Susheela would sit outside the portico and keep aside her big basket of fish. She would call out for Aai in her shrill voice that can be heard from a mile. Her timing was always perfect. 9 am sharp on Sunday mornings and 8 am on weekdays. The old bamboo basket that she carried on her head, smelt perpetually of stinking fish. Susheela has been selling fish for many years now. She is a dark, fat woman with betel nut stained teeth, of indeterminate age. Her face is riddled with a few wrinkles . She is fond of wearing dark coloured saris with zari border. She is ladened with artificial gold plated jewellery and a big nose ring with oiled bun and ofcourse, a gajra in her hair. On hearing, Susheela’s cries, Ganga, Aai’s domestic help would also follow Aai to the portico.
Buying fish every Sunday was more of a ritual ceremony than a necessity. Susheela would carefully remove the banana leaves from top of her basket and pull out the best one for Aai. Aai has full trust on Susheela that she will give her the best one. But it is Ganga, who would give the final approval after checking the gills. Then they all nod in agreement before the fish is weighed and cut.
Aai’s house has a big aangan, a courtyard in the middle of the house. The fish is cleaned there, everytime. While Ganga cleans it, there are more than one onlookers. One of them being Meeow – Aai’s cat and few crows perched on the roof, in hope of getting parts thrown by Ganga. The cleaning regime is completed amidst constant chatter -patter, purring of Meow and cawing of the crows. After thorough cleaning, the fish pieces are marinated with a generous amount of turmeric and salt and kept away securely from the prying eyes, especially of Meeow.
Aai eye balls the amount of garlic, ginger and onion and hands it to Ganga. And it is perfect every time. The masala for the fish curry is prepared using a seelbata (a mortal and pestle made of stone). Ganga’s bangles make a nice jingle as she grinds the masala to and fro, making a nice fine paste full of fresh fragrances of the spices.
The smoky and nutty smell of hot mustard oil fills the kitchen as Aai carefully drops the fish pieces one by one, into the hot oil. And you don’t need a sensitive nose to know that the maach is already in the oil. Even before the first batch is out of the kadhai, everyone is already there with small shiny steel plates, waiting for their share. Aai smiles and carefully places a crisp hot piece of fish on first come first serve basis, with a warning, “hot”. And as for Meeow, she is curled comfortably on the kitchen doormat hoping that she gets a little more than the left over bones.
Sundays have been no more exciting, other than a nice family treat with a experimenting varieties of fried fish!