where thatched roofs crown the painted walls of mud huts
fish of all shape and size ripple in playful swirl in ponds
and life happens under the shade of ancient trees
lush fields sprout fresh produce, goats and cattle roam free
on this land of the red soil.
This is Birbhum
I came across Villfood Kitchen @villfoodkitchen last year, and turned into an ardent fan of their You tube channel. When our TV is turned on at home heralding the end of a work day, I settle down cradling a cup of tea and wait for the magic to begin.
A group of people, from the district of Birbhum, West Bengal, are doing great charity work travelling from village to village in Birbhum, cooking mouthwatering meals for the villagers, at the same time, attempting to revive the lost recipes of Gram Bangla/Bengali village. Sometimes aided by donations from their loyal subscribers.
Through these vlogs I see the wetlands abounding in this region, places I have never been to but dream of. I am with them on the banks of a pukur/pond in the shade of a khejur/date tree, throwing stones glazed smooth by rain, into the water. I laugh out loud at their antics when they try to catch fish using a fisherman’s net or just by hand. Sometimes, it’s a mosquito net – like the one I have slept under back home. How innovative.
I travel with them on screen as they wander through far-flung fields, watch them dig out vegetables from the ground, pack them in jute bags. The farmer, though busy at his chores, will often stop to help. The four men, who are regulars on this vlog, pay the farmer, balance the bags on head and shoulders and move on. I travel with them as their three wheeler stops at a chosen spot – generally under an ancient banyan tree, or at times in a field beside a pukur/lake.
I lean forward to get a better view as they dig a hole in the sand or brown earth in the open placing three bricks to make three points, light a fire with twigs and wood they brought with them; then, the cooking process begins in enormous pots to feed the entire village of about 200 people. I feel myself relaxing visibly by watching the children at play – some climbing trees, others drawing on the dusty ground with a twig, and some singing in the sweet treble that only children possess. Nearby, goats and cattle graze. The air is filled with birdsong. The sky, as big as the hearts of these four men, is the canopy above.
“Return you to your dwelling places…” Kahlil Gibran’s immortal lines from A Tear and a Smile resonate in my mind. You see, Birbhum is where my ancestors had settled, I was told. They may have arrived from the far north. I am not sure and daily regret not having asked my father who passed away when I was still in school.
Every day I watch these vlogs and mentally return to Hazaribagh, because the scenes are so reminiscent of my place of birth.
I chose these pictures of Hazaribagh and surrounding areas I had taken one year, as an accompaniment to my piece. I encourage you to watch Villfood Kitchen and Village Cooking blog on YouTube.
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