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#BengalinDelhi: Introducing Dilliwallahs to a slice of Bengali culture

Designer Pranay Baidya is on a mission to introduce the people of Delhi to the essence of Bengal, as it can be experienced through art, culture, music, community festivals — and always, as it is with Bengalis, with a great feast.

art and culture Updated: Apr 27, 2018 11:53 IST
Aditya Dogra
Aditya Dogra
Hindustan Times
Bengali culture,Bengali food,Bengali food in Delhi
Designer Pranay Baidya encourages people to reach out to him via his website www.pranaybaidya.com.(Prabhas Roy/HT Photo)

When you walk into designer Pranay Baidya’s bungalow in Defence Colony, what you’d be entering is not the usual Delhi home, but a space curated as a Bengali home from the Fifties, packed with heirloom furniture, an eclectic collection of art and objects of desire. This isn’t just because he misses home, but also because he’s on a mission to bring #BengalinDelhi.

What is #BengalinDelhi all about, you ask? Baidya explains, “I come from a family rooted in tradition. We’ve grown up celebrating every aspect of being a Bengali — the culture, literature, food, art, and more. And, while I was studying overseas, I realised just how important it is to stay connected to your roots and culture.”

Baidya, who has lived in New Zealand and properly settled in Delhi only three months ago, continues, “It’s true that only when you’re away that you realise the true importance of being connected to your roots. It’s then that it dawned on me that I should continue to celebrate my roots and culture, and share it with people who’d appreciate it, and even with those who haven’t really experienced Bengali culture first hand.”

His first attempt at doing so was a sit-down Bengali dinner, with the theme ‘Bonedi Barir Pujo Bhog’, which revived the rich legacy of Durga Puja feasts in the old, aristocratic family homes of Kolkata.

For any Bengali, living in Kolkata or anywhere else in the world, Durga Puja is the most iconic community festival. And Baidya decided to host the dinner on International Women’s Day, as he felt that it was the best day to kick such a thing off. “We treat Durga as the mother, and since I feel that women should be celebrated throughout the year, I decided to amalgamate the two and host this dinner. There was no better way of celebrating than with an anna bhog (rice feast), which explored the legacy of Bengali food,” says Baidya.

Going back to the beginning of the bhog tradition, Baidya says, “The concept was first started in 1610 by Sabarna Roy Choudhury, who presided over Kolikata and neighbouring villages, which later became Calcutta under (Viceroy of India) Lord Curzon. We know the family well, and know how they celebrated, so that was a good place to start with my research. I also looked into various other baris (renowned family mansions) such as Pathuriaghata Ghosh Bari, Chhatu Babu Latu Babu, Shovabazaar Rajbari, and learned about their pujas, food, and culture. I spoke to a few families, got my hands on some family secrets, and talked to Priyadarshini (a celebrated food writer in Kolkata), who gave me some insights about all that she has learned about the same over her years of writing.”

He really went into details. “Each family has a particular way of cooking — like the choice of oil, whether they add sugar or gud (jaggery). I went through all the ingredients, the style of cooking and whatever I could find so that I could amalgamate it all in efforts to recreate the Bengali gatherings,” says Baidya.

His gathering had all the cultural elements of the Bengali puja atmosphere. “We had alpana (decorative patterns, usually on the floor around the puja space) done by a Bengal artist, Kalighat painting, Bengali music, a large number of vintage brass diyas (much like the temple diyas, or pradip, used in Bengal),” Baidya recounts. “We didn’t recreate anything ritualistic, because that was never the idea, nor was it the time of the year to do so. But we were successful in recreating the vibe and feel of Durga Puja.”

Baidya also hosted a Poila Baishakh lunch recently, to mark the first day of the Bengali calendar, by recreating the customary celebrations at Rabindranath Tagore’s ancestral home, Jorasanko Thakurbari, in north Kolkata.

The traditional Bengali meal that was prepared at Pranay Baidya’s home for Poila Baishakh celebrations. (Prabhas Roy/HT Photo)

According to Baidya, when you look at a culture or community, what really stands out is their food, their language, and their dress, and these are the aspects he really wants to celebrate.

Exploring different avenues such as poetry, art, weaves, literature, music (especially Baul music and Bengal Gharana classical music), all of which translate into the perfect Bengal experience, is going to be a part of Baidya’s mission; however, whichever avenue he chooses, food definitely will always play a huge and customary part of the celebration.

“In the three months that I have engagingly spent in Delhi, I’ve realised that there’s much happening here in terms of art, culture, literature, and more. And, if I’m able to increasingly try and celebrate different segments of the same from Bengali culture, I’d consider that I’m doing some good work,” he says.

“In the near future, I hope to also bring some of our family pujos here to Delhi,” says Baidya, pronouncing puja as Bengalis informally do. “It’s complicated as we have family temples, and because most pujos started in Calcutta should only be performed in Calcutta, but I want to share that experience with my friends and the people of Delhi.”

Baidya encourages people to come over to his place and experience a slice of Kolkata through his home. “I’d absolutely love to invite people home, and introduce them to what I’m doing. I love to meet new people, learn from new experiences,” he says. “Everything in the house from heritage furniture to art, the alpana on the floor, the metal objects used to do dhunu (fragrant smoke dispensed from an earthen cup, in order to purify the air) every evening, and even the music we play (Rabindra Sangeet and Western classical like Schubert and Mozart) has been curated as a reflection of Calcutta, of where I’m from and what I am inside. I’d love to talk about it, exchange notes and experiences with others over plantation coffee or tea. And, slowly but surely, I’ll be able to bring a little bit of Bengal in Delhi.”

Interact with the author at twitter.com/Darkequinox24

First Published: Apr 27, 2018 11:51 IST