Celebrating the eternal bond of sibling love with a culinary feast and memories from childhood for Bhai Phonta

Celebrating the eternal bond of sibling love with a culinary feast and memories from childhood for Bhai Phonta

Check out the recipe for 15-minute Shada Aloor Torkari or light potato curry

Luchi and Shada Aloor Torkari to celebrate Bhai Phonta
Luchi and Shada Aloor Torkari to celebrate Bhai Phonta Image Credit: Ishita B Saha/Supplied

We celebrated Bhai Phonta recently, just two days after Diwali. A festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters where a sister prays for her brother’s longevity. It is known by different names across the different states of India.

I remember how excited I used to be for this special day. After my morning bath, I would dress up in ethnic attire, probably bought for the occasion and then went out in search of Durva, a kind of grass that consisted of odd numbered blades, the tip generally ending in threes.

In the meanwhile, my mother, whom I call “Ma”, prepared a spot on the floor where she lit a brass oil lamp in front of an embroidered sitting mat, specially designated for my younger brother Aveek. A tiny feast followed the actual Bhai Phonta ceremony in which I drew a Phonta - a dot, on my little brother’s forehead. This was an auspicious dot made with a mixture of sandalwood powder, rice grains and strands of Durva grass and contained the gift of a sister’s prayers.

My Choto Pishi blessing my Baba on Bhai Phonta
My Choto Pishi blessing my Baba on Bhai Phonta Image Credit: Ishita B Saha/Supplied

The many joys of sibling connection

My brother is five years younger to me and ever since he was born, I have taken my responsibility of a Didi, the elder sister extremely seriously - petting as well as patronising him to the hilt. Naturally, Bhai Phonta holds a special place in my heart. I felt an indescribable emotion, a sense of having that another person in my life with whom I have shared a special time of my life - my precious childhood!

The morning of every Bhai Phonta was always reserved for the two of us - my brother and I. During the evenings, we sometimes visited our Mamarbari in Behala, where my maternal uncles lived with my maternal grandparents. Much later, when Dida, my maternal grandmother passed away, the venue for Bhai Phonta celebration between my Ma and her brothers shifted to our house. She also had a few Patano brothers, ‘adopted or acquired’ - who she considered as her own brothers. These Patano brothers also joined in the celebration.

The dinners were elaborate, which Ma cooked herself. This tradition continues even today. This year’s Bhai Phonta dinner was held at my parents’ place in Kolkata over the weekend. Post pandemic, it was being held for the first time after an absence of three years of celebration. Shejo Mama, the third in the line of Ma’s four brothers, gushed over the menu many times over on our weekly WhatsApp call. I didn’t expect that the menu will be anything less either. My Ma cooked a familiar feast in times of celebrations.

Phonta menu
Phonta menu cooked by my mother for her brothers Image Credit: Ishita B Saha/Supplied

An elaborate Bengali feast

There was Polao, a fragrant rice preparation garnished with raisins and cashews; Aloo Phulkopir Makha Tarkari, potatoes and cauliflower in a slightly creamy gravy; Chingri Malaikari, prawns cooked in a coconut gravy; Bhetki Kalia, a rich preparation of fish in an onion and tomato-based gravy; Chicken Korma, a Mughlai preparation with a yoghurt gravy thickened with nuts; Tomato Kishmish Amsatwa O Khejurer Chutney, a tomato chutney with raisins, dried mango slices and dates; and finally an exotic dessert of Notungurer Ice cream, ice cream made with fresh jaggery.

The legendary Roshogolla had to be served too, especially during the actual ceremony. I immediately recollected how Roshogolla was so important even during Bhai Phonta, when I was a child. There was a small sweet shop called Maity Sweets in Ghugudanga Bazaar, a market place by our neighbourhood. Their tiny Roshogollas, priced at Rs 1 per piece, were the bestsellers. We stood in long queues, especially during the evenings only to purchase these - steaming hot and just pulled out of the pan brimming with sugar syrup!

Another memory that I cherish from my childhood are the delicious lunch gatherings at my Choto Pishi’s place. She is my Baba’s or dad’s youngest Didi, elder sister. With a large sibling group comprising five brothers and two sisters, Bhai Phonta celebrations for my Baba and his brothers had to be divided between the two sisters. Two of the five brothers attended Choto Pishi’s celebration while the rest gathered at the elder sister, my Boro Pishi’s home. Sometimes both the sisters visited our paternal home in Naihati, where all of us would then gather for a mega Bhai Phonta celebration.

Bhai Phonta celebration in which a sister prays for a brother's longevity
Bhai Phonta celebration in which a sister prays for a brother's longevity Image Credit: Ishita B Saha/Supplied

Memories of another day …

With the passing of years, it was only my Baba and Choto Pishi who were remaining out of their seven siblings to celebrate this occasion. Choto Pishi cooked herself until the time she could and before her health gave away. Her menu was always very elaborate - traditional Bengali delicacies along with all the new recipes she picked up from various cookery shows on the TV. Choto Pishi fasted until she marked the auspicious Phonta on Baba’s forehead. She gifted my Baba with new clothes, often embroidered or hand painted by her. This meeting during Bhai Phonta was sacred and special.

In 2020, when Ma decided not to visit Choto Pishi with Baba during Bhai Phonta because of the reigning pandemic, she was tearful and uncontrollable. She marked the Phonta on my Baba over a video call and my cousin brother; Choto Pishi’s son hired a courier service and sent to my parents’ home all that was cooked for the occasion along with a gift for Baba.

Off late, Choto Pishi has been suffering a bit of a memory loss with old age and dementia. However, she definitely remembers Baba and Bhai Phonta is probably the only time that probably brings her brother to her home.

My Baba is no more - we lost him last summer. None of us had the heart to inform Choto Pishi about this. Choto Pishi occasionally remembers her youngest brother and will definitely remember him on the day of Bhai Phonta.

Today, I am sharing a very simple recipe - Shada Aloor Torkari, potatoes cooked in a plain curry. Accompanied by Luchi or fried flatbread, this is a simple combination that serves an extraordinary Bengali breakfast, especially during holidays and on festive occasions. My Ma always made it on Bhai Phonta mornings and served it with Luchis. I am yet to perfect Luchis, the deep fried flour breads that is so quintessentially Bengali. Hence, I am keeping that for another day.

Along with Luchi and Shada Aloor Torkari, the highlight of our humble morning celebration was the famous tiny sweet balls of Roshogolla from Maiti Sweets. When I asked my brother recently about his childhood memories on Bhai Phonta, he sent back a voice recording saying, “Didi, I am so sorry, but I don’t remember a thing!”

Some of the items required for Bhai Phonta ritual
Some of the items required for Bhai Phonta ritual Image Credit: Ishita B Saha/Supplied

What happened to the years of celebrating Bhai Phonta long before we shifted to telephonic celebrations after my marriage?

Thankfully, I do remember every little detail! I have been recreating the same on Bhai Phonta at our home as our two daughters celebrate their bond. This year with our elder daughter, Shrishti off to university, Ilaakshi, our younger daughter marked the Phonta via the laptop across two continents and time zones. My wish has always been that the two sisters continue to celebrate the special occasion year after year, cherishing the eternal bonding of sibling love, wherever they are - virtually or otherwise!

Shada Aloor Torkari or potato curry recipe

Shada Aloor Torkari or potatoes cooked in a plain gravy, is a perfect accompaniment to Luchis
Shada Aloor Torkari or potatoes cooked in a plain gravy, is a perfect accompaniment to Luchis Image Credit: Ishita B Saha/Supplied

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves: 4 persons


3 medium potatoes, skin peeled and cut into small cubes

250 gms cauliflower, tiny florets chopped off the core

1/4 tsp black cumin seeds

2 tbsp mustard oil (only the strong ‘kachi ghani’ or cold pressed mustard oil is used in Bengali cooking)

1 tsp ghee

3 whole green chillies, slit longitudinally (keep them whole if you don’t prefer spicy)

Salt, a pinch


In a deep-bottomed vessel, add mustard oil. Fry the potatoes lightly, followed by the cauliflower florets. Keep aside.

Heat 1 tsp ghee in the same vessel and add black cumin seeds and the green chillies. Once they start splattering, add the fried potatoes and cauliflower florets. Add 2 cups of water and a bit of salt. Cover with lid and cook until done.

Check for salt and serve with freshly made Luchis.

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