sculpture of Sravasti.
I saw her, as a sailor after the storm
Rudderless in the sea, spies of a sudden
The grass-green heart of the leafy island.
‘Where were you so long?’ she asked, and more
With her bird’s-nest eyes, Banalata Sen of Natore.
As the footfall of dew comes evening;
The raven wipes the smell of warm sun
From its wings; the world’s noises die.
And in the light of fireflies the manuscript
Prepares to weave the fables of night;
Every bird is home, every river reached the ocean.
Darkness remains; and time for Banalata Sen.
When Das wrote Banalata Sen, the poet was back to Barishal (in present day Bangladesh), his birthplace – rural Bengal was his muse, the verdant greenery and the swelling rivers his inspiration. The surreal beauty of the pristine countryside haunted him, he loved it all – the veil of mist that shrouded the paddy fields. The smell of autumnal dew. The crimson clouds at dawn. The crescent sliver of a silver moon. The garrulous brown martins and the immaculate white owl. The white conch bangles on her hands and the tinkling anklets on her feet.
Time stands still.
The sun continues to cast intricate patterns on the stark wall.
I am intoxicated by the verse. Held captive by the seductress that’s Barishal.
And still in a drunken stupor, to continue living the Barishal dream, I cook a recipe that’s quintessentially Barishali – Ilish Barishali, Hilsa in yoghurt spiked by mustard and blessed by grated coconut.
Ilish Barishali (Hilsa with Grated Coconut in a Yoghurt - Mustard sauce)
- 4 pieces of Ilish
- 1 tbsp mustard paste
- 1 tbsp yoghurt
- 1 tsps turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp red chili powder
- 2 tbsps coconut freshly grated
- 1/2 tsp kalonji seeds
- 3 - 4 green chillies slit
- 2 tbsps mustard oil
- salt to taste
- Marinate the fish with turmeric and salt, keep aside.
- Whip the yoghurt, add the remaining turmeric powder, red chili powder and salt to the yoghurt, mix well, keep aside.
- Dissolve the mustard paste well in about 3 tbsp of water, pour through a muslin cloth, keep the the mustard water aside. We shall need just the mustard water here.
- Heat oil in a pan, shallow fry the fish, keep aside. If the fish is very fresh, there's no need to fry it.
- To the same oil, add the kalonji seeds and green chillies, allow them to splutter. Lower the heat and add the whipped yoghurt while stirring continuously, cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the mustard water, give it a hearty stir, throw in more green chillies if you like it hot.
- Now gently place the fish in the gravy and bring to a gentle simmer. 2-3 minutes I would reckon.
- Add the grated coconut, mix well and continue to cook over a low flame for another 3-4 odd minutes.
- Adjust the seasonings and finish with a hearty drizzle of mustard oil.
- Serve hot with rice.