Sunday, February 14, 2010

Aladin and Four Dacoits

Irrespective of how strongly you wanted to come to an alien land to pursue your goals or dreams, sooner or later, you are bound to feel homesick. I remember missing home so much that I almost decided to pack my bags within days of starting my course at the university. It took a few good Indian friends (and an attractive Turkish woman) to hold me back. Yet another factor that tacitly helped was an Indian grocery store. I am sure this is what every foreigner looks for in an alien land. The usual chawal, daal, rajma (and for some of you buttermilk!!); a particular sauce or condiment, the aroma inside the store would give us the sense of familiar comfort ... an illusion that little has changed ... a feeling that life is and will be as usual ... a desperate attempt to cling onto your past. I was no exception frequenting the local Indian stores ... familiar appetizers, familiar spices, Bollywood movies on the shelves. Now imagine the excitement if it was a 'Bengali' grocery store! Think about all the eclectic fish (ilish, pabda, parshey, rui, mourola) and vegetables (thor, mocha, chalkumro, laal chaak). Now add a Bengali restaurant to this grocery store, and you have a little peace of immigrant heaven in a foriegn land. A sumptuous spread containing bhaat, daal, alu chochhori, machher jhol, mangsher jhol … ending with mishti doi, roshogolla, bow(n)de … you won't feel the need to go anywhere else. This is exactly how I felt when I first visited Los Angeles with friends in the winter of 2004. Someone directed us to a local restaurant serving Bengali food. In a city were roads are congested, directions are confusing and drivers worse than anywhere else in the country, the fact that we were very tired and hungry did not help. It was dark, cold and raining. On top of it, the directions turned out (not to my surprise, considering the source) to be 'slightly' incorrect. It seemed as if HE was stacking up all kinds of odds against us to prevent us from getting to our 'promised land'. After going round and round inside the Hollywood maze (remember these were pre-GPS days), we were almost ready to give up, when we accidentally found our destination ... a small shop right next to a non-descript strip-mall on a dirty road in Hollywood that read


Rushing into the store right away, we were greeted with smiling faces speaking Bengali. The air was filled with the aroma of a cocktail of Bengali savory delicacies, that were already on display. Being stuck in the not-so-populated (and not-so-popular) Midwest for over 4 years, entering a world that offered freshwater Bengali fish, familiar Bengali sweets and a menu that read … BIRIYANI was something beyond my wildest imagination at that time. “Where is the God’s name are we” … I asked myself … “Is this real?” We spent two hours in the restaurant ordering possibly every decent dish they had on their menu. I wished and wished and wished to be able to be within 100 miles of this place, so that I can stuff myself with these anytime I wished to (and that in American lingo means "anytime during the weekend"). Well someone heard and within a couple of years, I was back there ... this time permanently. Not only that, my apartment happens to be a few blocks away from it.

An atheist as I am, I now believe there is a God of Gastronomical Delight.

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