Kolkata family remembers Vajpayee as a lover of phuchka, macher jhol and Umrao Jaan
Vajpayee would even visit the kitchen and request for more spices and chilli to be added to his food.
Built around an open courtyard, a traditional five-storey haveli in the heart of British India’s first capital was where Atal Behari Vajpayee tasted his first ‘phuchka,’ Kolkata’s version of Mumbai’s popular street snack, paani puri. He had a plateful and even posed for the camera, holding one dripping in spicy tamarind water.
Residence of Vajpayee’s life-long friend and Bharatiya Jana Sangh member Ghyanshyam Beriwala, ‘Beriwala House’ at 167 Chittaranjan Avenue is where the former prime minister used to put up during every visit to Kolkata between the mid-’50s and 1996, the year he first headed the country for 13 days.
The room where he used to sleep and work in private remains just as untouched as the memories he left behind. For the Beriwalas, Vajpayee was never an MP or Prime Minister. They fondly remember “a great human being” who insisted on having more chili and spices in his food, loved chatting with children and women of the house and sometimes watch classic movies.
“In sharp contrast to L K Advani, he loved spices. He often walked into the kitchen and ask the women to add more chili and spice in his food. He never insisted on having any special dish and shared our simple vegetarian food,” said 88-year-old Ghanshyam Beriwala.
“But he had a soft corner for fish. I took him to a restaurant on Park Street (Kolkata’s food capital) a couple of times. He also had a Bengali friend who lived in Tollygunge. Vajpayee used to pay him visits only for Bengali fish curry,” the octogenarian added.
“I can’t remember the year but once he was with us on his birthday and I offered an aarti (prayer). He loved sweets of every variety,” said Shanti Devi Beriwala, wife of Ghanshyam.
Their son Kamal, 62, grew up watching Vajpayee from close. “Nobody was allowed to disturb him once he retired for the day because he used to stay up and write. On a few occasions he watched movies. I remember how he enjoyed watching Umrao Jaan,” said Kamal Beriwala.
Kamal’s wife Pratibha has fonder memories. “One day we were having phuchka from a travelling vendor and asked him he wanted to join us. He readily agreed but said the vendor had to come inside the house. He loved the experience. I took his photograph and asked him to sign it. He asked what I would do with it. I said it was a memoir that I would never share with anyone. Till today, I kept my word,” Prathibha Beriwala said.
Trinamool Congress leaders, too, shared memories. The most memorable of these being a Prime Minister’s visit to Bengal’s opposition leader and Union railway minister Mamata Banerjee’s two-room residence in 2000. Vajpayee spontaneously touched the feet of Banerjee’s mother and gorged on Bengali sweets.
First Published: Aug 17, 2018 12:59:07