Memories of Food

I remember rains the most. The constant patter on the red-tiled roof. Water flows down like a curtain of sparkling beads. Everything is blinding green. The wetness is intoxicating. It has seeped into my skin, embedded in my bones. And it has never left me since. I walk to the bus stop wearing plastic sandals which bite into my ankles. As I walk the sandals flick muddy water from behind and my school uniform gets stained. The oil on the road mixes up with water and creates rainbow colours. Every gush of wind overturns the umbrella. My stomach is full. Hot dosas smeared with ghee, sprinkled with sugar along with a cup of tea makes my stomach feel funny. I would reach school all wet and cold.

My mother makes amazing sardine fish curry. I eat hot neer dosas in the room adjacent to the kitchen. The room had a light but we did not turn it on, to save electricity. Spicy fish curry with sips of hot sweet tea in between the bites. Sometimes I sip the tea halfway while I am chewing. The tea mixes with the dosa in my mouth which gives it a whole new flavour.

Sunday morning everyone would sit in front of the TV during breakfast watching Bollywood songs. I had a favourite chair which I always place near the pillar. I liked to eat dosa as soon as it is taken out of the pan with a pinch of sugar sprinkled all over. I would walk to the kitchen, get the dosa, sit in front of the TV, finish the dosa, go back to get another and repeat the cycle. At times in the song, if Sharuk Khan gets too intimate with Kajol, I feel some tightening in my pants. I would get embarrassed. I would then stare at the fan above to make it go away.

Twice or thrice a year father would visit. Mom would mention the dates. I would keep looking at the calendar in the living room. On the day of arrival, I keep glancing through the window to see if he has come. Suddenly I see him pass and I would run to the door. He is standing there, smiling. He used to get pedas. It would have half-cut almonds perfectly blended with the shape of the peda.

After school, I get down from the bus and turn towards the grocery shop. If I felt rich I would decide to buy something. I would cross the street and call out “Uncle!” Eyes take time to adjust to the darkness. After a while beyond the glass jars filled with biscuits, I see the old shopkeeper moving. I ask for the packet of chips. He asks, “Which one?” I see the progression of sizes of chips packet. My eyes linger at the largest chips packet. “Give me the smallest one”, I say. One day when I earn a lot I would buy the biggest one and eat it all by myself. I would walk back home feeling the crunch of every single bite. Once empty, I would open up the packet to lick the salts stuck in the corners. Recently Mom informed me the shopkeeper passed away. A new house has come up in its place.

One day someone got noodles. The kids on the TV were laughing, smiling and happy when eating this. Our mothers were discussing in the kitchen. Nobody knew how to make this. After some time they figured it out. They added last night’s leftover chicken curry to it. I was a little heartbroken as it was not the same colour as it was on TV. But then I ate it. It was the best thing I had ever eaten.

A distant uncle of mine used to get us chocolates every time he visited. One chocolate bar to every kid. Each of us kept it in a different corner in the fridge so that we don’t confuse each other’s chocolate bars. We would take a whole week to eat it. Every bite was counted for. We had discussions on how much is left of our bar. When it’s done I would take the golden wrapper, flatten it out using scissors and keep it inside a book and wait for the next one.

My first kind of mother-approved binge eating was the panchakajjaya or the prasad they gave in a temple near my house. I urge my mother to get extra packets of those if she visits the temple.

I would peak through the crowd to catch a glimpse of God’s idol in the sanctum sanctorum. An old lady wants to stay for a long time looking at the idol but the guard ushers her away to make way for other people. I tug my mother’s saree every two minutes and ask when is lunch. Somehow time never seems to pass when you are a bored kid. After a long wait in the queue, finally, we are seated with banana leaf in front of us. Rice would arrive first. I dig a small hole in the heap of rice for sambar. When the sambhar arrives I mix it with a small portion of rice, almost always burning my hand in the process. Thoughts about God and religion has been changing constantly but thoughts about food have remained the same.

The other day I paused the movie I was watching. I thought I heard my mother call me for dinner. I realized I am not in my home.

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.