Spice Of Life
Spice Of Life
Hrishikesh opened the main gate and entered his house. It was 08:00 in the morning. He used to get up exactly at 06:00 every day with the alarm and joined the laughing club in the adjacent park at 06:30. After having a cup of tea with his friends on the roadside "Bhola's tea stall " he returned home. There he found his wife Nirmala sitting on the patio tea table in their lawn under the huge red and white umbrella with tea ready waiting for him.
This had been the daily morning routine for the couple for the last seven years since he retired as a Professor of French from Chandannagar college.
Hrishikesh Banerjee was an elegant, broad minded and soft spoken person with an electrifying personality. The constant smile at the corner of his lips made him not only an all time favourite Professor to his students, but also a helpful and generous neighbour to the people of Chandannagar. He stayed in this huge bungalow in Chandannagar along the river Ganges, which was built by his great grandfather in an Indo French architecture, with his wife Nirmala and three helpers. He grew up influenced by the French lifestyle that runs in his family but was well rooted to his Bengali traditions and culture.
But that day, though the morning was glorious with the sun spreading its warmth breaking the crystals of the cold winter chill, and the lawn was looking like a rainbow with colourful winter blooms dancing in joy, Hrishikesh noticed Nirmala's face contorted into a snarl.
" What happened? " Hrishikesh asked, trying to understand the mood of the moment. There was a stony silence. Suddenly Nirmala burst out in anger,
" Your daughter-in-law called up," Nirmala said, her stare fixated at Hrishikesh.
" She has invited us next Sunday at their Kolkata flat, it's her birthday. " Nirmala rumbled.
" So what is the problem? She is your daughter-in-law too, we must go, she will be happy. " Hrishikesh tried to make her understand.
" And what about my happiness! " Nirmala huffed.
" She did some magic on my only son, that Punjabi girl, no culture, eating rotis and bread day and night," Nirmala continued." I sensed something queer the day Bikash brought her home to introduce with us, that something was fishy. She brainwashed him completely. Otherwise, my son would listen to me!" fury settled across her visage.
"There is nothing wrong with her." Hrishikesh tried to justify." She is well educated, well settled in life, belongs to a good family , very pretty and the main thing is that Bikash chose her as his soulmate. It's their life , they need to decide. You can't sway him like a baby throughout.
" Nothing wrong! " Nirmala looked at Hrishikesh with hard staring eyes.
"Everything is a problem. " she won't give up.
" Look at her name! Santosh! A boy's name.
What if we had given our son the same name! The wedding card would have said " Santosh weds Santosh " Nirmala's voice checked to seethe with emotions.
Hrishikesh grinned as he poured tea and handed her the cup. He pressed her shoulder gently to pacify her.
But she continued.
" Right after marriage, they shifted to their new flat in Kolkata " she said.
"You are now behaving childish " Hrishikesh said in a soft voice.
" You also know very well, it's not possible for Babai ( Bikash's nick name ) to travel from Chandannagar every day. Before marriage also he was staying with a friend in Kolkata. "
" She does not know how to cook bengali food. And above that she is a vegetarian. God knows what rubbish she is making Babai eat. Since her marriage I have heard about diet only for the two months when she stayed with us. She was flabbergasted seeing our type of cooking with oil and masala. She restricts Babai on everything , even food ! My poor child has to eat after measuring calories. By now he must be moving with a weighing scale! My dear son, how I used to feed him, how much he loves bengali non vegetarian food cooked by me , bechara must be starving now. '' Nirmala complained.
" I will not eat roti for lunch if she offers.
I want my food with all the masala, the way I cook. Otherwise, I will come back empty stomach, I am keeping you well informed from beforehand. No one in our house can eat such blunt food that she eats. How much my son must be suffering. " Nirmala got up to go inside the house.
" You are overreacting now, " Hrishikesh told Nirmala. She gave him an infuriated look and went inside.
Nirmala's age could not do any injustice to her captivating beauty. Her long black ,little wavy hair touching her waist , her broad eyes, her saree clad petit structure , together made her a perfect bengali traditional beauty.
Hrishikesh used to get mesmerised by the red oversized bindi in between her eyebrows even after forty two years of their marriage. Her unblemished milk white skin blinded him whenever he expressed his love for her through his eyes. He loved the little wrinkles on her skin that had witnessed the long journey they travelled together. Coming from a joint family culture from Jorasako in Central Kolkata , she was totally used to her customary bengali traditions which she continued even after her marriage to Hrishikesh.
On Sunday morning, Nirmala and Hrishikesh started just after having their morning tea.
Nirmala had packed breakfast to eat on the way. She was wearing a red and white Jamdani saree, her hair tied in a loose bun held together with a silver hairpin with jhumkas dangling. Her face was looking celestial with her trademark red oversized bindi.
Hrishikesh wore a grey silk traditional bengali punjabi with black embroidered jacket paired with fine cotton white dhoti.
By the time they reached Bikash's flat , it was past noon.
Bikash was waiting at the main entrance to receive them.
It was the first time his parents were visiting his house. He was over the moon.
Bikash, the only son of Hrishikesh and Nirmala was from his childhood a decent and well behaved boy with high moral values. After completing his schooling in Chandannagar , he went to study in IIT Delhi. There he met Santosh, younger sister of his batchmate Amandeep. She was doing her Bsc in Nutrition then. They fell in love and decided to marry after getting jobs.
Bikash joined a top bank in Kolkata as a manager and Santosh joined a hospital in Delhi as a consultant dietician.
For marriage they did not face any problem from Santosh's family or Hrishikesh for that matter. Only Nirmala argued in her dissent stating the difference in culture , food habit, and the load of adjustments they all will have to make. Bikash could not blame Nirmala for her repellent behaviour , as he himself had experienced a totally different culture while staying in Delhi which was contrary to the surroundings in which he had grown up.
But Santosh was very different. Bikash got enthralled by her simplicity. She was independent and confident yet did not hesitate to resign and shift base to Kolkata to be with Bikash though there was no compulsion from his side.
There was no way Bikash could think of a life without Santosh and so he persuaded Nirmala to agree for their marriage. His father's instigation worked wonders and Nirmala agreed to the marriage.
But deep down Nirmala has a peevish feeling and decided to train the punjabi girl to make her an ideal bengali daughter-in-law.
But she did not get the chance.
Bikash had long working hours in his office and Santosh also joined a hospital quite close to his office. It was not possible for them to travel from Chandannagar to and fro daily.
And so within a couple of months ,Bikash bought a flat in Kolkata near their office area.
Nirmala did not go with them the day they shifted. It's been more than six months since then.
Nirmala had a feeling of his son being snatched away from her , though Hrishikesh was impervious about it.
Santosh made it a point to call them on weekends even if it slipped Bikash's mind.
She was trying her best to bridge the gap between her mother-in-law and her. She was making all efforts to get acclimated to the new environment.
As soon as Nirmala and Hrishikesh got down from the car Bikash approached them with a jovial smile and touched their feet and gave his mother a tight hug. The flat was on the eleventh floor. In the lift , Nirmala envisaged the interior of the flat as a very modern arrangement depicting North Indian culture throughout.
Coming out of the lift, the flat was on the extreme left corner. They all stood in front of the door and Bikash rang the bell.
Nirmala noticed the name plate , " Banerjee's " written on it with a small brass Idol of Lord Ganesha attached to the side.
Santosh opened the door at once with a broad smile that manifested her child like innocence. She too touched their feet and welcomed them in.
Nirmala had never seen Santosh in such a mien. She was wearing a light blue cotton katha stitched saree with light gold jewellery. But the thing that caught both Nirmala and Hrishikesh by surprise was the oversized red bindi in between her eyebrows.
"Isn't she looking like ma? Bikash said looking at his parents as he caught them exchanging looks.
The living room had a traditional look adorned with dark polished wooden furniture made of rosewood. The sea green wall facing the entrance had a huge painting of Rabindranath Tagore black and white with a few lines of his poem written on the lower corner. The other wall had a table with few dokra and terracotta sculptures nicely arranged.
Santosh pointed out the easy chair and said " baba you sit on it , I got it specially for you. You will not miss Chandannagar home sitting in it. She chuckled and started getting things ready for lunch.
With an addled look she turned towards Nirmala and said " come ma for lunch , you must be hungry."
With her mind preset as what to expect on the dining table , Nirmala was bewildered looking at the dishes. There was traditional bengali food for lunch. Rice, dal , 3 types of fries, katla fish kalia, prawn malaikari, pomfret fry and mutton.
" They look so delicious but how will I eat so much ! " Hrishikesh said, looking at Santosh ,appreciating the great deal of endurance that she had shown. In his mind , he prized his son's choice.
"Keep some space baba , I have made malpua for you, your favourite sweet. " she said with a childish grin." But I don't know whether the spices are all in proportion as I could not taste them ", she said trying to vindicate her limitations.
The food was passably good to taste, but not up to the standard to match Nirmala. There were several deficits. The malaikari was too sweet, the spices in the mutton were not in proportion, too much of garam masala in it, the pomfret was not properly marinated and the fish kalia had too much gravy and less masala and oil.
The only thing that was perfect was dal and malpua though both did not have the traditional bengali taste.
After lunch, they all went inside the bedroom and sat on the bed.
Santosh brought paan with sweet masala for Nirmala and sat beside her.
" You did not tell me how the food was, ma ? " Santosh asked her with an indulged look.
" Better than mine " Nirmala put her hand on Santosh's head with affection and dragged her close to her. " Yes I mean it ".Nirmala's eyes became misty with the feeling of motherliness towards her.
" Then stay for a few days ma with us , this house feels void without both of you " Santosh pleaded.
" On one condition." Said Nirmala with an ingenious smile.
"What?" Both Bikash and Santosh said together.
" You will cook punjabi food for us, " she said. Hrishikesh amazed at her witty banter gazed at Nirmala through the corner of his eyes.
Santosh jumped with excitement " I will take leave for few days "
" I can't, " Bikash said.
" No need," Nirmala said " I will have my daughter with me."
" And make a proper diet chart for baba " Nirmala looked at Hrishikesh with her impressive eyes and said." He eats too much oily and rich food now a days."
Santosh lay down putting her head on Nirmala's lap and said " I will make two, one for each one of you ". She closed her eyes, grasping Nirmala by her waist.
Nirmala realized the true spice of life. As the taste of food is enhanced by adding all spices in the correct proportion , life also becomes content and beautiful in the presence of all types of emotions that strengthens relationships.
As only putting too much sugar spoils the taste of food. A complete meal requires to fulfil all taste buds like salt,bitter,chilli,added with all spices.Similarly only love makes relationships monotonous, little fights and difference of opinion and culture and habits spices up life.
As long as we sing the same National Anthem there cannot be any difference in people of different states. The states are just like different spices when mixed together enhances the taste of food called brotherhood and humanity.
We will feel no antagonism towards one another if we keep away our ego that creates food poisoning.