I read a lot about food, but rarely write about it. Today I want to change that. My food stories are weird, hilarious and somewhat tragic. I’m dramatic, but, yes, sometimes tears are involved.
My complex and beautiful relationship with food is the book I will not write. This will cure things and probably be useful to others too. I don’t intend to do the heavy lifting. I will favor fun things. I will learn to eat instead.
Eat on time. Find out what I want to eat and proceed with the obvious.
I love my plain barfi. I don’t get along with people who mix dried fruits with gajar ka halwa. Don’t contaminate my chocolate, please. I love raw fruit. Steamed corn on the cob and a packet of salted peanuts are my idea of delicious. I have a low tolerance for masala fried in oil until it forgets its origin story. I really don’t like it hot, spare me the chillies. Please pass me the curd, it cures me.
Fortunately, I married a man who feeds me. He is charmed by my enthusiasm for the small range of tastes and textures I crave. He understands my food sensitivities. Once fed, I become able to feed others. This includes our community dogs and cats who depend on our home for food and safe spaces.
I ate my first biryani in my late twenties. Around the same time, I discovered the sweet comfort of melt-in-the-mouth gur sandesh available at some sweet shops in Chittaranjan Park, South Delhi. At Dilli Haat, I sampled appam with fish in coconut curry. At Jammu and Kashmir stall, I enjoyed gushtaba with rice. Foodgasm is a neologism resulting from the combination of the words food and orgasm. I approve of this word.
I remember the taste of mutton curry, with half floating potatoes, which my youngest uncle, Kuckoo Mamu, cooked when I was a child. It was also the first time that I saw an adult like to cook what he liked to eat. He lovingly served portions to the extended family. The mixed taste of potatoes coated in mutton curry stuck with me. What seems to be the memory of food quickly becomes the evocation of a lost time, of relationships that survive those who inhabit them.
Why don’t Punjab Hindus, who enjoy fried pomfret and tandoori chicken, cook biryani at home? It’s a mystery I can’t wait to solve. I love watching the step by step process of making and serving biryani at my sister in law’s house. The delicate art of arranging mutton and rice in layers, the two ingredients caressing each other to become a single dish.
I dreamed of red tomatoes and green cucumbers in Khodamba, the village where I lived the year drought hit the Jhabua tribal belt. “I never knew what hunger feels like before this,” I wrote in my diary. I was a miserable and incompetent volunteer teacher in the village. I was 20 years old. I remember the exquisite texture of thick wheat and jowar rotis, slowly cooked on a firewood-fuelled mitti ka chulha. Small children were running around with portions of stiff, cookie-like roti, munching on as they played. When jamun season arrived, I joined them in celebration as we picked fruit from the ground under the trees and gently polished it before putting it in our mouths. He fed our souls.
As an adult and a parent, I have the privilege of always having enough food wherever I am. My body and mind, however, often don’t talk to each other. The mind is the wanderer in the equation, forever ignoring the body’s messages. Like, “Don’t embarrass me. I’ll feed you later. We can go to the toilet at the next destination. We can spend an entire day immersed in extraordinary activities, without eating or excreting a few times. The body runs on adrenaline until we are all exhausted and need resuscitation.
It sounds like behavior that needs to be unlearned. It also looks like a superpower. Clearly, this is something that requires moderation on my part. As the parent of my children, I also re-parent my own inner child. We sometimes stop to buy fresh cane juice from a roadside stall on a summer afternoon on the way home from school. I keep a stock of instant noodles that our teens can cook on their own when they sit down to watch a movie together when their schedules coincide. I dip cookies in my chai and admire the morning light that illuminates a new day around me.
By repairing my relationship with food and allowing it to comfort me, I know I am learning to slow down and savor the moments. The anxieties of everyday life are only too happy to be distracted by the flavor and aroma of small pleasures.
— The writer is a filmmaker and author