MACHER JHOL

Snigdha Agrawal
For a Bengal Born it all
started with "Macher Jhol"
Fried fish cooked with a medley
of vegetables, particularly 'Potol'.
Giving off aromas spreading for miles
Tickling the taste buds
of the ‘swear by macher jhol’ types
Oh! So divine.

Seasoned with 'panch phoron'
spluttering in heated mustard oil
be cautious of the burn boils
An angry ‘methi’ seed could
become your Achilles heel
bringing you down to your knees
activating the tear glands.

All-season comfort food 
Had with parboiled rice 
with green chili on the side
and a slice of 'Gandharaj' lime.
So... so... satisfying!

Rohu, Katla, pieces swimming
in a watery gravy
or thick if you like
No Bengali in his/her right mind
Will ever refuse a meal
of "macher jhol bhaath"
A staple diet that has
 Stood the test of time
Never losing its importance
in Bangla cuisine

In sickness, in good health, 
when recuperating from illness,
The doctor will advise as being
more potent than pills prescribed
So, I grew up to love "macher jhol"
and continue to relish it even as I grow old 
Though with spices more toned.


Sweet river fishes, 
Rohu, and Katla
have long known to rule
the fish market worldwide
When put in the ‘jhol’ 
I distinctly hear them chastising
‘Begun’, ‘Sheem’, ‘Aloo’, ‘Potol’
“Don’t you try usurping my presence
I arrived first, then you came 
A ‘sidy’ accompaniment
With no ‘value addition”

Jhol is quick to snap back
“Aha! my friend
with your habit of getting
stuck in throats, you will
always remain  
the bone of contention.
Let’s just call a truce and
Agree, we are mutually inclusive”.

And then marriage happened
into a 'shudha sahakari' 
household, totally vegetarian 
knowing fully well what that entailed
Complete volte-face  
On food preferences
Daal, roti, aloo, mutter gobi, 
cooked in desi ghee, 
replaced ‘macher jhol’.

Not forever though!
The better half had already been
initiated into Bengali cuisines
during his three years stint 
studying in the beautiful 
state of British Columbia
Grabbing meals on the go
A beef hamburger and coke
And lots of salmon, I was told.

In our alone home, away 
from in-laws, food never 
posed, any problem of any sort.
In our global travels over
last four decades, 
have acquired new tastes 
become food connoisseurs
digging into everything edible.
 
Wahoo from Honolulu loved best
Followed by pink slivers of sushi
And smoked salmon 
Everywhere belly ruling mind
Fish remaining the most favorite

*mach = fish
*jhol = gravy
*aloo = potato
*begun = aubergine
*sheem = flat beans
*potol = pointed gourd
*panch phoron = seasoning mixture
*gandharaj = flavoured green lime
*shudh sahakari = purely vegetarian
*Dal = lentil, roti=Indian bread, aloo mutter=potato peas curry
*gobi = cauliflower
*desi ghee = clarified butter 
*Wahoo/Salmon/Sushi = names of fishes
*Rohu/Katla = names of sweet water river fishes

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