There is no one I know who is so full of joie de vivre and exudes as much positivity, even when faced with the more pressing of circumstances, as Ila Mashi.
You don’t sound your usual self, she remarks when I called her a week or so ago to check if all was well, switch on your camera darling so that I can see you.
I am fine Mashi, I assure her, switching on my phone camera.
And you are clearly not eating well.
I have been gorging gluttonously, I counter her. And what’s keeping you busy Mashi ?
Oh, there’s so much happening here, she answers, I am teaching the girls English and History at a local school, thrice a week on evenings, I help the young lads with conversational English (I am so moved by their burning desire to excel in life, she narrates, a little guidance is all they need), on weekends I do door-to-door campaigns with the local womenfolk, encouraging families to send their daughters to school (Education of the girl child, I recall Mashi’s eloquent pitch to me many summers back, is key to a nation’s success), I am also working with experts, some of them in their eighties, to revive the dying art of Ganjifa cards. (It would be such a shame if these local crafts die between we have failed to promote them to the wider world.)
I listen with rapt attention.
So, you don’t want to come back to Kolkata ? I ask her.
I am fine here, she responds. The villagers adore me. They are my family.
Mashi had relocated to this nondescript village shortly after Mesho’s untimely demise earlier in this decade.
I am moving this weekend, she had announced abruptly, I want to continue the work your Mesho and I have now been doing for a while.
We had all tried to dissuade her from taking the plunge.
But once she had decided, there was no force that would deter her.
The house was left in charge of the ancient caretaker and his family and one fine morning Mashi was gone.
So you won’t return ? I asked again, a tinge of complaint stark in my voice.
It’s too lonely for me in Kolkata, she adds as an afterthought, being alone in that huge house, full of your Mesho’s memories, is unbearable. Work is worship, I am happiest when immersed in work.
I miss you Mashi, I reply, fighting back my tears.
And ever since, I have been thinking of Mashi and the time I was lucky to spend with her and Mesho, her books, her Kalighat pat paintings and of course the decadent meals she would cook for Dada and me.
Her chicken mayo sandwiches and mushrooms on toast.
Her Railway Mutton Curry and Morog Polao.
And her sinful Golda Chingrir Korma, that Dada and I absolutely adored.
And this morning, memories come rushing back as I prepare to cook Ila Mashi’s luxuriant Golda Chingrir Korma.
Your Mesho went to the market himself to pick up the best jumbo prawns when he heard you folks would be coming over, she would narrate, coaxing Dada and me to go for a second helping.
Golda Chingrir Korma. Jumbo prawns. Stewed patiently in yoghurt, milk and a sinful overload of cashews and raisins. Finished with caramelised onions. Food heaven !!!