It’s a sultry autumn afternoon. An overwhelming quiet pervades, a sharp contrast to the hectic humdrum and hullabaloo of the morning.
Grandma, I notice, has dozed off on her rocking chair, the red leather-bound Ramayana cradled on her lap.
I sit, pompous as a queen, on Grandma’s ancient rosewood four-poster, watching the pair of red-crested bulbuls perched on the gnarled jackfruit tree. Abanindranth Thakur’s Khirer Putul, lying open in front of me, frowns in dismay on being overlooked.
My eyes suddenly catch Dada tiptoeing towards the kitchen. Stealthy, surreptitious steps.
And then just minutes later, he darts back to his room in a flash.
I decide to not pay heed and am back to my gorgeous bulbuls.
A cuckoo arrives now, hidden somewhere in the gulmohar tree, a frenzied riot of red, singing plaintive tunes.
I am unsure how long before I spot Dada secretively sneaking up to the kitchen again and then, hardly minutes later, dashing back to the refuge of his room.
My curiosity is stoked for sure.
But I choose to ignore him again.
And then it happens yet again.
No longer able to contain my curiosity, I get off the bed and tiptoe behind Dada. Careful to not alert him.
I see him enter the kitchen.
Beside the mud oonoon (clay oven), patiently rests one of Grandma’s kansa thalas (plates), glistening in unabashed pride as it catches a streak of the afternoon sun, covered by a bowl, a pristine white enamel with a pretty blue border all round the rim.
Dada lifts the bowl in a clean snatch, picks something from the plate, I cannot figure what though, and pops it into his mouth before returning the bowl to its precise place and scurrying out of the kitchen.
I wait for a couple of minutes.
Pin-drop silence again. Punctuated by bird-song.
It’s time now for me to investigate.
Circumspect steps, uncovering the plate and I immediately know what’s been tempting Dada to visit the kitchen so often this afternoon.
It’s the chapors.
Didi must have roasted these motor dal fritters this morning and left them covered, beside the cozy warmth of the dying embers of the oonoon, in anticipation of pairing them with vegetables for dinner.
A paroxysm of guilt overcomes me for a quick moment, but the allure of these finger-licking delicious chapors is not one I can conquer.
I clumsily tear off a shred from an already mutilated chapor, then another one and rush to the safe haven of Grandma’s room.
Dada and I make several more clandestine trips to the kitchen that afternoon and my last venture yields just crumbs.
But even those crumbs, I muse later that evening, are so incredibly addictive.
I am sure Didi knew the moment she saw the empty plate covered by the enamel bowl, just as she had left it, as to where her chapors had disappeared.
But she was not one to complaint.
The next morning Didi prepares a fresh batch of chapors and Grandma makes the quintessential Bengali delicacy, uchhe chapor ghonto.
One of those rare bittergourd dishes that Dada can be coaxed to have, without loads of ruckus.
Uchhe Chapor Ghonto. Bittergourd. Roasted motor dal fritters. The earthy fragrance of panchforon. The warmth of ginger.
Yet another classic from Grandmas kitchen.
And let me assure you, even if you are not a bittergourd fan, do try my Uchhe Chapor Ghonto, it shall make you a convert for sure !!!