It is said that there is nothing more capable of producing nostalgic feelings than one’s sense of smell. We were all born with an olfactory time machine right in the middle of our faces. Just one whiff of the aroma in question whisks us at 88 mph to an earlier time in our lives.
- Unknown, the Internet.
Disclaimer: A lot of bong words have been used in this blog, because the subject is essentially bong. The author has tried his best to provide valid English translations side-by-side. Please bear with him, at least for this post. Happy Reading!
Every time my dad returned home from the local fish market with a sulk face, I asked, “Baba, ki hoyeche? Tumi ki amar upor rege gecho?” (Father, what happened? Are you angry at me?) With an innocence at its purest form and those watery eyes, that he would laugh and pat me on my back and say, “Na, baba, aajkaal aar bajaar e bhalo mache othe na, shob mach london chole jay” (No, father, nowadays, we don’t get good fishes in our market, all good ones go away to London). Obviously, at that point of time, unable to truly understand what he meant I went on wondering why he called me by the same name as I had.
Back in those days, I was yet to understand the profound (almost divine) connection between a true Bengali and fishes, until I left the fish laden shores of Bengal and found myself in the Indian Silicon valley to be served with only ‘sambar and rice’ for the next 4 years while a continuous torture of my dreadful engineering days spanned. Being a poet at heart, who swears by fishes, I was choked off from my only life stream! Oh! That aroma of the deeply fried and neatly sliced ‘bhetki mach er fry’ from the footpath stall, the smell of the effervescent mustard oil boiling in between fillets of fishes in the ‘kadhai’, the sweetened brown texture of the just fried ‘Ilish’ (Hilsa) ready to be served with a green chili, has the potential of giving a Bengali, almost an orgasm. I have a friend from school, who although isn’t too much of a fish eater, can smell a fish market and lead me to it, in case I cannot find it. She says it’s in her genes. Women! When I used to come home during semester holidays my mom cooked at least 2 different preparations of fishes for lunch, 8 years later, my mother-in-law adds up to it and has 4 different fish recipes hot and piping for her ‘jamai’ (son-in-law). And to be brutally honest I don’t mind eating as if there is no tomorrow. You take away fishes, Mohan Bagan & Tagore from a Bengali, and he will start missing home. It’s clichéd, yet true to its every bit. There is only one race in this entire world, before whom, Osho’s principles of – “satiate all your desires first and then reach out for spiritualism” would fall flat on its face. It’s salvation for us.
I submitted myself to the ‘sweet wrath’of marriage 1 and half year back. But unfortunately my devilish plan failed. Of all the true blue fish loving bengali girls swarming around me, I fell for the one who gets repelled by the smell of the fish? And I say, “Don’t you dare call that ‘a’ smell, that’s an aroma!” She just gives me that ‘and-you-are-ignored’ look and sways her way to the kitchen.
But, I hardly cared, because I had the services of my mother who would meticulously cook her only son, all the fishes in the world. I used to love going to the local fish market every morning, with my jeans folded up to my calves, jumping over the innumerable pot holes and entering a different world of its own, dingy atmosphere, low watt light bulbs hanging precariously right on top of the heap of fishes, flies swarming in every where you try to put your hands on, shambles all around with muffled voices of fish mongers calling out the random rates and specials of the day. Everything was there, ilish, rui, pabda, telapia, bhetki, chingri, magur blah blah, and I could go on till you are bored to death.
Then would come the classic part of bargaining. Its almost war, and its absolute prestige in these parts of the world. You set your fiesty eyes on the aromatic Hilsa, stealthily step closer to the fish monger and give him the wierdest look ever, pretending the fish is almost rotten. (although, you can see it moving around). When the fish monger notices you stepping closer, he opens up his slew of words ready with his state-of-the-art salesmanship.
Fish Monger (FM): Dada, padma r ilish niye jaan, kaal ke eshe bolben, kemon khelen.
(Dada, this Hilsa, is from the river padma (bangladesh) take it, tell me tomorrow, if you liked it or not!!) – as if he is going to give it off free!
Me: Durr pagla, tui amay shekhash? Eta padma r ilish? Tor baba r amol theke, ami mach kinchi re!
(Crap, you are going to teach me which is from Padma and which is not? Do I look like fool? I have been buying fishes before your father was born
FM: Dada, bolchi shono, ami tomay thokabo? Amar paap hobe na? koto ta lagbe bolo? Na hole shob shesh hoye jabe.
(Brother, trust me, why would I lie to you? I would go to hell. Now tell me how much do you need, else all be finished?) – he assumes you will take it and starts blowing polythene packets with his mouth.
Me: Koto nebe? E mach dekhe to mone hocche 500 taka r kg. tar beshi noy
(how much will you take? Looking at the state of the fish, it doesn’t look like it will more than 500/kg?) – haha, so much for that priceless bargain.
Finally, after much ado, and threats to buy the Hilsa from some other shop, you let go, and settle for Rs. 75o/kg, which originally was Rs. 1000/kg. This is an art, I must tell you, which comes only with years of practice and perseverence. You can call off a bluff, once or twice, but you cannot win over your father, who has been doing this since the past 60 years. Sigh! But it was a proud moment, when you actually fill your father’s shoes which he has been doing religiously for the past half a century. Insignificant maybe, to a lot of my reader’s, but its worth wondering about the circle of life. In UK, I go to a super market, called ASDA twice a week after office, to buy a couple of salmons or trouts! Lifeless! You cant even bargain. Holy Crap!! And the price tag is put on to the body of the fish, heck, why?
Untill recently, one my bengali collegue introduced me to a Bangaldeshi shop a.k.a ‘Bengal Stores’. Hell yeah, I found a treasure trove in there. The next day itself, braving the unpredictable London weather, I had landed a 3 kilograms of Rui mach (Rohu fish) on our kitchen sink – uncut! Much to the utter disbelief of my disgrace-to-bengali-clan darling wifey.
Needless to say I called up my parents and my father was particularly happy that his son could find all the good fishes in London which were taken away from our local fish markets.
Needless to say, that I had macher jol with 3 pieces dipped in it, prepared by my wife (btw, she cooks brilliant – as the englishmen say).
Also, needless to say that some of the best nostalgia and the best writings comes when I smell the aroma of the fish, tickling your olfactory nerves streaming up to your brain, making you home sick all over again with memories and parents. Suddenly London doesn’t seem fascinating enough. Why can’t I just apparate like Harry Potter. There is nothing like a bit of nostalgia, there nothing like a bit of…
This post has been written for the Ambipur Smelly-to Smiley contest held on IndiBlogger.