‘No these are not puchkas, it’s not the same. You have deceived me. I will not pay for these’. I heard one of the loudest shrieks in the by lanes of Bandra. The stall vendor tried to reason out, “No mam these are pani-puri only”. “No”, she was vehement. ‘These are not puchkas’, she retorted.
Usually I avoid being part of any such trivial confrontations on Sunday evenings, but there was something here which drew me instantly towards it- the word ‘puchka’. It had Calcutta written all over it and sent me down the memory lane to Joka wherein one of my Bengali friends had passionately and painstakingly explained me the difference between a puchka and a pani puri. And I had instantly fell into love- not with the puchkas (they are tasty though) but with the literary punch smacked in with his argument & explanation. The style was unique but lovable. ‘It runs here in the blood, you see’, he had told me. ‘We only get involved with the stuff we care about. But when we do, we can elucidate logic & reasoning which is un-matchable’.
Here on a Sunday evening, I could feel those vibes. I went close to the stall. She continued, ‘Why did you say that you have puchkas when I inquired. You have cheated me’. The poor chap stood scandalized. He was serving this to Mumbaikars for so long & suddenly got questioned over the dish’s originality and authenticity. He hit back, ‘Madam you know that Ranbir Kapoor has eaten these and signed them off’, showing the picture of the super star with the stall and a thumbs-up confirming the product. That was a serious brand endorsement which for a moment made me realize that I resided in a lane where Ranbir Kapoor visits to have pani-puris. That probably justified the high burgeoning Bandra rentals.
“The greatest scientific discovery was the discovery of ignorance. Once people realize how little they know about the World, they find good reason to seek new knowledge, which leads up to the road to progress”, she quipped. Realizing that this is too heavy a literary downpour for the guy, I stepped in, ‘Haven’t you added mashed potatoes to the tangy water’. Before the guy could react, she gleamed in her large green eyes.
“Thank God someone here knows the essence of Puchkas. Are you from West Bengal? ‘No, not really’. I replied, ‘But have studied there and indeed cherished the charm of puchkas; why don’t you tell him the difference actually. As you rightly said, he seems unaware?”
She felt a sense of pride & rejuvenation! This gave her the perfect moment to execute breathtaking intellectual somersaults that landed all of us back to her college days when she had discovered the difference. She began, “Puchkas contains boiled gram, mashed potatoes, tangy chutney and spicy water as the filling. Also the puri is darker and bigger in size. Pani Puri typically has the white peas curry filled in the imli chutney that goes inside. Golgappa, the 3rd variant, has a mix of potatoes, chickpea, tangy & sweet water, mint and spices as the filling. And the 4th variant, found in Odisha, is called Gupchup because it eliminates the potatoes & is much lighter to eat.” She concluded with a sense of valor & achievement on her face.
She was about to leave before which I requested the vendor to try and make a puchka for her. He was still stunned, having discovered the absolute truth about pani puri, emanating from a super human source. He agreed and started making one.
Seeing this she continued, ‘You know we are so patient till someone tries to illogically argue.’ I replied, ‘Ya truckloads of patience — I have seen in Calcutta, I still remember people playing chess below the Kalighat Bridge amidst utter chaos, noise and disturbances. But nothing diverted their attention. You walk slightly ahead to the chai and samosa stalls….”
She interrupted, “Chah and Singhada stalls, you mean? They are different, I hope you know!
Hurriedly I corrected myself, “Yes at the chah & singhada stalls- discussions ranged from J&K Indo-Pak solutions to the Indian monetary policy. I had witnessed intellectual diversity for the first time in Calcutta. And they had truckloads of time for it.’ A broad smile adored her faced as she stamped the final verdict, ‘Yes you may say the city is slow and all. But it has Joy and serenity. It has the highest quotient of intelligence & intellectualism combined together’. She gulped the puchkas as it arrived. ‘Ya, its average… 7/10 but at least you tried and have understood it right. Thank God. It’s a simple thing but you guys make a mess of it.’
She opened her purse and continued, “We are the people who come from the land of art, culture & culinary delight. We desire small pleasures in life but when it goes wrong, it hurts us. And we burst out passionately”. She handed the cash to the guy and left contented, thanking me for assisting her in making the guy realize his biggest folly of his life. As she walked off, I saw the cover of the book she was carrying, which read ‘The God of small Things’.
“It was such a small thing”. The vendor burst out. She could have just asked me to add minced potatoes & a little tangy chutney to the matter. Feeling intellectually burdened, I patted on his back and shrugged off, only to get a call from my wife, who is, by the way, a nonchalant admirer of her own ‘chah’, ‘singhada’ & ‘puchka’.