Eating with my mouth closed

The other day I helped my brother move to a new place. When we were done we sat there in the new house with all the unopened boxes around us. Hungry and exhausted, we ordered biryani and coke. The moment I started eating, my brother tells me, “Why are you eating like a pig? Stop making so much noise!” I stopped midway, my mouth half open, gaping at my brother. I felt like a student caught red handed cheating in his exams. It is not the first time I was hearing it. My chomp-fest has been discussed multiple times at home too. I am not a big fan of eating with my mouth closed.

I don’t have a research paper to prove it, but I always felt eating with my mouth open enhanced the taste. I imagine the flavours travelling to my nose. The smell and taste working together in harmony so that I can savour the food in all its glory.

My speed gets compromised when I eat with my mouth closed. When I go out to eat with my other broke friends, we order one bowl of french fries. My closed mouth stunt can leave me starving. I got to finish the fries before anyone else does. From the evolutionary perspective, it is a serious matter of life and death.

When I hear anyone eating loudly, it doesn’t disgust me. I admire them. Because I know for sure, that one person in the table is having a time of his life.

When I was a kid I would go to our cowshed and feed the cows hay. I would sit cross-legged facing it while it leisurely chewed its food. The sound of it gnawing the hay was soothing and therapeutic. I would lose the sense of time. I would soak in every noise the cow made. Try to figure out how it felt eating it. There is a strange beauty in it. Cows are classy. Humans don’t have the same elegance.

My work table might be a mess, but my plate – never. Thanks to my grandma and my mother I have excellent skills of keeping my plate neat at any point of the meal. I shift all the biryani rice to the left. This is the untouched part of the food. I take only small amounts to the right. Mix it with salad or gravy. Eat. Bones make up a neat pile on one corner. I try to eat one item at a time so as to enjoy its flavour in all its glory and not mix it with others. If there is an option to take fresh hot puris or dosas directly from kitchen, I don’t mind making multiple trips to get it. I hate wasting food. When I was in college, a guy from a country I don’t remember, showed us pictures of starving children in Ethiopia. Sitting there in that room, seeing those pictures I took a silent vow – never to waste food in my life. If I don’t like jalebi, I don’t take jalebi.

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Gets my heart racing

Millions in this world enjoy a happy life eating with their mouth shut. I can be one of them too. After a lot of thought I decided to break this habit. So here I am eating bhujiya with my mouth closed. It tastes different. It doesn’t feel right. My brain is not able to comprehend what is happening. My neural pathways are up in arms. I tell myself this is for the greater good. I hate you societal norms. I have to taste everything I loved again with my mouth closed. Visit all my favourite restaurants. Relive all my food memories. This is probably the biggest life changing decision I ever made.

On Reading

I never bought books. I either begged or borrowed them from others. My mother was against buying them. She scoffed at me when I bought Emma Donoghue’s Room using a prize coupon I had. She told me – after you read, it is just a stack of papers sewn together with a colorful cover. Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t against reading books, she was against buying them. According to her, during college days she used to cut out serialized Kannada novels from magazines and make them into books.

I asked my friend the other day which book he was reading. He said he was busy with work and struggling to complete a book which he had started reading months back. It is true for many others. Including me. People are reading less. And I don’t blame them. Reading a book is a big commitment unlike watching videos on YouTube or Netflix.

My school library had limited books. An old couple living next door gave me their membership card of an old-snake-infested-public-library. It was perfect. I used to borrow three books and return it in three days. And the cycle repeated. Now I get happy if I could finish one percent of a book in one day.

Reading a book is one of those selfish acts. It isn’t useful for anybody but yourself. I hate to open a book and start reading in a public place. Reading is personal for me. I do it when I know that I have a good amount of time just for myself and when nobody needs me.

I have friend who hates reading on Kindle. He loves the feel of book in his hands. And he loves to own all the copies of books he reads. I, like my mother, have started to see books like a glorified stack of papers. I do own copies of books I love. But I feel Kindle is far more convenient.

I remember visualizing Captain Nemo’s adventures while reading Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. It was evening and I was sitting outside my house when I read its last page. It was like saying goodbye to a dear old friend.  How can I go about life after this? – I wondered. The real world did not hold any value. I remember the anticipation of something bad that was going to happen when Hassan turns back to Amir and tells “For you a thousand times over” in The Kite runner. The picture of Wuthering Heights standing lonely in the moors, never fails to evoke the emptiness I felt when I read the book for the first time.

When the cover art of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, I spent a whole week analyzing it. I scrutinized every detail with a hope of finding some clues. I researched online and spent hours reading how the world was seeing it. When I was reading a Harry Potter I was detached from everything around me. Food, sleep, life were distractions. I was on life support and the book was keeping me alive. And every time I finish one, a state of daze, melancholy, meaninglessness prevails for days.

The world was waiting for the final Harry potter book. And I was plotting how to read it when it releases. Because as I told earlier buying the book was out of question. Our school library would definitely not buy new books anytime soon. And my public library needed not only new books but new everything. I had no friends from whom I could borrow. I heard a new library was coming up nearby. I visited and it looked pretty good. This was my best bet. After all the hassle of extra paper work to get the student discount and multiple sessions to convince my mother, I finally became its member. And when the final book released, my library purchased it! I booked it right away. After months of waiting I finally got the call from the librarian – “Sir, you can collect your book”. I bunked class for the first time in my life and collected it. Rushed home. I was preparing for my final exams. So I waited for my parents to go to sleep. I opened the book. Read everything from the cover to the copy writing information. Reached this dedication page.

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“…and to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end.” The words stuck in my throat. For the first time in my life my eyes became wet and I was not sad. I caressed the words with my fingers. I did stick with Harry until the very end. From thousands of miles away, she touched my heart through those written words. Oh J.K. Rowling! You genius sorceress.

Chocolates, Cycles and Cashews

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Eclairs is now Choclairs apparently

Cadbury Eclairs. All I wanted was Cadbury Eclairs. I was nine. I would pop one of these in my mouth and suck on it till the insides of my mouth became sore. The outer caramel layer crumbles and the chocolate filling would come gushing out like the first rain of the season. I would have barrels and barrels of it when I grow up, I thought. One for each day for the rest of my life.Years passed. Now my students give me these for their birthdays. I don’t have barrels of it but I have quite a few stocked in my cupboard. I am planning to give it back to them as rewards. I don’t like to eat them anymore.

We had a room full of pictures of various Gods. I used to spend half an hour every evening, praying. I touched every God’s feet or anything that was ‘Godly’ and took its blessings. I was careful that I took blessings from each and every one. If I felt I missed someone/something, I would start over. I did not want to be a victim of their spite.

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So many Gods!

My Grandma took me with her to every temple she visited. I was her sidekick and we roamed the town, day and night, to strike off temples from her bucket list. Fast forward to the present, I rarely go to any temple or participate in any kind of religious events.

Every Sunday morning, I used to wake up early, brush my teeth and sit front of TV to watch Rangoli on Doordarshan. My favourite shows were lined up back to back. I would only get up from my seat, late in the afternoon.I skipped important family functions and was infamously known as the child who watches a lot of TV. Grandma and I were devote followers of a series called Jai Hanuman. On the day when Hanuman was to be born, we had no power in our house. It was night and rained heavily. My mother, grandma and I huddled under an umbrella, walked to a nearby house where there was power and watched the show. It has been a decade since I stopped watching TV. I do sometimes, but I find myself mindlessly changing channels and not watching any content.

I had an old cycle. It was beyond repair. Tubes had holes. Tires worn out. All metal parts rusted. Brakes not working. Pedal pads broken. It would wake up the whole neighborhood when I take it for a ride down the street. So much noise it made. It was unfit to do anything that a normal cycle would do. But it had an advantage over others. I can use it however I want without worrying of getting it damaged further. Off I went. Over the hills and rocks and bushes and muddy paddy fields. Trying stunts, I could never do. Bashing it against trees and boulders and walls. Why? Because I could do it! I did every possible nonsensical thing my 10-year-old brain could think of. Best days of my life by the way. When I got my first salary, I bought a cycle. Rode it to my heart’s content. Some things don’t change.

Other day I walked through an old path which I used when I went to school. Few old houses still stand. But people living in it have changed. The lonely mysterious house on top of the faraway hill still beckons me. My desire to go to that house and look back at this stretch of road, still remains unfulfilled. I pass the house where a girl whom I liked used to live. I wonder where she is now. The auntie who talked loudly, still exists. You can’t pass her house without the trademark shrill voice damaging your eardrums.

In summer holidays, we played cricket. My cousins came down for a month or two. Paddy fields turned into cricket playgrounds. We dug up the pitch, put water and beat it flat. Made wickets out of bamboo sticks. Bats out of coconut branches. Fake trophy stands from leaves and twigs. Drew a pot of water from the well. And started playing like there was no tomorrow. We all grew up. We don’t have summer holidays anymore. There are no paddy fields.

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Picture happy kids playing here

My father used to stay in Mumbai. Only means of communication was through letters. Until our neighbors got a landline telephone connection. We set up a structure for my father to talk to us. My father would give a missed call every Monday evening around 8.00 p.m. Neighbors inform us. My mother accompanied by my brother or me,would go to their house and wait. My father calls again and we talk. So much for a simple conversation.

I remember all the small details. The smell inside our cowshed. The sound of cattle gnawing the hay. Its warm breath on my hands. Big innocent eyes staring at me. The taste of the well water boiled in clay pots over firewood. Taking out hot cashew seeds from fire, smashing the outer layer with coconut shells and eating the world’s most amazing cashews. I remember the moment just before I jump into a flowing stream. Swaying with the trees when a strong wind blows. Time has this amazing quality of making the past look glamorous. Maybe the past is not what it seems like. It might have been shaped into something that I want it be. I am seeing it through a filter. A morphed reality. A trick to convince myself that I had a good time.

Home.

When people ask me, what was my happiest moment ever, they expect the answer to be something grand. But it is not. I can only think of one moment, a seemingly forgettable one. That for reasons unknown, has been etched in my mind. It was the break after college exams. I came back home from college to spend the holidays. I had travelled overnight in bus. I was tired because I did not sleep well. I freshened up and lay down of the sofa. I dozed off. And I had the nap of my life. Sleep was induced in highly concentrated levels in just few minutes. I opened my eyes like a monk opens his, after a deep peaceful meditation atop the Himalayas overlooking an amazing view. It was 7:00 am. The summer sun from the clear blue sky blinded me for a second. My father was reading the paper on the chair beside me. I could hear my mother preparing breakfast in the kitchen. A sense of trance came over me. I felt deeply gratuitous for all things right at that instance. The anticipation of eating my mother’s food after a long time, of spending the holidays at home, of being with the people I love, all blended and I lay there soaking in everything. I did not want to get up and end this ecstatic state. This is my happiest moment.

Whenever anyone utters the phrase ‘going home’ it brings out a pleasant feeling in me. Going home is like the restore to default setting. Like starting over. The state I go to when no force is acting on me. In equilibrium. The place I am the most comfortable. Where I am my truest self.

I know every nook and cranny of my house and its surroundings. I walk the streets where I played as a kid. I recognize the things that have changed. New houses. A new fence. A new street sign. Still it has the old rustic beauty. Or my mind is playing tricks? What is this sense of belongingness? The place defines me. I am from this part of the world. It has made me. As I walk, a familiar face pops up. I introduce myself. The frown and creases around the eyes vanish and the face lights up with a warm smile. Familiarity is beautiful. I indulge myself in the world of certainties.

Maybe I will hate it if I stay here longer. Being a visitor for a short period of time may romanticize things. The idea of going home is good only when coupled with the fact that I come back someday. There is nothing for me here. Or is it there but I am not willing to venture? Mind works in mysterious ways. It makes me long for things and then pulls me back. But I have found it makes me a lot happier if I just listen to it. In the moment, just be.