I sat down for breakfast. In another ten minutes, I’d have to rush out to get the bus to office. That day it was a new client, and I’d also have to take a download from my boss about how to go about starting statutory audit. I was mentally trying to figure out how to reach the client’s office from my Lyons Range office in Calcutta. And then my eyes fell on the plate that the cook-didi just served in front of me. I tenderly put the daal on the rice, gingerly fingered the tarkari curry, and hesitatingly put the first morsel of food in my mouth. Again a disaster. Every day for the last two weeks this has been happening. I just couldn’t swallow that food.
This was 1993. I was twenty-one. I got married a fortnight back after appearing for my final year undergraduate exams. With salwar-kameez-urna, my shoulder-length curly hair firmly pulled back in a stern horse-tail, I wore the traditional shakha-pola bangles and applied sindur prominently on my hair-parting.
Throughout school and college, I was expected to focus only on studies. Maa cooked the most delicious Bengali and north Indian dishes, but never let me in the kitchen beyond wiping washed utensils. I was hurriedly given quick lessons on a few signature dishes a couple of days before my wedding, so that I could pull up something if there were guests at my in-laws’. I couldn’t cook regular every-day dishes.
So nothing prepared me for the cook’s fare at my in-laws’. Every day I left home for work without breakfast, after pretending to have a few morsels. I had hinted to my husband that I did not like the food, and he suggested I talk to my mom-in-law. I couldn’t accomplish that feat. As a kid I was so shy that I could never ask for anything, not even from Maa or Baba.
Cut back to the breakfast. As I stared at the bland tasteless plate, unknowingly tear-drops fell on the daal-and-rice. I tried to stifle the sob so that no one heard it.
Then I felt a hand on my back. As I tried to quickly wipe my face, I heard him saying, ‘You can’t eat –right? I am a good cook, I will cook for you’.
I started giggling when I looked at his kind eyes below his Brezhnev-like bushy eyebrows. The Left Front Chairman, and General Secretary of CPI(M), who was at the helm of political affairs of West Bengal, was offering to prepare breakfast for his daughter-in-law. In those days it was difficult for him to give appointment to cabinet ministers. The impossibility of the situation made us both laugh, but I did not feel helpless any more. That loving touch, those compassionate eyes, and the genuineness of his voice melted all the abhiman, and even the hunger dissipated. Who needs food when you have such a darling father-in-law. He did not have to actually prepare anything, just the gesture made me his fan, and brat of a daughter-in-law forever. That incident was the foundation of our relationship, and I never hesitated to argue, pull his legs or be unabashed about my fondest regards and love for him. At times I would even threaten to pluck his bushy eyebrows when he was asleep!
Six years later when my marriage ended, I repented to my ex-husband that I couldn’t bear to think that I’ll have to stay away from the loving presence of his Baba. My Baba too.