Lokkhi Pujo bhog... The Bengali Thanksgiving Dinner

Bhog at the Bandra Lokkhi Pujo this evening, tarring khichuri of course and alu fulkopi, chaatni, payesh and the 'volunteer special beguni'

It's Lokkhi Pujo today (Thursday 5th October this year), Bengali for Laxmi Puja. We observe this festival, dedicated to the Goddess Laxmi, a few days after the Durga Puja. As do a few other communities from eastern India such as the Assamese from what I gathered from the Facebook feeds of my friends. Other communities in Mumbai, and across the country, celebrate Laxmi Puja around Diwali.

Lokkhi Pujo at Bandra. Lokkhi Pujo is normally held in the pandal where the Durga Pujo was held a week back. It is observed in homes too unlike the Durga Puja which is usually celebrated at a community level

Lokkhi Pujo celebrations, from what I remember from my growing up days in Kolkata, was organised by the women in the house. Ma Lokkhi, as she is called, is considered to be the goddess of wealth and prosperity and I guess the women of the house took it upon themselves to welcome her as they were the ones who ran the house. This is my hypotheses though I must add. One should be careful these days given that so many things that we had once enjoyed with much innocence are now being dissected and shown to have not been perhaps so innocent after all. I will however, leave the socio-politics and gender dynamics aside, and stick to family memories instead.

Lokkhi Pujo memories from my grandma's hearth

I remember that we would all gather at my granny's place on Lokkhi Pujo. She would conduct the puja by reading out scriptures from a religious book. I have no idea what it was. It was the 'Lokkhir Pachali' I realised thanks to an input by Paromita Sengupta on Facebook. In many other houses, priests would be called to do the Puja. 

Us grandkids and my mom and aunts would sit by granny while she did the Puja. I guess for her this was an occasion to express gratitude to a higher power and to savour the joy of seeing the family together.

My uncles would be there too at granny's Lokkhi Pujo, my mama (mom's brother), meshos (aunt's husbands). The entire family could come together as Didu would pray to Ma Lokkhi to bring prosperity to our lives.

My grandfather would sit outside the room from what I remember. 'He is a nastik (atheist),' my granny would playfully jibe him. I guess I was never much into religion myself though I'd love to hear about mythological stories as a kid. Today I follow a Buddhist religious philosophy which has no priests or temples around it and this works for me. I still attend Pujas and festivals though, often just to relive memories, or to give company to those who might have invited me, and mainly for the food of course.

'He will come in when the Pujo is over for Prasad,' granny would say about my grandpa and that he indeed did.  Dadu would join the rest of us at the dining table which was older than me, their eldest grandchild. Apparently my mother had bought the table when she had started working in Delhi and before she had got married.

The women, my mother and aunts and grandmom, would fast all day till didu (grand mom) did the Puja in the evening. They would break the fast with the Prasad (food blessed by the goddess). I don't think we children or the men fasted though.

The stars of the dinner would be khichuri cooked by my granny earlier in the day while she was still fasting, and her narkoler naru, a laddoo like hand rolled sweet made with dessicated coconut and sugar or jaggery. 

She would also do alpona, Bengali for rangoli, on the floor across the house. As a child, I would be most fascinated to see the little feet that she would draw on the floor. 'Ma Lokkhi is going to walk on those and come into our house,' granny would tell chubby little me. When no one was looking, I'd place my feet on them to see which was bigger. Didu would also allow me to do some very Picasso’ish alpona with her.

The empty nest

It's more than thirty years since those days and Mumbai is home for me now, Gurugram for my brother,  and all my cousins have moved out of Kolkata too.

My grandpa is no more. Granny lives largely by herself now. 

I called up granny this evening thinking that she might be feeling more lonely than normal. In response to my question, she told me that she did eat khichuri today though she didn't make it herself. 'I can't cook anymore so A.. mashi (her night ayah and house help) made it.' My aunt, who lives in Kolkata dropped in, and along with A and granny's day ayah, had khichuri  with my granny after she finished her Puja. 

The Bengali thanksgiving meal

As I wrote this post, I realised that Lokkhi Pujo for our family in my growing up days was similar to the Thanksgiving lunches one sees in American movies with the khichuri taking the place of the turkey. I felt bad that the dining table at Didu's house has become so barren now, but even if she felt so herself, Didu (granny) didn't let me sense that in her voice. That's the spirit she lives by.

Seeking blessings for a new home

After talking to Didu, I went to the Bandra Pujo. I spoke to my mom on the phone while walking down to the Pujo. Mom is in Kolkata too this year and was getting our apartment tidied up all day. She attended the Puja in our apartment for the first time this time she told me as she normally goes to Didu's house on Lokkhi Puja when in Kolkata. This year, she too was alone.

Mom was with us in Mumbai a couple of Lokkhi Pujos back and I'd taken her to the Bandra Pujo then. On hearing that I was going to the Bandra Pujo she fondly reminisced about the great time she had here and told me that she felt that the bhog (sacred food) served at the Bombay pujos to be better than in Kolkata. 

What with our recent house shift and a stiff neck that I had then, I was unable to serve food at the local Durga Pujo this year. I made up for it at the Lokkhi Pujo today by  helping Kaushik Saha and team serve food to all who came there, before having dinner with my fellow volunteers. 

The khichuri, alu fulkopi, beguni, chaatni, payesh dinner made by chef Gobindo and his team was indeed divine.

While I am away from home now, the Bandra Pujo makes me realise that Mumbai is home now. This time, when I entered the Puja grounds, Samudra Sen from the Puja introduced me to an uncle here as a food blogger.

‘Hope you don’t write just about Vegetarian food?’ Said the Bengali jethu with a smile.

I reassured him that I don’t as we sat and enjoyed our very vegetarian bhog together.

When I came home, I saw there was more Lokkhi Pujo bhog at home. Bengali food blogger and artist, Ananya Banerjee, had most kindly sent us some lovely bhog from the Lokkhi Puja in her house. 

I readily made a second meal of it, touched as I was by her generosity plus the fact that Ananya is one of my favourite Bengali home chefs in town.

As I tucked into my second plate of bhog for the evening, I felt that it was almost as if my granny had told the Goddess to make sure that I should not miss the khichuri today even if she could not make it for me herself.

The food indeed tasted blessed and I am sure that even my grandpa would have agreed with this.

Like the earlier post, I wrote this on the phone too. Chilling in bed this time and not on a flight. Please let me know if there are any typos/ errors 

Lokkhi Pujor bhog sent home by Ananya Banerjee