I am a self proclaimed foodie. At some point in life, I actually had this funda that there’s no life without food. That’s how essential food has been as part of my growing up.
Growing up in a small town, the first proper restaurant that opened near my house was a small south Indian joint. Having traveled extensively, my father was proud to have been acquainted with the special cuisines of various parts of the country. Born and raised in Kolkata, eating out at restaurants was part of embracing the new culture for my mother. Thus we became such regulars at this eatery that the owner gradually ended up taking our suggestions regarding decor, food, menu changes and even background music that was played.
Computer science was a new subject introduced in our school during that time. Quite a few of us went to various aspiring institutes to learn about basic programming. It was a different matter altogether that I spent most of my days there playing Mario and car chase. Every Monday, my parents would come to the institute post classes and we would walk down to the restaurant, if it could be called so. The place had 4 tables and 14 chairs and never for once in the two years that we visited weekly, did I ever find them fully occupied. The menu started with plain dosa, idly and ended with masala dosa. Our choices varied between the two dosas, idly lying ignored alway. With time, new items like vada, uttapam were introduced and surprisingly, Ma turned out to be the most adventurous one among us, always game for a new item to order.
Eventually after passing out of school, the pressure of studies and the feeling of having grown up proved to be a deterring factor in our weekly ritual. So most of the time, Baba would parcel the food for us and we ate it at home. By then, the eatery had also transformed into a favorite spot for high school and college going students and couples romantic retreat.
Despite living in different corners of the country and trying out the best of cuisines, every time I came home, I would start craving for that masala dosa. The place had started expanding, it had introduced many more items but the quality had dipped. My parents, with an extra penchant for cleanliness and hygiene failed to understand why I would still want to eat that extra oily and too salty dosas. Papdi chat and dahi vadas were the next addition to our list of must have items. I have spent more a decade in various places of Karnataka yet till date nothing could break my conviction that the best masala dosa was only made in the kitchen of that South Indian joint in my home town.
As years passed on, my home trips became quite infrequent. With Ma’s demise, I started preferring to stay in the Kolkata flat whenever Tanmoy and I flew down. The maximum time I would spend in my hometown would range between 3 to 7days. And a major chunk of it was at my in laws place. Sub consciously, I started avoiding places and items that had too many images associated with Ma. So the eatery was conveniently forgotten.
Tanmoy and I have grown up in the same town. Since the number of entertainment options in most of the small towns is relatively less, it so happened that he too had some extremely fond memories of the same restaurant. His first bread pakoda, the first outing with a friend to a restaurant, his many durga puja outings were enough happy tales and reasons for him wanting to revisit the place with me.
After Gogol’s birth, we moved back to Berhampore for few months. With the lack of qualified caretaker options available in Kolkata, it became mainly Baba and me taking turns to look after a month old Gogol after my in-laws left. A new job at a far away posting meant the husband could manage to visit only on weekends. With a breastfeeding infant, going out itself was an impossible affair. But when we managed to do that after six months, we decided to opt for the newly opened three star restaurant in town. After all, one would want the best option available with such restictions.
Somewhere next year, a mini reunion of school friends was decided in the eatery. The earlier one was scheduled near my house so that I could come back fast, if needed. So, after almost two decades I had chosen to revisit the place.
I couldn’t believe that it had changed so much. There was a AC restaurant on the top floor and a garden restaurant below. The space alloted for serving food was now the reception area with a manager to welcome guests. It was hardly the same place which I would frequent with my parents. There was nothing left of the images and memories that I carried close to my heart. The menu had expanded from south Indian to Chinese to north Indian. There was a non alcoholic drinks counter put recently ranging from sundaes to floats. The few things that remained constant were the vegetarian only option, oil dripping, slightly burnt and a bit salty dosas and the same old owner who had started turning bald.
Of late, Tanmoy and I ensure to visit the place at least once whenever we take a trip back home. We even tried taking Gogol couple of times just to tell him why it’s such a favorite place of ours. These days, every time I meet a school or high school friend or there’s any sort of reunion, effortlessly I say “Let’s meet over a cup of coffee and Masada Dosa at Nandan.”
That newly opened Nandan of mid 90s will always be etched as a memory of my past associated with my MA, securing a place for itself in my heart. The newly renovated, spacious, multicuisined Nandan of today stands as a symbol of the inevitable change for survival. The first,I cherish. The second, I still visit. I have learnt to accept the fact that memories of the past can coexist peacefully with happenings of the present for the same object and incidents. And that puts me at ease.