” 350 rupees for a plate of Kosha Mangsho?”
“Can you show me how many pieces of mangsho in a plate?”
“And 80 rupees for a plate luchchi?”
“It’s written right here. Why are you asking me mate?”
This conversation was happening in Bangla, between a posh Mumbai Bengali restaurant stall attendant and a visitor to the Lokhandwala Complex Durga Pandal in Mumbai a few years ago. I don’t speak Bangla, but follow a it a wee bit. And this conversation was kind of obvious.
The visitor was a scrawny man in his early thirties accompanied by his wife and three kids. A 10-ish looking daughter, and two younger boys wearing plastic goggles and carrying just purchased plastic guns with plastic covers still on. They were like two Black kitten commandos, turning their heads in a synchronized manner, peering into the plates of foods other kids were carrying to plastic tables nearby.
This was a poor family, dressed in it’s best. And they were NOT Mumbaikars AS YET. Their dusky gleaming skin looked untouched by Mumbai’s air and water. The gaze in their eyes, the way their limbs hung…looked very fresh off the boat/tHowrah Express.
They couldn’t have been tourists. The man, I wild guessed, would probably be a gold jewelry karigar in one of those galas of Goregaon East. His wife wore a rather pretty slim gold chain around her neck (pointed out to me by my missus). I had only noticed her sweat soaked sindhoor running dangerously close to her incredibly ,mesmerizing eyes. She was ‘statuesque’.
The daughter, a splitting image, kept repeating,”Baba mangsho! Baba mangsho” and kept poking him in the ribs with a long painted finger nail.The family stood awkwardly amidst the hungry and moneyed buyers, quite unsure of what to do.
Missus, the two boys and me were on a plastic table close by. Feasting on Mangsho luchi, fish cutlets, rolls, mishti doi…the works.I lost taste of my mangsho luchchi as the man yelled at the pre-teen girl. Holding her by the arm, he dragged her away. The wife and Black kitten commandos followed.
At a distance, in a dark isolated corner near the exit, engulfed in a mosquito whirlpool, the family conferred. Argued.
I turned to the missus. She had noticed too. Then her eyes lit up. She whispered,”I knew it”.
The statuesque bangalan, holding the daughter by the arm, followed by black kittys keeping pace, walked back to the stall.
From her blouse she took out a purse. From the purse came out another purse. And from that came out crumpled 100 rupee notes. She swiftly counted them. Straightened them and thrust them at the attendant.
“Two plates of Kosha mangsho. Two plates of luchchis. And five chumchums”.
There was a tremor in her voice. She was breathing deep. Nostrils flared. Her back arched.
The attendant counted the money, nodded at her and gave her some change back.
The father stood near the entrance, his back to them, scratching his mosquito bites on his calves with his plastic sandals
I then asked my missus something really stupid.
“Do you think we should offer to pay for their meal?”
She almost whacked me.
Äre you nuts? that is the worst thing you could ever do! Look at her face! LOOK!”
I turned to look.
Her breathing had calmed down. Her chin was up as her daughter took the tray from the attendant. With a single finger she wiped the sindhoor going into her eyes and flicked it in the air.
Casually, she threw a glance at us. She KNEW we were watching. Her look was direct into the eyes of the missus and they smiled at each other as they settled on the table next to us. The father joined the table quietly.
Bang behind the woman, portioning the food among all of them, was the idol of Durga. In out focus.