This morning as I was talking to the girls staying in our house in Kolkata, Gouri and Breshpati, I heard a story that I had not heard before. Today is the day baba died 2 months ago and today was a good day to laugh out loud at his wicked sense of humor as well as his robust appetite and love for food, especially fish and meat.
I have written before that Khushi was the apple of his eye and both ma and baba were truly invested in helping her grow up with all opportunities that they were able to provide. Ma took care of her studies, I take care of funding her education and baba took care of investing financially for her future. One day when baba, Khushi and Breshpati went to the bank to either manage her account or put money in her account, the banker helping them asked baba, “Sir, do you own a restaurant? If you do, where is it?”
Baba was, understandably, taken aback at this random question. The banker clarified his query as he saw baba’s surprised face. He said that several fish sellers come to that bank to deposit big checks written to them by baba and so he wondered if baba owned a restaurant which needed all that fish. Baba laughed, turned to Khushi and said, “Didi, show this kaku (uncle) where our restaurant is.” He then patted his own big tummy and Khushi’s little tummy. He said, “Here! This is our restaurant.”
Breshpati came home and told ma this story. Ma commented, “Did you also tell the man that I live with a mad man? Mad for food!”
As I heard the story, I could visualize baba responding to the question without batting an eyelid. I laughed so hard till I had tears in my eyes.
The priest at the Kali temple where I want to conduct a shanti pujo for ma and baba instructed that I bring some food that they enjoyed along with flowers, fruit and their photos. Thinking of ma’s favorite food was easy, she loved dark chocolates. Without missing a beat, I said, ‘Done. Dark chocolate for her. No problem.” I scratched my head about baba’s favorite food. Baba’s favorite food or should I say foods were plenty and they were all non vegetarian dishes. Mutton, fish, chicken, eggs – that is what he truly loved. He was a connoisseur of fresh fish and good meat. But the dilemma is how can I bring a non vegetarian dish to a Hindu temple? So I called up my friend who is helping me organize the puja at the temple and asked her if I could bring meat or fish for him. She hesitated. Between the two of us we decided the priest may perform an ‘ashanti pujo’ instead of shanti pujo if I arrived with a plate of meat to offer to baba. We decided on some roshogolla instead, a quintessential Bengali sweet which baba loved also.
Baba’s joy was food. He woke up in the morning and instructed our household help what should be cooked for the day. He went to Gariahat market in search of the freshest catch or the choicest meat and the fish sellers knew him. They pointed out their best catch to him because they knew nothing but the best for meshomoshai (uncle). I have accompanied him to the market many times during my visit and I noticed true joy on his face as he looked at a sparkling ilish mach or glistening tangra. We have had our disagreements over food during those visits as well. I insisted I wanted to eat vegetarian Bengali food like alu jhinge posto or potol er dolma or kach kola r kopta or dhoka r dalna. And he wanted to show his love by buying lobster or best hilsa. He did not understand why I would like to eat lowly potol (a kind of a small green gourd) instead of kingly lobster. Ma took my side saying “Let her eat what she wants, what she does not get in USA! Don’t impose your desires on her, you glutton!” When I was little and we did not have money, we often had to resort to inexpensive vegetarian fare. The standing joke in our house was baba saying, “Aaj niramish hoye jak, dim er dalna.” (Let us eat vegetarian today. Egg curry.) Side note: Egg is not considered vegetarian in India.
After speaking to my cousin sister who will be with me during the puja, we decided we will eat ilish mach er jhol (hilsa fish curry) and shada bhat (white rice) after we come back home. Baba loved to eat and also loved to feed others. We believe he will smile down at us as we eat his favorite fish. And ma probably will look at him and shake her head, “Khali khaoa, khali khaoa”. (rough translation: all you think of is food)