Would a trip to Kolkata ever be complete without a ritualistic sojourn to the Maniktala Market ?
I can, much to Maa’s consternation, spend hours in the maacher bajar, enraptured by the sights and sounds, the hustle and bustle, walking up and down the slippery aisles, taking stock of the fish proudly on display, occasionally pausing to quench my curiosity.
O dada eta ki maach ? (What fish is this one ?)
And what a cauldron of activity it is !!
Fishmongers, perched on their elevated platforms, no different from royals on their pompous thrones, presiding over their delectable array of fish, engaged in animated conversation with their regular customers. And you guessed it right, it’s indeed football that’s the topic of discussion this morning – Neymar’s antics, Ronaldo’s free-kicks, Messi’s misses and the Belgian team that has been such a revelation.
Young helpers enthusiastically shouting their ware, splashing water once in a while on the fish, arranging and re-arranging them into disciplined rows. And once in a while, stealing a quick glance at their plastic-wrapped smartphones.
Menfolk furiously looking at their watches as they impatiently wait in serpentine queues to get their bhetkis filleted or their tangras cleaned. Oh no, can’t be late to office yet again, one quips in frustration.
An elderly lady haggling with the fishmonger over the outrageous price of chitol. Daylight robbery, she hollers, but that doesn’t deter her from buying the prized peti, does it ?
An old gentleman, clutching his neatly folded blue and green striped nylon bag, carefully maneuvering a puddle of water. Daughter has come home after a long time, he tells the fishmonger, a smile illuminating his wrinkle-riddled face, her favourite golda chingri it is today. While reminding himself to not forget the coconut on the way back.
A young boy, all of nine or ten captivated by the magur chasing each other silly in a battered aluminium drum filled with water.
Two retired friends wallowing in sweet nostalgia reminiscing times when ilish was still less than a hundred rupees a kilo and eating pomfret hadn’t yet become a fad.
The pabda that I pick up arrives home.
Albeit a couple of hours late.
Maa puts up a show of mock anger.
And then goes over to her kitchen.
What do you want to eat ? She asks.
A Kumro Pabda shall be quick, shall it not ? I respond. Or may be your special Doodh pabda ?
And then change my mind again.
Your Pabda Hingi, haven’t had it in years.
So Pabda Hingi it is for lunch.
Pabda Hingi. Gorgeous Pabda. A splutter of kalonji. The warmth of ginger. The earthiness of hing. A profusion of chopped coriander.
And of course, oodles of Maa’s love.
This is happiness.
This is food heaven !!