“Motorshuti Diye Phoolkopir Dalna” stared at me from the menu – The name was so awesomely exotic that I made an immediate decision to taste it. Even though the dish was part of the genre which I generally frown upon in disgust. Vegetables.
I had spent the last day of the old year and the first couple of days of the new one in Calcutta – a city I’ve always wanted to visit. Incidentally, this statement had brought about many a raised eyebrow in several circles (“Calcutta?? Are you crazy! It’s crowded and humid!”, “Kall katta? hahahahahaha, More communists than here!”, ‘Kolkata!? Stinky city hain yaar!”
“Screw you all”, I calmly intoned, “I love the city even though I have never been there.”
This love probably started with Byomkesh Bakshi. When that genteel Bengali equivalent of Sherlock Holmes used to feature in DD regularly with Rajit Kapur enacting Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay’s sleuth, I was one of his biggest fans. The characters, all dressed in starched white (uhmm, my TV was B&W those days – I do hope it was white), the lovely names (I like those funny ‘o’s and ‘b’s in Bengali), the general demeanor of being more intelligent than the layman which everyone in the series projected – Byomkesh was really my hero those days!
And then the attraction grew with Satyajit Ray, with Sharat Chandra’s Parineeta, with the romanticism of the Anglican influence, with visuals of the Howrah Bridge, with Rabindranath…
Later in my life, I fell in love with several other cities from afar. One of them was Florence in Italy where was borne the cultural Renaissance of the 15th century. Those were heady days in Florence, when you could not take a stroll along the piazza in the middle of the town without bumping into a couple of geniuses. Da Vinci, Botticelli, Bernini – you name the genius and Florence had it.
Someone actually quoted once that if you take the entry for ‘M’ alone in Florence’s Almanac of distinguished citizens, you would begin with Machiavelli, Medici and Michelangelo. Similarly, at the peak of Calcutta’s cultural revolution, the entry for ‘M’ alone would have probably turned up Mukherjee, Mukherjee and yet another Mukherjee. Not bad.
So off to Kolkata went I, with my hair in a braid and a song on my lips.
And the vacation was just lovely. In addition to all the cultural and social awesomeness, we also enjoyed the sumptuous Bong food. Before leaving home, I had made a detailed schedule of restaurants to patronize each day – for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. And that was how, during dinner on the 2nd day, I stumbled onto “Motorshuti Diye Phoolkopir Dalna”
The dish sounded like something straight out of a Haruki Murakami novel – I love the Japanese original titles of his books, which goes like “Nejimaki-dori Kuronikuru” (The wind-up bird chronicle), “Sekai no owari to hado-boirudo wandarando” (Hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world). Try saying that out loud in a Japanese accent – it is hauntingly beautiful, those rolling letters. And so very similar to our Motorshuti Diye Phoolkopir Dalna.
Soon enough, the waiter brought in a steaming dish of Motorshuti. And as I rubbed my hands together, licked my lips in anticipation and just stopped short of whispering ‘My Preciousss’, he lifted the lid, revealing the exotic Murakamic dish inside.
Oh well, in retrospect I should have been more alert. A second glance should have been enough to establish the connection between “Motor” and plain old “Matar” and between “Phoolkopir” and the less exotic “Phoolgobi”.
Darn it. And I blame none other than Haruki Murakami for this fiasco.
Delhi greeted us with dense fog and a visibility of about 10.5 metres on arrival. The flight back was quite adventurous in fact, with every other carrier but ours deciding not to risk landing in the unfavourable conditions. Such things could not deter our pilot of course.
This gentleman was a certain Yashowardhan Singh, a true blue Punjabi who stood 6 1/2 feet tall and ate Aloo Parathas for breakfast every day. I think.
Soon as we all settled down in the plane, Yashowardhan Singh grabbed the PA system and bellowed, “Dear passengers, Delhi is covered with heavy fog at the moment. Visibility is less than the minimum 150 metres required to land an aircraft. So we are not sure whether we would be allowed to land. But let us take a chance and see what happens. Have a nice flight. All izz well.” And on cue, the stewardess distributed sweets and wet wipes. True Story. Not a bit of embellishment.
But there was something strangely magnificent about the man Yashowardhan that we all knew deep within that he would take us to our destination safe and sound. He was the kind of man whom the Indian service industry prided itself on.
Later in Delhi, we learnt that ours was the only flight which landed during that period of heavy fog. Yashowardhan Singh had indeed flown like a true maverick. He must have sat in his seat as cool as a cucumber while performing the dreaded no-visibility landing, executing it single-handedly. Or with just a finger. In fact, he probably landed the plane telepathically while performing a cross-step waltz with the stewardess inside the cockpit. And contemplating calling her a pstewartossz so that it would be an anagram of cross-step waltz. Well, almost.
I love the way Delhi looks now though. It is spooky at night, with the fog hanging like a shroud over the city, creating shapes that resemble monsters. Or sometimes ghosts.
As I was on my way to drop my girlfriend (who was leaving after her vacation) to the airport yesterday, I waxed eloquent staring out of cab window –
“Look yonder – you can only see the top portion of that construction crane. The rest is lost in the fog. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Like straight out of an alien landscape. An alien winter wonderland. Foggy and dreamy..”
“Dude, I’m leaving. Could you focus on me for a moment?”
“Fog is on what?”
Upon which she gave up and left me alone with the fogments of my alienist imagination.