The vacations till now, I ruminate in agonizing frustration, have been thoroughly uneventful and lacklustre.
The brutal April sun, the listless heat, the blinding glare weaving a maze of wicked illusions, the energy-sapping humidity have all conspired against me. I complain to Maa and Grandma, tears rolling down my cheeks. Why have vacations in summer at all ?
Almost a prisoner indoors, I idle around, looking for cool dark refuges to lay out my dolls, they loathe the sultry summers as much as I do.
Or follow Didi around in the house. Aimlessly. Pestering her with an unending volley of questions.
Or lie on Grandma’s ancient four-poster watching the sparrows chase themselves silly in the water-bath Manikkaka has set up in the garden.
This morning is no different.
I look around for someone to play with me. Or entertain me with stories.
Grandma is in her thakurghor.
The only time of the day she wants to herself and doesn’t appreciate being disturbed.
Even by her pampered princess.
Manikkaka is already at work.
He has old newspaper sheets spread in disciplined layers on the red oxide floor of the sunlit corridor. A plump green jackfruit lies in front of him. Awaiting its fate. I chuckle.
Manikkaka doesnt notice me. He greases his palm generously with mustard oil. And then proceeds to smear the blade of the bnoti (Bengali cutting implement), ominous as it catches a streak of the blazing sun, with oil.
Not the appropriate time, I conclude, given such a painstaking ordeal it is to peel and chop green jackfruit, messy with its white viscous glue that leaves a dirty black trail when you rub your fingers, to engage Manikkaka in trivial conversation.
Disappointed I go looking for Didi. She must be in her usual hide-out, the kitchen.
Didi is indeed in the kitchen. Stooped in front of the mud oonoon (oven), patiently stirring a pot of milk.
I want you to play with me, I entreat Didi.
Too much work this morning my Princess. She responds. Still fussing over the milk.
And then as an afterthought she quips, Boudi (as Didi calls Maa) is making a special pulao this morning and I need to keep everything ready in time.
Pulao ? My eyes light up. What pulao ?
Enchor Kofta Pulao. She tells me.
Aha !! Thats why Manikkaka is labouring on the obstinate jackfruit.
I go looking for Maa.
Find her in her bedroom. Lost in a book. A Rabindrasangeet hums on the radio.
What are you reading Maa ? I quiz. And Didi just told me you are making a pulao for lunch.
Yes, she responds with a smile. Not any pulao. A pulao from the house of the Tagores !!!
Rabindranath Tagore ? I ask in excitement.
I have already been introduced to Tagore by Grandma and Maa.
I love Kabuliwala. I adore Mini, I love Rahamat Khan, I weep in deep anguish when the Kabuliwala gets incarcerated in prison and I weep in sublime joy when years later he gets re-united with Mini on the day of her marriage.
I also know the national anthem by heart, can recite kumor parar gorur gari eloquently and can even sing momo chitte niti nritye. Though not as well as Maa does.
Did Rabindranath Tagore cook delicious food ? I ask.
Not Tagore, Maa laughs, although, mind me, he did relish his food. I am speaking of his family here – wife, sisters-in-law, nieces, grandnieces et al.
She goes on, a trifle absent-minded, The family can proudly claim to have modernized Bengali cuisine, allowed European cooking techniques to be experimented with in their kitchens and opened the doors for Awadhi influences to waft in. Which if you are a careful observer you shall see in the enchor kofta pulao today.
A lot of this sounds arcane to me.
Yet I nod.
At times it just feels good to be able to indulge in a grownup discussion.
So that was my first brush with Thakurbarir ranna – a blazing April morning when Maa cooked Enchor Kofta Pulao, a dish conceptualized by the Tagores more than a century back. A pulao which food aficionados might argue is actually a biryani.
The Enchor Kofta Pulao was divine. The melt-in-your-mouth koftas, the sinful gravy perfumed with saffron, the subtly flavored rice, the ingenious use of dal in the pulao lingered on my palate for days.
Enchor Kofta Pulao. Green jackrfuit koftas in a decadent gravy. A fragrant pulao of gobindobhog rice and musur dal. Assembled with love. Tastes divine !!