How a Bengali khichudi and maachh bhaaja (fish fry) with Gujarati kadhi made for the perfect birthday lunch for my father

My lunch today on my father's birth anniversary. Khichudi. Maachh bhaaja. Begun pora. Gujarati kadhi.


It is the 6th of November today. My father's birthday.

I went down in the afternoon to the flower seller who sits at the end of the pavement outside our building to buy a 'haar,' Hindi for mala; which in turn is Bengali for garland. Following a practise that my mother had initiated after my father had passed on in 1983. That of putting a flower garland on his photo on his birthday and on his death anniversary. After which the three of us (my brother, her and me) would say a prayer for his soul. As the years passed, the number became four, five and then six, with both of us brothers getting married and with my niece being born to my brother and sister in law. My father always wanted to have a daughter and he now would have had two daughter in laws and a granddaughter.

Today this ritual will be played out in three different cities across India in our respective homes.

It was past 1 pm when I stepped down and I thought Banu had bunked as she had not come to work yet. Not wanting to have an unnecessary restaurant meal, I took out the ambe mohor rice at home and soaked it for 10 min. I dry roasted some moong dal in the pressure pan in the meanwhile. Then made a khichudi with the two for my lunch. The Bengali version of khichdi.

Malu, the Koli fisherwoman who comes to our building, had rung our bell earlier this morning. I bought three pomfrets from her today. I smeared one with salt, turmeric and chilli powder and fried it in mustard oil along with a slit chilli to have with my khichudi.

I took out and heated some of the begun pora, Bengali for baigan ka bharta, that was in the fridge from yesterday. I saw that there was some Gujarati kadhi in the fridge too. I had got this back for K, along with a potato and green pea curry, from Shital Kakad's house when I had gone for an impromptu home cooked lunch yesterday. I took that out too. Khichdi and kadhi is a classic Gujarati combination I am told. My mother in law, a Parsi born in Surat, loves her kadhi khichdi.

You are shocked at the idea of my combining maach bhaaja (fried fish) with yogurt/ dairy in the same meal? Remember, I belong to the land of dai maachh (fish cooked in dahi) and we add dahi at times to our fish kaalia too. This is not taboo for us unlike in the south and west coast of India.

The doorbell rang just as I was about to sit for lunch. Banu had come to work. It was 2.30 pm. A bit like the police in a Hindi film. Later in the day she ended up breaking the glass lid of my Ikea wok. Where is the raised eyebrows emoji when you need it!?

Moving on, I realised at the end of my meal that the lunch was rather the apt for the birthday today. Let me explain why.

The fact that I am self-sufficient in the kitchen is thanks to the stories that I had heard from my father about how he used taught himself to cook while studying medicine in the UK, of how he had apparently taught my mother how to cook after they got married (it started with the khichudi from what I recollect) and my own memories of the meals that he would cook for me. That had inspired me to learn how to cook too.

It was also apt that I had the Gujarati kadhi on his birthday and the pomfret, a seawater fish (instead of crying for fresh water fish as most Bengalis would do), as my father was the one who had taught me to embrace all cultures and to be experimentative with food.

That I added a dash of Jharna ghee to my khichudi when I sat down for my lunch and referred to the baigan ka bhorta as begun pora in the post reminded me of the fact that my father never forgot his core values and the culture of Bengalis regardless of where life took him... Canterbury, Liverpool, Rasht...and in my case, Mumbai.

My father and I have many pictures together, though most of them are in family albums in Kolkata. I had taken a few with me when I shifted cities and those are with us in Mumbai. I went through those photos today while my khichudi got ready.

I chose a couple to use for an Instagram click. One is of my father and me on the day I was born in Canterbury. Another from seven years later in Puri. A year or so before he passed away.

His passing away would have left behind a lot of sorrow and pain but my mother, supported by maternal grandparents, aunts and uncle, ensured that none of that cast a shadow on my life or that of my younger brother. As K once said, my brother and I have grown to be fairly positive and happy people.

I guess that would make my dad happy.

Happy birthday daddy. We miss you.

Lunch at Shital Kakad's house yesterday. A lunch that represented everything that my father believed in.
 Left to right, top to bottom: Khaman, alu matar rasa, kadhi
Jowad khichdi, rotli, my plate and papad from Navsadi at the bottom

Appendix:

The first time that I had written about my father here
One of my many khichuri recipe posts

Comments

vijju said…
Kalyan u made me cry buddy
Kalyan Karmakar said…
@vijju Thank you :)
shoots said…
To my mum and dad, you will always be "Mukula-dar chele".