As the vendor starts mashing the potatoes and sprinkles the condiments, her glands begin salivating. When he picks up the empty shell, cracks it with a deft tap of the thumb and thrusts the mix in it, dipping it in the tamarind water, she can hardly control the rush of saliva.
The memory of phuchka on Kolkata streets is so tantalising that she can come to the city just to gorge on the signature roadside snack, Japanese beauty queen Priyanka Yoshikawa told HT.
She came to the city 13 years ago, but the memory -- complete with the aroma and tingling sensation -- is still fresh. “I was only nine and stayed for about a year in the city. A relative took me to a neighbourhood vendor and then I visited him regularly,” she said over phone from Tokyo.
“I know there is some interest in me in Kolkata and I am thinking of visiting the city. If I come, phuchka will be an attraction enough. It is simply not available in Japan,” she added.
Fish is another favourite. “Bengali cuisines are available in a few restaurants here, but my diet restrictions are an impediment to relishing them regularly. The bones of hilsa are, however, a deterrent,” she said with a giggle.
Though Priyanka was born and brought up in Japan, her Bengali was grammatically quite flawless, though the pronunciation deviated a bit from the standard practice. “I learnt to read Bengali in childhood, and even read Tagore and Ray. But with no practice for years, the reading skills are becoming rusty,” she admitted.
“I also want to revive my reading skills while in Kolkata,” she said.
The 22-year old’s father, Arun Ghosh, migrated from Kolkata to Japan more than three decades ago.
On September 5, Priyanka who has an elephant trainer license, was crowned Miss Japan. In her country, where only two percent of the newborns are multiracial, this young woman is known to be a champion of the rights of mixed Japanese people. “I am proud that my father is a Bengali. I always highlight the contributions of people like Tagore, Ray and Amartya Sen,” she told HT.
The other memory of her father’s city, however, is completely different -- it is about urban poverty and squalor. “I have been to several cities of the world, but nowhere have I seen such poverty,” she lamented.
“I would also want to work for Kolkata’s poor,” she said.
Priyanka, who has been giving a number of TV interviews since she won the crown, told HT that she is in regular touch with a few relatives in the city, whose identity she wants to guard.
The beauty queen, however, has no taste for Tollywood films. Bollywood films are staple with Barun Dhawan a favourite. However, she has an ear for Bengali songs. “Some nice songs are being composed and recorded,” she said.
She remembers Kolkata as a city of warm, friendly people, completely different from workaholic Tokyo.
“I have to ride the tram and the metro too,” she said before disconnecting.