Cooking and loving eat as well
Helps in need, indeed!
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
Chalise Bajey served as Bhanse Bajey or Cook-Pandit for Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan and his family during 1940s and by 1960s - two decades later this new settlement little beyond our Kingston through which the Reshi-Rongli Road leading further to Lingtam-Dzuluk-Lungthung-Kupup onwards to the Jalep La and Nathu La on the MacMohan Line border that saw India's China War around this time, October 20 - November 21 to be exact, in 1962. Blessed was him to serve thus to make his name immortal having the village he lived to be named after him even while he was alive. Otherwise, there is none in the name of those in the Taksari family whom he served who had made Sikkim what it is today. This illustrious Taksari family had as many as six Rai Sahebs to be honoured by the British Raj for their outstanding landmark contributions to the hill people and society. Such is the thing here in the Black Hill that gave the world The Chandra Nursery to put this tiny Himalayan Kingdom in the floriculture map not only European countries were familiar with but all across the globe from the US in the West to Japan in the East further down to Australia in the southern hemisphere. It was started by Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan with his brother Babu Durga Shamsher Pradhan after their father Taksari Chandra Bir Newar in 1910. It was young Chandrabir to land here in the Black Hill that too at a time when this remote place known more for the dreaded black disease i.e. kalo jwaro/aule jwaro or malaria besides thick forests full of all kinds of dreaded denizens, reptiles and insects of all kinds that the later could still be found. Even the inhabitants here were hostile to oppose tooth and nail their advent in the new foundland to make their new home. I wish some independent/sincere scholars get into depth to study for further research here on their contributions and our universities/institutions/social bodies could come up with such a brilliant idea to support such a study to throw light on this rather neglected/hidden aspect from the pages of our history. They would not miss, for sure, the present government naming a road in honour of Rai Saheb Bhim Bahadur Pradhan* not in the capital Gangtok but in the obscure village where he was born and his father Taksari Chandrabir breathe his last. Neither they would forget mentioning of the Newar Icon Sikkim Keshab Chandra Pradhan of having been honoured as Sikkim Sewa Ratna in 2015 for his lifelong service while in the Government becoming the second Chief Secretary from the Nepali community after his first cousin Mohan Pratap Pradhan* reached this much coveted post for the civil servants.
It was joy cooking for myself and me alone with Ranjana gone for a break to be at Gangtok last weekend for some errands and social calls she can not do/live without. With almost no social life here, she was overcoming every odd to be with me here in the Black Hill. It was natural for me to step into her shoes rather than depending upon someone else for the meals though she had asked our neighbour Bhanij Arvind and Buhari Sunita to look after if any help was needed. I told them they need not bother as I had been cooking for myself since my school days while preparing for the School Final Examination. It was only during the examination time that my friend Mani Chandra Khati*'s family had done me the favour. The taste of delicious food that Dambari Didi prepared still lingers to my tongue that often tell whenever we meet her. Their father Bhuwan Singh* or Khati Babu as he was popularly known used to help us in our studies in the evening. This time again more out of compulsion rather than by choice as during my bachelor days with pressure cooker coming into the kitchen those days first time ever. Our first was 5-litre Hawkin's from the CSD at Chalise during the Dashain 1971 when I came for the festival from Manas Game Sanctuary in Bhutan. There my orderly Madan Rai used to take care of my meals with provisions purchased from Barpeta Road Station on way back from the Divisonal Forest Office at Sarbhang across Kokrajhar. Our train reached at night and we had to spend in the waiting room with cash in my briefcase to be disbursed as salary to the staff. I had a sound sleep but Madan could not as he was more worried remaining vigilant about a suspicious person in the room interested and looking for an opportunity. This I could know only in the morning that saved me a lot to thank him profusely. Otherwise, our Dashain that year would have been the worst ever than the year 1968 that saw the whole of Sikkim-Darjeeling Hills suffering due to the massive landslides all over that night thereafter of 2nd October. This made me go back to Darjeeling Government College trekking up to Pedong and from there to Algarah in a truck to reach Siliguri via Labha-Gorubathan-Sukna. I am yet to visit all these places though I would love much to be there yet one time more, more particularly the Manas Sanctuary in Bhutan that gave me a break from the jinx of being unemployed with my Master's degree circa 1969.
My bachelor days returned when I came back to Gangtok after twelve years outside (with intermittent visits in between) since I passed out of Tashi Namgyal Academy in the last batch of Matriculation under the West Bengal Secondary Education Board in 1962. During last school days Sanu Mama Mohan Pratap Pradhan had gone to the UK for some six months' administrative course and Maiju spent the time with her parents in Calcutta. That winter I had to prepare for the School Final Examination and I had to help myself cooking and loving eat (rather it) as well. It was, as told earlier, more out of compulsion than by choice and for good as it helped me a lot later in life whenever needed. It was more so coming back to Gangtok after two years' training as an IA&AS Probationer that took me to the National Academy of Adminstration, IA&AS Staff College/Accountant General's Office in Shimla with last six months at the Accountant General (Central) Office in Calcutta. Kolkata stay was in a humble room near the Naaz Cinema on way to Bada Bazar (Mahatma Gandhi Road) where Bijoy stayed and had managed to get it for me. Before this, I had stayed in a make shift accommodation provided by my school-friend Dhruba Pradhan. He was in charge of the clearing and forwarding Nepa Agency (belonging to Rajbhandaris in whose family Sanu Mama's elder daughter Rajani was later married) in the Kanak Building near the little Russel Street off Chowringhee/Jawahar Lal Nehru Road. Coming to my own room there, my cooking knowledge came to be of help. Back thereafter to Gangtok and staying some weeks with Sanu Mama-Maiju, I moved out to get prepared for my life ahead myself. Fortunately, accommodation was available nearby at Anand Bhavan belonging to Mama Purna Kumar Pradhan* who had served as the Private Secretary to the Chogyal for a long time. There too my cooking knowledge was helpful and pressure cooker helped a lot - its three separators used for bhat, dal and tarkari. Cooking gas came to the Sikkim capital only in 1975 and it was on Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday. Sanu Mama found this new kitchen appliance not that useful as much heard of those days its safety requirements that surpassed the benefits of smokeless kitchen and clean/sootless utensils after cooking. So, the gas connection was passed on to me as a few connections were then made available to VIPs and high dignitaries only. I still remember the Consumer Number allotted for this Indane LPG connection to me was 27. Laxmi Prasad Sharma* who was my class-friend Punya's brother and worked earlier in Tashi Namgyal Academy as accountant and had come to the Eight Unit Quarter where we had moved in the previous year. He had come after a posting in SNT Siliguri and was quite familiar with the use of LPG there to share with us all the nitty-gritty of using and deriving the best out of it besides the precautions needed. My life single there experimenting further my culinary skills brought bachelors like friend Nari Tsering of Aritar then working in the Tourism after some training and cousin Subodh* junior accountant in SNT in the weekend whenever I was not gone to my parents here. When shifting to this quarter from Anand Bhavan, evening was celebrated over a drink shared with Achyut Pradhan* who stayed in the building next. Next year by January end I was home married with Ranjana taking caring of everything including not only cooking and kitchen but all that was needed to make that government quarter our home for next nearly two decades. Nari was amongst some colleaues(Badri Nath Sharma*, B. Tsering*, Norbu Dadul Chingapa, Madan Kumar Chettri and Deo Kumar Gajmer) to attend the reception held on 2nd February here and oblige us at our residence 'Jaisri' at latitude 27.18 longitude 88.65 and altitude of 1169.52 metres - exact location on this globe!
And you thought that my cooking adventure was over with Ranjana coming to my life?! No, I was very much into cooking there too in the Eight-Unit Quarter as our children were growing up and studying in the TNA. I had taken over myself the responsibility of morning chores into my hands preparing breakfast before they left for school. This was just to show them my love and that I too could cook if needed rather than just eating prepared by their Mummy all the time. To make my whatever little knowledge interesting I attempted all culinary skills needed to make the food I prepared appetizing/wholesome and served them delicious each morning with some variety. They still remember the taste lingering in their mouth and tell me the wonderful noodles they enjoyed besides the Mughlai Paratha frequently made to keep them delighted with a change from the usual cornflakes-bread/toast-butter/jam-omelette fare. Sunday was for Mummy to make what they liked - chatamari, dosa, idli, what not!
When alone this time how I managed with my meals here most of readers might be thinking as I had to take time out from my own routine. Early-riser habit in me came to rescue yet it was something extra that I had to put for preparing my meals. Breakfast was somehow delayed giving time to see the workers getting into day's business and thereafter, some visitors to keep me away from the main task. Yet by the usual time, my meal was ready to have a superb lunch for myself to full satisfaction of accomplishing the task once more yet again after a long gap in recent years. Tired of her routine daily chores, Ranjana sometimes coax me to show and prove my culinary skills, while she was happy watching Food channels on television shuffling in between her favourite serials, I had been avoiding all the while in one or the otherpretext. The reason for being so is just plain and simple, because I like the best home-made meals prepared and served rather than I would venture out from the homely comforts for a dinner. She was dining out this time with Raman and buhari Sarvada that they like the best and as often as possible, but she could not enjoy it much like we did when in the US during our sojourn. Reason being plain and simple that I was not there with them and Ranjana thinking of me, what and how I managed with my food all alone back in the Black Hill. She tried to know it more than once but the No Service BSNL as always came on our way most of the days at a stretch day and night throughout. The only time communication possible was through Facebook Messenger talk when connected to Wi-Fi, that too when myself was somewhere around within its range. During the launch of Reliance Jio, Mukesh Ambani did not forget to make a mention of government's ambitious programmes Digital India, Make in India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "Jio will fulfill Digital India dream of Prime Minister Narendra Modi," he said, calling Jio a "revolutionary" step to realise India's digital ambitions. I left wondering if it was available here too in the Black Hill though I had just taken Vodaphone 4G last week getting effective 1st September and quite perplexed if I was early with it or Jio was late coming into the scene that very day!
As I cook up this story what a co-incidence The Darjeeling Chronicle to share an interesting story this morning on Facebook to tell that "With 6 Out of 64 Nominated, Gorkhas Make Their Presence Felt in India’s Top Chef - Your VOTEs are Needed for the The third Season of India's first consumer-powered, people-centric food awards that recognise and honour the most talented young chefs, mixologists and managers of starred hotels and stand-alone restaurants, features 6 Gorkha chefs and mixologists vying for the top post. To vote visit http://www.topchefawards.com/the-nominees.htmlone" for the Nation's capital based contest.
What I had for my meals all alone better not to share here since they were cooked well enough appetizing - something more for the next!
Disclaimer: This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. Some names (asterisk for those no more), quotes, places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Newars World~Wide Connecting the Dots Sikkim is available at the Rachna Books.