Age is catching up fast on Grandma.
She no longer spends long hours in the soot -blackened ancient kitchen, whipping up our favourite delicacies, conspicuous by their absence are her inevitably last-minute lists of to-buys for Bapi and Manikkaka as they get ready for their daily sojourn to the local bajar (I am sure you didn’t scout hard for my chine kamini rice yesterday, did you? Or ata (custard apple) should have hit the market by now, can you have a look please ?), nor are the vegetables, fruits and grains subject to her critical scrutiny once they arrive home.
She spends long hours in her room, seated on her four poster, supported by a stack of pillows, dressed in pristine white linen, legs outstretched, the leather-bound Ramayana on her lap, staring listlessly at the horizon.
Maa, I am heading for the bajar, do you need anything ? Bapi religiously checks every morning, almost praying for a miracle, for Grandma to revert to her old active self, in complete control of our humble household, and rattle off her customary interminable lists.
But Grandma just smiles and nods her head.
And when he returns home this charcoal-black morning from the bajar, having braved the desultory drizzle and maneuvered the nasty puddles, he heads straight to Grandma’s room. Childlike exuberance stark in his steps.
You need to see what fish I have got, he announces.
Come and see Maa, Bapi coaxes.
Grandma does finally relent to Bapis fervent pleas, but the kachki maach fail to stir any emotions.
Not even a year back, she would have regaled us with anecdotes of Grandfather’s love for this small river fish. How he adored his Kachki Maacher Chorchori.
And would have proceeded to supervise how Maa cooked the chorchori. Delicate fish, she would advise, be gentle with them.
So the Kachki maach, slivers of shimmering silver, lie, unloved for once, on the cemented floor of the uthon under the brooding melancholy skies.
Didi, once done with her mid-morning chores, shall need to clean them thoroughly before anointing them with salt and golden turmeric.
The mood in the house is somber.
Bapi hardly says a word as he rushes through his breakfast before heading to the hospital. The crossword in the daily lies unattended.
Maa requests Didi to cook the Kachki Maacher Chorchori.
Didi doesn’t protest. I don’t miss the surprise on Didi’s face though.
And for lunch, Didi cooks a fiery Kachki Maacher Chorchori, wafer-thin batons of potatoes, a generous overload of onions, a handful of wicked green chillies, a glug of mustard oil and a profusion of coriander leaves.
But our favorite Kachki Maacher Chorchori doesn’t quite taste the same.
As the one cooked by Maa, under Grandma’s watchful eyes.
Kachki Maacher Chorchori
- 300 g kachki Maach or Ganges river sprats cleaned, washed and drained
- 1 big potato cut into sticks ( as shown in the picture)
- 2 big onions finely sliced
- 2 cloves garlics smashed
- 1 tsp ginger grated
- 1 tomato finely chopped
- 5-6 green chillies finely chopped
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp red chili powder
- 1/4 cup mustard oil
- 1/4 cup coriander leaves chopped
- salt to taste
- Take the finely sliced onions, tomato and green chillies in a bowl.
- Add a little salt and a pinch each of turmeric powder and red chilli powder. Add the grated ginger and 3 tbsp oil. Using your hand, mix well, softly mashing the onions, tomato and chillies as you mix.
- Transfer to a pan, add the potato sticks and cook for 10-12 minutes over a low flame.
- Now add the fish, give it a gentle mix. Be delicate, you do not want to break the fish.
- Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes over low flame. Give it a gentle stir.
- Add 1/4 cup warm water, let it cook for another 5-7 minutes.
- Adjust seasonings. Finish off with a drizzle of mustard oil and a handful of chopped coriander leaves.