Photos by 
Photos by Jessicarobyn Keyser
Photos by Jessicarobyn Keyser

An Arranged Marriage Made Possible by This Chutney

by 
Tania Banerjee
January 28, 2022

Sunshine streamed in through the window, warming my blanket. I remained curled up in bed. It was a Sunday morning in Kolkata in December of 2006 and I was 15 years old. 

Annoyed with my lolling, my mother sternly told me to get ready. My parents - in fact, much of the neighborhood - had important roles to play today. I had also been assigned a special task. A secret one.

At 10 a.m. we knocked on our neighbor’s door. “Oh, welcome. You are the last to arrive,” said Geeta aunty, our host, already on edge. She had invited at least 15 other people, a mix of relatives and neighbors, for lunch. However, instead of the usual cheerfulness of a get-together, today tensions ran high: this was a formal lunch that could make or break a marriage.

In India, most marriages are arranged by the families of the prospective bride and groom. Typically, after the initial exchange of photographs and talks on the phone, the groom’s family visits the bride’s family at their residence for a meal, to take a closer look at each other. On such occasions, relatives and neighbors of the host are often called over. They are expected to boost the “profile” and “social status” of the bride’s family.

Geeta aunty was no exception when it came to fixing her daughter’s wedding. After much back and forth over the telephone, she had reached the beginning of an understanding with a young man’s parents. Today, the potential groom and his family would visit aunty’s home at lunch and we were all invited to provide the required boost.

In situations like these, young women are often forced by their mothers to flaunt their homemaking skills. Here, the potential bride was 23-year-old Pinki didi (didi means older sister in Bengali, and it is also used as a term of endearment to address those who are not blood relations), a rebel at heart who was impossible to boss around. But, like typical Indian mothers, aunty had used the power of emotional blackmail to make her daughter prepare a meal to impress their visitors. 

At least that was what aunty thought.

No items found.

Pinki didi had plans of her own, and I was an accomplice in her grand scheme.

“Pinki got offended that I doubted her culinary skills, so she has asked me not to enter the kitchen,” aunty told us. I was ushered into the kitchen under the guise of helping didi and giving her company. I wore a salwar-kameez with a dupatta (a long flowing scarf) attire pre-planned and instrumental to our plan. 

A range of ingredients — fish, mutton, bitter gourd, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, cauliflower, and of course bright green cilantro — were laid out on the kitchen counter. Typically, Bengali lunches are a multi-course affair. For this one, the menu was set by aunty in this order: dhonepatar chutney, uchhe bhaja (fried bitter gourd), daal (lentil soup), maach bhaja (fish fry), fulkopi-alu torkari (cauliflower and potato curry), kochi panthar jhol (mutton curry) and sweet and sour tomato chutney, all served with rice.

Didi and I spent one and a half hours in the kitchen in anticipation, waiting for our third accomplice to arrive. At noon sharp, the honk of a scooter signaled her arrival. Hurriedly, Pinki didi packed the ingredients in two bags. Now it was all up to me. 

I smuggled the bags out through the back door. Beyond the four-foot-high wall around the property, Pinki didi’s friend Rakhi was waiting with bated breath. I passed the bags to her over the wall. She quickly grabbed them and passed back her own bag. While I was carrying this new bag back into the kitchen, a curious invitee scrutinized me with her watchful eyes, but the dupatta helped me hide the bag in my hand.

In this bag was restaurant-cooked food that was to be served to the groom and his family. It comprised the same items as those selected by aunty. The restaurant was run by Rakhi didi’s older sister. A couple of days prior, Pinki didi had convinced Rakhi didi and her sister to comply with her plans — this was her style of protesting against her mother.

There was only one problem. Rakhi didi had forgotten the dhonepatar chutney. So Pinki didi took out a spare bundle of cilantro from the fridge and made the chutney herself.

Food was served. The groom and his family thoroughly enjoyed the meal and aunty was waxing lyrical about her daughter’s cooking when Pinki didi dropped the bomb in front of everyone. “But I didn’t actually cook anything, just the dhonepatar chutney.”

“I thought the chutney tasted the best,” said Swarup, the potential groom.

Eyebrows were raised and aunty was in hysterics after the guests left, but it turned out that the groom and his family weren’t bothered. The wedding went ahead. The chutney was that good.

Dhonepatar Chutney

 | 
 | 
Serves 2-4

Ingredients

1/4 lb or 1 market bunch of fresh cilantro

1-2 green chillies, based on desired spiciness

2 tablespoon water

A quarter lime

1/4 th teaspoon black mustard seeds for pungency (optional)

Salt to taste

 | 
 | 
Serves 2-4

Ingredients

1/4 lb or 1 market bunch of fresh cilantro

1-2 green chillies, based on desired spiciness

2 tablespoon water

A quarter lime

1/4 th teaspoon black mustard seeds for pungency (optional)

Salt to taste

Ingredients

1/4 lb or 1 market bunch of fresh cilantro

1-2 green chillies, based on desired spiciness

2 tablespoon water

A quarter lime

1/4 th teaspoon black mustard seeds for pungency (optional)

Salt to taste

Directions

1. Grind the black mustard seeds and 1-2 drops of water in a mortar and pestle to form mustard paste.

2. Wash the cilantro thoroughly and chop off the leafless part of the stalks.

3. Put the cilantro, salt, green chillies, mustard paste and water in a blender and run it for 5-7 minutes in intervals until a smooth paste is obtained.

4. Serve it fresh and squeeze the lime on top of it before consumption. Mix it with plain white rice and enjoy it as a spicy first course.

(Note: Add a half tablespoon sugar and 2 cloves of garlic into the blender along with everything else mentioned in step 3 if you want to enjoy the dhonepatar chutney with samosa and pakora.)

About the Author

Tania Banerjee

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