A happy and busy week for The Travelling Belly: Saraswati Puja, APB Food Book Club reading & the HTKGAF launch announcement

The Bandra Saraswati Pujo:
Getting The Travelling Belly blessed

It has been a busy week and happy week for my book, The Travelling Belly.

The first public reading of the book happened last Saturday. I also got the blessed by the Goddess of learning on Saraswati Puja. The book was spotted  at the Kolkata Book Fair and its launch event at the HT Kala Ghoda Art Festival was formally announced.

The Saraswati Puja at Bandra and rekindling childhood memories

Saraswati Puja happened a couple of days of back. Saraswati is the Goddess of learning in the Hindu pantheon and this day is dedicated to her. 

As kids we used to look forward to Saraswati Pujo (puja) while growing up in Kolkata. It was the one day in the year when we were given a break from studying. We were supposed to keep our books by the idol of the Goddess to be blessed by her. 

We used to have a community pujo in our apartment complex in Kolkata. Us youngsters were given a big role in organizing the puja and we would help in putting up the decorations and in serving the food with the support of the kakus and mashis…the grown ups. My building friends and I would spend our time chatting with each other and in the evening there would some sort of cultural programme with little skits, elocution and some singing and dance performances too. That puja is still going strong though most of my friends and I have moved out of Kolkata.

I went to the Saraswati Puja at Mumbai's Bandra,  organized by local Bengalis, this year as I have for the past few years. This is my parar (local) pujo now.

Getting The Travelling Belly blessed
As usual,  I reached at lunch time after the religious rituals were over.  This time I didn’t head straight to the bhog (food) counter though. 

I went to the pandal where the protima (idol of the Goddess) was kept. I got the first copy that I had received of my book, The Travelling Belly, blessed by the Goddess. The priest put the book in front of the idol of the Goddess, said a prayer and then gave me the book back along with some flowers from what had been offered.

Saraswati Pujo bhog at Bandra
khichuri, papor, beguni, payesh, totkari, tomato chutney

After which I headed for bhog and had some nice khichuri and beguni and torkari, chutney and payesh and papor too. Dishes that symbolize Saraswati Pujo to Bengalis across the world. 'Bhog' means food that is blessed by the Gods and then served to devotees. In the Bandra Pujo, this is served on the house to all those who come at lunch time. 

I’ve started making this khichuri pretty often these days for my lunch when Banu bunks. Though the belief among us Bengalis is that the taste of the bhoger khichuri can’t be replicated at home. A bit like what Sikhs say about langar food.

With friends in my adopted city,
remembering the friends I have left behind
My Happy Saraswati Pujo face

Festivals are as much about religion as they are about collective memories and culture, and food of course.

The Travelling Belly Book reading at the APB Food Book Club meet

The Travelling Belly displayed at the APB Cook Studio

Talking of books, I had a very interesting experience last Saturday. This was at the APB Cook Studio. They have a book club too which is called the APB Food Book Club. My friend Rushina Munshaw Ghildayal, who runs it, had invited me to a reading of my book there. 

This is the only book club that I know of which is dedicated specifically to food books.

Talking to Rushina about the Kolkata chapter in my book 

This was the first public reading of my book. It was rather apt that it happened at the APB Studio given that The Travelling Belly was conceived here in a manner of speaking.

How come, you ask? Well, I had come to the studio to attend a reading of Ritu Dalmia’s book, Diva Green way back in 2013. Rushina introduced me to Poulomi Chatterjee of Hachette India, who had published Dalmia’s book, that evening. 

Poulomi and I met the next day, discussed ideas and The Travelling Belly was the result of that with the contract coming through in early February 2014.

Rushina, who was one the first food bloggers to write a book herself, was very keen that she hosted my first book event and I am so glad that it worked out that way.

A cracker of an adda at the APB Food Book Club
The Travelling Belly reading

What we did at the meet was an adda in the truest Bengali fashion. I read out bits from the Kolkata chapter of the book and then all of us in the room chatted together about Kolkata and its food. It was as if we were all celebrating our love for Kolkata that evening in the APB Cook Studio in Mumbai and sharing it with those who hadn't been to the city yet. 

The audience was a mix of APB Food Book Club members, contest winners and some of my Bengali friends from Mumbai whom I knew from the early days of my blogging and who have been with me through the journey.

The idea  of a food book club is really interesting given the growing interest in food and the food media. People relate to food in different ways and the books coming out reflect that. Some focus on recipes, some on history, some on international cuisine, some regional, some are anecdotal and some scholastic, some meant for experts and some for those who love food and want to know more. 

The book club allows food book lovers of all genres to come together and feed off each other’s enthusiasm and passion for food. This was evident in how lively the chat and adda was that evening at the studio.

I must also say that this was on the most wonderfully organised events I have been to. Everything happened with clockwork precision and that’s thanks to the efforts of those who worked behind the scenes from APB Food Book Club Team. 

Take for example the time when I wanted to read a bit from the Flurys section and couldn’t find it myseld. I didn’t want to break the flow of the evening so I decided to let it be and moved on without reading that part. In two minutes I found someone from the APB team by my side with the book open. She had scoured through the book to find the chapter in between tweeting, attending to guests and organising the snacks. She verified whether this was the right passage with K and then came and gave me the passage to read!

Lovely adda

A good adda thrives on jolkhabar (snacks). Amit Roy of Peetuk Caterers treated us to some amazing aam panna, jhal muri, mochar chop, egg devil, fish fry and koriashootir kochuri and then kheer patishapta at the reading. Barring the drinks and the desserts, everything was made at the studio premises during the event by the Peetuk chefs aided by the APB Studio team. The food came seamlessly, without disrupting the flow and was well appreciated by the crowd. 

The former Kolkatans in the audience loved the memories the food evoked. The non-Kolkatans were tempted, post the meal, to book tickets to Kolkata.

Jhal muri and aam panna

Koraishootir kochuri (green peas kachori)

Chops: There were egg devils, mochar chop and fish fry too

The way the three parties – APB Cook Studio, Peetuk Caterers and the Hachette India team in Delhi – came together to land a great event with no glitches was amazing. 

They truly worked like a team of people who, as the saying goes, were as if they were many in body but one in mind. Their love and affection for The Travelling Belly was palpable, as was that of my friends who said they wouldn't have missed this for anything, and I couldn't have asked for a better and more generous and magnanimous first event for the book.

Truly a wonderful evening at the APB Cook studio
The Travelling Belly at the Kolkata Book Fair 

My birthday is just around the corner. In Kolkata, while growing up, I would go to the Calcutta Book Fair clutching precious birthday gift money that I would receive. I would use this to buy books. Collections of Maupassant, O'Henry,  Wodehouse, RK Narayanan, Roald Dahl, Asimov and earlier on encyclopaedias on wars and history.

Now, I am not a kid and live in Mumbai. i buy books through the year and don't have to wait for that one time in the year. However, I was thrilled to see a picture put up by my friend Debjani, whom I am yet to meet in person, about The Travelling Belly being spotted with bestsellers at a shop at the Kolkata Book Fair.

The night felt special.

The Travelling Belly spotted at the Kolkata Book Fair

Announcing the date for the formal launch of The Travelling Belly

6th February, 2017

Saraswati Pujo was also the day when I announced the launch event for the book on social media and there couldn’t be a more auspicious day to do so.

In case you missed my post then you would be happy to know that the launch will be at the prestigious HT Kala Ghoda Arts Festival which is located at the hub of the part of the city where I fell in love with Mumbai and its food years back.

And what a panel to launch the look book. I am lucky enough to have Kunal Vijayakar, Kurush Dalal and Vikram Doctor doing the honours. Three legends whose food stories I have feasted on and from whom I have learnt so much from over the years.

Please do come to launch to cheer and bless the book if you can.

The details are as follows:

Date: 6th February 2017
Time: 6 pm to 7 pm
Venue: Cross Maidan, Churchgate

Hope to see you there.

This week has told me that The Travelling Belly has been blessed with a lot of love and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this.

Also of interest:

1. A clip of the part I read from Flurys at the APB Food Book Club meet
2. An interview with Ruth DSouza Prabhu which appeared in Food Lovers India on the writing of the book
3. My post on the Diva Green launch where The Travelling Belly story had started
4. Link website of the APB Cook Studio

More pictures from the book club reading. All pictures courtesy APB Food Book Studio

With Rushina and Romi
Eat seasonal. Have koraishootir kochuri

Utpal who won the Twitter contest to be a part of the event

With Rushina Munshaw Ghildayal whom
The Travelling Belly and I owe a lot to