Khidderpore eyr Marie Memsahib is a dish which popped up in the platter of my memory this afternoon. In days of growing up, I spent considerable number of years in a house with a compound and a green wooden gate, a property which was owned by a wellknown daktar babu in Khidepore. The gates opened to the Circular Garden Reach Road with the trams plying just outside our courtyard. This very historic and cultural melting point of Calcutta known as Khidderpore Or Kidderpore.
Kidderpore those days in the late 50’s and 60’s continued to be the strategic point for cultural and historical reasons.

Kidderpore served as the entry point of the British Indian trade through the wet docks serving the Calcutta port. Bustling with seafarers in this area was a common sight.
The British officers who were commissioned to Calcutta landed in the Calcutta port, headed to the St. Stephen’s Church housed in the sprawling compound of the The young officers were inducted into the British regime in India, attended service and headed for Fort William.

Kidderpore gifted three eminent poets to Bengali literature Rongolal Bandhopadhyay, Hemchandra Bandopadhyay, and Michael Madhushudan Dutta. Another tearful torn page of history that Kidderpore has embraced with grace is the exiled quarters Metiaburuz ( a suburb in extended Kidderpore- Garden Reach) is of Wajid Ali Shah. This is the mini Lucknow of the beleaguered Wajid Ali Shah and his retinue, living in a heartbroken disillusioned self reminiscing his Nawabi days in Awadh and how the prosperous kingdom of Awadh was stealthily taken away from them.

The Nawab lineage spread widely in this area and the 3 palatial bungalows offered to him and his retinue soon to be called Nawab Bari.
Much later this Islamic quarters which was once beautified and maintained impeccably by Wajid Ali Shah as an extension of his soul fell in the crushing pseudopodia of the English, trying to wipe out the grandeur of Metiaburuz.

Much later the early 50’s migrant labourers of the same community from surrounding states of Bihar and UP settled here for a better life and earnings. Gradually crumbling glory and opulence of Metiaburuz into a downtown district of not so happy happenings. We had our house support staff coming in from the nearby quarters of Metiaburuz, known as ‘Bas Gola’ which literally translates to Bamboo Godown.
Daroga and his 2 sons Amir and Sameer would be our Kitchen help and cooks.

Daroga was not very adept with fish. He found fish to be a fishy affair to make but a very smart move to consume giving excuses. He once took a leap of faith and experimented this fish curry and my Ma had asked him the name, he bloviately replied settling his gamcha that one Marie memsaab of Pipe Road once gave him to taste but shared a half hearted recipe. To that glorious Marie memsaab’s preparation our Daroga from Bihar, added his regional taste and flavours, probably from the kitchens of the Moghul rulers of Bihar – Baktiyar Khilji.. My mother’s wild guess that was.

It was an eventful dish in our household that evening because Daroga and his two sons had gone scouting for capsicum in the Kidderpore market.
In the early 60’s capsicum was unheard of in local markets and even in the posh bazaars, it may have been seen appearing like Santa during Christmas. The Christmas Bells and Bell Peppers they twined in the Winters!

He did find a capsicum, and was overjoyed as this green bell pepper was the game changer and added a distinct flavour, he carried the pepper like a rose from Damascus, invaluable ingredient for his serendipitous fish recipe.

That evening Daroga created a storm in the tea cup. Forever articulate he along with his sons did a live commentary on each and every action with animated body language.
He sliced the onions and cubed the tomatoes and capsicum. Put all of it on the grinding stone. To that he put the earthy ginger piece and to pair it like a newly wed couple, he placed 10 cloves of garlic with peel.
At this juncture I am compelled to insert an anecdote which our gasbag Daroga did not ever fail to mention in his conversations. It seems and he has proof of what he claims. A long dead grandfather of his had been a khansama in the court of Wajid Ali Shah. He very amusingly says in Hindi, urdhu, bengali ‘ ‘Ai adrak ho gaya Nawab, aar ei losoon gulo achey ei Nawab er begum!’ We rolled out loud for the first time we heard Daroga but after that the mention was too stale to relish but our Daroga tried his luck to rejuvenate it.
He started grinding , humming a Raj Kapoor hit Sangam – Tere mun ki Ganga aur mere Munki Jumna, bol Radha Bol, Sangam hoga ki nahi?
Ah! Yes, from them I learnt my first hindi song.. and this was the one.
After grinding his Jamna and Ganga. He kept aside spoonful of turmeric, chilly powder, coriander and cumin powder..
Prior to all this I missed mentioning the rohu fish, which he marinated with turmeric and salt. He bought extra 1 kg.. later he confessed, he would pack some for the patent owner of the dish, Marie Memsahib.
Daroga, poured the golden mustard oil and waited for it to smoke. He put in the fish one at a time and carefully fried it golden brown lest it got damaged and disfigured.
He took out the fish from oil and now began Sauteing the spice mixture paste until an aroma filled the rooms. He sent his boys around to get a public poll of the spice waft blowing across that November evening. Daroga , now it’s time to be a homeo doc. He lifted each spice spoon and gave a gentle pat for the spice dust to fly into the colander. For the turmeric it was generous 8 taps, the crafty chilly got 4 gentle ones and for coriander and cumin , he dropped them gently, followed by reserved salt measure. His hand movement was now of a juggler,
By the way those days we cooked on wood fire, so he was managing the logs, the heath, the flames and the mixing of masalas.
He now poured warm water and covered it to boil. Later he dropped the fried fish and allowed it to cook.
The much awaited, scintillating of a fish curry was ready at last!

Once again I recall my Ma reiterating the question.. ‘Arey Daroga naam to bolo? ‘ He continued to have a quizzing look. As though all this while he was walking in reverie.
So my Ma announced ‘ ‘Khidderpore er Marie’!
Daroga a bit displeased raised a concern
‘ Memsahib, Marie nahiiiiii! Machchi!
Ma was now in her wits.. ‘Na go Daroga.. Tumhaara Marie Memsahib ka naam sey jaaygi is machchi!’
Daroga once again replied ‘ Ea jo Angrez aadmi log bura nahi hoi… Hamey loota thik hai, par Machi bananey ka ek nayi tareeka to bataya! ‘
Ma gave him a mouthful ‘ Beesh nei koolopana chakkar! ‘

I have used both the pronunciations to mark the social diversity . Please read it accordingly to savour the flavours of gastrocultural variety.
KIDDERPORE :- Anglicised ( stress on first D. and the O makes a round circle)
Khiddepore – local. ( the I is pronounced with an e stress and o is with an u stress)
Beesh nei koolopana chakkar! ‘:- All hat and no cattle :- gasbag
©Grace Nivedita SithaRaman ( Wunn)

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