The City That Never Sleeps.
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
The airport where the bookshop does not stock Agatha Christie. Worse, they tell you “nahin, is author ka koi book nahin hai.”
It was the last day, the last evening of 2015. I was returning home, to Kolkata, the city that confuses everyone by closing her shops for siestas.
I was returning home, to my daughter, the lady that will soon outgrow me in maturity.
It was a 9.20 PM flight. I was supposed to land at 11.50. Indigo did. The pilot refused to open the door till midnight, actually did a countdown, and wished everyone a happy new year in an unusually cheerful voice.
Unfortunately, the acknowledgement was feeble.
But I digress. This is not about enthusiastic pilots set out to please their customers.
This is about food.
Let me go back in time, till, say, about 7.30 PM. I had reached the airport a bit early, for I wanted to avoid the 31st-night traffic (I had even taken a train). I handed over my check-in luggage and strolled towards security check.
Before the Kolkata flight there was another Indigo flight, Indore. I have immense respect for Indore, for she is a city as proud of her food as Kolkata, and rightly so. Indore is also the home of CK Nayudu, but that is irrelevant as far as this post is concerned.
Restaurant tip: If you go to Indore, do not return without making at least two trips to Madni Darbar. It is also easy on the pocket.
Just behind me in queue was a gentleman headed for Indore. Like me, he had a backpack as carry-on luggage. Like me, he stuffed his cellphone and watch in the backpack. Like me, he put his laptop on a tray and slid it in.
Unlike me, he was stopped; his backpack, intercepted. They had apparently found something suspicious in the bag. Security is usually tight during national holidays and festive seasons…
As I recovered my tray and started on the extremely convoluted process of stuffing my laptop in my backpack and taking the cellphone and watch out of it, I overheard a conversation.
They had excavated a small pouch out of his backpack.
Is mein khaane ki cheez hai?
I could not help but steal a glance. The look on the face was grim, and oddly familiar. There was fire in his eyes, the scalding fire of protest, of scorn, of rage...
Even if I am struck by a blunt instrument and lose my memory for good, I will never forget the look; or the retort:
Main Mumbai se Indore jaa raha hoon: khaane ki cheez leke jaaoonga?
I did not hang around, but I could well have hugged him. The pride in his voice was unmistakable. I could almost hear him asking aapka dimaag to theek hai, na? Of course, I sincerely hope he did not ask that and land in trouble…
It could well have been me.
This is not my story. This is the story of Tanmay Mukherjee, immortalised in cyberspace by his penname Bongpen. For some reason he did not want to narrate it himself, hence...
Unless you have been living under a massive rock, you are aware that Tanmay is a biryani connoisseur. News got around, and Tanmay got invited to a wedding.
Note: Tanmay has told me multiple times whose wedding it was, but I am terrible with these things. It is not, however, relevant.
The menu itself was worth a narration: luchi, chicken something, mutton biryani, and roshogolla. Luchis were served piping hot, and in stacks of six; roshogollas were served in fours; and they used bowls, not ladles, to serve both chicken and biryani.
In other words, everything about the meal was no-nonsense.
Tanmay was through with the first round of luchis, but there was some surplus chicken. He waited for biryani to be served.
This, after all, was the moment.
Kolkata biryani. The king of foods. The rice has to be fine, but not Five-Star-Hotel fine, for rice is not the protagonist of biryani. Rice can be a Dumbledore or a Gandalf or a Yoda, but the final task is not its to carry out.
The mutton, the protagonist, is soft, succulent, and cooked to perfection. As connoisseurs will know, if you overcook the mutton, all you will be left with are small shreds; worse, the thin sheet of fat will melt into the biryani. If you undercook it, on the other hand, you will need a toothpick.
The perfect balance of spices is crucial: neither can you afford to go overboard with anything, nor can you underplay any of the ingredients.
And then, there is the potato, ready to melt at the slightest pressure of your thumb.
But I digress, as always. This is the story of Tanmay.
The moment arrived. The man with the bucket and the bowl had arrived. And then, just as he was about to serve, the man stared at the plate, the contempt in his eyes unmistakable.
Aapnar paate to chicken achhe, biryani kibhabe debo?
How can I serve biryani on your plate, when there is chicken?
As is norm, biryani and chicken are not supposed to touch each other. That is blasphemous.
Tanmay had almost done the grave error of contaminating his biryani with chicken.
Fortunately, there was a messiah to show him the way, to stop him from committing the cardinal sin.
Picture courtesy: Imgur.