The Dotted Line ... Alu roll recipe with a story

My mom would always encourage me to write stories when I was growing up. But then Bengali mothers think the world of their sons. Then I recently got an email from Bong Mom asking me to write in a food story for Aquadaze's food story event. Now one thing which 36 years on this planet have taught me is not to argue with a Bong Mom. So I thought I'll give food fiction another try. 

I know that there were some of you who wrote in saying that you prefer it when I stick to food facts. You said that I seem more at home then. I don't blame you. I agree too. I rarely read stories written by bloggers myself.  Plus I am moving over from sarcasm and dry humour to a bit of mush here. That too from a woman's perspective. Very, very dicey. So indulge me and skip this post if you would. But I do promise a bit of Calcutta college life in the nineties nostalgia in case that tempts you.

This one's for Arindam who replied to my text on alu rolls at Hangla on Sunday by saying 'shorir kharap hoyechhe (are you unwell?). So here goes ...

.................................................................................................................................................................

                                         The Dotted Line


Sabina got off from the auto in front of the Hangla Roll Stall at Bandra. She broke into a big smile as she saw her friend Tultul standing there. Rather impatiently.

It had been a long day covering the Kasab trial. Now it was for the lucky ones in the air conditioned TV studios to debate on her story. For Sabina it was time for the grime, pain, heat and anger of the day to dissolve as she met up with her old friend.

"So what'll you have? Mutton roll, right?"

No hi, hello, how are you. Well that was Tultul.

"I think I will have an alu (potato) roll".


"Aaaalu roll!!!!" Tutltul made a face and exclaimed. "I think the heat's got to you. These guys make the best mutton rolls. Shiraz and Nizam standards. Why alu roll? You are the one who keeps complaining about the roti, dahi, daal and subzi dinners at your P G every night. Why don't you eat some real food tonight?".

Sabina smiled indulgently and said, "I'll have an alu roll".

.................................................................................................................................................................

Tultul had decided to be her guardian angel way back in their Nancy Drew days. Sabina still remembered the day when they had left the rarefied airs of La Martinere and the rather posh Rowdan Street and entered the heavy gates of Presidency College in the more conservative College Street.

They quickly learnt the rules of the game. Don't make the mistake of coming to college in a car. Leave it behind and walk in. Nayantara became Noyontara and soon Tultul.  Forget tights and glitter. Aged jeans and shapeless, faded tees were a better idea. Coffees and pizzas in Hobby Centre replaced by cha and veg chop at Pramod Da's canteen.  A world where the two girls begun to grow up.

A big part of 'growing up' were the hours spent in the canteen. 'Canteen Honours' as it was called. A sense of mischief. Of rebellion. Much beyond the occasional symbolic shared drag of a Capstan from the boys. A realisation that school was over. That life had begun.

It didn't take Sabina long to spot Ricky in the canteen. Short, diminutive, quiet, a Philosophy Honours student. Different from the Presidency equivalents of 'Jocks' who walked around with a swagger, firmly planted in the the Union Room, discussing Marx and Marquez and occasionally the Bicycle Thief. Never a volunteer and yet the guys people would flock to for passes during the College Fest. Perpetually short of money. And yet always with a cup of tea and a cigarette.


Ricky was different. A face in the crowd. Never the life of the party. But a bus ride home together and Sabina got to see another side of Ricky. And so it started. Trips to Western Classical Music concerts at Kala Mandir. Afternoons together at the British Council Library at Theatre Road. Movies at New Empire. Mutton rolls at Karco. Or, alu roll, if it was the end of the month. Five Rupees instead of the eighteen needed for mutton. Fits the budget and fills the tummy as Ricky would say.

"What are you guys doing? Have you forgotten the "Mukherjee' in Ricky's surname? This is not a Hindi film. Brahmin boy. Bohri girl? Bad news."

Trust Tultul to look out for her. Speak the truth. Bitter as it was.

"Listen, Ricky and I have often spoken about this. We like each others company. We know it won't work out. We don't live in a fool's paradise. But we thought that we'll spend these three years in college together. Then move our separate ways. Anyway, our time's almost up.".

Tutltul shook her head. Baffled. Resigned.

"It's the most ridiculous plan in the world. You guys aren't light bulbs. Switch it on and off when you want. This is just going to end in a hell of a lot of pain. Wake up. What are you doing?"

Tultul looked at Sabina, a faint twinkle in her sad eyes.

"I am going to watch a movie with Ricky on Thursday night. He is off to D School on Friday. I  will tell Mom that I am going with you."

Tultul threw her hands up in the air, shook her head, smiled, hugged Sabina and walked off.

....................................................................................................................................................................

It was close to fifteen years since then. Sabina was a field reporter with a TV news channel in Mumbai. She preferred staying in a PG than take on the hassle of maintaining her own flat. The city became a lot warmer when Tultul got married to a doctor from Mumbai and moved in.

In retrospect Sabina felt that Titanic was a rather silly choice of a movie for their last evening together. But they had decided to spend a king's ransom of fifty Rupees and buy two box tickets at New Empire. Pockets emptied, they shared their last alu roll together. Ricky walked Sabina home to Park Circus. Neither minded the hour long walk. Their last walk together. Making each step last as long as they could. Willing the road never to end. Avoiding short cuts. Ambling into detours. Happy that they didn't have twenty Rupees left for a cab

Sabina went up to the guy at the cash counter at Hangla.

"Please cancel the alu roll. Make it two mutton rolls".

....................................................................................................................................................................


This is a part of the Food Fiction series. This post goes to Aquadaze for Of Chalks and Chopsticks

The stories are supposed to have a recipe and a photo.

So here's my recipe for alu rolls for earnest but amateur cooks. People like me who can't make parathas.


  • Boil 4 potatoes
  • Peel them
  • Mash them with with half a teaspoon each of red chilly powder, black pepper, salt, ketchup juice of a slice of lemon. Mix some split green chillies in it
  • Fry some sliced onions till they become translucent and sweetish
  • Open a pack of frozen maida parathas. I use Sumeru's Malabar parathas which one gets in Mumbai
  • Lightly fry the parathas on a pan
  • Lay them flat on a plate or chopping board
  • Layer down the mashed alu mix down the middle of the paratha. 
  • Add some sliced onions in a straight line by the alu
  • Roll the paratha around the alu into a spyglass like shape
  • To Drink: If  it's  a Bengali roll then has to be Thums Up

Now the entry is supposed to have a photo. Is this a good time to confess that I have not made alu rolls before? But I have made chicken rolls. So what if we take a bit of creative license and put the chicken roll pic? What's life if we don't live on the edge after all? In which case I might as well add that I can't guarantee how the rolls will turn out. But I think they will turn out good. The chicken rolls do.









14