I'm a Bengali & I want Fish!

What comes to your mind when I say ‘Bengali’? Most people I know almost instantly think of either Macher jhol or misthi doi? Rosogulla or Kolkata? Ofcourse, I don’t understand why only Kolkata for Bengalis also come from other parts of India like Assam with no roots whatsoever in West Bengal. But that’s a different conversation altogether. The point here is that for some strange reason these are some of the many idiosyncrasies associated with Bengalis. Another widespread perception you would have heard about is that Bengali girls have beautiful long radiant hair and big eyes. There are anomalies of-course, I being one and then there is the Loud Bengali Lady we speak of in hushed tones. Well atleast we both prove false the good hair part! The list however goes on. Proficient either at singing, dancing or some other extracurricular activities or refined, well-read and intelligent are some other presumptions about us Bengalis. Though some of it is many a time true, but I know that there are striking exceptions to these too. Sometimes we are just given way too much credit; even for qualities we might not possess at all!

But there is this one characteristic of a Bengali that cannot be contested. Our love for food! We love eating; most of all we love fish! And today sitting in this claustrophobic cubicle of mine on a Monday afternoon all I can think about is FISH!

There was a time in my life when eating fish was an everyday affair. Just as the sun always rises in the east, I would eat fish each day! Well that’s actually how it is in most Bengali households. There is always a fish curry for lunch and dinner apart from the other not-so-important accompaniments. It is our staple, something that we grow up loving and relishing. Whether it is the unpretentious Rohu or the yummy Pabda; whether it is the awesome Hilsa or the delectable Chingri (prawns), we just can’t get enough of them all! But I never really realized how much my stomach craved for it until I moved away from home. I guess it’s right what they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, in my case though absence of fish in my diet made my stomach grow bluer!

When I lived in hostel for four years, I would wait to go home during vacations to eat in two months’ time my entire year’s quota for fish! Well if you are not a Bengali or haven’t ever been in contact with one it might sound substantially absurd to you. But what can I say our love for fish sometimes tends to get the better of us! Infact even now when I visit my mom’s, you should see the way I attack the fish on my plate. While I munch away in peace my husband stares with a terrified look on his face.

After I moved to Bangalore for work and started living alone there was at least some hope for my fish craving heart, or tongue perhaps! But the problem here was that I had to buy the whole fish. I had no trouble doing that ofcourse. However, eating all the portions before its expiry date, sadly took out the romance out of the entire affair. And then the limited varieties available only an added insult to my injured fish craving heart. When I got married my husband offered to help but let’s just say eating fish isn’t one of his greatest strengths.

The Bengali in me weeps for Hilsa cooked in mustard paste or pabda curry. My search for a perfect solution to my fishy predicament lingers. My heart covets a God-sent store that sells all my favourite varieties in just the quantity I want. As my search continues in vain through the omniscient Google, all I can do is reconcile with my one off tête-à-têtes with the most common and possibly the only variety that I get near my home in Bangalore.

But the stomach wants what the stomach wants, doesn’t it? So while I settle for the occasional katla in mustard sauce, my heart still subconsciously yaps on the ‘I want fish’ mantra! What does your heart or shall I say stomach yearn for?