The radio is the cynosure of the humble study in our house.
The wooden contraption, religiously dusted by Didi and veiled by a cover when not in use, one that Maa had embroidered many summers back, is replete with a chaotic profusion of arcane dials and knobs and a solitary antenna, standing proud and tall.
It’s incomprehensible to me though why Bapi is so fascinated by the radio.
Back home, enervated after a long hectic day of tending to patients in the hospital, the study is his oasis of tranquil and calm, he spends hours in front of the radio, playing with the knobs and dials, fidgeting with the antenna, till the whispers fade away and a baritone voice speaks with scintillating clarity from behind the box.
That’s the BBC, Bapi would remark to Dada and me if we happened to be around, isn’t it astounding how someone speaking in far-flung London can be heard, intelligible and clear, thousands of miles away in our little study ? That’s the power of science, he would remind us, childlike excitement stark in his voice.
Then there are those sultry languorous afternoons when the red and maroon giants clash with their eternal red and yellow rivals. The battle of the Bengals, as Bapi would chuckle.
The invisible voice booming from within the magic-box, as I would refer to the radio till even a year or two back, is lively and animated, if not outright theatrical, and although I understand next to nothing of football, the melodramatic commentary keeps me amused and engaged.
Or those days when Maa, fatigued after a morning in the kitchen, tunes in to Akashvaani Kolkata. And a musical procession of Rabindra Sangeet stalwarts marches gracefully past. As a playlist of Tagore’s mellifluous melodies resonates across the study.
My first brush with Kobiguru.
An affair that continues unabated to this very day.
Or those rare occasions when Vividha Bharati hums a string of Hindi tunes.
The eccentric genius that was Kishore Kumar. The melancholic Mukesh. Or the ebullient Geeta Dutt.
So is life.
Till one day when our drawing room is invaded by the television.
And before long, the television, still in its monochrome avatar, emerges as the luminary of the drawing room.
The year passes by.
The television keep us regaled with tales from across the planet and beyond.
Khalistan gets increasing mention in our dinner table conversations.
Sarah Jahan se Achcha, a beaming Rakesh Sharma answers, when queried by the Prime Minister what India looked like from outer space.
The Soviets boycott the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
When shall our world see an end to this futile Cold War, a despondent Bapi occasionally muses.
Then one October morning, the Prime Minister falls to a lethal spray of bullets fired by her own disgruntled guards.
And to round up the year, a tragic gas leak smothers thousands of unsuspecting men, women and children in their sleep in sylvan Bhopal.
By the time Dada and I welcome the next year, the radio has been relegated to a realm of oblivion.
And so, Bapi’s once-cherished radio remains forgotten.
Barring one day in the year though.
One day when the radio returns to its position of pre-eminence in the house.
The day of the Mahalaya.
The day that marks the beginning of the debipaksha and heralds the arrival of Maa Durga.
The onset of a five days of fun and festivities, celebration and revelry.
At the crack of dawn, the radio unfailingly springs into life and Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s electrifying voice, impassioned and soulful, as he chants the Mahishasur Mardini, good triumphing over evil, reverberates across the house.
Garlands of marigold, pompous orange alternating with cheerful yellow, deck up the red oxide daalaan.
The perfume of dhoop and dhuno wafts from the puja room.
One such Mahalaya, Maa cooks us a delectable Narkel Chingri Pulao. It becomes an instant hit, Dada and I relish every morsel of it.
Narkel Chingri Pulao. A symphony of aromatic gobindobhog rice and plump Bay of Bengal prawns. The sublime sweetness of coconut. The fragrance of whole spices. The crunch of toasted coconut shavings.
Just what a festive meal demands.
If you haven’t yet planned what to be cooking for the Pujas, my Narkel Chingri Pulao is a must-try for sure !!
Narkel Chingri Pulao (Prawn Pilaf with Coconut)
- 2 cups gobindobhog rice washed and drained
- 150 g medium sized prawns de-shelled , deveined and heads removed
- 1.5 cup coconut milk
- 3 tbsp freshly grated coconut
- 1/2 cup coconut shavings chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 green cardamom
- 3 cloves
- 1 one inch cinnamon stick
- 1/2 cup fried onions
- 3 big onion coarsely ground
- 2 tsp ginger paste
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- 1.5 tsp turmeric powder
- 3 tbsp mustard oil
- 2 tbsp ghee
- 1/2 tsp garam masala powder
- 2 tsp sugar
- salt to taste
- Heat a little oil in a pan, shallow fry the coconut shavings till a gorgeous golden. Keep aside on a kitchen absorbent towel.
- Smear the prawns with a little turmeric powder and salt.
- Heat 1 tbsp of mustard oil in a deep bottomed frying pan. Add the prawns, fry till light golden (take care to not over-fry the prawns). Keep aside.
- Add the remaining oil and 1 tbsp ghee to the same pan, throw in the bay leaves, crushed cinnamon, cloves and green cardamom, saute for a minute or so. Allow the spices to release their aroma.
- Add the coarsely ground onions, fry till the onions are soft and lightly browned.
- Stir in the ginger paste, saute for a minute or two.
- Now add the rice, sprinkle in the turmeric powder, red chilli powder and salt. Saute gently over a medium flame, taking care not to be too hard on the rice grains, some 3-5 minutes I would say.
- Pour 2.5 cups of warm water and ½ cup of coconut milk into the rice, cook over a medium flame till the water and coconut milk are almost completely absorbed.
- Add the fried prawns, grated coconut, fried coconut slices (remember to keep aside a couple of tablespoons for the final garnish) and sugar, give it a gentle loving stir.
- Adjust seasonings.
- Add the remaining coconut milk and ¼ cup of warm water, cook until the coconut milk is completely incorporated into the rice and the rice is perefectly done. Another 10-12 minutes I would reckon.
- Switch off the flame, finish with a dollop of ghee, a throw of fried coconut slices and fried onions and a hearty sprinkle of garam masala powder.
- Cover, allow to rest for 10-12 minutes.
- Narkel Chingri Pulao is ready to serve.