Author: Saadut
•10:00 PM


No work, I say, is less than any art, if performed with professional dedication. 

And our Habb’e Kak was nothing less than an artist in what he did. A wheatish brown man of medium height, strong arms, protruding waistline and a slate like minimal expression borne face. Back in our boarding school, Habb’e Kak was a legend in his own right, the master of his own culinary kingdom. ‘Lamsa, lamsa’ (push on, push on) used to be his war cry when he stood to perform in his studio, our dining mess. In the jostling queue of students, forced to random order by the mere sight (or a distant shout) of Late Sheikh Sir (ao baaya, kya karte ho!), how less or more of a mess was this mess is another story to narrate. Late Sheikh Sir was a figure of his own making, even a distant view of him walking down the admin block, quite afar from the dining hall, would force an order in the unruly of us. Such was his terror and awe. But story of that legend for another time. For now, in all the randomly ordered mess, Habb’e Kak was the star who stood and performed his own stage, his favorite musical instrument being the large ladle, which he clanked our metal trays with, creating an impressionist music of sorts. The pitch of this fast clanking, served with the loud lyrics of ‘lamsa, lamsa’ would override any other music that the boxy cassette player was trying to play in the distinct corner. The notes in his musical pitch would also be determined by the day of the week and the dish that was being served. Like on Fridays, when the ‘yakhni’ (mutton cooked in yogurt), would be served, his clanking would take a classical slow tone, giving his music and lyrics the space to choose which student gets the better piece of mutton. On such Fridays his ladle and cauldron music competed with Ghulam Ali being played on the dining hall cassette player, his favorite students would always get away with the best pieces, many of them from the ‘bahubali’ group of the first batch (nobody ain’t mess with ‘em). While the rest would have to be content with their luck at the ladle pushed roulette. 

It was on other days that Habb’e Kak would get inspired by Van Gogh. 


Van Gogh (Vincent Willem van Gogh: 1853 - 1890) is perhaps one among the most talented and famous artists the world has known, an artistic genius perceived to be quite different from his contemporaries. His art, regarded in his own lifetime as eccentric by many, was later recognized as a distinct style, where his paintings revolutionized the use of color and artistic style. The extraordinary boldness of his technique and imagination was reflected in his masterpieces, more in the way he used his favorite color, yellow. As the artist is famously quoted to have said “How lovely yellow is, it stands for the sun.”

Having found his artistic haven under the sun of Provence, in Arles (where he rented ‘the Yellow house’), he painted some of his most famous works with a yellow being a constant companion. 

Be it the famous Wheatfield with a Reaper’ (September, 1889) or the ‘Vase with 15 Sun Flowers’ (1888) (of the Sunflower series), his use of yellow and the mastery he achieved here was unparalleled. Especially in the ‘Vase with 15 Sun Flowers’ (1888), he chose to paint sunflowers with different shades of yellow, and his sunflower series used yellow to showcase all stages of life, from seeds, full bloom and to withering, creating a master class. 


A century later and three continents apart, another masterclass, albeit of a far lesser magnitude and recognition was being produced with the same love and consistency for yellow, that the served audience would fail to appreciate. Back in his studio, (the unappreciative of us used to call it the kitchen of our school ‘mess’), Habb’e Kak would be working hard on creating his masterpieces from yellow lentils (split Bengal gram lentil), added with loads of water and thrust into the whirlpool the huge cauldron, which had turned ash silvery with dashes of black over time. While Habb’e Kak swirled his ladle to mix his color palette in the cauldron, these dashes of black of the large vessel were worn like medals, pointing to the many wars the vessel had fought between the raging fires beneath and the whirlpool inside it. Having practiced his art for years, Habb’e Kak had achieved a distinct consistency in the yellow color he wished to obtain from the dish, no matter how much water would have poured into it. And like with Van Gogh, Habb’e Kak’s creations would also have their own artisitic meanings, the (watery) soup pointing to the importance of water in life, the lentils spreading out on trays in different patterns; sometimes like corner hillocks on the edges of a yellow sea, most other times as invisible islands on a yellow ocean, left to be discovered by us. And even in this watery free flow, where lentils were to be searched like diamonds of a yellow sea, the taste was so luscious, that lentils have never ever tasted like that again. While the pattern of his served art would change from tray to tray, the consistency of yellow would always be surprisingly maintained to the same levels. 

And the same would be the case of his work on chickpeas, where the hue of yellow would maintain its own distinct identity, like the weakened sun dark that would be setting in some darker yellow backwaters of the painters own choosing. Sometimes the lentils on our plates would resemble the sunflower seeds on Van Gogh’s paintings, floating on a yellow canvas. Other times the chickpeas would seem to be rising from the dark yellow soup like seeking hands in prayer, trying rise above their imminent drowning, reminding us of Faiz “Aayie haath uthaayen hum bhi, Hum jinhe rasm-e-dua yaad nahi’n”.

You see the resemblance, a century and three continents apart? 

Habb’e Kak’s artistry was woven into every tiny detail of his creation, yellow tinges with rare and faint dashes of oil, watery yellow to magnificent protruding sunset yellow in dull yellow backwaters.


Sadly, his expressionist vision was not recognized by the queues of stomachs that felt no inclination to appreciate the art behind the creations his ladle would dash on their plates. 


Decades later, the newer specimens to join the dining hall queues of my alma mater would never know what it meant to be part of that period of free flowing ‘art’ of the legend. 

Time moves on, as the legend would famously say ‘Lamsa, lamsa!’

Wheatfield With a Reaper, (Vincent Van Gogh September, 1889)




Vase with 15 Sun Flowers. (Vincent Van Gogh : 1888)