There was once a glutton in Bengal who would eat her way through all the food in the kitchen and blame the cat. The cat complained to Goddess Sasthi, who decided to teach the woman a lesson by hiding all her children. The contrite woman tried to please the goddess by cooking delicacies and the goddess relented.
Sons-in-law all over Bengal can thank this lady for the honor and love lavished on them every Jaishto month, when their wives’ families invite them for an elaborate meal that can literally leave anyone gasping for breath. “After all, a family that eats together, lives together and happily ever after,” laughs Sanjay Mukherjee, owner of Kolkata Callin’ in Mumbai, as he talks about this tradition.
A LONG-STANDING TRADITION
The planning for Jamai Sasthi begins almost a week in advance in most Indian households. “My mother would pester my dad to book the best Hilsa with our regular fishmonger, days before the festival. She felt that only the biggest-sized fish in the market would show my husband his importance in our household,” explains Palomi Chattopadhyay, rolling her eyes. “She would personally supervise the coloring of the auspicious yellow thread to be tied on his wrist when he visits the house, wanting it to be the perfect yellow – neither dark nor light.”
But jokes apart, the meal for Jamai Sasthi is serious business. It better be, given the variety of delicacies that is served to the jamai, with the Sorshe Ilish taking place of pride on the table. He is welcomed with a soothing summer drink, usually Aampora Shorbot, and then a plate with five varieties of fruits is presented to him.
The meat-dominating meal usually has at least 13 dishes, with a couple of appetisers like Fish Chop or Jhuri Alu Bhaja. “The smart guys just nibble on these, saving their appetite for the real deal, which would usually include Maccher Maatha Diye Mugger Daal (lightly spiced dal with crushed fish heads), Maccher Jhol (fish cooked in thin gravy), Tel Koi (an oily fish gravy), Doi Macch (fish cooked in yoghurt), Daab Chingri (prawns in coconut gravy), Barisaler Sorshe Ilish (fish fillets in mustard gravy), Dhakai Chicken (spicy chicken gravy) along with Steamed Rice or Pulao,” adds Sanjay.
Since no Bengali meal is complete without the signature desserts from the region, Payesh, Sandesh, Rosgulla or Chamcham form another integral part of the meal. Keeping pace with changing times, many families now prefer taking their sons-in-law for an elaborate dinner at a fancy restaurant rather than cooking at home. Restaurants have also started offering special Jamai Sashti thali on the day, and are packed well throughout the day.
After all, irrespective whether he is treated at home or elsewhere, the idea behind the festival is to foster a harmonious relation with the son-in-law, prompting him to treat the daughter of the house like a queen. And the success of the Jamai Sasthi tradition only proves that the way to a man’s heart indeed lies through his stomach!