It’s Makar Sankranti and my kitchen is a cauldron of furious activity.
The chirer doodhpuli and sujir doodhpuli have been added to the milk that’s been patiently and languorously reducing on the stove. The plump roshboras have soaked up all the jaggery-perfumed syrup that they could have ever possibly got drunk on. The patishaptas and mugshaptas lie in disciplined arrays, grated coconut and sparkles of jaggery adorning them.
This is the day to celebrate harvest – a day to the fragrant new rice and the gorgeous new jaggery. A day to all the fresh produce the bountiful Mother Earth keeps blessing us with.
But why am I so unmindful this morning ?
Gripped by nostalgia, my fitful mind races decades back. To a mist-riddled chilly Sankranti morning, the sun playing bo-peep through the veil of fog and the heady aroma of gur drawing me to the kitchen.
The battered aluminium kettle, freckled with ageless dents and blackened with soot, sings merrily on the oonoon.
Didi sits patiently. Fidgeting with the rice that I saw her pummel mercilessly on the sheel this morning.
This cannot be the regular chore of preparing tea, it doesn’t take too long for me to conclude.
I am now almost eleven.
And the alchemy of the ancient kitchen, with its soot-dark walls and Grandmas cherished glistening kansaware that flirt with the streaks of sunshine that visit through the window, lures me like a sorcerer.
Didi splashes just a little water to the rice thats now trampled to coarse dust. And then some more. The powder magically morphs to a pliable dough.
Didi, as punctilious as Grandma in the kitchen, continues to fiddle with the obedient dough that seems to yield to every touch of her deft fingers.
Didi takes the lid off the kettle and wraps it gently with a damp cloth.
What’s she doing here ? My curious mind ponders.
I am making Keteli Pitha for you today, Didi elucidates. Answering a question I never asked. How did she read my mind ?
Didi now inverts the lid. Gently packs the rice dough into the veiled kettle lid .
Sprinkles some coconut I saw her grate this morning. And drizzles the coconut generously with liquid jaggery.
Speckles of gorgeous golden on a bed of pristine white. Pretty and pompous.
But Didi now covers the jaggery and coconut with another dab of rice dough.
A layer of rice. Then a layer of grated coconut. Sweetened with gur. Then a layer of rice again. I follow every step of Didi with the eyes of a hawk. Then close my eyes and replay them diligently in the recorder of my mind.
That’s like a game of hide and seek. A treasure of coconut and jaggery buried surreptitiously in a pit of rice. And then covered with rice again. I smile.
Didi wraps the kettle lid yet again with a damp cloth. Ties it with a twine.
Places it back on the singing kettle.
Then, as an afterthought, chokes the voice of the merry kettle by jabbing yet another muslin cloth into the puffing spout.
The kettle stops singing.
How brutal !!
The cruel cacophony of the timer shakes me out of my reverie, alerts me that ten minutes is past.
Back to the madness in my kitchen.
The Keteli Pitha must have by now steamed to perfection.
I look for a knife to demould the Pitha.
Keteli Pitha. A symphony of fragrant rice, grated coconut and aromatic jaggery. Steamed in the lid of a kettle. Redolent of the earthy Assam, her lovely innocent people and the spirited exuberance of the Bhogali Bihu.