Why you should learn to feed others the way your grandmother fed you

21st April 2019, Kolkata. When didu cooked & treated us a to a sumptuous
meal of luchi, chholar dal and shaada alur torkari

What keeps drawing me back to Kolkata

“I had expected you to reach much earlier. I even wore a sari in the morning because you said you will come over for breakfast,” said didu as she greeted K and me in a ‘nightie'.

Didu is 90 years old and finds a nightgown less cumbersome to wear these days than a sari. It would be fair to say that the ubiquitous shapeless, full length, nightgown today rivals the sari and the salwar kameez when it comes to the choice of attire for urban Indian women when at home.

Didu, short for the Bengali word didima, is my maternal grandmother. She lives in Kolkata. She was born in Dhaka and then lived in Allahabad and New Delhi with my late grandfather after they got married. I had first met her in Delhi when I was 3 or 4 and came to India on a holiday. They settled in Kolkata after he retired and we (my parents and I) moved in to India soon after that. I had grown up in their house when I was a kid. I am her eldest grandchild. The most pampered one you could say.

I had been wanting to visit her for a while of late. Especially after our recent phone calls when I would call her from Mumbai and when she would be barely able to hear me. K and I decided to make a weekend trip to Kolkata with the express purpose of seeing didu when a meeting for K came up in the city on Good Friday.

Cold coffee for granny cool

With her cold coffee at Cafe Coffee day, Bansdroni
20th April, 2019

I knew the context to didu’s opening remarks that day. Why she had specially made the effort to wear a sari to greet us instead of wearing her usual nightie.

I need to take you back a day in time to help you understand what happened. We had taken her to her eye doctor that day as her eyes have been bothering her for a while. Everything worked out mystically during the visit. Turned out that I had the doctor’s number on my mobile and I called him in the morning to confirm that he was coming to his clinic. The folks at the clinic, Apollo Bansdroni, were most helpful and sent someone with a wheelchair for her while I did the billing. The doctor called her in immediately and was most patient and warm with her. We had used an Ola rental cab and the driver was most courteous too. Now one can only hope the change of meds work. 

When done with the doctor visit, I coaxed didu to join K and me for a coffee at the Café Coffee Day at Bansdroni. She had said no the last time I had asked her to do so after a similar doctor visit. She was worried about the load this would put on her weak knees. This incident had upset me no end as I thought of the number of places she would take me to when I was young. I felt bad that I could not take her out that day. That her age had got in the way.

Seeing her fight back this time filled me with hope and joy.

Selfie time at CCD

I think that it was the presence of her cappuccino loving naatbou (granddaughter in law) that motivated her to come out of the car this time. She stepped out of the car gingerly while we held her hand. Then, with the aid of her stick, she crossed the three steps required to so and walked in to the cafe. It must have been such a Herculean effort for her.  I know that she had done so just for us and that meant so much to me.

“I will have a cold coffee,” she said. She then laughed and added, “I am having my first cold coffee at the age of 90. I do not drink coffee otherwise. I only drink a cup of tea in the morning. I used to have a black tea to give your dadu (grandfather) company in the evenings. I stopped that now that he is no more.”

Just as the folks at the clinic and the Ola driver were before them, the staff at the CCD were very helpful too and we soon settled down with our coffees. Selfies and Instagram stories happened first of course with me around!

“How easy it is to photograph everything these days,” said didu. “I remember the first time my photograph was taken. I was around 6 I think. That was in Dhaka. My elder brother had called someone over to take pictures of all of us children. I remember that the photographer had put his head under a curtain while he took the pictures. I don't know where the photos are though”

The photos might be lost, but the memories were fresh.

We spoke in Bengali of course. Language was no longer a problem unlike when I had first met her more than 40 years back when I spoke no Bengali.

“You are looking nice and radiant today. Possibly because I am seeing you in a sari after ages,” I told didu. She smiled. 

I knew that this was why why she had dressed up again in a sari when we visited her the next day. 

I love luchi  

We reached her house well after lunch unfortunately the next day; not at breakfast as planned earlier. This was because I had left my mobile in an Uber the previous night. I got it back in the morning thanks to Uber following up with the driver who then dropped it at our hotel. Waiting for him made us late for didu's.

She greeted us in her bedroom, got up and then took the aid of her walker and went to the hall and sat down on the sofa. We followed her. She took out a big bowl from the table beside the sofa.

“Have the luchis for lunch,” she said. She then took out flour dough and began to roll out luchis on the roller pin. Luchi byala, as we say in Bengali. 

She called out for her day ayah, an elderly lady herself. The lady came out of the other room with no change of expression on seeing us even though we had met the previous day. She went to the kitchen and fried the luchis that didu rolled out and then brought them back to us. It almost seemed like a scene in an Iranian film K quipped!

The ayah went to the next room without a word uttered, once the luchis were fried, to resume her afternoon nap. 

As a kid, I used to watch 'I love Lucy' in their house
& granny would jokingly refer to it as 'I love luchi'

The three of us sat down to eat at the dining table that my mother had bought with her first salary in Delhi, and which is older than me! This is the table at which I remember my late father sitting down for a jamai shoshti lunch when I was 8 years old. Didu had cooked him a feast which included the prized chitol maachher peti. My dad had said that when I got married, my mother on law would feed me on jamai shoshthi too. I am sure that my mother in law would happily do so if told of the custom even though she is Parsi. She might Swiggy it in though. Neither of our mothers are fans of cooking!

This was also the table on which didu would make and feed me luchi and chholar dal when I would come to visit her on weekends when we had just moved in to India from abroad. I remember having many family meals here when the family was larger and could not all fit in at the table. I would sit with the first round and continued eating till the last folks finished their meal. 

There is rarely a full house at the table today but didu is not one to dwell on what could have been or what things were. I would be fortunate if I could imbibe even a fraction of her spirit of self reliance.

Feeding her naatbou and eldest granddaughter in law

“Luchi chholar dal was the only dish made by me that he would eat when he was a little boy,” didu smiled as she told K the story of her firstborn grandson. You can catch it in the clip below which K shot.

“He would not eat anything else at home when he first came to India. Just the minced meat balls that his mother would make and put in a curry and give him. There was no chicken then so it would be made with mutton (goat meat).” 

K smiled back knowingly. The fussy little eater that didu spoke of continues to be a fussy eater forty years later as K knows very well.

Didu had more surprises up her sleeve that afternoon. She had not only worn a sari for us in the morning, but had even made my favourite chholar dal and shaada alur torkari herself. 

Don’t ask me how she managed to do so. She just did it. Because that’s what grandmas do.

As you might know, it is fashionable these days to say, "you should eat the way your grandma did."

That afternoon at didu's I realised that what is even more important is to learn to feed people the way your grandma fed you.

That's what will make the world a happier place.

If you have any memories from your grandma's kitchen that you would like to share then please do so in the comments section here. I am sure that we will all love to read them.

At grandma's dining table. Reliving past memories and
creating new ones
A video that we shot that day

And the thirtieth anniversary celebrations begins

Boromashi cooks up a feast: Tyangra shorshe, doi rui, murgir jhol
Alu jheenge posta

We visited my boromashi and mesho the night we took didu to CCD. They are truly generous hosts and food is always abundant on their table when they invite you over.

Doi rui. The fish was cooked with so much love.
And was so fresh

My boromashi (maternal aunt) had cooked a wonderful dinner of alu jheenge posto, tyangra shorsher jhol, doi rui maachh and murgir jhol. K and I agreed that it was one of the best Bengali meals that we have ever had. We are both fans of her cooking.

Tyangra shorshe. I took three of this fish which I am normally
not a fan of. That's how good it was

When K told didu about the lovely food that we ate at boromashi's, didu smiled and said, "she loves to pick up new recipes and cook them."

My boromashi and mesho who celebrated their
30th anniversary a couple of days back
It was their 30th wedding anniversary a few days later and I guess K & I were lucky to get a treat from them in advance and what a lavish one at that.

Yes, my trips to Kolkata are all about family. I know that I have to often regretfully turn down invitations to meet but I also know that Kolkata will never judge me. That it will always welcome me back. For that's what Kolkata does.

Till next time Kolkata


My recipe for chholar dal
My recipe for alur torkari