Getting married is very stressful business. Not only do I say this, just ask any affected party and they will all agree with what I am saying. Why, what about you? Those of you who are married, don’t you agree with my point of view?
There are so many angles to this marriage thing. You are picking up a whole human being from the atmosphere that she has been used to all her life, and transplanting her to a wholly new atmosphere and expecting her to hit the ground running. It is grossly unfair and the path is fraught with difficulties. I am not being biased here and talking about only the female of the species. The males have their own problems, I am sure. They can no longer throw the wet towel on the bed and expect it to go away by itself and neither can they step out of their trousers, leaving them as is, till it is time to step into them again the next day. Why, even plants have their own opinions about these changes. If they don’t like a change, they just up and die. Of course I agree that what they do is a bit drastic. Die? I mean, that’s carrying things too far, isn’t it? I remember I had a banana plant in a smallish container. She was thriving there very nicely. Apart from not giving bananas, she was not doing anything wrong. A point came where she seemed to have thrived a little too well. At this point, I decided to transplant her to a bigger pot….. all for her well-being, you see. I had nothing to gain in this. It’s not as if she would start supplying me with bananas! So, I got a real big pot and filled it with soil and manure and repotted Ms Banana. Let her grow as much as she wants, I thought. Now what do you think happened? She went and died!! Wasn’t it the height of bad manners? I later heard that you must not transplant a tree into a very large container from a small one. It should be done in stages. From small to medium to big to bigger. Now humans show no such concern for their fellow humans. At least not in our times. No, I am not saying that I belong to the Dinosaurian era but then neither do I belong to the present generation where the meaning of the word ‘marriage’ has to be looked up in Webster’s.
In my case the problems were a bit more complex. I come from the eastern part of India and my husband hails from the western regions. So, though our hearts beat together as one, geographically we were poles apart. No, no not in terms of distance but in terms of all the values that made us what we were as humans. Our way of thinking was different, our approach to solving a problem was different…… just for example, if I was confronted with a problem, my approach was to take it by the horns and blindly rush in with all guns blazing. My husband’s way was to grow calm and think it out and then react with a perfect strategy in place. Now this very calm had an extremely ‘uncalming’ effect on me. The logic of it totally eluded me. No, I agree that his way works better, but I still cannot think of just calmly thinking about a solution while the problem is ticking away like a time bomb. I must kick my hands and legs around and make enough noise to wake the neighborhood at least. This does not solve the problem, I know, but I am left with a very satisfied feeling that I did my best.
It did not end there. The biggest difference was in our food habits. As things stood, I had been my father’s pampered princess. Cooking and marketing were for lesser beings. Reading, writing poetry, painting were my things to do. I had no idea what the inside of a fish market looked like. And all those fishy smells……yucccks! Fish should only be the nice fried pieces, or drenched in mustard sauce served at lunchtime. I was not interested in any piscine facts beyond that. That they actually were creatures which had to be worked upon before they turned into heavenly fish fries was a thing of wonder for me.
Unfortunately, after getting married I had to face a very real fact of life and it was that poetry does not fill the stomach. So I had to enter the kitchen. But then, after that, what? What else, but that saver of lives, Maggi Noodles! So Maggi Noodles became our staple food. MN for lunch and MN for dinner. To his credit, the H took it very well. He even said that I cook very well. What a nice man I have married, I used to congratulate myself. Now this same man refuses to sit at the same table where noodles is being served and says some really rude things about the whole species of noodles. Even far off cousins of the nice and convenient Noodle, like Pasta are forbidden from appearing at our table. What happened to that nice man that I had married, I wonder!
The most important ingredient in a Bengali wedding is the food. As it is in any Bengali function. Fish fries, mutton, humongous prawns, large pieces of fish in a delectable gravy are all the main attractions of a Bengali wedding. An all vegetarian fare is not even a nightmare that we Bengalis allow to invade our dreams. Now, Maharashtrian weddings essentially have to have vegetarian food. Marriages are treated as religious functions and where there is religion, no fish can come swimming in and neither can a goat appear bleating on its four legs.
The Maharashtrian faction was horrified that the unmentionable word ‘non-veg’ was being allowed to be uttered in the same breath as the wedding and the Bengali faction was equally scandalized that a wedding was about to occur, where the possibilities were, that the food served would be Shudder! Shudder!!…. ‘nirmish’. Happily, I can inform you, that the east prevailed and the west were not too unhappy that they had had to give in. In fact, I remember that they had all dug into the fish fries with gusto and our wedding was the talk of the town in Maharashtrian circles for a long time to come.
The difficulties came in later. When I had to enter the kitchen. The MN dream had lasted for a very short time, as I have told you. After that, I faced formidable competition in the persons of my mom-in-law and her sisters who were all superlative cooks. It had to be impressed upon the H, that I was no less. The first dish that I learnt to cook was Pomfret Curry.
This one is a Maharashtrian dish and originates in Kolhapur. Kolhapur is a city in Maharashtra and used to be a princely state of the Maratha Empire. Kolhapuri cuisine is rather well known not only for its spicy components but because of its unique taste which comes from the homemade fresh spices used and its Onion Garlic chutney.
I felt that this was the easiest amongst all the other complicated recipes. So there I was, with a bag in my hand, H in tow, flip-flops on my feet…. off to the fish market! What did you say? Smell? What smell? That is the fragrant smell of fresh fish!
KOLHAPURI POMFRET CURRY
6 small Pomfret fish
1/2 cup tomato purée
2 cups thick coconut milk
1 onion cut small
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 10 whole black pepper
1 inch ginger piece
10 cloves garlic
2 tbsp oil
Juice of 3 lemons
1/2 tsp turmeric
Paste of 15 red chilies ( throw the seeds away)
— Wash and dry the pomfret and slice into pieces
— Apply lemon juice, turmeric, salt, red chili paste and keep for 15 minutes
— Make a paste of onion, coriander seeds, ginger, garlic in the wet grinder
— Pour oil in a flattish vessel and after it is hot, add 3 slit green chilies.
— Add the spice paste and fry till the oil floats on top
— Add the tomato purée. Add 2 cups water. Allow it to come to a boil.
— Add the fish pieces
— After the fish is cooked (it gets done really fast) add the coconut milk and salt.
— Let it come to a boil. Add fresh coriander leaves cut.