Memories of ma, and the sweet melange of ghonto

In his monthly column for the Time of India, 'Tasting economics,' Abhijit Banerjee, co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) and Nobel Laureate in economics, reflects on his recently-passed mother, an academic and women's rights activist.

Abhijit writes: "In her ideal world, each woman focuses on things that match her particular skills and equally importantly, is recognised by the family as doing something important. It could be something in the home, but for most of them, it will require stepping into the world,' adding, 'They will cook fewer wonderful ghontos but choose when to do so, and life will be sweeter for all of us."

Abhijit shares two recipes with readers, for palong saager ghonto and cholar dal.


I was in Kolkata for pujo this year and since my mother’s cook was on leave, I picked a restaurant that seemed nice. My mother hated it. She was bothered by these very well-built young men, who seemed to be part of the staff but did very little, and was convinced that we had somehow stumbled on a drug den. Even their very rich and mellow mutton qorma, redolent with mace and kewra, did little to mollify her. I vainly tried to convince her that she had it backward: this place, I explained, would turn into a nightclub after dinner hours and these were the bouncers, there to protect the rest from the drunk and drugged up. She was too grumpy to concede, so I relaxed into the good (but very spicy) chole.

That was the last time we went out for a proper meal. My mother, Nirmala Banerjee, passed away just a week after that. She was almost 88, but still, when she had the energy, like on that evening, immensely lively and feisty. I miss her all the time.

The next morning, she was in a more conciliatory mood, and conceded that nightclubs do need bouncers — when she was a student in England in the 1950s, they would often go out dancing and there would occasionally be trouble, and “with Indian males these days….”. Given that rather dire assessment, it may be surprising that she was always and adamantly of the view that women need the chance to go out and enjoy themselves, without the protective embrace of fathers, brothers, husbands or lovers.

The Times of India