The mention of his favourite dishes — Thai chicken curry and Naga roasted pork with honey — breaks the ice. The 68-year-old, who usually doesn’t talk much, gets eloquent: the quantity of Thai masala and lemongrass has to be just right to make a perfect Thai chicken masala, while for Nagamese roasted pork, a connoisseur must make the effort of getting the choicest cuts of meat.
As the evening grows, my host talks impressively about insurgency in the Northeast, Islamic militancy and Kautilya’s Arthasashtra alike.
Maloy Krishna Dhar, the former joint director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and author of various books on counter-intelligence and terrorism, is a man of many shades, it appears.
Seated on a wooden sofa, Dhar nurses a steaming cup of Darjeeling. Pots of bonsai — of amaltas and maple — flank his sofa. Moments later, he gets up and disappears into his bedroom only to emerge with a brown leather bag. It is 9 p.m. and half-an-hour before dinner, Dhar, a diabetic, injects an insulin shot.
Soon after, he fixes a serving of red wine for himself, a daily pre-dinner ritual, like the Darjeeling and insulin shot. At Dhar’s two-bedroom apartment in east Delhi, life is tuned to a set routine. Dhar’s thoughts soon wander away to Nagaland, where he was posted as the chief of the local IB unit. He may have his slices of Nagamese roasted pork tonight, but still rues the absence of madhu, the popular local rice brew of Nagaland.
“If you have it once, its taste remains with you.” But Dhar throws a note of caution: if you do not want to end up guzzling unlimited quantity of the brew then make sure the glass stays only half-empty at a Naga host’s residence.
“According to Naga customs, the host ought to fill the glass of a guest as soon as it gets empty. If you do not empty it back, it will be considered bad manners,” he says.
Dhar, on most days, dines alone; his wife Sunanda had died of cancer six years ago, while his two sons (Mayukh and Mainak, both management graduates from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad) stay abroad.
“When I am with my sons, I cook for them. Even for my guests, sometimes, if I feel like,” he says.
Dhar admittedly is a good cook; he even tutored Sunanda into the fine art of frying tengda fish or making a delicious hilsa fish-curry. It is time for dinner now and one would get to see his cooking skills.
Ram, Dhar’s Man Friday, reveals that his saheb has cooked prawns malai curry and Thai chicken curry (dry).
As Dhar tucks into his chicken curry and fried baingan bhaja (slices of brinjal), he sums up his culinary tastes: it’s an amalgam of food habits of regions where he had worked.
Dhar is a connoisseur of regional cuisine. For example, he loves the Manipuri dal, another dish cooked with lemongrass.
For a sleuth, he explained, it is important to win the trust of his “sources”. A good way of doing that is to genuinely embracing the local culture and food habits. That’s the secret of winning a “source’s” heart, he says.