It’s long past sunset.
The last vestiges of the evening sun have ebbed out. The crimson of the twilight sky now enveloped by an all-encompassing sinister darkness.
The crickets are out, their cacophony of screeching punctuated occasionally by the ominous shrill cry of the night bird.
What’s Didi doing in the kitchen at so late an hour ? A playful inquisitive curiosity lures Dada and a little me to the kitchen.
I have written about Didi before. She’s Grandma’s shadow in the kitchen. Helping Grandma and Maa with chores in the household for as long as my memory serves. And Dada and my go-to Messiah when Maa and Grandma are both peeved with us.
She loves us fiercely.
We peep in. Taking every care that we are neither seen nor heard.
There’s Didi, her back to the door, too engrossed in what she is doing to even hear us. An ancient kansa kadai, battered with age but still radiant with vainglorious pride, thanks to all of Grandmas fuss with her cherished kansaware (My mother gifted it to me when I was getting married, she would flaunt), rests lazily on the mud oonoon. Full to the brim with oil. (Or is that ghee ?)
She’s deep frying something, Dada, addicted to all the deep-fried sins and more, whispers into my ears. I can hear him salivate.
The kitchen has been a cauldron of manic activity all week. It’s Sankranti next week, the celebration of harvest and Grandma, Maa and Didi have been furiously pottering away in the kitchen, preparing the most elaborate spreads of delectable pithes and pulis.
What do you think Didi is frying ? Dada quizzes in a hushed tone, drooling at the thought of yet another deep-fried delicacy.
Observing that I could not guess either, he tiptoes up to to Didi to steal a glance over her shoulders. Dragging me along.
Didi is furiously whipping a dull ivory-white batter that she has in a kansa bowl. Pausing only to add some mouri (fennel seeds). Then back to frenzied whisking again.
Aah. Didi is making roshbora. I am sure. Dada squeals in excitement. Didi, almost startled at the suddenness of Dadas high-pitched remark, turns to look at us.
Go and play now. She commands. With the pretence of an annoyance. I shall call you two when I am done.
No. I am not moving anywhere. Dada stubbornly revolts. And proceeds to sit next to Didi. I want to have some fritters emni emni (just like that) before you soak them into that syrup.
No. No. Not today. Grandma shall be fuming if I obliged you today. She plans to send roshbora to all the neighbours tomorrow morning. Didi almost pleads.
In mock agony, Dada threatens to leave the kitchen. Well aware that Didi cannot afford to see him unhappy.
OK. Just a couple. Didi submits. But promise that you shall not request for more.
Promise. Dada answers. His trick clearly has paid off. He is beaming now.
Didi takes some of the batter to a separate bowl. Sprinkles some salt. Adds some chillies. Forms balls with her palm and slides them gently into the oil.
Dada and my favourite dal boras.
This post is for Didi. And her love. Selfless. Pristine. A challenge to all those sceptics who live under the delusion that unconditional love needs a blood relationship.
Sadly, ravages of life compelled us to relocate home and hearth from the sylvan hamlet by the river in the Barak Valley to Kolkata. That was a time when the world had not yet been shrunk by the magic of mobiles or the brawn of the Internet. Over time, Didi faded into oblivion.
But its days as today when I am alone in my kitchen on a sun-blessed winter afternoon, just a week to go for Sankranti, that a potpourri of images of Didi come fleeting back. Her love for us and those delectable roshbora (or sinful dal bora) she delighted us with.
Roshbora it is, in my kitchen today. Urad dal fritters. Perfumed with fennel seeds. Drowned in a jaggery syrup. For them to soak all the sweetness. And Didis love.