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A sweet aroma wafted in the small house of the Ghoshal family. Jayanti Ghoshal was famous in the village of Bhootogram for her culinary skills. On the auspicious occasion of Sankranti, she was busy making pitha, a delicacy made with steamed rice stuffed with coconut, jaggery or thickened milk.

“Nandu! I need your help” She called her fifteen-year old son who was dozing on the wooden charpoy. He was in a food coma after consuming massive amounts of dudh puli and patishapta all day, perks of having a sous chef mom.

He hated getting up.

“Deliver this basket to Poltu’s house” Jayanti arranged a wooden basket with an assortment of pithas.

“Now?” Nandu yawned and rubbed his eyes.

“Go before it gets too dark.” She handed him the basket. 

“And yes! Have a bite from this” She took out a pitha from the basket and gave it to him “Then the petni who hangs from the palm tree and loves to eat pitha won’t come after you. She doesn’t touch food that has already been eaten by the person carrying it” 

“Nonsense… my stomach will explode if I take another bite” Nandu ignored Jayanti and left.

The hooting of owls and the chirping of the crickets filled the cold silent night. Remote villages like Bhootogram get too dark at night. The narrow muddy roads lined with dense palm trees don’t have lamp posts. Nandu walked in the faint light of his torch. The chilly breeze gave him shivers. The basket dangled from his hands as the sweet aroma escaped from it. 

Nandu heard footsteps behind him. He walked fast and the sound of the footsteps became faster. His legs trembled as the sound of the footsteps got nearer. He started sweating and his ears emitted hot air like an engine in spite of the biting cold. He stopped when he heard the familiar voice.

“Nandu… I’m trying to catch you but you keep on running!” Poltu gasped.

“You scared me!” Nandu’s legs were still wobbly.

“Ummm… Pitha!” Poltu took a long sniff. “Did you take a bite from this basket?”

“I’m so full that even breathing is tough for me.” Nandu burped.

“No doubt you were scared of petni!” Poltu broke into peals of laughter.

Nandu took a pitha from the basket and stuffed it into Poltu’s mouth.

“Happy? Now no petni will come for it.”

“Chomp chomp…  so happy…” Poltu closed his eyes and savoured the pitha.

“Ma sent for you only. Take it” Nandu handed the basket to Poltu.

Both headed to their respective homes.

“You came early!” Jayanti looked surprised as Nandu plonked himself on the charpoy.

“I met Poltu on the way so I gave him the pitha” Nandu stretched his body.

“But Poltu’s mother had told me that he left for Kolkata yesterday and will be back after a week! To whom did you give the pitha?” Jayanti was irked.

Nandu froze. He imagined an outstretched hand swaying from the palm tree with a thumbs up!

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Glossary:

Pitha – A delicacy made with steamed rice and coconut, jaggery or milk in Bengal.

Dudh Puli, Patishapta – Types of pitha.

Petni – A witch.

Pic Credit: Thai Morais.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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