Complaints throng my head. I look around for a little solitude. And do not find any.
Voices float all around me ... someone calling out, someone laughing out, children shrieking as they play, family greeting the just arrived ones with much embracing, smiles, laughter and jokes.
House helps hurrying all around, trying to keep pace with the orders given.
There is an air of festivity all around.
I look on from the terrace on the third floor of our house. And finally turn away in disgust.
I am angry.
I do not understand this casual air around. This air of happiness spilling forth amongst people who have come to our house. I do not understand this feel of vacation among them.
I am so angry that I spend all my time in the little room on the terrace.
Ma, on the other hand is more welcoming. She is all around ... giving orders, looking into the guests' comfort, assigning rooms, everything.
I do not help. I do not want to be a part of any of this.
Given a choice, I would happily be back in my home miles away; would give anything to avoid this time here every year henceforth.
I miss Bapi.
I look around and miss him all the more.
Bapi loved having people over ... be it relatives or friends or unkown guests.
When relatives dropped in for a day, he would arrange for the kitchen to be filled with all kinds of fish and meat and vegetables. He remembered each one's favourite and made sure it was there on the plate.
A variety of mangoes during summer, Ilish from Kolaghat during the rains, the best mutton and prawns, ... you just have to name it. And it is there.
He did not talk much himself but loved to have people, especially our huge family, around him.
Our house in the little hilly town, where Bapi, Ma and I stayed because of the proximity to Bapi's industry/factory, came alive, resonated with laughter and loud, boisterous talking whenever the family and Dadu and Thamma dropped down to visit or spend a day.
And now, when everybody is here, I look around but can't find Bapi. And feel angry all the more.
I just want some quiet around me.
And my Bapi.
And his voice, calling out to me.
In Bengali, it is called the Macher matha diye chanchra, and usually has vegetables added to it.
Even the Odia version has vegetables most of the time. But this one is different.
This one is a replica of the chencheda from a restaurant ... one that Bapi took solace in when it was a pure veg day at home.
Since Bapi could never eat a pure vegetarian meal, and had to have a little fish on his plate, he would arrange for some of this chencheda to be delivered home and had his lunch with this on the side. I too loved this chencheda , but it was way too spicy for me then.
All I remember is the overwhelming flavour of garlic and the reddish oil floating.
There would be very small bits of potatoes, almost invisible.
But the flavours of the fish head and garlic would be intact. At times, I could see a small piece of the tej pata, a little green cardamom and some cinnamon at other times.
It has been so long since I tasted it last that I do not remember almost anything about it.
Except that it tasted heaven;y.
And Bapi loved it.
With the dominance of garlic, so common in Odiya food, this fish head chencheda stays on as one of my favourite dishes.
1 Rohu Fish head - fried and broken into pieces
Onions - 2, chopped
Garlic paste - 4 tsp
Ginger paste - 2 tsp
Tomato paste - 3 tbsp
Green cardamom - 1, crushed
Cinnamon - 2 small pieces, crushed
Tej pata / bay leaf - 2
Haldi powder - 1 tsp
Red chilli powder - 2 tsp
Dhaniya powder - 2 tsp
Potato - 1, chopped into very small pieces
Garam masala powder - 1 tsp
Roasted jeera powder - 1 tsp
Mustard oil - 5 tbsp
Salt - to taste
How to :
Heat the oil in a heavy kadahi / wok.
Add the crushed garam masala and the tej pata.
Add the onions and fry till they turn pink.
Now add the ginger + garlic paste and the tomato paste.
Add the haldi + mirchi + dhaniya powder and mix well.
Fry on low heat till oil starts to leave the sides.
Add the potato pieces, salt and a little water.
Cover and cook till the potatoes are done.
Remove cover and add the fried fish head.
Add some more water for everything to come together.
Cover and simmer till it dries up.
Add the garam masala powder and the roasted jeera powder, give a good stir, cover and remove from heat.
Serve hot with rice.