Ever since Shivaji Park in Mumbai was deemed a ‘silent zone,’ the Ramleela productions stopped too. Subsequently, there was no burning of Ravana‘s effigy, and eventually, the garba nights stopped as well.
When I was younger, the nine days leading to Dussehra meant a packed social calendar. You would find me screwing up dance moves at the gymkhana’s garba or trying to convince my parents to let me eat a dessert at the Durga Puja pandal stalls.
One such night of convincing led to my very first taste of mishti doi. There were several trays lined up with syrup-soaked rasgullas and pantua, and an array of cham cham. My father bought a chilled matka of mishti doi for me, assuming I would hate trying something new and he would have to finish it. Convinced that he wouldn’t mind sweet yoghurt, he handed me a small matka with an ice cream spoon. I was excited, thinking it was ice cream.
But this was better… almost like caramel! What blew me over was the sour aftertaste of this creamy, sweet yoghurt. I like to think that this moment also marked the day my palate grew up.
Years hence, festivals no longer excite me and the task of dressing up or meeting relatives seems daunting. But to be quite honest, the celebrations have dimmed too. When the city is celebrating Navratri combined with Durga Puja, it often feels like someone stripped my neighbourhood of its spirit by imposing a ‘silent zone.’ The only semblance of the festival is the pandal, which is now organised with fewer stalls selling sarees, books, and fewer trays of Bengali sweets and food.
The doi is symbolic of how I celebrate festivals now—with food. No dressing up, dancing, or hobnobbing for me. In many ways, it keeps my spirit alive and also poses an excuse for others to convince me to accompany them to a pandal.
Mishti doi is what I ordered at home on the night I had to skip pandal hopping in Pune. My workday had stretched longer than anticipated. Later that night, I sat in bed after dinner and ate doi while browsing Netflix.
Mishti doi is also what I ate in a grungy little store in Toronto’s Little India neighbourhood after feeling homesick. “How boring! Why don’t the Indians here put up lights? This doesn’t feel like a festival!”—I cried to my friend, who was kind enough to accompany me despite the hour-long train ride from college.
Over the years, I have spent far too many festive seasons away from home in unfamiliar cities, craving the sight of balconies decked up with lights. Or even speakers blaring Falguni Pathak’s latest Navratri number.
Now, I have become a recluse during celebrations. Perhaps it is the result of being away from home on festive days. It’s also likely that I prefer my company to anyone else’s. My mother jokes that the humble little matka full of doi carries the weight of dealing with my mood swings. I laugh every time she says it, but I am rarely convinced to celebrate anything.
This year feels different. This is the first time in a long while that I am home to celebrate the festive days in a post-Covid world. And, the thought of visiting my neighbourhood pandal is on my mind.
My evening walks have been riddled with the sights and sounds of the prep at Shivaji Park’s Bengal Club. I have sneaked glimpses of idols being painted and the pandal under construction. Will I go, even if just for some mishti doi? I guess I ought to give it some love too. After all, it has been a comforting friend on days when I needed a nudge to feel the festive spirit.
An Ode To’ is a monthly feature…no, love letter, to a cuisine, dish, drink, ingredient or maker that impacted the writer in big ways and small.