I’m sure the title of this post makes you, my beloved reader, want to dive right in and read. But sarcasm aside, this post really is random because that is precisely how the thoughts are flowing in my head right now.
So to start with what got me wanting to write tonight, I just finished watching an episode from Anthony Bourdain’s show called No Reservations. I love the guy. He doesn’t pretend to be perfect and he doesn’t give a shit if you turn up your nose at him. It makes the whole show much more genuine and likeable. But one of the things I absolutely and completely think the world of him for – he is one ‘firang’ (meaning foreign) chef who doesn’t describe India as “smelly” or “colourful”. That cliche, ladies and gentlemen, makes me see red. Seriously, after years of “exploring mystic beauty of India” all that the writers of travel/food shows got from that is that it smells funny and there are a lot of colours in there??Talk about keen observation.
I can give you multiple examples of this horridly overused and done-to-death cliche. Case in point, Floyd’s India. Sheesh. The man obviously couldn’t physically tolerate India, its heat and its people. So why bother perspiring excessively on international television, loudly exhaling all the time and finally describing the place as hot and smelly??Nothing but 30 minutes of irritation (ads included!).
Mr.Bourdain on the other hand is more tolerant of variations be it in culture, weather or food. To me, that is how a travel/food show host ideally should be – curious. In this particular episode, he describes India as a “fever dream”…impressive,poetic even. And so goddamned refreshing!Mr. Bourdain, I salute thee!
The episodes of No Reservation covering Kerala and Kolkata particularly make me feel fudgy inside. Why? Because I’m a Malayalee who was born and partially raised in Kolkata. Tadaa! I’m a true (and consequently weird) child of double-communism (or so it would seem!). The visuals of Kerala are alternatively familiar and intriguing. Having lived away from Kerala and visited very sporadically, I can never really boast of having known the place very well. Even when we visited Dad’s family, we were pretty much confined to certain streets of Kannur. The only vivid and clear memories I have of Kerala in my mind are of the Rajarajeshwara temple and my father’s ancestral house in Taliparamba.
When it comes to Kolkata, however, memories and mental images are aplenty. A tram lazily chugging past a road filled with hawkers’ stalls on either side. The sudden, fierce showers of Baisakh. Floating paper boats with my brother in floods that ensued. The strongest memories are that of my grandparents (worthy of a separate post), the Lake Market marketplace and the street food.
The marketplace at Lake Market area was nothing but a large space for street vendors to sell vegetables, fruits, flowers, fish, meat, eggs and all other kinds of produce. Imagine street after street of marketplace lined on both sides with produce and vendors calling out to you as you pass by, inviting you to come and take a look and make your purchase. Combine that image with many other potential customers, like yourself, peering into large wicker baskets or carefully examining vegetables spread out on a jute sack. This, along with sounds of loud persistent haggling, completes the idea what the marketplace looked and felt like in the golden sunlit Kolkata mornings.
My grandfather and I would walk hand-in-hand through the entire market, looking for all the things Ammamma had asked us to buy. We were regulars and most vendors knew us and thought we were a cute sight together. The entire marketplace experience, with the myriad sights and sounds, was magic to me every single day. The memory of it is still magical but never to be revisited. The market and my beloved grandfather are no more.
As for street food, I really can’t find words to describe how much I miss it! I think after Amma’s cooking, if there has been any particular food I have yearned for, it has to be the pani puris of Kolkata (locally called puchka). Not the sterile table with servers in hairnets and gloves kind of situation. The hawkers were sweaty, grimy and dirty from a long day’s hard work but those unhygienic hands made some of the best tasting food I’ve ever eaten. Apart from puchkas, there were jhaal muris (spiced puffed rice), churmur (crumbled pani puri type thing), googni (chickpeas in spicy gravy), aloo chop (dynamite fried potato stuff) and so on and so forth. Just mentioning their names has got me salivating like crazy! I often promise the husband that we’ll take a trip together just to explore the city and eat street food. I would definitely want my (imaginary for now) kids to as well!
Ah well, my nostalgia is rather endless but my brain wants me to shut the hell up and go to sleep. So with much appreciation for Tony Bourdain and a big hug to the readers who have survived this post, I bid thee goodnight.