“You aren’t stuck up about food.”
What a strange thing to say to someone, I wondered at the time. What kind of people must they be like, the ones who are stuck up about food? Not the kind of people I’d ever want to meet. One of the advantages – of course, besides the pot-bellied, tea-addled and narrow-minded perspective to the world – of growing up in a culture that propagates sloth, is its innate, unassailable love for – as a friend puts it – “gastronomical shizz”. It dared not be even called love, for it’s as easy and instinctive as breathing. That begs the question, however, that love isn’t easy or instinctive. Let the debate on love rest for now, till I can deem myself capable of it, till dogs decide to reveal the secret to it. [mental note: St. Bernard!]
Maybe it was the time at the beach that as a toddler I had licked clean 17 pieces of roshogolla off an earthen bowl [side note: Speaking of beaches, if I were to pick a happy place – besides the (1) lazy Saturday afternoon in bed with a book whose pages are yellowing and a boatload of Marie biscuits to go with a mug of tea, and if the universe is kind enough, then whistling trees outside amidst a relentless pitter patter of unseasonal rain, or (2) sleeping under the night sky, or. . . I digress – if I were to pick a happy place, one of them would be the beach, with the onrushing waves and the salt in the winds, and a total, infinite and all-encompassing calm that forces your mind to empty itself of disquiet. I ramble again.], or the time that I had started to appreciate my mother’s cooking once I realized that there was a ticking clock set against it, or the times that I, with or without company, had ventured to new places, to unabashedly indulge, or somewhere in between that I had found myself conscious of the desire to pursue the shizz that is gastronomical.
Earlier this week, I accompanied my father on his trip to the meat market. I forced myself to not look away and consequently be a hypocrite, as he chose a particular dead fish which the seller then cleaned and cut into pieces, put in a packet and neatly tying a knot, handed it over. He had cut off the fins first. Next, we moved to the chicken seller, and in a steel tray on display there was a pile of bloodied chunks of chicken: large and belonging to different discernible parts of the body of the chicken. The seller was already midway strangling another live chicken when we arrived. My father deftly chose from the pile and the seller deftly cut them up, put them in a packet and after neatly tying a knot, handed it over. In my rebel years as a hormonal teenager (acting as if I am past them now) I had once attempted to give up meat but my parents had so viciously opposed it (and granted my total lack of interest in pursuing the culinary arts), I couldn’t go very far in that direction. I am going to give it up, though, when my decisions are mine to make, with money that is mine to earn – all due respect to meat and the wondrous food one can make with it. The seller had no right to cut off the fins. I don’t care about the food chain rationale.
Yesterday, at an all-you-can-eat Rajasthani-Gujarati buffet, that included four types of curry, three types of dal, two types of sweetmeat, three types of ‘bread’ with a choice of ghee or white butter, two types of chutney, two types of pickle, a lightly fried bite-sized vegetable chop and a pink dhokla, an onion-garlic-chana paste, rice, khichdi, papad and malpua with a side of rabri, I lost, found and again lost myself. When my brother posts pictures from his trips to Jaipur and the free food, jealousy rises like bile up my throat. The multiple small brass bowls, the large round brass plate and the perplexing choice of where to start to from. Sigh. The buffet was only an average replication of the stuff that I’d seen in his pictures but I’d venture to guess that it’s the best that this city can do. I solemnly moved the trip to the land of multiple bowls and perplexing choices up my to-go list. Though the buffet meal did not sate the gluttonous pangs that arose upon seeing his pictures, it did make a valiant attempt: The melting white butter. The steaming hot ‘bread’. The spicy curries and dals, the names of which I had no clue about! The makkai halwa and shrikhand. The malpua sprinkled with rabri. Sigh. I lost track of the number of refills I requested for. Four? Perhaps five. Does it matter?
I’ve had malpua of several kinds: doughy, round, shapeless, orb-like, juicy, too sweet, mildly sweet, not juicy and even as the underappreciated cousin of gulab jamun. And yesterday, I had another kind. It was crispy, thin and the degree of its sweetness so faultless that your insides hurt at the idea of something so perfect. It went into your mouth, and cuddled by the runny consistency of the rabri, created a food-gasm so monumental that you never come off it, not even twenty-four hours later. It made everything else in your life apart from its own existence immaterial and inconsequential. It reminded you of those few precious minutes that after reading a book, you need – to realize that it’s a good life, that literature is potent by means of the number of things it can make you think and feel, and that every breath not spent on pursuing it is a waste. You can’t save everybody, you can’t steer clear of the conflict between the Little Things (“what you do for yourself”) and the Big Thing (“what you do for others”) and you can’t always sleep at night. You learn to make peace with it.
It’s a good life, hell it’s a good malpua-wali life.
And you have miles to go before you sleep.
Read, Eat, Run. Repeat!