Summer vacations have just started.
Days are scorching, Grandma discourages me from venturing outside during the day and I cannot stop complaining.
What’s vacations, I ask in deep anguish, if I have to stay indoors ?
However every other afternoon, ominous clouds appear from nowhere to usurp the heavens and blot the tyrannical sun, a blinding dust storm obfuscates the horizons, the palm trees in the backyard genuflect to appease the irate nature-gods, lightning serpents zig-zag across the ebony canvas of the sky, deafening claps of thunder intimidate a seven year old me and the torrential downpour that follows cools the scalded earth.
One such sultry summer day, Bapi gets home a garland of jui (jasmine), wrapped in a shaal pata, from the local florist and heads straight to his study.
Stoked by curiosity, I follow him.
Bapi pulls the ancient chair, upholstered with vintage green leather, embellished with golden studs that still shine as if new, to the wall, climbs onto the chair, diligently wipes the last speck of dust off the framed photograph of Robi Thakur, as Grandma addresses him, with a yellow velvet cloth and adorns the photograph with the garland.
From his vantage point, he notices me, half-hidden behind the door.
Today is Pochishe Boisakh, his birthday, Bapi preempts my question, before climbing down and returning the chair to where it stood.
And that is my first memory of Pochishe Boisakh.
I am just seven but already familiar with Robi Thakur.
I can recite kumor parar gorur gari with confidence, prompt Dada with the next line of Birpurush when he gets distracted, much to Maa’s chagrin, proudly hum a couple of lines of Amra sobai raja amader ei rajar rajotte (although it took me another decade or more to appreciate the innate sagacity behind the bard’s apparently simple lyrics) and do a vain pirouette to the tune of Momo chitte niti nritye.
Fast forward a couple of years and all is not love between me and the poet.
Memorizing his poems is akin to torture, Rabindra Sangeet does not excite me, writing character sketches of his complex protagonists is not enjoyable and endless assessments needing me to paraphrase yet another essay of his is mundane drudgery.
The poet and I are in perennial conflict.
I don’t remember when that changed though.
And I discover Tagore as a friend. Inseparable in happiness and in despair.
He provokes me to challenge custom.
He inspires me to celebrate life.
He helps me discover my gods.
He offers me solace when I am lonely.
He pacifies me when I am angry.
He counsels me when I am in doubt.
He comforts me when I am in agony.
And as I wake up this morning, yet another Pochishe Boisakh, I reflect on how my life would have been without the prophet.
I shudder to think.
For lunch, I cook a Thakurbarir Doodh Katla. Yet another delectable recipe from the hallowed kitchens of Jorasanko.
Thakurbarir Doodh Katla. Gorgeous steaks of Katla. Stewed in languorously reduced milk. The earthy warmth of ginger. The fragrance of crushed whole spices.
This is indeed divine !!!
If you love Thakurbarir Doodh Katla and are keen to try more recipes from the kitchens of the illustrious Tagores, here’s my compilation.
Thakurbarir Doodh Katla (Fish cooked in Milk)
- 4 pc fresh katla
- 1/2 cup reduced milk 500 ml reduced to ½ cup
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 4 tbsp onion juice
- 2 tsp ginger juice
- 2 green cardamoms
- 2 cloves
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 one inch cinnamon stick
- 2 tbsp mustard oil
- 2 tsp ghee
- 1/4 tsp garam masala powder
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- salt to taste
- Marinate the fish steaks with a little salt.
- Heat oil in a pan, shallow fry the fish. Keep aside on a kitchen towel.
- Into the same oil, throw in the bay leaves, crushed cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Allow the spices to release their aroma.
- Add the onion juice and ginger juice, cook over a medium flame for 2-3 minutes.
- Turn the heat to low, gently place the fried fish in the pan, pour the plain milk while continuously stirring (you do not want the milk to curdle) and allow the curry to simmer for 5-6 minutes.
- Now add the reduced milk, sprinkle in the sugar and salt, cook for a further 3-4 minutes.
- Adjust seasonings, finish with a dollop of ghee and a hearty sprinkle of garam masala powder.
- Serve hot.