Hello to all of you ! In North India, although we are steaming in the 41 degree heat, we are also enjoying the pleasures that this season brings- the different varieties of mangoes, bael and green mango sherbet, and, soon, litchis.
A few days back, with a couple of friends coming over for lunch, I decided to pull out my mother-in-law’s kansha utensils to eat out of. It opened a flood of memories: memories associated with a particular smell- the smell of kansha.
It was the smell I got when I, as a young girl, drank water from kansha glasses at my maternal grandfather’s house in Tagore Town, Allahabad. Kansha utensils, scrubbed with ash till they shone like beaten gold, would be lined up to dry after washing on the stairs that led from the dining room to the terrace. The table with a dull red, cast terrazzo top was worn in places where the fine marble chips had come off the coloured cement. A small corner had chipped off where an over zealous uncle had knocked it with a heavy degchi full of rice. This table held all the thalas and baatis and, on every Sunday evening that my parents and us siblings would visit my grand parents, there would usually be ‘mangshor jhol’ and bhaat–a watery, flavourful mutton curry with boiled rice. Both dishes would be carried in in degchis and our grandmother would serve us all with long handled haatas and the two youngest members usually got the section of meat on the bone that held the delicious, prized marrow.
Kansha, called Phool in Hindi, is a term for utensils cast in an alloy of copper and tin. They were and are (in a few places where you can still buy them) usually hand crafted. Upto our parents’ generation these utensils formed an essential part of Indian homes, often brought in by a bride as a part of her trousseau. In recent times kansha has been replaced in homes by steel utensils with kansha reserved for worship rituals.
At a party recently in Allahabad, there was food being cooked on a charcoal fired tandoor and my sister, Uttora,immediately said that it reminded her of Tagore Town (Tagore Town, a neighbourhood in Allahabad where many Bengalis lived, to our family, meant our grandparents’ home. Just as Allahabad, to those of the family that lived around India, always meant my parents’ home). In Tagore Town, she reminisced, two trusted old servants, Gahru and Ramgopal, would light the coal chulha in the morning and evening and meals would be cooked on it–all dishes one after the other. So it was probably an amalgamation of the smell of burning coal, its ash, the blended spices of the mangshor jhol and the kansha metal itself that I recall smelling in that kansha glass of water.
In the home of my grandparents’-in-law, the house we now live in, my mother-in-law,Hena, would serve lunch on kansha thalas while dinner would be on china plates. It was the different, perfect shapes of the thalas, baatis, glasses and the dishes in which food would be served that always impressed me the most. The dishes, thalas, glasses were mostly one different from the other and the baatis were in three or four different shapes- what an elegant concept of mix and match ! And all this, when scrubbed with tamarind and ash or later, the Vim bar, would gleam like gold.
I go through phases when I pull out the thalas and dishes from a large sindook, a wooden trunk, that holds most of the dishes. It is no easy feat as the pieces are heavy and have to be lined in a particular way, one on top of another,so that the lid of the trunk can close fully and a padlock installed for added security. For this lunch for friends I felt inspired enough to pull these out for the table. When would I use them, I told myself, if not now.
A half an hour scrub with Vim and the fabulous powder, Pitambari, meant for scrubbing metal utensils, had the utensils gleaming, ready for the table.
Since I generally associate kansha with Bengali homes-especially the ones I grew up in–I brought out the other very Bengali piece of fabric that I had- a kantha stitch embroidered bed cover that I have always used on my tables. This piece was embroidered in a village in Pabna, Bangladesh to which my maternal grandfather originally belonged to. I bought it when we were posted in Dhaka. The motives on the fabric are traditional folk motives popular in Bengali villages. Once on the table, placed on the red fabric and the wooden table,I could admire the perfect shapes.Here they are-
Our dining table is not too wide, so for the centre I placed the serving bowls, glasses and baatis or katoris as if they had been just washed and piled up to dry..not necessarily inverted…
I was dying to share this tablescape- and snippets of my memories. Hope you liked it. The fabulous shop in Delhi, ‘Good Earth’ stocks some kansha. Take a look- https://www.goodearth.in/collection/living_kansa_75/
Some local markets and shops in Lucknow and North India also have Kansha pieces and can make them on order.
Hope you have wonderful days ahead , in India ignoring the heat and eating the fabulous mangoes now in our markets. And elsewhere in the world, enjoy spring and all those first flowers !
‘Bye for now. Until next time..