When The Travelling Belly travelled to Kolkata. The book reading at Bhojohori Manna, Hindustan Road

Memories from a most wonderful evening at Bhojohori Manna, Hindustan Road
Pictures in the post are courtesy:
 Bhojohori Manna, Suneha Saha, Indu Nair, Kainaz Karmakar
Link to where you can buy my book, The Travelling Belly, on Amazon

Meet a Kolkatan who is at home in Mumbai 

In a couple of months I am going to complete twenty years of living in Mumbai and I couldn't have asked for a better home than Mumbai.

However, there's no denying the fact that I have left a piece of my heart in Kolkata and which is why I love to go back there whenever I can.

We were in Kolkata last weekend and ended up doing a reading of my debut book, The Travelling Belly, in Bhojohori Manna, when there.

Let me tell you the story of what happened as that will make you realise why Kolkata remains so special to me after all these years.

The Red Riding Hoods set off to meet their granny

Luckily for me, K fell in love with Kolkata
on her first trip there itself, which was just after
we had got married.
She loves going back there even now

K had a work meeting in Kolkata and suggested that we do a personal trip before that during the weekend to visit my granny.

We worked out our plans and booked ourselves into the ITC Sonar Hotel Kolkata which is one of our favourite hotels across the world. 

Then I suddenly got the idea of doing a book reading in Kolkata.

A plan is hatched

I reached out to some of my blogging friends in Kolkata - Rukshana Kapadia and Suneha Saha, Debjani Banerji, Anindya S Basu and Kaniska Chakraborty of course. I wanted to know if people would be interested and what would be a good venue. 

They all got back encouraging me to hold the event and offered to help spread the word about the event.

I thought of doing the meet at a modern cafe but it was Rukshana who suggested Bhojohori Manna which is K and my favourite Bengali restaurant in Kolkata and Mumbai.

"Would people in Kolkata come to a Bengali place?' I asked. "Won't they find it mundane.''

"It's your book," said Rukshana. "The place should reflect who you are and where your heart lies.""

By now I have learnt not to argue with Ruki!

I called Siddhartha Bose of Bhojohori Manna from Mumbai. He was in the middle of organising a classic Bengali feast for the international delegates of the Under 17 FIFA World Cup committee who had come to the recently refurbished Salt Lake Stadium for a meeting that morning. Though busy, Siddharthada most graciously and immediately offered to host my reading. 

On a side note, I heard from my sources later that the delegates from 70 odd countries apparently loved the Bengali food put together by Bhojohori Manna that day.

There were 5 days left for the event but I needn't have worried because from then on. Siddhartha da took control of things almost the way an elder brother would for his brother's wedding. Which was rather apt as we had not had a wedding feast when K and I had got married years back. What followed in the reading at Bhojohori manna hopefully made up for that.

The lovely invite designed by my friend and award winning
ad agency professional from Ogilvy, Harshad Rajadhyaksha.
He is Kainaz's art partner and designed the book cover too
Tales from the reading

Of course, I had to reach late for my own book reading! 

I had gone to the Times of India, Kolkata, office on the way as Bobby (Sunanda) and Jhimli, who happen to be my college seniors too, most kindly invited me over for an interview. We were chatting happily till Bobby suddenly got up, urgently lifted me from the sofa and walked me down to a cab saying that I was late. 

Three ambassador cabs refused me on the way even though Bobby, the editor of TOI, tried to stop them. Uber delivered and thank God for them and Ola. The Amby cabs have tortured us for years in Kolkata and I am happy to see their back!

I had heard apocryphal stories of how Josh, my first boss in Kolkata, was late for his own wedding as he was working in the office and had forgot about his marriage that evening. Well, Josh did have a big influence on me and it looked like I was finally following his footsteps here!

The restaurant was packed and that everyone was patently waiting for me when I rushed in to Bhojohori. 

Basking in didu's blessings and love

The first person that I looked for when I reached the restaurant was didu, my maternal granny. 

I had made the trip to Kolkata just to see her the start with. When I eventually planned to do the reading in Kolkata,  I was very keen that she make it. 

While I was at TOI, K, Rukshana and Suneha went to didu's house and picked her up. My Buddhist friends had earlier joined me to pray for her to be able to make it. She barely travels now due to ill health and both she an I were equally nervous about whether she could make it. My friends told me that they were keen to meet her and that nothing could come in the way of this collective love.

Didu told me later that she had got a tel malish (oil message) done in the morning so that she would be mobile and had taken a precautionary pain killer too. 

Turns out that she was even more keen to make it for my reading than I was that she did.

Our love for each other is special.

Didu unveils my  book in Kolkata
Rukshana looks on.
She often ends cakes and cookies for didu
and finally got to meet her that day.
Our friend Harshad Rajadhyaksha shot and designed the cover.
Didu said he'd make me look good

Rukshana played the able MC, while Siddhartha da welcomed the guests and gave a bouquet to my didu. K sportingly did the Facebook live broadcast.

Rukshana Kapadia was the perfect MC

The reading was held at the Hindustan Road Bhojohori Manna. It was a full house that evening. When I looked at those who had gathered there, taking time out on a Sunday evening, I saw that every stage of my life in Kolkata was represented.

Siddhartha Bose of Bhojohori Manna
He was like an elder brother taking care of the show

There were my friends from Assembly of God Church Tollygunge where I studied till my ICSE board exams. As they were from St James' Kolkata where I had done my plus two. Classmates from Presidency College where I had graduated in Sociology from. From IISWBM where I did my MBA from. Classmates and a professor too from there.  There was Gautam IMRB Calcutta which was my first job post B school. There was family of course with my mashi and mesho joining didu. There was a colleague of my mother's from her college days. Plus friends I have made through blogging in Kolkata. I sorely missed Kaniska, who was out of town, though was glad his wife Manishita was there. They were the first of our food blogger turned family friends from Kolkata. There are more now and we feel so lucky about that.

Rukshana, Anindya and Debjani had helped me invite other bloggers whom I had interacted with but not met in Kolkata. I felt so happy when they welcomed me as one of their own. 

To add to the festivities  were fellow Buddhists from Soka Gakkai International Kolkata, and one from Mumbai too, who came to the reading.

We wanted to call more people but it was a packed house at Bhojohori that evening.

Every stage of my life was represented in the hall that evening

As you would have guessed by now, we had the happiest book reading ever, and frankly that's all that I had wanted when I planned the event. 

The publishers would be happy too hopefully as the books they had brought to the event were sold out too.

I couldn't have asked for a better home coming!

Jol Khabar at Bhojohori manna
Jol khabar that fuelled our adda

In case you were wondering what was on the menu that evening, well a good adda (chat) is fuelled by great jolkhabar, and Siddhartha da arranged for the very best for us that evening.

What is jol khabar

It's an in between meal snack and could be breakfast, elevenses, tea, high tea, pre-dinner....

The evening feast at Bhojohori Manna features heenger kochuri. Deep fried maida puris or flat breads seasoned with asafoetida. This is typical of small Bengali run sweets shops and tea shacks and slightly different from the 'Hindustani' (UPite) kochuris in shops like Maharani in Kolkata. They had got a cook from a local sweet shop specially to make these for the event at Bhojohori Manna and was given better quality cooking oil to work on that in the shacks which made the kachuris easier on the stomach.

Paired with the kochuri was a flavour packed ghoogni. A split pea curry typical of Kolkata. Finely chopped raw red onions, tomatoes and green chillies with some lime juice and jhuri bhaaja (crunchy Bengali bhujia) livened up the dish with its textural contrast.

Addas need 'chops' (croquettes) and in Kolkata, good 'fish rolls' are the perfect answer for this. We had some excellent ones and this was from the recently launched Machhli Baba Fries repertoire of Bhojohori Manna. 

The vegetarians had mochar cutlet made with banana blossoms.

What excited me the most that evening was the mangshor shingara as I was having this after a million years. The firmer and thicker flour casing of the shingara and subtly spiced minced goat meat filling was a combination that spoke of sheer culinary genius and spoke to me like no patti mutton samosa of Mumbai can, call me biased if you will!

Addas are incomplete with cha and to go with the tea was some amazing jilipi. The Kolkata version of jalebi which is delightfully crunchy.

What a feast it was my countrymen!

As if the trip couldn't get more sweeter, the next day I woke up to a very kind and loving feature in The Times of India.

The TOI feature

Back to college

The day after the reading, I met the legendary 'PR', as Dr Prasanta Ray is better known. He was the head of the department when I studied sociology in the Presidency College (now University).

I used to look forward to his class the most in college. He encouraged us to think and made us reflect about our lives and the world around us. He brought Sociology alive for us and taught us to look for patterns on what we saw. His teaching held me in good stead over the years. It helped me when I worked as a market researcher and has deeply influenced my blogging and in writing my book too since then. 

We met after more than twenty years this time and I spent a couple of precious and enjoyable hours hours chatting with him just as we once did in class years back. He had taught me the values of having a dialogue with people rather than lecturing them.

PR looks the same now as a he did then. He said so did I barring a bit of weight and then kindly said, 'that's to be expected.' We chatted as if we were taking off from where we had ended in class. 

When I told him that I had felt a bit awkward to connect with him after all these years, he smiled and said, "you should not have, PR is always there for you."

With PR, April 2017

Yes, Kolkata is indeed love.

PS: I had gone to Kolkata to meet my granny as I said and managed to do so each of the four days that I was there and for that I am eternally grateful.

Do check:

1. Link to the Facebook Live video Kainaz shot at the reading
2. The Times of India Kolkata feature by Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey
3. Rukhana Kapadia lovely recount of the event in the Window on Travel site
4. An earlier blog post of mine explaining what jol khabar is
5. My earlier post on Maharani kachoris

Holiday Album:

From the reading

With my family in Kolkata
Mesho (maternal uncle), K and me, didu and my boro mashi
Suman Bhoumik. Guest professor when I was in B school at IISWBM
The one professor whose classes I used to love. He was a guest
faculty and had helped me set off in a career in research. It was an honour
to have him over

With Nandita aunty. She was ma's colleague from work. She was my
mother's junior but was a friend to her and still is. I am not sure if
we had met before though I had heard nice things about her from ma.
We connected on Facebook and felt great that she could make it to the reading

With Presidency College friends
Amrita, Jaggo and Jit

Kolkata food group fans and a fellow SGI member

Not a good click but this is with some of my
AGCS school friends and the husband of one
Rupa, Mouli, Sugato and Gautam (Rupa's hubby).
Tito was not in the frame

With the Kolkata food bloggers
Feel fortunate to have been welcomed by them so warmly
With the new generation of Kolkata
food bloggers

That was one happy face at the end of the event

Siddhartha Bose and Rukshana Kapadia who made the event possible

With didu and K
Finally met Soumyasree, a Facebook friend

With Sayan from St James'

My attempt at a post event selfie

While Kaniska couldn't make it,
his wife and our friend, Manishita checked in.  They are like family to us

Finally met Priyadarhine Chatterjee whose writing I admire
With Indu Nair, a SM friend and SGI member from Mumbai who
made a surprise visit to the reading in Kolkata

With Manzilat Fatima and in the corner,
Sherry Mehta Malhotra who had introduced us to her 

After party
Chilling with Ruki and Khuki at the Tolly Club with a much needed drink
With Debjani Banerjee the day we left. Another blogger turned now family friend from Kolkata
She was possibly the first to buy a copy of my book & is a fellow SGI member

 With Didu

Dinner at didu's house, dal, begun bhaaja, echorer dalna, machher jhol

Didu waits for on day one with snacks

Jolkhabar with didu

The reason why I went to Kolkata
Not just the shingara

Saying goodbye to her the day we left town
She had got soft rasgullas for me
These are the snacks didu got for me on day one
Includes puli made by Hera