BANNER CREDITS: RITUPARNA CHATTERJEE
A woman with the potential to make it big. It is not that she cannot: she simply will not.
PHOTO CREDITS: ANIESHA BRAHMA
The closest anyone has come to being an adopted daughter.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Never challenge a Maharashtrian cook


When your mother shows up, the gastronomic aspect of your life invariably takes a better turn.

Food is important, which is why I seldom outsource buying raw materials, especially vegetables and fish. For the same reason, I am typically reluctant to hire Maharashtrian cooks.

Do not get me wrong. Maharashtrian cooks are honest triers who put in every bit of their culinary skills. They try very hard, incredibly hard, but there is only so much you can do if your armoury consists of, and ends at, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and curry leaves, with coconut for variation.

You cannot blame them. They simply attempt to win a war with pea-shooters. Perhaps it is some sort of guerrilla warfare that we are too mainstream to figure out. Perhaps they can be good in an unfathomable sort of way.

The one that works at my apartment is professional but restricted in a very Maharashtrian sort of way. She toils hard without much success, but expecting quality out of her would be akin to expecting me to sing.

The matriarch of the family had tried to mentor her. She got the cook to prepare fish the proper (Bengali, in other words; machher jhol) way. The cook grumbled at not being allowed to use curry leaves but came to terms with that.

Tomatoes, of course, were another thing altogether. I have known people who seem to think I do not rate tomatoes very highly. That is an understatement. I detest, hate, loathe those squishy red orbs from hell, and even that – or any other synonymous verb, for that matter – is an understatement.

Over years I have mellowed down enough to accept tomatoes in dishes (though never in excess). The raw ones continue to remain inedible abominations.

But we are digressing. She was obviously unhappy about not being able to add tomatoes to machher jhol. She had tried to convince us, but we had stood firm: there was to be no compromise on machher jhol.

So by the time she had showed up yesterday, there was not a single atom of tomato (or even ketchup) in the household. There was not a slice of lemon, not the tiniest morsel of tamarind, not even vinegar. The yoghurt was tucked away safely. There was no contraption she could use to turn machher jhol sour.

But she won.

My mother had forgotten the raw mangoes, kept aside for superior culinary ventures. She had never expected chunks of them to show up next to fish… kajori, especially...

Friday, February 2, 2018

February, Kolkata, and all that

It’s me, Kolkata. Bhule to nahin?

It has been ages since I wrote to you. A lot has changed since then. A lot. My life has turned upside down (by that I don’t mean LIFE looks like ГIŁE) over this period. The year – since February last – has been way, way longer than what the lying calendar reveals.

At times I feel I have got over you. Did I miss you because you were you? Or simply because you were home – and I would’ve missed Kamchatka had I been from there? I keep telling myself it’s the latter…

Navi Mumbai was different, you know. She was – is – idyllic. She is polite and warm,  often whispering sweet nothings in my ear till late at night.

This insomniac leviathan of a city is different. She doesn’t know how to pause for a couple of seconds on footbridges and look at passing trains. She shoves you away, even asking you ugich kashala?1

But even she has February. She has a February she does not know of, a February where the fan seems harsh in the wee hours and the sun, harsher as the clock ticks to noon.

Let me tell you a story of a teenage boy I saw at the station today. I never saw his face, but I knew he was trying to woo a friend, probably a classmate – or that was what my limited knowledge of Marathi told me.2

The girl had her face towards me. They probably had an argument, and she turned her back on the two of us. But then, right at that moment, a fast train3 sped past the platform.

Her temper tried to fight a valiant battle against the laws of physics that govern the sudden wind you associate with a speeding train. The reluctant cascade of hair brushed his senses, probably his irrelevant cheek as well. And then she walked away from him, every stride authoritative enough to put Cleopatra to shame.

He stood there. I wished I could see his face. But then, I didn’t need to, for he raised his hand, almost hypnotically, to touch his cheek with his palm. And he stayed put.

I did not read on my way to work that day. I didn’t need to, for home beckoned. I left you on the platform that day, Kolkata, just like I had abandoned you four years ago.

And as non-summer4 tries its best to keep summer away from the city, you somehow find ways to come back to me, Kolkata – as you did today.

You are far, far away from me, but in this month  the most magical of them all  you come close enough to hold me, to absorb all the fire pent up this spent, fatigued man, close enough to whisper in my ear to send every bit of me to the land where time stands still.

Perhaps there is February somewhere in the ruthless relentlessness of Mumbai as well, refusing to let me age.
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1Don't ask. Google instead.
2Marathi is easy: it’s basically Hindi where you need to end every sentence in aahe or naahi. That almost always works.
3A train that travels faster than the usual ones but loses relevance by showing up late.

4Mumbai doesn’t have a winter.

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