Shubho nobo borsho and Maha Bhoj

Today is the Bengali New Year. “Nobo Borsho” as we call it. The first day of the Bengali calendar. It is also referred to as ‘Poila Boishakh’ or the first of the month of Boishakh. This is also the day when a number of other communities in India have their new years.

Of course there are hardly any that can match us when it comes to the importance that we give to food and eating and festivities in general. As the idiom goes, it’s “baro maashe tero parbon” for Bengalis (thirteen festivals in twelve months).

The relevance of this day, when the English language, Obama devotion and the Gregorian calendars rule, is questionable. In fact I was trying to think about the Nobo Borsho customs that we used to follow in Calcutta as kids in the 80s and 90s. I was hard pressed to come up with something fundamental.

I remembered that new clothes were big. Clothes still used to be bought on special occasions then.  There was the ‘Haal Khata’ – the new accounting book opened by local shopkeepers. The Bengali calendars and box of sweets that they would hand out to regular customers for this. And sweets which neighbours in our apartment complex would distribute to those on the same floor. Poili Boishakh was hardly a big thing by the time I reached college in the nineties. By then cable TV had arrived. MTV, CNN and the Bold and the Beautiful overshadowed our simple single channel Doordarshan past. We were hurtling towards an age when Bipasa Basu, and not Jyoti Basu, defined Bengal to many.

Poila Boishakh is still a holiday though.

Things are different now. Capitalism rules. People realised that you CAN sell ice cubes to Eskimos and Bengali restaurants to Bengalis. And there are many who are willing to splurge in a decandent bourgiouse manner in fading red Calcutta.

In Mumbai it is a way for those of us who are a part of the Bengali diaspora, albeit in India, to find a way to connect. Dada and KKR don’t offer us much after all. My thumbs were paining from sending and receiving SMSs this morning. Loved every moment of it. In most cases it becomes all about food. In fact Parsis are probably the only other local community who spend as much time planning out their New Year feasts. Luckily I have both ends covered between Kainaz and me.


So, inspired by the Paths of Glory, Jeffrey Archer’s pot boiler on the climbing the Everest, we have organised a group who will try to scale the peaks of Oh Calcutta’s Poila Boishakh Buffet tonight. The group’s been working hard on it. Some of us, moi included, have stayed light (yogurt, muesli, rotis, cabbage) to prime ourselves into peak physical form for the final assault at night. Some have taken an off to rest at home and get into the zone.

Kosha mangsho, prawn malai curry, kacha lonka murgi, rui shorshe are as inspiring as the peak of Everest. Probably more. There would be a lot of jostling. A story of blood, sweat and tears. Grit and glory. Angst and alienation. Many would want to make their pilgrimmage. Few will survive. Hopefully we will be up to it. The climb starts soon.


Shubho Nobo Borsho. ‘Bhalo theko’ or ‘live well’ as we say. And eat well.

Time for me to leave Base Camp.

Update: I called Didu, my granny, in Calcutta to wish her after I wrote this post and left. Her eyes are giving trouble. We discussed this for a while. And then she set her pain and anxiety aside and said that she was going to the neighbourhood shops who had invited her for Haal Khaata. Here's to grandparents and the children in them. And please join in me wishing her a speedy recovery.
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