Naga Chokkanathan

This is a post I wrote long back (2008 December) about Bengal’s famous ‘Misti Dhoi’. My friend P. V. Ramaswamy has translated it in English. Posting it here with special thanks to him:

It was my first trip to Kolkata, which looked like an overgrown village, that intimidated me a bit.

Specifically rainy days in Kolkata can be scary. All it requires is a light drizzle to make every road a filthy drainage.  To climb down the bridge below and to reach the railway platform calls for loads of patience.  Modernity was visible, but sporadically here and there, all over the city (?).  Otherwise from the buildings to the way people dress or speak reminded one of the B&W cinemas.

Adjacent to the guest house that we stayed, was the long street for shopping.  No not like malls, but small tiny kiosks.  Each separated by a short wooden board.  It was even difficult to understand who buys what and from which stall. It seemed to me probably the guy in the middle stall would give the item from his right side stall and put the money from customer into the left side shop’s drawer.

Tea stalls were scattered to refresh these shoppers and kiosk-wallahs.  Tea supplied in mutka – Kolkatans gulp down the tea and throw away the mud vessels on the streets.

Then the sweet stalls. In each of them is stacked like bricks, some 100 or 150 varieties of sweets. By the time one tells the names of all these varieties, I am sure, he would turn diabetic.  On the previous night, during a chat with Pa Raghavan, I conveyed my observation to him…. “Bengalis seem to be a sweet lot”

“OMG. Hey, I for to tell you…” was the excited response from him, adding further “don’t miss that sweetened curd –  sweetened with palm candy.”

The mere mention of a combo of sweet and curd almost made me throw up!  “No sir, I won’t”, I replied.

“Listen to me, try it once for me; post that, you will become an addict” – Pa Raghavan.

Since he was so insistent, I called the room boy.  Not knowing what they say in Hindi for Palm Candy,  I asked him whether ‘Meeta Dhahi’ be available there.  He corrected me: “that’s not ‘Meeta-Dhahi’ saab, but ‘Mishti-Dhoi’.  He flew out with some change from me and returned in two and a half minutes – carrying two mutkas.

The mental block that I had for the sweet-curd-combo returned. I wrinkled my nose and face at the earthy tiny pots. Now the dirt in this mutka will also be added to the combo and I was worried about getting sick.  Invoking Pa.Ra’s name, I collected the 2 mutkas; and on removing the rubber band supported paper on top, I saw the deep-off-white colored curd.  Yes, deep-off-white, which killed even traces of appetite.  What could in this be that Pa.Ra so strongly recommended, was the thought I had as I took a spoon of that stuff to my mouth.

I had never experienced that strange taste. Yes, it was curd – but that sweet taste was different.  No, I did not feel nausea at all. Actually wanted to take more of it!

In Bangalore you get something in the name of ‘Lassi’ – a sweetened curd (or buttermilk). The way they mix the curd and sugar make it horrible – in one swig it would taste of sugar and in yet another, the awful sour.  When in Bangalore, instead of taking lassi, it makes sense to drink a glass of buttermilk and then take two spoons of sugar separately.

But, this Mishti-Dhoi is not like that.  Curd and sweet had blended – fused so well that while retaining the original flavor of curd, every particle had become sweet.  Divine delicay.  My friend Suresh and I finished both the pots in the next five minutes, flat!

There is no count for the ‘Mishti-Dhoi that we consumed in the following fortnight.  Initially we were chasing the room boy for it, but the taste drew us so much that we started legging to the place ourselves. It was a special pleasure in standing at the crowded kiosk, and eating ‘Mishti-Dhoi’.

I had been to Kolkata twice after that.  I might miss Kali, Ramakrishna Mutt or even Ganges. But never did I miss the ‘Mishti-Dhoi’.  Last time when I was leaving Kolkata, I wondered why I could not buy some ‘Mishti-Dhoi’ for my wife and kids.  The kiosk-wallah promised that he would pack them in such way that they won’t break during the journey through flight.  But I had some apprehensions and I did not buy. I could only describe the taste of Mishti-Dhoi to my family.

Probably because of that, I did not get the opportunity to go to Kolkata in the next eighteen months.  The taste of mishit-Dhoi had vanished.

Yesterday, post lunch, as I was lying scratching myself, suddenly a thought of paying a visit to the ‘DC Books’ showroom newly opened in Koramangala.  I walked, listening to Ilaya Raja through my cell phone and reached Koramangala in 20 minutes.  I started searching for DC Books showroom, amidst various small and large sized shops.  I could not locate what I had came for.

It was then that I noticed in large bold letterings “MISHTI’ on a blood-red color board.

Engulfed with surprise, I inched closer.  In small fonts was written, “Traditional Bengali Sweets Available Here’.  Since the shop’s name itself was ‘Mishti’, I was confident that Mishti-Dhoi must be available and almost ran into the shop.

However, having entered, I a had peculiar shyness, preventing me from uttering the name ‘Mishti-Dhoi’. What if I had been pronouncing it wrong! (Even now, even as I am writing this, I have that anxiety) Will the shop keeper not laugh at my wrong pronunciation?

So, I used my time tested trick, asking ‘do you have Meeta Dhahi?’.  “Ah… Mishti-Dhoi”, said he, pointing at the glass walled container – thus pouring the sweetened curd into my stomach.

I saw Mishti-Dhoi in various sized plastic containers, instead of the mutka.  Price twice the rate!

So what, recession had impacted world over, why not the Mishti-Dhoi seller too? I bought two bowls.

As they were getting packed, I raised a sudden doubt: “why is this in white colour instead of the deep-off-white?”

He laughed, “it would be deep-off-white when seen inside the mutka.  This is transparent plastic and hence looks white to you”

I was not sure whether he was bluffing or telling the truth.  In any case, I thought if it tasted as good as I experienced earlier, it would be fine, irrespective of its color.  I took the pack and left for home.

Immediately on reaching home, all sat around and ate.  Same old good taste.  Without any inhibition, I slurped.  Neither the bowl nor the spoon had any leftover.

But others in my family did not like the taste. They turned away.

So what, I would consume their portion also – post supper.

***

N. Chokkan

29 12 2008

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2 Responses to "Misti Dhoi"

Thank you dear Chokkan. I felt honoured. 🙂

Regards, PVR.

Lol, mishti dhoi is amazing. A very unique and precious taste.
Very nice blog post.

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