I remember the excitement that hummed through our household when daakkaku (the post man) delivered a red and gold invite with a butterfly or a palki (palanquin) embossed on the cover, a streak of haldi heralding a wedding.
It was even better if the shaadi was in the family. The elders debated on the vices and virtues of the bor-bou (groom and bride) while we youngsters fantasied on the feast ahead.
The menu held no secrets. A Bengali wedding banquet in the good old days would always start with a dab of salt and a slice of lemon set out on a banana leaf.
As the guests settled down, cross-legged on a mat on the floor, family members would step up with steaming platters of radhaballabi (puris stuffed with daal) or luchis (puris).
This was teamed with either alur dum (potato curry) or cholar daal, beguni (fried brinjal) and fish fry. Sometimes, there was alu bhaja (finely diced fried potatoes) too.
Stuff up on the good stuff
The main course included ghee bhat or sweet pulao, maacher kalia (fish curry) and mangsho (mutton curry). There was also a vegetarian dish, like chenna (paneer), echorer (jackfruit) or dhokhar (steamed daal) dalna (curry) which we usually waved away. The idea was to stuff up maachmangsho and still not miss out on the mishti (sweets).
Chutney - it could be tomato, pineapple or mMis and mathchango with raisins and dates - and papad signalled the end of the main course. Few accepted more than a spoonful of chutney waiting instead to savour , the sweets.
Kuch meetha ho jayee
The sweets arrived in quantities - from the melt-in-your-mouth sandesh to spongy rasgullas and colourful darbesh (boondi laddus).
If you were lucky you were also treated to a pillow-like langchas ( a regional variation of the gulab jamun) or malpuas. And then there were the generous dollops of mishti doi (sweet curd) or payesh (rice pudding). A paan (betel leaf) pinned by a single clove ended the meal.
Some of my cousins indulged in a rasgulla-gobbling competition. The elders would watch them with an indulgent smile as the sweets diminished steadily. No one was worried about them running out.
The cooks, who came from Kalighat or Sovabazar or even from as far as Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack, ensured that there were enough sweets for guests to take home with them the next morning.
Head over heart
The tradition of the "chada badha" had to be maintained. A bride's family with no leftovers to give away would be left embarrassingly red-faced.
In the years since, a lot has changed. Today the cooks have made way for caterers who come laden with crockery, cutlery and premade food. So, forget the banana leaves and the shalpatar plates, even the earthern khuris (pots) in which we once drank water, are gone.
And the rasgullas are now numbered - no more than one per person. Same with the luchis- two at the most. As for the mutton (or chicken which is a healthier option to the cholesterol-high red meat), well, it's mostly all bones now. The head rules over the heart and profits govern the per-platecount system.
And that's not all. Salad bars are being set up on spacious greens, along with chaat counters and paan stalls. Instead of pulao we are served Hyderabadi biryani or Chinese fried rice.
Exotic buffets Luchis and radhaballabis are now rolled into butter naans and parathas. Dhokhas and dalnas have been curried into daal makhani and vegetable jalfrezi. Even the maach is different- bhetki macher pathuri or fish begum bahar. And mangsho is now chicken Baghdadi or mutton chilli coconut fry. As for the chutney, it's a fruit cocktail. Sigh!
What's for dessert? Not doi or darbesh but ice cream with hot chocolate, jorda or jalebis and firni which still gets shrieks of, "Mummy yummy!" but well, it's not trueblue Bong.
The Bengali touch is considerably diminished in these exotic buffets. Wedding banquets are now a mix of Mughlai, Chinese and Continental. Who knows, tomorrow I might just end up with sushi, strudel or Mexican chilli.