“Mmmm!” Pithey Buro gently hints to Pithey Buri, “I say, isn’t it the best time to go to the bazaar? There are sweet potatoes by the bushel, sweet green peas barely rounded in their shells, jars and jars of the most exquisitely fragrant, syrupy nolen gur you ever smelled!”
“Humph,” says Pithey Buri. She knows what Pithey Buro wants. At last, the most delicious time of year has come round again. This is the time of year Pithey Buri works the hardest and what Pithey Buro lives for.
It is the time of Sankrant, the Spring Equinox, when balmy spring breezes are laden with the scent of Pithey Buri’s luscious “pithey”.
Pithey Buri’s pitheys are the best in the world.
Sweet or salty, steamed, fried or soaked in syrup, no pithey is too difficult for Pithey Buri!
Off she goes to the bazaar, her keys safely tied in a knot at the end of her sari, a small draw-string bag of money tucked into her waist, and her slippers flip flopping all the way.
She passes people flying kites.
She passes a number of ponds, deeply breathing in the smell of the wet earth in the cool, spring air. She knows, the fish traps must have caught shining, jumping fish and tiny wiggly prawns as the water glints in the sunshine.
She passes the great big banyan tree where the monkeys come and steal the chai wallah’s bread. She passes the barber at the roadside saloon, styling his client’s beards and moustaches and snip snipping at their hair and carrying tales from one to another.
At last she reaches the market. After bargaining vigorously, Pithey Buri comes triumphantly home to spread out her shopping and sort it out. Making Pitheys is serious business.
She has bought rice to grind into flour, nolen gur- the sweet, smoky sap of the date palm, coconuts, green peas, sweet potatoes, milk, raisins, cinnamon, camphor, cardamom and other condiments, oil for frying, coal and wood shavings and cow pats for the earthen stove.
Now Pithey Buri is ready. She says,”Acchha, the first day will be for steamed Pithey.” She grinds the rice, grates fresh coconut, brings out the “new molasses,” moulds the sweets tenderly and steams them. At night she carefully lays clean new cloth over them. Then Pithey Buro and Pithey Buri go to bed.
The next morning, the old man says, “Buri, where are the Pithey ?”
And the old lady says sleepily, “Why? Here they are. Eat them!” but all the Pithey have gone! There is not one left!
“Alright, says Buri, “Today I will make fried Pithey.” She boils sweet potatoes, grinds green peas, rolls them, and fries them. Having fried them, once again she puts them in a clean mud pot and covers them, leaving them for the night and goes to bed.
The next morning, the old man gets up and says “Where are the Pithey?”
The old lady says, “Why, there they are. Look inside and see if they are there or not.” Buro raises the lid and finds they are all gone.
The next day, Buri says, “What shall I make today? Pithey in syrup. And tonight,” says she, lifting a stern finger, “I’m going to watch and find out what happens to them at night!” So that evening, Buri boils fresh, red, sweet-potatoes, fills them with kheer, fries them, and soaks them in syrup.” Then she puts them in a clean pot, ties them up very thoroughly, and hangs the pot from an iron hook in the ceiling. Then she takes a stick, and sits up all night. Just as her eyes droop with sleep, at the crack of dawn, she wakes up, startled by a “khoot-khoot” sound!
She peers toward the sound, and sees Buro, bowl in hand, reaching out and bringing the pot of Pithey down from the hook! In goes his hand, and out comes a Pithey. He gobbles one Pithey, then two, then three till there is not one left in the pot.
Buri jumps out and says, “I have caught the thief!”
What is Buro to do? He looks at Buri, eyes brimming with fear. He is afraid that Buri is terribly angry, but Buri says, “Nothing to worry about. There’s still time. I will make all three kinds of Pithey in one day and you will eat them all on that day.”
Buri makes so many Pithey that their whole village and all their friends and neighbours are able to feast on them. Everybody is delighted. No one can make Pithey quite like Pithey Buri!
*A Pithey is a seasonal delicacy made in homes across Bengal, usually during the Spring Equinox. There are many variations and they may be sweet or savoury, fried or steamed. Usually the first one to be made and offered to the Gods is the Akshoy Pithey, a crepe made of rice flour, filled with coconut and jaggery or “kheer” (thickened milk).Raisins nuts and condiments are optional. Other kinds of Pithey are made with sweet potato or rice flour. These are usually croquettes. If sweet, they are filled with jaggery and coconut or kheer and fried and soaked in syrup, or steamed with fresh jaggery poured over them. If salty, they are filled with a paste made of fresh peas and then deep fried
STORY TOLD BY: Bunny Gupta
LOCATION: West Bengal