Saturday, March 24, 2012

Snapshots from Parnasree, Behala in Kolkata

While most places are dotted with playgrounds and public gardens, Parnasree in Behala, Kolkata stands out because of its public ponds with promenades. The ponds in this Trinamool Congress stronghold have undergone quite a transformation (that means clean-ups, paver-block pathways, lights and potted blossoms) since Mamata Bannerjee became the Chief Minister in 2011. Thankfully, they still haven't painted the railings blue and white, the party's colours! It's a great place for a morning walk (which means you should be out of the house no later than 6 am in summer). Most of the inhabitants of Parnasree are originally from the erstwhile East Pakistan (they came here during the 1971 war that led to Bangladesh's independence). They share with you interesting anecdotes and tidbits of the life on the other side of the border. Their language is a purer form of Bengali than is spoken in West Bengal and they do resist your attempts to speak English. Put on your best dhakais, tangails and make-up and read a lot of Tagore before you take a stride alongside your neighbourhood Mashimas.

A death in a storekeeper's family in Parnasree means a complete shutdown of the Parnasree market. No veggies, no fruits, no milk, no sarees, no fish and no groceries. Notice the number of locks on each door sometimes four, sometimes five, and one had six too. Even then, in a city which boasts of the craftiest thieves and pickpockets in the country, you couldn't be too safe!

A roadside shrine of Goddess Kali and Shanidev (the Lord of  Saturday). The offering of choice is the hibiscus flower.

The local ponds are where some of the catch comes from. Fishermen use thermacol to hold the nets in place in water and then transfer the fish from the nets to huge floating aluminium pots. These are then loaded on bicycles and taken to the closest market. Some morning-walkers get good discounts too. In traditional set-ups, wood is used in place of thermacol — a more eco-friendly way to fish. 

A roadside vendor puffing some rice for jhalmuri at the Parnasree market. He takes a fistful of rice and turns it over in a kadhai that contains hot sand and in just a few minutes the muri is ready. Mix it with some roasted chana (Bengal gram), peanuts, chopped onions, cucumbers, peas, chillies, red chilli powder, lime juice and a liberal dose of mustard oil. Yummm!

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