And it wasn’t just the chakuli, of course. The brief drive into Bhubaneswar from the airport was a blur of elaborately carved Kalinga-style spires of the city’s numerous temples—800, 1,000, 1,200 years old. There were walls of dressed ochre sandstone, covered with tribal stick-figure art in white. Vandalising this in places were posters in Oriya, with its very Dravidian-looking rounded script. I had come less than 500 km and the country had changed. This dense heterogeneity never fails to warm my cockles and to better explore its contours I was going to drive back the distance I had just flown.
Eats Wall painting in Bhubaneswar
My driver, Shibu, happened be an inveterate foodie—not an uncommon affliction in this part of the country. En route to the chakuli stall he had regaled me with stories of fish he has cooked with cashew paste. And now, at 9 am, he was already describing the mutton I was to eat for lunch. But we had important business to attend first: rasogolla. In the Utkal-Banga region, folks can get their knickers in a knot over the origin of rasogolla. If you asked me, I’d say it’s fairly obvious that the Oriya rasogolla birthed the Bengali, but this debate on its origins interests me not at all. My interest lies squarely in the taste. And for that, Shibu was taking me to Pahala, 15 km outside Bhubaneswar on the road to Cuttack.
With over 80 stalls clustered on either side of NH5, Pahala is the world’s only rasogolla market. The stalls looked identical: a row of vats with rasogollas of increasing size swimming in syrup. As each car got off the highway, the vendors theatrically waved their perforated cooking/serving spoons. I quickly popped a few samples. The flavour was coy with a subtle lift from cardamom, and the grains seem to dissolve without much of a chew. This was excellent rasogolla, quite different from good Bengali rasogolla, which is toothsome and has dominant milk notes. I promptly bought two dozen to bring back. That they were later declared dead on arrival hurt. But then, I am happy when good food doesn’t travel well and forces one to visit.
Shortly before Cuttack, Shibu stopped at a shack of bamboo and thatch that buzzed like a bee hive. This was the promised mutton-mecca, and it was peak lunch hour. But most people were not eating in; there wasn’t enough room. Devendra Mohanty had just scored his hit and was gunning his scooter to get out when we spoke. He has been a regular since 1980. “Occasionally the police come and tear down the shack, so they rebuild it a few feet away. But the mutton stays the same.”
The ubiquitous chakuli
We squeezed in on an already loaded rickety bench, and were immediately served: short-grained local rice on a sal-leaf plate and mutton in a sal-leaf bowl. The meat itself was exquisitely silky, bits of fat bobbed like icebergs in a light gravy. And the gravy was the star, demanding quiet attention. Not loud, not dull; this was a Goldilocks gravy. In the grim kitchen out back, the cook happily shared the formula: onion, garlic and a knob of posto—poppy seed paste. Posto-mutton is popular in Bengali cuisine as well, but there the posto is a flamboyant soprano, whereas here it was a restrained contralto.
Also served with the rice were several vegetables and a bowl of dalma. Dalma is a complex dish of vegetables cooked with lentils and tempered with a tarka of mustard seeds and grated coconut. It is Orissa’s answer to the southern sambar. The other vegetable dishes, though, were very Bengali. There was radish greens cooked with pumpkin—just as in Bengal. There was a medley of winter vegetables—radish, cabbage, cauliflower, new potatoes—tempered with spices called panch phutan in Orissa and panch phoron in Bengal. Faced with this ensemble, I had this sudden clarity about Orissa as the bridge between the south and the east.
The people of the Malay archipelago must have recognised this aspect of Orissa through centuries of trade contact with India’s east coast. Because to them all Indians were “Kling”, as in Kalinga—a form of address that continues in some pockets to this day. I thought about this as I stood on the banks of the mighty Mahanadi at Cuttack, at the site of Bali Yatra—Cuttack’s annual fair that celebrates the journey of Orissa’s ancient mariners who sailed to Sumatra, Java and Bali.
Orbs to gorge on Vats of rasogolla at roadside shops in Pahala, Orissa. (Photograph by Sandipan Chatterjee)
From Cuttack we drove 25 km east to Salepur, home to an Orissa institution: Bikalanada Kar’s original rasogolla shop. Now with branches everywhere, “Bikali” Kar’s rasogolla is wildly popular in Orissa. At the shop counter I asked for a sample and was handed a sealed plastic container. That should have been a clue. It took some wrangling to locate a vat with fresh specimens. The rasogolla was dark beige in colour, very dense and chewy, with a cloying edge to its sweetness. I couldn’t finish it. But it was interesting that the Pahala and the Bikali rasogollas are completely different animals, and are different from a Bengali rasogolla.
Past sundown, we flew towards Balasore on a section of NH5 that felt like Hema Malini’s cheeks. In the morning we entered Bengal at Jaleswar, crossing the Subarnarekha—a golden ribbon in the early light. From here on, it was Shibu’s turn to travel. I watched his senses open up as he rolled down the windows while driving through deep rural Midnapore: past shady bamboo groves, past ponds rippling with fish, through a fragrant breeze scented by acres of golden paddy, past homes and courtyards where women threshed the fresh harvest. By lunchtime we were at Tamluk, the current avatar of the ancient port city of Tamralipta on the banks of the Rupnarayan.
Post-lunch, Shibu waxed poetic about the fried brinjal split four-ways but held at the stem, and the enormous fish head he had chewed to powder. He thought the fish gravy was unfamiliar and exquisite, just as I had felt about the mutton gravy the day before. And the chhanar payesh—cottage cheese lumps in lightly sugared thickened milk—made him quiver. In the midst of this exchange, we got stuck in traffic. Tamluk’s annual fair was on and a procession of floats was heading down the street. A group of 20 dhakis—Bengali drummers—came up and started dancing in a circle right next to our car—their bodies taut, their sticks ablur.
As the dhakis reached a crescendo, I watched Shibu get swept away and felt a sudden, deep stab of affection for this mishmash, maddening country of ours. For magically staying glued together.
Pahala’s other delight is the chhanapoda—baked cottage cheese with a burnt caramelised crust. The perfect chhanapoda is as elusive as a moonbeam, but the Pahala recipe sounds breezy:
Mix 1 kg chhana, 300 g sugar, 40 g suji and a pinch of cardamom powder till smooth, place in an aluminium pan and lid it. Wrap the lidded pan with sal leaves, bury it in the belly of a dying chulha and let the embers weave their magic overnight.
Rimli Sengupta is a Calcutta-based writer
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Rimli Sengupta, Amita Baviskar, Namrata Joshi, the ladies from Outlook Traveller are taking over. Missing our Saba Naqvi.
Saba is busy tasting Anna's delicacies. I bet it has given her an upset stomach.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT