On the tea table during Bihu time, two til pithas found themselves next to each other on the same plate. One was slender and smooth, and as white as can be, whilst the other was perhaps not as white or as long and was even a little rough around the edges. They lay silently for a while until the smooth one blurted out:
“Hey you! Move away a little! You’re rubbing against me!”
“I can’t help it if my coat is irritating you.”
They stopped talking for a little while, both clearly annoyed, until ‘smoothie’ asked:
“What’s your name, anyway?”
“Pithu. And yours?”
Peter instantly suspected Pithu to be ‘rural’ and so he wrinkled his nose into the air and asked:
“Which village are you from?”
“Hah, I was right! I bet it’s some obscure village tucked in the middle of nowhere!”
Choosing to ignore him, Pithu asked “What about you?”
“Oh, I’m from Pithati. I’m a thoroughbred city pitha.”
Soon, people were starting to encircle the tea table. Peter was beginning to feel itchy by his peasant brethren’s touch and hoped someone would soon take him off the plate.
“How the hell do they make you, Pithu? You’re all rough. Look at me, I’m as smooth as paper.”
“That’s because I’ve been pounded by the dheki and a few rough grains may have slipped through the saloni. So, how do they pound you then?”
“Me? Pounded?! Never!! I’ve been ‘mixied.’”
“Mixied? What’s that, bhai?”
“It’s a machine with whizzing blades that grinds the grains till they are as smooth as flour. That’s why I’m as smooth as the VIP road.
Pithu was getting rather peeved by his urban acquaintance’s pompous attitude.
“Oh Peter, you are so full of yourself…”
“Uh huh, you couldn’t be more correct, I am full of the finest roasted black til mixed with the sweetest gur…” Peter had his eyes closed as he pictured his insides.
“Oh, stop there Peter! FYI, it’s not what’s inside that makes a good pitha, it’s HOW you are made!”
“ Well, I’m made on the gas stove, along with hundreds of my siblings, and then packaged neatly in plastic packets before being taken to be placed on the supermarket shelf.”
“You poor, poor thing, Peter!”
“Oh don’t pity me, you rural rascal! So how exactly are you made, huh?” Peter’s eyes shone in anger.
“I’m made over slow burning wood amidst the ambience of family members, laughter and old time stories…”
“Pah! That makes you no tastier than me!”
“Wrong!” exclaimed Pithu, “You are NOT made like me because I have an extra ingredient…”
“Oh yeah? Trying to act smart, huh?”
Pithu continued, unflustered.
“….and that ingredient is….LOVE.”
“Rubbish!! Utter rubbish. Whoever heard of love being an ingredient in a pitha, for God’s sake!”
“It’s that ingredient that makes us different, Peter.”
By now, people were starting to eat the pithas lying above them. One by one they disappeared until Pithu was also airlifted. Peter could just make out his last words before his head was bitten off:
“It was nice knowing you Peter! Remember what I said about L…O…V…E!!!!”
The woman, who now was chewing Pithu, had her eyes closed and was heard to exclaim: “Oooh, this one’s home-made…”
Someone else was heard to ask: “Are there any more like that?”
“Afraid not – there’s only that shop bought one over there….” she said, pointing at Peter.
Soon Peter was taken and was being laboriously chewed by a woman who spoke between mouthfuls:
“Yeah, these may look prettier but they so lack the ‘love’ factor of the homemade ones….”
Everyone nodded in unison as they acknowledged that the modern world had not even spared the humble pitha in the rat race of instant, readymade commodities!
By Loya Agarwala
Illustration : Kamal Kalita
This article was first published in Eclectic (April 2011) issue