An Amphan-battered Bengal inches back to normalcy.
Rising from the devastation left behind by the diabolical cyclone.
The Sunderbans are a picture of unimaginable ruin.
Breached embankments. Wrecked boats. Uprooted trees. Settlements engulfed by raging rivers. Arable cultivation lands inundated by the saline waters of the Bay. Homeless men and women cooped up in government buildings. Waiting for relief to be available.
Kolkata is still recovering from the gruesome shock of carnage, a stark reminder from Mother Nature of the consequences of taking Her for granted.
College Street wears a desolate look, shuttered shops, knee deep water, a lone cyclist wading through and books, priceless books, floating in despair in the sea of water.
First it was the scourge of the Covid.
Then the catastrophe wreaked by the fiendish storm.
How long before this vibrant rendezvous of bibliophiles of the city buzzes again, I wonder.
Kumartuli reeks of forlorn despair.
The ominous clouds of doubt over the fate of Durga Pujas this autumn have already been lurking in the background.
Amphan now strikes a demonic blow to whatsoever was remnant of hopes.
Ruined studios, drenched idols, worry-laced faces stare listlessly at the uncertain future the community shall need to grapple with.
Meanwhile, I try all the usual suspects to get vegetables and other staples delivered home, only to be greeted with profuse apologies.
Supply chains are still disrupted, farms have been ravaged, it’s not overnight, the gentleman on the phone sets my expectations as politely as he possibly can, that fresh produce shall return to the markets.
I am now riddled with helplessness and guilt.
What did you have this morning ? I ask Maa.
So you are back to worrying again ? Maa reprimands. There’s so much in the pantry to cook with.
You are avoiding my question Maa, I counter. You still didn’t tell me what you had for lunch.
Mashkolai Daler Khichuri and let me tell you it was delectable, comes the answer.
Nostalgia grips me as I am transported to childhood days in Karimganj – Grandma is in front of her clay oonoon in the soot-blackened kitchen, patiently stirring a pot of khichuri. She now tempers the khichuri with hing and an alluring perfume sends my olfactory nerves to an intoxicated high.
Are you still there ? Maa checks.
I haven’t had this in decades Maa. I hear myself answer.
Need the recipe Maa, I request.
Mashkolai Daler Khichuri. A mellifluous duet of aromatic gobindobhog and mashkolai dal. A whiff of hing. The perfume of ginger. The earthiness of cumin. Rustic yet delicious.
Another classic relegated to oblivion.
Mashkolai Daler Khichuri
- 1.5 cup mashkolai dal or black whole urad dal, with skin
- 0.75 cup gobindobhog rice
- 1.5 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp asafoetida or hing
- 4 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
- 3 bay leaves
- 3-4 dry red chillies
- 1 tbsp ginger freshly grated
- 1/2 tbsp cooking oil
- 2 tbsp ghee
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- salt to taste
- Dry roast the mashkolai dal, some 5-7 minutes. Soak in water, overnight.
- Soak the peppercorn and 3 tsp cumin seeds in hot water for 2-3 hours. Drain from water, make a smooth paste with a splash of water. Keep aside.
- Drain the soaked mashkolai dal from water, transfer to a deep bottomed pan. Add 4 cups of water, a generous pinch of salt and bring to a gentle simmer. Continue to cook till the dal is almost half cooked.
- Add the rice, a pinch of salt and turmeric powder, continue to cook till the dal and rice are cooked. If it’s getting dry, feel free to add warm water as needed. (This khichuri shall be of runny consistency.)
- Now stir in the cumin seeds and peppercorn paste, add the grated ginger, sugar and salt, give it a hearty mix, cook for 5 odd minutes.
- Heat oil in a separate pan, when smoking hot, throw in the remaining cumin seeds, fennel seeds, red chillies, hing and bay leaves. Allow the spices to splutter.
- Once the spices have released their aroma, carefully pour the oil and spices to the khichuri, mix well, cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Adjust seasonings. Finish with a dollop of ghee.