This year Jamai Shasthi (Son-in-law’s Day) is being celebrated in West Bengal on 9th June. This year, again, we are not celebrating Jamai Shasthi…the jamai (son-in-law) and the shashuri (mother-in-law to the spouse; my mother) being separated by 1440-odd miles.
Travelling back in time, I remember the jamai-shasthi celebrations in my mamabari (maternal grandparents’ house). Baba (my father), being the guest-of-honour, would dress with care in starched white dhoti and crisp kurta. Maa (my mother) would carry along a new sari to gift to my didu (mother’s mother). My brother and I would skip along, excited at the prospect of food-food-food (and new clothes). In honour of the occasion, we would give the bus ride a miss and take a leisurely cycle-rickshaw to arrive at my mamabari, well in time for lunch.
After a mandatory-but-perfunctory religious ceremony (which involved mangoes and palm-leaf hand-fans to sprinkle calming holy water on all of us) to placate the Goddess Shasthi-Thakrun (who was, for some obscure reason, very fond of cats), we would sit down to eat, being careful not to dirty our wrists, bedecked with thin bracelets of dubbo(grass)-and-flowers-tied-to-sacred-yellow-thread.
The decidedly-profane, prolific spread would include vegetarian, mutton and fish (at least two/three types, including the Bengali-favourite, hilsa) dishes and ending with rasogollar payesh (cottage-cheese balls in milk custard). My father would sit in his place of honour, with a plate heaped with fragrant white rice and surrounded by small sampling bowls of all the items on the menu. My dadu (mother’s father) would have personally spent the entire morning sieving through the local market for the raw veggies, fish, meat - the best on offer; only the best for the jamai. Everything was cooked at home, under dida’s painstaking supervision. The jamai (son-in-law) had to take second-helpings to show his appreciation - my father willingly did.
As did my spouse when we were invited by my mother to celebrate our first jamai-shasthi after marriage. Knowing his fondness for prawns, my mother had cooked prawn biriyani – the spouse promptly polished off a third of the entire quantity. My immensely flattered mother bullied my brother to revisit the market in the afternoon to buy mutton, just so she could cook mutton curry for the pampered jamai (who, of course, dug in delightedly).
Jamai-shasthi memories are all about food stories, really. I remember we had gifted my mother a white-and-green enamel cook-and-serve casserole (instead of the usual sari) for this occasion, because she (and we) loved food. The son-in-law was merely a convenient
excuse for FOOD – display and devour.
ARE THERE ANY SPECIAL FOOD CELEBRATIONS THAT YOU REMEMBER?