Thursday mornings are special.
The otherwise sleepy house in the time-stops-still hamlet of Karimganj, a short walk from the languorous grey-green Kushiara, surrounded by ancient gnarled mango trees, home to a pandemonium of parrots and a bevy of garrulous red-crested bulbuls, is suddenly a cauldron of furious activity.
Manikkaka heads to the local market at the crack of dawn, unlike the leisurely mid-morning baajaar routine that marks his other days of the week, and returns home with garlands of marigolds, sunshine yellow alternating with a cheerful pompous orange.
And before I am up, the dalaan has been scrubbed clean by Didi and adorned with festoons of marigold and strings of mango leaves, each one embellished lovingly with a pretty dot of coral-red vermilion.
Thursday mornings belong to Maa Lokkhi.
And as always, I peep stealthily into the thakurghor and discover, she is at her gorgeous best this morning.
Resplendent in her rani sari.
Decked in her jewellery.
Her silver owl polished to a dazzling shimmer.
Then I see Maa, crouched in front of the thakurghor, her adept fingers sketching intricate patterns of pristine ivory on the humble red-oxide floor.
Flowers and buds.
Leaves and vines.
And that disciplined line of perfect footsteps.
She spots me partially hidden behind one of the white-washed pillars, watching her intently.
Come here, she calls out to me, let us design an alpona together.
Did I heard that right ?
Not one to lose such a golden opportunity, especially one that I have been pestering Maa and Grandma for long, I dart, elated, into the warm embrace of Maa’s open arms.
She holds my hand, dips my finger into the kansa bowl of grainy rice paste and in one confident stroke, inscribes a near-perfect circle within a proud paisley.
And then proceeds to embellish the circle with a tidy circle of dots all around the circumference.
How do you like it ? Maa asks me, a blissful smile lighting up her countenance.
Too overwhelmed to even utter a syllable, I just beam in innocent creator’s pride.
By now, dhuno smoke has engulfed the thakurghor.
I can no longer see Her. Or Her owl.
I surrender to Her, close my eyes and take in the intoxicating fragrance of the the dhuno.
My eyes burn though.
The conch blows.
I must be hungry, I wonder, as I smell the khichuri cooking away in the kitchen.
Then longingly look, through the mystical haze of dhuno and incense smoke, at the tempting mound of gorgeous golden narkol narus Maa and Grandma had laboriously prepared the evening before.
The naru I know shall have to wait just a while longer before I can savor it.
Time then to follow Didi to the kitchen.
And lunch later that morning is a divine Sujir Khichuri.
Accompanied by a delicious labra, some sinful begunis and a tomato chutney that teases my taste buds.
Cut to the present.
As I prepare for lokkhi pujo this evening, my khichuri, bandhakopir ghonto and labra simmering on the stove, my chutney already ready and a stack of finely cut eggplant waiting to be dipped in batter and fried, I go back to the Thursday lokkhi pujos of childhood, the thakurghor and dalaan of our Karimganj home, the garlands of marigold, Grandma’s divine khichuri and delectable narkol narus, Maa’s elaborate alpanas and that glistening silver owl pompously perched beside Maa Lokkhi.
Sujir Khichuri. A mellifluous symphony of moong dal and semolina. A melange of autumn vegetables. The earthy warmth of ginger. The perfume of whole spices.
Yet another ancient Bengali recipe. From Grandma’s kitchen.
And on the auspicious occasion of Kojagori Lokkhi Pujo, if you are yearning for a khichuri that’s different, my Sujir Khichuri is a must try.
Sujir Khichuri (Semolina Khichdi)
- 1/2 cup suji or semolina
- 1/2 cup yellow moong dal
- 1 big tomato cubed
- 3/4 cup cauliflower florets medium sized
- 1/4 cup green peas
- 3 tbsp peanut
- 2 tbsp raisins
- 2 green cardamom
- 2 cloves
- 1 one inch cinnamon stick
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
- 2-3 whole dry red chiliies
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 2 tsp ginger paste
- 2-3 green chilies slit
- 2.5 tbsp mustard oil
- 1/2 tbsp ghee
- 1 tsp sugar
- salt to taste
- Dry roast the moong dal in a pan till golden brown. Wash and drain the dal. Keep aside.
- Cook the moong dal in 1 cup of water till just cooked. Care needs to be taken that the dal does not become too mushy. Drain from water, keep aside. Don't discard the water, keep aside for further use.
- Dry roast the semolina till light brown. Keep aside.
- Soak the raisins in a little water, keep aside.
- Heat 1 tbsp oil in a kadai/deep frying pan, fry the peanuts, keep aside on an absorbent towel.
- In the same oil, lightly fry the cauliflower florets for 5-7 minutes. Keep aside on a kitchen absorbent towel.
- Add the remaining oil to the same pan. When smoking hot, throw in the crushed green cardamom, cloves, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, red chilies and cumin seeds. Allow the spices to splutter.
- When the spices start to release the aroma, stir in the ginger paste, add the tomatoes. Saute for 2-3 minutes.
- Throw in the cauliflower florets and green peas, sprinkle in the salt, sugar, turmeric powder and cumin powder, continue cooking over a low flame for 2-3 minutes till the tomatoes are tender.
- Add the dal and semolina, throw in the raisins, peanuts and green chillies, mix gently.
- Pour ¼ cup of warm water and the water in which the dal was cooked. Adjust seasonings, cook over a low flame for 5-7 minutes, while stirring frequently, till the semolina is cooked perfectly. Take care that the khichuri does not become too mushy. Splash a little water if it is getting a bit too dry.
- Switch off the flame, finish with a dollop of ghee.
- Cover, allow to rest for 10-12 minutes. Serve hot.