Don’t believe me?
Trust me when I say it’s true. In fact, let me tell you stories of two fish curries today, stories which would be nothing without the fish curries in them.
It goes without saying that I have always been very fond of fish. No meal, lunch or dinner, for me was ever complete without a fish curry. Actually, if possible, I could have fish for breakfast and as snacks too. What can I say, I’m the quintessential fish lover.
But living away from home for over a decade now has changed things. Or, maybe not. It’s just that fish or no fish, you’ve got to eat. And since I don’t like cooking much, the no fish scenario is mostly the prevalent one at home. Unless of course, I visit my mom’s or she comes visiting.
Some of my earliest memories are around fish curries. Funny, possibly strange but true.
I remember that fish curry made in onion tomato gravy tempered with nigella seeds in mustard oil that Mom had cooked in our very first house in Shillong. I can still taste it and even take a whiff of it. It is also my first memory of a fish curry, one which even that four or five-year-old me had savored. In fact, I still do. Everytime Mom makes it now, I’m transported back to that house nestled in the hills of Shillong. The hundred odd steps we had to descend to reach it. The veranda where Dad and I played some of our very first Holi. The veranda from where I watched my sister fall down from her walker. The wooden and glass door I would look out of waiting for Dad. The pomegranate tree in the yard. The peach tree of the neighbouring house. The whole city of Shillong, the wooden cottages looking towards us from where they stood in the adjacent hills. The spiralling lanes. What can I say, one thought about that fish curry carries me to that very place in my childhood, that house where I started making memories I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Then there is the fish curry in mustard paste, sometimes with mustard leaves in the gravy too, often tempered with fenugreek seeds. That one has a story, one that takes me back to cold Shillong nights where my sister and I would have dinner together with Mom and Dad waiting on us. It brings a smile on my face even today when I recall Dad eager to serve us just a little more with every spoon. The pungent aroma, the fried fishes dunked in mustardy heaven, transports me back to my childood in Shillong again. That cottage which was our second home there. The garden, the balcony looking out towards the valley, Mom and Dad’s room with two entire sides lined by huge wall-to-wall glass windows. The colourful flowers, the pear tree in the garden and the thriving chilly plants. What I wouldn’t give to be there again! These days though it’s through this mustard fish curry that I take a trip there.
See, didn’t I tell you every fish curry has a story?
For me, it’s the story of my childhood, the story of Shillong.