Partha PD

The Pickle Project

The careful footsteps of someone stealing a spoonful of achaar (pickle) followed by corky sounds of the tongue rhythmically hitting the roof of the mouth and licking the final traces of the magic item on the edges of the spoon, and then cautiously running away from the scene of the crime- Binodini knows it all.

Riya, her eight-year-old granddaughter, is a seasoned thief when it comes to stealing the achaar that her dida (grandmother) prepares regularly. Binodini knows that Riya would now hastily wash the spoon, dry it with her frock, and put it beneath a pile of stacked utensils, careful that the recentness of the cleaning isn't discovered by anyone in the world. Binodini fakes sleeping; her face is inclined towards the cheaply plastered wall and in the left corner of her dry lips gently sits a curved smile. Riya's maa allows her a calculated amount of achaar with dinner, lest Riya catch cold. So, Riya has to regularly indulge in misappropriating the achaar funds. Binodini, however, didn't face such desperate situations in her childhood days. She feels sorry for the fragile children of the present generation.

Nine months have passed since Binodini moved from Champapukur to Kolkata to stay with her only son, who is employed with a software company at Salt Lake. The name Champapukur might not stir up any quick images. It is a less-popular village at a distance of around 65 kilometres from Kolkata and was named so after a pukur (pond). Binodini grew to a ripe age of 61 in this closely bonded village. It was after her husband's death that she moved to Kolkata. Her son had made several attempts to convince his parents to stay with him but was unsuccessful in pulling them out of their internet-less lives. Kolkata means cars, crowd, and smoke for Binodini. Her last visit to Kolkata was when Riya was born in a city hospital.

Binodini remembers the open courtyard of her house where she used to dry her hair in the smiling sunlight. Strong bamboo pillars hold her tin-roof home. Her hairs are still black like kajal (kohl), though they aren't dense enough to hide her red blouse anymore. The ends of her hair have stopped growing and a few of them have become curly now. She was amazed when she first saw her daughter-in-law drying her hair with a screaming machine. At the very first glance she thought it was because of the dearth of rich sunlight on the balcony. Over a few days of her stay she realised that not only hair but even clothes can be dried without sunlight.

Binodini engaged a good part of the courtyard of her house at Champapukur to grow tomatoes and bitter gourd. A giant mango tree with thick branches gravitates towards and affectionately shades the tube-well. The roots of the same tree, paradoxically, cracked the cement base of the tube-well and surfaced on its floor. Every year she used to dry a few kilos of the green-young mangoes in sunlight and make varieties of pickle from them: sweet and sour, red spicy, sugar sweet. During her first month in Kolkata, Binodini almost had nothing, except cooking, to keep her busy. The balcony is too small to crop tomatoes or any vegetable. Her son and daughter-in-law are out for the most of the day and when they are at home, they are tired and complain about everything.

Exhausted from idleness, Binodini try finding some job in knitting colourful sweaters for Riya. The limited space in the three-BHK flat distances her from freedom. On the day of her late husband's birthday, she took Riya out to the nearby market. The sight of the green jalpais (olives) in the market filled her mind with greedy prospects and she quickly bought a kilo of the olives. The course of successive actions was decided in the night and the day following started with the phased implementation of the achaar project. Making shallow slices on the olives, plugging handmade spices into the slices, sinking deep the spiced olives in a glass jar filled with thick mustard oil, and then drying them in the sunlight that settles in her bedroom window in the morning and then travels to the balcony by noon; the process took 22 days.

The jar proved to be a magic jar. This is the lure that works as the last resort for her daughter-in-law when nothing else can make Riya study and speak in English with her parents.

Binodini can't stop smiling which has now spread from her left to her full lips. She tries matching Riya with her own foggy images as a child. Binodini was so free!

"Why catch Riya red-handed to make her study for another 15 minutes? Let her enjoy the small joys of life that she would remember when people would probably dry their hair with water. Let her steal." Binodini pretends to wake up from her afternoon nap.

Application Guidelines

Application to any of the programs follows a two-step process:

1. Essay: Please e-mail a statement of purpose, as a single-spaced PDF, to Limit your story to 800 words.

Be bold. Be original.

If your essay is shortlisted, you move to the interview round.

2. Interview: The purpose of the interview is to understand you and to assess whether you are a good fit for the intensive mentoring sessions, assignments, and social experiments. Interviews are conducted either in person or online. Interviews are conducted in English and last for 30-90 minutes.

The entire process takes three weeks from the date of application.

Next deadline: July 15 2020.