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Famous Curry

Famous Curry

I was oblivious to the fact that it was a Bangladeshi eatery. Back in India I would’ve called it a dhaba. But here it was flashing Curry on its signboard, and Kababs too. I was tempted to eat Indian or close to Indian food after a week of running around in cold weather, so I went in.

“What’s this?” I asked, pointing to the biryani. “Biryani”, said the helper, making me nervously thinking what does he think about me. “I know”, I said, “which biryani”? “Beeph” came the reply. There you go, this is a Banladeshi joint. Nothing wrong with it. I love Bengali food, having lived there for the first twelve years of my childhood. So I look at the menu now and focus on the item that said ‘Buffet $8 – three items and Rice or Bread’. I was so happy to eat three items for just eight bucks. So I started ordering, telling the helper to add the chicken gravy, then the fish curry and…he looked at me. “Sir, only one non-veg and two veg items in buffet pleej”. That’s a dampener but I check out the veggies. Nothing appealing at all. “Just the curry with naan for me”, I said.

“Ki holo”, came the owner asking what happened. He could make out I am not a Bangladeshi but obviously didn’t know that I know Bengali. So he enquired the helper as to what happened. I must’ve kept others in the queue waiting. “Veg dekhe na bolche, eta buffet chhilo” pointing at the plate and telling the owner that he seems to not like the veg but wanted the buffet. “ Eta shaat dollar bole dao”, tell him it’s $7. No problem, I thought.

In comes a regular and the owner coaxes him to have the biryani. He retreats giving a smiling ‘nah’, but the owner probably wanted to finish the biryani. I move on with my tray and start noticing the people who filled the small place. It was a shabby place compared to the mid-town east eateries. A very typical low-end South-Asian eatery types with a shabby door to the rest-room and an obviously absent décor. It just had white-tiled walls. The people in there were extremely casual and comfortable, actually standing and conversing and eating around their tables, definitely more than regulars. They all spoke Bengali, spoke about Khaleda Zia, Sheikh Hasina and the politics back home in Bangladesh. Nothing derogatory though but the fact the Bengalis have simple tastes and wear simple clothes, it’s hard to differentiate the class in the herd. I still could not figure that out after years in Calcutta. So I stopped guessing who these people are and assumed that they’re workers in restaurants or small stores. There were a couple of ok-dressed well-educated looking young guys probably eating out on a Saturday night at this place, getting over home-sickness. Must be the IT herd.

So I dig into my naan and chicken curry, not bad I must say. Sitting in a place like this I was tempted to lick my fingers after every bite or two. They were all doing that and once in a while when someone noticed me noticing them, they passed a smile back. I suddenly felt comfortable, forgetting the fact that the owner charged me more than what he charged the regulars. I was told the biryani was for $7 whereas his friend got it for $5 with a piece of chicken from the chicken curry topping it. I held a grudge against the owner for sure.

I finish my dinner, get rid of my tray and head to the restroom to wash my hands. It seemed exactly how I thought of it to be – shabby, but it doesn’t matter. I felt like home, even though I was in the company of people from our neighboring country. I walked past the helper and then the owner, who smiled back at me and made me forget the fact that I was over-charged. Maybe cause it was worth it. I was happy but something inside me said that I should say something to him, so I did – “Tumi Bangladeshi”, I said, meaning are you Bangladeshi. The owner nodded, probably now waiting to hear more from me and confirm his suspicion that I maybe Banladeshi. “Ami India thike eshe chi. Ami Kolkatta dosh bauchaur chhillam. Korry bheeshon bhalo aache tomar” (I am from India and was in Calcutta for 10 years. Your curry was very nice). I walked out, didn’t have any urge to see his expression, since my intention was not to shock and awe but to give a subtle message to him that there are others who like you too and it’s not always about the community.

(Once I was out I figured out who were these people inside, eating, conversing, and making themselves feel at home. Outside I saw New York yellow taxis parked all over the place. That explains so much about their expression of freedom and camaraderie in a small eatery. This place made them feel at home and brought them closer to the people from their part of the world. This is their world for now. The owner is probably a big brother to them, taking care of them, giving them their food at a price that they can afford. I went back the next day, smiled at the owner and ate the buffet this time.)

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