Besides worshipping the goddess, Durga Puja is also about spreading cheer, enjoying adda (chatting), taking part in cultural activities, dressing up and gorging on delicious food. Bongs are foodies and they love to indulge in luchi-aloo dum, fish fry, kosha mangsho, mishti and so on. And that makes Ananda Mela a must-have feature of the celebrations.
The city-based Greater Pune Sarbojanin Durgotsav Samiti (organised by Bangiya Sanskriti Samsad) has been organising Ananda Mela at Congress Bhavan for the past two-and-a-half decades on Panchami (a day before Shashthi). Ananda Mela, an event where women sell homemade delicacies, is popular at most Durga Puja celebrations.
When we visited Ananda Mela on Monday, the enthusiasm of the participants and visitors was hard to miss. On the menu were some of the most popular Bengali delicacies like Kosha Mangsho, Mangsho Torkari (Curry), Aloo Dum, Ghugni, Luchi, Vegetable Chop, Mutton Kheema Curry, Mutton Kebab, Fish Chop, Mutton Roll, Chaat, Rasmalai, Malpua, Chamcham, Labangalatika, Patishapta, Rasgulla and Sandesh.
“We have been organising Ananda Mela for the past 25 years. Janaki Bhattacharya started the tradition. The ladies prepare one food item depending on their interest and strength, and sell here. Whatever profit we make, we give it to the Samsad. There are some who ask for the food cost but there are many who don’t take a penny. Through this, those living in Pune get to taste homecooked Bengali food,” said Sujata Pal, chairperson, Puja Commitee.
But it’s not just Bengalis who visit the fair, many non-Bengalis too enjoy the delcacies. In fact, non-Bengalis outnumber the Bengalis, said the ladies.
Sunita Chakraborty, who was selling Vegetable Chops at Ananda Mela on Monnday, said that she loves making different types of dishes. “We have a meeting where we decide who will sell what. We not only cook and sell but also get to taste each other’s dishes,” added Chakraborty.
Swetrupa Chakraborty shifted to Pune from Varanasi after her marriage. Since then, she has been participating in Ananda Mela. “I took a small break when my daughter was small but for the past few years, I have been regularly taking part in this activity.
Each of one us leads busy lives and this mela gives us an opportunity to spend time and interact with each other. Also, people get to eat homecooked Bengali food which is not so easily available here. Besides, the atmosphere gives us a sense of belonging, we don’t feel like outsiders,” she said.
Nirmalya Sengupta, who has been visiting Ananda Mela since 1993, said, “The enthusiasm of the participating members is worth appreciating. It takes a lot of time to prepare the dishes and each one of them serves really good food. Usually non-Bengalis get to eat restaurant food, but here they get the chance to try homecooked fare.
Also, people mostly associate Bengali cuisine with non-vegetarian dishes. Here, people get to know about the variety of vegetarian dishes that Bengalis prepare.”