It's my grandmother's birthday today. Or maybe not. Here's wishing didu a happy birthday in any case

Didu on her recent 'fake-fake birthday'. A happy day for sure
7 March 2017, Calcutta.
Pic clicked by my aunt Rita & food cooked by her too
My aunt said that she used my pulao recipe, so I felt like I was half there
Meet my didu

It is didu's birthday today. 

Didu is my maternal grandmom. 'Didu' is short for didima, or maternal grandmother, in Bengali. Some also say dida or didan. 

The main thing is to love your grandmom back I guess. The semantics don't matter really.

The mystery of the missing birthday

Actually it is not her birthday today. 

Foxed? Read on.

Didu has played a part of organising all my birthday celebrations ever since I moved into Calcutta as a kid till when I left it. And of those of my brother and cousins who followed too. I am her eldest grandchild.

All of us grandchildren have moved out of Kolkata now. 

When my late grandpa turned 70, didu threw a party at home. The guests were family, and his friends from the park he used to go to walk to. 

Didu was most excited about this back then. She cooked ghoogni for his friends, got her children to  go and get a cake. 

Dadu's birthday celebrations continued over the years and didu would always play a part in organising this. 

The two never hugged in public. They had their own rooms from as long as I remember. Often quibbled and never spoke a word of endearment to each front of us at least. 

A relationship status typical of most Bengali couples from the black and white era you could say (I am being wry here so please don't outrage folks).

Yet, didu would organise the celebrations of dadu's birthday with the enthusiasm with which I have often seen girls of my generation celebrate birthdays of their spouses and lovers today.

Ironically, no-one knew when didu's own birthday was! 

There is a date used as her birthday for official records but that's possibly not the date where she was born. I don't think they bothered about these things in the pre-partition era. when she was born. This despite my granny being from a reasonably affluent doctor's family, from what I gather, in pre-partition Dhaka.

So how did today become Didu's birthday?

A few years back, my younger brother, Sid, and my eldest cousin, Tuli decided that didu should have a birthday too. 

They chose 9th March to be her designated birthday, I have no idea why. They were students then.  Still living in Kolkata. 

The two pooled in their meagre pocket money and bought didu a card and gifts. 

Finally didu had a birthday!

I don't think this was followed up diligently in the years that followed specially with the two of them growing up and moving out.

And now another birthday for didu

This year my aunt from out of town was visiting didu. She was about to leave the city for home when my mom reminded her that didu's grandchildren designated birthday was coming up a few days later.

So my aunt decided to celebrate a fresh 'birthday' for didu this year before leaving. A few days ahead of her 'fake' birthday, while she was still in town. My other aunt and uncle who live in Kolkata joined them and the day was celebrated with great gusto, pulao and mangsho.

My aunt cooked for her just as didu would have cooked for any of us on our birthdays. 

My aunt said didu turned 90 this year. I am not sure if there is agreement on this within her children. 

I sometimes feel that Bengali siblings often show their affection by arguing. Or so I hope!

A friend of mine had sent didu a cake among other treats. My aunt wanted to cut that for the 'fake - fake birthday' but didu apparently got embarrassed. 

My note in bengali which says:
"Dear didu,
This book is a result of grandpa's and yours love and blessings,
Love, Raja (my nickname)'
Luckily I had sent her a birthday gift 

Thanks to this cake giving friend, Rukshana, I could reach my book to Didu through her too, This was coincidentally in time for the birthday and turned out to be an unintended birthday gift.

Twenty years back, when I was new to Mumbai, I used to write a letter to didu once a month. I wrote it in Bengali. She never commented on my poor handwriting and spelling.

I haven't written in Bengali for years. Not have I penned a letter in a while in any language for that for that matter. Emails took over correspondence and now whatsapps.

I took my friend and college senior and friendly neighbourhood cook, Shaswati's help, and wrote a note to didu in Bengali in my book. Shaswati converted what I wanted to say using Google, or some software, and sent me a Bengali script to copy. As I started scrawling and copying the print, it all came back to me and my handwriting became firmer. 

I had studied Bengali till high school after all even if I learnt it slightly late in life.

Didu was in a lot of pain just the day before her fake-fake birthday yet when I called her that night, after my aunt nudged me to I admit, didu sounded happy and giggly.

She told me that her 'birthday' has never been celebrated with such pomp.

She also told me that she was thrilled to receive my book. She said that if dadu, my grandpa was around, he would have spent all his time reading it. 

She also fondly and approvingly told me, 'boi ta besh mota hoyechhe'.

'The book is nice and fat.' 

Just as I was when I first met her during a trip to Delhi when I was 3 years old.

She also said that I was looking good on the cover but then that's what grandmas are for.

I know it was women's day and all yesterday, but it feels like grandson's day to me right now.

Is there one?

Do join me in wishing my granny good health and happiness and here's wishing the same to your grandparents and everyone in the family.

Now let me post this and call didu and wish her happy birthday!

Update: Spoke to her. She was amused to be reminded that it's her birthday again. She's a bit unsure on the 90 bit. Said in the olden days your birth date was fixed when you joined school or at work.

Another update: Timehop reminds me
that we were in Kolkata a year back. Which meant that we were actually with Didu on her grandchildren designated birthday and didn't realise 

The pulao I cooked at home in Mumbai completely by chance
The night before didu's birthday we celebrated in Kolkata.
This plate is super popular among my Instagram followers.
I bought it from Fabindia a few years back
A quick fix pulao recipe

PS: Here's my recipe for a quick fix pulao. It's not been given to me by my granny but works pretty well. Extracts maximum flavour without the grease in restaurant pulaos

The recipe is for 1 or 2 people and it's an indicative one

1. Heat 1/4 teaspoon ghee in a flat pan
2. Add whole cinnamon, clove and cardamom, tej patta, green chilli, raisins and nuts like cashews, walnuts, pista and almonds
3. Add steamed rice. Traditionally, Bengalis use Gobindo Bhog rice for pulao and payesh and special occasion stuff. In Mumbai I use the local short grained rice called ambe mohr. You could use the basmati too
4. Stir the rice. Add a pinch of turmeric, red chilli, garam masala powder. Salt and a bit of sugar. Stir
5. Add a few strands of saffron mixed with a bit of milk (I used of yogurt) and 1/4 teaspoon of ghee.
6. Cover pan with a lid, let it cook it for a minute and then switch off the hob and let it cook in its steam for a minute or so & you are done. It is best had with murgir jhol (chicken curry), kosha mangsho (slow cooked goat meat) or maccher kaalia (an onion based fish curry).

Also read:

1. Do check out stories my mother has meticulously chronicled from didu's childhood days. This is the first of the series of 7 posts and you will find more on her blog. Great insight into life in pre-partition Dhaka
2. Post on when dadu had turned 90. I happened to be in Calcutta that day. The house was more full