This is the story of a meal. But before we talk about the actual meal I need to back trace just a little bit and talk about the place where we had the meal.
So if you’ve ever been to Singapore, or even met anyone who’s been to Singapore, you would know Mustafa Centre. What is Mustafa Centre, you ask? Why, it is our go to place for every little thing! From the turmeric we use every day to the perfumes I love to collect. Reasonably priced, amply stocked, Mustafa is probably the first and last place you go to for anything Indian, be it Good Day and Bourbon biscuits or Kurkure or even the Mysore Sandal Soap. But this is not about Mustafa Centre. You see, the area where Mustafa is situated is Little India (pretty self-explanatory) and in the maze of alleys and streets surrounding Mustafa is tucked a nondescript Bangladeshi restaurant called “Khana Basmati”. And that, is the real hero of this story.
Now the Husband is a die-hard fish lover. Brought up in a typical Assamese household where fish was a daily affair whereas chicken was saved for Sundays, he had obviously developed a taste for simple home-cooked fish. I, on the other hand, am a chicken person through and through, which sometimes, poses, err, problems. Specially when it comes to deciding where to eat and what to eat when we are outside. One day, having spent hours shopping in Mustafa, checking off items on a long list and veering dangerously towards starvation from having missed breakfast and lunch, we chanced upon this place. When I say chanced upon I really mean we scoured the place for a half-decent Bangladeshi restaurant which served fish, and when I say “we” I really mean the husband because he had a particular hankering for fish that day.
The moment we stepped inside the place, I felt like I was in the dining area of an Assamese wedding. You know that smell? Of fragrant rice and dali and bhaji and Maasor jul with lemon squeezed over everything? Yep! That was the exact fragrance. Fine tuned that my brain is to associate that smell with hunger, I suddenly realised I wanted in on that meal. Deciding that the place was definitely the take-away kind and not exactly the proper dine-in location, we packed some fish and chicken (because of course I wanted chicken) and came back home and sang paeans about just how tasty the fish was and how authentic it tasted. Filled to the brim with oil, dipped in the red of chili powder, it was the very epitome of guilt and indulgence. The very next week, despite not having to buy anything from Mustafa, tempted by the taste, the husband traveled all the way there just to pack lunch and bring back home. And so it continued, even though like it always happens with chance encounters, the frequency waned until it’d been months since we spared a thought to that place.
Until tonight. Busy that we both are trying to arrange everything for the launches, tying all loose ends, coordinating things in India from here, we decided to get the final leg of shopping out of the way. It was only when I sat in the cab that I started feeling the dull headache that I get from being hungry, and I realised that I was so absorbed in work that I forgot to have anything after lunch. Despite having a lot of things on the agenda, the husband and I decided to have our dinner first. I tried suggesting options, but my husband being my husband, as in the kind of person who hates having to deter from his plans, wanted us to have dinner in Khana Basmati. He did have the courtesy to ask, “You okay with that?” and I said yes.
Which is how we ended up having a meal that I will never forget. It’s not so much the food that we had (plain rice, daal, some aloo bhaji, some lesera bhaji, and rou maas) but the feel of it. My steel plate was overflowing with rice and the daal was “hostel-variety” watery. I was ravenous, and after restricting myself for ages (I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had rice) I nearly attacked the food. It was about five minutes in, completely oblivious to my surroundings I was, that I realised I was the only woman in the entire place. The restaurant was slowly filling up with blue-collar workers getting off their day-shifts.
“You know what I love about you?” my husband said, between morsels. “That you are equally at ease in a five-star restaurant and a place like this.”
I shrugged and said I’ve always been like this. And in the next moment sent a silent thank you to my parents for teaching me to be like this. Days away from one of the biggest days of my life, anxious about even being in the same room as celebrated writers and artists, I was irrationally blissful about sharing a simple meal with my husband in that ordinary place.
I polished off all the rice with no regret whatsoever. We even ordered “dessert” which was basically three rasgullas and three gulab jamuns and the moment I took a bite out of one I was transported to that dingy little teashop (Ajanta, if my memory hasn’t failed me) in Orang, which is a pitstop if you’re traveling by bus from Tezpur to Guwahati via Mangaldoi.
“Doesn’t this remind you of home?” he asked me.
Of course it did. And in the end, that’s what matters. Not where you are, but who you are with, and what experiences you gather, and finding simply joy in the simple things life has to offer. Even if it is a $4 dollar meal in a Bangladeshi restaurant where they gave me the kochu bhorta for free. Life does offer you revelations everyday, doesn’t it?
I wish I had the photo of us in that place, but I don’t. However, today, just because I am feeling this sudden gush of gratefulness to my partner in crime who is just like me when it comes to experiencing life with abandon, here’s a photo of us that I particularly like.