Chapter 127: Bengali Cooking, Mustard Seed Oil, Pishima, and Shukta

Śrīla Prabhupāda Uvāca 127
Bengali Cooking, Mustard Seed Oil, Pishima, and Shukta

September 1974 ISKCON Calcutta

While staying at the Calcutta Temple in 1973, I became aware of Śrīla Prabhupāda's fondness for Bengali cooking. Amazingly, during my tenure of personal service to my beloved Śrīla Prabhupāda, His Divine Grace didn't eat Bengali-style prasadam very often. Even when he stayed at the Calcutta and Māyāpur temples, he regularly honored prasadam prepared by his western disciples. The difficulty with the wonderful Bengali preparations, although quite tasty, was that they often contained mustard oil.

"It is difficult for me to digest," Śrīla Prabhupāda would comment.

One day at the Calcutta temple, Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Mahārāja entered Śrīla Prabhupāda's room and offered his obeisances. Sitting comfortably behind his desk, Śrīla Prabhupāda looked as effulgent as ever.

"Haven't you said that mustard oil is for the outside of the body and ghee is for the inside?" Tamāla Kṛṣṇa inquired.

"Yes," Śrīla Prabhupāda said, smiling.

"Then doesn't that mean that we shouldn't use mustard oil in our cooking?" Tamāla Kṛṣṇa Mahārāja continued. "Sometimes, some of the devotees are using mustard oil in their cooking. I don't think it is a good idea."

"Well, it is true," Śrīla Prabhupāda said. "But, mustard oil is very tasty. It makes the vegetables taste first-class. Therefore, in Bengal, everyone uses mustard oil in their cooking. It is very palatable."

When Śrīla Prabhupāda stayed in Bengal, his sister would sometimes come to the temple and cook for him. This was a mixed blessing. It was known by many that Śrīla Prabhupāda's sister, Pishima, would smuggle mustard oil into the temple kitchen under her sari to use in her cooking for her beloved brother. Like Śrīla Prabhupāda, Pishima had a way of listening to what we had to say and then doing whatever she wanted. Śrīla Prabhupāda ate whatever she cooked and occasionally would complain afterwards saying, "Her cooking has made me ill."

Using deadpan humor, he continued, "I think she is trying to kill me."

Sometimes I would chastise him like a parent saying, "Prabhupāda, you are not getting sick when you eat from your cooker, but when you eat what your sister cooks then you get sick."

"Yes! Don't give me anything else," he replied with conviction. "Let me eat what you cook. If my sister gives me something, you eat it, if you like. I don't want to eat it."

I became very enlivened by his determination to follow my instructions. Of course, when it came to eating, he never followed anyone's instructions for long. He always did what he liked. Once, one of Śrīla Prabhupāda's godnephews, a Bengali brahmacārī, visited Śrīla Prabhupāda at his Juhu flat. He was a very good cook and offered to cook Śrīla Prabhupāda shukta, a bitter vegetable stew. I watched the young devotee as he expertly deep-fried large slices of vegetable, including bitter melon. When he finished, there was a large pot of very bitter and very oily soup. Śrīla Prabhupāda relished every bite.

"This is the most wonderful thing," he commented. "Śrutakīrti, you should learn. Make it like this. This is very first-class."

I was never able to come close to duplicating the wet vegetable that Śrīla Prabhupāda savored that day. Fortunately for me, Śrīla Prabhupāda accepted the much simpler cooking I regularly prepared. I was delighted hearing him say that my cooking didn't make him sick.

Śrīla Prabhupāda, I always marvel at your depth of compassion. You regularly accepted service from everyone, regardless of the consequences to you. No one knows this better than I. You never gave up on me. I know that as long as I have a sincere desire to serve you, you will never turn your back on me. Please give me a taste for the shukta you ate and a taste for devotional service. Both are too bitter for me to enjoy because my senses are deadened by lifetimes of a demoniac diet.