Somehow this Rashbehari – Ballygunge stretch, being associated with most exciting phase of my life, transforms the mind whenever am there. Post a quick work at the bank, was heading to a logical point for calling Uber. Melancholic soul was saying it is 3-50 pm. Past 20 mins since Radhu Babu has opened. Should I?
The person, whom I walked into, while debating this, was none other than one of my closest college friends and been the most frequent company of mine during those days to Radhu Babu.
Realized it is Almighty who often helps you decide in moments of serious double thoughts. Now I didn’t need to walk also. He has his car with him.
There are some places which deserves certain actions. Alighting from a car in front of Radhu Babu is not an action I could carry out. It is a place where one walks in leisurely, for a cup of tea with whatever you want as accompaniment depending on time of the day and cash in your wallet. It is a place which is not a destination just to arrive, have a quick and classy meal and move on.
As we walked into Janak Road from Lake mall, time rushed back by a quarter of a century. Post those apparently complex engineering lessons together at my friend’s place, a cup of Radhu Babu’s tea used to be such a welcome break, not just for the tea, but for the entire mood and bonhomie of the area. If those used to be at the beginning of the month, a kabiraji used to accompany the tea. Towards the middle of the month it scaled down to a fish chop. We avoided all such places post 25th of the month, but if those evening study sessions got rigorous, Radhu Babu was unavoidable. Toast was the only possibility then – with or without butter varied based on monthly savings of money earned through tutions.
The kormas and the stews at Radhu Babu were amongst those few targets in life then, for which a decent job was a must. And that’s what ensured a more focused study post the tea at Radhu Babu.
The gap from then till now has been too long – clueless about how much that coveted plate of korma or stew will cost. The chicken roast must be costlier since the piece, as I vaguely remember , was larger. With all these complex calculations, I did arrive at Radhu Babu some months back around 7 pm. Excitement was overflowing – finally that coveted korma or maybe stew. Or should I straightway jump into the roast.
“Ki Debo?” (What should I serve you) Was the question that pulled me out from this self debate. Roast being the last thought, somehow I uttered that automatically.
“Onekhon Sesh” (over quite a while back) was the instant response. I felt relaxed – God wants me to scale up gradually.
“Thik ache, stew dao” (ok, give me stew).
“Stew Sesh” (stew is over) was the response. Almighty was doing magic for me and wants me to have the korma here.
“Korma i dao – chicken kintu” (give me korma, chicken one).
“Oi ke last plate ta Chilo – uni khachhen”.
Not often has my gratitude for the Almighty, that was building up in the last few minutes, got shattered so fast. It was even more devastating to watch someone intensely finishing off that last plate of Korma.
My expression probably was too visible – “fish chop ache, Debo?”
A mindless me nodded to his query.
Not sure if the quality has gone down or my gratitude but it didn’t taste as it used to be decades back.
Thanks to the seamless standard of tea, the greatest charm here, I could recover a bit as I went out to pay for my misadventure.
Radhakishore Dutta was a freedom fighter before he came down to Calcutta. Once he moved in to the city, he started this little shop to earn his living. The shop was started by him somewhere in the 1930s. Some old timers say deer meat was a tempting item here then.
I glanced at my watch. It is 3-55 pm as we stepped in. Just about 25 mins the shop has opened.
Only a lone customer inside. Outside is crowded as always with people having tea. Both of us settle down. My friend, being from the locality, seems to know them all.
“Roast khabi toh?” (You will have roast?). He does remember our childhood aspirations.
Before even I could nod, from behind the shelf, a voice floated in
“Roast aaj nei” (Roast not there today). Neither did I allow any sort of emotion to settle in, nor did I want to lose a minute communicating via friend – stew, korma? I asked in one breath.
“Stew du plate ache, aar korma ache” (2 plates of stew is there and korma available).
“Diye dao” (give)
“Kota kore” ( how many each)
“Duto kore ” (2 plates each)
Crisis leads to people unnecessarily blocking more. However civilized we are, at times, the bare basics come out.
I have not seen a famine in my life, but seeing me others might have experienced what it is like to come out of a famine and have the first meal.
The onion-garlic-ginger-cardamom smell will awake your senses.. The distant aroma of combo acting as a wonderful far flung blow of sax in oily gravy acting which is like the key tune of the song. If I failed describing it properly, just switch on “phule gandho nei” composed by Pancham. The onion garlic aroma was like Manohari Singh’s sax and the mustard oil based gravy was the voice of Asha ji.
The spoon is given for you not have have the gravy initially. The gravy is to be had by dipping the typical bread of Kolkata in the gravy so that the bread is soaked in the gravy which makes it so very kolkatan way of having a snacks. You can use the spoon to scoop the balance gravy up, if some is left.
It was a mistake to have pounced on the Korma first. That made the stew mellow down after the rich state of korma. Here the papaya, carrot or potato is not served with the stew. A gravy which is thicker in consistency than the ones popular in Dalhousie and hence a more intense colour.
Being Thursday, both were chicken variants. The succulent wholesome piece of chicken is well infused with the gravy to have the gravy linger in your taste buds long after it is over.
25 years later, even after 2 successive visits , Radhu babu still leaves a reason for me to be back.
Of course, not only I need to ensure I am just behind the person unlocking the shop at 3-30 pm but also I need to ensure it is any day of the week but a Thursday.
As we walked out from the shop, my friend’s murmuring “mutton stew here is a class” reinforced my resolve.