I am hardly ten.
Just the age when the tragic enigma of Death has started to loom large on my psyche.
I am scared of death.
And I am crying inconsolably.
It’s Sunday afternoon and Bapi has just finished narrating the story of Khudiram Bose.
Intrepid. Undaunted by the spectre of death
Walking to the gallows. With a plucky smile on his countenance.
And he is all of eighteen.
Like Joyda in our community. Who has just concluded high school and headed to university in Guwahati.
I have heard the story of this dreamy-eyed orphan from Midnapore many many times over. And every time, as much as I have detested being seen in tears, especially by Dada (who never spares an opportunity to tease me for being foolishly maudlin), my lacrimal glands have given way.
But I want yet more stories from Bapi. On the freedom struggle.
I am familiar with Nehru, Gandhi and Netaji, I just about comprehend the essence of non-violence (although it is arcane to me why one was not expected to retaliate despite being bullied) and the chronicle of Netaji evading all the surveillance to escape to Kabul never ceases to astonish me.
One more story Bapi, I plead.
And thus Bapi commences his story of Masterda. The humble school teacher who dared to take on the might of the Empire.
I sit transfixed, awestruck by the gallantry of the selfless men and ladies – the assault on the police armoury, the thunderbolt raid on the European Club in Chittagong, Masterda hoisting the national flag and proclaiming a revolutionary government (Bapi I can clearly sense is choked with emotion) and the subsequent tragedy of Masterdas arrest.
I am weeping again, I realise.
Bapi is quick to divert my attention.
When in Chittagong, he fondly reminisces, we would spend hours on weekends in front of the Pahartali European Club enacting how the revolutionaries would have stormed the premises.
He smiles. Have I told you about Pritilata Waddedar? He asks me.
No, I respond, wiping my tears.
The discussion steers invariably to food. No story about Chittagong would ever be complete without a glowing tribute to her delectable cuisine – the delightful smorgasbord of dried fish ranging from the fiery loitya shutki to the sinfully addictive chhuri shutki, the decadent mezban feasts where everyone was welcome and the finger licking languorously cooked kala bhuna. What a hedonistic offering this was !!
It took me multiple attempts to get my kala bhuna perfect (and I took the liberty to use mutton instead of the customary beef), but what a pleasure it was when finally the flavour profile was just as I had desired it to be.
Creators pride, I blushed.
Kala Bhuna. Tender mutton. Languorously stewed in its own juices. Over a tired flame. An overload of fried onions. A bouquet of whole spices. And that earthy perfume of radhuni that’s a standout. Divine !!!