You know for a fact that no one knows Biryani like you do. No one loves biryani like you do. No one misses biryani like you do.
You don’t get anything in your neighbourhood that even remotely resembles biryani. Here in Kolkata, when you were in the mood for some subtlety in your Biryani you’d walk down to Aminia. For a full bodied taste, you’d stroll down to Aliya/ Shiraz/ Arsalan. For a plate of sumputous lip smacking biryani in general, with a large chunk of aaloo and one whole dim seddho (boiled egg) you used to step out of that car/ bus/ auto/ taxi anywhere in Kolkata. And just in case you were one of those adventurous ones, you walked frequently down that dingy lane off CIT road Puddopukur for the heavenly beef biryani at Qayum’s. You have never tasted better Biryani. Anywhere. In the World.
Where you drowned your sorrows. Where you made friends. Where you graduated out of childhood. You grieved over lost love/ first break up over pints of beer or pegs of rum or whatever your choice of poison was. You passionately debated Nihilism and Existentialism in the musty corridor of the Olypub, cigarette in hand, after having actively helped the well done beef steak to its rightful destination (to your tummy that is).
You’re not decided whether he is the hero or the villain of the Kolkata roads. Not yet. He might have flatly refused to take you to the most convenient of locations. He might have dropped you right at your doorstep at 4 AM when you were too drunk from that binge session at Park Street to give him directions (he remembers you from the last ride you took in his cab). He has argued with you over topics ranging from the fare chart, politics, sports to the sanskaars of the present generation. He was the silent witness of your first drag of smoke and watchful guard during that first quick kiss.
It’s not Puchka. It’s Phuchka. That’s what you have tried to explain in vain to your colleagues and friends there. This deep fried thin skinned hollow flourball with a filling of mashed potato with spices, dipped in tamarind water is a foodie’s delight and a dietician’s nightmare. They do not mash the potato like they do it here in Kolkata. The flour is not as crisp with memories and the water is not as tangy with love.
If you are a boy, 15th August was more about that day long football tournament than anything else. Or that annual school football match. You woke up sharp at six to rush to the maidan for your weekly muddy joust of football. Football was your first love.
The Norwesters they call it. But you always thought that the English word lacked the punch for once. Kaalboishakhi in all its glory is what made you aware of all the emotions that homo sapiens are capable of experiencing. And that smell of the moist earth. That always kind of meant that the final exams were over. Those Kaalboishakhi evenings made you wonder what if you were a kite or what if you could fly, directionless, like that yellow leaf. Those were evenings that made you rhyme your first verse.
The tea stall. It was always less about the tea and more about the adda. The clay bhaanr that carefully kept the searing heat from travelling to your fingertips while you sipped the boiling hot tea. The kaku with the sokaler kagoj. Or the Sandho Ajkal. The transistor radio blaring out live commentaries of the Mohunbagan-East Bengal football match or the cricket world cup.
The Geriatric Jethu
The para’r jethu, (who claims to have accomplished wondrous deeds when his hair was still black and he was a foot and a half taller). He lectured you on everything from bankimchandra to bishnu puran. He’s the Windows 98 version of Wikipedia. If you were a girl, he has cast disapproving glances at you when you tried that skirt out for the first time. If you were a boy, he probably has advised you to drive the ball with your head down and steady.
When the biological clock of Kolkata worked upside down. When the city stayed awake throughout the night, keeping you company, while you pandal hopped first with parents and then with friends. And Maddox Square was its very own DOS version of facebook, where the classmate from school/ college suddenly looked hot/ handsome.
Your Home. Where you reached late, night after night. Where they cared whether you ate before sleeping. Your mom and the way she blew warm air on her aanchol to give you a quick warm compress every time you poked your eye. Your dad and all those times when he got you that ice cream or that comic book or that toy you so wanted or scolded you and didn’t. Your brother who played pranks on you or was your partner in crime. Dadu or Dida for the umpteen times they saved your ass. For that chhad or that one small window that let the sky dance on your maths notebooks on those pleasant afternoons.