Pujor Gondho Eshechhe... Durga Puja's in the air

Note: Lot of photos, keep scrolling

Once upon a time

I was about eight years old. I studied in Calcutta International School. Most of my classmates were expats. Those were the days when 'best friends' were both life defining as well as transient.There was a Polish boy called Robert in my class. He was my best friend at that point, the flavour of the month. I wanted to call him over to our place for lunch. I told my dad this. The family legend goes that my father never said no to me. He didn't this time too.

Dad, Mom and an Early Knife

Durga Puja was coming up. My father, a bilet ferot (foreign returned) orthopaedic surgeon, was in the thick of things. He played an active role in our Parar Pujo (community Durga Puja) in Dhakuria, Calcutta. Just as he did wherever he was, even if it was in England. I had heard  his stories of how he would recite the prayers in Pujos in England where there was no priest. With a fellow doctor, a Brahmin, mouthing my dad's mantras in front of the Goddess. Hindu Gods don't answer prayers unless offered by Brahmins apparently. These Durga images used to be flown in from Calcutta. I remember my father later telling his friends that he would say only one prayer if he was in a puja pandal, "Bhogoban shobar bhalo koro" (God, be good to all). I am paraphrasing here as my memories are as sepia tinted as the photographs.

Durga Puja in the UK. Mom with still early Knife

So if I wanted to call my friend over then it would be done. But in no ordinary way. For my dad took it upon himself to welcome Robert and his family to our country, our culture, our home, our hearts. He invited Robert, his elder brother who studied in our school and his parents, who worked in the consulate, to our house.

He gave the Poles the sort of welcome which the Commonwealth Games should now have. He touched up the paint of the walls of our rented house. Drew the Greek signs of male and female genders on a piece of paper and stuck it to the bathroom door to indicate that the loo was unisex. He bought footballs and given it the Para Puja committee to be given to the winners of the 'Dhunochi Naach' (religious dance with the holy fire) competition. He ordered a couple more of these footballs as return gifts for Robert and his brother. Bought traditional Batik shirts for the two boys and their father. And a sari for his mother. He called our foreign guests over on Ashtami, the biggest day of the Pujas. Paid and ordered for a special Khichudi Bhog (holy festival food) for our guests from Poland.

All of this because I wanted to call my friend over.

Legend goes that he never said no to me.

This story happened about twenty eight or twenty nine years back. Around 1981 - 82. I lost contact with Robert and his family a year later when I left International School and moved into another world. My memory is understandably a bit hazy. One or two details might be wrong.

It was probably the last Puja that I spent with my father. Or the second last.

Twenty eight years is not as long as it seems.

Puri, one of our last holidays together. Close to when this story played out

And yet I felt the spirit of that afternoon from the hoary past in our house tonight. A fortnight or so before the Pujas this year. We had a couple of friends over for dinner. After what seemed like a lifetime. The house was full of laughter and shrieks. Three girls put together can bring the house down.

I planned the menu. Shopped for it in the morning. Lunch followed by power nap. A quiet coffee. Gym. Got into the zone to cook dinner. Last minute shopping, shower and our guests were there. I threw my inhibitions to the wind and cooked with people around me. More laughter, chatter, squeals, giggles and photographs. Locker room conversations which made me run to the kitchen to take refuge.

Purple Foodie's cake. Chili chicken inspired by mom who learnt from my dad who learnt from a Chinese patient of his in the UK. Pork Hakka noodles. Eggplant and shrimp paste balchow. Inspired by a dish that I ate at a great host's place at KL. Fungi, my addition. All put together in around half an hour with a bit of cheer leading and a some bit of jeering. Every move photographed. Macro lens for food, regular for us.

We are hungry. Stop taking photos. Don't slow him down. I  am going to eat from the pan.

Gluten and carb conscious ladies digging into their plates dinner with gusto, asking for seconds. Laments about difficulties in finding the 'right' skirt swept aside with each fork-full.

And I relived memories of an afternoon from around three decades back.

The next pictures were taken by Jyotika Purwar of Follow My Recipe and her camera with two lenses

The morning after ... oops we did it again

Fresh guest. More laughter. Thankfully a couple of guys too to cut the skirt talk. A repeat guest from the previous night. And one who could make it this time. Two musicians. Adda in rhythm. The newly weds and the other old timers. The menu remained the same. We ate. Prayer and love can wait.



Sassy Fork said…
What a sweet person your dad was!
hope u find Robert on Fcaebook!
Unknown said…
I was misty-eyed just half-way through your post. The sepia photos are the best.

Circa 2010 is awesome too. Love the dining table photo with Mrs K and your friend.
Unknown said…
Im really touched. Thank you. Thats a beautiful memory and am glad to be part of it today. Hugs to both of you.
me too. i'm really really touched. and i had such a great time last nite. good food. great friends. and so much laughter. i woke up this morning and first thing i did was tell A that you guys are just so nice. it's amazing.
beautiful post. i love how you and your dad look so alike, and how you've captured what he means to you.
lots and lots of love to you and K. i really have blogging to thank :)
Pavan said…
Very sweet...very happy reading post!!
Knife has reiterated the elements of life which make such a huge difference - Friends, Family, Food!
Soumik said…
to cut the emotion in the previous replies...just noticed ur brinjal and shitake combo headlined by a 'Art of fine lovemaking' ahem.
Though ideally that caption could go with the entire meal.
Scarlett said…
Do I spot baked cheesecake? Sigh!!
Tanvi said…
Fantastic Post Kalyan...I loved reading your memories and u are so right to say that the spirit of festivities is often dampened by the carb/gluten conscious.
Gorgeous captured moments ! these are the memories to keep!
Unknown said…
I missed the morning session... but we shall do this soon again!
haha i love the picture of the chili chicken with the newspaper in the background saying 'the art of wild love making' absolutely brilliant!!! :D
captured the spirit of durga puja so well! Large hearted Dad - son takes after him I guess...
The Bride said…
This is really lame but can you put up the recipe of the hakka noodles also? I'm pregnant and craving these sort of things but I cannot figure out even the simplest cooking without a recipe. Or if it's too easy a recipe for the rest of your readers, can you email it to me at thebluebride@gmail.com
A very hungry woman will be eternally grateful.
Miri said…
:) What a lovely time you guys have had! Sounds amazing fun. And thanks for sharing those memories - as I know very well, those who leave us too soon are always cherished for evermore...I'm glad your Dad left behind some really beautiful memories of his hospitality and warm heart - which you have inherited.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@The Bride, picked one of the earlier hakka noodles posts. Desperate times after all :) http://finelychopped-k.blogspot.com/2010/04/do-try-this-at-home-chicken-hakka.html

You can get morecipes if you type Hakka in the search section. I will post Saturday's in a while
Pinku said…
lovely post....:)
The Bride said…
Thanks so much! Why didn't I think of the search option? Either these noodles or the ones you just posted and the chilli chicken are going to be dinner tomorrow. :)
Durga Puja 2010 said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
Ratoola??? Soumik? Knife this is a little random and weird, but I think we have some friends in common...
Anonymous said…
...your father sounds like he was a wonderful man.
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Sassy Fork, true, he makes me empathise with fellow Aquarian AB Jr

@Pree: well I did promise you a tear jerker

@Curry Spice, I always want you and your camera around when I cook

@Agent Green Glass...so glad that both of you could come again. Really wanted that and thanks

@Soumik Banu chooses the papers for me and she normally goes for page 3

@Scarlett: and a really exquisite one

@Tanvi, True. You can clench your mouth through happy times
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@Pavan, thanks

@Ms Pearl, Agent Green Glass spotted that

@Somoo, thanks but son has a long way to go

@The bride, hope your little one munched on the Hakka in the tummy

@Miri, true, sometimes I feel

@Debjani, he was. And the weird thing? well this is how Soumik and i first met. Turns out that Ratoola was my junior in presi Socio http://finelychopped-k.blogspot.com/2009/09/six-degrees-ramzan-fest-with-finely.html
lucky to just have memories

@Pinku :)
Steph said…
This is a really lovely post - I loved the reminiscing! I got a link to your blog from Jyotika (photgrapher extraordinaire). I'm moving to Mumbai in January and your blog is making me very anxious to get there.

Keep up the great blogging!
Kalyan Karmakar said…
Thanks Steph and welcome to Mumbai. Jyotika is really good