Tales of a happy meal from my grandma's kitchen & my second letter to my niece

"How will we both be in the picture?" she asked
I  thn explained how selfies work to Didu
Note: When I was a kid studying in the Calcutta International School, we had to write weekend diaries on Mondays. i would often write about my weekends spent at my grandparents then. I got a chance to go to Kolkata at the end of the last weekend and then meet my grandmother there. This post is about the time we spent together that afternoon. It's a long read and is best paired with a mug of hot chocolate

The Red Riding Hood diaries

Last time I met my granny in Kolkata, I had promised to come back and have lunch with her. And I did so yesterday.

Sometime back I felt bad about her being alone at home these days with most of the family having moved out of the city. I wanted to go to her and reassure her that we were there for her and the universe responded. I managed 3 trips to Kolkata in the last thirty days or so and feel very grateful for that. I have come to realise that if you truly want something from deep inside, things do work out. 

Sometimes it takes time. This time it didn’t thankfully.

I was in Kolkata last weekend to attend The Market Place event at The Vedic Village Resort . I called my granny the evening I landed to tell her that I’d go to meet her the next afternoon before flying back to Mumbai.

Didu (my granny) replied and said, “I heard that you had asked your aunt to ask me whether you should get some food with you when you come. Why come to my house then? If you come here then you will quietly eat what is there.”

A feast for a king from Grandma's Kitchen

I landed at her place at lunch time the next day. A bit later than planned due to work but I had kept her posted. Cut down the amount of time we would have together but I tried not to stress and hoped to make the most of the the time we had together.

Didu sat me down to eat the moment I reached.

Her comparatively new day ayah had just quit. Which meant that Didu was alone in the big house. Yet she took her walker and scampered to the kitchen to get the rice that she had freshly made for me. I went in and helped her and then followed her to the dining table.

Laid out on the table was her ‘whatever’s at home lunch.”

My feast at Didu's
For those who asked about the sparse rice on my plate,
 Bengalis eat course by course
I took more rice when I ate the fish after the veggies & the dal

The menu included chholar dal. A dish she had made for me when I had first come to India from the UK and refused to eat any Bengali food. Till I had didu’s luchi and chholar dal that is.

Then there were the vegetables too

Begun/ begoon bhaja (aubergines fried in a light salt, turmeric and chilli coating), alu peyaj koli (potatoes cooked with spring onions) and the winter special of pui shaak (poi greens?). I used to love pui shaak as a kid when my mother used to make it for me. One of the very greens that I liked them. Methi shaak was the other one. Now that I am older, I eat a fair bit of palak (spinach) too.

Both the vegetable dishes had potatoes.

As did the maachher jhol/ kaalia (onion and garam masala based fish curry) that followed featuring kaatla (a sort of fresh water carp, prized locally), potatoes and some winter specials – green peas and cauliflowers.

I was just back from a conclave on eating local and seasonal after all and the meal couldn’t get more apt.

Didu had supervised her night ayah of the last 4 years (barring a small recent break), Anjalidi, while she cook this meal for me before she (A) left for the day at 8 am.

'My grandson the Food Blogger'

The dal had a savoury undertone unlike the sweetish chholar dal that you get in Bengali restaurants. There was a prominent garlic kick to the dish that added a very interesting dimension to it.

When I commented on this, Didu said, “Anjali likes to add garlic to chholar dal and refuses to add sugar.”

But then we are a Bangal household, originally from Bangladesh. Sugar is the soft spot of the Ghotis from the modern Indian side of Bengal after all. We Bangals, on the other hand, prefer our food spicy and savoury and rarely add sugar.

My luchi chholar dal breakfast earlier in the day at The Vedic Village
This dal was sweeter unlike the one at Didu's

As Dr Daisaku Ikeda once wrote, "wouldn’t life be so boring if we were all the same". There is a picture of his framed in Didu’s pujo ghor as she has children and grandchildren (icluding me) who are  members of Soka Gakkai International, the Buddhist organization devoted to peace that Dr Ikeda leads.

The vegetarian dishes were all very lightly spiced and yet flavoursome as Bengali vegetarian dishes tend to be. A point reiterated by Nina Rawal, a former Kolkatan non-Bengali girl married to my former market research boss, Nikhil Rawal, who now lives in Mumbai. 

The vegetable dishes were cold by the time I ate them as they had been cooked in the morning. I didn't heat them in the microwave unlike what I usually do at home. I had them with them with dal mixed to the hot rice that didu had made. This tasted so good, and I say this shorn of emotion, despite being someone who likes to normally eat my food heated.

Didu cut a slice of lime worried that the fish was over-salted. I, on the other hand, felt that the fish curry went perfectly with the rice and I didn’t need the lime. What struck me about the curry was how prominent and fresh, the taste of the spices in it were. I made a note that I must learn from my didu how to replicate this in my cooking.

There were 3 pieces of fish in the bowl. Didu said that it was difficult for her to get the big rohu or kaatla in the local markets. I hate small bony rohu fish. Somehow she had managed to get a big one for me. I never eat more than two pieces at one go. 

Kainaz would have finished all three if she was here. I ate for K too, as she loves Didu’s cooking, and had all three.

Little Raja chats with his didu

We sat across the dining table while I ate. Just as I did when I was 8 and used to visit my grandparents on weekends. She was in her early 50s then. 

I am in my early 40s now and she is touching 90, it is 2016 now but it still feels like 1982 here.

Memories to treasure till we next meet
"My grandson, the food blogger"

I told her about fair at The Market Place, excited as a child would be. I told her about the rural women from Noygarh selling different kinds of muri there, the different types of local rice on sale, the vegetables and chillies from Darjeeling, close to Jolpaiguri where she grew up, on sale and the goyna bori which I had seen for the first time in my life the previous day which she knew off she told me, and the fresh Jonagorer moa (the khoi makes all the difference she said).

Goyna Bori from Kaniska's insta feed
He bought these from The Market Place

Didu smiled at my enthusiasm. Indulging me as she did when I was little and would tell her about the things I had learnt in school. the Solar System and of how the world was round and of how we were all evolved from apes.

She smiled even more when I told her that my friends Kaniska and Manishita had come to visit me at the fair the previous. Feeling secure in the knowledge that I have friends who look after me like family. 

Like Didu, Manishita too is Dhaka born. 

Adda with Kaniska and Manishita 
At The Market Place the day before I went to didu's

Didu and I then move to her bedroom and chatted before I rushed off to the airport. 

She rested on her bed. I drew a chair to sit on while I talked with her.

Showing off my report card to granny

I showed her pictures on my phone to tell her about the recent bounty of good fortune that I had been blessed with.

I showed her a picture of the book cover that my friend Harshad has designed for my soon to be launched book, The Travelling Belly.

Till I share the cover design with you,
here's an official announcement of the book from Hachette India
The picture of me was taken by Harshad Rajadhyaksha at Nice
He has deigned the cover of the book & the title font is his too

I showed Didu pictures of the certificate that I had won for the ‘Best General Food Blog’ category in the IFBA16 awards on Saturday night. I told her about receiving the award from Rashmi Uday Singh on stage. And of Rashmi calling K over to join me on stage. Rashmi called her my ‘inspiration’, which K of course is, and requested her to come up much to K's embarrassment. 

Kainaz had once named the blog Finely Chopped, and now the book, The Travelling Belly.

What a wonderful night it was at the IFBA awards
The awards are dedicated to all you who have read  Finely Chopped over the years
Big thanks to the judges and Saloni and Sameer Malkani of FBAI for their warmth

Rashmi Uday Singh handed over my first award for best blog when IFBA awards were launched
Felt special to receive it from her once again and this time with K joining meon stage
I showed Didu the picture of the award I won from Godrej Protekt, along with Nikhil Merchant, for being the Master Blogger of the Year. I told her how this was announced at the fag end of the IFBA 2016 evening, and how I was caught completely by surprise, and had to run up to receive it.

With Nikhil Merchant receiving the Godrej Protekt Master Blogger of the Year award
Felt special receiving it from Somasree as she had been a
client of mine from my market research days
Made feel grateful about where I am today after the long and ardous journey 

Didu looked at me and said, “your dookhi mother used to be so worried about you a couple of years back when you entered this field. She should be happy now.”

She also asked me about what I had received for the award and I said 'just certificates'.

She smiled.

Didu with the cookies and goodies that Ruki sent

This is when Rukshana Kapadia, who won the best restaurant reviewer award at IFBA16, sent her driver over to collect her certificate which I had carried to Kolkata. She sent chocolate and almond cookie boxes, a Christmas cake and a plum cake, from Mia Amore where she works, for didu.

“Why does she spend so much,” asked didu.

Then she told me, ‘don’t spend your money on me. Save it. You will need it when you grow old. Ayas are expensive’. 

I clicked a picture of didu with the cookies to send to Ruki and Tinni (Rukshana and Suneha).

I got so excited about the legendary Pushpesh Pant & Marryam H Reshii
RT'ng the picture of didu's lunch that I made an embarrassing typo

“You have made me famous,” said didu. “The other day when I went to the lunch when your niece had come, everyone saw me and rushed to me. They had seen my pictures thanks to you.”

Nothing like a grandmother's apron to bury your face in
Praying for us and sending her blessings from
her pujor ghor or prayer corner

I spoke to her about my cousins. One has recently made the US her new home. Another has moved to Maharashtra, like I did years back. I assured her that being away has made him a grown up now. There there is the baby of the family who has just left his home in Dubai to go to Canada. They have to work hard and cook for themselves, she said. And then we discussed the one who I consider my baby, in reality a beautiful young girl now. She is studying in NYC, and sent a video message to Didu on her birthday after I sent her a message from Didu through Facebook videos. We smiled indulgently at her baby-ish Bengali accent and her innocent smile which smoothens anything that was lost in translation. Didu told me how happy she was when my bother and sister in law came to visit her from Gurgaon with my niece.

She spoke of how much dadu, my late grandfather and her husband, liked to travel, and did so all his life till old age made him Kolkata bound. 

"All of you are travelling on his behalf," she told me. "But I still wish he could go to Puri like he wanted to towards the end when he couldn't."

It struck me that none of us grandchildren are in Kolkata now.

I finally bid goodbye to didu, booked an Ola cab, and reached the airport. I slept in the plane, woke up when I landed in Mumbai and it then suddenly struck me that with no day aayah for the moment, didu has to spend a large time of the at home.

I looked out of the window of the plane at the starry skies and said, “I need to go back to meet her soon.”

And now another letter from me to my niece

That's a picture of my mother
Sitting and smiling on her grandma's lap, in the cap which you can see,
is my niece when she turned 7 month old
Her parent are SM shy & celebrate her birthday every month

Dear Pompi,

I showed Didu your pictures on my phone. Many of which were of you with my mother, your thammi (paternal grandma).

In each of them, thammi and you were smiling just like your boro-didu and I do when together.

Didu broke into a smile when she saw your pictures. She spoke to the pictures and pulled the cheeks of my phone. She told me about how you had rolled on her (didu’s) bed, when your parents took you to visit didu. You had just turned 7 months old. You giggled and played by yourself. 

Just like I, your jethu, played by myself without disturbing others, when I was a baby in England, your thammi says.

“My bed is firm unlike modern beds you see,” explained Didu. “goranor jonno bhalo (good to roll on).

There are a couple of more things about you at this stage that you might like to know. I am told
that the moment your parents or thammi hold a phone in front of you, you break into a grin and pose. You know that you are about to be photographed!

Also you love being taken down for a stroll in the morning and your thammi takes you down with the help of an aya to push your pram. You are in your elements when down. Because it's winter you are dressed in warm clothes and caps and the pictures remind me of mine when I was your age but in England. We were both all bundled up.

And little Kimu when you do read this, no pressure, but it would make me very happy if you grow up and give me many grand-nieces and nephews  #JustSaying



A story Jethi wrote for you on Facebook to read when you grow up. This is on grannies

K tells her stories to Pompi
MISS CLOUD CAN'T HOLD HER PEE by Pompi's Jethi AKA Kainaz Karmakar

A small story I wrote for my niece instead of sleeping at night.

Miss Cloud was standing with her head down. She had peed all over the city in the middle of summer. No one was carrying an umbrella. Not to mention the traffic jams she had caused because of the unexpected 'waters'.
Mummy Cloud sighed and asked.
'Couldn't control it?'
'It just came out.' Whispered Miss Cloud while twirling her frilly white skirt around her fat finger.
It was a matter of much worry for Mummy Cloud that Miss Cloud was almost 3, in cloud years, but still couldn't hold it in.
Granny Moon came for a walk in the evening and saw the mother-daughter sitting gloomily.
Miss Cloud ran and hugged Granny Moon. She buried her face in Granny Moon's shiny skirt. This seemed to be the fail-proof solution to everything for the small bundle of puddles, that was Miss Cloud.
Granny Moon patted her head gently and said,   "Go look in my oven. I am baking those star-shaped cookies you love."
As the little one bolted towards the oven, Granny Moon sat down next to Mummy Cloud.
"Every child is different." She said in her wise voice. Everything sounded wise in Granny Moon's voice. Even when she said, 'Burger with extra fries', somehow it sounded very wise.
Mummy Cloud turned and said, "But the other baby clouds...."
Granny Moon cut her short, "What did I just say?! Never compare a child and a child."
Mummy Cloud shook like an autumn leaf when Granny Moon took that tone.
Popping her diabetes pill, Granny Moon turned Mummy Cloud's face towards her.
'She will learn. Of that I am certain. But until then, I have a plan. Now listen.'
Granny whispered something in Mummy Cloud's ears and they both started giggling.
The next morning Mummy Cloud took Miss Cloud to a new sky garden. 'Play all you want, do what you want.'
As expected, in some time, Miss Cloud lost control and out came the showers. The only difference being, this time, down on the earth, a crying farmer wiped his tears and thanked the Lord for sending the rains to his barren land.
In this way, every night Granny Moon would let Mummy Cloud know about a barren patch on earth praying for rains. Every morning Miss Cloud was put to play right above that patch and in less than an hour, that land was parched no more.

Saying Thanks
I felt a bit silly about not shopping at The Market Place when I was there
I was thrilled to come home to Mumbai & see a box full of treasures
from the market sent by the organisers
Big thanks to Vedic Village & the curator of The Market Place, Salmoli Mukherjee,
For hosting me in Kolkata
This lunch would not have been possible otherwise