On our visit to Kolkata this time, we stayed at and explored around old Kolkata .... the Park circus area.
The narrow lanes are crowded with old dilapidated buildings, dingy old shops, open gutters, street dogs, taxis making way through and jostling with the hand drawn rickshaws, people going about with their lives like washing on the roadside, hanging clothes on a precarious make shift balcony, while the world moves past.
There is an old world charm all over.
And among all these, the thing that catches your eye is the line of eateries on the foot paths.
Either holes in the walls or just a small stand to hold their wares on, the lanes are filled with street food shops to their gills ... or limits.
Every second shop or even a few shops in a line sell eatables. Either the Phuchka, ghugni, jhal muri or frying hot tele bhajas like begunis, vegetable chops and shingara (samosa).
We spotted quite a few hand carts selling the moong dal pakode too.
There are roll shops at every corner as are the chai shops too.
We loved walking on the Russel street the most. B had discovered a gem of a dhaba ... right there in the heart of the city. A small, non descript shop with a Sadarji sitting at the counter near the entrance. At first I was a little hesitant to try it. But the food made me fall in love with the place. And slowly I noticed that very few people went inside to eat ... the area in front of the dhaba was filled with big sized cars all the way towards Park street. And people ordered their food and ate it inside the cars.
The place is famous for its singaras too. And the chai. The tea, served in earthen cups, is to die for.
We went to this dhaba for the singara and tea, almost every evening, if we were around that place.
But this post is about something else. Or someone else.
He is so old, bone thin and frail that he cannot stand up, so he sits down on the pavement beside his stand. Near him sits his equally aged and frail wife. The man raises and folds his hands at every passerby ... offering some aloo chaat.
Both of them sit quietly and watch as people throng the dhaba and the other food stalls all around.
I was watching them as we sipped on the tea from the dhaba one evening. Their plight slowly seeped into me. While one part of my mind wanted to walk up to them and offer some tea and samosa, another part held me back for fear of offending him.
Finally, I gathered the courage and walked up to them. The old lady sat immobile, but the man hurried to stand up.
There was a burst of all the energy he could gather, on seeing a customer, finally.
I asked for two plates of aloo chaat. His wares were not in the best of conditions but at least that gave me a chance to talk to him.
He appeared busy, trying to cut the boiled potatoes with shaking hands. But hearing my voice, he looked up.
Those eyes! Shining with pain on his bony face, they bore the reflection of a hard life.
I chatted with him without being intrusive and came to know that he is 80 years old, comes all the way from Khidirpore every evening to set up his chaat stall here.
On asking about his family or children, he justs waved his hand away and muttered "Sab chale gaye, sab chale gaye, sab kha kar chale gaye."
He obviuosly did not want to bad mouth them, but could not hold back the pain of abandonment in his words.
I chatted with him for some more time, took the plates of chaats and paid him.
While we were talking, a gentleman, who had come to the dhaba, walked up to him and offered him two cups tea. He took with a look of gratefulness. We were about to leave.
And then I saw what he did .... he slowly walked and got another earthen cup, poured half of the tea into it and then walked up to the jhal muri wala sitting a few feet away .... and gave it to him.
That did it for me. I was just short of crying.
So much of pain, so much hunger and yet the man shares his precious cup of tea with his competitor!
I asked him if they would like to eat something. He very politely refused, saying that they were vegetarians and could not eat anything from that dhaba.
On asking, he said they will buy some milk on their way home and have it with some muri / puffed rice. Since both of them did not have any teeth, they found it difficult to eat any food.
We said goodbye and walked on.
But I could not eat anything after that. All I wanted was to give whatever money we were to spend on our food to that man so that he could rest and eat for a few days.
On our walk back, we packed some vegetarian cheela and some sweets for them. And slipped in some money too.
We stopped and chatted with them again and handed him the bag. I was fearful of offending him. But he took the food with gratefulness and grace. His eyes showed much surprise but he was composed.
Blessed us and asked us to come back again.
Said he will make sure that we did not pay for the aloo chaat the next day.
I did not have the courage to tell him that we were leaving the next day.
If you have read so far, then allow me place a request ... an appeal.
If you are in Kolkata, (or if you know anyone in Kolkata willing to help) , if you are near Park street or Little Russel street area, please do look up this old couple.
And do buy a plate of chaat ... not to eat or enjoy ... but to help them.
Please do something so that they do have to go sleep hungry that night.
And please, please do let me know if you see them and tell me how they are doing.
I will be eternally grateful to you.
They stand just beside Russel Dhaba or on the pavement bang opposite it, in front of Handloom Cottage and beside the Roll shop.
That is Russel dhaba, on Russel street, ... clicked from the other side of the road.
I had made this Bhindi ki kadhi for lunch one busy week day.
Quick to make, this one is a life saver. All you have to do is to make sure you have some rice to go with it.
I had left over rice in the fridge. Set this to cook and went about my rest of the chores.
I do not add any garlic to this, so it is different from my Lahsooni kadhi.
This kadhi has the temperings that I use when I make Kadhi pakoda ( I know I have to make a post on that one too).
I fry the Bhindi / Okra and make the kadhi together. You can fry and keep them aside and add later too.
Bhindi / Okra / Ladies finger - 250 gms, chopped
Whole Dhaniya / Coriander seeds - 1 tsp
Whole Red chillies (or you can use fresh green chillies too ) - 2, broken
Hing / Asafoetida - a pinch
Curd - 1 cup
Besan / Gram flour - 1 tbsp
Haldi / Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Red chilli powder - 1 tsp
Water - to make kadhi
Cooking oil - 1 tsp
Salt - to taste
How to :
Mix the besan + curd + haldi + red chilli powder + salt + water.
Heat oil in a heavy kadahi.
Add hing, red chillies and whole dhaniya.
Add a pinch of salt. Cover and cook till the bhindi is done.
Now remove cover and add the kadhi mix.
Add enough water.
Set it to boil on low flame.
Cook till you get the desired consistency.