Friday, October 31, 2008

Bhai Phonta 2008

I really can't think of any other title for this post. Nothing that captures the varied day it was.

I worked the day before and came home and packed gifts, cleaned the house, laid out crockery, linens etc. for the next day. Baked a hurried cake. Parked Ally in the middle of the night since V had fallen asleep. Finally went to bed at 2 a.m.

Woke up soon after 7 a.m. Luckily maid came on time. An hour passed in supervising her and trying to get the sleep out of my eyes. Was just settling down to a mug of tea before starting on the preparations for the lunch for my brother and my cousin brothers when V told me that [one set of] his cousins had invited him for the phonta at 9 and that they were hoping that Rahul and I would be able to make it too. Hurried baths and dressing up and so on, and we made it by 10. Three of his cousins gave Vicky the phonta and his aunt did it for Rahul -- a very cute sight given that the boy was trying his best to evade the whole thing!

I called up Dana because I needed to borrow a couple of casseroles for lunch and then I heard that Uncle Sundar -- Aunty Hy's husband -- passed away early in the morning. So I ran to Park Circus. I know he has been showing his age this year but I guess I wasn't ready for it. I had been thinking that this time I really must order our Christmas wines early from him, that it was about time I took R to visit them again. Anyway, I don't care to talk about it. Aunty was coping marvellously, given how unexpected it was, and I left after a little while. Cabbed it back home. Vicky insisted and I think he was right. One less stressful thing. V and R were home already and after hurriedly starting on some of the lunch stuff (peeling, cutting potatoes and stuffing them in the fridge, laying out the utensils to hand, things like that) -- Vicky kindly iced the cake -- we went off to Munna's sons's annaprashan.

The puja was still going on there so we came back home -- luckily so far except for going to Aunty Hy I'd been in Lake Gardens all morning, so it wasn't as if travelling had been a hassle. Rahul was fed a sandwich'n'milk lunch while I started on lunch trying not to worry about it being 1 already and Dada and gang being expected to land up any moment. Luckily the raita was made and the chicken well marinated so I basically needed to cook the chicken and rice and put the biriyani together. Just as I was thinking that things were going reasonably well -- rice was done and chicken almost done and my brothers were all very late -- Dada called to ask when they would come. Almost as an afterthought he asked me if I had remembered to make veg stuff for Ganesh, who has taken a vow to eat vegetarian only for this year.

What would you have done?

After some sound cursing, some of it into the phone and a lot of uncousinly thoughts I started on some more rice and dal and papad. I had most of it done by the time they reached. I handed the last adjusting of the salt and sugar in the dal to Lakshmi, who had been with the brothers and who I had asked to tag along last minute, and did the phonta for all three. It's strange but I suppose I must acknowledge Ganesh and Mahabir as young men now. To me they've always been my kid cousins. Dada had got me the gift I asked him for, bless him.

And then we went to the dining table for the most important part of the day -- the food. I don't think any Bong brothers or sisters ever really delude themselves over the real importance of the day. You can pledge your affection for each other any time of the year but this is the day when the sisters cook and the brothers fork out gifts. (That's why we cook.) The biriyani turned out very well -- the overnight marination showed in the taste and I'd been salivating anyway ever since that lemony smell began to waft around the kitchen while it cooked. The recipe is here and I followed Mon's recipe faithfully all through except that I added some shahjeera and it added to the fun. Went wonderfully with Mon's cucumber-tomato raita.

It was actually quite pleasant, the five of us cousins sitting and chatting around the dining table in the late afternoon sun. I think that's why I had craved the dining table so long. It's what I think every family needs, a place to sit around in a circle and talk of everything possible.

Vicky and Rahul returned from the annaprashan and pretty soon R was falling down with sleep so the cousins left, R went for his nap and I started the clearing up. I've still not reached the stage where I abandon my beloved Corelle set for paper plates, but I may just reach it sometime soon. There seemed to be mountains of dishes, what with all the cooking and lunch just had by seven people with dessert afterwards. Oh well, bhai phonta comes only once a year.

V tried to work but the 'net conn snapped so he went off to his parents' to work there. I cleared, washed the chinaware, did the laundry and hung it out to dry, dressed at top speed, packed the assorted things I needed to carry to different houses and eventually, Dada, Rahul and I landed up at Jodhpur Park. R's grandmother quickly did his phonta and gave him his gift (I'll blog that later) and we went off to Giga's. Another phonta for Rahul -- Giga wanted to do two more, one for each of her sisters in Atlanta -- but he soon put paid to that. Fab food (frice, chilly chicken and kosha mangsho) as expected and we finally went to Vicky and Rahul's last lot of bhai phonta at Tupsididi's. Tiya is walking. Such a pleasant surprise. The kid gets cuter by the day and her mother dresses her well, too.

I was tired, but it was a nice end to such an exhausting day. These cousins of Vicky's all get along very well and they are a warm, welcoming lot. What a day, though. And I thought last year was packed.


Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

The biryani sounds yummo! Will try it some time.

And pics please of your gorgeous little bhai with chancon phota!

Renu said...

wow ! great description, came here for the first time but loved reading>
can u please tell me what is the meaning of phonta?

Sue said...

M4 -- Oh we still have to sort out pics. And then there are the birthday pics to be posted. :)

Renu -- It's basically an affirmation of your relationship, where you pray for long life and health for your brother and he blesses you or takes your blessing depending on whether he is older and younger. "Phonta" literally means "tikka", usually made with sandalwood paste and maybe kajal or curd. Traditionally sisters cook for the brothers and sometimes, the brothers give gifts.

Monika,Ansh said...

sounds like a lovely day & your cooking sounds delicious!!

Sue said...

Monika -- It was a full day. But yes, the cooking was decent although the cake was heavy.